It seems that everyone is trying to avoid “tourist” destinations. Afraid of the crowds, long lines, and inherent frustration that comes with mass tourism. And with the prevalence of social media, everyone thinks they have the best tips and trips for finding the “off the beaten path” spots. Well, I’m here to tell you, forget that. The beaten path is the beaten path for a reason. Because the world is full of amazing monuments, natural wonders, and experiences that everyone should check out. From the Eiffel Tower in Paris to Machu Picchu in Peru. There are some experiences worth the effort. Sure, there are always little travel hacks to minimize the crowds. But sometimes, part of the fun is the crowds. But these are my favorite must-see tourist destinations around the world.
Angkor Wat Temple Complex Siem Reap Cambodia
Angkor Wat truly is one of those places that words never truly capture. It’s beauty and longevity defy conventional expectations. Especially given the historical brutality it’s witnessed. While long a tourists destination, Angkor Wat still has a “raw” appeal to it. At times, it’ll seem like a run of the mill tourist destination. With vendors hawking postcards and tourists complaining about the humidity. But other times it feels like you’re all alone with history. Twisting vines, worn stone, and dirt covered pathways guiding you on your way. One of the last true World Wonders.
Charles Bridge Prague Czech Republic
I’m a bit hard on Prague. It’s easily the most cheesy and inauthentic place in Europe. Weed shops, strip clubs, crooked taxi drivers, and waves upon waves of tourists make Prague unbearable at times. But having been so many times, about twice a year for 7 years now, I’ve found the secret spots that make this place sing. But that’s not what I’m talking about now. I’m talking about one of Europe’s most sought-after picture. Charles Bridge. Charles Bridge itself isn’t anything special. It’s actually a fairly small bridge when compared to say Tower Bridge in London or Chain Bridge in Budapest. But what it lacks in stature it makes up for in character.
The surroundings of Charles Bridge are what makes it magical. The views of Prague Castle on one side and the Old Town on the other. The 30 intricate statues lining its edges. Countless ferries and paddle boats cruising around the Vltava river. And the sheer magnificence of Prague’s architecture makes it an unmissable treat.
Auschwitz Concentration Camp Oświęcim Poland
This might be a controversial pick but hear me out. Years ago, I started writing a piece called “Why Auschwitz Should Be Torn Down”. This was shortly after my third visit and the height of “selfie” culture. When I witnessed what I felt at the time was blatant disrespect and disregard for what happened there. I never published that piece. Because I’ve come to learn the importance of Auschwitz. It’s not only Jewish, German, and Polish history. It’s human history. And I believe that we have to stand and face the demons of our past.
I wrote of my extreme guilt that I was annoyed by how cold, wet, muddy, and cramped it was during one of my visits. Becoming frustrated with myself once I realized I had the option to just walk out with no consequence. To move on from this place that so many never did. While this is more of a memorial site than a tourist destination, there’s no denying its place as a top “attraction”. But beyond most on this list, it’s a place that deserves to be visited if for no other reason than to understand the true potential for human evil.
Times Square New York City New York
Come onnnnnnnn. You knew Time Square was going to make this list. Like many, bright lights attract me. And few places are brighter than old Times Square. I’ve spent quite a bit of time in NYC. Even working a bit in Jersey and commuting over regularly. But what few realize is how much of a character NYC is. Few cities in the world are actual characters themselves. Las Vegas, London, and Bangkok maybe. Where an entire narrative can be created purely from the city itself. And Times Square is its beating heart. The embodiment of opulence and waste. Of positivity and negativity. Of America and the “Other”. It’s all right here. So pull up a seat on the Red Steps and soak it all in. New York Baby!!!!
Sultanahmet District Istanbul Turkey
I’ve said it a million times, The Hagia Sofia holds a special place in my heart. Growing up in Cleveland was tough. Very tough. Seeing the Hagia Sofia in magazines made it seem so grand. Special. Exotic. So far away. Giving me something to aspire to see. To escape my surroundings and find something new. The Hagia Sofia, in my 10-year-old mind, was the furthest place away. So, to visit the beautiful building regularly means a lot to me personally. With that said, the area it resides in, Sultanahmet, is an absolute treasure trove of culture, history, and beauty.
Sultanahmet is home to the Hagia Sofia, Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmed Mosque), Basilica Cistern, Tarihi Sifa Hamami, the Museum of Turkish and Islamic arts, and not far is Topkapi Palace. And if you’re feeling up to it, the Grand Bazaar is less than 15 minute’s walk away. To say this area has it all would be an understatement.
Wat Pho Bangkok Thailand
Too often eclipsed by its big brother next door, the Grand Palace, Wat Pho has managed to maintain everything that’s great about Thai spirituality and hospitality. It’s an absolute wonder this place doesn’t see the massive crowds that descend daily on the Grand Palace given its proximity. Wat Pho offers an intimate look into Thai Buddhism and culture. From the Reclining Buddha to the onsite massage school. The perfect place for a cultural excursion.
Yup. The entire city of Rome. Since the entire city of Rome tends to get hate for being overly touristic, I decided to put the entire city on my list. Rome is a living museum. Literally. Every time you visit Rome you’ll see some new excavation site being worked. Renovations of ancient structures taking place. And touches of modernity creeping around the bones of a once great empire. This is a history buffs paradise. I’ll concede the crowds can be insane at the big attractions. But strolling the streets of Rome is an experience unto itself. As someone that doesn’t really visit the “hits” anymore, I can tell you that Rome has more than enough hidden treasures to keep you coming back over and over.
Vatican Collection in Vatican City
The Vatican is regularly lumped in with Rome. But I don’t think that’s fair. Because the Vatican is such an impressive place, not to mention another country, that it deserves its own spot. You might have noticed a bit of a theme on this list so far. I love history and education. And aside from the British Museum, I found the Vatican Collection to be one of the best collections of art and antiquities I’ve ever seen. Simply brilliant what the Catholic Church has created. While we all may disagree on matters of faith, the beauty of the Vatican and the Vatican Collection is going to be hard to argue against.
Venice Canals in Venice Italy
Is there anything more cliché than a Gondola ride through Venice? With that said, it’s DOPE!!! There are a few things in life that everyone has to experience and the Venice canals are one of them. You may have read that locals aren’t too happy with tourists right now. We’ve seen this anti-tourism sentiment spark up around the world but cities like Venice and Barcelona are leading the charge. The issue for Venice is mainly a matter of size. The city just can’t handle the waves of tourists, especially the poorly behaved ones, coming overland and by ship. The future of this romanticized destination might be in jeopardy but for now, it’s a great spot for couples to maintain or reignite that fire.
Table Mountain Cape Town South Africa
Cape Town is a mixed bag of emotions for me. From frustration with the clear racial disparity to unbelievable joy at its natural beauty. Let’s focus on the later here. I honestly didn’t expect Table Mountain to be any more than another high vantage point. Like the hundreds around the world touted as “best” something or another. What I found was an overwhelming sense of awe and inspiration which happens rarely after you’ve visited 93 countries.
Table Mountain not only has breathtaking views but the mountain itself has an interesting array of biodiversity. Each area of the mountain gives you a different emotional journey. From fright to excitement. Nelson Mandela once said, “During the many years of incarceration on Robben Island, we often looked across Table Bay at the magnificent silhouette of Table Mountain. To us on Robben Island, Table Mountain was a beacon of hope. It represented the mainland to which we knew we would one day return.” To this day that beacon of hope remains just as inspiring.
So that’s my list. While I could have added several more like the Louvre, Las Vegas, or the Taipei night markets, I wanted to hit my highlights here. What are your favorite tourist spots? What do you think should be on the list?