I don’t know about you, but my list of places I want to visit is endless. I could talk all day long about the beautiful sights I want to see and the different adventures I want to go on. It can be almost impossible to decide where to actually visit next. In light of that, I thought I would share with you my ten favorite places I have been so far in my life. They are pretty different from one another and I have so many places left to go, so I’m not sure everyone will agree with me. Simply, these are places that stole my breath at one point or another.
Here are my top ten places in the world that I think everyone should visit.
10. Koh Yao Yai, Thailand
Description: Koh Yao Yai is an island in the south of Thailand. It is out of the typical tourists’ eye because it is certainly more difficult to get to than the bulk of your tropical islands. There aren’t many attractions on it either, but that is the real beauty in this hidden gem. It has gorgeous beaches and forests and practically no people. If you want a break from all the over-run tourist areas like Ao Nang, Phuket, and Krabi, this is the place to go.
Must See: Beaches on beaches on beaches.
Where I Stayed: Glow Elixir – really nice resort. You get your own separate bungalow with the beach and pool nearby. Because there are so few people on the island, the resort is fairly empty too. It’s quite the treat.
Special Note: If you’re up for a walk, you will probably run into some of the friendly locals. They might be my favorite locals of all because I spotted a few pet monkeys on leashes. It doesn’t get better than that, folks.
9. Qingdao, China
Description: While our students had midterms, my husband and I went with some friends to the beautiful city of Qingdao. We had heard it was better to go in the summer, when it is warm and you can really enjoy the beach. However, going in the fall was still perfect. The city is open to the ocean with stunning buildings staggering the shoreline. The people are friendly and helpful at all times. Fishermen joke and laugh as they wait with their rods, and children run along the beach building castles and playing with crabs. While still a big city, it lacks the smothering, trapped feel that Beijing often gives off. The fresh ocean breezes and the bright blue skies give this metropolis a sense of a sea-side escape that can be hard to come by in China.
Must See: Aquarium (I may have been in China a little too long, but I really enjoyed the aquarium in Qingdao. Really cheap and an awesome shark tunnel.), Old City (This is the beautiful, slightly European section of Qingdao. Don’t miss it!!), Old Stone Man Beach (A beautiful, sandy beach that is usually pretty empty. Pay attention to signs though! You don’t want to go swimming where there isn’t a shark net.), Tsingtao Beer Factory (It’s one of China’s beers. Quite possibly the most popular one.)
Where I Stayed: Kaiyue International Youth Hostel – Clean, well-run, and good restaurant!
Special Note: Collect sea glass on the rocky beaches! Because Qingdao makes so much beer, they have tons of glass littering the beach. The locals may stare at you for picking up their “trash,” because, let’s face it, it does sound weird. But…worth it.
8. Petra, Jordan
Description: Everyone knows about Petra, thanks to Indiana Jones. And actually seeing it is something you should definitely try to do. The twists and turns through the rocks make you wonder if the lost city is really even there at all. Then, suddenly, the beautiful treasury appears before your eyes and you can’t help but stop dead in your tracks and stare. Camels gaze at you as you make your way around the buildings and into the open area that you can imagine was once a bustling city. An amphitheater, a monastery, houses, theaters, and tombs are all open to explore in the blazing hot desert sun. The hike in and out of this hidden city is worth every drop of sweat along the way.
Must See: Treasury (Classic Indiana Jones right here), Monastery (It really is worth the roughly 850 steps!), Make sure you take your time and climb all over and in the different houses and holes
Where I stayed: Petra Hotel – Not too bad; Clean and convenient.
Special Note: If you’re pressed for time, Little Petra isn’t really worth it. If you have the opportunity though, I’ve heard seeing Petra lit up at night is truly amazing. If I could go back, I would do that.
7. Old City of Jerusalem, Israel
Description: It feels likes a dream as you walk through the Old City of Jerusalem. You run your hand along the walls as you walk down narrow alleys, wondering who else has touched that wall same as you. You climb up stairs and onto a roof to look out and over the tops of houses until you spot the glittering Dome of the Rock. You run down old stone streets until suddenly you’re at a checkpoint and walking into the courtyard next the Wailing Wall in the shadow of the Temple Mount. Every twist and turn is something more amazing, something more significant. You feel so small while the religious, cultural, and political words swell all around you. It feels incredibly important to be where you are at that exact moment. And, for that, it is beautiful.
Must See: Wailing Wall (To be where the tears are shed and the prayer are offered is just moving.), Garden of Gethsemane (If you are there at the right time, it is so eerie and beautiful to listen to mass while you hear the call to prayer in the distance), Temple Mount (Make sure you research what time you can go up there!), The cemeteries (The Muslim cemetery is completely broken down and forlorn, like a poem by Poe. In contrast to the neat and tidy Jewish cemetery, I thought it was fascinating.), Mount of Olives (This is where you want to go for an excellent picture of the city.), Via Delarosa (Interesting to walk down, especially beautiful at sunset as the lights begin to come on.)
Where I stayed: Abraham Hostel – Excellent place. Bright, clean, and a great location.
Special Note: Be careful to watch the news when you’re over there. Before you know it you might end up in the midst of war.
6. Seattle, Washington
Description: If I had to live in one place for the rest of my life, I would pick Seattle. The glittering, towering skyline reflects the beauty and activity of Puget Sound. On a clear day, Mt. Rainier stands triumphantly in the background, while the Space Needle stands as a testament to the city’s uniqueness and creativity. Seattle is filled with interesting and beautiful people that you need to meet. There really is nothing like the Pacific Northwest with it’s ocean, forests, and mountains, and Seattle is nestled right in the middle of it. Gosh, I want to go back.
Must See: Space Needle (It’s the thing that looks like an alien spaceship.), Pike’s Place (Watch the workers toss around some fish.), Underground Tour (This is just ridiculously cool once you learn about it.), Public Library (Amazing architecture), Experience Music Project (For music lovers, this is a stop you really can’t miss.), Original Starbucks (If you’re a tourist, be a tourist. And get coffee.), Aquarium (Octopus and otters!), Gum Wall (Take a selfie at the Gum Wall; impress your friends.)
Special Note: Take the ferry. Just always take the ferry. It’s beautiful. I suggest your destination be Bainbridge Island. (It’s a personal favorite of mine.)
5. Mt. Desert Island, Maine
Description: My husband was born and raised in this drop-your-jaw-gorgeous part of the USA. I am so grateful for that because it means we always have a reason to come back and visit. During the summer, Mt. Desert island is quite crowded, but there’s every reason it should be. The adorable town of Bar Harbor has everything to offer: restaurants, shops, hotels, bed and breakfasts, museums, and tours. The island charms every one who visits, and Acadia National Park keeps them coming back. I certainly can’t resist it.
Must See: Cadillac Mountain (An easy hike or even easier drive, with one of the most amazing views you will ever see in your life), Precipice (An incredibly beautiful hike that just about kicked my butt.), Sunset Cruise (See special note!), the town of Bar Harbor, Black Beard’s Mini Golf (Just…yes.), Lobster (GET YOUR SEAFOOD ON.)
Special Note: Make sure you take a night to take the sunset cruise on the Margaret Todd! It’s a four mast sailboat that gives you a short tour of the area! Bring some bread, wine, and cheese. Makes a great date night.
4. Khovsgol, Mongolia
Description: Stunning freedom. Khovsgol is a part of Mongolia that completely stole my heart the moment I got there. Forests surround you, while the lake beckons you. Lake Hovsgol is considered the younger sister to the famous Lake Baikal in Russia. It is absolutely pristine, considered one of the clearest lakes in the world. In the early summer, flowers are everywhere, especially fireweed, which is incredible to see. The people of the area are remarkably friendly and will welcome you in at any time. If you want to truly get away and see beauty – this is it.
Must See: Khovsgol Lake (Of course), Stay in a Ger Camp (Get the true experience!), Horse-back riding (You’re in Mongolia. It just makes sense.)
Special Note: Rent a horse for the day and go riding – absolutely anywhere. You can just stop at any ger, and I promise you that they’ll give you some food and drink. This experience will be something you will never forget.
3. Sitka, Alaska
Description: When I was 16, I went to Sitka, Alaska for the summer to help out my aunt and uncle. Before I arrived I had no idea I would absolutely fall in love with its beautiful peaks, forests, and ocean. Sitka is a tiny town that is teeming with life. It practically triples in population when a cruise ship docks, but who can blame all the visitors for coming? Bald eagles seem as common as pigeons on this island, which is found not too far from Juneau. If there is ever even the slightest opportunity for me to find myself back in Sitka – I’m going to make it happen.
Must See: Mount Edgecumbe (you really can’t miss it, but it’s so majestic that it needs to be mentioned.), Thimbleberry Lake-Heart Lake Trail (A photographer’s dream. This lake reflects the glory all around it – just remember some bug spray.), Theobroma Chocolate Company (Um, this chocolate is divine.), Sea Kayaking (Don’t miss your chance to become friends with sea lions or puffins.), Sitka National Historical Park (Totem poles, beautiful sights, mossy grounds and trees.)
Special Note: If you go during salmon season, it’ll smell, but you’ll have GREAT fresh salmon.
2. Wadi Rum (The Valley of the Moon), Jordan
Description: As you descend into Wadi Rum, you simply can’t help but feel that you’ve walked right onto an alien planet. Turns out quite a few movies have used the area for filming alien planets, so you wouldn’t be too far off. Its dark red sand, its towering rock structures, and its endless sky give you a sense of wild freedom. I really think it is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been or will ever go. There’s something strange, something ancient, and something absolutely free about it.
Must See: Seven Pillars of Wisdom (A famous rock formation in Wadi Rum), Bedouin camps, Camel rides and jeep rides
Where I stayed: Bedouin camp – You have to stay in one of these for a night. It’s an unbelievable experience. The food alone is reason to stay, but the experience of being filled with music, hookah, and freedom to the desert night will draw you in for sure.
Special Note: Lay out on a sand dune and stare up at the stars. There really is nothing quite so beautiful. Make sure you catch the sunset and the sunrise, though. There’s something just stunning when you see the fire of the sun spread its long rays over the desert sand.
1. Istanbul, Turkey
Description: Istanbul is breath-taking. Fresh sea air fills you up and makes you feel like you could simply float away. Meanwhile, the amazing Aya Sofya and Blue Mosque stand outlined against the sky, reminders of wars fought in times past (and Star Wars architecture). Cobblestone streets are filled with peddlers and döner. Turkish delights and pashmina scarves line alleys, waiting for tourists and locals alike to grab them up. The call to prayer goes off in the distance, while the gulls cry out in response. Istanbul is truly an escape – my version of paradise.
Must Sees: Blue Mosque (Women: You will need something to cover your head with; Basically it’s just another good reason to purchase another scarf.), Aya Sofya (History buffs and art appreciators alike will LOVE this.), Topkapi Palace (Don’t miss the Haram; Worth the extra money.), Bosphorus Tour (Head up to Yoros Castle and see the Black Sea.), Princes’ Islands (See special note!), Basilica Cistern (Your chance to see the upside down head of Medusa), Grand Bazaar (Get all of your knick-knacks here. Seriously consider buying a lamp; I wish I had.), Spice Bazaar, Galata Tower (Beautiful view of the city from here.)
Where I stayed: Metropolis Hostel – LOVED IT. Rooftop Terrace for breakfast and relaxing evenings.
Special Note: Motorized vehicles are forbidden on the Princes’ islands. In order to get around, you can rent bikes or take horse-drawn carriages to see the Ottoman-era mansions. Renting a bike to go around Büyükada (one of the Princes’ Islands) was my absolute BEST decision while staying in Istanbul. I highly recommend it.