The world is full of awe-inspiring places to go and things to see, but there are some spots you just can’t not visit before you kick the bucket.
From electrifying cities like New York and Tokyo, to the natural beauty of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and the Canadian Rocky Mountains, to the thrilling history of Paris and Machu Picchu, here’s just a sample of some of the unforgettable trips you can plan and book today.
1. New York City
With a record 60.3 million visitors in 2016, New York City is one of the most popular tourism destinations in the world, and for good reason.
Whether it’s taking in the views of the mind-blowingly big metropolis from Top Of The Rock or the Empire State Building, seeing world-class theatre on Broadway, immersing yourself in history at the Statue Of Liberty and Ellis Island, people-watching in Central Park with a hot dog in hand or exploring neighbourhoods like Williamsburg, the East Village or Harlem, a trip to the Big Apple will leave you inspired and planning your next visit as soon as you get home.
2. The Great Barrier Reef
The world’s largest reef system off the coast of Queensland has long been a favourite of Australian and international tourists alike, and the number is set to climb as reports of coral bleaching destroying the reef urge travellers to see it before it dies.
Snorkelling or diving down to catch sight of the more than 1500 fish species, turtles and other sea life is an unforgettable experience. The area is also packed with some of the world’s most beautiful beaches – the soft, white sand of Whitehaven Beach on Whitsunday island might just be the closest thing there is to paradise.
Breath-taking architecture, chic shopping, glimpses of the Eiffel Tower and patisserie windows packed with delicious treats makes for an intoxicating mix in Paris.
Any visit to the French capital should begin with a walking tour, not only to get your bearings but also to learn about Paris’ compelling past, from the days of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette to the devastation of World War II.
You’ll feel Paris’ history come alive as you wander along the Seine, through the Jardin du Luxembourg or neighbourhoods like Le Marais or Montmarte, the hill-top spot home to cathedral Sacre-Couer.
Shop ‘til you drop and sip cocktails on rooftop bars in Bangkok, discover paradise beaches in Phuket, Phi Phi Island or Koh Samui, or unwind among the temples and rice fields in laidback northern city Chiang Mai.
Wherever you go in Thailand, you can count on aromatic dishes being cooked up at street markets (ideally washed down with an ice-cold Singha beer), the best massages you’ve ever had, friendly people and an exchange rate guaranteeing value for money. It’s not called the Land of Smiles for nothing.
5. Cusco, Peru
South of Peru’s capital Lima is Cusco, the city most use as a base for Machu Picchu. But Cusco is more than just the entry point for the famous mountain-top Mayan ruins.
The city is a Spanish colonial marvel with cobblestone streets that lead to romantic town squares, where you’re almost guaranteed to find a hundreds of years old church, markets stacked with colourful textiles and plenty of restaurants offering lomo saltado (stir-fried beef) and ceviche, served traditionally with sweet potato and corn.
After a day at Machu Picchu or one of the other ancient sites nearby, find a cosy restaurant with a fireplace and plenty of vino tinto to stay warm on those chilly Cusco nights.
With countless ancient sites to marvel at – the Colosseum, the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain, the Roman Forum! – and mouth-watering Italian cuisine at every turn, it’s no wonder Rome is on pretty much everyone’s bucket list.
The mix of ancient and modern is an alluring one; you can indulge in cutting-edge cuisine and world-class shopping while taking in incomprehensibly old buildings and streets.
Be sure to wander over the Tiber to Trastevere, a charming neighbourhood of winding alleyways with laundry strung across them and vines covering the walls, where dining al fresco is a treat for the eyes as much as the taste buds. Gelato from Fior di Luna is essential.
The strict communist regime that controlled Cuba for decades, and has only eased up in very recent years, kept the Caribbean island just an hour’s flight from the United States mainland in a virtual time warp.
But Cuba is now embracing tourism, and travellers are equally eager to experience the island’s fascinating history and rich music and dance culture, as well as the elements from a bygone era that still exist there, such as 1950s cars.
Start in the capital Havana, then be sure to venture west to picturesque Vinales, south-east to colourful Trinidad or impossibly perfect beach town Veradero. Cuba’s tourism industry is still in its infancy, so practicing patience is key for a happy holiday.
8. Canadian Rocky Mountains
The national parks in Canada’s Rocky Mountains –Banff, Jasper, Kootenay and Yoho among them – are the holy grail for nature lovers.
Hike, kayak and camp amongst landscapes so scenic you’ll swear you’re not looking at real life but a computer screensaver: turquoise alpine lakes, jagged, snow-capped mountain peaks and plenty of wildlife to spot.
For the kind of views you’ve probably seen and double-tapped on your Instagram feed, don’t miss Lake Louise and Lake Winnewaka in Banff.
The Maldives seem too perfect to be real, but the group of 26 atolls in the Indian Ocean south-west of Sri Lanka really does exist. Famous for its luxury hotels with over-water bungalows and blinding blue water and white sand, the Maldives are a favourite of honeymooners, or just anyone who wants to experience paradise.
As the world’s lowest-lying country, the nation is noticing the effects of rising sea levels brought on by climate change, and the United Nations estimates the Maldives could be completely underwater in 100 years or less, so you might want to book that luxury resort sooner rather than later.
Shopping for the latest tech gadgets one minute, then observing the ancient traditions of geishas or sumo wrestlers the next – that’s the thrilling contrast of Tokyo, the world’s most populated city with 37.8 million residents.
The crowd crush and flashing lights at Shibuya Crossing can be overwhelming, but soon you might find yourself in peaceful corner of Yoyogi Park (under the cherry blossoms if you go in March or April).
Wander the streets of hip neighbourhood Ginza, watch the sushi masters at work at Tsukij Market, have a drink while taking in the view of the city from the bar at the top of the Park Hyatt hotel (as seen in Lost In Translation) … and eat everything.