Following the road less travelled has its place, but you just can’t pass up an opportunity to see the Taj Mahal.
Travellers flock to iconic landmarks for good reason: they’re breathtaking testaments to human ingenuity and days gone by. And although you may have to deal with crowds and steep admission prices, you just can’t beat watching the sun set over Paris from the Eiffel Tower.
Let’s look at ten of the world’s most famous landmarks and how you can make the most of your once-in-a-lifetime visits.
In the heart of ancient Rome, the 2000-year-old Colosseum accommodated 50,000 spectators for gladiator combat, wild animal hunts and even naval ship battles! Trap doors enabled special effects, and an underground maze of holding pens kept animals and participants in place until their time in the spotlight.
Today, the queue to enter the Colosseum may well be the longest in the world, so you should get yourself a skip-the-line ticket. Even with a pre-booked ticket, it’s worth visiting the Colosseum early in the morning to avoid crowds. Also, note that security does not allow backpacks, big purses, or luggage inside.
Purchase public transportation tickets at tobacconists, bars or vending machines at Metro stations. If you plan on seeing the sites in Rome, consider purchasing a 72-hour or weekly ticket with unlimited rides.
2. Eiffel Tower
Some 250 million people have visited the Eiffel Tower since its 1889 opening, even though it was initially designed to be dismantled after a one-year exhibition. In fact, artistic and intellectual Parisians originally protested the monument, including author Guy de Maupassant, who referred to the structure as a “metallic carcass.”
Today, enough people disagree with Maupassant’s assessment that you should plan your visit carefully to avoid massive queues. Pre-book your tickets for just before sunset so you can view the sights of Paris in both daylight and twilight.
To arrive via metro, use Lines 9, 6, or 8, depending on your point of departure. You can also take the bus from various parts of the city, getting off at the “Tour Eiffel” or “Champ de Mars” stops.
3. Leaning Tower of Pisa
Originally constructed as a bell tower to accompany Pisa’s cathedral, the Leaning Tower began to tilt in 1178, before the constructors had even finished the first three tiers! Today, it has been stabilised, and you can climb the 294-step staircase for a panoramic view of lovely Tuscan Pisa.
Most travellers visit the Leaning Tower between June and September, taking advantage of the sunny Tuscan summer. If you want to climb the tower, book your tickets early, and plan to leave bags behind; you can’t even take a handbag with you to the top.
Pisa makes an ideal day trip from Florence. Trains between the two cities leave several times per hour, with less frequent service on holidays and weekends.
4. Machu Picchu
Peru’s crown jewel sits atop a small plateau sheltered by two lushly forested mountain peaks. Abandoned just 100 years after it was founded, the Inca Empire’s citadel in the clouds remained lost for centuries until Hiram Bingham caught wind of it during his 1911 expedition.
For optimal weather, visit Machu Picchu between April and October, but try to avoid the peak tourist season in July and August. To get there, fly into Peru’s capital city, Lima, where you can catch a flight to Cuzco. From Cuzco, take a train or bus to Machu Picchu.
Local visitors can visit the site for free on Sundays, so it’s jam-packed then. If you’ve just arrived from sea level, your body may require a few days to acclimate to the high altitude. Boost your health ahead of your trip, and consider staying in Aguas Calientes (2042 metres) a few days before climbing even higher to Machu Picchu (2438 metres).
5. Statue of Liberty
Lady Liberty has watched over New York Harbour since 1886 and remains an iconic symbol for freedom. When you visit, you’ll take a ferry first to Liberty Island, where the Statue of Liberty stands, and then to Ellis Island, where millions of immigrants first landed when they arrived in New York. A designated USA National Park, Liberty Island offers spectacular views of Manhattan.
Plan to visit the Statue of Liberty between April and June or September and October for beautiful weather and thinner crowds. Purchase your ticket for the ferry to Liberty Island in advance to avoid queues, and note that you’ll need an additional ticket if you want to climb to the statue’s crown.
6. Sagrada Familia
If you’ve ever wondered what it would have been like to see one of the great cathedrals under construction, this is your chance! Although the Basilica of the Sagrada Familia has long been a symbol of Barcelona, the building is not yet finished. Locals hope for a 2026 completion, which will coincide with the 100th anniversary of the architect’s death.
The time of day is more important than the time of year when visiting Sagrada Familia, and since 2 million visitors walk through the doors each year, you should book a timed entry online to avoid queues and to arrive at sunset, when the sun shines brightest through Gaudi’s incomparable stained glass windows. For the best selection of entrance times, book your tickets 5-7 days in advance.
While staying in Barcelona, take advantage of the city’s well-designed, easy-to-use bike lanes and trails.
7. Great Wall of China
Although it can’t be seen from the moon (contrary to popular lore), the series of walls and fortifications that make up the Great Wall of China stretch an incredible 21,000 km across China’s hills, valleys and mountains. Most travellers visit the section located in Badaling, which is easily accessible from Beijing, but you can find some less-frequented treasures if you’re willing to travel further.
The best times of the year for hiking and walking the wall are March through June and September through early November.
From Beijing, you can take public transport to nearby Badaling, but for a less touristy experience, consider visiting Simatai, which is the only section of the wall open for night tours. To reach Simatai, take a bus from Beijing to Gubei Water Town.
8. Angkor Wat
Worshippers have attended Cambodia’s best-preserved temple continuously since the 12th century, and today, more than a million tourists trek to Siem Reap each year. A treasure trove of Khmer Empire art, music, architecture and learning, Angkor Wat continues to inspire researchers and travellers alike.
Between November and March, you can enjoy crisp, dry days in Siem Reap, but crowds will be plentiful at this time. If you want to go during the off-peak season, visit from June to October, but note that the weather will likely be hot and wet.
To get there, secure a 30-day visa and fly directly into Siem Reap. The Angkor Wat temple grounds are massive, so rent a bicycle or hire a tuk-tuk if you want to explore it thoroughly.
9. Taj Mahal
Looming mystically over the Yamuna River, the Taj Mahal is one of the Seven Wonders of the World and was constructed as a tomb in 1630 for the beloved wife of Emperor Shah Jahan.
Romantics swoon for the Taj Mahal’s history, which tells the love story of Emperor Shah Jahan and his favourite wife, the princess Mumtaz Mahal. After 19 years of happy marriage, Mumtaz died during the birth of the couple’s 14th child. After two years of grieving and heartbreak, the Emperor found solace in creating the world’s most beautiful resting place for his soulmate.
For pleasant weather, visit the Taj Mahal between November and February. Otherwise, you’ll face stifling heat and heavy rains. Take the rail from Delhi for a day trip to the Taj Mahal, using the main railway station in Agra Cantt. Alternatively, comfortable, air-conditioned buses depart the Anand Vihar terminal in New Delhi every hour on their route to the Taj Mahal.
10. Chichen Itza
Did you know the Mayans’ astronomical skills were so state-of-the-art that they could predict solar eclipses two thousand years ago? When you visit Chichen Itza, this fact won’t surprise you one bit.
This carefully restored Mayan archaeological site on the Yucatán Peninsula includes the magnificent Pyramid of Kukulcan, an observatory, collections of temples, a 60-meter-wide sinkhole that was once full of treasures and an enormous ball court where Mayans once played Pok Ta Pok.
To reach Chichen Itza, fly into Cancun and rent a car for the three-hour drive. You’ll find that parking is inexpensive and plenteous, but be sure to bring pesos with you, both for parking and for the entry fee. For the loveliest Mexican weather, plan your trip between November and April, and see the Mayan capital in all its sunny splendor.
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