Scouring the web and visiting familiar websites like Lonely Planet, Travel & Leisure, and Trip Advisor, I found out everyone’s top places to visit are varied to a high degree. Whether it’s from their polls, reader comments, or a random staff member, these websites or magazines all had interesting opinions on current popular locales. Using these top lists as a starting point, I reached into my own memorable experiences and knowledge to concoct my own list. Just as other lists are highly subjective, mine will be as well, but it never hurts for another opinion. Hopefully, this might give you a starting point for your next adventure.
Cambodia was nowhere in my first thoughts of places to visit. Having recently been to Thailand, I did feel that more of the southeastern Asian countries needed a little exploring. I originally had Vietnam next on my list; however, Cambodia popped up on more than three Top 10 Lists on many popular travel sites. It piqued my curiosity so I did a little digging. Between a number of breathtaking temples, the history of a spirited people, a newly sophisticated urban lifestyle, and multiple landscapes from the high country to its beautiful islands, the reasons to visit were practically endless. Until recently, it was harder to get to Cambodia’s stunning islands but due to direct flights to it’s coastal airport, the jump to an island escape is much easier.
I sometimes wonder if we, as Americans, dismiss our northern neighbor, Canada. They have a new young and very popular prime minister, can be overly friendly, is the birthplace of hockey, and sometimes are the butt of our jokes. Having visited Victoria and Vancouver, the British side of things, I find that all that is said about Canadians is true but who can’t use a little friendly atmosphere as of late. The cities are just as metropolitan as the U.S. but with less attitude. The world’s second largest country has a certain livability and reputation for inclusiveness and has a little something for everyone.
In 1989, after the Czechs were freed from communism, Europe was given a city with beauty on par with Rome, Amsterdam, Paris and London. As a self proclaimed wanderer, I find that Prague’s mazes of cobbled lanes and hidden courtyards is a fantastic way to discover ancient chapels, cute cafes, a 14th-century stone bridge, a hilltop castle and a river that winds its way through the medieval city. Since the invention of Pilsner Urquell in 1842, the Czechs have been famous for producing some of the world's finest brews and the Bohemian art scene offers everything from Gothic altarpieces to 20th century surrealists and cubists. With a personality all its own, Prague is definitely a destination to get lost in.
It was a cruise that had me visit the many lands on the Baltic Sea, but the exceptionally friendly country of Finland, stood out the most. A land in a tug of war with Russia and Sweden for 800 years before it's independence in 1917, Finland is celebrating their centenary with al fresco concerts, communal culinary experiences, sauna evenings and art exhibitions. Depending on the season you go, you might see a different Finland every time. In the short Summer season, the Finns burst out of their homes and enjoy every bit of sunshine they can with music festivals, art exhibitions, lake cruises, and bustling markets. It’s a country of extremes, with lush forests, frozen winters, vibrant cities, cutting edge technology, and long dark nights.
6. New York
Everyone in the world seems to want to visit New York. Elizabeth Pose, a fellow writer and editor, will provide her first impressions in an upcoming guest post. After visiting New York many times, I can tell you it is one of the most vibrant cities in the world, with its outstanding food, art and culture. “The City That Never Sleeps” can keep you up all night due to a variety of things to do from a busy nightlife to just watching it live and breath if you can believe a city can be compared to a living organism. There are classic Big Apple attractions like the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building and Central Park, to lesser known wine bars in the West Village or eclectic nightclubs on the Lower East Side. Sleep might not come, if at all.
5. London, Paris, Rome
Everyone listed these famous cities somewhere in their top 10 so I labeled them the Big 3, tied for 5th place. I would then narrow them down to my first choice being London, second would be Rome, with Paris last. London is my European home away from home. It can be quite expensive but I really do feel at home at the local pub. Pick one, there is one on every corner in the “Pub Life”, where everyone goes and most barkeeps know your name. The eclectic neighborhoods, historic landmarks and many modern attractions can keep you occupied for days. Rome, "The Eternal City", has endless works of art, amazing architecture, long history and culture. Don’t forget the ancient ruins of the Colosseum and Pantheon and fountains large enough that they need their own zip code. Paris, "The City of Light", has the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, and the Louvre, but what I fell in love with was the city’s cafes and markets. The romance of sipping an espresso, sharing a baguette and strolling the Seine can hit you hard, like it did me.
4. Australia/New Zealand
It’s hard not to put these two countries together, If you go for one, you should take the extra week for the other as both have so much to discover. Australia is just so massive; however, all the cities to visit are seaside unless you want to rough it in the outback Dundee style. If I had to pick a city, Melbourne would be it with it’s international and cosmopolitan personality. Sydney comes in a close second with its landmarks like the Sydney Opera House and it’s beaches. New Zealand, Lord of the Rings fans, is as beautiful, if not more so, as it is portrayed on the big screen. I will explore my late-aged backpacking experience to both countries in a future post.
Tied for number 3. If you go to London, see if you can visit Ireland and/or Scotland. Both deserve their own time but on a British Isles trip, you can make it happen. The Irish will immediately declare that their little island is the most beautiful in the world. From the green landscape to the friendly people, historic castles and monastic ruins, to dancing and jig and drinking a Guinness, Ireland awaits your arrival with open arms. Scotland contains some of the largest areas of wilderness left in Western Europe. It is a land with a rich, multilayered history, where battles played a pivotal part in the building of a nation. Travel the highland trails and discover the best single malt whisky in the world.
I was fortunate enough to finally visit my first Asian country, Thailand, and loved it. However, I was only able to explore Bangkok and there is so much more of Thailand to explore. It is called the “land of smiles” and I now know why. With the hustle and bustle of about 8.2 million people, you would think no one would be happy. Blame Buddha and the efficiency of a well run city, making everyone happy to be packed into a Tuk-tuk or train. If you can, stay away from the more high profile and touristy landmarks, find a local guide, and you can see the beautiful city so much easier.
Iceland is on the top of my list only because I will be visiting in December. Surprisingly, it wasn’t listed as high as I thought it would be on a lot travel lists. By word of mouth alone and with news of the country experiencing an uptick in visitors, seems like the place to visit before everyone and their grandpa goes. With its continuous shaping by its volcanic landscape, the country seems to still be a land in the making. With its geothermal lagoons and glittering glaciers with a backdrop of the aurora borealis, it seems more of a fantasy than reality. Stay tuned in December for my on-the-spot-reporting.
Runner Ups: Island Hopping
The islands of Bali, Bermuda, and Angra dos Reis, Brazil are runner ups and are all island destinations. I am not an island guy. As relaxing as island beach resorts are, I get bored too quickly; however, if you need that week away from your hectic life and anything remotely looking like civilization, then chilling at any one of these would be the ones to go to, according to many top travel lists. #10, Cambodia’s islands were also actually listed as a top island getaways.
In conclusion, a lot of these destinations are also accessible by cruise lines, a great way to get a sneak peak of a particular country. In a later post, I’ll run down some thoughts on cruising and why it is a great way to travel for the uninitiated adventurer as you can find a destination you like and plan a later extended vacation. I would have never known that I would want to spend a considerable time on the island of Malta if it wasn’t for my first cruise ever to the Mediterranean. The first travel experience to open my eyes to a much larger world.