Massive glaciers, staggering mountains, plains dotted with wild animals: Our planet sure is incredible. In fact, when looking at the most beautiful places in the world, it can feel impossible to decide where to visit next. The islands of Southeast Asia? The deserts of the Middle East? How about the countless travel-worthy sites right here in the United States?
While pinpointing all of Mother Nature’s greatest hits could take a lifetime, we think these 51 staggering landscapes and awe-inspiring wonders—from Antarctica to Zimbabwe—need to move to the very top of your travel list. Whether you’re looking for beaches, forests, or national parks, you’re sure to find your new favorite destination below.
1 The Azores, Portugal
Roughly 900 miles off the coast of Lisbon, this Portuguese archipelago can inspire wanderlust with a single photo. The verdant valleys, steep oceanside cliffs, rows of blue hydrangeas, and scattering of waterfalls make the Azores a paradise worth exploring. Just make sure you visit before everyone you know beats you to it.
2 Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania
Africa’s highest peak seems more striking than a lot of other famous mountains, because it’s an ancient stratovolcano that’s not part of any mountain range. That means the 19,000-foot summit drops down to vast, flat plains on all sides, making it a mirage-like blip on Tanzania’s widespread topography. As an added bonus, the peak requires no technical mountaineering skills to summit, so even novice hikers can cross this item off their bucket list.
3 Wulingyuan Scenic Area, China
“Scenic’ might be an understatement here: This 100-square-mile attraction in China’s Hunan Province contains thousands of sandstone pillars that are nature’s version of skyscrapers—some even stretch taller than the Empire State Building’s midpoint.
4 Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, Japan
Every traveler should experience the ethereal glow and seemingly endless heights of this bamboo grove on the outskirts of Kyoto. The experience even extends beyond the visual realm: In 1996, Japan’s Ministry of the Environment included the sounds here—wood creaking, leaves rustling—as one of the top 100 Soundscapes of Japan.
That’s right, we put an entire continent on here. Although 99 percent of Antarctica is covered with ice, the landscape still manages to be stunningly diverse—surreal blue glaciers, active volcanoes, the rough waterways of the Drake Passage, and 360-degree views of untouched snow. And those views are made even better when an emperor penguin or humpback whale makes an appearance.
6 Na Pali Coast, Hawaii
Kauai has one of the world’s most gorgeous coastlines, with towering waterfalls and isolated crescent beaches. Just be prepared to put in a little effort to soak up its wonders: Na Pali can only be seen from a helicopter, catamaran, or a rather grueling hike.
7 Namib Desert, Namibia
With its otherworldly landscapes and isolated luxury lodges—not to mention populations of rhinos, giraffes, and elephants—Namibia is like nowhere else on Earth. In fact, its red sand dunes and skeletal trees might make you think you’ve been transported to Mars instead of Southwest Africa.
8 Reynisfjara, Iceland
If the moon had a shoreline, it would probably look something like Reynisfjara. Just a 20-minute drive from Vik in southern Iceland, jet-black sand and spectacularly shaped basalt columns make this beach one of the most impressive sites in an already impressive country.
9 Capri, Italy
Few parts of the world can claim such a range of natural beauty as Italy, with craggy peaks and verdant hills to turquoise waters lined by white-sand beaches. But the island of Capri easily numbers among the most gorgeous (and most glamorous) spots in the country.
10 Cappadocia, Turkey
Cappadocia, an area in Turkey where entire cities have been carved into rock, is pretty incredible on its own. But whenever hot air balloons pepper the sky—with many floating up right at sunrise—its beauty level literally skyrockets.
11 Angel Falls, Venezuela
Venezuela overflows with natural wonders, including the world’s highest waterfall: the 3,212-foot cascades of Angel Falls, located in the UNESCO-protected Canaima National Park. Canaima is by far the country’s most popular attraction, and the falls stretch an astounding 19 times higher than Niagara Falls. Bonus: Pixar animators used the location as inspiration for Paradise Falls in Up—so you know it’s good.
12 Galápagos Islands, Ecuador
Do we really have to explain the allure of the Galápagos? If you can, make it a priority to visit this of-another-time stretch of Ecuador, with dinosaur-like giant tortoises lumbering through the tall grass and real-life blue-footed boobies. (Pro tip: A cruise is definitely the preferred way to explore the islands; Celebrity Cruise’s Xpedition ferries just 100 passengers and holds nightly lectures by naturalists from Galápagos National Park.)
13 Cliffs of Moher, Ireland
Few places exemplify the raw, untamed beauty of Ireland’s west coast like this natural wonder, which tops 702 feet at the highest point. And while you might know them better as the Cliffs of Insanity from The Princess Bride, in reality, the cliffs are located just south of Galway.
14 The Great Barrier Reef, Australia
Although the Great Barrier Reef (aka the largest living thing on Earth) can be seen from space, the best vantage point belongs to the avid snorkelers and scuba divers who visit each year. If you must resurface, do it at the Whitsundays—namely Whitehaven Beach, often considered to be one of the world’s most beautiful beaches.
15 The Grand Canyon, Arizona
Grand Canyon National Park, often called one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, is on most travelers’ lists for a reason. Plan to hike some of the park’s most scenic loops—like Horseshoe Bend and the South Rim Trail—to get views of the rocky badlands of the Painted Desert, Navajo Nation, and even a waterfall or two.
16 Machu Picchu, Peru
While the intricate stone ruins of Machu Picchu are the work of 15th-century Incans, the site’s natural setting makes it even more alluring. Perched atop the flattened peak of a mountain, the ancient Wonder of the World benefits from the famous backdrop of Huayna Picchu, lush green surfaces, and a barrier of Andean peaks that, despite the landmark’s fame, makes you feel like you've stumbled upon a secret.
17 Mount Fuji, Japan
It’s hard to pick the single most beautiful place in Japan, but 12,388-foot Mount Fuji just might take the prize. Visit Lake Kawaguchiko in the spring for some of the best views of the mountain and cherry blossom trees—a postcard-worthy sight if we ever saw one. Or if you’re an avid hiker, plan a trip for mid-July until the end of August, when the snow melts enough to allow access to Fuji’s summit.