These days, inspiration is more powerful and necessary than ever. And we can't think of anything more inspiring than dreaming about the kinds of trips that change you — the trips that should be on every traveler's bucket list. Some of our suggestions will take you a little further outside of your comfort zone than you're used to, while others fall into the "I can't believe I haven't already made time for Disney World" range. And until it's safe to travel again, we've provided ways that you can virtually explore every bucket-list trip on our list — from seeing the Northern Lights live on a webcam to trekking the Grand Canyon, we've found them all. Read on and get inspired to see where you'll go next, once the world is open to explore again.
*Additional reporting by Kyle Valenta
Want to hit the open road when it's safe? Here are the best bucket-list drives you have to take in your lifetime.
The Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, is a natural phenomenon that occurs when charged sun particles collide with atoms in the Earth’s atmosphere. The spectacular and elusive light show is most likely to happen near the North Pole — and often in the middle of the night. Nature’s most revered light show draws travelers out of their beds and into Iceland’s frosty landscape.
Since traveling isn’t safe for the time being, you can stream the Northern Lights to get yourself inspired to see them in real life. Keep in mind that this surreal display is visible from lots of different places within the Arctic Circle. Check out this streaming live cam of the Northern Lights from Manitoba, Canada, to get a taste.
Frost and Fire Hotel provides an excellent outpost for watching the lights. An outdoor pool and geothermal heated hot tubs take the chill off. You’re well off-grid here, and you’ll need a 4×4 to access the hotel.
You may have heard of them once or twice: The Maldives. The name alone is enough to conjure images of neon blue seas, blazing white beaches, and underwater wildlife in mind-boggling abundance. It’s also home to some of the world’s most famous overwater bungalows. The Maldives is very much a romantic honeymooners destinations (or a place to celebrate special occasions), but it also draws plenty of families and even has a place for solo travelers too. (Check out our guide to everything you need to know about the Maldives for our best tips.)
To get yourself inspired for a trip to the Maldives, you can check out any of our in-depth photos of overwater bungalows, like those found at the posh Gili Lankanfushi. You can also opt for a virtual tour of the new Muraka villa at the Conrad Rangali Island, which has underwater and overwater sections (and which we also hope to visit someday).
Quite possibly one of the most famous resorts in all of the Maldives, Gili Lankanfushi was badly damaged by fire in 2019, but reopened in early 2020. It’s hard to overstate how nice this place is, and its only-overwater-bungalow layout draws devoted travelers year after year.
The only one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World that still exists, the pyramids in Giza are absolutely worth braving all of the tour buses and hawkers that come along with it. Go first thing in the morning to beat crowds and heat. You only need a day, but keep in mind that a guide providing transportation and information, and who navigates the tickets and crowds, makes your life easier. For a real treat, find a hotels with a sunset view of the pyramids and the Sphinx, where you can sit on your balcony listening to the call to prayer and clip-clop of horses and goat herds going home for the day.
While the pyramids are doable as a long layover, we strongly recommend making time for a trip to Luxor. In contrast to the noise and dust of Giza and Cairo, Luxor is a quieter city on the Nile. Arrive by overnight train and you’ll see the sunrise over sugarcane fields as you come into the city. Famous for enormous temples like Karnak and Luxor, as well as the Valley of the Kings, there’s plenty to explore for several days.
To explore the pyramids virtually, Google Maps provides a cool virtual tour, which includes the experience of walking up to the pyramids. You can visit Luxor and the Valley of the Kings virtually as well, with options for VR headsets and Oculus Rift experiences.
Situated relatively close to Cairo’s main central districts — and a 35-minute drive from the pyramids — the Sofitel Cairo El Gezirah is a popular choice. Rooms are attractive, and the hotel has a beautiful pool and spa.
The Galapagos‘ isolated terrain and unique ecosystems make it home to diverse plant and animal species that can’t be found anywhere else on earth. Here, humans’ needs take a backseat to animals. Turtle reserves, lava tunnels, nesting grounds, and dive sites peacefully coexist with a small development of island towns that provide the basics for nature lovers. A trip to the Galapagos Islands is expensive — there’s no denying that — but it’s something even the most casual nature lover should have on their bucket list.
Spotting a giant Galapagos tortoise is at the top of most travelers lists to this archipelago. While you can’t get to the islands right now, you can still catch these majestic animals in their natural habitat. Check out this live cam from Isla Santa Cruz — we spotted a tortoise eating between 5 and 6 PM ET.
The Finch Bay Galapagos Hotel provides all-inclusive packages that can include snorkel equipment and kayaks. It’s the only beachfront property in Puerto Ayora, but be sure to watch out for nesting iguanas — they have the right of way.
Built in the 1450s during the reign of Incan emperor Pachacuti, Machu Picchu was either a country estate for the emperor, or an important place of worship. Either way, hiking Machu Picchu is an unforgettable and once-in-a-lifetime experience. Trekkers can traverse the Inca Trail or take an alternate route. Either way, you’ll encounter awe-inspiring views, diverse plant and animal life, and rich cultural heritage.
Note that as Machu Picchu has become more and more popular (and accessible), you must make advance arrangements to visit the site and there are strict caps on the numbers of tourists allowed to visit on any given day. You’ll also need a guide if you plan on hiking the Inca Trail (that’s not a recommendation, but a requirement).
One of the New Seven Wonders of the World, you can take a cool virtual tour of Machu Picchu until it’s safe to travel again. With 360-degree imagery and narration about Machu Picchu, YouVisit.com offers a great virtual tour of Machu Picchu.
Amid the otherworldly history of this region, there are plenty of charming hotels that transport you to another time. The Belmond Hotel Monasterio is one of the more lavish in town, and its 16th-century setting certainly makes this a romantic spot.
Athens is a modern and cosmopolitan city that still embraces its past. It’s home to dozens of ancient monuments that honor Greek gods and all hail from at least the 5th century B.C. The Acropolis and Parthenon are easily accessible in the center of the city, and teem with ancient ruins begging to be photographed. A trip to the Acropolis Museum is also a must, for access to some of the most amazing relics and antiquities on the planet. You’ll also find the Theatre of Dionysus behind the walls of the Acropolis.
While it may not be the same as an up-close-and-personal encounter with ancient ruins, there are some ways to explore Athens’ historic sights to keep you inspired. Virtual tours of the Parthenon and Acropolis are both available, and you can even virtually explore the collections of the Acropolis Museum, which has partnered with Google Arts & Culture. Need more? Check out a sunset behind the Acropolis on this live cam.
Electra Palace Athens has some of the most stunning views of the Acropolis from the rooftop restaurant and pool. Seriously, even Athena would be jealous of how beautiful this hotel is.
Rome is filled with some of the most famous and beautiful Renaissance art and ancient architecture in the world. From the Colosseum, Pantheon, and Roman Forum to Piazza Navona, the Trevi Fountain, and other incredible sights, the city is packed with history. It also has tons of Old World charm around nearly every corner (despite often being overwhelmed with tourists). Roman food — the good stuff, not what you’ll find in the tourist trattorias around Trevi — is also some of the best there is in Italy.
However, atop many travelers’ lists when they get to Rome is a visit to the Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s Basilica. It’s a jaw-dropping spectacle, as the museums are filled with all manner of ancient and Renaissance treasures. However, the Sistine Chapel is considered by many to be the crown jewel of the Vatican collection (if not in all of Rome). You’ll need to book your tickets well in advance to avoid long lines, and you can easily spend an entire day making your way through the museums and chapel.
While you can’t enter the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel right now, you can still take a virtual tour. The Vatican Museums have posted 360-degree imagery of their most famous rooms, including the Sistine Chapel, to help immerse you in the spectacle.
With a prime location in Campo Marzio — close to tons of sights, shopping, and dining — as well as chic art-inspired interiors (and luxe perks), Elizabeth Unique Hotel is one of our favorite boutique hotels in Rome.
Tokyo has one of the best restaurant scenes in the world and it’s entirely possible to eat very well in the city without sampling any raw fish, but why would you want to? There are over 5,000 sushi restaurants in Tokyo and sushi consumption is an art form, found everywhere from conveyor belt joints (which don’t require any Japanese language skills for ordering) to three-star Michelin restaurants presided over by kimono-clad servers who attend to diners’ every need.
The Tsukiji Fish Market is no longer, though what’s known as the Tsukiji Outer Market still bustles with countless kitchenware and dining vendors. We suggest trying sushi at any of the nearby restaurants. If you want to see the auction itself, you’ll need to head out into Tokyo Bay, to the Toyosu Fish Market.
Possibly the most famous hotel in Tokyo, and featured in the film “Lost in Translation,” the Park Hyatt Tokyo is an elegant, exclusive hotel that has broad appeal. It’s also in the bustling Shinjuku district, putting all sorts of amazing food, shopping, and nightlife nearby.
Walt Disney World is the largest theme park attraction in the world and draws kids of all ages who want to experience “The Happiest Place on Earth.” Whether you’re coming to ride the legendary rides like Space Mountain, to lose yourself among the cultures of the world in Epcot Center, to check out Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge, or to simply snap as many pictures as you can of yourself and your family with Disney’s famous characters — Disney is packed with bucket-list potential.
These days, you’ll have to settle with exploring the park virtually. Our sister site Family Vacation Critic has compiled a list of all 13 Disney attractions that you can experience from the comfort and safety of your own home.
A stay at Disney Animal Kingdom Lodge comes with free shuttles and extended hours to access the parks — making it easier to meet Mickey Mouse.
Let’s be clear: Rio is a great idea at any time of year. This stunning city packs an insane cultural scene, amazing nightlife, beautiful beaches, jaw-dropping mountains, and modernist architecture into one of the most dazzling urban landscapes in the world. Of course, Rio comes even more alive during its annual Carnaval, which takes place in the week leading up to Ash Wednesday. The entire nation joins in on these festivities, but Rio’s samba schools and street parties are some of the most legendary in the world.
A trip to Rio during Carnaval is incredibly expensive, and tickets to the official Sambadromo sell out early. Since we can’t travel right now, though, get familiar with the mind-blowing spectacle of sights and sounds with highlights from 2019’s samba parades here and here. The Atlantic also has excellent photos from 2020’s festivities.
For a taste of Rio’s stunning Art Deco architectural history and a convenient address right in famous Copacabana, the Belmond Copacabana Palace is the spot. You’re right near the beach and there’s a fun pool right on-site.
The Great Barrier Reef is so big that it can be seen from outer space. It also happens to be one of the most endangered destinations on this list, as climate change fuels mass coral bleaching events. The underwater ecosystem is home to countless sharks, dolphins, turtles, sea plants, and colorful fish, making the reef a magnet for professional and amateur divers. Excursions to Great Barrier Reef dive and snorkel sights can be arranged from many towns along the coast of Queensland. Cairns and Townsville are both popular home bases for overnight or multi-day tours of the reef.
To safely tour the reef now — along with expert insight into its ecosystems and wildlife — we recommend the legendary historian David Attenborough’s interactive reef journey. It tracks your mileage and location as you navigate about the reef learning about the habitat.
When you’re not out on the open water, you’ll want to bed down in style. It’s hard to top the adults-only Qualia Resort on Hamilton Island in the Whitsundays, which has beautiful landscaped grounds and a seaside infinity pool.
The Amalfi Coast has been dubbed the “femme-fatale” of Italy. The stretch of coastal road from the shoreline in Sorrento south to Salerno is curvy, gorgeous, and not for the faint of heart. Hairpin turns and steep cliffs make for some white-knuckle driving. However, that precise landscape — steep cliffs and azure seas below — are what make this entire region so magical. Well, the landscape and the impossibly charming towns tucked in between, like Positano, Ravello, and Amalfi.
The best sunset views are had out toward Sorrento or on the Island of Capri (though sunset cruises are also incredibly popular). You can get a nice dose of this gorgeous stretch of Italy by checking out the webcams set up in numerous towns, like Positano and Amalfi, and overlooking the beach.
We suggest making a pitstop at the Santa Caterina Hotel for uninterrupted sea views and a super-chic pool built into the cliffs. Oh, and there’s a free shuttle to Amalfi town if you can’t stomach getting behind the wheel again.
Cuba has exerted a magnetic pull on the world’s imagination for decades now, and the island’s colonial architecture, incredible music scene, and white-sand beaches are not to be missed. Some of the favorite tourist pastimes are a bit cliche, but we’re not going to blame you for taking pics of vintage cars and smoking cigars. Keep in mind that for travelers from the United States, you must adhere to specific rules in order to visit the country, so check well in advance before planning your trip.
For a quick virtual introduction to Havana, check out this narrated Havana tour with 360-degree capabilities to immerse yourself in the sights and sounds of the city.
The historic Hotel Telegrafo is within walking distance to Old Havana attractions and you can buy rum and cigars on-site.
For many art lovers and travelers, the work of Frida Kahlo is a main reason to visit Mexico City. Visitors can (and should) pay homage to her life and art at her former home — La Casa Azul — which is now a museum. The striking blue house (that she shared with partner Diego Rivera) showcases (some of) her paintings, studio, bedroom, gardens, and her iconic twists on traditional Mexican garments and textiles. When you’ve had your fill, the Coyoacan neighborhood is a beautiful part of town to stroll for an afternoon (or check out the museum devoted to Frida’s friend and Coyoacan neighbor, Leon Trotsky).
While we all curb our traveling for the time being, there are still several ways to explore Frida Kahlo’s house and work. Casa Azul is offering virtual tours of the Frida Kahlo Museum, while Google Arts and Culture is providing a Face of Frida virtual exhibition.
For modern creature comforts like designer rooms and a spa that uses local products, it’s hard to top Las Alcobas in posh Polanco. We like to think Frida would have approved of the exquisite traditional Mexican food at the hotel’s Dulce Patria.
You’re going to need a good night’s sleep and a big, hearty breakfast buffet (heavy on the noodles) before fighting the crowds and tackling the steps and steep terrain of the Great Wall outside of Beijing. Keep in mind that this section — Mutianyu — is the most easily accessible and popular part of the wall to visit (in fact, travelers with long layovers in Beijing often make it a day trip between connecting flights). If you’re willing to go a bit farther afield, the Huanghuacheng section of the Great Wall is incredibly scenic and situated next to a lake for amazing pictures.
If you’d like a preview of what awaits you when you’re finally able to visit the Great Wall of China, check out this virtual tour at The China Guide.
The Rosewood Beijing hotel provides just the ticket, along with a chic pool and luxe rooms that are soundproofed against the constant hustle and bustle of the city. And, if finding a reputable tour guide or accurate information on how to access the wall is proving too difficult with China’s notoriously restricted internet, the concierge staff is available to lend a hand.
Unless you were born a royal, chances are you haven’t spent the night in a castle. Across Ireland, England, and Scotland, castles dot the landscape, creating magical portals to another time and place in history. Many of the most famous castle hotels in the world are open to tourists during the day, offering all sorts of activities from falconry to traditional high teas complete with scones and clotted cream.
And while Windsor Castle — home to the Queen of the United Kingdom — isn’t something most of us will see in our lifetime, you can take a virtual tour of many of its interiors on the Royal Family’s official website.
The upscale Langley Castle Hotel is housed in a genuine 14th-century fortress complete with numerous medieval features, such as seven-foot thick fortress walls and suits of medieval armor. Four-poster beds and cavernous bathrooms will make anyone feel like a royal for the night.
Hawaii is likely on your bucket list for a lot of reasons — surfing, snorkeling with turtles, and swimming under waterfalls — but one of the more unusual opportunities that Hawaii affords is volcano hiking and seeing lava flow. As of 2018, large eruptions on the Big Island’s Kilauea Volcano — inside of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park — significantly altered the landscape and caused serious damage to nearby communities. There are other less-active volcanoes throughout the state, though, including the dormant summit at Haleakala National Park.
Many of the national parks in the U.S. have changed their hours or are closed, and the situation in Hawaii is no different during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, there are numerous live cams operated by the National Parks Service throughout Hawaii Volcanoes National Park that provide a cool virtual way to explore the landscape until it’s safe to travel again.
One of the most popular hotels on the Big Island, the Fairmont Orchid is a great upmarket pick. The grounds are beautiful, the rooms are spacious, and there’s even a private beach area.
There are too many reasons why a trip to Bangkok is bucket-list worthy. From its historic temples to its dizzying mall scene, insane nightlife, and the incomparable Chatuchak Weekend Market. However, one thing Bangkok does better than almost any other city in the world is street food. From pungent green papaya salads to noodles thrown together in almost any and every combination (all with a sky-high spice quotient), the city’s street-food vendors are almost unmatched in the world.
For an excellent introduction to Bangkok’s street food (which is threatened by current government attempts at regulation), it’s worth checking out episode one of Netflix’s “Street Food” series, Bangkok.
With a rooftop pool overlooking Lumpini Park and great destination dining and drinking right on-site, the SO Sofitel is a lovely oasis in the midst of this completely chaotic city. Attractive, contemporary decor seals the deal.
A magnet for millions of tourists every year (yes, we said millions), perhaps no other landmark so readily signifies any city in the world as the Eiffel Tower does for Paris. The iconic structure is very much a part of the Paris experience and provides sweeping views of the City of Love. The observation deck all the way at the top of the tower is unrivaled in its views of Paris (make sure you book your tickets well in advance). Visit twice — go to the top once in the daytime and then return to the base of the tower again at night when 20,000 lightbulbs twinkle.
This most inspiring of landmarks just might be the perfect remedy for this socially distanced and uncertain era — when experienced virtually. We recommend checking out the panoramic 360-degree view from the top and then heading to the Eiffel Tower’s official site to brush up on its history.
The Pullman Paris Tour Eiffel is just one block from the landmark and offers balcony views from some of its rooms.
With their sky-high price tags and large amount of logistical wrangling necessary, African safaris are truly once-in-a-lifetime bucket-list adventures. Whether you’re exploring the Masai Mara and Serengetti in Kenya and Tanzania, or heading to Rwanda to spot mountain gorillas, a trip to these unique (and threatened) ecosystems is always jaw-dropping. That’s especially true in East Africa if you time your visit to the great migration of wildebeest and other hoofed animals.
To get your fill of African wildlife right now, there are several ways to virtually explore the continent’s wildlife from your home. Explore.org offers live cams on several African watering holes that draw an insane collection of animal. You can also get into some of Kenya’s national parks by webcam, including Aberdare National Park.
Luxury and safari aren’t two words that usually go together, but the andBeyond Nxabega Okavango Tented Camp manages to combine glamorous tents and access to wild elephants, lions, leopards hippos, buffalo, hyenas, zebras, cheetahs, crocodiles, and giraffes. It’s located in Botswana’s Okavango Delta region.
If exploring some of the most magnificent temples ever built sounds like a dream to you, then a trip to Angkor Wat must be on your list. Located to the north of Siem Reap, Cambodia, the collection of dozens of ancient Khmer sites sprawls across the flat jungle landscape.
While Angkor Wat itself is the star of the show (at sunrise, all day long, and again at sunset), other highlights include the Bayon temple and its massive Buddha faces as well as Ta Prohm (made extra-famous in “Tomb Raider”). Pro tip? Opt for a bike ride to Angkor Wat on at least one morning and make sure you visit the Bayon around sunset for a truly atmospheric wonder.
Until it’s safe to travel again, we suggest whetting your appetite for a visit to Angkor Wat by taking the Virtual Angkor tour, which offers extensive 360-degree imagery of the main temple.
About a 10-minute walk from Pub Street in central Siem Reap, The Moon Residence is a sharp boutique option in a town with more than its share. The outdoor pool is a welcome perk after a long, hot day touring the ancient Angkor Wat sites.
Marrakech offers a feast for all five senses and there’s no better way to see, hear, taste, touch, or smell the city than by getting lost in its winding maze of shops, restaurants, and people that make up the souks. You’ll likely spend almost all of your time in Marrakech in the Medina, which is the ancient part of the city (though still very much thrives today). Narrow alleyways zig this way and that, and getting lost is all part of the fun. You’ll also need to make time to visit Jemaa El Fna, the city’s main market.
Until it’s safe to travel the globe again, there are some cool ways to explore the city. We love this 360-degree virtual tour of Marrakech that Samsung did in 2019.
The Riad Tamarrakecht provides a nearby respite from the occasionally overwhelming city with a colorful courtyard and small plunge pool, plus a rooftop terrace with a Berber tent.
Do we even need to tell you about the Grand Canyon? Perhaps the most famous natural wonders of the entire world, the Grand Canyon is worthy of almost every superlative that exists. Tucked in the extreme northwest of Arizona, the canyon frames the Colorado River and is home to too many jaw-dropping hikes to count. The South Rim is the most famous and where you’ll find the most popular viewpoints, but venturing to the North Rim rewards with fewer crowds and more pristine natural landscapes.
The National Parks Service offers numerous virtual tours through many of the Grand Canyon’s most famous trails — including the South Kaibab Trail and Bright Angel Trail.
Set right inside of Grand Canyon National Park. Yavapai Lodge puts you close to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon and offers clean, comfortable rooms.
24. Sail Ha Long Bay in Vietnam
You’ve likely seen pictures of Vietnam’s stunning Ha Long Bay ever before you knew what it was. The image of thousands of dramatic karst islands jutting out of the sea, criss-crossed by junk-boat, is the definition of iconic. Located about four hours southeast of Hanoi, Ha Long Bay is best toured by boat. And by boat, we mean a luxury cruise. This allows you to get away from the extremely crowded waters near the shoreline that are filled with daytrippers and budget overnighters. You get what you pay for here, and the prices are high, but shelling out for a Ha Long Bay cruise is unlikely to be a trip you’ll forget once you’ve explored hidden caves and gone swimming in the bay itself.
For some inspiration to visit when it’s safe to travel again, check out this video from National Geographic, which provides some background on the legend of Ha Long Bay.
The crown jewel of Mughal architecture in India — and a building so famous it has captured the hearts and minds of travelers, romantics, and artists almost anywhere in the world — the Taj Mahal is as beautiful to behold as the hype. Should you fly all the way to India to see this building alone? No. There are thousands of amazing destinations in India to add to your itinerary. But a day in Agra touring the grounds of this marble beauty is something you won’t soon forget. Make sure to hop across the Yamuna River to watch the sun go down as well (and be sure to devote some time exploring Agra’s Red Fort too).
Since the Taj Mahal is closed during the global COVID-19 outbreak, you’ll have to settle for a virtual tour (don’t worry — it won’t ruin the impression the building makes in real life). Google Streetview has a curated experience around the Taj Mahal grounds that’s worth checking out.
If you’re after a lovely property with tons of perks (including an on-site astrologer), you’d do well at the ITC Mughal. It’s not within walking distance of the Taj Mahal, but the hotel makes for a welcome respite from the busy center of Agra.
Now, watch our video on bucket-list trips to take before you die.
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