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From the high mountain ranges of South America to the vast deserts of northern Africa, the world is full of iconic places. These esteemed travel destinations are iconic in every sense – famous attractions, revered sites, and aesthetic marvels that stretch the imagination and leave you in awe.
Needless to say, people flock to them in droves every year! But what are the most iconic places on the planet? Which ones stand out from the crowd and defy belief in terms of their historical, aesthetic, or geological claims to fame? Today, we’re going to shed light on 22 of the best.
1. Stonehenge, England
This ancient ring of towering monoliths is arguably the most famous stone circle on the planet. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Stonehenge is a historical site estimated to be 5,000 years old. It’s also a stone’s throw (pardon the pun) from London, making it a fun place to go with friends on a day trip from the UK capital.
2. Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland
Visit Giant’s Causeway on the north coast of Northern Ireland to see 40,000 interlocking basalt columns rise at different heights from the land and sea. A striking geological feature, it was first formed over 60 million years ago from volcanic activity. It’s now one of the most iconic places in the UK and a treasured Irish symbol.
3. Mount Everest, Nepal and Tibet
You don’t have to be a mountaineer to appreciate the majesty of Mount Everest, which is probably why it’s the subject of so many mountain quotes. With a summit that rises 29,029 feet above sea level, it’s officially the highest mountain on the planet. In Tibetan, it is called Chomolungma, meaning “Mother Goddess of the World” – a name that does better justice to its magnificence.
4. The Great Wall of China, China
No list of iconic places would be complete without the Great Wall of China. Officially the longest wall in the world, its combined sections stretch over 13,000 miles across the country. Designed to defend against invasion from nomadic nations to the north, construction started almost three millennia ago and continued for over 2,000 years.
5. The Eiffel Tower, France
The Eiffel Tower may lack the history of previous items on this list, but there’s no denying its iconic status. A must-see tourist attraction in Paris, it’s become one of the world’s most visited monuments. With a distinctive architectural design and unparalleled city views, it’s easy to understand the appeal.
6. Sydney Opera House, Australia
The layered white sails of the Sydney Opera House have been delighting visitors since the building first opened in 1973. It’s located in the center of Sydney Harbor and has become a symbol of the city (if not Australia as a whole) as well as one of the planet’s most popular performing arts venues.
7. The Acropolis, Greece
Iconic places in Europe don’t get much more famous or impressive than the Acropolis. Positioned atop a rocky outcrop overlooking Athens, this magnificent ancient citadel was once the seat of civilization in Greece. Visit to explore its ruins, including the remarkable 2,500-year-old marble-columned Parthenon.
8. The Colosseum, Italy
On the topic of impressive remnants of ancient civilizations, let’s not forget Rome’s incredible Colosseum. This vast elliptical amphitheater – the largest ever built – boasts almost 2,000 years of history. Exploring it is like stepping back in time. A paid tour is the best way to discover its secrets and learn about its storied past.
9. Easter Island, Chile
Easter Island (or Rapa Nui) has an air of mystery that few other travel destinations can claim. Located over 2,000 miles off Chile’s western coast, it’s remote, isolated, and covered in huge monoliths shaped like humans, known as moai statues. To this day, nobody knows how the civilization that made them met their demise.
10. The Great Pyramid of Giza, Egypt
Welcome to one of the original Wonders of the World. The Pyramids of Giza have stood for millennia, baffling scientists, dazzling onlookers, and inspiring storytellers ever since they were built. The largest of them is the aptly-named Great Pyramid, which towers over 480m above the surrounding sands.
11. Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe and Zambia
Victoria Falls is an astounding natural landmark located on the Zambezi River. The largest waterfall in the world, it’s over 100m tall and one mile long. If that isn’t impressive enough, up to 500 million liters of water cascade down it every single minute. Rare lunar rainbows are also known to occur here.
12. Mount Rushmore, United States
Seeing George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, or Abraham Lincoln in the flesh might not be possible. But if you drive approximately 25 miles from Rapid City into the Black Hills of South Dakota, you get the next best thing: Mount Rushmore. An all-popular American tourist attraction, it cuts a striking sight – especially in the early morning, when the rising sun spotlights the faces.
13. The Western Wall, Jerusalem
Located in the Old City of Jerusalem, the Western Wall (sometimes called the Kotel, Kosel, or Wailing Wall) is a sacred pilgrimage site that dates to the second century BC. It’s common practice for visitors to leave handwritten notes of prayer in the cracks between the walls’ ancient stones.
14. Machu Picchu, Peru
Standing over 2,400m above sea level atop a mountain in Southern Peru, Machu Picchu certainly isn’t the easiest iconic place to get to. But it’s worth the effort! Once there, you’ll find the remnants of an abandoned 15th Century Incan citadel. Only rediscovered in 1911, the history, location, and level of preservation are breathtaking.
15. La Sagrada Familia, Spain
Tucked away in the Eixample Right district of Barcelona, you’ll find the eye-catching Church of the Holy Family, a.k.a. La Sagrada Familia. Designed by famed architect Antoni Gaudi, construction began on this striking structure over 140 years ago and should be finished by 2026. It’s been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1984.
16. Petra, Jordan
Indiana Jones, eat your heart out. Located deep in the Jordanian desert, Petra is the original Lost City – a once-thriving capital of an ancient empire carved right into (and out of) the rock. An architectural wonder, you’ll take one look at its hulking pink sandstone columns and gawp at the skill and artistry of the ancients.
17. Taj Mahal, India
The Taj Mahal is one of the most iconic places in Asia. An elaborate white-marble mausoleum complex in northern India, it was built by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in tribute to his wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died in childbirth. Construction of the 42-acre site began in 1632 and lasted 12 years. It’s now a UNESCO World Heritage Site that attracts countless visitors every year.
18. Christ The Redeemer, Brazil
Look to the summit of Mount Corcovado in Rio de Janeiro, and you’ll see this towering 98-foot-tall Art Deco statue staring down at you. Known as Christ the Redeemer, this striking monument has become a symbol of the city and Brazil since it was built in 1931. See it up close for unparalleled views of the area.
19. Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Southeast Asia is home to countless sites of ancient and cultural significance. Yet few are as infamous, impressive, or iconic as Angkor Wat in Cambodia. This age-old temple complex was built in the 12th Century and served as the capital of the Khmer Empire. It remains the largest religious monument on the planet.
20. Table Mountain, South Africa
This iconic flat-topped mountain in Cape Town, South Africa, dominates the skyline. A local landmark famed across the globe, it’s one of the country’s most visited attractions. Whether you hike or take the cable car to the summit, the views, fauna, and flora make for a memorable day out.
21. Big Ben, England
You don’t have to be an Anglophile to appreciate this iconic clock tower in the capital of the UK. However, did you know “Big Ben” has never been its real name? It’s now officially known as the Elizabeth Tower (following Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012). Whatever you call it, this much-loved 96-meter-high tower in Westminster is one of the country’s most recognizable landmarks.
22. Uluru (Ayers Rock), Australia
Imagine driving through a desert full of sand. The land is arid, featureless, and flat. Then, out of nowhere, a giant 348m mound of red rock emerges on the horizon. As you approach, it catches the setting sun, glowing a startling red that renders you speechless. That’s the magic of Uluru – arguably the most iconic natural landmark in Australia and a sacred place to Aboriginal people.
Put These Iconic Places on Your Bucket List
Life is short, and the world is big, which – to the immense disappointment of avid travelers – means you can never see everything! Thankfully, there are iconic places everywhere you go.
So whether you visit one country in your lifetime or 100, you can expect to encounter awe-inspiring sites and attractions you’ll never forget. With any luck, this list of 22 famous destinations will help you decide where to go next.
This article originally appeared on Wealth of Geeks.