TripAdvisor releases all kinds of travel lists every year. Among the most intriguing of these lists from the end of 2015 was the 25 Best Landmarks in the World. The list spans the globe from Cambodia to San Francisco, bringing you some of the most awe-inspiring travel destinations on Earth. We thought we’d take it a step further and expand on the top 10 with captivating photos from each location. Because honestly, what’s a list without some wanderlust-porn? The result is essentially a visual bucket list that will give you itchy feet.
While most of the top 10 destinations featured on the list are religious, you don’t have to be devout to appreciate their beauty, history, and craftsmanship. In order to get a practical grasp on the overall experience travelers had while visiting different destinations, we also asked a couple friends who’d been there to give us the skinny. We’ll kick things off in Southeast Asia with the No. 1 rated landmark in the world…
1. Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia
This 12th century temple complex in Cambodia is the largest religious monument in the world. With delicate preservation and over two million visitors in 2013 alone, it’s no surprise this place is No. 1. When asked to describe Angkor Wat in three words, a friend (who has been living in China for the last three years) said it was, “Ginormous, unique, and HOT.” Then she added lots of other words and said, “Angkor Wat is my fave tourist destination I’ve been to. It’s just cool as hell.” Uproxx’s travel editor, Steve Bramucci, added, “My Angkor Wat recommendation is to see the temples by bicycle. Most of the big busses travel in a loop — if you have your own transport you can avoid them and have a much more tranquil experience.
2. Machu Picchu, Peru
Built by the Incans in the 15th century, Machu Picchu sits nearly 8,000 feet above sea level in the Andes Mountains. It served as a royal estate for Inca elite and today its baths, houses, temples and sanctuaries welcome hundreds of thousands of visitors every year. We asked an expat living in Buenos Aires to describe her visit to Machu Picchu in three words. She called it, “Beautiful, impressive, and Incan.” She also added, “There are llamas up there roaming around. Who knows how they got there.”
ALTERNATE ADVENTURE: Ciudad Perdida (The Lost City) in Colombia is equally well preserved with nowhere near as much foot traffic.
3. Taj Mahal, Agra, India
The Taj Mahal is a labor of love that you will never be able to compete with. Sorry. It was commissioned in 1632 by Mughal emperor, Shan Jhan (Sean John?). The incredibly symmetrical, ivory, white marble structure on the south bank of the Yamuna river in Agra, India was built to house the tomb of his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. The estimated cost of construction is $200 million and worth every penny, as it is literally so beautiful you could cry looking at photos (not me though, I definitely didn’t cry looking at pictures of it.)
4. Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
If you were even the slightest bit dehydrated, it’d be reasonable to assume that the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, UAE was a mirage. Built to combine modern and classic Islamic artistic styles, the mosque boasts more than 80 white domes. Its exterior is covered in white marble while the inside features Islamic calligraphy and verses from the Quran. Sheikh Zayed was president of the United Arab Emirates for 33 years and initiated construction of the Mosque to unify cultural diversity in the Islamic world.
5. La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, Spain
La Sagrada Familia began as an expiatory temple dedicated to the Holy Family. Its construction started in 1882 and continues today. After the original architect bailed, the job was passed along to famed Spanish architect, Antoni Gaudi, who worked on the temple for 43 years. Gaudi drew inspiration from Gothic and Byzantine cathedrals, nature, light and color. Each structure is religiously significant and the result is a life-size drip-castle in which each handful of sand tells a story.
“So many tourist sites seem…too perfect,” Uproxx’s Steve Bramucci told us. “But this church has a weirdness and a spontaneous energy to its beauty that’s rare and striking.”
6. St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City, Italy
St. Peter’s Basilica is the largest basilica of Christianity in the world and the burial site of the first Pope, St. Peter. It’s designed in the shape of a Latin cross with a large dome at the crossing. Noteworthy contributors to the Basilica’s construction include two of the Ninja Turtles — Rafael, Michelangelo — and the artist, Bernini. When asked to describe her trip to the St. Peter’s Basilica in three words, the author’s sister said, “grand, mysterious, and churchy,” then added, more importantly, “smells like church.” So there you have it!
7. Milan Cathedral, Milan, Italy
AKA Duomo di Milano, the Milan Cathedral took nearly six centuries to complete because all the Italians were probably just hanging at Lake Cuomo drinking wine all the time. The Cathedral is dedicated to St. Mary of the Nativity and is the seat of the Archbishop of Milan. Most interestingly of all, supposedly one of the nails from Jesus’ crucifixion is inside the church. It is represented by a red lightbulb above the altar, and every Saturday closest to September 14 the Archbishop retrieves the nail to exhibit it.
The Milan Cathedral also has more statues than any other building in the world, some of which are gargoyles, which is equally cool and eerie.
8. Alcatraz, San Francisco, Calif.
Alcatraz, not to be confused with Azkaban, was used by the U.S. military for much of the 19th century then converted into a prison in the 20th century. It boasted some of the country’s most infamous criminals including Al Capone, Machine Gun Kelly, Whitey Bulger, and someone named Alvin “Creepy” Karpis. Though it is creepy and almost certainly haunted, a friend described “The Rock” as “beautiful, preserved, and hokey.” He also mentioned that, “it’s my favorite tourist trap in San Francisco! Seriously, it is packed with old people from Kansas, but SO COOL.”
9. Cristo Redentor, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
In English, the name of this massive statue translates to “Christ the Redeemer,” but it is less a religious symbol and more a national, cultural emblem. Since its completion in 1931, the statue has been struck by lightning several times, including once directly on the skull, and has undergone diligent restoration. The statue has a secret trap door on Christ’s right shoulder and an “access hole” in the middle of Christ’s head. Also, Jay-Z likes to shout it out in rap lyrics.
10. Golden Gate Bridge, California
The Golden Gate Bridge is an iconic staple of Bay Area culture. It’s been around since 1937 and has somehow lost 7,500 tons of weight in that time. You go girl! It has also been in a lot of movies, so it’s super hip and famous. Basically, the Golden Gate Bridge is everything you wish you could be. Despite being a massive tourist destination and the symbol of record setting Golden State Warriors, crowds are never a problem because you can see the bridge from so many places.
To see landmarks 11-25 head here!