While all of the well-known wonders in the world are definitely worth visiting (why else would they be well-known?), it’s sometimes nice to get a bit off of the beaten path and experience the cultural and natural wonders of the world – especially if it means fewer crowds. The world isn’t limited to the same old hot spots that have been mentioned in guidebooks for ages. So for your next vacation, instead of trekking off to that place you’ve heard a million people talk about, strike out for one of these hidden gems and discover unique experiences all your own.
1. Church of San Juan Parangaricutiro, Michoacán, Mexico
You’ve probably heard of the famous ancient Roman ruin of Pompeii, but what about the ruined villages of Paricutin and San Juan Parangaricutiro? Destroyed in the early 1940s by the sudden emergence of Paricutin volcano, all that remains are these cathedral ruins.
2. Visby, Gotland, Sweden
With its medieval ruins, exquisite Old Town, fragrant rose gardens and expansive views of the beautiful Baltic Sea, it’s little wonder that Visby is one of the world’s hidden island gems.
3. Plitvice Lakes, Croatia
Of all of the waterfalls in the world, none are quite as extraordinary as those at Plitvice. Of course, I should say “series of waterfalls,” as this amazing natural ensemble is composed of 16 different terraced limestone lakes, with crystal clear water flowing from one to the next.
4. St. Michael’s Mount, Cornwall, England
Perhaps you’ve heard of Mont Saint Michel, but what about its English cousin? With its castle and gardens rising proud from the waters of Mount’s Bay, St. Michael’s Mount is a beloved Cornish gem.
5. Samarkand, Uzbekistan
History, legend, and beauty weave themselves together like a magical mirage in Samarkand, home to ancient mosques and the mausoleum of the famous Tamerlane. Titled by UNESCO as the Crossroads of Culture, this city exemplifies the wonders of the Silk Road.
6. The Dazu Rock Carvings, China
Stretching out through the mountainous domain of Dazu County, these extraordinary rock carvings pay homage to multiple religions, from Buddhism to Taoism, and date back over 1,000 years.
7. Kakslauttanen Hotel, Finland
The Arctic typically conjures up images of cold, stark landscapes, so this should be a pleasant surprise. Leaving bleakness behind, this hotel has created these beautiful glass igloos in the midst of a forest, perfect for viewing clear Northern nights and their dancing lights.
8. Ithaa Undersea Restaurant, Maldives
A dining experience unlike any other you could probably find in the world, this underwater restaurant sits below the Indian Ocean and thrills visitors with everything from schools of colorful fish to graceful sharks.
9. Smoo Cave, Scotland
This massive seaside cave looks like something straight out of Jurassic Park, but don’t worry, the only thing lurking within its depths is a hidden waterfall that cascades 80 feet into the placid waters below.
10. Garajonay National Park, Canary Islands
Like something out of a dream, this park is almost always shrouded in mists that drift in from the Atlantic, making this land of twisted laurisilva trees, delicate flowers, and carpets of moss seem like a completely separate reality.
11. Al-Hijr Archeological Site, Saudi Arabia
While its northern neighbor and fellow Nabataean city, Petra, is far more well-known and visited, this beautiful site is composed of well over 100 elaborately carved tombs that date back over 2,000 years, making it a must see locale.
12. Lake Baikal, Russia
Holding about 20% of all the world’s freshwater, Baikal, the world’s oldest lake, is also one of the world’s largest. Its clear waters are home to a massively diverse range of marine life found nowhere else, including the world’s only freshwater seal.
13. Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius
Ringed in by thick whitewashed walls, its blue and gold onion domes soaring to the heavens, this monastery complex sets the imagination aflame. With its colorful mosaics, fanciful wedding cake styled architecture, and its dozens of gold crosses glinting in the light, this is quintessential Russia.
14. Ruins of San Ignacio Mini, Argentina
Built as a Jesuit mission in the early 17th century, San Ignacio survived for about two centuries before native inhabitants of the area destroyed it. The ruins are among several that stretch across Argentina and Brazil, and are considered to be the best.
15. Green Lake, Austria
Throughout the winter, this valley is mostly a park with a small lake, but when the warmth of spring comes the valley fills with the clearest of water to create a fleeting underwater kingdom.
16. Treehouse Point, Washington State, USA
This hotel, composed of several uniquely designed dwellings, is the ultimate proof that the fascination we have with treehouses doesn’t leave us along with our childhood.
17. Western Brook Pond, Canada
Everything about this natural wonder is playfully misleading – it’s called a pond, but it’s actually a huge fjord, which then of course makes you think “Norway,” but you’re actually looking at a piece of Gros Morne National Park in Canada.
18. Citadelle Laferriere, Haiti
Commanding a position atop the mountains of Northern Haiti, this early 19th century fortress provides stunning views of the surrounding mountainous terrain as well as the not too distant Atlantic Ocean.
19. Dambulla Cave Temple
Dating back over two millennia, this temple complex showcases some of the most beautiful and intricately carved Buddhist statues and decorations in Sri Lanka, all spread out over five extraordinary caves.
20. Spanish Synagogue, Prague
This cultural jewel is tucked away in Prague’s historic Jewish Quarter and contains some of the most fabulous displays of Moorish styled architecture and design in the world.