25 Places to visit before you die
Airport Park and Ride’s definitive list of places to visit before you die
As the regular reader of the blog will know (yes, the non-pluralisation of the word ‘reader’ is intentional – we know our place), here at Airport Park and Ride, I’m waging something of a one-man war against time itself.
Even in the modern era, with the world being so ‘small’, now that you can literally park your car in one of Glasgow’s Airport car parks – apologies for the gratuitous SEO fodder there, dear reader – and fly anywhere in the world within a relatively short amount of time (when compared to the epic multiple year travails of explorers of the past) there is still a case of “so much to do, so little time”!
So, to help you to make the most of your life, and decide on the best places to spend your hard-earned duckets on visiting, I’ve put together a list of 25 places to visit before you die.
Because, as Ernest Hemingway said: “Every man’s life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguish one man from another.”
Angkor Wat, Siem Reap Province, Cambodia
First up in my list of places to visit before you die is Angkor Wat, which incidentally, took first place in Tripadvisor’s Top Landmarks 2015.
The vast city of Angkor was the capital of the Khmer Empire of Cambodia from the 9 th to the 15 th century, and Angkor Wat is just one of a number of ancient temples within the site – which is the largest religious monument in the world and a designated UNESCO World Heritage site.
Within the temple, you can see carved bas-reliefs that illustrate scenes from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata – ancient, epic poems that are also sacred Hindi texts.
The best time to visit Angkor Wat is in the off-season (May-October), when you will avoid the crowds and be able to quietly contemplate the majestic beauty of Angkor Wat.
Petra, Southwestern Desert, Jordan
First and foremost, if it’s good enough for Indiana Jones, it’s good enough for me. Really, that’s where I should leave this section, but, just in case you’re not fully conversant with Harrison Ford’s seminal works, I shall elaborate.
Al-madina Al-ward ah – the rose-coloured city – dates to around 300 BC, and was the capital of the Nabatean Kingdom. Accessed via a narrow, twisting gorge – Al Siq – the city is carved into the pink sandstone cliffs of the desert, and remains well preserved, mainly because it was forgotten. Petra fell into decline after earthquakes in the 4 th and 6 th centuries AD, and wasn’t even on Western maps until its rediscovery, in 1812, by the Swiss explorer, Johan Ludwig Burckhardt.
An average of 5,000 visitors a day can’t be wrong. Petra is simply must be one of the places you visit before you die.
Red Square, Moscow, Russia
The quintessential image of Russia is Red Square, with the iconic architecture of St Basil’s Cathedral, the weight of history of the Kremlin, Lenin’s tomb and the massive façade of the GUM surrounding the vast, cobbled square.
Not only is Red Square a pretty awe-inspiring sight, it’s also pretty mind-blowing to realise how much of Russian history unfolded there; Red Square has seen everything from victorious parades and celebrations, to high profile executions and displays of military power.
It’s a definite must-see!
Tikal, Petén Basin, Guatemala
Not to be mistaken for the Method Man track, Tical, the ancient Mayan city of Tikal – likely to have been called Yax Mutal – wasn’t rediscovered until 1848, and is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
For obvious reason, the site is simply stunning, with architecture meant to inspire and intimidate – Temple IV, at 70 metres tall, is the tallest pre-Columbian structure in the Americas.
Founded in around 200 BC, Tikal became a superpower of the Mayan era, until circa 900 AD, when the Mayans abandoned the city, leaving it to become enshrouded in jungle and mystery until its rediscovery.
Due to the most extensive surviving glyphs in the Mayan world, the city’s dynastic history is well documented, despite the fact that only around 15% of it has been reclaimed from the jungle.
The Taj Mahal, Angra, India
Built by the Mughal Emperor, Shah Jahan, as a tomb and memorial for his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, after she died during the birth of their 14 th child, the Taj Mahal is – as described by the Nobel laureate, Rabindranath Tagore – “the tear drop on the cheek of time”.
With its pure white marble façade, minaret-flanked dome and exquisite pool and gardens, the Taj Mahal took around 15 years to complete, at a staggering cost, estimated to have been roughly equivalent to £610m in today’s money, and it attracts more than seven million visitors a year.
The Taj Mahal’s splendour somehow doesn’t take away from the feeling of tranquillity that the place exudes. Another UNESCO World Heritage site, the Taj Mahal should be on any traveller’s bucket list.
Victoria Falls, Zambia/Zimbabwe, Africa
Situated on the Zambezi, on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe, and classified as the largest waterfall in the world, based on its combined height and width, Victoria Falls is the largest sheet of falling water that you can see anywhere in the world.
The waterfall is, in fact, so powerful that it can be heard from 40km away and its spray can be seen from around 50km, earning it its local name: Mosi-o-Tunya (the smoke that thunders).
Believed to have been first seen by Western eyes in 1855, when the Scottish explorer and missionary, David Livingstone, saw it from what is now known as Livingstone Island, Victoria Falls is a site (and sight, boom boom) of outstanding natural beauty. One that, I think, should be on everyone’s list of places to visit before you die.
Christ the Redeemer, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Standing regally at the peak of the Corcovado mountain, in the Tijuca Forest, Christ the Redeemer surveys the city of Rio de Janeiro, which sprawls beneath its gaze.
The statue, including its pedestal, stands at nearly 40 metres tall, is listed as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World and took 9 years to construct.
From the peak of the mountain, upon which Dynamo levitated, you can feast your eyes on both the magnificent statue, and truly spectacular views of the city, below.
Basilica of the Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, Spain
Designed by Gaudí, work began on the Sagrada Familia in 1882, and it is still unfinished. Gaudí combined Gothic and Art Nouveau styles in his design of the Basilica, and dedicated his life from 1883, when he took over the project, to his death in 1926 – when the project was still less than a quarter complete – to it.
Despite the fact it’s still 9 years from its estimated completion date, the Sagrada Familia is already an absolutely magnificent sight, and is the most visited monument in all of Spain. If you’re planning a bucket list journey around places to visit before you die, Sagrada Familia should, without doubt, be on it.
Mesa Verde, Colorado, United States
Mesa Verde’s cliff dwellings were built in the 1200s, but ancestral Puebloans first inhabited the area as early as 600 AD.
A great drought and resulting social upheaval left the site abandoned by 1300, not to be discovered by Western colonisers until the 1880s. After which, the site was widely looted and plundered.
Much of the mesa was turned into a National Park in 1906, and the cave dwellings are now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The protection provided by the National Park status, combined with the natural protection provided by the overhanging rocks have left the cliff dwellings, and ancient artwork that the Puebloans chiselled into the cliff-faces, beautifully preserved.
If you don’t suffer from vertigo or claustrophobia, then the climb up steep ladders and crawl through tight tunnels that are necessary to tour several of the sites – including the largest cliff dwelling in North America – then Mesa Verde is well worth the visit.
Bagan, Mandalay Region, Myanmar (Burma)
The Burmese Chronicles certify that Bagan was first populated in the second century AD, and fortified as a capital in 849 AD, by King Pyinbya. However, historians more commonly believe that the city was founded in the 900s by the Burmans.
From 1044 to 1287, Bagan was the capital city, and political and cultural centre of the Pagan Empire; and, at its peak, the city held over 10,000 temples and religious monuments in an area of around 40 square miles. Most of the temples were constructed from 1057 onwards, during a building frenzy begun by King Anawrahta – the Kingdom’s founder.
Today, nearly 1000 years later, around 3,000 of the temples remain, sprawling across an area of around 30 square miles. Visitors to the city can climb the Pagodas to experience the best of the views. The monasteries display magnificent Buddhist murals, as well.
The majesty of Bagan’s skyline, scattered with gold, white and earthen-red temple domes and spires is, without a shadow of a doubt, one of Asia’s most beautiful sights.
Duomo di Milano, Milan, Italy
The Duomo di Milano is the largest Gothic cathedral, and second largest Catholic cathedral in the world – larger than St. Peter’s Basilica, in Rome.
Dedicated to St. Mary of the Nativity, work on the cathedral’s current iteration was begun in 1389, and took nearly 600 years to finish, with work completed in 1965 – making the Sagrada Familia’s 100-year completion look paltry in comparison.
The stunning, white frontage of the cathedral dominates the central square in Milan. Indeed, the whole city is built to radiate out from the Duomo di Milano. With a capacity of 40,000, the cavernous cathedral is definitely worthy of its place on any bucket list!
The Great Wall of China, China
Estimated to measure around 4,000 miles in length (13,000 if you take in all its various branches), the Great Wall of China, stretching from Dandong in the east to Lop Lake in the west, is generally considered to be one of the – if not the – single most impressive feats of architecture and engineering in history.
Interestingly, the Wall isn’t just one wall, it’s made up of several. Some of which date back as far as 220 BC. The majority of the existing wall is from the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), and is a combination of stone, brick, wood and earthen fortifications, combined with trenches and natural defensive obstacles, such as cliffs and rivers.
The defensive fortitude of the wall was further enhanced by the addition of watch towers, barracks, garrison stations and signalling towers along its length. A walk along the Great Wall is truly a walk through history itself. It’s an experience that any traveller should have close to the top of their list.
The Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy
The Uffizi is the most visited museum in Italy, with a wealth of priceless paintings, particularly from the Italian Renaissance period, inside. Both Sandro Botticelli’s Birth of Venus and Leonardo da Vinci’s Annunciation are housed within the gallery.
Construction of the Uffizi began in 1560, at the request of the hugely powerful and influential Grand Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo I de’Medici, and was originally intended to be the home of the offices of the Florentine magistrates – hence the name uffizi.
The Uffizi officially became a venue for the display of art in 1584, when Cosimo’s son, Grand Duke Francesco de’Medici, completed Cosimo’s plans to transform the top floor of the palace into an art gallery; even then it was considered an attractive place to visit and view the art accrued and commissioned by the Medici.
With peak season waiting times as high as 5 hours, make sure you book your tickets online, in advance.
The Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, United States
Once called, the bridge that couldn’t be built, construction of the Golden Gate Bridge, spanning the Golden Gate’s one-mile wide strait, began in 1933 and was completed in 1937, ahead of schedule and under budget!
From its completion until 1964 it was the longest main span (the bit between the two towers) of a suspension bridge in the world, with a length of 1,280 metres. Measured in its entirety, the bridge is 2,737 metres long.
The famous orange bridge is likely the most beautiful, and certainly the most iconic, photographed bridge in the world.
Alcatraz, San Francisco, United States
Staying in San Fran, now we visit the scene of one of Nicholas Cage’s greatest roles, alongside Sean Connery, in The Rock, Alcatraz Prison.
Situated 1.25 miles off the coast in San Francisco Bay, the island was first used as a lighthouse, military fortification and military prison in 1868. It’s most notorious for its use as a federal prison between 1934 and 1963.
Alcatraz was used to ‘house’ some of the most notorious criminals in American history. Al Capone, Robert Franklin Stroud ( the Birdman of Alcatraz) , George “Machine Gun” Kelly, Bumpy Johnson, Micky Cohen, James “Whitey” Bulger, and Alvin “Creepy” Karpis – who served more time in Alcatraz than any other inmate, and was only four “public enemies” to be given the moniker: “Public Enemy Number One”.
Alcatraz visits, with special audio tours and activities can be booked here.
The Moai Heads, Easter Island
Easter Island, discovered by Dutch Explorer, Jacob Roggeveen, and named such due to the date of its discovery: Easter Sunday, 1722, sits around 2,000 miles off the coast of South America.
Uninhabited, except by nearly 1,000 colossal statues, that are, on average, 13 feet tall and weigh 14 tonnes, Easter Island should be on any avid explorer’s list of places to see before you die.
It’s thought that the Polynesians landed on the island around the year 800 AD. How they transported the ginormous statues around the island and placed them, in often difficult positions, before leaving the island after depleting its resources until it was left barren, remains something of a mystery.
The heads are a stunning sight that, if witnessed, you’ll never forget.
Sydney Opera House, Sydney, Australia
Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Sydney Opera House receives more than 8,000,000 visitors, annually, and is one of the archetypal images of Australia.
Designed by Danish architect, Jørn Utzon, who won an international competition to design Sydney’s new Opera House, in 1957, the building was opened officially in 1973.
Now home to a variety of performing arts venues, cafés, restaurants, retail outlets and bars, Sydney Opera house hosts over 1,500 performances a year. Guided tours of both front and back of house are also available. Even if you don’t take a tour, or witness a performance, just seeing the building in person is pretty staggering.
Saint Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City, Rome, Italy
St. Peter’s is probably the most renowned piece of Renaissance architecture, and definitely the biggest church, in the world.
Designed by a combination of Renaissance luminaries, including Michelangelo and Bernini, St. Peter’s isn’t the Cathedral of the diocese of Rome, but is nonetheless regarded as one of the holiest shrines of Catholicism.
Purported to be the actual burial site of St. Peter – one of Jesus’ Apostles – his tomb is, supposedly, directly below the high altar of the Basilica. It’s also one of only four Basilica in the world that holds the rank of Major Basilica – all of which are, funnily enough, in Rome.
Within St. Peter’s: Michelangelo’s Pietá, his soaring dome, Bernini’s 29-metre-high baldachin, over the altar, and many other Renaissance masterpieces.
Whether or not you’re Catholic, or religious at all, the stunning beauty of St. Peter’s makes it an absolute must see!
Great Pyramid of Giza, Egypt, Africa
The oldest and largest of the three pyramids at Giza, the Great Pyramid stands at around 450 feet tall (its original height is thought to have been 481 feet, but thieves – and the greatest thief of them all, time – have robbed not only the burial chambers, but also the outer casings of polished white limestone.
The Great Pyramid was the tallest man-made structure in the world for nearly 4,000 years, and is the last of the ancient Seven Wonders of the World that is still standing. Standing at the foot of the Great Pyramid – sometimes known as the Pyramid of Khufu, after the Pharaoh for whom it was built – it is impossible not to be impressed; not only by the structure itself, but also by the fact that the monolithic structure was built, from an estimated 2,300,000 limestone blocks weighing circa 2 tonnes each, by a civilisation with comparatively un-sophisticated construction equipment.
The Valley of Kings is worth a visit, while you’re in the area, as well.
The Eiffel Tower, Paris, France
We have covered the Eiffel Tower before, in our best things to do in Paris blog, but, such is its fame and majesty, that it makes it on to this list, as well.
Construction of the tower was completed in 1889, and it was originally intended as a temporary addition to Paris, to provide the entrance to the 1889 World’s Fair – held as a centenary celebration for the storming of the Bastille – however, such was the popularity of the Tower, that it remained in perpetuity.
It was even the world’s tallest man-made structure from its completion until 1930.
Machu Picchu, Cuzco Region, Peru
Built during the 1400s as an estate for the Inca emperor, Pachacuti, and abandoned around a century later, in 1572, probably due to the population being decimated by smallpox, – brought by Spanish travellers – Machu Picchu remained undiscovered, and thus un-desecrated, by the conquistadors.
Although the local population remained aware of the city, it wasn’t rediscovered by the western world until the 1800s, when it’s thought that a German businessman might have discovered and plundered the ruins; which by this point, were largely overgrown by the surrounding jungle.
It was 1911 before Machu Picchu was brought to international attention, by American historian, Hiram Bingham.
Now a UNESCO World Heritage site, Machu Picchu is one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, and has been largely restored.
From its seat, nearly 2,000 metres above sea level, Machu Picchu offers not only a stunning look into Inca history, but also truly breath-taking views across the mountain valley in which it is situated.
Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
One of the few mosques in the UAE that’s open to tourists, the Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque was commissioned by the late president of the UAE, Sheik Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. It was designed by a Syrian architect, Yousef Abdelky, and borrows from classic Moorish and Arabic styles.
For two years running it was voted the world’s second favourite landmark by TripAdvisor and can house up to 40,000 worshippers at full capacity, with the main prayer hall, alone, able to hold 7,000 people.
Sheik Zayed Mosque has four 350-foot-high minarets at its corners, and is also home to the world’s largest marble mosaic, covering the entire 180,000 square foot courtyard.
The beauty and tranquillity that can be experienced at the mosque really do meet the aim of Sheik Zayed, in turning it into a mosque that unites the world.
The Louvre, Paris, France
In the words of Post-Impressionist painter, Paul Cézanne, “Keep good company – that is, go to the Louvre”.
The largest and most visited museum in the world, the Louvre is simply unmissable. For more detail on this one, check out our things to do in Paris blog.
The Parthenon, Athens, Greece
From its construction in the 5 th century BC until 1687, when it was damaged irreparably in a Venetian siege of the city – at the time occupied by the Moors – the Parthenon stood firm as a shining testament to the Golden Age of Athens.
A visit to the newly Acropolis Museum at the base of the citadel will allow you to cast your beady eyes across over 4,000 statues, sculptures, friezes and other artefacts from the Classical and Hellenistic eras of Ancient Greek history.
A true symbol of the beginnings of modern western democracy, the Parthenon – and The Acropolis in general – is a must visit for any globetrotter with a bucket list and an interest in classical history.
Ephesus, Selçuk, Turkey
Almost four times larger than the Parthenon, and one of the original Seven Wonders of the World, was the temple to the Goddess Artemis, at Ephesus. The city itself, Located on Turkey’s western coast, near the modern town of Selçuk, was ruled over by the Greek, Persian, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman Empires, and was one of the most exciting megalopolises of the ancient world.
Today, not much is left of the temple. However, there are few better places to visit to get a feeling for what it was like walking around a thriving city of the ancient world, without having to use your imagination.
Ephesus is thoroughly deserving of its place on our list of 25 places to visit before you die. Why not go and see for yourself?
Airport Park & Ride
When you’re jetting off from Glasgow Airport, on your journey of a lifetime; ticking off all these stunning destinations from your bucket list, make sure your car is in safe hands while you’re away.
Simply log on to airportparkandride.com, find the Glasgow Airport car park that best suits your needs, book your airport parking in Glasgow for the best price you’ll find, and away you go.
*Dear reader, if you’ve stuck with me for this long, I’m going to assume that you know the origin of this particularly Scottish quote, without my needing to explain it.