World's top 25 travel destinations
Compiled by online travel guide TripAdvisor, the 2011 Traveller's Choice Destination awards are based on millions of genuine reviews and opinions from travellers and lists the most popular travel destinations around the world.
Here's a look at the top 25 destinations around the world that includes cultural capitals, architectural havens, beach paradises and some unconventional picks as well.
1. Cape Town, South Africa
The mere mention of most destinations in Africa immediately conjures up images of lion safaris and yellow wilderness as far as the eye can see. While these are enough to keep the intrepid traveller quite happy and offer the experience of a lifetime, there is more to Africa than just that and Cape Town is where it's all at.
From cultural and historical attractions to wildlife and adventure sports, Cape Town has something for everyone.
A handful of the popular tourist attractions in Cape Town:
- The Victoria & Alfred Waterfront a popular haunt for dining and shopping, offering up a wide variety of cuisine and wares.
- The Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden with its tranquil surrounds and exotic plants, is the ideal picnic spot for nature-lovers and trekkers alike.
- The beaches in and around Cape Town are famous for their soft white sand and crystal-clear waters. Some of the popular ones are Blouberg, Dolphin Beach and Boulder.
- If you're an animal lover with a penchant for big cats, drop in at the Drakenstein Lion Park, dedicated to rehabilitating the beautiful animals in their natural surrounds.
- For history buffs, a boat ride to Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 years, is a must-visit.
Image: Cape Town, South Africa
Photographs: Andreas Tusche/ Creative Commons
2. Sydney, Australia
Often mistaken as the capital city, Sydney is the country's largest city and arguably its cultural capital.
The unmistakable waterfront of the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge is just one of the many tourist attractions in the city.
Your visit to the harbour city should include:
- Bondi Beach, one of the most famous in the world for its massive swells (for the surfers out there), is a great place to start. If you're looking for a lazy day at the beach however, there are plenty to choose from such as Coogee, Manly and Balmoral among many, many others.
- Nature enthusiasts won't be disappointed with a visit to Taronga Zoo, Oceanworld and the Royal Botanical Gardens.
- For those more culturally inclined, there's the Sydney Festival (free indoor and outdoor performances), the Big Day Out (a travelling rock festival) and a number of film festivals.
- Check out breathtaking views from the AMP Tower observatory, the highest structure in Sydney, and the Powerhouse Museum of science, technology and design.
Image: Sydney, Australia
Photographs: Wj32/ Creative Commons
3. Machu Picchu, Peru
Tucked away in the Amazon forests, perched atop an Andean plateau, this ancient city is an architectural marvel. Often referred to as the 'Lost city of the Incas', it has been recognised as a World Heritage Site and one of the New 7 Wonders of the World.
Built around 1450, at the height of the Inca empire, the entire city has been constructed using polished dry stone and has survived the centuries remarkably well.
One of the three primary constructions within the city is the Intihuatana, a pillar built using stones that point to the sun. At noon on March 21 and September 21, the sun is almost directly above the pillar, and casts no shadow. It is believed that the Incas used this as a clock or calendar based on the sun's path.
So for the traveller who enjoys a little history lesson along the way, Machu Picchu does just that.
Image: Machu Picchu, Peru
Photographs: Pilar Olivares/ Reuters
4. Paris, France
Nothing says romance quite like Paris. But there is a lot more to this beautiful city than just the Eiffel Tower and romantic walks along the Siene.
The French capital offers a host of attractions including The Louvre, which is home to some of the world's most valuable paintings and sculptures.
Food lovers can relish the French cuisine in the many bistros and cafes that dot the streets and culture vultures can take in the rich history and architecture on offer.
Some popular tourist spots include:
- The Notre Dame cathedral, the Napoleonic Arc de Triomphe, Champs Elysees and the Pantheon church (the final resting place of Voltaire, Victor Hugo and Marie Curie) are some of the most recognised landmarks, as is the Eiffel Tower.
- The Montmartre and Montparnasse areas, known for their artistic history is worth a visit for music halls and cafes.
- Known as the world's fashion capital, drop in at the Avenue Montaigne and Faubourg Saint-Honore for a peek of the highest of high fashion. And if splashing out on designer labels isn't your thing, don't fret. Paris has a lot more shopping than just designer labels. Les Halles and the Champs Elysees have plenty to choose from.
- The picturesque Tuileries and Luxembourg Gardens are lovely for a stroll of picnic. A great way to unwind after a busy day of sightseeing.
Image: General view of the Notre Dame Cathedral and the River Seine in Paris.
Photographs: Jacky Naegelen/ Reuters
5. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Movies and music have had a long-standing love affair with this beautiful city, and deservedly so. The spirit of Rio makes it a must-visit.
Another draw is the fact that the resort city will play host to the 2014 FIFA World Cup final and the 2016 Olympic Games and you can bet it'll be an explosion of colour and dance two elements that simply capture what the city is all about.
So when you fly down, make sure your travel itinerary includes:
- The Copacabana and Ipanema beaches have been immortalised in song and well deserve a drop-by thanks to their many dining spots, pubs and discos.
- The Corcovado mountains with the statue of Christ the Redeemer are a major tourist draw being one of the New 7 Wonders of the World, and atop the peak, offer breath-taking views of the Brazilian landscape.
- The annual Carnival (during February and March) is an experience like no other. Massive parades along the streets with opulent floats and tens of thousands of revellers simply have to be seen to be believed.
Image: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Photographs: Rodrigo Gomes da Paixao/ Creative Commons
6. New York City, USA
The city has been written about and sung about, movies have been shot around its iconic landmarks and its unmistakable skyline and yet it loses nothing in terms of sheer fascination for the millions of visitors and tourists who throng its streets every year.
So if you too plan to drop by the Big Apple, make sure to visit:
- Manhattan for its fantastic skyline and a glimpse of the Empire State Building, Rockerfeller Centre and Times Square.
- Ellis Island for the Statue of Liberty, and while you're at it the Staten Island Ferry.
- Madison and Fifth avenue for the shopping.
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Broadway for some cultural stimulation.
Image: A couple sits on a park bench during a warm spring day in Central Park in New York.
Photographs: Lucas Jackson/ Reuters
7. Rome, Italy
Steeped in history, this capital city is veritable treasure trove for architecture and art.
Rome's architecture bears testimony to its rich and varied past with styles ranging from the Classical Roman styles to the Fascist and later the Renaissance and Baroque styles.
Public parks, fountains and gardens only add to the city's charm, making walking around the city a pleasure.
On your trip to Rome, drop by the:
- Vatican Museums for a comprehensive taste of the country's history and development.
- The Colosseum, the Roman Forum and the Pantheon the most recognised constructions of the country.
- The Piazze (Great Squares) and Trevis Fountain to take in the spirit of the city.
- Of course, Rome is also well known as a fashion capital and offers up all the luxury labels and brands.
Image: Rome, Italy
Photographs: RedMaestro/Creative Commons
8. London, UK
If you're visiting London, be sure to plan well ahead. The city simply leaves visitors spoiled for choice.
Historic monuments, art and culture, natural beauty whatever your interests, London has something for everyone and then some.
So as you do your research and draw up your list, make sure to include:
- The Tower of London, the London Eye, Buckingham Palace, Big Ben and Tower Bridge for your history lesson.
- The National Gallery, British Museum and Tate Modern for your art fix.
- Madame Tussaud's for a photo op with some of your favorite celebs (so what if they're not real!).
- The O2, Trafalgar Square and Hyde Park for music and more.
Image: London, UK
Photographs: Drow male/ Creative Commons
9. Barcelona, Spain
One of the world's leading tourist and cultural centres, Barcelona has just about everything you could ask for.
A rich history evident in the architectural marvels and museums, scenic beaches and parks, and a buzzing nightlife are all up for offer apart from some fabulous dining.
Some must-sees include:
- The Sagrada Familia, one of the most recognised landmarks of the city, the temple has been designed by master architect Antonio Gaudi and has been under construction since 1882.
- For all the footie fans the Barcelona FC Museum, has some awesome memorabilia of the club and its achievements.
- The Picasso Museum, as the name suggests, has works by the great artist right from his early days to his more acclaimed pieces. A fascinating insight into the development one of the world's greatest painters.
- The Magic Fountain of Montjuic, the National Museum of Art, La Pedrera are some of the other must-vistis.
Image: Barcelona, Spain
Photographs: Ralf Roletschek/ Creative Commons
10. Hong Kong
The city offers a unique blend of 'east meets west' with modern lifestyles generously peppered with age-old Chinese traditions. It also has an awe-inspiring skyline, boasting 7,650 skyscrapers more than any other city in the world.
One of the region's most thriving financial centres, Hong Kong lives up to its reputation with plenty of attractions and activities.
Some popular sights and sounds include:
- The Peak tops the list. The building houses the Sky Terrace at a height of 428 meters offers breath-taking panoramic views of the city and the Madame Tussaud's wax display.
- Disneyland is a great outing for the whole family and interestingly enough is the only one built according to the tenets of Feng Shui.
- Tian Tan, a mammoth bronze statue of Lord Buddha, located on Lantau Island stands at 34 metres and is quite a sight to behold as it towers over the neighbouring forested area.
- Great deals can be found at Stanley Market and the Temple Street Night Market, and Lan Kwai Fong offers up some great dining and nightlife.
Image: A visitor takes a picture in front of Two IFC, Hong Kong's highest commercial building.
Photographs: Bobby Yip/Reuters
11. Kyoto, Japan
Now you might not come across Kyoto on too many must-visit cities, but let that take nothing away from what it has to offer.
A rich history and wonderful natural beauty all give the visitor plenty of sights and sounds to take in.
Some of the sightseeing you might want to plan for are:
- The Buddhist and Shinto temples are impeccably maintained, both the building and the gardens that surround them, and are definitely a must-see. Some of the more popular are the Byodo-in and Daitoku-ji Temples and the Fushimi-Inari Taisha Shrine.
- The Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto have been recognised as World Heritage Sites and offer a wonderful insight into the culture of the city.
- Kyoto has a number of museums that cover art, history and technology. Some notable ones are the Kyoto National Museum and the Kyoto International Manga Museum.
Image: Kyoto, Japan
Photographs: Nicky Loh/Reuters
12. Queenstown, New Zealand
New Zealand is one of the most scenic countries is the world and Queenstown located on the South Island offers unparalleled natural beauty. A resort town, the biggest draw is the adventure sports that include whitewater rafting, tramping and snow sports.
Some of the popular tourist haunts include:
- A visit to Lake Wakatipu offers a variety of activities and is a great way to spend the day.
- A highlight is visiting the filming locations of movies like Lord of the Rings, X-Men Origins: Wolverine and Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian.
- Hiking up the Ben Lomond mountain offers fabulous panoramic views of the lake and the town.
- Snow sport enthusiasts are spoiled for choice with some of the world's best courses on offer, including Coronet Peak and Trebel Cone.
Image: Queenstown, New Zealand
Photographs: Alex Proimos/ Creative Commons
13. Jerusalem, Israel
The city is best known for its religious significance to Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
Today, despite the continued disputed status in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the city has historic, religious, artistic and cultural offerings that not many other places can rival.
Some of the must-sees include:
- The Israel Museum that houses the Dead Sea Scrolls among other historically significant findings, Israeli and European art.
- A visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial.
- The German Colony, the Ben Yehuda pedestrian mall and Shlomtsiyon HaMalka Street offer light-hearted entertainment and plenty of shopping and dining.
Image: A woman takes a photograph from the Mount of Olives of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem's Old City.
Photographs: Ronen Zvulun/ Reuters
14. Siem Reap, Cambodia
The development of this town into a tourist magnet came about as interest grew in the nearby Angkor Archeological Park, the town being the primary access point.
Over the years the town's own offerings, which include numerous temples, shopping and natural attractions, have been quite the tourist's delight.
Some of the most popular are:
- The Kampong Phluk Floating Village and Cultural Village that offer unique experiences of Cambodia's culture.
- Tonle Sap Lake, the largest sweetwater reserve in the region.
- The Bakong Temple and Baksei Chamrong are some of the many temples tourists can visit.
- For nature-lovers, there's the bird sanctuary and crocodile farm.
Image: Siem Reap, Cambodia
Photographs: Chor Sokunthea/Reuters
15. Prague, Czech Republic
The capital of the Czech Republic, Prague, like numerous other European cities, offers all kinds of historic and cultural attractions that are unique and fascinating.
Awesome architecture, art and culture haunts, entertainment and nightlife pepper the city and make it quite the tourist's delight.
Some of the must-visits sights around are:
- The Prague Castle, listed in the Guinness World Records as the largest ancient castle in the world.
- The many museums including the Czech National Museum, the Prague City Gallery and the Jewish Museum.
- The pubcrawls are a greta way to meet people from all over the world, so check out the Clocktower Bar Crawl and the Prague Underground Backpackers Pub Crawl if you're looking for a uniquely Czech experience
Image: The church of Tyn, Old Town Square, Prague
Photographs: Petr Josek Snr/ Reuters
16. Venice, Italy
Just the name conjures up images of gliding by on a gondola, taking in the surrounds as a charming gondolier tells you about the city and its history.
While this remains one of the highlights of a visit to Venice, there's a lot more in store for the intrepid traveller in you.
Here are some of the tourist attractions:
- Architecture and history buffs can delight in Saint Mark's Basilica, the San Giovanni e Paolo church, the Correr Museum and Jewish Ghetto.
- Visit the Rialto Bridge, one of the city's most recognised landmarks and drop by the Rialto market for some great shopping.
- Visit the islands of Murano, Burano and Torcello for a look at some of the most charming and picturesque houses and streets.
- The Doge's Palace tour gives you the chance to explore the secret rooms in and around the palace, a fascinating experience.
Image: A gondolier takes tourists on a gondola trip in Venice.
Photographs: Tony Gentile/ Reuters
17. Buenos Aires, Argentina
Meaning 'fair winds' in Spanish, Buenos Aires is one of the largest cities in Latin America and offers tourists plenty of things to do and see.
Each of the city's districts offers visitors a different flavour ranging from the quaint and colourful to the more modern and futuristic.
Make sure these make it to your itinerary:
- The Palermo promenade, that has a scenic lake with boat trips and lovely gardens for a quiet day outing.
- La Boca has arts and crafts, the Palermo Viejo has bookstores and bars and San Telmo offes the authetic flea market experience.
- The city is recognised as the birthplace of the Tango and no visit would be complete with it. Some of the best places to enjoy this sensuous dance are the Confiteria Ideal, Salon Canning and El Beso.
Image: Buenos Aires, Argentina
Photographs: Phillip Capper/ Creative Commons
18. Ko Phi Phi Don, Thailand
The largest and only populated island in the Ko Phi Phi archipelago.
Often described as one of the most stunning islands in the world thanks to its natural beauty, its pristine beaches have plenty of adventure sports and water activities such as rock climbing, snorkelling, kayaking and scuba diving.
Some places to visit in and around the island are:
- Climb up to Viewpoint to take in panoramic views of the entire island.
- Yao, Lanti and Hin Khao are picturesque beaches that let you enjoy a quite, relaxing day in the sun.
- Check out Maya Bay, where The Beach was filmed and the neighbouring isands of Phi Phi Leh, Mai Phai and Ko Yung for some beautiful and secluded beaches and underwater adventures.
- The Apache, Reggae and Ibiza bars are great places to listen to music and just hang out.
Image: Ko Phi Phi Don, Thailand
Photographs: Amit Parikh/ Creative Commons
19. Honolulu, Hawaii
The capital of Hawaii apart from its obvious tourist attractions also has the distinction of being the birthplace of US President Barack Obama and hometown of signer Bruno Mars and Nicole Scherzinger.
The scenic surrounds and near-perfect beaches are a vacation paradise, yet there's more to see and do apart from sunning yourself in the sands.
Cultural attractions, loads of adventure sports and outdoor activities are just some of the crowd-pullers.
Some of the major tourist draws are:
- The world-famous Waikiki beach, the Ala Moana Park and Hanauma Bay for a day of relaxation.
- Pearl Harbour, the USS Bowfin and the National Memorial Cemetary for a glimpse of the island's history.
- The Diamond Head and Punchbowl volcanic crators for unparalleled views and vistas.
Image: Waikiki Beach in Honolulu, Hawaii
Photographs: Larry Downing/ Reuters
20. St Petersburg, Russia
The cultural capital of Russia and its second largest city, St Petersburg will leave you spoiled for choice when it comes to drawing up your itinerary.
Fabulous architecture and iconic monuments, a rich arts and culture scene and shopping galore, the city has it all and then some.
While setting down your must-visit list, make sure to include:
- The Winter Palace for a look at some of the world's most priceless art.
- The bridges of Neva and The Admiralty, for their sheer beauty and grandeur.
- The architectural marvels of the Church of the Saviour, Our Lady of Kazan Cathedral and the Peter and Paul Fortress.
- Catch an opera or ballet performance at the Mariinsky or the Mikhailovskiy theatres.
Image: St Petersburg, Russia
Photographs: Norderg/ Creative Commons
21. Florence, Italy
Considered the birthplace of the Italian Rennaisance, Florence has had an immense impact on culture and art over the centuries.
Needless to say, just a walk down its streets can provide inspiration, thanks to the sprinkling of history across the city.
Not surprisingly, the city has over 80 museums that capture the many, many significant developments that have happened within the city walls.
Make sure you visit:
- The Galleria degli Uffizi, that has one of the world's finest collections of art. The Bargello and Accademia Gallery are also worth a visit.
- The Il Duomo cathedral, the Baptistery and Campanile, some of the msot beautiful buildings in the city.
- The Santa Croce, that houses the tombs of Michelangelo, Dante and Galileo.
- The elaborately landscaped Boboli Gardens, the frescoes of Santa Maria del Carmine are inspiring.
Image: A view of the Ponte Vecchio and Arno tiber in Florence.
Photographs: Max Rossi/ Reuters
22. Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands
The largest of the Islands, Grand Cayman is a nature-lovers paradise.
Beaches, water sports, wildlife are just some of the attractions on offers and will have you hankering for more.
To take in the best of what the island has to offer, visit:
- The Queen Elizabeth Botanic Park, Stingray City and Boatswain's Beach for a gander at the blue iguana, massive stingrays and a variety of turtles in every size.
- The Batabano carnival, the Pirates Week Festival and the Cayfest for fun, colours and local music and art.
- The island also offers plenty of nightlife at Sunset House, Coconut Joes, the Sapphire Bar and O Lounge among many others.
Image: Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands
Photographs: Poco a Poco/ Creative Commons
23. San Francisco, United States
The city may not offer the obvious attractions that other US cities do, but there are plenty of fun, interesting activities that keep tourist interest high.
Known for its hippie history and rich culture, the city attracts tourists from both within the US and outside.
Check some of these attractions out on your visit there:
- Golden Gate Bridge and the Golden Gate Park. The park is a sprawling space with towering trees and rolling lawns. Apart from walks through the park and picnics, there are also two museums housed within it and frequent music concerts and cultural festivals.
- Chinatown offers visitors a truly unique experience complete with authentic cuisine, plenty of shopping and wonderful insight into the history of the place.
- Fisherman's Wharf offers up some lip-smacking seafood and a number of street-side attractions.
- Haight-Ashbury offers an alternative experience with a host of tye-dye shops, vintage clothing store and plenty of cafes and bistros.
Image: Visitors look at the skyline of San Francisco, including Victorian homes known as the Painted Ladies, in San Francisco, California
Photographs: Robert Galbraith/ Reuters
24. Petra, Jordan
The awe-inspiring ruins of the 'rose re city' earned Petra the distinction of being named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.
Also a World Heritage Site, the ancient ruins of Petra are definitely worth a visit even if you aren't a history buff.
Petra being an archaelogical park, there is not much else to do besides take in the grandeur of the sandstone architecture that has been preserved for centuries, but rest assured it will not disappoint.
Image: Petra, Jordan
Photographs: David Bjorgen/ Creative Commons
25. Las Vegas, United States
Self-proclaimed as the entertainment capital of the world, Vegas does offer just about everything you could ask. Gambling, celebrity shows, shopping and fine dining are all on offer and plenty of it!
The major attractions include:
- The casinos and hotels all along the Las Vegas Strip are huge crowd-pullers even if you're not planning on rolling the dice. Some of the most famous are Caesar's Palace, The Venetian, Luxor and The Palazzo.
- Music shows, theatrical events and much more are regularly held all across the city.
- Many of the hotels offer fantastic buffets that serve up some of the most exotic, eclectic cuisine and come highly recommended. Check out the fare at Bally's, Bellagio and Le Village.
Image: Tourist walk southbound on the Las Vegas Strip.
Photographs: Steve Marcus/ Reuters