With a world full of fascinating destinations, choosing the perfect vacation spot can present a challenge. That's why U.S. News used expert opinions, reader votes and current trends – and evaluated sights, cultures, scenic beauty, food scenes and more – to compile this list of the world's best places to visit.
South Island, New Zealand :
New Zealand’s South Island brims with majestic landscapes at every turn, from dramatic mountains to fjords to glaciers. Here, you can explore Fiordland National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Area, or gaze at the starry skies at Mount John Observatory. You can also indulge your inner daredevil in Queenstown, explore two of the most accessible glaciers in the world on the country’s west coast or sample delicious food and wine in the Marlborough region.
Every day, the magnetic City of Light draws visitors from around the globe who come to see iconic attractions like the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and the Arc de Triomphe. But what travelers really fall in love with are the city’s quaint cafes, vibrant markets, trendy shopping districts and unmistakable je ne sais quoi charm. Get lost wandering along Paris’ cobblestone streets, or grab a croissant and relax on the banks of the Seine for hours.
Simply setting foot in Japan’s cosmopolitan capital is an experience within itself. A city known for its bustling streets adorned with flashing neon signs, Tokyo offers visitors a little bit of everything. Foodies won’t be let down by the city’s fresh sushi and hearty ramen. Budding photographers and adrenaline junkies will love taking in the sweeping panoramas from the top of the Tokyo Skytree. Shopaholics will find plenty of must-have designer products in Ginza. And for history buffs, Tokyo offers centuries-old temples and shrines to explore.
Located in southern Thailand, Phuket offers something for everyone, especially budget-minded travelers. Everything from accommodations to spa treatments to boat tours come with a low price tag. For stunning scenery, check out the limestone cliffs of Phang Nga Bay and lounge on Phuket’s gorgeous white sand beaches. Other must-sees include Wat Chalong Temple and the Big Buddha. Once the sun sets, take part in the island’s lively nightlife scene.
Measuring roughly 277 miles long, 18 miles wide and a mile deep, the Grand Canyon offers plenty of outdoor activities for everyone from day-trippers to adventure junkies. Hike along the national park’s popular Rim and Bright Angel trails for unparalleled vistas, cool off with a whitewater rafting excursion down the Colorado River or view the dramatic Arizona landscape from above during a helicopter tour .
Year after year, millions of visitors travel to California’s Yosemite National Park to stand in awe of natural wonders like Half Dome and Yosemite Falls. Take in the panoramic views from outlooks like Glacier Point and the Tunnel View. Hit the hiking trails early in the day to avoid crowds looking for the perfect photo-op. To save money, skip the hotel and camp out for the full experience (just be sure to book your spot well in advance).
Great Barrier Reef
The globe’s largest coral reef system – and one of the original Seven Natural Wonders of the World – touts incredible scenery, whether you view it underwater, from the air or by boat. At Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, you’ll find more than 600 islands and 1,500-plus species of fish. Though plenty of diving and snorkeling spots can be found along Queensland’s coast, to escape the crowds, take an excursion to the Whitsunday Islands.
From volcanic mountains to verdant rainforests to stunning shorelines, Costa Rica is a Central American gem. Explore the beaches along the Nicoya Peninsula, hike along Arenal Volcano and spot exotic wildlife in remote Tortuguero National Park. If you’re looking for an adrenaline rush, go swimming next to some of the country’s waterfalls or zip lining through its rainforests. Just make sure you plan a visit during Costa Rica’s dry season, or between mid-December and April.
Cancún is nothing if not resilient. Consider the debilitating effects Hurricane Wilma had on the region in 2005 – drowned shores, destroyed storefronts and capsized boats. But now, this skinny “7”-shaped barrier island in southeastern Mexico is once again a go-to spot for beaches, golfing and nightlife. Cancún also remains one of the most affordable vacation destinations in the Western Hemisphere, especially if you book a cruise.
In the past decade, Tulum has grown into a coveted vacation for luxury travelers; however, it still tempts bargain hunters who remember when this tucked-away jewel of Mexico’s east coast was more of a secluded getaway. Here, you’ll find some of the best-preserved Mayan ruins in the Western Hemisphere, ruins that have the cerulean waters of the Caribbean Sea as a backdrop. And there are other out-of-this-world wonders, including several cenotes (or underground water-filled caverns) and bioreserves. As an added plus: Tulum continues to be the tiny, quiet alternative to the other Riviera Maya resort areas during the spring break season.
Cozumel’s clear turquoise waters and powdery sands coax travelers from cold winter climates to this roughly 185-square-mile island off the Yucatán Peninsula. Cruise ships are a constant feature of Cozumel’s coastal views, and the atmosphere on this charming island is often interrupted by tourist chatter. In fact, Cozumel’s charms are so effective that the shopping plazas along the waterfront stay congested much of the year.
Take a number of diverse cultures, add a strong dose of the arts and a splash of ocean water, and you have Miami. Looking at the fantastic art museums and the blossoming gastronomical scene, you might find it hard to believe that just a century ago, this colorful Floridian city was covered in swampland. Once developers rushed into the area, one of the most popular tourist destinations and spectacular city skylines in the country was born. Today, with South Beach before you and the Everglades behind you, you can walk through the bustling streets past historical homes with Spanish words and Caribbean music floating into your ears.
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