Written by Lana Law
Updated Feb 15, 2022
Travelers are always looking for inspiration to guide their adventures. Coming up with a list of places to visit can be challenging when you're staring at a globe. What are the top tourist attractions in the world? The most iconic sites that all travelers have on their bucket-list of things to see around the globe?
Some destinations just stand out above the rest. Many are the type of places where you can take a photo, and it requires no explanation to identify the location: the Eiffel Tower or the Colosseum. But some places are less well known to new travelers or those who have not yet ventured out to the more exotic destinations. These can often be the most rewarding to visit.
For many of these attractions, it's what they symbolize and the destinations they represent that make them so significant. In other cases, it is the site itself that makes it worth visiting the country. Some of these are the more popular UNESCO World Heritage sites.
If you're looking to start your own checklist of places to visit during your life, begin with our list of the top tourist attractions in the world.
1. Eiffel Tower, Paris
The symbol of Paris and one of the most photographed structures in the world, a visit to the Eiffel Tower is a must for all travelers. Few landmarks inspire such a passion for travel as this single iron structure.
Young travelers heading out on the road for the first time, couples looking for a special getaway, artists looking to spur their creativity, and romantics of all types are all drawn to Paris. This is a city where history and culture collide and where travelers of all kinds can find the experience they're after.
2. The Colosseum, Rome
The most famous and largest structure still standing from the Roman Empire, the Colosseum is also the biggest attraction of modern-day Rome. It's been a bucket-list destination of travelers for generations. And it does not disappoint.
Set in the heart of the city, the Colosseum is an easy place to visit. Direct flights from around the world land in Rome daily, making it a destination you can visit in a weekend if you choose. Wander through Rome's ancient streets, tour the colosseum, and if time allows, plan a trip to other areas of Italy.
3. Statue of Liberty, New York City
America is full of great sights and places to visit, but it's the Statue of Liberty that represents the United States like no other place. This symbol of freedom in New York City was gifted by the French to the American people in 1896.
Of all the attractions in New York City, this is one every tourist must see. The best thing to do at the Statue of Liberty is to take a ride up to her crown and soak up the view over the city. Access to the statue is via ferry, also a highlight of a visit.
4. Machu Picchu, Peru
If you are planning to see only one attraction in South America, this is the place to come. The ancient Inca city of Machu Picchu is arguably the most impressive ruined city in the world.
Much of the attraction comes from its location, high in the jungle-clad mountains of Peru. Set on a high plateau with soaring green mountains, the setting is surreal. The sheer tenacity of the original builders to create this amazing place in what would have been impenetrable jungle, is, in itself, impressive.
Visitor numbers are now limited to a maximum per day, so the experience has been greatly enhanced.
- Read More: Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Peru
5. The Acropolis, Athens
Perched above present day Athens, the Acropolis draws you up and in. Follow in the footsteps of ancients as you walk up the same steps that have been walked on since 438 BC - 2,500 years.
Views out over the city are incredible as you walk between the meticulously restored ancient buildings. Near the end of the day, you'll want to linger and watch the sunset from the stairs near the entrance. This is a nightly ritual in Athens.
The site is also impressive looking up at it from the city below. Spend an evening dining on a rooftop patio to soak in the view of the hilltop ruins lit up at night.
6. The Taj Mahal, India
The Taj Mahal is the one sight in India that all travelers need to see. The country is filled with incredible cities and fabulous places to visit, but the 17th-century Taj Mahal is the one place that says you've been to India.
This mausoleum, commissioned by the Shah Jahan for his wife, Mumtaz Mahal, is known internationally as a symbol of love. This fantastic structure, made with inlaid precious and semi-precious stones, has to be visited to be fully appreciated.
Its riverfront setting, surrounding gardens, and reflecting pools are also what make the Taj Mahal so special.
- Read More: Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in India
7. Pyramids of Giza, Egypt
If you've visited places like the Colosseum in Rome or the Acropolis in Athens, built over 2,000 years ago, you may think you have a good handle on ancient sites. But the Pyramids of Giza take ancient to a whole other level. These were built over 4,500 years ago. Tourists were coming to see these magnificent structures literally thousands of years ago.
Located just outside Cairo, the pyramids, which is also where you'll find the Sphinx, are easy to get to, and tours are easy to arrange. A sunset camel ride around the structures is a wonderful experience.
8. Great Wall of China
In a land of modern cities and towering skyscrapers, the Great Wall of China, built between the 14th and 17th centuries, is a stark contrast but a striking image that all visitors to China should see.
A stroll along the top of the wall provides an incredible view of the structure snaking off into the distance. The wall stretches an astounding 21,196 kilometers, through some remote areas.
Many travelers seeing the sights of China choose to visit the wall on easily organized tours from Beijing, a relatively short motorcoach ride away.
9. Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Surrounded by jungle and, in some cases, overgrown with huge trees and roots, the ancient structures of the Angkor complex may look like a movie set to some visitors.
Wandering through Angkor Wat, the main centerpiece of the complex, it's easy to feel like you've entered another era. This is without a doubt, one of the most impressive sites in Southeast Asia and the main reason many people visit Cambodia.
The stone faces peering out over the buildings and gates are images that you won't soon forget.
10. Petra, Jordan
You may have an Indiana Jones feeling as you walk through a 1.2-kilometer-long narrow crack in the sandstone hills and emerge into a hidden city. First built over 2,000 years ago and lost to the outside world for 600 years, the city was only discovered in 1812.
Stunning buildings are carved directly into the red rock walls and are wonderfully preserved, just begging to be explored and photographed.
If you arrive early, an eerie silence, coupled with long shadows, give this abandoned city a special feel.
- Read More: Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Jordan
11. Grand Canyon, USA
The greatest natural attraction in the United States, the Grand Canyon is a key sight for all travelers planning their lifetime of adventures. Standing on the rim of the Grand Canyon, looking out over the carved landscape, will awaken your senses.
Several hikes in the canyon and along the rim offer unique perspectives. Walk even a short distance down the Bright Angel trail to gain additional views and to experience what the canyon is like below the rim.
For even more adventure plan a rafting trip down the Colorado River through the canyon.
The Grand Canyon looks different throughout the day and at different times of the year. One trip is never enough. If you are going to add this place to your to-see list, consider what you want to do here to determine the best time to visit.
12. Stonehenge, England
Stonehenge is one of those places that makes you ponder what went on here over 4,500 years ago. It's long been a mystery to historians, and has captured the imagination of countless visitors. Despite the large number of tourists that descend on Stonehenge, the place still has a mystical feel.
At the site, giant stones, some standing, some fallen, are set in two roughly circular patterns that are oriented to highlight the summer and winter solstices. For a truly memorable experience, plan your visit during one of these times.
An easy day trip from London, Stonehenge can easily be worked into your UK itinerary.
13. Borobudur, Indonesia
Set in a steamy jungle with three volcanoes providing the backdrop, Borobudur is Indonesia's top tourist attraction.
Borobudur dates from the 9th century and is one of the largest Buddhist temples in the world. It's a fascinating place to wander about. Over 500 Buddhas are spread around the site, some of which sit under ornate stupas.
Try to visit early in the morning when you'll have the best chance of experiencing a bit of early mist, and the view to the volcanoes will be the clearest.
14. Niagara Falls, Canada & USA
On the border between the United States and Canada, these great falls have been drawing explorers and travelers for centuries. Just over an hour from the city of Toronto, Niagara Falls is easy to get to, and the town is a fun place to spend a night or two.
Walk up to the edge of the falls, stroll along the paved walk lining the gorge for different views, or take a boat tour for a close-up look at the water pouring over the lip of the gorge above you. For a bird's-eye view, head up the Skylon Tower to look out over the falls.
At night, see the falls lit in different colors. If you're visiting in winter, watch the huge plume of mist rising into the sky above the falls.
15. Bagan, Myanmar
While this ancient site may not be on the average traveler's radar, it's another of Southeast Asia's bucket-list attractions.
Spread out over a lush plain are more than 10,000 sacred structures dating from 1044 through to 1287. Hire a bicycle and pedal your way from one amazing structure to the next, or take a tour. Some of the structures can be entered, but the real beauty is the sheer number that dot the landscape.
For an aerial view, consider taking a hot air balloon tour at dawn.
16. Sydney Opera House
Like many other attractions around the world, the Sydney Opera House is one of those places that is easy to identify and obviously associated with Australia. A photo of yourself in front of the white sails screams Australia.
The Sydney Opera House was built in several stages and officially opened in late 1973. To fully experience the building, take a tour inside to see the unique shape and hear the exceptional acoustics.
Soak up the view from the Opera House area back towards the world-famous Sydney Harbour Bridge.
17. Mount Kilimanjaro
The highest peak in all of Africa, this majestic mountain – a dormant volcano – is one of the most recognizable symbols of the continent. The snowcapped peak is an impressive 5,985 meters (19,340 feet) and is often the backdrop to photographs of the wild animals that roam Amboseli National Park and other areas.
You can see this beautiful sight from afar or tackle the multi-day hike to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro for the fantastic views over the land and to watch the sunrise.
- Read More: Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Tanzania
18. The Louvre, Paris
If there is one museum in the whole world that you absolutely must see in your life, it's the Louvre. Even if you are not a fan of museums, this one is worth the trip to Paris to see.
Although most people know it as the home to the most famous painting in the world, the Mona Lisa, this is just one of the reasons to visit the Louvre.
The museum holds countless masterpieces by the greatest artists that have ever lived. But even the building itself is an icon. The glass pyramids and the 18th-century building are recognizable to almost everyone, and have been shown in countless movies.
19. Forbidden City, China
Like the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, also known as the Imperial Palace, in Beijing is one of the top places to visit in China. The sprawling complex dates from the 14th and 15th centuries and is a spectacular example of historical China.
Over the centuries, the palace has housed 24 Ming and Qing Emperors. Inside the city, the Palace Museum holds over 340,000 artifacts showcasing the treasures of China's dynasties. In front of the Forbidden City is the massive Tiananmen square.
20. Prague Castle, Czech Republic
Sitting atop a hill across the river from the center of the city, Prague Castle casts an imposing aura over its surroundings. The castle is an incredible collection of buildings constructed from the 9th to 14th century.
Stroll over the ornate 14th-century Charles Bridge spanning the Vltava River and head up the hill to wander the narrow, twisty streets in the castle complex. The castle is one of the largest in the world, and around almost every corner is a historical building, church, or open square.
21. Chichen Itza, Mexico
The ancient Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza have been drawing curious tourists since they were first brought to light by a popular book by John Lloyd Stevens in 1843. Today the site, located near the center of the Yucatan Peninsula, is one of the top tourist attractions in Mexico and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The 30-meter-high Pyramid of Kukulkán has been restored to its full glory along with many of the other significant buildings, including the Great Ball Court, the Temple of the Warriors, and the eerie Skull Platform.
Chichen Itza is located about 200 kilometers from Cancun and is easily accomplished in a day trip from Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and other areas of the Mayan Riviera either on your own or as part of a group.
22. Corcovado and Cristo Redentor, Rio de Janeiro
Keeping a watchful eye over the citizens of Rio de Janeiro from his perch atop Corcovado mountain is the stunning statue of Cristo Redentor. This huge 30-meter-high statue with its arms wide open in a welcoming gesture has been one of Rio's top tourist attractions since 1931.
The harbor of Rio de Janeiro is one of the 7 natural wonders of the world. The views from the top of the 709-meter Corcovado look out over this beautiful sight, including Sugarloaf Mountain and the city perfectly poised for beautiful photographs. The best way to get to the top is a ride up through the forests of the Tijuca National Park on the 3.5-kilometer Corcovado Rack Railway.
23. Château de Versailles, France
The wealth and grandeur of 17th-century France is on display at the incredible Château de Versailles. The château and the grounds are a UNESCO World Heritage Site and should be near the top of your touring plans when in France.
The Château de Versailles has an unbelievable 2,300 rooms housing some of France's most impressive interior design work, especially in the world-famous Hall of Mirrors. Other important rooms include the King's State Apartment and the Queen's Apartment.
The grounds of the château encompass 800 hectares, and one of the most impressive sights is the Gardens (Les Jardins). Geometrical pathways follow immaculately trimmed hedges past serene pools all surrounded by lawns cut to within an inch of their life.
24. Mount Fuji
Mount Fuji is the most well-known and highest mountain in Japan. Often pictured snowcapped, this dormant volcano is both a spiritual site and one of the top tourist attractions in Japan. Soaring 3,776 meters high, Mount Fuji is one of three Holy Mountains, all of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Hiking to the top of the mountain is a popular thing to do in Japan. Each year, nearly 300,000 people follow one of four routes to the top. One of the most popular things to do is time your hike so that you reach the summit just before sunrise.
Mount Fuji is located 100 kilometers east of Tokyo and is easily accessible via public transit and tours.
Read More: Exploring Mount Fuji: A Visitor's Guide
25. Central Park, New York City
Loved by generations of New Yorkers and by people from around the world, Central Park is one of the most famous public spaces in the world. Backdrop to countless movies and television shows, the park's walkways, lakes, and historical sights have been drawing city dwellers and visitors since it was first created in 1858.
Some fun things to do in Central Park include taking a horse drawn carriage ride through the park, visiting the Strawberry Fields Forever area and Imagine monument dedicated to the late John Lennon, renting a row boat, or just strolling under the towering trees. If you find yourself in the park in the cold season, ice-skating is one of the most popular things to do in New York in winter. Going ice skating with your sweetie is also a romantic thing to do in New York.