Beauty and wonder come in many forms in our world, from the natural or man-made to the intact or ruined. Often, it’s not how something came about, or whether or not it’s still in mint condition, that determines if it’s worth marveling at. How we react to these things determine this, and this list comprises some of the most beautiful, awe-inspiring features of our world guaranteed to illicit reactions of wonder. From the remnants of lost civilizations – some of them quite mysterious – to charming towns and breathtaking elements of the natural world, this list features them all.
As mentioned, this list includes many ruins, but it also includes many natural places that are just as susceptible to time induced disappearance. Waves wear away islands and remarkable rock formations; earthquakes and volcanic eruptions crumble and bury; and of course pollution threatens all. Nothing in our world is truly finite – everything must have its end. Perhaps that’s what’s so inspiring and beautiful about the wonders of the world, that even as they’re receding into memory and legend through the steady march of time, they still show us what man and nature are capable of. While this list may certainly be informative and enjoyable, it’s also a wakeup call to those who still want to get out in the world and see these things for themselves. This is something that is definitely recommendable sooner rather than later, as you may wait too long to search them out only to find that they’re already gone.
1. Semuc Champey, Guatemala
This natural limestone cascade drops gently down the mountainside to create a series of falls and clear turquoise pools.
2. Viñales Valley, Cuba
This amazing valley and its surrounding limestone monuments seem like a picture out of Southeast Asia rather than the island of Cuba.
3. Mount Roraima, Venezuela
Venezuela’s highest tabletop mountain, with its pyramid-like steps and cascading waterfalls, is so high that it’s perpetually ringed by masses of swirling clouds.
4. Palais Ideal du Facteur Cheval, France
Created by a local mailman over the course of several decades, this folly almost looks like something straight out of Tomb Raider.
5. Chapelle St-Michel d’Aiguilhe, France
Towering high over the surrounding town of Le-Puy-en-Velay, this stunning chapel dates back over 2,000 years.
6. Ruins of Leptis Magna, Libya
These sprawling ruins, with their colonnades, triumphal arches, and amphitheater, display some of the most delicate and intricately carved motifs left to us from the Romans.
7. The Archeological Site of Meroë, Sudan
Once the capital of the Kingdom of Kush, Meroe is home to a series of fabulous tombs and mausoleums and has produced stunning artifacts from antiquity.
8. Cuicul (Djémila), Algeria
This ancient Roman town is unique due to its mountainous locale and boasts several temples, public and private buildings, as well as an impressive amphitheater.
9. Lauca World Biosphere Reserve
A truly stunning landscape, this reserve encompasses broad ranges of plateau, all at nearly 10,000 feet above sea level. The area is dotted with various archeological sites and is home to wide range of animal species.
10. Maelifell, Iceland
This beautifully – not to mention unusually – formed volcano is entirely swathed in bright green moss and ringed by serpentine glacial rivers and streams.
11. Transfiguration Church, Kizhi, Russia
This extraordinary display of mass onion domes and arches, all done in wood, is an early 18th century marvel not to be matched anywhere else.
12. Portmeirion, Wales
This charming seaside town, built along the hillside of a peninsula in Wales, is unique for its design scheme, as it’s more reflective of an Italian town than a coastal Welsh village.
13. Standing Stone of Callanish
Every bit as mysterious and magical as more well-known Stonehenge in England, these Scottish Neolithic stones are composed of a circle of stones as well as lines of stones that radiate from it.
14. Anjar, Lebanon
These 8th century ruins are incorporated into the small town of the same name and was originally constructed by builders and artists from Turkey and Egypt at the behest of local rulers.
15. Baalbek, Lebanon
Known in its original days as Heliopolis, both under the rule of Alexander the Great and later the Romans, these ruins date back over 2,000 years, with overall settlement here going back as far as 9,000 years.
16. Schwerin Palace, Schwerin, Germany
Built by the Grand Dukes of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, this palace is reminiscent of French chateaux and puts any Disney castle to shame.
17. Gorges de l’Ardèche
This spectacular gorge has as its main showpiece the remarkable Pont D’Arc, a 200ft high arch and remnant of an ancient cavern system that once existed thousands of years ago.
18. Mogao Caves, China
Consisting of hundreds of temples, the caves and their respective complexes also display countless colorful frescoes and meticulously carved statues.
19. Wulingyuan, China
This extraordinary range of mountains contain thousands of pillars of sandstone that tower hundreds of feet over the valleys and gorges below.
20. Potala Palace, Tibet
Built in 1645, this palace was long the home of the Dalai Lamas of Tibet until the Tibetan Uprising.
21. Dobsina Ice Cave, Slovakia
This stunning ice cave has a central chamber that is 40ft high and a floor composed of an over 80 foot thick slab of ice. The stalagmites and stalactites are more like spires of crystal than rock formations due to their layers of ice.
22. Lake Ohrid, Albania and Macedonia
Europe’s oldest lake, Lake Ohrid straddles the borders of two Balkan countries and boasts water so clear that you can see dozens of feet below the surface.
23. Ordesa Canyon, Spain
Part of the Ordesa Y Monte Perdido National Park, Ordesa Canyon is located deep within the Pyrenees and is home to such majestic creatures as the Golden Eagle.
24. Prambanan, Indonesia
Built in the mid-9th century, this Hindu temple complex was abandoned about a century later and fell into the realm of myth until the early 19th century.
25. Ayutthaya, Thailand
This great city was built in the mid-14th century and was the center of the royal court as well as the name of the kingdom that it headed until the 18th century.
This charming little town doubles as a mountain citadel. Brightly painted and beautifully constructed buildings compose this architectural ensemble, but it’s also known as the birthplace of Vlad the Impaler, aka Dracula. Maybe after visiting you’ll be inspired to contact an exterior painting contractor like Greenwich house painters to have your own home transformed with similar bright colors!
27. Pamukkale, Turkey
What looks like ice and snow is actually a layer of calcium carbonate left behind by water from the area’s hot springs. The cliffs and terraces are continually forming and reforming as water continues to pour over them.
28. Cathedral Gorge, Australia
Located within the quirkily named Bungle Bungles sandstone formations, this gorge has created a unique natural amphitheater in which voices carry from one side to the other with ease.
29. Kangaroo Island, Australia
This unique island combines amazing rock formations, pristine beaches, and rolling forests and grasslands to create a biologically diverse habitat for various plants and animals – including kangaroos of course.
30. Palau Archipelago, Micronesia
Boasting some of the clearest water and beautiful reefs in the world, this compact little grouping of islands makes for one attractive diving locale.
31. Milford Sound, New Zealand
This New Zealand fjord was created around 20,000 years ago by glaciers. Their retreating forms created a rich array of sculpted peaks and valleys, along with waterways and waterfalls.
32. Red Seabeach, Panjin, China
This vast marshland is home to the Suada grass which gives this wetland habitat – the largest in the world – its name.
33. Meteora, Greece
Meteora is a complex of monasteries built upon various sandstone pillars, with the buildings dating between the 11th and 16th centuries.
34. Seljalandsfoss Waterfall, Iceland
Falling over 200ft to the pool below, this waterfall provides a rather unique interior view due the path that leads behind the fall.
35. Fernando de Noronha, Brazil
This tropical archipelago along the Atlantic Ocean is comprised of 21 different islands as well as islets that are home to several endemic species.
36. Forest of Knives, Madagascar
With its jagged rock formations dating to the Jurassic Period, this area of Madagascar has created the perfect barrier between humans and the plants and animals that call this space home. It’s so removed from human involvement that some species are still being discovered here.
37. Mount Bromo, Indonesia
This active volcano resides in the midst of a plain known as the Sea of Sand and stands well over 7,000 feet tall.
38. Sigiriya, Sri Lanka
This extraordinary complex was built around 1,500 years ago and has as its main feature a nearly 700ft tall rock column with the ruins of a palace atop it. The entrance to this feature, also called the rock fortress, is composed of the ruins of a massive stone lion.
39. Tower of Hercules, Spain
Built by the Romans sometime in the 2nd century, the lighthouse rises to 187ft and is the second highest in Spain.
40. The Amber Room, Catherine Palace, Russia
This exquisite room in the Catherine Palace at Tsarskoe Selo, former home to the Russian Imperial family, is composed of intricate mosaics of Baltic amber. The current room is a rebuilt form, as the original amber panels were stolen by the Nazis in WWII, never to be seen again.