Last year I sent out a questionnaire to several travel bloggers I know who wrote about or lived in Spain. I asked them to compile a list of the top must-see attractions in the country. With a country as large and diverse as Spain, this was a very difficult task, but I have finally compiled the results. This list is by no means definitive. It is intended to be a starting point for a discussion of the great places in Spain.
Great Pyramids and Sphinx
The very fist list of wonders created by Herodotus in the 5th Century BC had the pyramids on the list. In 2,500 years, not much has changed. The Great Pyramids and the Giza Complex are still one of the most impressive sights in the world. The pyramids are from the Upper Kingdom of Egypt and are older than most of the temples you will find in Egypt, which dates after the unification of the Upper and Lower Kingdoms. As such, there is little in the way of hieroglyphs and other Egyptian artwork which can be seen at the site. The pyramids were the tombs of In addition to the pyramids themselves, you can also see the funeral boat of Khufu. The biggest downside to visiting the pyramids are the very aggressive men who try to get you to buy camel rides.
St. Catherine’s Monastery
Egypt isn’t all temples and ruins which date back to the time of the Pharaohs. There is a great deal of history in Egypt from the Greek, Roman, and Byzantine periods as well. The St. Catherine monastery is located in the middle of the Sinai Peninsula. St. Catherine is believed to be the oldest working Christian monastery in the world, dating its founding to 527 and 565. It was created on orders of the Emperor Justinian at the spot where it is believed Moses saw the burning bush and received the Ten Commandments. The monastery is run by the Greek Orthodox Church and contains about 120 of the oldest Eastern Orthodox icons in the world.
Despite its location near the pyramids, Cairo was essentially founded as a Muslim city in the 10th Century. Many of the oldest mosques and madrasas in the world can be found in Cairo. The highlight of old Cairo is the Cairo Citadel and the Mohamed Ali Mosque. The mosque is one of the largest of the old Muslim world and the design inside rivals many of the largest cathedrals of Europe. From the Citadel, you can look out to the Giza plateau and see the pyramids on a day where smog is limited. This is the section of town with the souqs (markets) and attractions many of the tourists who visit the city. Old Cairo was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979.
I suppose you could say that the Nile River shouldn’t be considered a Wonder of Egypt because in many respects the Nile IS Egypt. If it wasn’t for the Nile, Egypt wouldn’t exist, neither in its modern or ancient form. Other than the strip of green on either side of the river, most of Egypt is nothing by barren desert. It is the Nile which gave rise to Egyptian culture and made it the breadbasket of the Roman Empire. If you are in Egypt you need to at least take a felucca trip on the river, and if possible take an overnight cruise from Luxor to Aswan. Taking a cruise will not only let you see how average Egyptian farmers work the land, but it will also give you a chance to see some temples you would not get to see in Luxor or Aswan: Edfu and Komombo Temples.
Alexandria is a city with an amazing amount of history. It was founded by Alexander the Great. It was where Julius Caesar came ashore in search of Pompey in the Roman Civil War. It was here the great Library of Alexandria was created and later destroyed. It was home to one of the original seven wonders of the world: the Pharos Lighthouse. Anthony and Cleopatra killed themselves here. Despite all this history, almost all of the great structures have been destroyed. There are many smaller structures still to be found in Alexandria, however: Pompey’s Pillar, the Roman Theater, and the Greco-Roman museum. One of the highlights is nine meters below the surface where you can dive and see the ruins of the Pharos Lighthouse. It is also home to the new Biblioteca Alexandria, which hearkens back to the old library.
Abu Simbel Abu Simbel consists of two temples created by Ramesses II (aka the Pharoah played by Yul Brenner in the Ten Commandments) to celebrate a victory over the Nubians who lived south of Egypt on the Nile in what is now Sudan. By its own right, Abu Simbel is an impressive place to visit. What makes it really impressive, and the thing that really makes it a Wonder of Egypt is that the entire complex was moved in the 60’s to preserve it from the rising waters of the Aswan High Dam. The entire temple and sculptures carved into the mountain were carved up and moved 60m up and 200m back from the former location of the river. They did such a good job that if it wasn’t for the pile of dirt covering the temples, you’d almost never know that everything had been moved. If you ever visit, pay close attention to the graffiti carved into the stone by British vandals in the 19th Century.
Karnak and Luxor
Karnak and Luxor are technically separate temples connected by a road known as the Avenue of the Sphinxes, but because they are close together I’ve decided to list them as a single entry. Luxor and Karnak are both in the middle of urban Luxor City. Luxor Temple is of similar design to other Egyptian temples like Eduf and is best known for its intact obelisk at the front of the temple. Karnak is by far the largest temple in Egypt. It has almost an acre of stone pillars which gives you an idea of just how massive the original temple must have been. You can walk from one temple to the other, but it is probably easier to hire a horse drawn carriage. Don’t worry, the carriage drivers will find you. Collectively these ruins are in the Ancient Thebes with its Necropolis UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Ladies, gentlemen and Kiwis of all ages. With the assistance of New Zealand native son Craig Martin, author of the Travelling Europe ebook, I present to you the Seven Wonders of New Zealand!
Known as Whakaari in the local Maori dialect, the name “White Island” came from Captain Cook who thought it was always in a cloud of white steam. Located in the Bay of Plenty near the North Island, it is an active volcano and was the former location of a sulfur mining operation which ended in disaster. Helicopter and boat trips to the island leave daily from Whakatane.
Perhaps the most magnificent location in all of New Zealand, Milford Sound is technically a fijord. Viewing the sound is done via many boat tour operators which operate from the harbor. Day trips leave from Queenstown, which is the closest major city to Milford Sound. The Milford Track is also one of the most popular hiking trails in the country. The number of hikers on the track is limited to 40 per day. If you visit during a rain storm, you can witness hundreds of waterfalls which will appear on the walls of the sound.
Fox and Franz Joseph Glaciers
The only glaciers in the Pacific, Fox and Franz Joseph glaciers have the unique distinction of being the only glaciers in the world which flow into tropical forests. Only a 30 min drive from each other, the glaciers can be accessed from the town of Franz Joseph Glacier. Both glaciers are very accessible by walking, though it is not recommended to get to close because of dangers from falling ice. Also unlike many glaciers around the world, both glaciers have been advancing since the mid 1980s.
Poor Kinights Islands
The Poor Knights were named by Jacques Cousteau as one of the 10 best dive locations in the world. He probably knew what he was talking about. Located in the north end of the North Island, the Poor Knights shows the diversity of the geography of New Zealand, as you can go diving in tropical waters one day and visit fjords and glaciers the next. The Poor Knights are a protected marine reserve. The Poor Knights are best accessed from Whangarei or Tutukaka, north of Auckland.
Rotorua is one of the most active geothermal areas in the world. You can find boiling mud and pools of scalding water in the city parks. There are also geysers and geothermal spas nearby. You will know when you are close to Rotorua because of the strong sulfur smell in the city. In addition to the geothermal attractions, Rotorua is also a hub for adventure tourism as well as water sports on Lake Rotorua. Rotorua can be reached in a days driving from Auckland.
Tongariro National Park
Home of the real Mount Doom and many of the landscapes from The Lord of the Rings, Tongariro National Park is home to three active volcanoes: Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe, and Tongariro. The park has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Tongariro Track is one of the most popular hiking destinations for backpackers in New Zealand, and Tongariro also has one of the most popular ski slopes in the country.
While not a traditional type of selection, the All Blacks are perhaps the sports team which is most closely associated with a single country. The three most popular sports in New Zealand are rugby, rugby and rugby. The All Blacks are the New Zealand national rugby union team and have been playing for over 100 years. The team name is believed to have come from a typo in a British newspaper who wanted to describe the Kiwis as all backs. Always ranked near top of world standings, they have sadly only won a single world cup. They are famous for the haka, a Maori war dance, which they perform before every match. Watch a video of the haka.
Planning a trip to Australia and have no idea what to see while you’re there? For your entertainment and information, I present to you the Seven Wonders of Australia.
Kakadu National Park Kakadu is the premier national park in Australia and offers some of the most stunning displays of wildlife you can find on the continent. Saltwater crocodiles can be found all over the park, as well as kangaroos and wallabies. In addition to stunning rock outcrops and wildlife, Kakadu some of the oldest aboriginal artwork in Australia. Many of the rock drawings date back over 20,000 years. Kakadu was location for many of the scenes from the movie Crocodile Dundee.
Uluru/Kata Tjuta Uluru (Ayer’s Rock) is probably the best known natural icon in Australia, and no list of the Seven Wonders of Australia could be complete without it. The iron content in the rock makes its colors change through the course of a day from bright to dark red. Sacred to the local aboriginal Pitjantjatjara people, it is also of great cultural significance as well as natural significance. Often overlooked, nearby Kata Tjuta is actually higher than Uluru, but has been eroded into several pieces.
What says “Australia” more than Sydney harbor? Maybe a kangaroo holding a boomerang and beer in the outback, but that’s about it. The center of Australia’s largest city, Sydney Harbor is home to the Sydney Opera House and the Harbor Bridge. You can take a ferry across the harbor, walk across the top of the Harbor Bridge, have tea in the Opera House, and take a stroll in the nearby Royal Botanical Gardens.
Bungle Bungles/Purnululu National Park
Had this list been created 30 years ago, the Bungle Bungles might not have been listed. Having come to the world’s attention only in the mid-1980’s, the bee hive domes of the Bungles make Purnululu National Park the premier attraction in the Kimberly region of Western Australia. Difficult to get to, what makes the Bungles fascinating are the unique erosional features which are unlike anything else in the world.
Great Barrier Reef
The Great Barrier Reef is so big, the scope of it can really only be appreciated from the air, or even better, from orbit. By far the largest coral reef system in the world, the Great Barrier Reef extends over 2,600km (1,600mi), almost the entire length of the coast of Queensland. It is usually on any short list of the natural wonders of the world. There are plenty of places you can experience the reef, the most common of which are Cairns and the Whitsunday Islands.
Giant Eucalyptus Trees of Tasmania
Tasmania is the most unspoiled wilderness in Australia. In addition to its pristine beauty, it is home to many unique species of plant and animal including the threatened Tasmanian Devil. The most dramatic of all the things in Tasmania is the Eucalyptus Regnans, the giant eucalyptus tree. Also known as the Swamp Gum, Mountain Ash or Tasmanian Oak, it is the largest flowering plant and hardwood tree in the world and is second only to the redwood tree in height.
The Great Ocean Road
One of the greatest drives in the world is the Great Ocean Road on the southern coast of Victoria. Carved by thousands of years of battering by the Great Southern Ocean, the sandstone formations of the Great Ocean Road are truly stunning. The Twelve Apostles, London Bridge, Lord Ard Gorge are just some of the significant erosional features which can be seen on the drive near the town of Port Campbell.
Lord Howe’s Island, Fraser Island, Blue Mountains, Coober Peady, Shark Bay, Mungo National Park, Pinnacles Desert
I bring you, in no particular order, the Seven Wonders of Japan.
Kiyomizu Temple, Kyoto
Kiyomizu-dera is a Tendi Buddhist temple in Kyoto and is one of the oldest and best-known temples in a historic city filled with temples. The current building was built in 1633 by the third Tokugawa shogun and temples on the location date back to 798. Situated on Mount Otowa, Kiyomizu offers a stunning view of the surrounding area.
Kiyomizu gets its name from a nearby 13m waterfall. People would often jump off the temple into the water below (a practice which is now banned). “Jumping from Kiyomizu Temple” has become a saying in Japan for doing something daring.
Himeji Castle, Himeji
Himeji Castle (Himeji-jo) is one of the best-preserved castles in Japan. Construction originally started in 1331, Himeji was untouched by the devastation in WWII, unlike Osaka and Hiroshima Castles. Himeji is considered one of the three great castles of Japan, along with Matsumoto Castle and Kumamoto Castle.
Castle holds a commanding view of all the surrounding flat land area, which made it ideal for a military fortification. In addition to its large keep and thick walls, the paths inside the compounds are a maze designed to confuse potential attackers.
Himeji can be visited via day trip from Kyoto or Hiroshima via the Shinkansen, and the castle is within easy walking distance from the train station.
Peace Park, Hiroshima
On August 6, 1945, Hiroshima, Japan became the first city ever to be destroyed with an atomic bomb. As Hiroshima rebuilt after the war, a decision was made to keep the ruins of the Genbaku Dome (A-Bomb Dome) standing as a reminder of the devastation, and the centerpiece of the Hiroshima Peace Park. The dome and the area of the park was ground zero for the blast which killed over 100,000 people.
The park draws visitors from all over the world who come, not only to remember those killed in the war but to hope for future peace.
In addition to the A-Bomb Dome, there are memorials to the children killed in the explosions, a peace library, and museum, an eternal peace flame, as well as several acres of park area. Visitors should take the time to ring the Peace Bell.
Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion), Kyoto
The Golden Pavilion (Kinkakuji) is one of the most beautiful buildings in Japan. Built on the grounds of the Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu in 1397, the pavilion was created to hold relics of the Buddha. The top two floors of the building is coated in gold leaf, which is where it gets its distinctive name.
The pavilion was burned down in 1950 by a deranged monk and rebuilt in 1955. The pavilion and the surround pond and garden are one of the most photographed scenes in Japan.
No trip to Japan would be complete without taking a trip on the Japanese bullet train, the Shinkansen.
The Shinkansen is the heart of the extensive Japanese rail system. While most of the trains in Japan are normal trains, the Shinkansen are kept on a separate rails designed for rapid transit. The Shinkansen can achieve a top speed of 300kph (180mph). There are no road or rail crossing on Shinkansen tracks. The speed of the train would make an accident devastating.
High-speed Shinkansen trains can be taken from Kagoshima in the far south to Hachinohe in the north, covering most of the country.
Fuji-san (Mount Fuji)
Could any list of the Seven Wonders of Japan be complete without Mount Fuji? Mount Fuji is not only the highest point in Japan but is a symbol of the country which has been used in countless pieces of artwork. Fuji is an active stratovolcano but has not erupted since 1707.
Approximately 200,000 people climb Mount Fuji each year, and visiting Mount Fuji is a popular destination for tourists. On a clear day, the summit of Mount Fuji can be seen from Tokyo. The most popular months for climbing Fuji are July and August.
Visiting the base of Mount Fuji can be easily done on a day trip from Tokyo.
Ramen in Fukuoka
Japanese cuisine ranks among the best in the world. While sushi often gets the attention, one of the staple foods of Japan is ramen.
Originally a Chinese dish, ramen first became popular in Japan during the Meiji period in the 19th Century. Japanese ramen is a far cry from the instant noodles which many westerners think of when they hear ramen.
Ramen was believe to have been brought to Japan by Chinese merchants in Fukuoka. Fukuoka ramen is known for its rich, pork based Tonkotsu ramen, topped with a pork cutlet.
When the New Seven Wonders of the World came out, I added my two cents. I have even done the Seven Wonders of the Philippines. (and will be soon coming out with the wonders of Japan and Australia). I recently (as in a few minutes ago) found out the Good Morning America came out with the Seven Wonders of America.
I couldn’t resist.
Here is the list they came up with:
7) New York City
6) Golden Gate Bridge
5) Saturn V Rocket
4) The Badlands (South Dakota)
3) Grand Canyon
2) Arctic National Wildlife Preserve
1) National Mall (Washington DC)
New York City???? (that should be said in the same voice as the El Paso Salsa commercials) If New York as an entity gets to be included, why not San Francisco? Why do they just get a bridge? My guess is they couldn’t choose between the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building and Time Square, so they just lumped them all together. I agree that New York should probably be represented on such a list, but putting the whole city on it really is sort of cheap.
Golden Gate Bridge I really can’t argue with this. It isn’t the longest bridge in the world anymore, but it is was the first of its type and is still a huge icon for the Bay Area and all of California.
Saturn V Rocket My biggest argument against this is that I didn’t think of it. Usually you think of places or buildings. The Saturn V is pretty damn cool, but the only Saturn V which currently exists is a shell sitting on the ground in Huntsville, Alabama. If you are going to include vague non-place type things, I’d just include the entire Apollo program. If you wanted to make it a place, perhaps include the Kennedy Space Center or the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum (which is technically included in #1 on the GMA list).
The Badlands I’ve been to the Badlands several times. I like the Badlands. However, it doesn’t belong on this list. I can’t say I’d rate it over half a dozen other national parks, including: Yellowstone, Yosemite, Volcanoes, Everglades, Zion, Arches, Arcadia, Denali, or even Theodore Roosevelt in North Dakota. Hell, I’d put the Black Hills ahead of it for the Seven Wonders of South Dakota.
Grand Canyon Duh. This is probably the most significant natural feature in the US. It should probably be #1.
Arctic National Wildlife Preserve If it weren’t for the oil drilling controversy, there is no way in hell this would be #2. No way. I won’t deny that there is some sort of grandeur to the place, but that doesn’t mean it should be put at #2. Hell, even the National Park Service hasn’t given it National Park status. It lacks the geologic and historical significance of Yellowstone or Yosemite, neither of which are on the list.
National Mall I can’t argue with this being on the list, but I really don’t see it being #1. You can easily spend several days exploring what amounts to less than one square mile in Washington. If you walk a bit farther, you can see even more. If you had to make a list of things people should see in the US, this would have to be on the list.
Here are some things I’d put a short list if I were coming up with a Seven Wonders of America:
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park I’ve been there twice, neither time was lava flowing on the surface. It is flowing now :(
Independence Hall/Monticello/Historic Boston I’d have something regarding the Revolution on the list. The American War for Independence is a pretty significant event in world history. It was the first act of rebellion against a colonial power and set the stage for much of what happened later in history.
Gettysburg Probably the most significant battle in the Civil War. I suppose one can argue that an empty field isn’t really a wonder, however.
Yellowstone and Yosemite That these were left off the list is a travesty.
Redwood National and State Parks The redwood forests are the most impressive forests in the world. I’d also include Sequoia National Park and Muir Woods
Death Valley It’s Death Valley.
Las Vegas If you are going to put an entire city on the list, put Las Vegas. There is no place in the world like Las Vegas. Not even close. Even Macau, which is probably the closest thing to Vegas, is nothing like Vegas. Vegas is uniquely American. Vegas could never have arisen anywhere but the US.
Denali The highest point in North America, Mount McKinley is actually one of the largest mountains in the world when measured from base to peak.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park This will probably take most people by surprise, but it is one of my favorite spots in the world. I love the Great Plains and I love this park.
Carlsbad Caverns The biggest cave system in the world.
The Interstate Highway System The more I travel, the more I come to appreciate this as really the most impressive building accomplishment of the United States.
In the big, global scheme of things, the United States is a very young country and we don’t have a lot of history compared to other places. Most of the things I’d put on the list are natural in nature, not historic.
Rice Terraces of Banaue
The Rice Terraces of Banaue are perhaps the most well know attraction in the Philippines, and no list of the Seven Wonders of the Philippines would be complete without them. Located in central Luzon, they have been carved by local Ifugao people over the last 3,000 thousand years. When you visit, you can see terraces still being built today. The locals often describe the terraces as the largest man-made structure created without forced labor. If each terrace were laid end to end, they would stretch almost 14,000 miles. They were declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1995 and are one of 6 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Philippines.
Underground River of Puerto Princessa
The Underground River on the island of Palawan is not only a UNESCO World Heritage site but was named as one of the Earth’s New7Wonders of Nature. The Underground River is the longest subterranean river in the world, extending 8.2km underground. Over 2km is accessible to the public. The surrounding National Park includes many species including monitor lizards, the blue-naped parrot and macaque monkeys. The park is located 50km north of the city of Puerto Princessa on the island of Palawan.
Located in the middle of the Sulu Sea, Tubbataha Reef is one of the largest and best-preserved reef systems in the world. Actually composed to two atolls, Tubbataha is far removed from any human settlement, it is a 92-mile boat trip from the city of Puerto Princessa. The marine park covers over 968 km² and is home to over 300 coral species and 400 fish species, rivaling the diversity of the Great Barrier Reef. The few pieces of atoll which are above water are also home to a large number of seabirds. It was inscribed on the UNESCO list of World Heritage sites in 1993.
The Chocolate Hills are located on the Island of Bohol. They are over 1,200 hills, covering over 50 km² and get their name because the grass which covers the hills turns brown during the dry season. The hills are almost all conical in shape and made of limestone. Many people have believed that they were human creations. Geologists are not entirely sure how they were created. Theories include erosion of limestone, volcanic uplift, and accretion of limestone around basalt fragments from a volcanic eruption. The government of the Philippines has declared it one of their flagship tourist destinations. The Chocolate Hills are so central to the people of Bohol, they appear on the flag of the province.
Taal volcano has a unique distinction in the world. It contains the largest island, inside of a lake, which is on an island, which is inside a lake, which is on an island. (got that?) Taal is a very active volcano which has killed over 5,000 people in recorded history. It has been named one of the 16 decade volcanoes in the world worthy of special study. Inside the Taal caldera is Lake Tall, which is a 25km across. The lake is known for its high sulfur content and is also home to many endemic species of freshwater fish. Taal is only 50km from the city of Manila.
Mayon volcano is perhaps the most perfectly shaped conic volcano in the world. It has been called by some the “Filipino Mount Fuji”. Located in southeast Luzon, it is one of the most active volcanoes in the world. It has erupted close to 50 times since the year 1600, with the most recent eruption occurring in 2006. 77 people were killed in an eruption in 1993 and 75,000 people had to be evacuated from their homes during an eruption in 1984. It rises 2462m over Legazpi City in the province of Albay.
Boracay is a small island approximately 200 miles south of Manila and is very close to the major island of Panay. Its white sand beaches and direct flights from all over Asia have made it one of the Philippines most popular tourist destinations. White Beach is the longest beach on Boracay and extends 4 km on the west side of the islands.
Honorable Mention Wonders of the Philippines
Located on the northern tip of the island of Palawan, El Nido is known for its distinctive limestone islands and inlets. El Nido consistently scores high in surveys of top eco-tourist destinations in the world. Forbes magazine rated the wreck dives off the island of Coron as someone of the top 10 dive sites in the world. Archeological evidence of human habitation dating back 22,000 years has also been found in El Nido.
The Province of Batanes is the northernmost, and smallest province in the Philippines. It is located almost halfway between is island of Luzon and Taiwan. The culture of the Ivatan people is unique in the Philippines. Crime in Batanes is almost unknown as many police officials have complained of nothing to do with zero crimes reported and no one in the jails.
Mall of Asia
It may be surprising to some, but one of the largest malls in the world is in Manila. The SM Mall of Asia is the third largest mall in the world in terms of gross leasable area, surpassed only by two malls in China (neither of which is anywhere near capacity). The Mall of Asia consists of four separate buildings connected by open air walkways. It is 50% larger than the Mall of America and 10% larger than the West Edmonton Mall. It addition to the standard mall fare, it also is host to Olympic-sized ice skating rink.