We all love taking photos on vacation. In fact, did you even escape your 9-5 if you don’t have pictures to prove it? It’s interesting to consider. Taking photos on our journeys around the world seem to be one of the most important aspects—right up there with passports and wallets, really. We have this need to share these photos when we return as some kind of proud badge of honor we can wear and we can point to these photos and say, “There, I went there once.” Of course, the emergence of social media has only fueled that desire to share our journeys. And with the internet, we can easily scour the web on our lunch break and find billions of photos of the most beautiful places in the world. This begs another question about travel and photos: do we need to go to these places to appreciate the beauty? Maybe going to London to see Big Ben isn’t such a big deal if you can print a photo and hang it on your wall.
If seeing is believing, then I should just be able to save a Bali wallpaper on my desktop and call it a trip well-traveled. That’s not the case, obviously, and sometimes we can forget that simple fact. We see pictures on social media and forget we need to have these experiences for ourselves. So if a picture is worth 1,000 words, then we wonder what seeing it in person is worth. We imagine a lot more. Pack your camera if you’d like, but you will be having so much fun with this list that we suspect it won’t be all that important. Here are 20 Destinations That Are Even Better In Person (Than In Photos).
20 La Paz, Bolivia - Floating Above A City
Imagine navigating a Latin American city from the sky. We don’t mean actually flying or passing by on an airplane. We mean instead of taking a bus or a cab, you float through the city in cable cars just like gondolas that take you up snow-capped mountains. Well, in Bolivia’s famous city of La Paz, the public transit system is just that. Known as Mi Teleferico, this aerial cable car system services Bolivia’s metropolitan area. From way up in the sky, the cityscape is gorgeous.
Many visitors travel from one of nearly twenty stations just to take in the serene beauty of one of Latin America’s cultural hubs. But going down into the streets and exploring the city by foot is a completely different and equally exciting experience.
You can roam the colonial-style roads and explore the markets and shops along the main streets. The city’s main square, the Plaza Murillo, is another beautiful spot to sit down and watch the crowds of people go about their day. And if you don’t like the energetic city vibes of La Paz, just outside, you can go biking on the famous Death Road, notorious for being one of the most dangerous places to drive in the world.
19 Zagreb, Croatia - Old World Beauty
Croatia’s capital and one of its largest cities is Zagreb, which lies north of the heart of the country along the Sava River and at the slopes of the Medvednica Mountain. In the past, Croatia was considered no more than a simple waystation, a place you marked as the border between Western Europe and Eastern Europe. But in recent years, the country at large has been gaining traction as a travel destination because of its serene nature and historical cities. Zagreb is the best example. Thousands of years old, the country’s capital is steeped in ancient architecture, filled with cobblestone roads you can walk along as you explore the districts and even illuminated at night by gas lamps burning bright. The pictures of the city are breathtaking and the photos of famous buildings show the beauty of Croatia, but there is so much more to do there than just snap photos. The Upper Town is where you’ll find the cobblestone streets that give Zagreb its unique flavor and it is also there that you’ll find the famous St. Mark’s church, notable for its unique rooftop design. The Maksimir Park and Zagreb Zoo are also filled with old beauty and sensational architecture that make Croatia such a unique place to visit.
18 Tallinn, Estonia - Underappreciated Eastern Scenery
Estonia is another country that is sadly underappreciated because of its easterly position in Europe. Just south of Finland along the coast of the Baltic Sea and north of Latvia, this country has so much to offer travelers in way of food, culture, art, and excitement and yet it seems to consistently fall under the radar. Thankfully, some people have caught on to Tallinn’s allure as the country’s largest city and the capital.
Located on the coast of the Baltic, Tallinn is a classic European capital born out of an unusual mix of modern technology and commerce while still holding on to the medieval styles that made it such a massive hub in the 18th century.
Tallinn has a lot of what people look for in major metropolitan areas and features a lovely skyline, but they also have a wonderful little old town area that’s ripe with activity. Artists flock here for their studios and creative companies and many more come for the sweet, delicious chocolate shops. St. Olaf’s Church in old town is probably the most iconic image of the city as far as traveling goes. That will be the picture you see most when you search it. But Kadriorg Park is also a beautiful place to visit.
17 Sydney, Australia - Iconic, But Well Worth The Trip
The imagination doesn’t need to stretch much to imagine all of the fun that can be experienced in Sydney, Australia. For years, the country’s largest city has been quietly becoming one of the nicest places for travelers to visit. It boasts the vibrant energy of international hubs like New York and Paris while maintaining a clean air about it and also providing some of the most pristine beaches in the world. Sydney is the perfect place for a nice time, but we're worried that many people might overlook Sydney because it’s so iconic. Images of the famous Sydney Opera House are so ingrained into our collective conscious that we forget how much more this city has to offer. What you typically miss from an image search of Sydney are the beaches. While there are a number of gorgeous, white sand, blue water beaches, Bondi Beach is perhaps the most well-known and well-liked. Celebrities and travelers alike love to flock to this beach and soak in the sun. More inland, you’ll find the Royal Botanical Garden where you can stroll through some of the rich and exotic local fauna of Australia. Of course, the Sydney Opera House and Harbor Bridge are simply too iconic to ignore on any trip to Sydney.
16 Lofoten Islands, Norway - Under The Midnight Sun
The Lofoten Islands in the north of Norway offer a number of special opportunities to snap some incredible and breathtaking pictures for your travel log. Depending on the time of year, you have your choices of the midnight sun of the northern lights. Between May and July, because it’s so far north, you can travel to Lofoten and snap the midnight sun which burns red over the horizon at midnight.
At this time of year, the sun doesn’t set and a picture of the midnight sun is marvelous. But experiencing that kind of night is something that has to be done in person.
The same can be said of the northern lights which appear from September to April. As beautiful as the pictures can be, staring up at the night sky and seeing it for yourself beats any photo you'll find. Known for its fishing, the Lofoten Islands also offer the unique experience of staying in fishermen’s cabins for lodging and dining on freshly-caught seafood on waterfront restaurants. Although it’s within the Arctic Circle, Lofoten is actually famous for having a much milder climate than any other place within the circle. Because of this natural phenomenon, you can enjoy activities such as fishing, scuba diving, and even surfing. Hiking is also a must and provides you with a breathtaking view of the fishing villages below.
15 Yosemite, California - Step Into A Painting
In the western Sierra Nevada in California, you’ll find one of the most breathtaking and pristine national parks possibly in the entire world. Over millions of years, tectonic and glacial activity carved out and shaped the valley of Yosemite and made it one of the most beautiful marvels of nature. Massive granite rock formations surround you on either side as you walk along the valley’s floor. The bottom is wide and lush and green with local fauna. Scale is everything in Yosemite and being inside of the park’s borders really makes you feel a sense of how small you are in the world in the best way. It’s a feeling that doesn’t quite translate into photos. Yosemite is a panoramic beauty. The sounds, the sights, the fresh air all combine to make it a special place. Famous staples of the park like Half Dome and Glacier Point are must-sees. The physical exertion of the hikes and the climbs also add to the Yosemite experience and cannot be had from a simple photo. You can walk along massive looming sequoia redwoods, famous in California, and hike along the mist trail and see some wonderful waterfalls. Tuolumne Meadows is also another beautiful place to visit.
14 Utrecht, The Netherlands - Tranquil Vibes
When people plan trips to the Netherlands, they typically like to visit Amsterdam and with good reason. Amsterdam is a hub not just for European travel, but an international destination. The city has it all, but with it comes the massive crowds and the over-saturation that drowns out the old world beauty you find there. Thankfully, we have Utrecht to help ease Amsterdam’s burden and give us world travelers a place to go that has everything Amsterdam does plus some others that make it unique.
The fourth largest city in the Netherlands and south of Amsterdam, Utrecht features an array of stunning buildings, including the beautiful neo-Gothic De Haar Castle. The most iconic building in Utrecht, however, has to be the Dom Tower which has stood in the city since the 14th century and is featured in many photos you find online.
Underground just below the tower, you’ll find a wonderful interactive museum exploring the city’s history. The old town area also features those photogenic fairytale-style canals that make quaint European cities so intoxicating. There you’ll find some lovely cafes and restaurants to dine at. The modern beauty of the Centraal Museum provides a change of pace to the old-world beauty while still showcasing some lovely Renaissance artwork.
13 Athens, Greece - Where Ancient Times Comes Alive
We had a hard time deciding what to feature when it comes to Greece. The country is so beautiful and so much of it is steeped in history that has given birth to much of the Western World and how it functions to this very day. The architecture, the buildings, and temples of ancient Greece are iconic and easily recognizable to people all over the world. The whitewashed columns and open-air spaces instantly bring us to Greece. And don’t get us started on the islands. There’s so many of them and they’re all so beautiful in their own way. Greece is an incredibly photogenic country, but we went with the capital city of Athens because there’s so much for travelers to do in Athens that we don’t think you’ll have time to worry about snapping photos. And if you do, there’s plenty of beauty to capture.
Obviously, the historical sites are worth visiting. The Acropolis of Athens is one of the most iconic images of the city and gives you a chance to explore one of the ancient world’s most prominent destinations, but the city itself has plenty to offer. From all-day cocktail bars to modern art museums, Athens offers just the same energetic experience as any other major hub.
12 Grand Canyon, Arizona - More Than Just A Pretty View
There’s nothing more classic than a cross-country American road trip. Because it’s so much larger than any European country, traveling across the United States can sometimes feel like quite an adventure. There’s such a vast array of ecosystems and sights to see, but there probably isn’t a sight more iconic to an American road trip that stopping by the world-famous Grand Canyon in Arizona. And
while most people stop by to snap an iconic picture of the vast expanse of this natural wonder, many seem to stop there and continue on their way. You miss out that way, however. The Grand Canyon has so much more to offer that you should really consider staying there for a few days or at least long enough to get the sense that it’s more than just a beautiful spot for pictures.
The hiking trails are out of this world. Whether you’re on foot or riding on a donkey, Grand Canyon hikes can’t be beat and you can even camp out there for an overnight stay. Another really fun activity to do while there is river rafting. The Grand Canyon has some amazing guided raft tours that really give you a sense of the scale.
11 Belgrade, Serbia - Fun Times Along The Riverfront
Most people like to stay on the western side of Europe when traveling. Because of destinations like Madrid, Paris, London, and Berlin, Western Europe gets a lot of love, but people tend to forget how beautiful the eastern side of the continent can be; thus, many of the scenic pictures of Eastern Europe tend to tell only part of the story. Cities like Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, are steeped in cultural and historical significance. And while the pictures of the cobblestone streets and fortresses are enticing, going to the city is another story entirely and one worth taking. Situated at the junction of the famous Danube and Sava Rivers, Belgrade has seen many things in its old history and may be one of the oldest cities on the continent. But its chaotic past only adds to the excitement and its future burns bright as one of the hottest cities for nightlife in Eastern Europe.
You can visit landmarks like the Kalemegdan Fortress or the lovely Cathedral of Saint Sava. For a taste of the new-age Belgrade, check out Skadarlija which is a car-free Bohemian section of the city ripe with cafes, shops, and cobblestone streets. You can also find entertainment on the booze cruises that dock on both rivers.
10 Bay Of Kotor, Montenegro - Surrounded By Water And Mountains
Because it’s so small and nestled on the opposite shore of Italy’s eastern coast, Montenegro can sometimes fall under the radar as a go-to destination. But this small country has so much going on for it that it’s hard to take it all in without feeling like there’s more. And no place in Montenegro embodies that idea quite like the beautiful Bay of Kotor.
The winding bay fed by the Adriatic Sea provides travelers with a stunning photo of the mountain ranges that litter the shorelines and nestle the quiet unassuming villages by the water. The pictures just don’t do it justice, though.
There’s so much more to be seen by exploring the quaint villages like Perast, a scenic location full of wonderful cobblestone streets and a medieval atmosphere that has stood for almost 1,000 years. The Adriatic Sea itself is another must when touring the bay as you can ride in boats while you wine and dine at night or go exploring and discover places like the Blue Cave where you can jump in and swim in the crystal clear water and stunning ambiance of Montenegro in the day. Of course, to earn that beautiful picture, you have to go climbing the Castle of San Giovanni.
9 London, England - More Than Meets The Eye
This has to be one of the most photogenic cities on our list, if not the entire world. Of course, there are plenty of contenders like Tokyo, San Francisco, New York, and Paris, but we tried to avoid putting out a list of cities you could name off the top of your head. We know they’re beautiful and we know they’re great places to travel—places where the experience far exceeds the photos you bring back with you. But we think London may be the most deserving culprit for being underappreciated due to an over-saturation of gorgeous photos. There are dozens of places all over England’s capital that are so iconic, you could take them almost anywhere and people would recognize them. Buckingham Palace and Big Ben are among some of the most recognizable and beautiful buildings in the world, but a trip to London has so much more to offer. For example, football. London features nearly a dozen professional football clubs (by football, we mean soccer).
Whether you’re going to the world-famous Wembley or the iconic Stamford Bridge, the experience of going to a game in London is once in a lifetime. The excitement, the fans, the crowd, the chants, nothing comes close and that’s an experience you can’t get from a photograph.
8 Shirakawa, Japan - A Japanese Fairytale
To the north of Kyoto and west of Tokyo is a small village in the Gifu prefecture that is so otherworldly you’ll be sure you’ve stepped through a portal into the setting of an ancient fantasy story. But the village of Shirakawa is real and as beautiful as the pictures are that visiting the village is the best way to get a taste of the rich and vibrant history of Japanese culture. Nestled at the bottom of a shallow valley and surrounded by mountains on all sides, including the Gozen and Ningyo, Shirakawa is a village reminiscent of an older Japan. The village is quaint, and the houses and buildings are all deigned after the famous style of Gassho-zukuri. The style was common for craftsman, merchants, and farmers. The style is incredibly unique with its steep roofs and natural feel. Many of the homes in Shirakawa are open to the public, and there is even a museum built in the same style. When staying in Shirakawa, we recommend booking a Minshuku which is a Japanese-style bed and breakfast. That way, you’ll be able to experience Japanese culture at its finest by living and breathing the Japanese way of life.
7 Ghent, Belgium - A Tranquil, Hidden Gem
Because Belgium is relatively small, even by Western European standards, the country is fairly easy to visit in a short period of time, and if you go to its most famous city in Brussels, it can be easy to think that you’ve seen it all. That’s actually not the case, and perhaps because it’s overlooked,
Ghent to the northwest is considered one of Europe’s most tranquil hidden gems. Part of Ghent’s beauty comes from its canal system. You’ll find that many entries on this list have scenic canals and that’s because they’re so gorgeous against the backdrop of old European buildings. One can’t help taking a photo of such views.
Ghent is no exception and its canals are just as lovely and any other, so you should find the time to take a boat ride and explore the city via water. But because it’s such an old city, Ghent has plenty of old wonders to take in like the Gravensteen Castle and St. Michael’s Bridge, easily two of the most photographed locations in the city. Belgian food is really something to try. You’ll find the winding cobblestone streets of Patershol to have some of the best restaurants in the city and the view of dining outside is amazing. Ivy climbs up the walls of the old buildings and whisks you away to a peaceful time. Don’t forget to get some beer in Ghent because Belgian beer is some of the best in the world.
6 Siena, Italy - Cradle Of The Renaissance
In Northern Italy lies what is considered by most to be the cradle of the famous Italian Renaissance. The Renaissance was a time of great art and philosophy that birthed some of histories greats like Leonardo di Vinci and Michelangelo. Luckily for us travelers, we can visit the cradle of the Renaissance and soak up the beautiful and captivating architecture, churches, buildings, and culture of old Italy. The entire region of Tuscany is beautiful, but by far the most popular city to travel within Tuscany has to be Siena. Siena stands out mostly because its shape. The city is a rough circle fortified by medieval castle walls. The image is stunning, like something taken from a work of fantasy or of another world. The rustic tint of red dirt walls gleams in the setting sunlight and makes this city a dreamy place to visit.
The most famous place to stop in Siena would have to be the Piazza del Campo, a once-famous marketplace which still acts as the social center of the city where people congregate and soak in the city. There are also the Bottini aqueducts and the Torre del Mangia, which you can climb up to get a beautiful view of the surrounding area. Obviously, when you’re in Tuscany, you have to check out a winery.
5 Rotorua, New Zealand - Lakes And Volcanoes
New Zealand is known for its beautiful nature, its warm beaches, blue waters, rivers, lakes, the landscape itself is gorgeous. People from all around the world travel to the island to see its natural wonders, so it’s no wonder we’ve included one of the most scenic cities in New Zealand. South of the famous Bay of Plenty on the northern island of New Zealand, Rotorua is situated to the southern shore of Lake Rotorua. The lake itself is a gorgeous sight and great place to visit, and there is even a Rotorua Gondola which takes visitor up Mount Ngongotaha and to the Skyline complex for viewers to catch the image of Rotorua and its lake.
Much of Rotorua’s beauty comes from the volcanic activity in the region, and as a result, there are a number of thermal activities for visitors to see.
Waimangu Volcanic Valley offers travelers a chance to hike and walk along trails that expose them to some beautiful springs and rock formations that have been formed by volcanic activity and give the area an incredibly unique landscape which is not seen in many other places in the world. The pictures are beautiful, but the experience of being there is something that cannot be supplemented.
4 Bali, Indonesia - A Tropical Wonderland
In recent years, Bali has been gaining a lot of traction on social media for gorgeous pictures of the islands that showcase all of the natural beauty of its forests, beaches, jungles, and waterfalls while also putting its rich history of temples and rice fields on display. The island has become quite a hot spot for millennial travelers, but it’s so beautiful for a reason. And
seeing pictures of young travelers basking in Bali’s exotic beauty doesn’t quite give the island enough justice. The temples in Bali are pretty unique.
One of the island’s most important, as well as one of the most photographed, is the Tanah Lot Temple which lays on a rock just off the coast, isolated and surrounded by crashing waves. There’s also the Uluwatu Temple which, like the Tanah Lot, resides near the coast, this time on the beachside. Besakih to the east and up in the mountains, though, has to be one of the larger and more interesting temples to explore. The island also features a number of beautiful beaches to lay out and enjoy as well as some scenic pools and waterfalls you can find on hikes. The Tegallalang Rice Terraces are another staple of the island and have to be seen in person to fully be enjoyed as they are a unique signature to the Bali experience. After the nature and culture have been soaked in, we recommend the lovely Ubud Art Market to go shopping for Bali clothing.
3 Hoi An, Vietnam - Dreamscape Of Ancient Southeast Asia
Vietnam has long been an enchanting and exotic travel destination. Travelers salivate at the chance to snap some photos of this coastal country, and while the capital city of Hanoi features a number of gorgeous sights to see, the former port town of Hoi An is simply too dreamlike to ignore. Built along a slow-moving canal, the city has been well-preserved in spite of the war with America. And because of this, it has been deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site because it has preserved the ancient aesthetic of a 15th century Southeast Asian trading port. This might be why you’re so apt to find a number of places to snap lovely photographs whether it be the lanterns glowing at night, the iconic Japanese bridge over the canal, or even the beautiful fields outside the old town. But the city in its entirety is what makes the experience unique and something that cannot be fully appreciated from the wonderful photos taken of it.
Another reason why Hoi An is so much more than the sum of its photos is the food. Vietnam is famous for its delectable cuisine that has been perfected over centuries. Cau lao and Banh Mi sandwiches are among the favorites, as well as barbecue.
2 Annecy, France - The Pearl Of The French Alps
Just 20 miles south of lovely Geneva, you’ll find what is considered to be the Pearl of the French Alps situated on the northern shore of Lake Annecy. Because the small town of Annecy, France is surrounded by such lovely scenic mountain ranges and a gorgeous blue lake, the town’s population remained stagnant for decades. Because of this, its old beauty can still be seen today. Lake Annecy offers travelers a number of fresh water activities and even some hiking and biking which are stellar when the sun is out. In the summers, visiting the lake is breathtaking.
You’re surrounded by steep alps and the water is refreshingly cool, but what really makes Annecy so picturesque are the enchanting old town canals. Reminiscent of Venice but with its own French spin, the canals in Annecy are simply stunning.
The old town is full of wonderful cafes, delicious restaurants featuring delectable French cuisine, and even some of the most delicious ice cream in all of France. The colorful and bright buildings that hug the canals are right out of a fairytale and the surrounding high French Alps only add to the contained beauty of this city. The lake and canals meet at Lover’s Bridge where you can see a beautiful view of the lake.
1 Marrakesh, Morocco - A City That Moves Ceaselessly
Many of those who have traveled to Marrakesh (or Marrakech, if you prefer the French spelling) feel that it is a city worth visiting, but with the caveat that it can be a much more challenging experience if you want to truly push the boundaries of your stay there. It is a city that moves ceaselessly, buoyed by the present but constantly anchored by its past.
Ancient times and modern peoples clash here in a splendid, but sometimes tiresome, way. Social media has flooded us with images of spas and pools in Marrakesh that are gorgeous and stunning. Of course, these are the kinds of things that bring relaxation and calm to a trip, but Marrakesh offers so much more than the things we typically expect on a vacation, things that social media sometimes miss. So, while the famous Jardin Majorelle is a wondrous garden that any trip to Marrakesh should include, we also recommend checking out places like Jemaa El-Fnaa market place, the beating heart of the city. There you’ll find tattoo artists, snake charmers, shops, food, and all other things in a market. The place is alive. Cafes and cooking classes are also unique activities for you to take on while in the sweltering African heat.