Ultimate travel bucket list: from retracing the Tour de France route to dancing away the night in Havana

WT Writer
Jun 29, 2021

In part three of our essential travel series, we go on a journey up the River Nile, along the Tour de France path and down Norway’s Atlantic Road.

Walk the Great Wall of China (maybe not the whole thing), China

Given the sheer size of this behemoth, tours are split up into sections. The most tourist-friendly are the Jinshanling to Simatai routes and the section around Badaling, popular due to their immaculate restoration and family-friendly conditions, which equate to large crowds. More adventurous types often head to the Jiankou or Zhuangdaokou sections, where they’re faced with dangerous and difficult terrain, but rewarded with wonderful scenery. The middle ground is Jinshanling or Huanghua Cheng, offering a smattering of souvenir shops, but marginally less busy and moderately easy to hike.

Stay in Salalah during summer, Oman

As the rest of the Gulf region swelters around 45°C, the coastal town of Salalah offers gorgeous climes and lush greenery. In Oman’s second largest city, coconut-fringed beaches and banana plantations wait to greet you, while the surrounding mountains attract the monsoon blowing in off the Indian Ocean. The town itself is a sprawling expanse of whitewashed, low-rise buildings and Al Hosn Souk is a definite highlight; stop by to pick up a souvenir of frankincense for which the region is famed. Be sure to also visit Al Baleed Archaeological Site on the east of the city – a UNESCO World Heritage Site of citadel and grand mosque ruins.

Waterfall at Ayn Khor, Salalah, Oman
Travel to scenic Salalah in the summer months. Image credit | Istock

Feast on Michelin star fare, Hong Kong

Want a world-class dining experience where the memories linger on your lips rather than your credit card? Hong Kong is your hero. At Tim Ho Wan, you’ll secure simplistic yet classy cuisine on your plate, and savour it against an unassuming backdrop: this is a venture for the true gourmand who cares about specialist dim sum, not interior-design razzmatazz. Testament to the quality of the restaurant (well, more ‘hole-in-the-wall eatery’) is that most of its patrons are locals, un-awed by the star status and here for the flavours. Founder Mak Pui Gor raised standards but not the prices; it will set you back around USD10. Another serving, please.

Book a suite at the world’s tallest five-star hotel, UAE

Dubai has set many a world record, but in the travel-stakes it’s a fact that this skyline is home to the world’s tallest hotel – any traveller has an eagerness to tick this one off their list of must-stays. On the fringe of Downtown, the 76-storey, 355m-tall JW Marriott Marquis Hotel Dubai enjoys fine views across the city, with sky-skimming suites providing an unrivalled vantage.

Glide through Milford Track, New Zealand

Regarded ‘The best walk in the world’, the Milford Track route was pioneered in 1888. Traversing the heart of New Zealand’s wild-country through the Fiordland National Park, hikers who take a five day/four-night walk from Queenstown get up close to birdlife such as indigenous parakeets, bellbirds and kiwi. On fine days the deep lakes, luxuriant forest and sheer granite canyons define the landscape, but experienced hikers claim the sight of rain cascading off the mountains makes for the best views. We recommend tackling the hike in March – the weather is more settled, and fresh mornings, sunny days and cool nights are the norm.

DSLR picture of a Suspension Bridge on the Kepler Track, New Zealand South Island.
Brave the bridges of Milford Track. Image credit | Istock

Sail the Dalmatian coast, Croatia

There are around 1,000 Dalmatian islands off the Adriatic coast of Croatia: set sail from Split in a southwesterly direction to come across Krknjasi Blue Lagoon on the east coast of Drvenik. Then, taste Croatian glamour by berthing alongside gleaming superyachts in the port of Skradin. From here, Kraka National Park’s magnificent waterfalls are just a short journey away. Sail on to Vis Island – the most mysterious in Dalmatia thanks to years of isolation, and famed for its thriving fishing traditions. For the party vibe, make a beeline for Hvar and Korcula, while Miljet offers lush greenery and inland lagoons. You won’t want to leave.

Never sleep in New York, USA

NYC is the ideal USA-intro for the first-timer – it’s on the east coast, some 4,800km closer to the Middle East than LA, making direct flights much more manageable. The iconic skyline greets visitors from both of its major airports (JFK in the southeast or LaGuardia to the north), and beyond the sightseeing must-dos like the Empire State Building, The High Line and the Statue of Liberty, there are countless other unforgettable experiences to be had in The Big Apple. Sip coffee in Brooklyn, shop the big brands on Fifth Avenue and unwind in sprawling Central Park; you’ll feel you’re at the centre of the world.

Retrace the Tour de France, France

There are a multitude of cycling vacations available around the globe, but why not test yourself against the most prestigious route of them all? Thomson Bike Tours allows just that, including a King of the Mountains Cycling challenge (with Extreme and Hardcore intensity options) or a trip option that takes riders through Ventoux the Alps and Paris itself. Come Tour-time, there are even be-spoke VIP packages for you to spectate and then partake (once the competition-primed riders have departed, of course). It won’t secure you the coveted yellow jersey, but it’s a trip that will leave your sport-loving friends green with envy.

Aerial view of Saint Lawrence Fortress and Dubrovnik old town city walls
See Saint Lawrence Fortress and Dubrovnik Old Town along the Dalmatian Coast. Image credit | Istock

Dine under the stars at Ayers Rock, Australia

Now known as Uluru, Ayers Rock is much easier to imagine than to actually get to. The 300-million-year-old natural wonder is almost 3,000km from Sydney, across brutal, unforgiving outback desert. Australia’s main airlines both fly to Ayers Rock Airport, and luxury coach transfers can be taken from Alice Springs. Once there, The Ayers Rock Resort offers a breathtaking ‘Sounds of Silence’ experience. Canapés and sparkling drinks are served as the sun sets over the ancient monolith, turning it fiery red, gold and finally a deep purple as night falls. As the stars twinkle into life, a bush-tucker inspired buffet entertains the tastebuds.

Island hop from Boracay to Palawan, and beyond, Philippines

The search for the best beach in the world leads countless travellers to the Philippines. White sands, electric blue water and waving palm trees are most people’s idea of paradise, and Boracay, Palawan and Linapacan have them in abundance. The clearest waters in the world are found in the Linapacan area, halfway between El Nido and Coron. There are countless boat operators happy to take you on a voyage between the islands in privacy, for the right price, or you can take the public ferry from San Fernando – just be wary of the waves, which can be difficult to navigate in February time.

Take a Nile cruise, Egypt

Think you’re not the cruising type? Think again – because the Nile is one of the world’s most atmospheric boating destinations, where millennia of rich history are intertwined with myths and legends. Opt for a felucca, a traditional Nile vessel, to glide downriver in Pharoah-esque style, gazing out over restless waters beneath vast white sails billowing in the breeze. Of course, one of the highlights of cruising the Nile is the opportunity for adventures on land. You’ll disembark to discover the ruined glory of the Valley of the Kings, colossal statues of Ramses II, and the crumbling Temple of Karnack.

Felucca is a traditional Egyptian wooden boat with a canvas sail. Cruise on the Nile by felucca is popular with foreign tourists.
Sail in a felucca along the River Nile. Image credit | Istock

Encounter the Terracotta Warriors in Shaanxi, China

They lay undiscovered for 2,000 years, took 720,000 builders to create, and each is unique down to its hairstyle – the Terracotta warriors are a feat of history and an experience not to be missed. It will take you at least half a day to explore all three vaults and the exhibition hall, so visit in the afternoon when there are fewer groups of tourists. For the impressive finale, start at the smallest pit and work your way up to the biggest – the size of an aircraft hangar. If quirky souvenirs are your bag, don’t miss the gift shop, where you can get a warrior statue personalised with your own face.

Take-in the Taj Mahal, India

The image of this iconic structure is no doubt already burned into your brain, but its majesty should be seen to be fully appreciated. Whilst the palace is obviously a sight in itself, it’s the magical atmosphere and romantic back story which adds to the aura – Mughal emperor Shah Jahan built it in memory of his wife. Like most wonders of the world, get there early (it opens at 6.30am) to avoid the crowds, and behold the morning sun glinting off the stunning white marble – you simply must experience seeing it in real life. Take refuge from the midday heat across the road from the East Gate exit, where you can grab a coffee and bask in air conditioning.

Dance the night away in Havana, Cuba

Outlawed from America since the 1960s, the island of Cuba has been preserved like a living museum – its colonial cities crumbling gently, its old-fashioned cars spluttering in the street, and its mambo music unheard by all but the most intrepid travellers. The easing of travel restrictions with the US in 2016 sparked fears that the old Cuba would be lost forever, but such fears have proved largely unfounded. Head first to Havana, where those Cuban characteristics have flourished, creating a surprisingly vibrant capital city: a land of hand-rolled cigars, palatial hotels, and jazz quartets jiving in the streets.

Havana, Cuba - March 24, 2017: Elderly street musicians playing traditional cuban music on the street in old Havana.
Dance the night away in the streets on Havana. Image credit | Istock

Soak-in summer on the Côte d’Azur, France

The French Riviera is a daydream come to life. The playground of the Med, it’s 70km of hills, islands, harbours, blue waters and the coast. Its secluded villas; yachts who’ve dropped anchor for occupants to explore landside; a cultural region where Picasso, Matisse, Renoir and others have brushed a legacy; where a meander down the Riviera takes in the major cities of Nice, Monaco and Marseille, unspolit Îles d’Hyères, and regions like Grimaud and Provence. It’s lazy days lounging on the beaches of St. Tropez, or exploring the history of Provence, noseying in vineyards and taking postcard-perfect snaps. In short, it’s luxurious laid-back bliss.

Watch for giant turtles while following in Darwin’s footsteps, The Galápagos Islands

The Galápagos are ruled by animals – make no mistake. Sure, they’ll let you sail through the waters, pose for you on soft sandy beaches, and even swim alongside you while you’re snorkelling. But those who call this place home – giant turtles, rainbow-coloured iguanas, blue-footed booby birds, seals and more – rule the roost. They’ll barely bat an eyelid at your presence, leaving you free to explore the spectacular volcanic islands, stepping over sunbathing lizards and treading the path of Sir Charles Darwin, who in 1839 called the Galápagos archipelago “a world within its own.” He wasn’t wrong.

Lose yourself in the heart of Venice, Italy

Venice deserves a list all to itself. From reclining in a gondola to crossing the Bridge of Sighs, and gawping at the golden treasures of the Doge’s Palace… we’d have to write a whole guidebook to do justice to this sumptuous city. But one of the greatest pleasures of visiting Venice is actually putting away your map and manual, and getting lost for the sheer thrill of it. One moment you’ll be amid the crowds, but the next you’ll be wandering through the most ornate backstreets you’ve ever encountered, with the scent of coffee dancing on the breeze. It feels the whole city is yours alone.

Classic panoramic view with traditional Gondolas on famous Canal Grande with famous Rialto Bridge in the background in beautiful golden evening light at sunset in summer, Venice, Italy
A trip to Venice should be on everyone’s list. Image credit | Istock

Join the Mardi Gras in New Orleans, USA

New Orleans has put the terrible effects of Hurricane Katrina behind it and the annual Mardi Gras parade is now a triumphant celebration of togetherness, as well as an excuse for an almighty party and parade. The next Mardi Gras runs from March 1, 2022, when the weather is comfortably cool. The origins of Mardi Gras can be traced back to medieval Europe when celebrations took place through Rome and Venice in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. New Orleans was established by European colonists in 1718, who imported the revelry.

Tread in the footsteps of giants, Northern Ireland

Giant’s Causeway is sheer otherworldliness: a jagged promontory of almost 40,000 neatly-packed columns of polygon basalt rocks, created some 60 million years ago. The result of a massive subterranean explosion, the site is steeped in mythical folklore, with its name stemming from the fable of Irish giant Finn MacCool and his arch-enemy Benandonner in Scotland. Legend has it the causeway was created as a path for the giants so they could fight, and that it was hastily torn up as the Scottish giant ran back across the water. The almost-perfect hexagon tubes are actually an epic legacy to lava – the precision of them beggars belief.

Stay in an overwater villa, The Maldives

Ah, the Maldives. The iridescent ocean, that cream coloured sand, those sunsets which allow the sky to show off every shade between yellow and red and, topping them all, the iconic overwater villas. Nothing says you’re in the Maldives quite like stepping from your veranda and seeing an uninterrupted expanse of sea. Resorts with overwater villas to-die-for include the wonderful Soneva Fushi, Taj Exotica Resort & Spa (be sure to book the one with the infinity pool), and the all-inclusive Hideaway Beach Resort & Spa, Maldives. The bungalows at Cocoa Island, meanwhile, are designed to look like traditional dhoni boats.

Couple on a tropical beach jetty at Maldives
Take a trip to paradise – The Maldives – at least once. Image credit | Istock

Take a cruise between Grand Cayman, the Bahamas and beyond, The Caribbean

Strewn across the sea like a necklace of glittering emeralds, the rainforest-covered Caribbean islands have entranced travellers for centuries – and as soon as you set foot on them, you’ll understand why. For the best experience, take to the waves in a liveaboard boat or yacht charter: you’ll ease into local life, with fresh fish on tap and great bonhomie between sailors. Each sun-drenched island has its own character, from all-natural Grenada and wild child Dominica, to the lavish resorts of St Lucia and the unrivalled luxury of the Bahamas. Pinch yourself: you’re
in paradise.

Wander the historic site of Angkor Wat, Cambodia

So important is Angkor Wat to this Asian country that it appears on the national flag. A must-witness for early birds is to experience the beauty of a sunrise like no other, as you watch light creeping over Cambodia’s ancient temples. Dating back to the twelfth- century and hidden by jungle for hundreds of years, this remarkable monument boasts a hand-carved wall that took over 100 years to construct, using mountainous rocks delivered by boat. If you want to beat (some of) the crowds, head to the site past dark for the night tour, where the monuments are lit up beautifully.

Drive The Atlantic Road, Norway

For a unique twist on that old American favourite, a road trip on the Atlantic Road is a must-do. Built on several small islands and skerries, it’s one of the most scenic drives anywhere, with stunning open views on both sides. Teetering along the edge of the sea, the 8km of curved road dips and arches over the brutal waves of the Norwegian Sea, with ocean spray soaking the road during high winds. Linking Molde and Kristiansund via eight breathtaking bridges, the road is peppered with viewing platforms from which you can often spot whales and seals. When the weather turns gloomy, this road is a veritable photographer’s dream.

Atlantic Ocean Road or the Atlantic Road (Atlanterhavsveien) been awarded the title as Norwegian Construction of the Century. The road classified as a National Tourist Route. Aerial photography
Drive the Atlantic Ocean Road in Norway. Image creit | Istock

See the Brandenburg Gate, Berlin, Germany

Stimulating, creative and oh-so-cool, Germany’s Bohemian capital is a city of many faces. A magnet for history buffs, frequented by partygoers, a hub for business and an increasingly family-friendly city, it’s without a doubt a European all-rounder. Fittingly, its iconic Brandenburg Gate has served as the backdrop to some of the most significant moments in modern European history. The eighteenth-century sandstone arch clocks in at an impressive 26m, and is topped with the Quadriga statue, which was stolen by Napoleon before being retrieved by Hitler. The gate stands as testament to peace, as a symbol of unity.

Explore Moscow, Russia

Brace the sub-zero temperatures, don your cashmere, and immerse yourself in a Moscow winter. Witness The First Throne at its best and most authentic, see the storybook Red Square aglow with twinkling lights, then warm up with a spot of ice skating. A city where even the shopping malls have Instagram-worthy architecture, take in some Stalinist history while you browse, then continue the culture trip in one of the capital’s many museums.

See more from our ultimate travel bucket list series here.