Ultimate travel bucket list: from cruising the Amalfi Coast on a Vespa to floating down the Mekong in Vietnam

WT Writer
May 2, 2021

It’s time once again to revisit your travel bucket list – and here’s the inspiration you need to keep your wanderlust alive even if far flung adventures are still on hold

Relax with a traditional Balinese massage in Indonesia

Take a stroll down the many streets of Legian, Seminyak or Kuta and you’ll instantly notice the hundreds of massage places dotted all around Bali. Incorporating notes from their neighbours in Java – who performed indulgent spa flower petal baths and luxurious massages on their Royal Family – then drawing from ayurvedic techniques in India and borrowing elements of Swedish massage, Balians created their now world-famous massage technique. Cheap as chips, you can indulge in the tradition for a meagre USD10 – an amazing price, and you’ll feel the results in your deep-muscle tissue for days.

Immerse yourself in the madness of Tokyo, Japan

While the perma-glow of neon and hordes of crowds might seem like an attack on the senses, there’s much more to Tokyo’s futuristic metropolis than skyscrapers and robots. Visit a Sumo stable to watch traditional Japanese wrestling, or head to a maid café and witness Kawaii ‘cute’ culture – whoever spots the most elaborate animal stuck to a headband wins. Take refuge at Meiji Shrine in Shibuya – you might even spot a traditional Japanese wedding – or head to Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden where you’ll find themed gardens and a 300-year-old pine tree.

Tokyo neon lights
Shinjuku district, Tokyo

Party in Beirut, before seeing Roman ruins in Lebanon

Combine hedonism with ancient wonders in the bright lights of Beirut – a rather grown-up kind of city break, we like to think. Lebanon’s capital is renowned for epic clubs – there’s a thriving scene of arty independent nightspots, from underground lounges to rooftop venues with views. Once you’ve danced the night away it’s only a short hobble to the Roman Baths, a bewitching ancient ruin right in the heart of downtown Beirut.  You can wander through the relics before seeking a shady spot in the Roman Baths Garden – an age-old site of recuperation. And let’s face it, you’ll probably need some of that.

See the sweeping majesty of Iguazu Falls, in Brazil

Trekking to base camp at Mount Everest is something for those who thrive on a bit of a challenge. It’s definitely attainable, even for those of us who wouldn’t quite subscribe to the ‘athletic body’ camp. More than just a trek, this is a photo opportunity and a sense of accomplishment rolled into one. Every bend in the trail opens out onto beautiful forests, glacial moraines and unrivalled vantage points. As you climb, you’ll pass through ancient Sherpa villages, browse Namche Bazaar, listen to the grunting of mountain yaks and drink-in views from the summit of Kala Patar – the highest point on the trek.

Mount Everest
The iconic summit pyramid of Mt. Everest

Savour a slice (or more) of pizza in Chicago, USA

You might think that Italy, or maybe even New York, are the best places on earth to get a slice of pizza – but you’d be wrong. The spiritual home of the pizza pie is Chicago, where you’ll find a special ‘deep dish’ version that’s far more dense (and more filling) than normal. The style was invented at Pizzeria Uno in 1943, and the restaurant still does a brisk trade today. Once suitably fuelled, the Windy City is home to terrific museums, parks and first-rate hotels, all easily reached via the city’s elevated ‘L Train’ that takes you above street level and right through the city’s main attractions.

Explore quintessential English countryside, England

There’s nothing like rural England. The Cotswolds, for example, oozes charm – an idyllic land of chocolate-box villages, rolling hills and fields, manor houses, stone barns and quaint English pubs for a spot of Ploughman’s lunch. The Lake District is another prospect entirely but equally pretty – rugged mountain ranges suited for hiking, and ribbon lakes to sit beside with a flask of hot coffee; pure escapism, with the hush of nature punctuated by babbling streams and a whistling breeze. This is the least boastful addition to our list, but bed-down in a homely B&B and relish a peaceful reward.

Venture on a KL street-food adventure in Malaysia

An extended stay in Malaysia shows around the waistline: there’s an abundance of fantastically affordable street cuisine and 24 hours a day in which to feast. So much to savour: the national dish of Nasi Lemak (‘fat rice’ in coconut milk, served on a banana leaf), Char Key Teow (stir-fried flat-noodles with juicy prawns), Mamak menu staples such as Roti Canai (flatbread) or Nasi Goreng Kampung, washed down with a frothy cup of Teh Tarik, and more. There’s something about the noise of a metal cooking pan being thwacked and the bustling sound of the Jalan (street) that just makes it all taste better.

Sleep amidst the sand dunes in the UAE

It’s easy to forget sometimes when scurrying around Dubai’s gleaming skyscrapers and towering superstructures, that the city’s most alluring quality remains the mesmeric desert. To experience its mystical charms to the fullest, spend a long weekend at one of Dubai’s desert resorts. The brilliant Al Maha Desert Resort & Spa, where each suite offers up dune vistas and a private pool, is just a 40-minute drive from Dubai yet feels a world away from the core of the city. Abu Dhabi’s Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara, nestled between sloping dunes and a burnt orange landscape, is another absolute must-stay.

Stay in a Parisian palace hotel in France

Doing Paris on the chic means booking a suite at one of its palatial hotels – the epitome of French finesse. The grand dame of grand dame hotels is, of course, the Ritz Paris; one addition to the hotel of old when it was renovated five years ago is a tunnel that allows you to arrive without courting the attention of the paparazzi, should you feel all diva on arrival into Charles De Gaulle. Others in this set include Four Seasons George V, and the impeccable Le Bristol.

Ride horses in the wilderness in Mongolia

Remaining a distinct mystery to the outside world, Mongolia is an adventure. The essence of the Mongols’ nomadic lifestyle and their devotion to horses is most apparent in the Darhat Valley. Saddle-up at a tented camp near the shores of Lake Khovsgol, a 160km-long, glacially-curved alpine lake in north-eastern Mongolia, then tackle the gradual ascent of Jigleg Pass before descending into the valley, where hundreds of horses seek prime pasture. Enjoy the warm hospitality of the Mongol people, drink down a big cup of airag (a fermented horse milk beverage), and wonder at the rituals and vigorous way of life of these nomadic folk.

mongolian horses running
Horses running in Inner Mongolian, China

Traverse ancient rainforests in East Malaysia

There are many wonders on this list, but few date back 130 million years. The tropical-climate island of Borneo (twice the size of Germany) is home to lush greenery, spectacular wildlife, 15,000 types of rare plants, and, of course, its indigenous tribes; a trek through the undisturbed virgin jungles of Sabah is a journey to a lost world. Deforestation has led to the displacement of one of the forest’s most famous residents, and if you’re looking for a holiday where you can help make a difference, the Matang Wildlife Centre affords visitors the chance to nurture the orphaned or injured members of this indigenous species.

Hire your own private island in Tanzania

You can stay at a private island resort in the likes of the Maldives, Malaysia or even Doha and Bahrain, but what’s the point of being on an island if you have to share it with other guests? Solitude reigns supreme at Thanda Island, situated within southern Tanzania’s Shungi Mbili Island Marine Reserve, where guests hire the whole beautiful beach residence – big enough for ten guests – on a sole-use basis. Depending on the season, however, you may have to share your stretch of cotton wool-soft sand with nesting turtles – a wonderful sight – although a 1km-wide exclusive-use zone means you have a coral reef all to yourself.

Private island
Thanda Island

Scoot along Italy’s Amalfi Coast on a Vespa

When Audrey Hepburn hopped onto a Vespa in Roman Holiday, the humble Italian get-around became an overnight sensation. What could beat the romance of scooting through Italy’s sensational cities and countryside on two wheels? 60 years later, it’s still the most thrilling way to get about, and by far the best way to see the mountainous Amalfi Coast. There’s new adventure around every hairpin bend, be it picnicking on clifftops, exploring handsome white-washed towns, or stopping to refuel with coffee and zesty Amalfi lemon tart. Every pit stop comes with shimmering sea views: the kind of road trip you’ll love.

Ride the bullet train past Mount Fuji in Japan

Japan’s reputation for technological brilliance is best exemplified by its high-speed bullet trains, known as Shinkansen. Capable of speeds up to 320km/h, they’re able to turn the backdrop into a blur – although you’ll still be able to enjoy incredible panoramic views of the imposing Mount Fuji, Japan’s highest mountain peak. Only listed as a World Heritage Site in 2013, Fuji contains 25 UNESCO sites of cultural interest including peaceful lodging houses, the spectacular Shiraito Falls, eight separate hot springs and the Miho no Matsubara pine tree grove.

Mount Fuji in morning
Mount Fuji,Japan

Pay homage to The King in Graceland in USA

Next year marks the 45th anniversary of the King of Rock and Roll’s death and is a perfect time to pay tribute to his everlasting impact on music. A visit to Graceland, Elvis Presley’s Tennessee home, is a rite of passage for music fans. When Elvis was a young boy, he promised his parents he would make a lot of money and buy them the best house in town – and with Graceland, he did exactly that. As the front gates open, you’re taken on an unforgettable journey into the private world of a musical legend, including the famous Jungle Room and Trophy Building (but don’t step on his blue suede shoes).

Visit Munich in Germany for Oktoberfest

Lederhosen, dirndl aprons, hops, music and dancing – that’s what you can expect on a trip to Oktoberfest. Actually kicking off in September, the world’s largest Volksfest begins with the Mayor tapping the first Oktoberfest-hops-barrel in Schottenhamel tent, watched on by 10,000 revellers, immediately followed by twelve gunshots that cue sixteen days of celebration. Enjoy the sideshows and attractions, like endless parties, traditional costume parades, fairgrounds, and concerts – there’s even a national holiday, so that everyone from Bavaria can join in.

Explore Cape Town in South Africa

This is no ordinary city break destination: this is where two oceans collide, where great mountains tower, and where whales breach on the horizon. Your challenge? To see it all. Start by scaling Table Mountain: it’s easier than it sounds, with a cable car boasting unbeatable views all the way up (and down) this dramatic plateau. Next, venture to the Cape of Good Hope, a wind-whipped spot where African Cape penguins play. The finale of your adventure should be cage diving with great white sharks in Gansbaai, a scenic two-and-a-half hour drive from Cape Town, for which most tour operators offer a shuttle service. Though you’re safe from Jaws, it’s not for the faint hearted, but is a must on anyone’s bucket list.

Table Mountain
Table Mountain, Cape Town

Visit India’s cities of colour

Found within the desert state of Rajasthan, India’s three ‘cities of colour’ have their own unique charms. Jaipur, the Pink City, is named for its adobe-coloured buildings and roofs, which evoke the Disney movie Aladdin. It’s bustling, filled with markets, camels and snake charmers and contains the must-see Amber Fort. Further into the desert you’ll find Jodhpur, the Blue City, awash in indigo paint. It’s much more tranquil than Jaipur, although not nearly as laid-back as Jaisalmer, the Yellow City, the smallest and most remote of the cities of colour. You’ll love its small-town charm, which is like staying in a giant sandcastle. Probably.

Explore Gaudi’s Barcelona, Spain

Gaudi’s genius infiltrates the city of Barcelona in colourful fantasy and intricate geometry. To get to grips with the architect’s most famous works: stroll Passeig de Gràcia, the elegant avenue built for the wealthy where luxury shops neighbour banks and the stock exchange atop Gaudi’s pavement tiles. Gaze at Casa Milà’s wavy façade, colourful balconies and intriguing chimney tops, wondering at his inspiration. Then visit Sagrada Familia, the still-in-process jewel where each façade depicts a chapter of religious prominence. Inside, the sight of the basilica, in all its curved-column, colour-changing magnificence, is breathtaking.

Party hard in Las Vegas, USA

Dubai might be like no other place on Earth, but even Vegas tops it for sheer over-the-top spectacle. The main strip is a neon wonderland, with each five-star hotel crowding over its neighbour in a bid to stand out. Wander by the Bellagio and catch its famous fountain display, every 30 minutes until midnight. The hotels also host epic pool parties, where beautiful people gather – and, of course, most of the world’s biggest music stars are also often in residence, with Sting and Usher performing this year.

Take a tour along Vietnam’s Mekong

Navigate through a maze of lush coconut palms and emerald rice paddies lining the landscape, while buffalo cool off in chocolate brown waters. Many tours depart from Ho Chi Minh City and will show you how communities that rely on the nutrient-rich soil use the bountiful produce – from coconut candy and rice paper to palm tree vases and sweet, juicy mangoes. Most tours make stops at bee farms where you can sample delicious honey tea, followed by a concert from local children. Make sure to do your research before you arrive, however, as the quality of tours vary, with some simply taking you from gift shop to gift shop.

Embark on an Arctic Circle cruise

The ultimate chillout, this region has a piercing, stark beauty; white and grey have never been so arresting.  The midnight sun is just one of the protagonists in this crunching, barren landscape, which is punctuated by sightings of polar bears, walrus, seals, arctic foxes and colonies of birds. (It’s also an alternative ticket to seeing the Northern Lights, mentioned elsewhere in this travel-collection). Cruises can stray into the waters of Norway, Sweden, Greenland, Finland, Iceland, Canada, Russia and even Alaska, past spouting whales and surging waves of Prussian blue. It’s a must-book voyage, into a wild realm bursting with natural beauty.

Nothern Lights
Aurora Borealis

Embrace the majesty of Victoria Falls in Zambia

You’ll hear it before you see it: a low rumble, trembling your eardrums before you even get close. And then you’ll see the long white cloud of spray thickening, until you emerge – with ears roaring – onto the waterfall’s edge. One million litres of water tumble over that drop per second, a hypnotic sight that’s as terrifying as it is thrilling. When David Livingstone found the falls in 1855 he named them after his queen, but the local Kololo tribe had their own name: ‘The Smoke That Thunders’. See them on foot, then take a microlight flight for an unforgettable bird’s eye view.

Witness a pop of pink with Sakura season in Japan

The cherry blossom is a symbol of Japan’s natural beauty and no filter can do the brilliant display of blooms justice. To see the full splendour, visit from February to early May and you’ll be spoilt for choice – stroll through a tunnel of trees in Kakunodate, see a traditional Japanese castle at Hirosaki city, or head up Mt. Yoshino to experience the mountain awash with colour. If it’s romance you’re after, take a trip to Takayama City during its annual festival. Float down Suimon River in a washtub-style boat as petals flutter by, then enjoy the glow when sakura trees are lit by lanterns.

Need more bucket list inspiration? Click here for 25 more ideas to inspire your wanderlust.