rainbow mountains china most beautiful places in the world

Photo: VCG / Contributor/Getty Images

The Inspiration: "I remembered that the real world was wide, and that a varied field of hopes and fears, of sensations and excitements, awaited those who had courage to go forth into its expanse..." — Charlotte Brontë

The Place: The Rainbow Mountains in Zhangye Danxia Landform Geological Park; Gansu, China

The Reason to Go: What looks like a DIY sand art project is in fact a naturally occurring technicolor mountain range in the northwest region of China. The various colored stripes that ripple through the peaks are a result of centuries of tectonic shifts, climate change and erosion of red sandstone.
abraham lake most beautiful places

Photo: Miles Ertman/Getty Images

The Inspiration: "I take pleasure in my ‘transformations.’ I look quiet and consistent, but few know how many women there are in me.” — Anaïs Nin

The Place: Abraham Lake, Alberta, Canada

The Reason to Go: During the summer, the majestic blue lake looks similar to neighboring bodies of water in Alberta's Rocky Mountains, but come wintertime, Abraham Lake steals the spotlight when a rare natural phenomenon occurs beneath its glassy surface. What appear to be beautiful stacks of frozen bubbles are actually pockets of methane gas that were released from plants and got trapped beneath the lake's icy surface.
photo of the most beautiful places

Photo: Adam Pretty/Getty Images

The Inspiration: "It is not really rest or even leisure we chase. We strain to renew our capacity for wonder, to shock ourselves into astonishment once again." — Shana Alexander

The Place: Petra, Jordan

The Reason to Go: This ancient city was built straight into the sandstone at the edge of the Arabian desert and was "lost" to the Western world until 1812. Today, still much of the city lies underground and has yet to be discovered. But for now, the rock-cut architecture, rose-colored cliffs and vast desert views are enough to be completely enamored by.
kyoto bamboo forest

Photo: Soh Morishita/Moment/Getty Images

The Inspiration: "For a time / I rest in the grace of the world, and am free."
— Wendell Berry

The Place: Kyoto, Japan

The Reason to Go: It's rare that the words "peaceful" and "city" can be used to describe the same place. Kyoto, the winner Travel + Leisure's 2014 Best City Award, is home to Zen gardens, UNESCO World Heritage sites, traditional tea ceremonies, as well as, the bullet train, futuristic Kyoto Station and Nintendo's headquarters. An added bonus to this past-meets-present city: It also boasts the Sagano Bamboo Forest, where you can take in swaying sky-high bamboo stalks.
maldives bioluminescent

Photo: ©iStock.com/watcherFF

The Inspiration: "Time being, after all, only the current of the soul in its flow." — D.H. Lawrence

The Place: Maldives

The Reason to Go: While it may look like a scene from a sci-fi film, the luminescent beauty you'll find in the Maldives is not a product of CGI; just an (almost) out-of-this-world natural phenomenon caused by bioluminescent ostracod crustaceans. The glowing water—primarily found on the eastern islands of Mudhdhoo, Vaadhoo and Rangali—transforms a pristine turquoise beach into a magical sea by night.
photo of the most beautiful places

Photo: Sigurður Stefnisson — stefnisson.com

The Inspiration: "Growth only come[s] from adversity and from challenge—from stepping away from what's comfortable and familiar and stepping out into the unknown." — Ben Saunders

The Place: Ice Caves; Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland

The Reason to Go: Every winter, tour guides in the local area set out to find new trails and caves to explore with adventure seekers. Since the glacial ice is still active, the natural wonder changes shapes and locations throughout the year, which gives you the possibility of being the first and last person to visit that exact spot again.
son doong cave

Photo: Ryan Deboodt, Oxalis.com.vn

The Inspiration: "Leave the door open for the unknown, the door into the dark. That's where the most important things come from, where you yourself came from, and where you will go." — Rebecca Solnit

The Place: Son Doong Cave; Phong Nha-Kè Bàng National Park, Vietnam

The Reason to Go: Possibly the largest cave in the world, Son Doong can fit a flying Boeing 747 in its largest section and is home to a jungle filled with 100-foot-tall trees, massive 260-foot stalactites and even its own climate. But the trek to get there isn't for someone who circles a parking lot to find a spot close to the storefront. Son Doong Cave is part of a network of recently discovered monumental caverns in Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, and it requires (among other things) roping across a river, climbing massive slick boulders and scaling up a 200-foot wall to reach it.
photo of the most beautiful places

Photo: Peter Lundstrom, WDO — treehotel.se

The Inspiration: "There are times when we stop. We sit still ... We listen and breezes from a whole other world begin to whisper." — James Carroll

The Place: Mirrorcube, part of the Treehotel; Harads, Sweden

The Reason to Go: The sounds of rustling leaves or falling snow will make you glad to unplug from your buzzing, beeping iEverything. Plus, if you're lucky you can end the night with a view of the aurora borealis, or "Northern Lights."
tulip fields holland

Photo: Jaap Hart/Getty Images

The Inspiration: "The flower is aware of the fact that it contains everything within it, the whole cosmos, and it does not try to become something else." — Thich Nhat Hanh

The Place: Tulip fields, Holland

The Reason to Go: From mid-March through mid-May, tulips in every color of the rainbow bloom in western Holland and make the fields look like a beautiful patchwork quilt. Take in the countryside (just outside Amsterdam) on a drive or bike ride or visit the famed Keukenhof, where 7 million bulbs are planted in a 79-acre garden.
photo of the most beautiful place

Photo: The Power of Forever Photography/Getty Images

The Inspiration: "I go to Nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my sense put in tune once more." — John Burroughs

The Place: Antelope Canyon; Navajo Nation near Page, Arizona

The Reason to Go: A single ray of light has the ability to transform this already-majestic slot canyon. When the sun reaches its highest point of the day, beams pierce through the cracks of the ceiling and fill the space with an array of different colors that illuminate the wavelike texture of the sandstone.
atlantic highway norway

Photo: Harald Mowinckel/Statens Vegvesen

The Inspiration: "I could go back in the direction I had come from, or I could go forward in the direction I intended to go."
— Cheryl Strayed

The Place: Atlantic Road (Atlanterhavsveien); Møre og Romsdal, Norway

The Reason to Go: A drive on this scenic 5.1-mile road along the Norwegian coastline may not be as courageous as Strayed's 1,100-mile solo hike on the Pacific Crest Trail, but this part-road/part–roller coaster is still an adventure. It bends, arches and dips over the sea to connect several small islands between Molde and Kristiansund. Waves crash along the pavement to dramatic effect (though you'll be wise to note that harsh winter storm conditions can occur with just a slight drop in temperature).
photo of the most beautiful places

Photo: Justin Lambert/Getty Images

The Inspiration: "People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth." — Thich Nhat Hanh

The Place: Salar de Uyuni; Southwest Bolivia

The Reason to Go: If you ever wished you could stroll through the clouds, the world's largest salt flat is the closest you'll get to making that wish come true. During the rainy season, a thin layer of water develops on the 4,633-square-mile flat and reflects the sky above—leaving you to enjoy your own optical-illusion-esque dreamland.
photos of the most beautiful places

Photo: Luis Castaneda Inc./Getty Images

The Inspiration: "I want to stay as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you can see all kinds of things you can't see from the center." — Kurt Vonnegut

The Place: Hanging Monastery; Shanxi Province, China

The Reason to Go: For more than 1,500 years, the ancient shrine has supported itself on the west cliff of Mount Hengshan by only wooden beams and the mountain itself. The temple, which hangs 15 stories above the ground, has withstood centuries of damaging storms and is still able to hold thousands of visitors that walk through its doors every year.
photo of the most beautiful places

Photo: Courtesy of Capilano Suspension Bridge Park

The Inspiration: "One's destination is never a place but rather a new way of looking at things." — Henry Miller

The Place: Capilano Suspension Bridge; Vancouver, Canada

The Reason to Go: Gain a new perspective of the world when you walk across the 450-feet-long footbridge that's 230-feet above the Capilano River.
photo of the most beautiful places

Photo: Pascal Boegli, from Flickr account pbOOg

The Inspiration: "The purpose of life, after all, is to love it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experiences." — Eleanor Roosevelt

The Place: Devil's Pool; Livingstone Island, Zambia

The Reason to Go: Because watching The Amazing Race doesn't count as "experiencing new things." Truly step outside your comfort zone—by stepping into the natural pool located on the edge of the 355-feet-high Victoria Falls.
photo of the most beautiful places

Photo: Barcroft Media via Getty Images

The Inspiration: "At some point in life the world's beauty becomes enough. You don't need to photograph, paint or even remember it. It is enough." — Toni Morrison

The Place: Marble Caves; Patagonia, Chile

The Reason to Go: Located in the center of Lake General Carrera, the extraordinary blue caves are accessible only by boats that leave from a few remote Chilean towns. The unique landscape was formed by years of waves washing up against the marble and the swirling colors come from the reflection of the glacial water below. And the best part? You'll be able to take in the sights in peace and quiet.

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