Reflection of the Mont Saint Michel Bretagne France
Photograph: shot4shot/Shutterstock

The 30 most beautiful places in the world, according to travellers who’ve seen them all

From rainbow-coloured hills to thundering waterfalls and pretty cities, these destinations are some of the most beautiful you’ll find on earth

Grace Beard

Choosing the world’s most beautiful places is no easy task. After all, how can you compare a thundering waterfall to a lantern-lit city? Or a rainbow-coloured hill to a gleaming white mosque? The good news is that the planet isn’t held to the same rigid beauty standards as humans are. Whether it’s a tiny island, an entire country or a Buddhist temple, anything goes on our list of the most beautiful places on earth. Spanning every continent, you’ll find some of the usual suspects (what’s a list of beautiful places without Bolivia’s salt flats, after all?) alongside some of the world’s lesser-known beauty spots – all chosen by our network of globetrotting travel writers, who've personally experienced the beauty of every place on this list IRL. 

Grace Beard is Time Out’s deputy travel editor, based in London. At Time Out, all of our travel guides are written by local writers who know their cities inside out. For more about how we curate, see our editorial guidelines and check out our latest travel guides written by local experts.

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The world’s most beautiful places

1. Kotor Bay, Montenegro

In Montenegro, the Adriatic Sea slaloms through narrow passages in the steep Dinaric Alps to form the Bay of Kotor. Here, squeezed between water and rock is the triangular, medieval Old Town of Kotor, with its gravity-defying fortress zigzagging up the steep cliffs above. Although it’s possible to climb the fortress steps from town, I prefer to wander the winding shepherd’s trail on the fortress’ northern flank. It’s here, amid the ruins of a deserted, roadless village, that you can munch on homemade sheep’s cheese and rye bread at the last inhabited farmhouse, overlooking the bay’s glassy, obsidian water.
Paul Stafford Contributor, Time Out Travel

2. Iceland

You’ll be hard-pushed to find a place with more spectacular natural beauty than Iceland. Its volcanoes, hot springs, lava fields and glaciers have earned it the moniker ‘the land of fire and ice’ – and while the island country’s natural attractions are certainly a sight to behold, Iceland’s towns and cities offer a unique beauty of their own. The capital city of Reykjavik is culturally modern and historically important, with architectural highlights including the nature-inspired Hallgrimskirkja church and Harpa Concert Hall with stunning portside views of Mount Esja. The Westfjords and Austurland regions are dotted with picturesque villages like Ísafjörður, a fishing town surrounded by dramatic mountains, and the artistic Seydisfjordur with its public art and welcoming community.
Michael C. Upton Contributor, Time Out Travel

3. Erg Chebbi, Morocco

Morocco is home to some of the world’s most beautiful deserts, and Erg Chebbi is the most evocative stretch of Sahara sand imaginable. Beyond the town of Merzouga, the Erg Chebbi dunes are a spectacular vision of shape-shifting golden sands that rise up to 300 metres tall and span over 28km in the heart of the Sahara. In the fading light, I trekked out across the desert by camel and spent a night under the stars here in the company of the Berber people. The next morning, I woke early to climb the nearest dune and witnessed a sunrise that will stay with me forever. Seeing the day break over the sloping sands of the Erg Chebbi is as extraordinarily scenic as it gets.
Jeremy Flint
Contributing writer

4. Mont-Saint-Michel, France

My first ever trip abroad was a school trip to Brittany, and the first stop on the ferry remains one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen: Normandy’s fairytale island of Mont-Saint-Michel. I’ve been back many times since. I’ve climbed precipitously to the needlepoint of that medieval abbey spire, been guided through the surrounding bay’s miles of quicksand, and slept under ancient beams in a rampart room to watch tides race in at sunrise. What I’ve learned is that, unlike many landmarks, the reality of Le Mont’s fairytale pyramid trumps any photo. No Instagram shot can truly capture the vast misty mirror of sand with one lone fortified pilgrimage site at its heart. It’s like a giant frame for the world’s greatest architectural image.
Simon Heptinstall Contributor, Time Out Travel

5. Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi

On approach, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque looms like a white mirage, minarets gleaming, an otherworldly edifice of beauty that could easily pass for Jasmine’s Palace in Aladdin. Inside, the numbers are heady: the mosque boasts the world's single-largest carpet, the world’s third-largest chandelier and acres of pure white Carrara stone. It’s hard to describe the sense of serene peace within, calm and cool even in the melting midday heat. Arrive at opening or closing time to witness the sky’s violet hue reflecting off the marble at night – surely one of the world’s most extraordinary sights.
Flip Byrnes Contributor, Time Out Travel

6. Ella, Sri Lanka

Located in the stunning Hill Country of Sri Lanka, the town of Ella feels like it’s a world away from the surf beaches and bustling cities that have made this country such a popular tourist destination over the years. Ella is a relaxing outdoor-lover’s playground, surrounded by lush greenery, tea plantations and rolling hills. Dozens of hiking trails crisscross the region, including ones that traverse the iconic Nine Arches Bridge – a key sight that makes Sri Lanka’s Kandy–Ella train journey one of the most beautiful rail trips in the world. There is nothing better than returning from a hike and relaxing in one of the town’s many bohemian-style cafes with a cold drink and a delicious bowl of curry.
Rebecca Crowe Contributor, Time Out Travel

7. Highlands, Scotland

The majestic mountains, verdant valleys, and lupine lochs of Scotland’s Highlands are known worldwide for their magic, mystery, and beauty. Many of the most scenic parts of this wild region can only be reached by foot, so this summer, I set out on the country’s oldest and first official long-distance trail, the West Highland Way, with Wilderness Scotland. Over seven days, we hiked 96 miles through wildflower-studded fields and dense forests, stopping overnight in tiny towns, like the quaint lochside village of Kinlochleven. We walked along the banks of Loch Lomond, the largest expanse of fresh water in the UK, climbed the so-called ‘Devil’s Staircase’ trail, and took in views of the UK’s highest mountain, Ben Nevis. I learned that knowing the Highlands is knowing Scotland.
Cassandra Brooklyn Contributor, Time Out Travel

8. Zhangye National Geopark, China

Stripes of crimson, gold, and mossy green paint the hillside. Passing clouds play with the hues, like an artist touching up a masterpiece. Can such vibrant colours be real? Standing on the viewing platform, I had to lift my sunglasses to make sure I wasn’t imagining things. Located in Zhangye National Geopark, the Rainbow Mountains are one of China’s many beautiful surprises. This stunning technicolour landmass was formed over millions of years by shifting tectonic plates and weather, causing red sandstone and various minerals to mix together.
Kirsten Harrington Contributor, Time Out Travel

9. Storms River, South Africa

Driving the forested Garden Route through Western Cape hints at the beauty to come at Storms River, a large river winding between mountains in South Africa’s Tsitsikamma National Park. Arriving at the coast is absolutely breathtaking: enormous waves crash against the rocks, sending spray into the air, where the sun causes rainbow rays to reflect through the droplets. The long suspension bridge crossing the river is a highlight, with spectacular views up the river gorge or out to sea. Once you’ve taken in the sight of the river and the coastal forest, head out on the famous Otter Trail, which will lead you to the park’s magnificent waterfall.

Alison Budge
Contributor, South Africa

10. New Forest, England

There aren’t many places where you’ll be startled by a pony or donkey stepping into the road, but that’s the anachronistic beauty of the New Forest in the south of England. This ancient woodland was given its name by William the Conqueror more than 900 years ago. If you choose to visit in the autumn, when the heath is purple with heather, you may find pigs guzzling acorns on the forest floor (they’re sent to protect the delicate stomachs of the 5,000 free-roaming ponies). Perhaps that’s where the famous Pig restaurant and hotel got its name – do pop in for pork scratchings and a pint.
Antonia Windsor
Contributor, Time Out Travel

11. Paradise Bay, Antarctica

Towards the Antarctic Peninsula’s tip is mountain-rimmed Paradise Bay, where I cruised past icebergs pristine white on top and electric blue beneath. Disembarking, I felt the solitude of being one of only a few thousand humans on the entire continent, outnumbered by many millions of penguins. The stark landscape is enlivened by these hopping-shuffling-diving birds and large lumps of loafing seals. Nearby, on one unforgettable evening, I watched a pod of orcas hunt their dinner, a wild moment in this dreamlike place at the end of the world.
Olly Beckett Contributor, Time Out Travel

12. Altiplano, Bolivia

Bolivia is a place of technicolour lakes, seemingly endless jagged mountains and immense salt flats. Hauling into the back of a weatherworn 4x4, I spent four days careening over the Andean plateau and following flocks of low-flying flamingos to the Altiplano’s highlights. Laguna Verde, a perwinkle lagoon backed by a perfectly conical mountain peak. The pink waters of Laguna Colorada, fading purple in the shifting sun. And the Altiplano’s biggest draw: Salar de Uyuni. The cracked white salt flats are lightly flooded in the winter months, forming a perfect mirror of the sky.

SJ Armstrong Contributor, Time Out Travel

13. Hoi An, Vietnam

Silk lanterns sway outside rows of golden-hued shophouses in this ancient river town. Located on Vietnam’s central coast, life in Hoi An moves like molasses – slow and sweet. When I lived in this dreamy little community, I spent mornings sipping coconut coffee in cafes and afternoons biking through swaying rice paddies past grazing buffalo. Now, I spend a few months a year here, watching lantern-lit boats glode along the Thu Bon river, cycling through Old Town before the evening crowds gather, and lounging on one of Vietnam’s most beautiful beaches.
Katie Lockhart Contributor, Time Out Travel

14. Milford Sound, New Zealand

The most famous of New Zealand’s fiords, Milford Sound is a marvel of nature within the spectacular Fiordland National Park, on the west coast of the South Island. Enjoy the blissful sound of silence as you cruise the inky waters, where sights include the towering mist-draped mountains, frothing waterfalls tumbling into the cliff faces and fur seals soaking up the sun. The history of this famous site stretches back hundreds of millions of years, and many ice ages later, the beauty of Milford Sound remains as timeless as ever.
Punita Malhotra Contributor, Time Out Travel

15. Jaipur, India

Jaipur, otherwise known as the Pink City for its rosy-coloured buildings, is a creative hub at the heart of India’s Rajasthan state. As well as being known for art forms such as block printing and blue pottery, the city is characterised by its royal past – but the real beauty of Jaipur exists outside of the palaces. Walk through the terracotta pink gates of the Old City and you'll see colour everywhere, from spices and fruits to tiny stalls selling quilts and carpets. If you want to get the full experience of life in Jaipur, visit a bazaar for some street shopping. Walk through the stalls, stop for chai and enjoy the chaos.
Nayantara Dutta Contributor, Time Out Travel

16. Hormuz Island, Iran

When I stepped onto this teardrop-shaped island off Iran’s coast, witnessing the sun descending on the horizon and the salt dome come alive in a breathtaking symphony of reds, yellows and oranges – courtesy of over 70 minerals found here – I felt I was witnessing the fullness of life and nature’s artistry. This little-known ‘rainbow island’ is a land of shimmering salt caves and crimson-hued beaches, where a ruby-red mountain casts an other-worldly crimson glow over the shoreline and waves. The red soil here, called gelack, is used in local cuisine as a spice in sauces and curries. Where else in the world can you find soil so beautiful it’s good enough to eat?
Misbaah Mansuri Contributor, Time Out Travel

17. Puglia, Italy

Facing the sparkling ocean on Italy's wild Adriatic coast, Puglia is a masterpiece of scenery that's often overlooked in favour of Italy's more Instafamous destinations. Thanks to the region’s slow pace of life, it’s perfect for cycling. I’ve done so several times, crisscrossing streets that haven't changed in centuries, taking in landscapes carpeted with olive groves and admiring the unique beauty of Puglian architecture. The cone-roofed traditional Trulli houses of Alberobello – a Unesco World Heritage Site – are the most well-known of Puglia's sights, but don't miss Lecce's baroque churches, the clifftop town of Polignano a Mare or quaint, medieval Monopoli.
Amy McPherson Contributor, Time Out Travel

18. Victoria Falls, Africa

Straddling the borders of Zambia and Zimbabwe, Victoria Falls is known to be the world’s largest waterfall. Immense curtains of water stretch along the edge of Victoria Falls National Park –home to giraffe, zebra, baboons, and other wildlife – and spill over cliff faces into the whirling pools of the Zambezi River. The first time I visited, standing at the edge of a dense jungle atop a flat rock table and gazing down into the abyss, I was swallowed by spirals of mist, rising from the bellowing falls and raining back down on me. It’s easy to see how Victoria Falls earned its name in the Kololo language: Mosi-oa-Tunya, meaning ‘The Smoke That Thunders’.
Alicia Erickson
Contributor, South Africa

19. Kinkaku-ji, Japan

Nestled in the green hills of northeast Kyoto, the Zen Buddhist temple of Kinkaku-ji glistens in gold leaf. Originally built in 1397, this gilded Buddhist shrine sits among bonsai-style pines, Japanese red maples, and mossy stones. Countless photos have been snapped of the Golden Pavilion and surrounding nature reflected on the mirrored pond, but be warned: it isn’t quite as tranquil as it looks, being one of the most popular sites in Kyoto. Step away from the money shot and explore the wider complex and garden to get away from the crowds. The gentle path beckons you through landscapes beautiful in every season, whether covered in cherry blossoms or thick snow, and is graced by incense, bell chimes, and enchanting temple vistas.
Danica Farley Contributor, Time Out Travel

20. South Water Caye, Belize

I’ve had my share of pinch-me travel moments, but South Water Caye is the only place I’ve looked out the window while brushing my teeth and watched an eagle ray glide through water the colour of a Bombay Sapphire bottle. This dreamy island, a short boat ride away from the coast of Belize, is full of screen-saver-worthy sights; the highlight being the untouched barrier reef full of vibrant corals. It’s a place where the only sounds are lapping waves melting into sugar-white shores and palm tree fronds softly clicking in the Caribbean breeze. In one word: paradise.
Morna Gregory Contributor, Time Out Travel

21. Danakil Depression, Ethiopia

When I arrived at Danakil Depression, after two days of travel across sweeping swathes of sand and dry, cracked earth, I had to blink twice to make sure the landscape wasn’t a mirage. Geometric white salt flats glimmered beneath the afternoon sun and coral-like formations in rich shades of ochre and ruby rose among molten pools of bubbling green-yellow sulfur. Supposedly the hottest place on earth, the Danakil Depression in the remote Afar region of Ethiopia is formed by the slow ripping apart of tectonic plates, creating a surreal realm of lava lakes, colourful hot springs, and towering salt formations.
Alicia Erickson
Contributor, South Africa

22. Big Sur, USA

The majestic Santa Lucia mountains meet the Pacific Ocean along California’s central coast to create the rugged and breathtaking natural beauty of Big Sur. Drive California’s winding Highway 1 along the coast and spend time in Big Sur, meandering through towering trees, along creeks, up mountain ridges, and onto windswept bluffs overlooking the ocean. The fresh air smells of salty ocean, earthy bay laurel and redwoods, and the sight of the waves and the sunlight dancing through the fog is mesmerizing. Keep an eye out for spouts from migrating gray whales and sea otters bobbing out on the water.

Kristin Conard Contributor, Time Out Travel

23. Maria Island National Park, Tasmania

A small island off the coast of a big island (off the coast off an even bigger island) Tasmania’s Maria Island National Park is a rare pocket of raw, unbridled beauty. The island known by Aboriginal people as wukaluwikiwayna was once a convict settlement, but today it’s the domain of Australian native wildlife. While hiking, I saw wombats, wallabies, kangaroos, Tasmanian devils and a massive tiger snake in just one hour. Then there’s the honeycomb-coloured cliffs and white-sand beaches with barely a soul in sight. Wondrous wildlife encounters by day, and superior stargazing after dark, Maria Island is the greatest show on earth, day and night.
Jo Stewart Contributor, Time Out Travel

24. Registan Square, Uzbekistan

It was one of the most mesmerizing sights we’d laid our eyes on. A vast square flanked by three monumental structures that are as grand as they are intricate, as overwhelming as they are welcoming. We were at Registan Square, the ancient beating heart of Samarkand, the quintessential Silk Road city in present-day Uzbekistan. Registan’s three fifteenth- to seventeenth-century madrasahs are a spectacle of arched gateways, glimmering domes, and tall minarets, decorated with geometric patterns in bricks, tiles, and mosaics. And just when you think it couldn’t get more majestic, come dusk, the monuments are lit up in all their glory.
Kunal Bhatia Contributor, Time Out Travel

25. Choquequirao, Peru

Arriving at Choquequirao, an ancient Inca city perched high above Peru’s Apurímac River, is both visually and physically exhilarating. The Choquequirao Trail is challenging, but it made the moment I reached those sweeping canyon and mountain views more rewarding. Known as Machu Picchu’s sister site – but with markedly less visitors – Choquequirao is a sprawling archaeological site high on the canyon rim with about 80 percent still covered by dense cloud forest. The name means Cradle of Gold’ in Quechua, though the gold is long gone. Walking through the ruins, I was in awe of a civilisation that built with such intricate stonework and chose such a remote and spectacular location.
Heather Jasper Contributor, Peru

26. Lord Howe Island, Australia

Northeast of Sydney, this World Heritage-listed speck in the Tasman Sea was described by Sir David Attenborough as ‘so extraordinary it is almost unbelievable’. Lord Howe Island is a croissant-shaped island that cradles a turquoise lagoon, framed by mountains, white sand beaches (I got married here on one!), and fringed by the world’s southernmost coral reef. Just 11km long by 2km wide, Lord Howe is recognised for its volcanic provenance, reef, and incredible biodiversity. Across this tiny stretch of land, you’ll find 241 plant species, 207 bird species and 90 types of coral. Visitor numbers are capped to protect this paradise, so nature reigns supreme here.
Alison Plummer Contributor, Time Out Travel

27. Red Rocks Amphipheatre, USA

A 20-minute drive from downtown Denver you’ll find one of the most aesthetically (and acoustically) blessed outdoor concert venues on the planet. Joining 9000-or-so other concertgoers, I was utterly dumbstruck when I entered Red Rocks Amphitheatre for the first time. Flanked by rocks the colour of deep rust, this high-altitude venue’s beauty is matched by the all-round good vibes and fresh mountain air that this corner of Colorado is known for. Having hosted the likes of The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and Louis Armstrong, Red Rocks Amphitheater is as spectacular as concert venues get.
Jo Stewart Contributor, Time Out Travel

28. Perito Moreno Glacier, Argentina

At first sight of Perito Moreno Glacier, located in Los Glaciares National Park, Argentina, I was overwhelmed. From a boardwalk overlooking milky-green Lake Argentino, scattered with chunks of ice, I gazed at the immense stretch of whiteness disappearing into the horizon, hemmed by dark, foreboding mountain peaks. Jagged spires, split by ice fissures revealing a sudden pop of blue, top the glacier’s 70-metre-high vertical wall, while its base is layered with multiple hues, from a light powder blue to deep turquoise. It’s not just the sight of the glacier that’s astounding, but also the sound. Crackling and rumbling noises echoed in the valley, particularly intense when ice calved off, sending waves across the lake's surface. Just stunning!
Eleanor Hughes Contributor, Time Out Travel

29. Savannah, USA

This elegant coastal city in Georgia, one of the oldest cities in the US, stole my heart the very first time I visited. It’s easy to lose yourself in the city’s history, natural splendour and famous southern charm as you wander along its cobbled streets and through its 22 squares. You’ll walk under the shade of live oak trees draped with Spanish moss and past grand, pastel-hued mansions. From Forsyth Park, with its Parisian-inspired fountain, to the lively Broughton Street, where you'll find an eclectic mix of shops and dining, Savannah is truly magnetic. 

Janine Clements Contributor, Time Out Travel

30. Lapland, Finland

Lying above the Arctic Circle is Lapland, Finland’s northernmost region. I spent five days in Finnish Lapland during the winter season and was lucky enough to catch the enchanting dance of the Northern Lights in the night sky. The area is home to nature-loving people, such as at HaliPuu, who engage in unique pastimes like arctic cocooning and tree hugging competitions. In the summer, you can hike to your heart’s content in the Midnight Sun, but it’s in winter the region comes into its own. Immerse yourself in winter traditions such as ice water swimming, relaxing in a Finnish sauna and dog sledding through the snowy wilderness.
Latifah Al-Hazza Contributor, Time Out Travel
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