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From the Grand Canyon to the Matterhorn, the world’s most iconic vistas are part of the travel canon for good reason. They induce wanderlust. They get us thinking about the four corners of the earth as well as humankind’s minor place in the scheme of things. And when we see them in person, we are startled and humbled by their physical magnificence.
Cliffs of Moher
Why It’s Amazing: Stand on the blustery edge of Ireland’s steep, rocky Atlantic-battered cliffs and you’ll feel as though you’ve arrived at the true end of the world, with nothing but 2,000 miles of briny Atlantic swells between you and Newfoundland.
Secret Viewing Spot: The view of the ocean from atop Moher is breathtaking, but experiencing it on the water is sublime. Hop on a surfboard at the nearby Lahinch Surf School and try to conquer Aill na Searrach, also known as the giant wave of Moher.
When to Go: Crowds dissipate in October, when you’ll also find the best swells.
Great Wall of China
Why It’s Amazing: Millions of people over the course of 21 centuries helped construct, rebuild, and maintain the Great Wall of China, which dips, rises, and bends across the country for some 6,000 miles. The theory that it’s visible from space is now debated, but its immense engineering achievement and man-made beauty are unquestionable.
Secret Viewing Spot: You’ll find the otherworldly ruins of unrestored wall segments in Gubeikou, a less-visited part of the Yanshan Mountain range in the northeast of Miyun County.
When to Go: October’s brisk temperatures and lighter foot traffic make for ideal wall hiking.
Jon Arnold Images Ltd/Alamy
Why It’s Amazing: Napoleon is credited for transforming the City of Light during the Second Empire, but it was engineer Gustave Eiffel who helped define the cityscape with a colossal iron lattice tower, which has become a symbol of romance that can be seen sparkling from even the remotest corners of Paris’s 20th Arrondissement.
Secret Viewing Spot: The glimmering, glass-walled Nomiya is a temporary, 12-seat restaurant and art installation on top of the Palais de Tokyo museum; it’s open until July 2010.
When to Go: Winter. Yes, it’s chilly, but the twinkling lights and cold Seine breeze create a tableau that is pure Paris
Why It’s Amazing: Five hundred mountain climbers have died attempting to reach the rocky 14,692-foot summit of Switzerland’s majestic Matterhorn. The snow-covered, sawtoothed peak has a pyramidal summit that has become the textbook illustration of alpinism’s golden age and all its triumphs.
Secret Viewing Spot: Ascend Gornergrat by railway and exit at quiet Rotenboden station. Walk down the 3-kilometer path to Lake Riffelsee, which on clear days offers majestic reflections of the mountain.
When to Go: The trail to Lake Riffelsee is open from July to October; the later you go, the less crowded it will be./p>
Why It’s Amazing: It’s big. Real big. We’re talking 277 miles long, up to 18 miles wide, and one mile deep. While it’s not the world’s deepest or widest canyon, it’s undoubtedly the most colorful. The Grand Canyon also exposes ancient Proterozoic and Paleozoic strata—two billion years of earth’s rust-hued history—a visual experience that is not easily captured on film and can’t be found anywhere else in the world.
Secret Viewing Spot: Head toward tranquil Shoshone Point, an unmarked trail on a dirt road off East Rim Drive between mileposts 244 and 245.
When to Go: March to May, before the RVs arrive.
Why It’s Amazing: Though many theories exist about Machu Picchu’s purpose (a prison, a resort, an agricultural test site, an aristocratic estate), there’s no denying the cosmic beauty of these methodically carved, fog-covered peaks, engineered by the Incas in the 15th century. To witness dawn spilling over the lush Peruvian Urubamba Valley is an unforgettable experience.
Secret Viewing Spot: Only the first 400 visitors to the site are given access to Huayna Picchu, the peak that overlooks Machu Picchu’s ruins and offers spectacular vistas of the surrounding cloud forest.
When to Go: June is a quiet month; on Sundays many tourists head to the nearby Pisac Market instead.
Why It’s Amazing: The Tiger’s Nest (or Paro Taktsang Monastery) clings like lichen to rocky cliffs in Bhutan’s Paro Valley and creates an awed silence among visitors, broken only by the sound of rustling prayer flags and chanting monks.
Secret Viewing Spot: The best vistas are from the gardens of Sangtopelri and hermitages atop the mountain above Tiger’s Nest, accessed by the winding trail used by monks.
When to Go: April and May, for the spring flowers and Paro Festival.
Great Barrier Reef
Why It’s Amazing: The world’s largest reef system, off the coast of Australia, casts a cerulean underwater glow that is unlike any color you’ll find above the surface. Thousands of species live on the reef, including endemic sea-dragons, giant cuttlefish, saltwater crocodiles, and 125 species of sharks.
Secret Viewing Spot: Try off-beach diving and snorkeling from tranquil Lady Elliot Island, home to a population of manta rays and renowned for its crystal-clear waters.
When to Go: September and October, when visibility is at its best and whales are breeding.