Editor’s Note: This post is part of the Viator Travel Awards, an annual awards competition where we – along with our readers, travelers, and fans – select the top things to do and see in each of the major regions we serve, the top things to do in our most popular tour categories, and more.
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Welcome to the 2016 Viator Travel Awards: Top 25 Attractions We’ve read hundreds of traveler reviews and pored over data from our most popular tours to bring you a list the world’s very best attractions. From French cabarets to infamous prisons to world-class museums, here are the top 25 most popular attractions around the world.
The popes were among the first royalty to open their vast art collections to the public. Today you can see the Vatican‘s incredible collections while touring the Vatican Museums, a huge complex of galleries and museums showcasing paintings, sculptures, frescoes, tapestries and classical antiquities from Roman, Greek and Egyptian culture. There are also collections of religious art, papal portraits and, less obviously, carriages and automobiles. Any visit to the Vatican should also include the famous Sistine Chapel and Raphael’s Rooms. Due to its popularity, the Vatican has extremely long ticket lines and a skip-the-line tour of the Vatican is the best way to visit it.
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The Eiffel Tower in Paris was once the world’s tallest structure, towering skyward at 1,050 feet, until usurped by Manhattan’s Chrysler Building. Built by Gustave Eiffel for the 1889 World’s Fair, the tower was almost torn down 20 years later, but then it proved an ideal platform for the antennas needed for the new science of radiotelegraphy. Today, the highlight of a visit to Paris is to ascend to the top of the Eiffel Tower for magnificent views. Visiting the Eiffel Tower via an excursion will let you skip the ticket line or even give you the opportunity to have dinner within the Eiffel Tower.
Grand Canyon Skywalk
Overlooking the gravity defying vistas of the Colorado River and the Grand Canyon’s West Rim, the Grand Canyon Skywalk is a glass-bottom “U”-shaped open-air bridge. The Grand Canyon Skywalk is the world’s highest man-made structure and a walk across it is an exhilarating experience, as you are suspended 4,000 feet above the canyon floor. Your heart may start pounding, but you’ll get a terrific 720-degree view of the Grand Canyon, one of the most remarkable natural settings in the United States.
The Colosseum’s bloody and grisly past within some impressive ancient ruins makes it one of the top places to tour in the world. Located in Rome, Italy, the Colosseum was where the Roman emperors and their subjects liked to watch gladiators stage to-the-death battles as well as to hunt and kill wild animals. The Colosseum was built in 80 AD and much of the tiered seating, corridors and underground rooms where the animals and gladiators awaited their fate are still intact. The Colosseum is the model for all modern-day stadiums; the only difference being today’s teams survive their games.
The excavation site at Pompeii is one of Italy’s most-visited attractions. This once-bustling ancient Roman city was buried in ash during the 79 AD eruption of Mt Vesuvius – which looms over the ruins – and today visitors can walk ancient Roman roads and peek inside former homes and businesses. The two-story rebuilt brothel is always a highlight, as are the plaster casts of the people who died in the city. Pompeii is a massive and important site that deserves all the attention it gets.
Take a guided tour of Pompeii
While in Paris, go for a tour that takes you to the much-loved Palace of Versailles, located 45 minutes outside of central Paris. King Louis XIV transformed his father’s hunting lodge into what is arguably the most sumptuous and decadent castle in Europe. The palace includes regal gardens designed to create a French Eden and gives the grounds a bucolic feel. It was the seat of French government from 1682 to 1789 and eventually became the Museum of the History of France in the mid-1800s. Highlights include the Hall of Mirrors, the King’s Grand Chambers, the extensive formal gardens and Marie-Antoinette’s famous estate.
One of America’s most iconic sites, Alcatraz is often associated with Chicago crime boss Al “Scarface” Capone, who was imprisoned in Alcatraz in the 1930s. In fact, many A-list criminals passed through this former maximum-security penitentiary, including dapper kidnapper George “Machine Gun” Kelly and Morton Sobell, the military contractor found guilty of Soviet espionage along with Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. But a tour to this National Park is more than just seeing the inside of an old prison. You’ll also see some of San Francisco’s top attractions on the scenic ferry ride across the bay to Alcatraz, including the Golden Gate Bridge, Bay Bridge and Angel Island (the Ellis Island of the west).
One of the world’s greatest art museums is the Louvre in Paris, France, which contains a rich collection of art from the fruits of human civilization. Exhibits include art from antiquity to Renaissance and 19th-century French masterpieces. Famous works include the Seated Scribe, the Jewels of Rameses II, Michelangelo’s Slaves, Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa plus works by Raphael, Botticelli and Titian among many others. A pre-booked tour of the Louvre gets you quickly inside its pyramid entrance along with a historical background of the art you see while touring the museum.
One of the world’s greatest mysteries, Stonehenge is a massive circle of standing stones in the middle of a green field in Wiltshire, England. Built around 3,500 years ago, Stonehenge is Britain’s most important ancient monument and since 1986 it has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Despite the rush of traffic that passes by it, Stonehenge still manages to retain its magic and mystery. A tour to Stonehenge from London is an excellent way to see the popular site.
At the end of the 19th century Paris, France, was experiencing a joyful renaissance of sorts and the period came to be called Belle Epoque. A century was coming to an end, creativity was blooming, France was not at war and people were filled with the joys of life. What better time to launch a dance hall of beautiful showgirls? Hence, the opening of the Moulin Rouge in 1889. Inside the world-famous cabaret venue, aristocrats came to mingle with the riffraff and women of easy virtue. There was a huge dance floor, mirrors everywhere and an atmosphere of total euphoria. Today, the euphoria of Moulin Rouge continues as its shows are one of the top attractions visitors to Paris want to experience.
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Sagrada Familia is one cathedral that stands out from the crowd of churches in Europe. The gothic extravagance of the architecture makes a visit to Sagrada Familia one of the top tours in the world – which is quite a feat considering the cathedral still isn’t done. Designed by master architect Antoni Gaudi, the cathedral was started in the early 1900s. However, after Gaudi’s death in 1926, construction slowed. It is underway again with plans to finish the cathedral sometime in the 2020s, with a focus on completing it as close to Gaudi’s original vision as possible.
Pounding water, glistening mist and an engineering feat…is it any wonder Niagara Falls is a top tour in Canada? Located at the border of Ontario and New York, Niagara Falls combines the brute force of water with engineering to create magnificent waterfalls. Whether you witness Niagara Falls via boat, helicopter or from the Observation Tower, you’ll marvel at the amount of water crashing through the falls each second.
Statue of Liberty
An American architectural icon, “Lady Liberty” proudly stands on Liberty Island, guarding the entrance to New York Harbor. The 305-foot Statue of Liberty was given to the United States from France to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the young country’s independence. Once on the island, you can visit the Statue of Liberty Museum, where you can you can see the original torch and an explanatory exhibit before taking in a close-up view of the Statue of Liberty on the 10th floor. A tour to Liberty Island from NYC is a great way to see this iconic landmark.
See the Statue of Liberty
The inspiration for Disney’s Sleeping Beauty castle, Germany’s Neuschwanstein Castle is one of the most popular castles in Europe. The fairytale charm of Neuschwanstein Castle is also felt due to its location in the middle of the green plains and soaring mountain tops of the Bavarian Alps. During the winter, some of the best views of the snow-capped mountains can be seen from the palace grounds. Commissioned as the private refuge for Ludwig II of Bavaria, the castle holds many stunning highlights including the throne room, which is magnificently appointed with frescos of angels. Neuschwanstein isn’t the easiest castle in Europe to get to, which is why many visitors opt for a day tour to the castle from Munich.
See the Neuschwanstein Castle
Florence is an art-lover’s delight, thanks in large part to the incomparable Uffizi Gallery in the historic center. This building was once the home of the Medici government (“uffizi” means “offices”), and today houses one of the world’s finest art collections. See Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus,” da Vinci’s “Annunciation,” and one of very few paintings by Michelangelo that isn’t a fresco. There are works by Caravaggio, Titian, and Bellini, too. It’s the perfect place to explore the history of Florentine and Italian art.
From the top of Mount Fuji, Japan’s highest mountain at 12,388 feet tall, you can see impressive 360-degree views of Lake Ashinko, the Hakone mountains and the Owakudani Valley. Climbing to the mountain peak is an unforgettable experience, and more than one million people hike to the top each year. The best time to climb Mount Fuji is from July to August, when the weather is the mildest and there is the least amount of snow on the mountain. Named after Buddhist fire goddess Fuchi, Mount Fuji is a holy mountain; at its peak is a Shinto Shrine dedicated to the goddess Sengen-Sama.
Climb Mount Fuji
Da Vinci’s The Last Supper
Art lovers on the Da Vinci trail, readers of Dan Brown following The Da Vinci Code route and visitors seeking a glimpse of one of the world’s most iconic paintings come to Milan’s Il Cenacolo Vinciano to see Leonardo da Vinci’s mural The Last Supper, or Il Cenacolo. The famous wall painting, which depicts the moment when Jesus predicts that one of his Apostles will betray him, covers the wall of the refectory next to the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie. The Last Supper pretty much always sells out weeks in advance so book a tour to see it as to not be disappointed.
Empire State Building
The iconic Empire State Building defines the term ‘skyscraper’, and from 1931 to 1977 the 102-story Art Deco-styled structure was the world’s tallest building. Today, it still remains one of the world’s tallest buildings and a tour of it is one of New York City’s top attractions. After admiring the glistening Art Deco mosaics in the lobby, ride the elevator to the 86th or 102nd floors for astonishing 360-degree views of the city and surrounding states. At night, the stepped Art Deco pinnacle is floodlit with holiday and commemorative colors throughout the year, such as red and pink for Valentine’s Day, red and green for Christmas and green for St Patrick’s Day.
When you’re on the island of Oahu, take some time away from the beach to visit Pearl Harbor. This U.S. Naval base’s name is forever etched into the history of the country – and the world – since it was the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941 that brought the United States into World War II. Visitors today can see the U.S.S. Arizona memorial, built over the location of the ship that sunk during the 1941 attack. The memorial can be crowded during high season, or around the anniversary of the bombing, but you can avoid waiting in lines by booking a tour of the World War II sights in Oahu.
An architectural wonder that permanently altered the southwestern United States, the Hoover Dam stretches across Black Canyon and above the mighty Colorado River. The architecture itself is stunning, adorned with attractive Art Deco elements. Best of all, though, is its breathtaking views of Lake Mead, Colorado River and the surrounding canyons and valleys. One of the largest dams in America, Hoover Dam is a must-see Vegas attraction as it’s an easy day tour from the city.
Catacombs (Les Catacombes)
For some reason, we are often fascinated by the macabre – and this is especially true when we travel. One of the most popular sights in Paris is an old cemetery that lies underground, which hardly seems on par with the Eiffel Tower. And yet the Paris Catacombs draw countless tourists every year. The Catacombs were Paris’ response to running out of room in city cemeteries in the 18th century – bones of long-dead Parisians were exhumed and moved to an elaborate tunnel network underground. All told, the remains of more than six million people are in the Catacombs. The tunnels are impossible to navigate without a guide (it’s actually illegal to go into them without one), and perhaps not a tour for the faint of heart.
If taking in the view from the world’s tallest structure sounds appealing to you, you’re not alone. Dubai’s Burj Khalifa skyscraper is fast becoming one of the world’s must-see attractions. It’s a whopping 2,717 feet tall, and the observation deck is on the 124th of the building’s 160 floors. From there you can see over the entire city as well as out to the Arabian Gulf. At ground level, you can explore the gardens of Burj Khalifa Park. And inside, you can browse the array of shops in the Dubai Mall.
When an attraction is both a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the Seven Wonders of the World, you know it’s worth visiting. Mexico’s Chichen Itza is just that. This ancient Mayan city is home to several well-preserved ceremonial structures, including the imposing El Castillo stepped pyramid which stands at 79 feet tall. Chichen Itza dates back to the 7th century AD, and parts of the site are still being excavated.
If Ireland is synonymous with Guinness, then no trip to Dublin is complete without a visit to the Guinness Storehouse. The building once housed part of the brewery, and is now a seven-story Guinness museum. Visitors work their way through the history of Guinness and learn how it’s made through interactive displays. A visit ends in the Gravity Bar at the top of the tower, where everyone gets a complimentary pint of the black brew to sip while enjoying 360-degree views over Dublin.
Float down the fabled Mississippi River aboard a classic sternwheeler with a ride on the Steamboat Natchez in New Orleans. The tradition of a steamboat called Natchez in The Big Easy dates back to 1823, and the current boat was built in 1975. There are often live jazz bands playing on board, and the boat also has a steam calliope organ that can be heard throughout the city. Enjoy great views of New Orleans from this historic vessel during a lunch or dinner cruise.
– Viator Travel Team