A visit to a world-famous natural reserve is a good way to remind yourself of the spectacular beauty and diversity of planet Earth. In the United States, national parks cover 84.6 million acres; in the UK, there are a total of 15 breathtaking protected natural areas, while Italy counts twenty-four. On the Asian continent, Thailand offers remarkable treasures, boasting over 130 awe-inspiring parks. In short, if you’re after an unforgettable adventure that involves plenty of natural surroundings and wildlife, you’ve got a wealth of options to choose from. Read on for what we consider to be the 10 best national parks in the world: selected for their sheer wild beauty, biodiversity and potential to make your jaw drop.
1. Yellowstone National Park, USA
Extending across Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, Yellowstone is the world’s first national park, established by the U.S. Congress in 1872. The park spans an area of almost 9,000 km, which comprehends breathtaking canyons, clear rivers, mountain ranges and one of the largest high-elevation lakes in North America, Yellowstone Lake. This magnificent area has been inhabited by Native Americans for at least 11,000 years, and it’s still home to hundreds of species of birds, fish and mammals. The park offers an impressing variety of exciting activities, including ranger programs, camping, hiking, boating, fishing and much more.
2. Zambezi National Park & Victoria Falls
One of the seven natural wonders of the world, Zambezi National Park in Zimbabwe is a precious wildlife refuge that’s home to a stunning array of wildlife and some of the globe’s most jaw-dropping natural scenery. From the mist and rainbow-filled wonders of Victoria Falls, with its thunderous falls and green surroundings, to the Zambezi river and surrounding plains where you can embark on a safari to see everything from elephants and leopards to crocodiles and hippos, this is the place to head if you want to get a sense of what the Earth might look like with fewer humans– and more animals.
3. Cinque Terre, Italy
Italy’s first National Park was established in 1999, and it’s probably one of the most spectacular places on the whole peninsula. This park comprehends the territory of five gorgeous towns: Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare – “cinque terre” literally means “five territories” – as well as the communes of Levanto and La Spezia. This means that when traveling to Cinque Terre, you can enjoy open-air activities such as hiking and camping, and visit some evocative cliff-side villages which are famous around the world.
4. Jasper National Park, Canada
Jasper is the largest and wildest of the Canadian Rocky Mountain parks, encompassing over 11,000 square kilometres. While summer is peak visitor season, we strongly recommend visiting the park during the winter, when the abundant snow creates a truly magical tableau.
The park is also famous for its “dark sky”: this is a perfect location for stargazing, as the second dark sky preserve in the world. In October, Jasper National Park hosts the Annual Dark Sky Festival, celebrating the astonishing beauty of the night sky with special activities and talks by scientists, experts, night sky photographers and astronauts.
5. Los Roques Archipelago, Venezuela
By Tucanrecords [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons
Opened in 1972, this National Park consists of an archipelago of nearly 350 islands and cays situated in the Caribbean Sea. These small, white-sanded islands are almost uninhabited; surrounded by crystal-blue water and coral reefs, they harbour some of the best diving and snorkel spots in the world. In fact, Los Roques’ biodiversity is incredible: the park harbors over 60 species of corals, 200 species of crustaceans, 140 species of mollusks, 45 species of echinoderms and 280 species of fish – a real paradise for scuba-divers and sailing lovers!
6. Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia
This Croatian park was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979. Located halfway between Zagreb and Zadar in the mountainous northwestern region of Croatia, it represents the country’s most popular attraction. Over one million visitors throng on the park each year, with peak numbers in the late spring and summer. Immersed in deep and wild forest vegetation, sixteen bigger lakes and several smaller ones are interconnected by a series of breathtaking waterfalls. Seven different routes are available to tour the stunning lake system, as well as four hiking trails.
This protected area situated in southeastern China is rightfully famous for its lush, deep forests, limestone cones, cylinders and solitary hills, which are also printed on the country’s paper currency. Among the rocks of Guilin flows the Lijiang River and its tributaries, producing spectacular scenery which has long inspired various Chinese poets.
In order to best appreciate the treasures of this National Park, we particularly recommend taking the 30-mile long boat trip along the Lijiang River, from Guilin to Yangzhou, or embarking along the parallel hiking route on the riverside. Both Guilin and Yangzhou, picturesque cities surrounded by the natural splendors of the National Park, are equally worth a visit.
8. Jostedalsbreen National Park, Norway
Are you a true snow and mountain lover who would like to experience glacier river rafting or snowshoe hiking? If this is the case, Jostedalsbreen park is the ideal destination for your next trip. Jostedalsbreen glacier covers half of the National Park, and it’s the largest in mainland Europe. The park is also famous for its amazing variety of natural environments all clustered within a small area, and it hosts different activities year-round. During the winter months, make sure to visit the famous blue ice caves hidden beneath the Nigardsbreen glacier. When accompanied by a guide, groups of tourists are allowed to hike on skis or snowshoes up to the front of the glacier and to explore the fascinating blue caves.
9. Kui Buri National Park, Thailand
By: Tontan Travel via Flickr
Not far from the Burmese border, Kui Buri National Park is a stunning site for wildlife viewing. The park is well-known for the presence of herds of elephants, which can be seen pretty much everywhere in the protected area. Tourists are allowed to drive their own cars around the park, but must take a guided tour to visit the protected sections of the natural preserve. For a real up-close-and-personal experience of the wildlife here, it is also possible to rent tents and bungalows to stay overnight.
The name of this beautiful National Park comes from Snowdon, the highest mountain in Wales, while the Welsh name for this area is Eryi: legends state that this name derived from a word meaning “the land of eagles”. The park is best known for its wonderful hiking opportunities, but it offers much more than that: come here for splendid waterfalls, lakes and mountain biking paths. In particular, we recommend that you hop on one of the vintage steam trains that climb up to the highest peak in Wales. Taking the old-world train will allow you to experience the area just as a traveler would have back in 1896, and you will see for yourself how gorgeous and mythical this mountainous area is, journeying through the clouds to Yr Wyddfa, Snowdon.
About the Author
Anna Maria Colivicchi is an Italian writer who is interested in travel, art and food. She lived in Rome and in the UK, which is her home away from home. You can follow her on Instagram to see more of her work, stories and pics.
Megaliths are enormous stones used by prehistoric civilizations to construct impressive monuments without the use of concrete or mortar. The word ‘megalith’ comes from two ancient Greek words: mégas, which means ‘giant’ and lìthos, meaning ‘stone’. Even though we can’t always clearly understand the reasons and history behind their existence, these incredible structures allow us to travel back in time and to reflect on the early past of humankind, and are inspiring sites to visit at least once in a lifetime. Every one of these ancient stones has interesting and fascinating stories to tell. From the world-famous Stonehenge to the mysterious spheres of Costa Rica, here are some of the world’s most incredible — and beautiful– megalithic structures to visit.
A UNESCO World Heritage site since 1986, Stonehengeis without doubt the most famous cromlech – a circle of megalithic stones – in Europe, and one of the most visited attractions in the UK. Located near Amesbury, in Wiltshire, its name literally means ‘hanging stones’. The actual position of the megaliths was restored between 1901 and 1964, when every stone was straightened or reinforced with concrete to recreate the site’s original circular shape.
In recent decades, there’s been much speculation over the original purpose of Stonehenge’s construction, in 3100 BC. Theories are numerous: some say it functions as an astronomical calendar while still others think it may have been used as a site for ritual human sacrifice!
According to several legends, giants brought the stones from distant lands to create Stonehenge; isn’t it fascinating that some myths held that the massive stones had healing powers? This megalithic circle has always been surrounded by mystery– and since it’s only a few hours away from London, it’s an easy site to visit.
Just outside the visitor center, you can step into five Neolithic houses furnished with replica axes, pottery and other objects; these allow you to get a real feeling for what everyday life might have been like for the ancient people who built Stonehenge.
Carnac Stones, Brittany (France)
By Nicolas Raymond/Freestock
Around the village of Carnac, in Brittany, the biggest collection of megaliths in the world – alignments, dolmens, tumuli and menhirs – takes us back to 4500 BC. These prehistoric standing stones, amounting to more than three thousand when counting those situated within La Trinitè-sur-Mer, were erected by the pre-Celtic peoples of Brittany. At Carnac, there are three major groups of stone rows (alignments), which probably formed a single group and then split up when the stones were removed and used for other purposes.
Since these incredible stones stand in perfectly straight lines, local legends claim they were marching soldiers, turned into stones by the magician Merlin.
A more rational explanation? According to researchers studying the site, the megaliths could have been used as a primitive earthquake detector, but there are also several theories about it being a huge lunar observatory or even a calendar. In the commune of La Trinité-sur-Mer, a much smaller group of stones known as Petit-Menec is nestled in the woods, covered by ivy and moss. If you’re looking for a unique adventure that combines mysterious megalithic structures and fresh air, Carnac is a great choice. Its beautiful beaches are well worth visiting, and the Quiberon peninsula nearby is famous for wind-surfing and sailing.
Photo: Myrabella / Wikimedia Commons
Tombs of Giants and Nuraghi, Sardinia
Sardinia is already well-known for its enchanting beaches and deep blue sea. But if you’re after a peaceful, wild place tucked well away from those crowded holiday destinations, you might want to visit the majestic stone monuments scattered around the island. Several different kinds of megalithic structures grace this gorgeous Mediterranean island: menhirs (singular standing stones), cromlech (similar to those found in Stonehenge) and dolmens (composed of three or more stones).
By ciamabue [CC BY 2.0] via Wikimedia Commons
The Tombe dei Giganti – meaning ‘Tombs of Giants’, a name given to the site by the locals, but nowadays frequently used by archaeologists – are impressive dolmenic structures, built in the 2nd millennium BC as collective graves and located in various Sardinian regions. We particularly recommend visiting those that stand in Arzachena, in northwest Sardinia.
Nuraghi are Sardinia’s most well-known symbol and the main type of megalithic structure found on the island. A trip to Sardinia is not complete without a visit to one of these extremely evocative monuments. According to the experts, there were originally more than 30,000 nuraghi, although only 7,000 still stand today. The exact use of the Nuragic structures is still unknown: they may have served as religious sites, tombs or even fortresses.
Dolmens of the North Caucasus, Russia
Megaliths and stone labyrinths have also been discovered in the Caucasus Mountains, 50 km north-east from the Black Sea. While these are not as famous as the European constructions, they are equally mysterious and intriguing. Archaeologists believe they were built between the 2nd and the 4th millennium BC, and previously unearthed dolmens continue to be found on both sides of the Western Caucasus. This makes the site even more fascinating as new discoveries are still underway. Despite their similar appearance to the sorts of structures we’ve highlighted in England, France and Italy, these Russian dolmens are of unknown origin. Experts are still developing theories about who build them and for what purpose.
Over 300petrospheres – the term used by archaeologists to refer to spherical man-made objects – are located on the Diquìs Delta and on Isla del Caño, in Costa Rica. While their exact significance remains uncertain, they have been attributed to the extinct pre-Columbian indigenous culture of Diquìs.
According to ancient myths, these perfectly rounded stones came from the sunken town of Atlantis. Since June 2014, the Diquìs Spheres are on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites. Despite the fact that “archaeo-tourism” is still a new concept in Costa Rica, the museum FINCA 6 in Palmar Norte, which holds the largest collection of these stones, is gaining in popularity. Could the Diquìs Spheres be an excuse for planning your next trip to the charming Central American nation?
Gochang, Hwasun and Ganghwa Dolmen Sites, South Korea
Dolmens can be found in East Asia too, and one of the biggest collection is situated on the Korean peninsula, which is said to contain more than 40% of the world’s dolmens, summing up these three important archeologic sites. Korean megalithic monuments date to around 1,000 BC: they are far more recent than the others we covered in this article. Objects excavated nearby suggest that they were mainly used as tombs.
Due to the increasing number of tourists traveling to Korea to see these megaliths, the sites of Gochang, Hwasun and Ganghwa are slowly becoming national symbols: ones that celebrate Korean pre-historic culture and its inhabitants.
About the Author
Anna Maria Colivicchi is an Italian writer who is interested in travel, art and food. She lived in Rome and in the UK, which is her home away from home. You can follow her on Instagram to see more of her stories and photos.
As we sail into the fall season, one of the things many of us look forward to the most is the opportunity for leaf peeping. As temperatures begin to dip and deciduous trees change from summery green hues to fiery shades of yellow, orange and red, the splendor of autumn announces itself in a colorful show.
Haven’t we all experienced moments of joy on a quiet walk in a forest, perhaps with a loved one or even alone? There’s something about trees: they seem to act as a balm for body, mind and soul. Now, healing therapies are bearing this out.
Did you know that Japanese people (and specifically many Tokyo residents) have been indulging in a practice called “forest bathing” for decades? Called Shinrin-yoku and developed in Japan as a healing therapy in the 1980’s, forest bathing is a nurturing experience for the senses: a way to calm body, mind and spirit by spending time in wooded areas. It’s been scientifically proven to boost your sense of wellbeing, and even lowers blood pressure and stress hormone levels. In the autumn, of course, the colorful sights can enhance the soothing effects even more.
Destinations abound for viewing this autumnal tour de force from Mother Nature. When you think of magnificent fall leaves, what’s the first place that pops into your mind? England or New England? Canada or Australia? Depending on where you happen to live, you will no doubt have your own favorites. The truth is that there are many worthy destinations for an awe-inspiring autumnal experience, on almost every continent.
Read on for 8 of the world’s most stunning destinations for leaf-peeping. Take a drive, boat or train to any of these splendid places- and once there, make sure you have time to indulge in your own version of “forest-bathing”! Let us know if you have a personal favorite among them by leaving a comment below.
1. Agawa Canyon Park, Algoma Highlands, Ontario, Canada
This favorite fall destination in North America is best reached by train! Hop on the famous Train Tour through the spectacular Agawa Canyon in northern Ontario, Canada, which begins and ends at Sault Ste. Marie. There’s an hour-and-a-half stop along the way, allowing you to enjoy the surrounding wilderness trails and scenic viewpoints in all their glory.
Travelling to just over 100 miles north of Sault Ste. Marie and back via a breathtaking ride through the Canyon, this is definitely one for the bucket list. Of course, you can enjoy the vast pristine wilderness and its numerous provincial parks by car as well. The Train Tour simply adds a “truly extraordinary” element while you sit back and enjoy the unparalleled views of fall foliage.
When does it run?
The train runs from late June through mid-October. The last two weeks of September and the first two weeks of October are the recommended times for leaf peeping. This time-frame varies with each year as it is dependant on seasonal conditions: in years when cooler temperatures arrive earlier, so do changing colors.
More famous for its cherry blossom season and its population’s general love for trees, nature and gardens, Japan is in fact equally spectacular in the fall season. Home to millions of maples and other deciduous trees, Japan puts on an autumnal spectacle that is among the world’s most extraordinary– and we highly recommend that you travel by train to take it all in. As for the inimitable style and diverse fauna found in Japanese parks and gardens, they can’t be beaten. You will revel in the seasonal enjoyment of neatly and precisely planned natural settings, some of which contain thousands of trees.
As temperature differences between mountainous and lowland areas vary and can greatly affect the best viewing times, possibilities for leaf-peeping in the country come as early as mid-September and as late as early December. The earliest times begin in the northernmost region and the latest are in and near Tokyo.
In the Kansai region, a unique Train Tour allows visitors to enjoy the autumn display of color (also recommended earlier in the year to gawk at breathtaking cherry blossoms). This is the Sagano Scenic Railway, also known as Kyoto’s “romantic train”, and viewing times for leaf peeping are from November into December. This is a one-way ticket– with the option of returning via a river cruise on the Hozugawa River to your point of departure at Arashiyama, a short distance from Kyoto. (Of course you can return by train, but you’ll need another ticket.)
Note: If you have a Japan Rail Pass, this will get you to and from Arashiyama, but the Sagano Scenic Railway is not included in the pass. Tickets for the Sagano Railway can be purchased on arrival at the Saga-Arashiyama Station or at any Japan Rail ticket office in the Kansai region. Pre-purchasing is recommended at peak times, as is checking available days for the Train Tour.
Love mountain landscapes? Add a crystal-clear glacial lake, and you have an idyllic autumn setting at Kootenay Lake, British Columbia, Canada.
This video speaks for itself and is likely to prompt you to put this part of the world on your bucket list!
Alongside Kootenay Lake and its pristine views, you can also bask in surrounding provincial parks, activities, artisan studios, cultural events and more. Even better: Plan to be there during the salmon-spawning season which runs from August through October. This is an incredible experience in and of itself. See this page for more details.
The problem with including New England on our autumn leaf-peeping bucket list? There are simply too many marvelous destinations in this part of the United States to properly account for. Places like Maine, Connecticut, Vermont and other New England states offer opportunities for viewing fall foliage at its most glorious.
Let’s face it: a spectacular autumn visit to Niagara Falls would be incomplete without some serious leaf peeping involved. Southern Ontario is yet another place to see the gorgeous colors of autumn burst into full expression. The protected Niagara Escarpment is wooded as far as the eye can see, and an uncountable number of maple trees, birch trees and other deciduous varieties offer up a feast for the eyes as you make your way to the world-famous Falls.
Further, surrounding vineyards provide a spectacular autumn vista, since the vines also change in hue as cooler temperatures set in. Better yet, it’s harvest time for the grapes– although this is closely monitored for each varietal and by each winery. Maybe you’ll be lucky, and get to observe as the grapes arrive ‘in the back’ to be crushed. This is yet another fall experience that’s both festive and fun.
Best Places to Leaf-Peep in Niagara?
For a superb vista of the Niagara River as it makes its way northward to Lake Ontario through a densely-wooded landscape, check out the Lookout Point just below Queenston Heights Park, about ten minutes north of Niagara Falls along the Niagara Parkway. The Niagara Parkway itself is a stunningly beautiful drive that takes you north to Niagara-on-the-Lake, billed as the prettiest town in Canada with its quaint shops, wineries and B&Bs. We think it’s true! This beautiful, tree-dense drive will not disappoint, as you take in rolling vineyards and a fall display unlike any other.
The area just near Niagara Falls has many parks and gardens, all of which afford opportunities for lovely strolls and something to see outside the Falls themselves. Free to visit, the Niagara Botanical Gardens— a 99-acre year-round marvel that is vastly appealing in the fall– is well worth adding to your list.
For those visiting from Toronto with a wine tour in mind, there are certain tours that will drive you there and back for a day-long outing. The drive takes you along part of the magnificent Niagara Escarpment: all you need is the right time of year and, ideally, a sunny day. Fall foliage colors truly come alive against the backdrop of a bright blue sky.
Toronto’s iYellow Wine Club offers an annual Niagara Harvest Tour that will take you to three wineries as you are driven through the beautiful landscape of this viniculture region. Check their page for dates and information on how to book.
If you’re already in the Niagara Region and want to take a wine tour, with leaf peeping as an added bonus, there are several companies to choose from. Click here for a number of options from Niagara Vintage Wine Tours, including a half-day wine and cheese tour, an evening wine tour with dinner, design your own private tour and others.
Last but not least and for something truly out-of-the-ordinary, consider this: fly down from Toronto’s downtown airport to Niagara and be whisked away in a private car to one of Niagara-on-the-Lake’s premium winery estates, the Two Sisters vineyard. Take in the escarpment’s gorgeous fall colors from the air, then enjoy a VIP tour and luncheon in their famed Kitchen76 restaurant, or on the patio for the very finest Italian fare. Romantic, much? We think so! Click here for all the details and to book your tickets.
Famous for its many elegant parks, Paris is a city that’s glorious in the fall. if you’ve already planned your trip there for around the end of September or early October you’re in for a treat, as its many trees transform to show glorious autumnal hues. Whether it’s the Jardins des Tuileries and Luxembourg, the vast Bois de Boulogne or simply a window-shopping wander along the Champs-Elysées you’re after, cooler temperatures and perhaps fewer tourists are all added bonuses.
If you’re planning on a day trip or weekend whirl through the Loire Valley and its iconic châteaux, you’ll be equally amazed by the fall splendor of vast, sprawling parks and ancient trees that abound there. Vineyards bursting with autumn colors only adds to the overall charm. The autumn season really is one of the best times to visit– we highly recommend it!
7. Patagonia, Argentina
An increasingly popular tourist destination, Patagonia has an autumn season running from March through May, due to its location in the far southern hemisphere. Here’s a leaf-peeping opportunity for the more adventurous and intrepid among you: this remote location has an incredible array of its own distinct flora, as the world’s most southerly forest of the “subantarctic” variety.
Last but certainly not least, New Zealand is another intrepid destination for the ambitious autumn traveler. Here’s the consensus on the best time to visit: mid-April. Offering more yellow hues than fiery reds because of the varieties of trees most commonly found here, the contrast provided by pristine landscapes and waterscapes makes it all worthwhile. The best recommendation we can find is for Lake Tekapo on the South Island with its turquoise blue glacial water and yellow-hued leaves. There are a number of reasons many choose to visit Lake Tekapo, as outlined here, including the striking blue color of the lake, a whimsical statue of a dog gracing the shore and the opportunity to stargaze into the light-pollution-free night sky.
This list isn’t exhaustive, of course- but represents some of our favorites, and will go a long way in giving you a bit of inspiration for your next autumn adventure. Do you have other leaf-peeping spots you love and recommend? Feel free to tell us about them and share them with others by leaving a comment below!