Most of us have special destinations on our travel wish list – and if we don’t have the means to book a holiday to these places right now, that shouldn’t stop us from dreaming.
The world is a big, beautiful place, and travelling to its most distant corners, or visiting countries that are poles apart from our own, can be a rewarding and magical life experience.
Whether you’re dreaming of a once-in-a-lifetime tropical escape, a lazy beach break, an intrepid adventure, or a holiday centred around nature and wildlife, there are so many idyllic destinations around the world just waiting to be discovered.
To get you inspired, here are 14 spectacular countries to add to your travel wish list.
1. Sri Lanka
If you’re looking for a country that offers a bit of everything, Sri Lanka might be the destination for you.
Sitting off the southern tip of India, this unique country boasts dazzlingly white beaches, shimmering turquoise waters, ancient ruins, tropical rainforests, fascinating wildlife, welcoming locals, and delicious local cuisine. What more could you possibly want from a holiday?
For its relatively small size, Sri Lanka has a startling amount of UNESCO World Heritage Sites to explore. From 2,000-year-old temples to colonial fortresses, history buffs will be in their element.
Wildlife enthusiasts will be just as happy as Sri Lanka is home to elephants, crocodiles, water buffaloes, leopards, primates, and all manner of tropical birds. If you’re interested in a wildlife safari on a budget, this is the place to do it.
Because Sri Lanka is small, a holiday here means you can explore an incredibly diverse range of landscapes.
When the balmy heat of the beautiful beaches gets too much, you can head to the hills to relax in lush, cool surroundings. You can explore tea plantations, trek up rainforest-swathed mountains, stroll around charming colonial towns, and feast upon the famously flavoursome food – from fresh seafood to fragrant curries.
Fiji is a tropical archipelago in the South Pacific that’s made up of 322 islands. It boasts exquisite sea life; a laid-back, welcoming culture; wild, prehistoric forests; and beaches so absurdly beautiful they look like they’ve been filtered. Think powdery white sands, swaying palm trees, and sparkling turquoise waters.
But, while Fiji is the perfect place for an exotic beach break, there’s much more to do here than just swimming and sunbathing. The surrounding ocean is one of the best places in the world to snorkel and scuba dive – and if you’ve never gone diving before, it’s an excellent place to learn. With endless stretches of colourful coral reefs, over 1,500 species of fish, and warm, crystal clear waters, this underwater world is waiting to be discovered.
There’s plenty to do away from the coast too. The lush rainforests of this archipelago mean it’s also a paradise for hikers, bird-watchers, and wildlife enthusiasts – and people who simply want to get away from the hustle and bustle of modern life.
If you’re looking for something more lively, you’re also in luck, as many towns – especially Suva, the capital – are surprisingly energetic, and the welcoming locals make it easy to make friends.
For such a small country, Ecuador is incredibly diverse. It’s home to the breathtaking Andes, where you can enjoy some of the most exciting hiking in the world.
Walkers who’d like to take it a little easier can trek through the flower-filled meadows of the Central Highlands, and those looking for relaxation can head to the pristine, sandy beaches. And then, of course, there’s the Amazon rainforest, where adventure and exploration await.
But one of the reasons Ecuador is such a special country and deserves a place on this list is because it’s home to the Galápagos Islands.
Located 600 miles off Ecuador’s coast, these 13 volcanic islands are like nowhere else in the world and many of the animals who live here are unique too. Famous for being the place where Darwin developed his theory of natural selection, the islands have largely managed to avoid human inhabitation.
If you’re interested in nature and wildlife, few places in the world offer such intrigue as Ecuador. You can trek along lunar-like lava fields, hike up rocky calderas, and relax on red-sand beaches. And then there are the animals: giant tortoises, penguins, sea lions, iguanas, tortoises, sharks, and albatrosses…the biodiversity of wildlife here is second to none.
A truly legendary place that offers much more than your typical tropical paradise.
Japan is another country on this list that’s utterly unique. Beautiful, clean, elegant, and timeless, this is a place where the past seamlessly merges with the present, and a diverse and dynamic cultural experience awaits.
Both ancient and futuristic, Japan is a country where historic temples sit beside soaring skyscrapers, and bullet trains hurtle into the tranquil, verdant countryside.
Thanks to its isolation, Japan’s culture is truly distinct, and many of the old traditions still flourish. You can sip tea in elaborate ceremonies, enjoy a sense of peace in zen gardens, and embrace the spectacle and excitement of sumo wrestling.
There’s also the fabulous cuisine, which ranges from fresh sushi to comforting ramen. Each region has its own local dishes, so foodies are in for a real treat. And there’s plenty of history here too, from grand castles of Japan’s feudal past, to 1,000-year-old temples that reflect the country’s deeply spiritual side.
The landscapes are also bewitching, from the iconic, snow-capped cone of Mount Fuji to bubbling hot springs, and countless wild forests that are home to bears, monkeys, and flying squirrels. And, because Japan is an archipelago, there are many dreamy beaches tucked away on the idyllic southern islands.
For more information about visiting Japan, you might find our article, 10 places to visit and things to do in Japan, helpful.
If you’re looking to experience a real adventure – whether that’s exploring ancient ruins, trekking up towering mountains, navigating your way through lush rainforests, or scrambling up vast sand dunes – you might want to think about visiting Peru.
This incredible country has something for everyone (as long as you have a sense of adventure!) and, to top it all, it’s one of the cheapest countries in South America too.
For history buffs, Peru is one of the most enthralling destinations in Latin America. The country’s Incan reign spanned 5,000 years, and there are countless ancient temples, rugged fortresses, and curious geoglyphs to see.
The most famous is Machu Picchu, the lost Incan city that’s sprawled magnificently over a mountainous forest. If you like hiking, you can follow the ancient trail that weaves over peaks and valleys to eventually reach the iconic Machu Picchu Sun Gate.
The crashing Pacific Coast also offers exceptional surfing, and the dense jungles are perfect for trekking and zip-lining.
Modern Peru is just as captivating; the capital, Lima, is bursting with trendy bars and world-class restaurants, and is known for producing some of the most delicious and diverse food in all of South America. From seafood dishes like ceviche to the 4,000+ varieties of potatoes that grow here, there’s something for everyone!
6. New Zealand
New Zealand may be small, but it’s a country bursting with superlatives. Breathtaking, magnificent, striking…no wonder it so often tops the list of the most spectacular countries in the world.
When it comes to landscape and geography, New Zealand has a bit of everything – from sweeping beaches to bubbling springs, snow-capped mountains to mysterious forests, and gleaming glaciers to impossibly blue lakes.
While it isn’t short of fun, vibrant cities, New Zealand is a country to visit if you want to experience the magic of the Great Outdoors. Whether you’re in the mood for some gentle trekking while marvelling at your brilliant surroundings or would rather throw yourself into adventure sports like hiking, kayaking, skydiving, or whitewater rafting, you won’t be short of things to do here. If you’re into culture, New Zealand has that in spades too.
Arguably the most picturesque place in the country is Milford Sound and the Fjordland National Park, on the South Island. Carved by glaciers millions of years ago, this lonely, mirror-like fjord is circled by dense valleys, roaring waterfalls, and jagged mountains. But there’s also the wildly scenic Lake Wanaka, phenomenal Huka Falls, and skyscraping Mount Cook.
In a country as diverse and dazzling as New Zealand, there are so many extraordinary sights to see that the most difficult thing will be planning your itinerary! For help with this, check out our articles; 8 of the best places to visit in New Zealand and 9 reasons why New Zealand is the perfect holiday destination for nature lovers.
Another country that shows off nature’s very best work is Tanzania. It’s home to some of Africa’s most fascinating wildlife and best beaches, as well as its tallest mountain and largest lake.
Located on the eastern coast of Africa, just below Uganda and Kenya, Tanzania might be best known for being a safari country, but it has so much more to offer than its fabulous wildlife.
Mount Kilimanjaro looms across Tanzania’s northern plains, and while it’s the world’s highest free-standing volcano, it’s also more manageable to climb than you might think. Reaching the top and gazing out at ice fields and sun-drenched plains is something you’ll remember forever.
This is a country where you’ll feel like an intrepid explorer at all times, as adventure abounds here.
Animal lovers will have an excellent chance of spotting lions, elephants, rhinos, leopards, giraffes, wildebeest, crocodiles, and monkeys in Tanzania, and few other countries offer such impressive diversity when it comes to wildlife.
But if you fancy a dreamy beach break, you can do that here too. Zanzibar, just off the coast, offers powdery white beaches, warm azure waters, pastel-coloured sunrises, and unrivalled diving.
If you imagine tropical, snow-white beaches that look straight out of paradise, there’s a good chance that it’s the beaches of Hawaii that’ll pop into your head – even if you’re not aware of it.
Located a thousand miles west of the USA, far into the Pacific, these idyllic islands are famous across the world for their palm-fringed beaches, fiery volcanoes, jaw-dropping waterfalls, and stunning sunsets.
If you’re looking for a blissful beach holiday with a side of adventure, Hawaii is difficult to beat. Its miles of sugary, sandy beaches, lapped by warm, cobalt blue waters are its biggest draw, though if you’re into snorkelling or scuba diving, the colourful coral reefs will provide hours – or days – of fun.
The crescent-shaped Hulopoe Beach on the island of Maui is often voted America’s best beach, but really, you’re spoilt for choice here.
Once you’ve got your fill of swimming and sunbathing, there’s a wealth of awe-inspiring scenery to explore. You can hike through Waimea Canyon: a deep, colourful gorge that offers astonishing panoramic views, or trek through verdant valleys, along soaring cliffs, and up dramatic volcanoes.
Wildlife enthusiasts will delight in whale watching off the Maui coast, and coffee lovers will enjoy sampling the delicious local brews!
Home to emerald green rice fields, fascinating floating villages, shimmering rivers, and hazy mountains, Vietnam is a country of astonishing natural beauty.
Its landscape is as diverse as it is dazzling, and its culture and history are just as rich. And that’s without mentioning its mouthwatering cuisine, laid-back ambience, and welcoming people.
In recent years, Vietnam has rocketed in popularity, and it’s easy to see why.
Halong Bay has got to be a contender for the most beautiful place in the country. This World Heritage Site is home to almost 2,000 islands, and cruising on these startling green waters will take you past secluded beaches and towering, tree-topped limestone pillars.
There’s also the Mekong Delta – one of the least developed places in the country – where you can admire views of endless paddy fields, dense mangrove forests, and cone-hatted farmers as you drift along these serene waterways.
If you’re looking for adventure and hiking, you’ll find that in Sapa, a place where the lush, terraced rice fields cascade down hills, and soaring mountains lurk behind the mysterious fog.
But Vietnam is also home to fabulous towns and cities. The port town of Hoi An boasts colourful colonial buildings, elaborate bridges, and lantern-lit cobbled streets, while the capital, Hanoi, is a must-visit for foodies, history buffs, and culture lovers alike.
Another contender for one of the most spectacularly beautiful countries in the world has got to be Norway. This is a land of deep-blue fjords, glistening ice fields, craggy coastal islands, glittering glaciers, and the wild, desolate beauty of the Arctic.
While it’s known for being a winter wonderland, Norway is a joy to visit at any time of year, and can provide the perfect mix of bracing adventure and cosy downtime.
If you’ve always wanted to see the aurora borealis, the city of Tromsø is the best place in the world to catch this mesmerising light show. Though it’s located high in the Norwegian Arctic, you can fly from London in just over three and a half hours. Seeing these magical emerald lights dance across the sky and glow in jewel-like colours on the horizon is an unforgettable experience.
But there’s much more to Norway than the northern lights. This is a country that’s tailor-made for cruising – and sailing along narrow inlets of land that are surrounded by jagged, towering cliffs is truly spectacular.
The hiking here is exceptional too; you can trek past countless waterfalls, over soaring green mountains, and soak up the local culture, history, and unique Nordic flavours in one of the country’s many charming, rural villages.
If you’re dreaming of visiting somewhere otherwordly that’ll stay with you long after you’ve visited, you might like to add Iceland to your travel wish list.
Though the flight time from London is a little over three hours, a visit to Iceland can leave you feeling as though you’ve stepped onto another planet. Its transplendent beauty is famous throughout the world – from its snow-capped volcanoes to its milky blue glaciers and mystical northern lights.
The lively capital, Reykjavik, is perfect for a city break, combining compelling Norse history with a modern, quirky culture, vibrant arts scene, and world-renowned cultural attractions.
But there’s also no denying that, for most visitors, Iceland’s true appeal lies outside the city. If you’re looking to explore the ethereal wilderness and admire some of the most stunning scenery in the world, you’re in the right place.
Adventure lovers can ride snowcats up frozen mountains, soak in geothermal geysers, visit bubbling mud pools, and, if you’re lucky, admire the mesmerising light display of the aurora borealis.
If you’re interested in whale watching, Iceland is also unrivalled. Here, you can spot blue whales, sperm whales, minke whales, fin whales, humpback whales, and orcas – as well as porpoises and dolphins.
Just like Vietnam, Mexico is a country that has it all: a variety of cultures, gorgeous beaches (on both the Caribbean and Pacific coasts), ancient Mayan ruins, charismatic cities, and one of the most delicious cuisines in the world.
Whether you’re looking for a luxury beach break on sweeping sandy shores, an adventure holiday exploring jungle-clad temples, or a foodie fiesta, you can do all that and more in this magical country.
For those who’d like to kick back on the beaches, you have two main choices. You can head to the Caribbean coast and swim in the crystal clear blue seas of Cancun, live it up in the popular beach resort of Playa del Carmen, and visit Mayan ruins in Tulum.
Or, for something less touristy, head to the Pacific coast, where you can choose to stay in peaceful beach towns, plush resorts, or cool cities bursting with colour and life.
If you’re interested in history and ancient cultures, Mexico definitely won’t disappoint. Archaeological sites include Chichen Itza, Teotihuacan, and the circular pyramids of Guachimontones, so there’s plenty to explore.
Mexico is jam-packed with personality and culture, from busking mariachi bands and annual festivals to exceptional street food. Tacos, tamales, tostadas, empanadas, and enchiladas can all be found in abundance here!
It might be best known for its stunning natural scenery – which includes hulking mountains, alpine forests, awe-inspiring waterfalls, and rugged coastlines – but there’s much more to this huge country than first meets the eye.
Canada is also home to enthralling culture, cosmopolitan cities, immersive arts, delicious food, and famously laid-back, friendly residents. Despite this, for many people, it’s still the majestic wilderness of Canada that makes it so alluring.
Enormous swathes of this land remain untouched, so if you’re looking to get back to nature and hike over dramatic peaks, through ancient forests, and past shimmering lakes, you’re in for a treat. If you’re a wildlife enthusiast, things are just as exciting, as you have a good chance of spotting black bears, wolves, cougars, and moose.
But it’s not all about the outdoors. The cities here are packed with adventure too, from French-inspired Quebec to multicultural Toronto and vibrant Vancouver. Whether you’re into soaring sky-scrapers or exploring the local food scene, Canada’s cities are as spectacular as their surroundings – and that’s without mentioning the capital city Ottawa or bustling Montreal.
And, of course, if you’re into waterfalls, Canada is also home to one of the most famous in the world: the iconic, thundering Niagara Falls.
The island of Dominica is nicknamed ‘Nature Island’, and once you set foot here it won’t take you long to see why. Unlike other Caribbean islands which can be oversaturated with travellers and tourism, Dominica seems far more untouched.
Its unique scenery attracts a different type of tourist than those just seeking a beach break. Rather than leisurely luxury, Dominica is about independent adventure. While there are plenty of gorgeous beaches here, most people come to explore the sulphurous hot springs, smoking volcanoes, boiling lakes, rainforest-shrouded mountains, and cascading waterfalls.
Dominica is also really small, so it’s easy to explore. In the lively capital Roseau, you can admire bright-coloured wooden houses, pick up souvenirs and fresh fruit in the cobblestone Old Market, and learn about the island’s history and culture in the Dominica Museum.
The surrounding seas are excellent for swimming and diving too, and great for spotting dolphins and whales – so if you get the chance, definitely head out for a cruise or catamaran trip.
If you’re looking for a Caribbean break with a real difference, Dominica could be for you. There’s a genuine focus on eco-adventure and sustainable tourism here, and because it’s so much quieter than the other Lesser Antilles islands, it’s managed to retain a far greater sense of authenticity too.
Travel is one of life’s greatest, and most fulfilling, adventures. While there are awe-inspiring places and destinations located all across the globe (some on our very own shores!), some countries just seem to have the X factor – that intoxicating blend of enthralling history, compelling culture, blissful beaches, and magnificent natural surroundings.
And then there are the countries that offer landscapes, or wildlife, that can’t be seen or experienced anywhere else in the world.
While this list is by no means an exhaustive list of spectacular countries, it offers a glimpse into the wonderful variety this world offers. While you may not be in a position to book your ideal holiday now, there’s no harm in dreaming or adding more countries to your travel wish list.
For more travel inspiration, you might want to check our list of 9 of the best beach destinations for a winter escape, and our guide to the seven natural wonders of the world. Or browse the latest travel deals using the button below.
Have you visited any of these countries? Or do you have your own suggestions for the most spectacular destinations in the world? We’d love to hear about your travel experiences in the comments below!