The coolest places on Earth are almost always the ones that look completely out of place here. The unearthly ones. The alien ones.
And of course, it’s exactly this which makes them so impressive. It’s this which drives explorers to seek them out, clawing at the chance for a new adventure. But no one ever said we can’t be explorers too – at the same time as being Sarah from accounts or Richard, dad of 2, that is. And where there’s a will there’s a way…
So set your inner Bear Grylls free and make sure you see the top 12 coolest places on earth before you die – or before they disappear. Just make sure to send your picture postcards to your loved ones along the way!
We’ve found an amazing 12 out-of-this-world travel destinations. How many have you already heard of?
The coolest places on Earth #1
Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
Otherwise known as the world’s largest salt flat. Also as Salar de Tunipa. Or Salar for short. Almost as many names as Dumbledore actually, which I feel is a good sign.
The flat expands across an impressive 4086 square miles of chillingly beautiful land (or 10582km for you crazy kids out there using kilometers). And if you haven’t guessed it already, these miles feature among some of the flattest in the world. To put it briefly, this desert lake was formed millions of years ago when a prehistoric lake on the scale of Lake Michigan evaporated leaving behind humungous amounts of salt and minerals.
During your visit to Salar, you can expect to be surrounded by the flat at all times. And I mean all. Even the hotels here are made overwhelmingly from blocks cut from Salar. Hardly surprising, as there’s not much else here to build from.
And as if all this isn’t enough to warrant a visit, the area is also home to the world’s most famous train cemetery. Not as grisly as the traditional kind perhaps, but this graveyard holds its own kind of sadness. The carcasses of trains abandoned after the collapse of the mining industry in the early 20th-century litter the desert and make for one haunting yet memorable sight.
The coolest places on Earth #2
The Gateway to Hell, Turkmenistan
Lovingly known by locals as the Gateway to Hell, the Darvasa Gas Crater in Turkmenistan has kept up a burning vigil since 1971 when Soviet Geologists set the now seemingly unlimited reserves of natural gas on fire in an effort to prevent the spread of gas which had accidentally been released by miners. Oops.
Unlike hell though (presumably), this firey pit enjoys a steady flood of fascinated tourists.
The steady stream of spiders attracted by the glow and warmth of the fire are perhaps less welcome. Or more welcome. Who are we to decide what Hades likes or dislikes.
However you feel about spiders, hell or gas though, this is one truly unforgettable place and fully earns its spot as one of the coolest places on earth.
The coolest places on Earth #3
The Scottish Highlands, UK
So moving away from the mythical, welcome to the Scottish Highl- ah hang on, actually we will be sticking with the mythical then.
As home to the Lockness Monster (she’s real, please don’t disagree) and as the birthplace of the imagination (probably), the Scottish Highlands is an amazing place.
The first point of call has got to be the Island of Skye to see the Old Man of Storr. Surprisingly or not, this is no tartan-clad old man sitting with a glass of whiskey in a kilt, but a crazy looking rock formation created by an ancient landslide. It can be seen from miles away on all sides, making it doubly ideal for a walking vacation if you’re the kind of person who likes to have an end in view. I know I am.
But make sure to plan your walk around the unmissable Fairy Pools. No, I’m not making this up – that really is the name. And these pools – created by waterfalls cascading down the mountain – are just as dreamy as they sound.
Last but by no means least, no visit to the Scottish Highlands is complete without an attempted sighting of the infamous Loch Ness Monster. Which luckily happens to be a very beautiful area – with or without a Nessie sighting.
P.S. You just can’t wait for more adventure? Check out these 10 awesome adventurous trips for types who just have to be doing something cool!
The coolest places on Earth #4
The Rainbow Mountains, China
The Rainbow Mountains. Clue’s in the name.
The sandstone and siltstone deposited here before the Himalayan mountains were even formed were uncovered about 55 million years ago for your enjoyment (well, mostly) after the Indian Plate collided into the Eurasian Plate. Gradual erosion worked away to create the outstanding otherworldy place that you can see today. Unicorns hang here in their spare time.
For all its beauty, it’s not that easy to get to. You’ll need to fly to Jiayuguan and get the train from there. Which, as it happens, is a massive double whammy, since this is also the town where the Great Wall of China ends. You know, the wall that is so big it can be seen from space. But like, no biggy.
Read this experience to discover why, how and where you should go.
The coolest places on Earth #5
Glowworm Caves, New Zealand
Bet you never knew a cave full of worms could possibly be so delightful – but add some pretty lights and it becomes one of the coolest places on Earth. Literally. The roughly 300 caves found here in Waitomo were created by volcanic activity thousands of years ago. Even cooler? The limestone is made up of the fossils of corals and seashells and fish skeletons – from millions of years ago.
The surreal guided tour takes you throughout the cave system and ends with gliding in a boat underneath the glowing ceilings – Awesome, right?
Coming here with kids? Make sure to listen to the Family Adventure Podcast to get inspired about traveling with kids – and to pick up some good tips on how to!
The coolest places on Earth #6
Pamukkale is translated literally as ‘cotton castle’, which honestly still doesn’t do this place justice. These magical looking terrace ledges would not look out of place in Disney’s Frozen or in my frilliest of dreams.
They’re formed by a carbonate mineral called Travertine which is left by water flowing from nearby thermal springs. Science aside, they and the thermal springs themselves are super cool.
And it’s not the only draw either. At the top of this area, the Greco-Roman city of Hierapolis is built which together with Pamukkale itself, is a well-deserved world heritage site.
The coolest places on Earth #7
The Grand Canyon, USA
One great, big, unmissable hole positioned right on the Colorado River in Arizona. It’s 277 miles long, 18 miles wide and over a mile deep. You’ll have seen it at the movies. (Think Thelma and Louise, people.)
Yep, it’s the Grand Canyon. The river established itself some 5-6 million years ago and continues to push the mountains back. If you want to see it in all its glory than you can do so by taking a walk on the glass-bottomed Grand Canyon Skywalk which is positioned 4000 feet above it and extending 70 feet out into its depths. Go on, I dare you.
Having said that, I wouldn’t say no to a helicopter ride here either. Or to rafting, biking or hiking actually. Not fussy.
If you’re going to take a bike tour around the Grand Canyon – well firstly kudos – make sure to have a look at our list of amazing bike tours to take in Europe!
The coolest places on Earth #8
AKA, the Northern Lights. Obviously.
Although actually, lots of people do travel here to experience the Polar Night too- which is actually a lot of nights and takes place between mid-November and the end of January. The eerie twilight stretching out over two months is not only beautiful in itself, but it also makes the chances of catching the Aurora much more likely.
If you’re feeling up for a bit of science, well, the Northern Lights are more than an amazing magical show. They come about when the magnetosphere is disturbed by solar winds strong enough to make it precipitate its charged particles into the upper atmosphere where the energy is lost. All this is a bit too exciting for the upper atmosphere, which starts to let off various lights. Extremely cool basically.
As if this wasn’t cool enough on its own, throw in reindeers, walruses, and polar bears and we have ourselves a winner. If you’d like the top, I’d also advise you to throw in a Frozen Planet episode or two by David Attenborough (Netflix y’all) and the Nothern Lights by Phillip Pullman for a but of airplane reading.
P.S. Taking pictures in the dark can be really hard, so if you’re worried about how you’re going to record all those crazy views, then have a look at these easy tips for amazing nighttime photography.
The coolest places on Earth #9
The Great Barrier Reef, Australia
The Great Barrier Reef could hardly not be on this list. With its unparalleled beauty, this fine example of the underwater kingdom couldn’t be cooler.
The area supports over 3000 individual reef systems – three thousand! Along with coral cays, and hundreds of mini tropical islands. Whatever the world tropical says to you, snorkeling and scuba diving is probably somewhere on that list. And it’s not out of place there.
By the way, if you’re gonna catch a few awesome pics while you’re down under, then make sure that you’ve checked out these handy, not to mention easy, tips on underwater photography for beginners first!
The reef is so big that it can even be seen from space! Move aside Great Wall of China, here’ s the sea. If you want to explore it properly, you can – even without booking a ticket immediately. Use Google Underwater Street view, the coolest invention since this list.
Sadly, this amazing place is still at risk. If you end up visiting and buying a ticket there, 20% of your fee will go toward research into preserving the reef, however, you can contribute more here, at the Great Barrier Reef Foundation.
The coolest places on Earth #10
Ta Prohm Monastery, Cambodia
Who said that the coolest places in the world have to be natural? I don’t see any reason why they can’t be manmade – or in this case a mix of both.
The Ta Prohm Monastery was built way back in the 12th/13th century as a monastery (obviously) cross-university. It was abandoned in the 15th century however and nature started to invade. Seriously invade. With roots growing through buildings and taking them over.
When it was rediscovered recently, the restoration team went to enormous efforts to try to make it look like they’d done absolutely nothing in order to preserve the abandoned, taken-over-by-nature vibe going on here.
They clearly did an amazing job, and the abandoned monastery retains its surreal atmosphere like nobody’s business. In fact, you might find you’ve seen it already featuring as ‘creepy building’ in the movie Lara Croft, Toom Raider. Good movie btw.
The coolest places on Earth #11
Torres del Paine National Park, Chile
Voted the 5th most beautiful place in the world by the National Geographic is not something to take lightly. Nor is 8th Wonder of the world by the almighty Trip Advisor. You see where I’m going with this…
This park is gorgeous. All 181,414 hectares of it. The most memorable part of the park are the three impressive granite peaks the rise into the Paine mountain range and Paine Massif. They’d make a pretty good postcard subject too, coincidentally. 😉
To enjoy the spectacular beauty seen here to the absolute full, arrange to backpack (beginners should look at these tips first!) through the well-planned hiking routes available here and book one of the camping sites. There’s glaciers, valleys, rivers, and lakes aplenty to keep you and your camera entertained along the way.
The coolest places on Earth #12
Arashiyama or the Storm Mountain (good name, right?), is perched on the outskirts of Kyoto in Japan. And although the mountain looks gorgeous, it’s not actually what we’re referencing as one of the coolest places on Earth.
Nope, I’m talking about the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. I bet you never knew that bamboo could be so cool. But seriously, it can and it is.
Walking through the grove is an otherworldly experience as the bamboo rises far above your head on each side of you as far as the eye can see. It’s even better if you finish up the walk at the Iwatayama Monkey Park where over 170 wild monkeys roam. Don’t worry though, they’re pretty used to humans, so no unwelcome springing.
So there they are, the ultimate roundup of the coolest places on Earth. Let us know in the comments if you know of any places that deserve to be up here! Or if you’ve been to one of these places, of course!
Discover more: these cool destinations are pretty romantic in themselves, however, if you’re thinking about taking a romantic holiday with your partner, make sure you skim through our roundup of the most romantic cities in the world…