The world is filled with amazing sights and experiences, and it is natural to want to do as many of them as possible before you die. However, in between working to pay for those experiences and the experiences of the rest of your life at home, you may not be able to visit all of the must-see places around the world, but here are five places which should be at the top of your travel itinerary.
1 – The pyramids of Giza
The pyramids of Giza are on the west banks of the river Nile and are a beautiful and breathtaking sight. The pyramids stand 450 feet high and are set in perfect symmetry, and are considered to be the greatest architectural and engineering feat achieved by mankind.
There are three main pyramids on the site, which were built around 2550 BC as tombs for kings and queens. The three pyramids are:
The great pyramid of Khufu. This is the most famous pyramid in Egypt and is also the biggest, tallest and most well preserved. The great pyramid of Khufu is one of the Seven Wonders of the World and for 4,300 years it was the tallest building on earth until the Eiffel Tower was built in 1889. The pyramid is built entirely of limestone, from around 1,300,000 blocks and covers a site of 13 acres. The four sides of the pyramid face the four cardinal points and are at an angle of 52 degrees. The original entrance is 17 metres above ground level and if you do decide to go inside you will have to walk double all the way to the burial chamber which is at the end of a 100 metre tunnel.
The pyramid of Khafre. The original casting stones are still intact at the top of this pyramid and while it is set on a higher part of the plateau and looks to be bigger than the pyramid of his father, this is just an optical illusion. The entrance t this pyramid is also high off the ground at 15 metres, and a long narrow passage descends at a 25 degree angle into the burial chamber where the roof of the chamber is set at the same angles as the face of the pyramid to take the weight of the structure.
The pyramid of Menkaure. This pyramid is the tomb of Khafre’s son, and he built his pyramid smaller than his father’s however, it is thought that it was made a lot bigger than originally planned as there was a smaller pyramid with a simple descending corridor and burial chamber which was enlarged to add a new corridor, three portcullises and a small panelled chamber. Menakure also used different materials in his pyramid compared to his father and grandfather, using the same Turah limestone of his ancestors’ pyramids from 15 metres up, and having the first 15 metres of the pyramid cased in pink granite.
Also standing with the great pyramids of Giza is the Great Sphinx. The Sphinx is sculpted from soft sandstone which is believed to have been protected from destruction from the elements by being buried in the sand for so many long periods since its construction. The body of the Sphinx is 60 metre long and 20 metres tall, while its face is 4 metres wide. The Sphinx faces the rising sun and has a temple built in front of it as the figure was so revered.
The 18th Dynasty King, Thutmose IV also installed a stele between the front paws of the Sphinx because when he was a young prince he had gone hunting and fallen asleep in the shade of the Sphinx’s head and dreamed that the Sun God had spoken to him through the Sphinx and told him to clear away the sand from around the Sphinx, and he would be king. Thutmose cleared away the sand as he had been told, and two years later was the king of Egypt.
2 – Petra, Jordan
Petra is a vast and unique city which is carved directly into the sheer rock face by the Nabateans who were an Arab race settled there more than 2,000 years ago. Thanks to the settlement, Petra became an important junction for silk, spice and other trade routes with China, India, southern Arabia, Egypt, Syria, Greece and Rome.
You enter the city through the Sig which is a narrow gorge more than a kilometre long and flanked on both sides by 80 metre high cliffs. Walking through the Sig makes you really realise that you are entering another world, as you experience the colours and formations of the rocks around you. From Sig you will also see your first glimpse of the treasury, Al-Khazneh. The treasury has a facade 30 metres wide and 43 metres high, carved out of the sheer, pink rock face. The building was carved in the early first century as a tomb for an important Nabatean king.
You will need at least five days to experience all of the elaborate rock cut tombs and carvings which have survived, unlike many of the houses which have been destroyed by earthquakes. More than 500 tombs are still intact as they were built to last throughout the afterlife. You will also see a Roman style theatre which could seat 3,000 people, obelisks, temples, sacrificial altars and colonnaded streets. If you want to take the 800 rock cut steps you can also visit the Ad-Deir Monastery high above the valley.
3 – The Zen gardens of Kyoto
The Zen gardens of Kyoto are more commonly known as the dry rock gardens as there is no water used to maintain them. The gardens are the perfect place to medicate, and have been created for those seeking silence and concentration.
The gardens around Kyoto are often part of temples or old imperial retreats and are spread around the city. However, the Daitoku-ji is a large complex which houses several temples. Other gardens you will want to visit include:
Ginkaku-ji silver pavilion. This Zen temple was originally built to be a retirement village and when you enter the temple you will notice the iconic cone shaped pile of sand which symbolises Mount Fuji, at the edge of the garden.
Nanzen-in. This garden is much less famous and so it is easier to have a quiet and relaxing experience. The garden dates from the 14th century and is located at the bottom of a mountain, and revolves around a pond.
Konchi-in. This garden is designed by master gardener Kobori Enshu, and the main path leads you through a small garden of moss, before delivering you to the central garden which is a dry garden which represents the ocean, and has a scenery garden which represents the shore line.
Shusui-tei. This is a ery small pond garden which is part of the Imperial Palace Park. You can enjoy a relaxing break in the Shusuitei tea house on the western shore and take in a view of the garden.
There are dozens of Zen gardens around Kyoto, just make sure you visit in the early morning because many can become crowded in the afternoon, diminishing the serenity of the experience.
4 – Santorini, Greece
Santorini is one of the Cycladic islands which was created by the eruption of the volcano, which is thought by some to be the famous island of Atlantis. The town is perched on the sheer cliff face which drops away to steep rock formations before reaching lush white beaches. There are also remnants left behind by the Romans such as baths, theatres and markets. The group of islands which make up Santorini are 10 kilometres across, with the rim of the volcano still producing small islands in the centre.
There are hiking paths which lead all over the island, and you can walk the paths which connect the settlements, and meet the locals. You will experience the true culture and magic of the region by staying in the towns on the cliff tops, and travelling down to the beaches by bus during the day. Santorini is the only inhabited volcanic caldron in the world and the dense white houses perched on the cliffs contrast spectacularly to the chocolate, red and yellow of the volcanic rocks and cliffs.
5 – Stonehenge, England
From the burial places of ancient Egyptian kings, make sure you also visit the spiritual heart of the United Kingdom at Stonehenge. Stonehenge is located in Wiltshire and the site also contains a number of structures from the Neolithic period and the Bronze age. Stonehenge has been occupied since around 8000 BC and early work beginning in 3000 BC when the outer ditch and embankment were constructed and the standing timbers were erected.
From around 2500 BC the Neolithic and Bronze age man started to bring the Bluestones and Sarsen stones from Marlborough Downs and Wales to complete the structure in 1600 BC. There is also a nearby hill fort which was built during the Iron Age and evidence to suggest that the area was settled by Romans. However, the reason behind the striking stone structures remains a mystery with some believing it was built for sacrificial purposes and others who believe it was built as a place of healing. You will have to visit for yourself to find out what mystical powers the site holds for you.
Alban has been backpacking around the world for 2 years. He is now back in Sydney, Australia, where he writes credit card comparison tips and advice