30 of the Most Beautiful Places in the World

canyon with ragged walls showing swirls and streaks in orange and purple lighting
The iconic swirls on the walls of Antelope Canyon were formed by sand blowing through the narrow passages.

Darlene Sours / Getty Images

Across the 197 million square miles that make up planet Earth, there are countless beautiful places. In some cases, humans have banded together to build staggering architectural sights. In others, nature has done the work, forming surreal scenes through processes like erosion, volcanic activity, or just simple time. Trying to list every place that makes our world beautiful would be impossible, but there are some standouts worth learning about.

Here are 30 of the most beautiful places on Earth.

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The Maldives

aerial view of four Maldive islands and lagoons in deep blue water

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The Maldives may cover a large area—34,750 square miles, to be exact—but it is the smallest country in Asia because only 115 square miles of that is landmass. The country is comprised of 1,192 individual islands contained within 26 atolls, which are large rings of coral reef.

On land, the Maldives' beauty is shown through its famously pristine white sand and shallow water that shows both colorful coral reefs and an array of fish species. From above, the lagoons that surround each island offer a stunning contrast of colors and unique shapes.

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Rice Terraces of Vietnam

layered hills of light green rice fields that look like steps

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For hundreds of years, the people of Vietnam have used terraced paddy fields to grow rice. They are a beautiful sight, but they are also highly efficient. This arrangement allows for rice—which grows best on level ground—to be grown on the steep mountainsides of the landscape. It also helps control and distribute water, which rice needs a lot of.

With their stair-like appearance, it's no wonder that these green and gold fields are a popular attraction. They can be found throughout Vietnam, but the ones in the region of Mu Cang Chai are considered to be the most important for both agriculture and tourism.

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Hampi, India

Virupaksha temple stone monument with many highly carved tiers

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Located in the Indian state of Karnataka, Hampi is comprised of the remains of the former capital of the Vijayanagara Empire, which was in power for several hundred years starting in the 14th century. It is referred to as a village and temple town.

Hampi is known for the beautiful 1,600 monuments that are scattered throughout its 16 square miles. The crumbling remains come from once-great temples, palaces, aquatic structures, ancient market streets, royal pavilions, military forts, and municipal buildings. The group of monuments was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1986.

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Salar de Uyuni

perfectly flat salt ground mirroring light blue sky with clouds

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At 4,247 square miles, Salar de Uyuni is the largest salt flat in the world. It is made of layer upon layer of salt and sedimentary rock and can be found in southwest Bolivia. And its size is not its only impressive feature—it is also astonishingly flat. A mission by NASA's Ice, Cloud, and Land Elevation Satellite (ICESat) found that elevation variations across the entire area were just over three feet.

What makes Salar de Uyuni truly beautiful is what happens when there is a layer of water covering the surface. The flatness allows the water to create a kind of mirror effect that reflects the sky so clearly it is almost disorienting.

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Los Glaciares National Park

large glacier with platform for viewers to see at eye-level

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Within the Austral Andes of Argentina along the border of Chile is Los Glaciares National Park. The 2,300 square-mile park offers woods, lakes, and mountains, but its main feature is the field of glaciers that inspire its name. Fed by the South Patagonian Ice Field, the area contains 47 glaciers and takes up nearly half the park. There are an additional 200 smaller glaciers outside of the main ice field.

The most stunning part of Los Glaciares National Park is a giant mass called the Perito Moreno Glacier. It measures 19 miles long with an average above-water height of 240 feet. Occasional ruptures cause chunks of glacial ice to dramatically fall into the lake.

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The Blue Lagoon

blue water running between moss-covered lava stones

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Iceland is known for its many hot springs, and the Blue Lagoon is the most popular of them all. Its milky-blue water is caused by an abundance of silica which forms the iconic white mud at the bottom of the pool. And its unique color stands out even more thanks to the surrounding black lava field.

Interestingly, the Blue Lagoon is not a natural hot spring. Rather, it is a byproduct of a nearby geothermal powerplant. That does not repel visitors, however. The pool is Iceland's best-known tourist attraction thanks to a combination of its beauty and 102-degree water that makes for a pleasant bathing experience. It was even named one of the top 25 Wonders of the World by National Geographic.

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tiers of white pools filled with light blue water

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Denizli Province in southwestern Turkey is home to a stunning site called Pamukkale. The beauty of the landscape is created by a collection of 17 terraced basins between two and 20 feet high. When water pours over the edge of each basin, calcite is deposited, eventually crystalizing into a form of limestone called travertine. This is what gives Pamukkale its appearance of sparkling white cascades of stone, and also what inspired its name, which translates to "cotton castle."

In the second century BCE, what would eventually become Pamukkale was the Greco-Roman city of Hierapolis. People congregated around the hot springs for their supposed therapeutic qualities. This history, along with Pamukkale's wonder, is why the area is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

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Antelope Canyon

glowing purple and orange sandstone in canyon

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Located on Navajo land just outside of Page, Arizona is the dreamlike landscape of Antelope Canyon. As a slot canyon, it was formed by hundreds of years' worth of water erosion from flash floods flowing through the sandstone. This explains the Navajo name for the upper section, Tse' bighanilini, which means "the place where water runs through rocks."

After the narrow openings were created, sand blew through the passages and smoothed down the walls, eventually giving the canyon its characteristic streaked, swirling appearance. Desert light peeking through from 120 feet above color the scene with orange, yellow, and purple hues. When all of this comes together, it's no wonder why Antelope Canyon is the most photographed slot canyon in the world.

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The Cave of the Crystals

cave filled with thick, long crystal rods pointing in different directions

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Hidden nearly 1,000 feet beneath the ground in Naica, Mexico is a natural marvel. The Cave of the Crystals contains beams of gypsum up to 36 feet long, three feet thick, and weighing up to 110,000 pounds. Admirers often liken its appearance to Superman's Fortress of Solitude.

The crystals' growth was possible because the original pieces of gypsum were submerged in mineral-rich water and exposed to consistent high heat. Scientists believe that to become this incredible size, the crystals must have grown uninterrupted for at least 500,000 years.

Unfortunately, the Cave of the Crystals cannot be visited. The extreme heat and humidity that allowed the crystals to grow create unsafe conditions for humans.

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Yangshuo, China

aerial view of Yangshuo showing tall green hills, towns, and Li river

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China's Guangxi region is home to Yangshuo County, a popular tourist spot for domestic and foreign visitors alike. This captivating place offers something for everyone. Numerous underground river caves showcase crystal stalactites, large stalagmites, and mesmerizing multicolor pools. If you're willing to hike (or even rock climb), the county's many hills and mountains offer a bird's eye view of rice paddies, bamboo groves, and lush fields.

In addition to the beauty within the small city, Yangshuo County is bordered on one side by the picturesque Li River, which many consider to be the most beautiful waterway in the world.

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dead trees in dry clay pan with tall red sand dune in background

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The southern part of the Namib Desert in the Republic of Namibia is home to another of the most beautiful places on Earth. Sossusvlei is a salt and clay pan that offers a large expanse of dry, bright white land.

The real beauty of Sossusvlei comes from what surrounds it: a collection of massive red sand dunes. They are some of the tallest in the world, reaching up to 1,300 feet high. The sand's distinct red-orange color comes from its high iron content and eventual oxidation.

Wind plays an essential role in the majesty of these sand dunes. The sand itself is carried to Sossusvlei by the colliding easterly winds from the Atlantic Ocean and the westerly winds from the Naukluft Mountains. Once the dunes are formed, their shapes change constantly based on the wind's strength and direction, making each sighting a unique experience.

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Neuschwanstein Castle


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If you've ever yearned to see a fairy tale castle in real life, look no further than Neuschwanstein Castle. This romantic-style structure is stationed atop a rocky cliff in the Bavarian Alps and overlooks a gorge. It is so perfectly fanciful that it was used as the inspiration for Disneyland's Sleeping Beauty castle.

Neuschwanstein Castle was commissioned by King Ludwig II of Bavaria in 1868. Ludwig was known for his eccentricity and love of fairy tales, even earning the nickname of Fairy Tale King. He built a number of extravagant, ornate castles during his reign, but Neuschwanstein Castle is the most famous. Unfortunately, Ludwig never got to see the finished structure because he died before it was completed.

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The Giant Forest

collection of massive tree trunks lit by sun peeking through nearby branches

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Nestled in California's incredible Sequoia National Park is the Giant Forest, which was aptly named by famed mountaineer and "Father of Our National Parks System" John Muir. The forest is home to over 2,000 towering sequoia trees, featuring stunning red-orange bark and branches as thick as tree trunks.

The sheer size of the Giant Forest is sure to take your breath away. In it, you can find five of the 10 largest living trees on the planet. This includes the General Sherman Tree, which is the world's largest living tree by volume as well as the largest organism alive today. At 2,200 years old, it is 275 feet tall and over 36 feet in diameter at the base.

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Northern Lights, Norway

bright green, blue, and purple light flowing across dark sky over mountain range

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Also known as aurora borealis, the northern lights are a popular bucket-list item—and rightfully so. This majestic natural phenomenon occurs when gaseous particles from the sun collide with Earth's magnetic field upon entering its atmosphere. The result is a sky glowing with streams of pink and pale green light.

Technically, the northern lights can be seen from a number of locations far enough north. However, Norway makes an excellent choice because of all of the other natural beauties you can see while there, such as deep fjords, mighty mountains, and glaciers.

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The Meteora Monasteries

old monastery with red roof perched on top of cliff, overlooking greenery

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The word "meteora" translates to "suspended in the air," making it a perfect name for these towering structures in Thessaly, Greece. Constructed in the 14th century, Meteora is a complex of Greek Orthodox monasteries perched 1,970 feet above the ground, atop pillars of sandstone. Because of this precipitous positioning, habitants and supplies were transported via an impressive system of ladders, ropes, nets, pulleys, and baskets.

The 24 individual structures created an isolated monastic community that provided both solitude for worshipping and safety from persecution. Now, only six of the monasteries remain; however, they still house a small number of monks and nuns.

Ironically, it is now one of the most visited sites in Greece. It was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1989.

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Lake Baikal

transparent lake with streaks of ice leading up to rugged rock structure

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Lake Baikal has it all. Found in southeastern Siberia, the massive body of water holds many records: With an age of 25 million years, it is the oldest lake in the world; with depths reaching 5,580 feet, it is the deepest lake in the world; it is also the biggest by volume. In fact, it contains 20 percent of the planet's unfrozen freshwater.

Lake Baikal is a thriving ecosystem. It is even known as the "Galapagos of Russia" because of its biodiversity. It plays host to between 1,500 and 1,800 animal species and hundreds of plant species, 80 percent of which are endemic to the lake.

These statistics are impressive, but what makes Lake Baikal one of the most beautiful places on Earth? To start, there is the crystal clear water, surrounding mountains, and 27 islands scattered throughout the lake. It was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996.

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Cappadocia, Turkey

overview of Cappadocia landscape showing snow-covered ridges and rooftops with hot air balloons in sky

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On the central Anatolian plateau within Turkey's Taurus Mountains is a sea of rocky pinnacles. These "fairy chimneys" form the Göreme National Park and the Rock Sites of Cappadocia, more commonly known simply as Cappadocia. The eye-catching peaks of volcanic rock were shaped by centuries of erosion, creating the iconic ridges, towers, and cones.

In addition to the spires, erosion also carved out caves that eventually held domestic dwellings, churches, and monasteries, many with intact frescoes. There are an estimated 36 subterranean cities, one of which is potentially as deep as 371 feet underground and large enough to house 20,000 people.

The site provides us with insight into humanity's rich history, including post-iconoclastic Byzantine art and remains of habitats dating back as far as the fourth century. Today, hot air balloons add to the landscape because of their popularity as a tourist activity.

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Great Barrier Reef, Australia

aerial view of Great barrier reef showing reef area with turquoise water and slightly cloudy sky in background

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It's the largest living structure on the globe, and one of the few that can be seen from space. The Great Barrier Reef stretches more than 1,400 miles along the Coral Sea off the coast of Queensland, Australia. Within its 134,000 square miles lives 3,000 individual reef systems and a level of biodiversity that is difficult to comprehend—1,500 species of fish, 400 different types of coral, and 4,000 species of mollusk. There are also over 900 islands scattered throughout the reef.

All of these features come together to create a spectacular image. Bright blue water is complemented by vivid colors from the variety of reefs below the surface. Meanwhile, the islands showcase lush greenery and white sandy beaches. The Great Barrier Reef is one of the seven natural wonders of the world, and for good reason.

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The Fairy Pools

among dark hills and rocky terrain, small waterfall flows into turquoise-tinted pool

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Off the northwest coast of Scotland is the Isle of Skye, an island dominated by the dramatically dark and jagged Cuillin mountain range. At the foot of the mountains and through the Glen Brittle Forest are the Fairy Pools that lure visitors from across the globe. As the River Brittle flows to the sea, it creates waterfalls, streamlets, and pools. The crystal blue water is so clear that moss can be seen on the rocks below. Rich ferns, heather, and lichen surround it all.

Visitors are allowed to swim in the pools, provided they can withstand the frigid Scottish waters. Interestingly, there is no confirmed origin of the mystical name for this beautiful place. One can only guess that it has to do with the magical feeling of fantasy that the pools exude.

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Yosemite National Park

valley between two monoliths with lush trees filling the ground and many clouds in a bright blue sky

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Though it is the third national park in the U.S, Yosemite is generally recognized as the birth of the national parks concept. Decades of advocacy from devotee and future guardian Galen Clark pushed President Abraham Lincoln to sign the Yosemite Land Grant in 1846. It was the first time the federal government set aside land solely for preservation and recreation.

That protection has allowed Yosemite to maintain its unspeakable, stupendous grandeur. The park plays home to dynamic waterfalls, massive sequoia trees, powerful rock formations, and sweeping meadows. Perhaps the best-known site is Yosemite Valley, where towering granite cliffs create the U-shape that is characteristic of glacial valleys. It's no wonder why this beautiful place has inspired painters, poets, and countless other artists over the years.

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The Galapagos Islands

marine iguana on rock at beach against cloudy sky

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Of the 19 islands and marine reserves that make up the Galapagos archipelago in Ecuador, any location you visit is sure to leave you awestruck. The islands were formed by seismic and volcanic activity, including the fusion of some now-extinct volcanoes.

What makes the Galapagos unique is its abundance of unusual animal species, such as the marine iguana, Galapagos giant tortoise, blue-footed booby, lava lizard, Galapagos sea lion, and Sally Lightfoot crab. This fascinating collection of endemic creatures eventually contributed to the development of Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection, outlined in his "On the Origin of Species." Today, visitors can see the exciting array of animals up close, just like Darwin in 1835.

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The Lavender Fields of Provence, France

an old barn amongst the lavender fields with rolling hills of vibrant purple

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Over 2,000 years ago, the Romans brought lavender to France. The hillsides, plateaus, and warm climate of Provence provided the perfect place for flowering plants to flourish. Thanks to the utility of its essential oils, lavender became an established industry by the end of the 19th century, with Provence at the center.

Visually, the lavender fields offer infinite waves of vibrant purple. There are a number of different fields throughout the region; some feature slopes, some are surrounded by mountainous landscapes, and some also showcase remarkable sunsets. Not to mention, the heady lavender fragrance adds an olfactory component that enhances the setting's magnificence.

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Ta Prohm

tree with exposed roots growing over ancient temple Ta Prohm

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Nestled in the jungles of northwestern Cambodia is Angkor, a city that UNESCO calls one of the most important archaeological sites of Southeast Asia. As the capital of the Khmer Kingdom, this site offers exciting insight into the civilization, including its use of hydraulic structures and urban planning, as well as its art and architecture.

One notable structure is the temple Ta Prohm, originally called Rajavihara, meaning "monastery of the king." It is striking not only for its construction but also for the way that, over time, it has become one with the surrounding jungle. While other monuments in Angkor have been protected from being overrun by trees, archaeologists have let nature run its course with Ta Prohm. The result is a beautiful marriage between man and Earth.

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Big Island, Hawaii

glowing orange lava flow over dark volcanic rocks

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Hawaii is known for its pristine beaches and palm trees, but there's more to see, especially on the Big Island. Appropriately named because of its status as Hawaii's largest island, the Big Island offers unique beaches with both green and black sand.

Most famously, this island features the most volcanic activity in the state. In fact, within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park are two of the most active volcanoes in the world. The landscape of the Big Island is constantly changing because of the hundreds of acres of land that lava flows have added over the years. Watching the glowing lava flow across the dark volcanic rock is a mesmerizing sight.

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icy mountains surround still blue water with small glacier

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The stark frigid atmosphere of the southern tip of the globe may not be all that hospitable, but its beauty is sublime. Antarctica holds the title as the coldest, windiest and driest continent, with nearly 98 percent of it covered in very deep ice. In fact, it contains 90 percent of the world's ice and 80 percent of its freshwater. All of this conspires to create stunning landscapes of pure white snow and blue ice in structures of architectural magnificence.

Striking as it is though, the land is so forbidding it cannot support much wildlife. Very few terrestrial animals inhabit Antarctica, and almost all of them are microorganisms. There is diversity in plant life, however; hundreds of species of lichen, moss, and algae can be found across the icy continent.

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Victoria Falls

aerial view of long waterfall dramatically flowing into a chasm, creating mist

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On the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe sits a magnificent waterfall. Upon seeing it, the 19th-century explorer David Livingston named it after then-reigning Queen Victora. However, the indigenous name, Mosi-oa-Tunya, is much more poetic, translating to "The Smoke That Thunders."

While this awe-inspiring waterfall is neither the highest nor the widest in the world, it is still considered the world’s largest sheet of falling water based on height (355 feet) and width (5,604 feet) combined. The average rate of water flow is 33,000 cubic feet per second, and the resulting mist can be seen from miles away.

It is an exquisite vision, the product of the full width of the Zambezi River flowing along a basalt plateau, only to suddenly plummet in a single drop into the deep chasm that divides the countries. Appropriately, this dramatic waterfall is considered one of the seven natural wonders of the world.

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The Tunnel of Love

trees with light green leaves create tunnel for railroad tracks

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In the Ukrainian town of Klevan grows a special forest. Four miles of lush trees have grown to form an archway, creating a tunnel that is nothing short of magical. Known as the Tunnel of Love, this stretch of towering trees is a favorite place for a romantic stroll. It surrounds a railroad that remains active, and the passage of the train is what helps the trees maintain their curving shape.

Interestingly, this lovers' lane has a history rooted in wartime secrecy: Soviet forces planted the trees to camouflage the railroad tracks in an attempt to hide the transport of supplies to a nearby military base. Today's persisting legend is much more pleasant though. It is said that lovers who make a wish while strolling through the beautiful tunnel will have that wish granted.

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The Taktsang Palphug Monastery

ornate white, red, and gold monastery with short towers nestled within mountains

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The Taktsang Palphug Monastery, also known as Paro Taktsang and the Tiger's Nest, is precipitously tucked away in the mountains. It is perched on a cliff at an elevation of over 10,000 feet, overlooking the Paro valley in Bhutan, the small Himalayan country nestled between India and China.

With white buildings and red and gold roofs, the monastery is an exquisite jewel hidden among the rugged beauty of its surroundings. The individual buildings that comprise it are connected by stairways carved into the rock, and numerous balconies provide a breathtaking view of the valley below.

The monastery was built in 1694 at the cave where, according to legend, Buddhist guru Padmasambhava meditated for three years, three months, three weeks, and three hours back in the eighth century. The name "Tiger's Nest" comes from the story that Padmasambhava flew to the cave on the back of a tiger.

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Mount Fuji

snow-covered Mount Fuji in warm tones at sunrise

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At 12,388 feet high, Mount Fuji is Japan's tallest mountain. Although it hasn't erupted since 1707, it is still considered an active volcano. Despite this status, the majestic mountain emanates an air of serenity and contemplation, not danger.

Mount Fuji is sacred to the Japanese people, who treat it with a kind of national reverence for its beauty and power. In fact, climbing the mountain used to be considered a religious experience; its base is adorned with shrines carved into the rock. Today, climbing Mount Fuji has become a popular recreational activity, with a particular emphasis on reaching the summit in time to watch the sunrise.

For centuries, it has inspired countless works of art, from paintings to poems to gardens. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2013.

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The Night Sky

dark sky with blue and purple tones covered in bright stars

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The night sky is the most democratic of destinations—one that everyone can see as Earth's rotation provides a 360-degree view. Its natural splendors are infinite, from stars and constellations to the moon and far-away planets. Not to mention, there are awe-inspiring special sights like meteor showers, eclipses, nebulae, and comets.

What's best, to see the wonders the night sky has to offer, all you need to do is look up.