A bucket list can be a tricky beast.
It's a bit like settling on a set of bangers for your ultimate, life-defining playlist. What to leave in or out holds a ridiculous amount of personal meaning and is often compounded by your mood, a latest obsession, or your internal bully screaming “pick one already!”
Pinning it down just isn’t as easy as it seems. So, what are the best travel destinations you should visit before you meet your denominational or metaphorical maker?
Flight Centre turns 40 this year – and because we’re in a celebratory mood – we’ve figured that’s as good a place as any to start our countdown.
Most of these destinations should be open to post-pandemic travellers, but as the situation is still changing, you might like to view our latest info about current travel restrictions.
Our top 40 best travel destinations for 2022 are:
Turkey provides you a unique meeting point between Asia and Europe. For centuries, cultures of both continents have found a way of living and thriving in this land of myriad experiences. From the sandy beaches of Antalya on the Mediterranean coast, to the ski fields of Anatolia and the mosques, churches and thriving street food and art scene of Istanbul, Turkey has a lot going on.
From the land that gave us Lego, it’s perhaps no coincidence Denmark’s charm lies in the orderly happiness of its people. Routinely voted among the top five happiest countries in the world by the people who decide such things (it’s currently number two), Denmark is a breeze to visit even though – fun fact – there is no word for please in Danish. Danes have more than made up for this by inventing hygge – a word describing the cosy feeling conjured by intimate gatherings of friends or family that seems to permeate every islet and peninsula of this cheery wee country.
Brandenburg Gate, Berlin
Capital cities don’t get more open and welcoming than Berlin. Embracing diversity is a way of life in a city that celebrates its thriving LGBTI communities with a host of specialty bars, clubs and the Schwules Museum promoting tolerance and inclusiveness. Culture and grand architecture abound in this vibrant metropolis. Meanwhile, Munich holds a special place in the hearts of Australians for having invented the biergarten. For beer lovers and everyone else, the Bavarian capital offers a taste of old-world Europe from stately architecture to picturesque, forested surrounds full of hiking trails. Neuschwanstein Castle on the outskirts provides a spectacular blend of both.
Cruising and boating along the many waterways of the Mekong Delta have become a popular way of seeing this country of a thousand temples at the heart of the ancient Khmer civilisation. Theravada Buddhism is practiced by 95% of the population, making a visit to Cambodia a truly spiritual, if not mind un-cluttering, experience. Of all Cambodia’s secrets, Sihanoukville’s beaches are its best kept.
36. South Africa
Yes, there’s more to visiting South Africa than a safari in Kruger National Park. While its wildlife is big and spectacular, South Africa is a land teeming with culture. Johannesburg’s Maboneng district has a thriving hub of art galleries and an intriguing food scene. Art tours of Soweto are popular as is the Apartheid Museum where the country’s tortuous colonial legacy is laid bare in the spirit of reconciliation. Milder temperatures in spring and autumn make them the ideal seasons to visit, South Africa’s wineries are world class, and there are breath-taking views of Table Mountain on your decent to Cape Town Airport.
La Condamine, Monte Carlo
Glamour, gambling, and ostentatious displays of wealth are what you’d normally associate with this tiny principality at the foot of the French Riviera. But delve a little further and you’ll find the city cradles a well-preserved historical quarter with steep, narrow lanes winding round the hills that lead you to impressive sights such as the Prince’s Palace (best viewed at night) and the Monaco Cathedral. Monte Carlo district’s Port de Fontvieille and Port Hercule are also worth a sight-see. While staying and eating in Monaco can be a little expensive, the bus is surprisingly cheap if all the hillside hiking tires you out.
34. Sri Lanka
The tired moniker “tear-drop of India” really does this vibrant and dazzling island nation a disservice. A rich and joyous culture, sandy beaches brushed by turquoise waters, and a burgeoning eco-tourism industry taking in mountains, forests and ancient monuments should make Sri Lanka one of the coolest countries on your bucket list.
33. Czech Republic
In a land renowned for beer, hot spring spa baths and medieval castles, who would’ve guessed you could combine all three? For a little over $150 in Prague you can relax in a beer bath amid a medieval setting while drinking unlimited handles of it as you soak. This medical “treatment” dating back to the Middle Ages cleanses the pores, regenerates skin and hair and revitalises the nervous system. A visit to the Czech Republic also promises some of Europe’s most dramatic UNESCO world heritage sites, pristine forest hikes and a delectable bar and food scene.
Famous for its pristine tap water that flows from alpine springs, a trip to Vienna is refreshing in so many ways. The Austrian capital’s coffee culture is such an integral part of Viennese life that it’s a UNESCO world heritage site. Outside of its countless coffee houses, the city blooms with art and architecture and proudly resists the modernised tackiness that’s infected so many other European cities. The Austrian countryside abounds with alpine wonder: naturally beautiful lakes, forests and mountainous terrain all begging to be explored via a weave of hiking trails.
The Giza Pyramids at sunset.
Exploring the land of the Pharaohs is epic. And while it is amazing to connect with one of the world’s oldest civilisations by visiting the temples, tombs and pyramids placed reverently along the banks of the Nile, modern Egypt is also intriguing. Home to a population of 21 million, greater Cairo is easily the biggest city in Africa and the Middle East. It’s popular shopping district, the Khan el-Khalili bazaar, has been attracting hagglers since the 14th century and gets more interesting the further you wander into its narrow alleyways. Here you’ll find authentic exotic goods amid all the hustle and bustle of a genuine Egyptian bazaar experience.
A dramatic volcanic landscape and ideal viewing conditions to catch the Aurora Borealis (the Northern Lights) combine to make a visit to Iceland feel like a journey to another world. Many of the country’s glamping sites are within an easy drive of the capital Reykjavik and have transparent areas of ceiling so you can enjoy this eye-popping polar light show from the warmth of your glamp-bed.
Interestingly, while around 27% of Ireland lives in its capital, only 10% of the nation’s pubs are found there – and that’s a pre-pandemic statistic. So, while sipping a pint of Guinness in a Dublin pub might have bucket list appeal, don’t miss out on everything else this vibrant city has to offer – from its cosmopolitan cafes, restaurants and bars to its historic sights along the ancient Dubline trail. All served up with traditional Irish craic of course.
Visually delicious Mauritius
Sandy beaches, coral reefs and craggy peaks that brush the sky give Mauritius that dreamy quality so eagerly anticipated in a tropical vacation spot. And for an island no more than 50km in length, Mauritius has plenty going on. From sky-diving, to street markets, zip-lining to swimming with dolphins, boutique hotels to mountain biking, a holiday in Mauritius comes in many flavours.
Donkey trekking isn’t something you’d normally associate with this iconic alpine enclave of neutrality, watchmaking and chocolate. But in an age of eco-tourism and authentic experiences, learning “donkey knowledge” and taking the kids bare-back along winding trails in places such as the mountainous Toggenburg region is a fantastic way to experience Switzerland. You'll also make friends with some of the most good-natured creatures on the planet.
Being an archipelago of over 7,600 islands, it’s no surprise that the Philippines have many spectacular beaches and all the swimming, diving, paddling, surfing “aquivities” you could image. The Philippines’ unique and complex mix of ethnicities make for a culture and cuisine that’s rich and colourful. This is exemplified by the playful paintwork on its Jeepneys – ex-World War II jeeps craftly adapted into buses that have become a national icon.
Fall in love with New Caledonia
25. New Caledonia
With its massive UNESCO world heritage lagoon and coral reefs, New Caledonia is a diving paradise. Although the archipelago is on our doorstep, its mix of French and Indigenous Kanak culture make it a popular getaway for those wanting to sample a fresh perspective without travelling far.
In this land of party lovers, you’d have to be hiding under a giant ladrillo not to be caught up in the revelry of a Spanish festival. From the La Merce festival in Barcelona to honour the city’s patron saint, to Madrid’s summertime San Cayetano festivities, Spain is a sea of celebration.
This is where the sights and smells of Mexico meet the partying Caribbean, ancient Mayan monuments meet sandy white beaches, and hotel prices become more reasonable once the Spring break crowds disperse through April. But don’t leave it too late: hurricane season rolls in from July to October.
A canal in the heart of Amsterdam
Both Amsterdam and The Hague have the honour of being the capital of the Netherlands. It’s a complicated relationship, but the ever-resourceful Dutch make it work. So, while the serious business of legislation and governance is left to The Hague, Amsterdam has the fun job of being the nation’s cultural capital and home to its eclectic food and art scene. Its quirky museums are a highlight. What to visit first: the Cheese Museum? the Museum of Bags and Purses? or De Kattenkabinet (the Cat Cabinet)?
The major island of French Polynesia offers some of the most stunning overwater bungalows in the Pacific, pristine beaches and some of the world’s best surf at Teahupoo on the southern tip of the island.
Muri beach and lagoon, Rarotonga
20. Cook Islands
Kia orana! The Cook Islands are about as laidback as the Pacific gets. Muri lagoon on the chief island of Rarotonga offers the best snorkelling experiences. Swim around the motu (the islets of Taakoka, Koromiri, Oneroa and Motutapu) and out towards the reef where you can expect to meet a variety of tropical fish. On the outlying island of Aitutaki you can get your passport stamped at the world’s smallest post office on the tiny motu Tapuaetai, just a short paddle across the island’s lagoon.
British Columbia’s bustling but beautiful urban heart on Canada’s west coast offers both metropolitan magnetism (read coffee, art, foodilicious eateries and nightlife) and stunning vistas. As it’s cradled nicely between the Rockies and the sea, Vancouver’s surrounds roar with the call of wilderness adventure.
With 83 islands awash with lush beaches and dominated by active volcanoes and a people alive in their untainted kastom or culture, Vanuatu is an adventurer’s dream. From kava to lava, your journey of discovery will never stop.
17. New Zealand
While Queenstown’s slopes attract a multitude of skiers from every corner of the globe in winter, New Zealand saves its best for spring, summer and autumn. Mountain hiking trails (call it tramping) through the UNESCO world heritage sites of Tongariro National Park and Te Wahipounamu (the creme of the South Island's national parks) are stunning outside the snowy season, as are attractions such the Hobbiton movie set in Waikato and authentic Maori cultural experiences and geothermal hot springs in Rotorua.
From its ancient heart around the Acropolis to swanky inner-city districts such as Kolonaki, a visit to Athens lays bare the span of Western civilisation. The city’s streets are open museums of the art and architecture of countless eras: classical Greece and Rome, the Byzantine age and the Ottoman conquest. The tumultuous history of the birthplace of democracy and modern philosophy serves as a stark reminder of Europe’s unending quest for peace and stability. But never fear, you can quickly restore your holiday spirit just as the ancients did, and head for the Greek islands.
15. Kuala Lumpur
From high-end shopping and tall towers to Buddhist temples, mosques and a thriving street-food scene, Malaysia’s multi-cultural capital holds endless surprises. The Petronas Twin Towers were once the tallest in the world. And while the skybridge between them offers spectacular views of the city, they also serve a less glamourous but vital role. The bridge provides structural support to prevent the two towers swaying too much in the wind.
Paris wants us all back!
In pre-pandemic times Paris attracted over 30 million overseas visitors a year, making it perhaps the most visited destination in the world. No wonder then that so many of its sights and attractions are the centre-piece of so many brag-worthy travel stories: the Tour Eiffel, Norte-Dame cathedral, the Louvre and Arc de Triomphe …
13. Hong Kong
With more skyscrapers and multimillionaires than New York, the Hong Kong skyline is impressive. Long a financial hub at the foot of an enterprising China, the city oozes confidence, wealth and all the trappings of a hyper-modern city. Hong Kong’s outlying hinterland reveals many ironies – particularly the 34-metre bronze Buddha that invites onlookers to free themselves of material desire as it sits sedately beside Po Lin Monastery.
Ho Chi Minh City Hall
12. Ho Chi Minh City
Hectic and vibrant, Vietnam’s largest and southern-most city is best seen on foot. Ho Chi Minh City might seem an impossible task to cross busy streets buzzing with a thousand motorbikes, but you’ll soon find yourself doing as local pedestrians do and cross at a steady pace as all the two-wheeled traffic weaves smoothly past you. Top visits include the War Remnants Museum and the ornate French-built Saigon Central Post Office.
Tech reigns supreme in downtown Akiba
Big, busy, flashy, traditional, modern and quirky – Tokyo has many faces. Get into otaku culture and check out the anime and manga specialty stores in Akiba near the city centre. For the best seafood and sushi restaurants head to the districts of Tsukiji or Ginza, or take an inner-city breather in the tranquil Hamarikyu Gardens.
Voted a top destination for 2022, Dubai began life as a small fishing village on the shore of the Arabian Gulf before blossoming into a global financial hub of luxurious hotels, high-end shopping, and the world’s tallest building (Burj Khalifa at 828m). Dubai is an oasis of light and nightlife where desert meets the sea, mosques meet malls and cultures from all over the world greet and mingle.
The Colosseum once held up to 50,000 to 80,000 spectators
Italy’s ancient capital is full of history, culture and, of course, food. Travel back in time with a visit to the Colosseum, one of the largest amphitheatres ever built, the Pantheon and the Trevi Fountain. Within Rome, you’ll also find the world’s smallest city, the Vatican, blessed with the Sistine Chapel and its harmonious Renaissance architecture.
Thailand’s largest island is a beach-goer's paradise famous for its bluffy, steep islets and party atmosphere. The southern beaches of Phuket are often crowded, so if you like a bit of tranquillity with your siestas on the sand, head for the northern end.
The perfect mix of old and new, London has something for everyone. Discover the brutal history of the Tower of London and take a walk along the vibrant South Bank. Admire the views of the city’s iconic skyline from Greenwich Park and be sure to ride a double-decker bus while you’re there.
Visiting the Lion City off the southern tip of Malaysia generally isn't cheap. But the food is – you can even devour the world's cheapest Michelin-starred dish in an unassuming hawker centre. Singapore is notoriously clean and orderly. Watch for strictly enforced laws against spitting, jaywalking and connecting to someone else's Wifi.
Chilling out in Venice Beach
5. Los Angeles
The City of Angels, LA LA land, and the home of Hollywood – call it what you will, this sprawling symbol of American excess loves to surprise you. Los Angeles has laws against licking frogs (the skin of some local species contain hallucinogens) and dogs mating within 500 yards of a church.
4. Hamilton Island
The heart of our very own Great Barrier Reef in the Whitsunday Islands is a slice of tropical paradise right on our Queensland doorstep. From high-end luxurious hotels to couples' only escapes and family holiday homes, there's no shortage of places to stay. But if hopping between islets, bays and countless dive spots on the move is more your idea of a holiday, a cabin-and-catered Whitsundays sailing experience is just the ticket.
"Open for happiness" declares Tourism Fiji's official website. Fiji is a warm gathering of over 330 South Pacific islands is brimming with island fun and relaxation in all its forms. For an authentic experience, take a guided tour of a local village where you'll be required to offer a gift in a sevusevu (gift giving ceremony) that formally welcomes you into the community. The head of the village will then invite you to a kava drinking ceremony. It's impolite not to accept, and if you're a little shy about experiencing the mesmerising effects of ground kava root, ask for "low tide" and you'll be offered a smaller serving.
The beaches and bustle of Bali are again luring Aussies in by the plane load. But amid the party atmosphere of this Indonesian island, it's easy to forget that Bali has a deeply religious culture. A few tips of local etiquette include not displaying too much skin away from the beach, taking care not to step on offerings of flowers in the street, and not touching people's heads.
Stand-up paddleboarding off Maui
So much more than a handy vacation spot for holiday-makers from North America, East Asia and Australasia, The Hawaiian Islands offer endless adventure, mystique and cultural immersion. The main islands of Ohau, Maui and Kauai have more than enough to see and do for one holiday, so you just need to pick one. Traditional chants describe how ancient ancestors shaped the islands, casting rivers of fire and water down volcanic peaks tipped with snow into the surrounding ocean defended by goddesses of the sea – and you too can become one for a day. An eco-tour company on Maui offers mermaid adventures, providing mermaid swim lessons and a mermaid tail.
So many places, so much to see and do, and one life waiting to be changed.