The Ultimate Guide to Bucket List Activities for Jetsetters (Part I)

How about climbing a towering ancient fortification, kissing a castle stone, and going on a dazzling cruise -- to start?Read More

The world's wonders await. (Source: iStock / Mlenny)

Intrepid trekkers (like us) are often looking for the next inspiring adventure. It’s not about doing something off-the-wall or dangerous – it’s about experiencing a part of the world we have never known before. To that end, we’re always adding destinations to our travel bucket list. And to help you as you determine your own bucket list activities for travel, we’d like to share what we’ve added to our list. Who knows? It might inspire a whole new experience and open your eyes to a new way of life.

Here, then, are the first 5 bucket list activities we recommend:

1: Walk the Great Wall of China.

Be choosy about what part of the Great Wall you visit. (Source: iStock / oversnap)
Be choosy about what part of the Great Wall you visit. (Source: iStock / oversnap)

As quickly as our modern history changes, it’s hard to believe that there is any single monument, structure, or fortification whose construction spanned centuries. But that is precisely the story of the Great Wall of China; historians believe the first stones were laid sometime in the 3rd century BCE and the last segments of the wall were erected in the 17th century CE during the Ming Dynasty. By several accounts, the wall in sum stretches over 1,300 miles and soars to almost 46 feet at its zenith. Along its serpentine lengths stand more than 10,000 watchtowers where Chinese infantry and bowmen would watch enemy territory to the north – dominated by the marauding Mongols.

The sheer lifespan of this monument to military might is reason enough to make it on a traveler’s bucket list, but its construction is also fascinating. A commingling of rammed earth, stone, and wood was used as the wall’s foundation in earlier periods until brick was introduced by Ming-era builders. And as brick was far sturdier, Ming endeavored to expand the wall to the steep slopes of the mountainous Jinshanling region. To facilitate the construction, nearby kilns were set up and quarries dug to supply soldiers and laboring criminals with the materials they needed to complete each wall segment. Primitive pulleys were used to hoist materials up the wall, while makeshift wooden scaffolding was used to provide access where terrain was steep.

With so many miles of wall to explore, it’s hard to know where to start. Those in the know, however, say that the four most recommended sections are close to Beijing. Visit China Highlights for more guidance on the best times to visit the Great Wall and what spots are worth checking out.

2: Kiss the Blarney Stone.

Set inside Blarney Castle, the Blarney Stone gets you talking – or so the legend goes. (Source: Shutterstock / chrisdorney)
Set inside Blarney Castle, the Blarney Stone gets you talking – or so the legend goes. (Source: Shutterstock / chrisdorney)

Housed in Ireland’s Blarney Castle, the Blarney Stone has been attracting tourists to Country Cork for some 200 years. Curiously, the origin stories of the stone and its imparted powers of flattery and gab are muddled. By one account, the builder himself got into legal hot water and when he appealed to the goddess Cliodhna for help, she told him to kiss the first stone he saw on his way to the courtroom. He did so obediently and, consequently, won his case. Over time, word of the divine properties of the stone spread and brought hordes of would-be eloquent speakers to the region. Eventually, the stone was hoisted up and placed in the castle itself, where those eager for silky speech could kiss the beloved Blarney stone some 89 feet in the air. (Don’t worry, it’s perfectly safe.)

Tickets to the castle – and the stone – are easy to come by online and run €16 ($18) per person. Visit the Blarney Castle online to learn more. (Pro tip, however: Don’t go in the fall, i.e. rainy season.)

3: Snap a selfie with the Great Sphinx of Giza.

The massive Sphinx of Giza is truly a wonder of the ancient world. (Source: iStock / Tim Brown)
The massive Sphinx of Giza is truly a wonder of the ancient world. (Source: iStock / Tim Brown)

At 66 feet tall, the Great Sphinx of Giza is one of the largest sphinxes in the world – although we often think of it as the only one. A towering vestige of Ancient Egypt, it is truly a wonder that this massive structure has survived since it was built in the Old Kingdom, around 2500 BCE – 4,500 years ago. For many years, it was obscured by the sands of the desert until 20th century archaeologists painstakingly brushed the sands away to reveal the monument’s full majesty. Shortly thereafter, countless studies were done to determine the statue’s origins and inspiration. Today, it is widely accepted that the face of the Sphinx in Giza was designed to resemble that of Pharaoh Khafre. And while invaders are thought to have been the ones responsible for the statue’s famously absent nose, a once-prominent beard (now also absent) was likely just the victim of wind and weather.

The best way to visit the Sphinx is by tour, as you receive ample history and context for understanding the statue’s provenance and impressively long history. Prices range from $30 to upwards of $120, depending on length and add-ons like camel rides, meals, and tours of nearby sites.

4: Take a boat ride on the Danube.

The Danube treats you to everything from verdant villages to soaring capital cities. (Source: iStock / KenWiedemann )
The Danube treats you to everything from verdant villages to soaring capital cities. (Source: iStock / KenWiedemann )

What crosses 10 countries, once formed the southern border of the Ancient Roman Empire, and is second in length only to a river in Russia? Yep, the Danube. Famed for its lusty blue currents, its critical role in European trade, and central positioning in major empires, the Danube has featured prominently in history books, songs, and popular media for centuries. The river begins in Germany and winds roughly southeast for 1,770 miles, traversing Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Moldova, and Ukraine before draining into the Black Sea. Dozens of populous and quaint towns line its shores, including Ulm and Passau in Germany, Linz and Vienna in Austria, Bratislava in Slovakia, Budapest in Hungary, and Belgrade in Serbia. From a boat on the Daube – which can navigate more than 90% of the full length of the river – you can see cozy villages, castles, palaces, arched bridges, verdant parks, rolling hills, infinite plains, and the bustle of citizens across the European Union. Is it any wonder this beloved thoroughfare is popular with cruise fanatics?

Danube cruises are many and varied; it’s best to check with your favorite cruise line to see if they offer European trips, then check the ports of call to see what stretch of the river you want to ride.

5: Visit Lenin’s tomb.

The great founder of communism lies embalmed in Red Square. (Source: iStock / User10095428_393)
The great founder of communism lies embalmed in Red Square. (Source: iStock / User10095428_393)

While it may seem that communism is a far cry from Western history, it has had such a profound global impact that it’s important to understand its roots. Where better than in Moscow, where the originator of Russia’s modern political identity lived and died? Born in 1870 during the Czarist period, Vladimir Lenin quickly felt the deprivations of the poor in his country and vocally championed a change in government. This led to the Russian Revolution of 1917, which overthrew the monarchical regime and installed Lenin as the country’s new leader. Under Lenin’s purview, the country saw a mix of positive and negative changes – on the one hand, he instituted land redistribution initiatives so that the country’s poor could have space to farm and earn a living. On the other hand, he became obsessed with control, violently tamping down on dissenters. It cannot be argued, however, that Lenin believed firmly in the potential of Russia to become a world power and advocated for its people throughout his life.

As homage to the man and all he accomplished, Russia has embalmed Lenin’s body, preserving it in Red Square. You can visit the tomb for free, though hours are limited; it’s recommended that you check the site in advance so you know the tomb will be accessible.

Stay tuned for more of our favorite bucket list activities – we’re just getting started.