Before I jump into the actual list, I’ll start out by giving the disclaimer that it is fairly unorthodox. I try to steer clear from the typical responses of “the Eiffel Tower” or “the Great Wall of China.” Now don’t get me wrong, both of those would be stunning to see in-person and hopefully one day I will make those trips, but they do not make my all-time bucket list of places I need to see in my lifetime. My interest is in the little-known of the world; places few are knowledgeable about. So without further ado:
8. Uruk City – Warka, Iraq
Uruk was the dawn of civilization and many historians and archeologists will argue that it was the first true city. The largest city in the world of its time, Uruk is now known as Warka and located 281km south of Baghdad in modern-day Iraq. It holds the origins of both writing and the ziggurat. It is also the origin of the legendary poem The Epic of Gilgamesh, and is mentioned in the Bible. Today if you venture to Uruk you will find many unrestored structures, but it only costs $20 to visit; quite the bargain to explore the dawn of civilization.
7. “We Are Our Mountains” – Stepanakert, Nagorno-Karabakh Republic
Also known as “Tatik and Papik” (meaning Grandmother and Grandfather in Armenian), this monument resides just north of Stepanakert, the capital of the unrecognized republic of Nagorno-Karabakh. Completed in 1967, the monument symbolizes the Armenian heritage of the de facto nation. Officially Nagorno-Karabakh is recognized as part of Azerbaijan, but its 94% ethnic-Armenian majority has sparked much conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia about which should have full claim over the tiny nation. Surprisingly it isn’t too difficult to visit Nagorno-Karabakh with respect to legality: visitors just need a visa which can either be obtained in the Armenian capital of Yerevan or at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Stepanakert. Physically getting there, however, isn’t so easy. Currently Nagorno-Karabakh is only accessible through Armenia despite it being under Azerbaijan’s claim. To get there travelers can hop on a primitive bus heading out from the Armenian cities of Goris or Yerevan. There is an airport in Nagorno-Karabakh that will potentially re-open in the future, but it is currently closed due to the conflict between the two nations.
To read more about the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict and Nagorno-Karabakh, click here.
6. Chicxulub Crater – Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico
Located in southeastern Mexico, the Yucatan Peninsula is home to the crater of what was quite possibly the largest object to ever hit the earth. The meteorite struck about 65 million years ago and is widely believed to be what caused the extinction of the dinosaurs. As a preschooler I was obsessed with dinosaurs and wanted to be a paleontologist, so this pick may or may not be a tribute to my inner-preschooler. Admittedly there isn’t a whole lot to see as far as remnants of the crater goes, but there is the Chicxulub Crater Science Museum dedicated to its namesake as well as to other natural science phenomena. The only visible feature left of the crater are the cenotes, which form a ring around the Chicxulub structure. If all else fails, the crater resides on the beautiful eastern coast of Mexico which is also home to many ancient Maya archeological sites.
5. The Korean Demilitarized Zone
In accordance with the ceasefire that put an end to the Korean War, the DMZ acts as the buffer zone between North and South Korea. Despite its name, it is the most heavily-militarized zone in the world. There are quite a few things to do and see upon visiting the DMZ: Nuri Peace Park, dedicated to monuments of the Korean War; The Third Tunnel, designed for a surprise attack on the South; Dorasan Station, the northernmost train station in South Korea where Mt. Dorasan can be viewed; and Panmunjeom, an abandoned village where the Korean Armistice Agreement was signed; among many other sites and attractions. Unfortunately obtaining the privilege of touring the DMZ is not especially easy, as many of these places require special visas and travel packages.
*All information obtained here.
4. Tierra del Fuego, Argentina & Chile
When I was young I made it a mission to find out for myself if the southernmost tip of South America had a cold climate, because of its relative proximity to Antarctica. Now I know that the answer to this is sort of; the climate is classified as subpolar, meaning it is similar to that of Alaska or Iceland. The summer days tend to see temperatures up to 50 degrees Fahrenheit and winters are typically in the ’30s. Aside from my questions about the climate in Tierra del Fuego, I wanted to see the ends of the earth that very few people call their home. Tierra del Fuego is home to the southernmost permanently-inhabited city in the world, Puerto Toro (on the Chilean side) which is home to a tiny 36 inhabitants.
3. Door to Hell – Derweze, Turkmenistan
Situated in the middle of the Karakum Desert in Turkmenistan, the Door to Hell is a natural gas field that was a disastrous product of the Soviet Union. If you’re not familiar with the aesthetics of the Door to Hell, it’s essentially a gaping hole in the ground spitting out fire. A sight to see in the middle of a barren desert. The Flaming Hole came to be when the ground collapsed and a team of Soviet scientists set it on fire to burn off the escaping noxious gases. The scientists estimated the gases to burn off in a matter of weeks but instead it has continued to burn for over forty years, creating quite the display. The Door to Hell is still relatively unknown as an attraction; the number of visitors every year is only in the hundreds, and visitors can even walk right up to the edge, as it is not fenced or blocked off (although this is probably not advisable).
2. Giant Lenin Head – Ulan Ude, Russia
Tucked away in Siberia just north of Mongolia is the little-known city of Ulan Ude where the world’s largest structure of Vladimir Lenin’s head resides. It stands at almost eight meters high in the city square and was finished in 1971 to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of Lenin’s birth. Despite its obvious Russian feature of a Lenin-head statue, Ulan Ude is most definitely an Asian city. It is home to the native Buryat people and is a center of Tibetan Buddhism in Russia. Getting there is fairly straightforward, although time-consuming. Flights arrive from Moscow and are usually about six hours long. Travelers can also take a train or bus from Moscow or Ulan Bator, Mongolia.
1. Northern Lights in Saariselka, Finland
And topping the list at number one is my lifelong dream of seeing the Northern Lights from the Arctic Circle. What better place to do that than Lapland in Northern Finland? Admittedly the village of Saariselka is quite the tourist destination, which I’ve attempted to steer away from in the rest of this list, but I couldn’t pass up featuring Kakslauttanen Resort where you quite literally sleep under the stars in a heated little glass igloo and are served extravagant three-course meals in a dining hall nearby. The resort asserts that the Northern Lights are visible 200 nights per year, so in theory, your odds of seeing them are relatively high. Unfortunately this kind of excursion does come at an outrageous price; you can end up shelling out over $3,000 for just a few nights. But all in all if you are a cold weather lover this trip could be worth saving up for.