Sometimes, Mother Nature likes to show off. From surreal landscapes to places that take our breath away, the world is filled with abundant beauty. The best part is that once you get to the destination, be it a city hilltop or a deep desert canyon, the million-dollar view is all yours, almost always for free. Here are 20 standout sights that are sure to inspire wanderlust.
20 of the Most Beautiful Views in the World
These waterfalls are possibly the best known in the world, and what a sight! Pay a parking fee ($10 a vehicle) to enter Niagara Falls State Park and then enjoy views, hikes, and picnic areas at no extra charge. For a bird's-eye view, take a helicopter tour of the falls (for a hefty fee, of course).
Arrive early to the village of Oia to watch the sun set into the azure Aegean Sea. Crowds gather around the crumbling castle on the town's highest point and in the streets to watch the fiery orange-red burst meet the blue sea.
Most Pacific Coast Highway travelers pull over at the iconic Bixby Bridge, one of the most photographed spots in central California. The price of admission is only the cost of gas. Or for a nominal fee (placed in an honesty box), head to Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park and walk 500 yards to McWay Falls for a spectacular view of a massive waterfall meeting the beach.
This breathtaking Incan empire was built atop the Andes Mountains. Called the "Lost of City of Incas," the combination of intense landscape, archeological sites, and excellent trekking conditions has earned Machu Picchu the reputation as one of most beautiful places in the world.
Visit the Observation Deck at the world's tallest skyscraper for outstanding views of Dubai. Arrive before 5:00 p.m. or after 7:30 p.m. for the cheapest tickets (roughly $34; children under the age of four are free).
Climb 284 steps to the top of the Arc de Triomphe for spectacular views of the Eiffel Tower and the Champs-Élysées. Go when the sun is starting to set to see the City of Lights sparkle. Tickets cost eight euros; no charge for children and students up to the age of 18.
It's worth getting up early to watch the sun rise above the clouds at Haleakalā National Park. Soaring more than 10,000 feet above sea level, the view as stars dissolve into daylight from the summit of this volcano is breathtaking.
Often called Europe's most beautiful river canyon, Verdon Gorge is known for its striking blue waters. Drive around the rim or head to the tiny hilltop village of Rougon for panoramic vistas.
One of the most magical sights in the Caribbean is watching agitated water light up with bioluminescent plankton. There are a handful of bioluminescent bays scattered around Puerto Rico, but Mosquito Bay was declared by Guinness Book of World Records in 2008 to be the brightest recorded in the world.
Skip the world-famous Hollywood sign. Instead, tour the Stahl House in the Hollywood Hills for one of the best views of Los Angeles. The modernist-style home, also known as Case Study No. 22, was an experiment in residential architecture that ran from 1945 to 1966, thus the scientific-sounding moniker.
Catch a glimpse of the park's abundant wildlife from Lamar Valley, just east of Tower-Roosevelt. Arrive early in the morning for the best chance to spot elk, bison, antelope, moose, bears, bald eagles and more. There are ways to visit national parks on a budget, one of which is that individuals on foot enter free; at Yellowstone, each vehicle costs $30.
Travel as far north in non-summer months as possible to view Aurora Borealis, or the Northern Lights. Keep an eye on the sky -- the likelihood of seeing this phenomenal light show is good in the towns of Rovaniemi, Inari, and Utsjoki.
Located between Table Mountain and Signal Hill, Lion's Head is best known for its city views. During a full moon, take an hour-long hike to the top for a striking and unique perspective.
Stretching over 1,200 miles along the Queensland coastline, the awe-inspiring Great Barrier Reef is one of the world's great wonders. See it via a scenic flight or dive in to experience a vivid undersea world.
Just south of Havasu Falls is Antelope Canyon, the most visited and photographed slot canyon in the American southwest. The surreal landscape was formed by flash floods rushing through sandstone. Check out its world-famous ray of light that shoots through Upper Antelope Canyon.
Salar de Atacama, the biggest salt flat in Chile, lies just beyond this adobe village. Here you'll find huge pools of shallow water that reflect the Andes Mountains. At night, Atacama's clear skies and high altitude make the desert an ideal star-gazing location.
Ascend more than 14,000 feet on the Pikes Peak Cog Railway for views that inspired Katharine Lee Bates to write "America the Beautiful" in 1893. You can bike, hike, or drive to the summit, but we prefer to sit back and enjoy the scenery. In autumn, the golden aspens are particularly striking.
Imagine being on a boat ($49/adults; $21.50 children) 150 feet underground in a pitch-black cave illuminated by … glow worms. This cave is home to thousands of these creatures that line the ceilings and light up the caverns with a phosphorescent glow like a sky full of stars.
Located in south China and on the bank of the Yangtze River, these seemingly unreal split pinnacle rock formations amaze the eyes. Thousands of quartzite sandstone peaks jutting from the landscape create this dramatic vista.
Experience the beauty of these falls in Jasper National Park from several different platforms. Considered the most powerful falls in all of Canada, this is a favorite destination for whitewater rafters. Entry fee for a vehicle with up to seven people is less than $16 (U.S.).