Offbeat Nature cave formation

10 Destinations You Won’t Believe Are Real

There’s nothing "basic" about these otherworldly places—and trust us, they're even more stunning in real life. From rural China to Northern Ireland, your Instagram feed will never be the same.

See recent posts by Kathryn O'Shea-Evans

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Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland

There are two possible explanations for the 40,000 interlocking basalt columns that jut from the surf in this emerald corner of County Antrim: a volcanic eruption 60 million years ago, and a pissed off Irish giant in a fight with a Scottish foe (also a giant). We know the volcanic eruption is likelier, but we prefer the legend of the cranky big guys.

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Salt Flats, Death Valley, California

Welcome to Badwater Basin. Is there any place more badass? This 200-square-mile expanse of salt crystals is so beautiful it makes regular appearances in fashion shoots. Go after a rainstorm, when the dust has been cleared away, leaving a pristine bleach-white palette.

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Lake Retba, Senegal

Don’t get too excited about the prospect of swimming in a hot pink pool. This lake gets its hue from Dunaliella salina bacteria, so although going for a dip is possible, we wouldn’t recommend it. It is stunning, though—#nofilterrequired.

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Meteora, Greece

We’d seriously consider becoming monks for the chance to live in one of these 11th-century monasteries, which were built on sandstone towers in Thessaly, Greece, for protection against medieval pillagers. (Only four of the original 24, which have beautiful Byzantine frescoes, are still inhabited, but here’s hoping they’ve got room for us.)

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Apostle Islands Sea Caves, Wisconsin

Insiders know Wisconsin is much more than America’s Dairyland. In the depths of winter, it’s home to dramatic icicles that dangle from red sandstone cliffs. Warning: getting there isn’t easy, as you have to walk on (frozen) water. Wear spiked winter boots and stand back—icicles have been known to fall.

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Neuschwanstein Castle, Bavaria, Germany

As German castles go, Neuschwanstein is a baby—finished basically yesterday, in 1873. But its limestone façade is more gorgeous than anything we’ve seen, like something Walt Disney himself would create (in fact, Neuschwanstein was the inspiration for the castle in Sleeping Beauty). King Ludwig II wanted it to look medieval but with all the bells and whistles of the late 19th century: running hot and cold water, flush toilets—even telephones.

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South China Karst, China

This 435,468-acre UNESCO World Heritage Site is a vast landscape of towering, pointy tropical mountains that have to be seen to be believed. It’s the rural China we’ve always imagined: mist-shrouded, mysterious and in full Technicolor.

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Trøllanes cliffs, Faroe Islands

Technically part of Denmark, the Faroe Islands feel worlds away—and they are, lying between Iceland and Norway in the North Atlantic. The most scenic point in the isles has to be the Trollanes Cliffs, where emerald-green grasses cling to the craggy ground and a group of waterfalls plunge into the sea.

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Honghe Hani Rice Terraces, China

Hani villagers in southern Yunnan province have farmed these intricate red rice paddies for more than 1,300 years. UNESCO was just as wowed as we are and added them to the World Heritage list in 2013. If you go, try not to leave a footprint—tourism is one of the main threats to the centuries-old livelihood here.

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Las Lajas Sanctuary, Colombia

If Las Lajas Sanctuary looks magical, it’s because miracles inspired it. In 1754 a young girl was cured of her deafness here after seeing the Virgin Mary’s image on the rocks of the gorge, and later a blind man regained his sight. By 1949 a neo-Gothic basilica had been built to honor them, and it remains a pilgrimage site to this day.

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