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Trip Ideas

We’ll Say It: These 9 Tourist Attractions are Actually Worth the Hype

There are certain iconic spots that you have to visit at least once in your life—even if it means embracing the iPhone-wielding, so-not-local/artisanal/authentic side of yourself. Here, nine tourist attractions that continue to top our list.

See recent posts by Siobhan Reid

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Take a Gondola Ride in Venice

The scads of gondolas that dot the Venetian canals got their hulls wet centuries ago; there were purportedly 10,000 of them in the city during the 17th century. You may feel like a total sucker forking over $100 for a ride nowadays—it continues to be one of the most in-demand tourist attractions in Italy—but floating down Venice’s waterways, past the ancient palazzos and churches, is nothing short of magical. Time your ride during sunset, when the sky lights the water with a pinkish hue. (For an even more romantic experience, avoid the crowds by swapping the Grand Canal for the smaller, more intimate back canals.)

RELATED: 8 Hotels in Venice We'd Love to Spend a Night In

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Meet Your Love at the Top of the Empire State Building

Remember the 1957 classic An Affair to Remember? And normcore favorite Sleepless in Seattle? Peering over the edge of the 102nd floor of the Art Deco Empire State Building still trumps every other view in town, including the Top of the Rock. Steal a kiss while taking in the vista, which stretches 50 miles on a clear day. For a nearly crowd-free experience, go when it opens, at 8 a.m.—because it's never too early for love. (And buy your tickets online in advance.)

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Toss a Coin in the Trevi Fountain

Italy’s capital is full of clichéd “when in Rome” locations, from the Colosseum to the Spanish Steps, but it's the coin toss at the Trevi Fountain that's vital for lovers of the Eternal City. Local legend has it that if you toss a coin into its waters—using your right hand, over your left shoulder—you'll be coming back to the city. And who doesn't want to see Italy again, and again and again? JS Tip: Go at dawn, when the Trevi Fountain is usually empty of tourists (in their place: bathing pigeons).

RELATED: The Best Luxury Hotels in Rome

Book a Rome Tour
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Ride a Cable Car in San Francisco

In a city of steep climbs (Bradford Street has a 40 percent grade), hopping on a cable car is the easy way up. The system was introduced in 1873 after the slippery-when-wet streets started hosting some horrific traffic accidents. And though the cars were built for safety sake, they still come with a dangerous thrill—just hold on to the poles along the sides of the car and let the wind give your hair a fresh blowout. There isn't a good or bad time to go, if our recommendation is to take the least crowded line, which travels down California Street.

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Picnic at the Base of the Eiffel Tower

You knew this would have to be on our list. Going up to the top is a must for virtually every traveler, but we think picnicking in the Champ de Mars below is even better—preferably with some camembert or roquefort and a crusty baguette from a local boulangerie. Psst—the autumn months are significantly less crowded than summer.

RELATED: An Insider's Guide to the Most Iconic Spots in Paris

Book a Skip-the-Line Tour
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Check the Time at Stonehenge

If you’re in England, you’d be remiss not to make the trek to this bluestone Neolithic monument, which was finished circa 2000 BC. The sheer size of the rocks, and the effort it must have taken to erect them, will leave you awestruck. It's still unclear what the structure symbolizes, but it was likely a solar calendar or a site for ancestor worship and pagan rituals. Want to skip the busy summer months? Go in fall or early spring instead.

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Steep in Iceland’s Blue Lagoon

You may not know that despite ranking high on lists of the world’s natural wonders, the Blue Lagoon isn't technically natural. It was created in 1976 with warm runoff from a nearby geothermal power plant. But it's a required rite of passage in Iceland thanks to its mineral-rich waters, steam rooms and silica mud masks. And did we mention the swim-up bar? Visits in the evenings are best, after the tourist buses head back to Reykjavik. Admission numbers are capped to avoid overcrowding, so be sure to book your ticket in advance to guarantee entry.

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Hang out with the Lincoln Memorial

Washington D.C. does memorials right, but the Lincoln Memorial, opened in 1922, will always be our favorite for its Greek columns, 12-foot statue of Abe, and walls etched with the Gettysburg address. Stand on the plaque in the exact spot where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his "I have a dream" speech; you'll feel the waves of history wash over you. While Abe welcomes visitors at all hours, we love to go at dawn when the sun is rising over the Potomac.

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Gaze at the Taj Mahal

The striking white marble mausoleum in Agra was dreamed up in 1632 as a final resting place for Shah Jahan's most beloved wife (he had three) and cost some $827 million in today's dollars to build. Tickets run 750 rupees (about $11), remarkably cheap for the once-in-a-lifetime chance to have your mind truly blown. (Yes, the Taj Mahal is as amazing as it appears in pictures.) Go at sunrise, when the landmark is bathed in a highly 'grammable soft, heavenly light.

Book a Sunrise and Agra Day Tour

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