10 Most Sacred Spots on Earth
When we modern folks visit a beautiful natural site, the experience may evoke a sense of peace, a feeling of awe...or just the need to snap a million photos. For our ancient forbearers, though, these places were so much more. Throughout history, civilizations all over the globe have attached spiritual or religious importance to natural spots (ie. not man-made places) that played key roles in their respective cultures. From the mythological homes of powerhouse gods like Zeus and Shiva to the serene spot where the mortal Buddha achieved enlightenment, these are the places of legends. Some are still used for age-old rituals, others have been lost to time, but all crackle with a special energy and, if you're lucky, just a little bit of leftover magic.
Located in Australia's Red Centre, in the heart of the continent, these two natural rock formations are the main attractions in the World Heritage Site Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. One of the country's more recognizable landmarks, Uluru is a flat-topped sandstone rock standing about 1,100 feet high and almost six miles around, with a soulful, deep-red hue that changes throughout the day. (The site is also known as Ayers Rock, so named by the colonial surveyor who "rediscovered" the place in 1873.) About 30 miles away, Kata Tjuta (a.k.a. The Olgas) is made of more than 30 domes of varying rock types, including granite, sandstone, and basalt; the tallest point is almost 1,800 feet high. Both sites are sacred to the Anangu people of the Pitjantjatjara Aboriginal tribe, who believe the rocks were built during the ancient creation period and are still inhabited by ancestor spirits. (Archeologist work suggests there were humans in this area over 20,000 years ago.) Owned by the Anangu and leased by the government, the park is open to the public, though tribespeople continue to perform rituals and ceremonies in various locations, such as the sacred "Dreamtime" track that runs near the modern hiking trail. The park also houses a Cultural Center and Aboriginal rock art sites, and ranger guided tours are available.
Getting There: Visitors can drive or join a bus tour to the park from Alice Springs (280 miles away), or fly to Ayers Rock Airport/Connellan (AYQ); Qantas and Virgin Australia offer direct flights from several major domestic cities. There are only a few accommodation choices in the area, in different price ranges, and all are owned by Voyages Indigenous Tourism. (Camping is not allowed in the park.) Note that while hiking Uluru is not technically forbidden, the Anangu ask that visitors not climb the rock out of respect for its significance, and also ask that photos not be taken of certain sacred sites. Guests should also not pocket any rocks as souvenirs—those who have say it brings bad luck, and often mail the rocks back to the park. Admission is $25 for a three-day pass.
2. CENOTE SAGRADO, MEXICO
The ancient Maya revered water for its life-sustaining power, and worshiped Chac, the god of rain, because of this awe of H20. Many areas of Mexico are dotted with cenotes—natural underground sinkholes—and the Maya believed that some of these sites were visited by Chac himself. As a result, some cenotes were designated as "sacred" and kept for rituals, offerings and sacrifices, while others were set aside for bathing, drinking and crop water. One of the most notable of the sacred springs is Cenote Sagrado, located near the major Mayan archeological site Chichen Itza in the Yucatan Peninsula. Created from a natural limestone cave, with steep sides stretching about 60 feet above the water line, this cenote was specifically used for ceremonies and occasional sacrifices; for the latter, men, women, and children were thrown in during drought times to appease the water gods. When archeologists dredged the spring in the 20th century, they found gold bells, masks, cups, rings, jade pieces, and more (many from the post-Spanish period) along with human bones.
Getting There: One of the most visited archeological sites in Mexico, Chichen Itza can be reached by car or organized bus tours (typically about $35 per person) from nearby tourist hubs like Cancún or Cozumel, or via infrequent public bus service; the ride is about two-and-a-half hours from Cancún. The entry fee is about $8 and includes the evening light and sound show; headphone tours are $2. Cenote Sagrado is part of the Great North Platform section of the site.
3. MAHABODHI TREE, BODH GAYA, INDIA
According to Buddhist traditions, around 500 B.C., when the ascetic Prince Siddhartha was wandering through what's now the state of Bihar in India, he took rest under a native bodhi tree. After meditating there for three nights, the prince awoke with enlightenment, insight and the answers he had been seeking, which developed into the teachings he went on to spread to his disciples. Naturally, the place where the Buddha reached enlightenment is one of the most sacred sites for Buddhists, and has been a major pilgrimage destination for centuries. Today, a temple complex surrounds what is believed to be a direct descendant of the original majestic tree itself, which sits in the middle of a courtyard surrounded by protective carved panels. A beautiful Buddha statue under the tree marks the significant spot.
Getting There: A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Mahabodhi Temple Complex is in the Bodh Gaya area of Bihar, India. The site is about three miles from the Gaya Airport and about seven miles from Gaya City. Car service, public buses, and bus tours are also available from the holy city of Varanasi; public buses run about $8.
4. MOUNT KAILAS, TIBET
This black rock mountain in western Tibet is something of a holy hat trick, since it is sacred to Buddhists, Hindus, and Jains and is thought to be the mythical Axis Mundi, the center of the universe. Hindus believe it is the residence of Lord Shiva and the land of eternal bliss, and have celebrated the mythical Kailas in temple carvings throughout India. Tantric Buddhists say the mountain is the home of Buddha Demchog, who represents supreme bliss, and that three key Bodhisattvas live in the surrounding hills, while Jains believe it is the site (which they call Mount Ashtapada) where the first Jain attained nirvana. The peak is part of the Gangdise Mountain range and is set near the source of some of the longest rivers in Asia, including the Sutlej, the Indus, and the Ghaghara (a tributary of the holy Ganges River). Nearby Lake Manasarovar, considered the source of purity, is another major pilgrimage site for both Hindus and Buddhists.
Getting There: Despite being such a mythical sacred site, Mount Kailas is also one of the least visited, due to its remote location in the Tibetan Himalayas. From Lhasa, it's about a four-night journey over the plateau to the small pilgrim outpost, where there are a few basic guesthouses. From this base, most pilgrims set out on foot, pony, or yak to circumnavigate the base of the mountain, a journey of about 32 miles. There is no record of anyone having attempted to climb Mount Kailas.
5. MOUNT SINAI, EGYPT
Some of the basic tenets of Judeo-Christian-Islamic beliefs can be traced back to this mountain on Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, for it was at the top of this peak that Moses is said to have received the Ten Commandments from God. Though there is not much archeological evidence confirming this as the exact place, and biblical scholars have theorized for years about the mythical mountain's location, early Christian monks believed this was the sacred site and established several monasteries in the area.
Getting There: In the past, visitors could start at St. Catherine's Monastery at the base of the mountain, then climb to the summit, where there is the small Holy Trinity chapel and stunning views, especially at sunrise, however in September 2013, The Guardian reported that St. Catherine's Monastery was forced to close as a result of a shaky economy following the country's uprisings. The mountain can only be reached by road; Dahab and Nuweiba are both about two hours away by car, while it's about three hours from resort hub Sharm al-Sheikh. Most hotels on the peninsula can set you up on a bus tour, and many of these arrive at the base around 1 a.m., so visitors can be at the summit for sunrise. There are two ways to climb: by foot (which takes between 45 minutes and three hours, depending on your pace, or by camel, which is about three hours; note that if you choose the latter, you will still have to walk the final 750 steps up to the top. Guests are required to hire a local guide at the entrance for about $15 (the rate is negotiable.) Because of its peaceful silence, the mountain is also popular with visitors who practice yoga and meditation.
6. GLASTONBURY TOR, ENGLAND
Rising out of the middle of the Summerland Meadows in Somerset, England, is a hill that has long had magical connection. For centuries, Glastonbury Tor (Celtic for "hill") has been a source of myths: Some ancient Celtic civilizations considered it the entrance to the home of the Gwyn ap Nudd, alternately regarded as Lord of the Underworld and King of Fairies (a theory that resurfaced in the 19th century), while pagans may have used it for ceremonies celebrating the Goddess. Later, the site was considered a possibility for King Arthur's Avalon, since Arthur and Queen Guinevere's coffins were supposedly discovered at the top of the hill in the 12th century. And even more recently, theorists have linked the hill to the quest for the Holy Grail. To further add to all the speculation, archeologists have found remains of seven deep, symmetrical terraces on the hill's slopes, which could be anything from Middle Age crop land to a Neolithic labyrinth. Whatever the history, the hill is still thought to have spiritual energy, as visitors often report feeling more hopeful and positive after a walk on its slopes. Topped by the remains of the 15th century church of St. Michael, the hill is managed by the National Trust of the United Kingdom.
Getting There: The Tor is a short walk or bike ride from the center of Glastonbury, which is linked to London by frequent train service. The nearest station to the hill is Castle Cary. Admission is free.
7. CRATER LAKE, OREGON
Formed nearly 8,000 years ago after an alleged massive eruption caused Mount Mazama to collapse, this deep blue, freshwater caldera lake in south-central Oregon plunges nearly 2,000 feet below ground, making it the deepest in the United States and the seventh deepest in the world. The Native American Klamath tribe has long considered the lake a sacred site: Their legends say a battle here between the Chief of the Above World and the Chief of the Below World led to the destruction of Mount Mazama. (Historians believe the Klamath people may have witnessed the actual implosion of the mountain.) The tribesmen used Crater Lake in their vision quests (tasks may have included scaling the crater walls), and it is still considered a spiritual spot. The lake is now part of Crater Lake National Park.
Getting There: Crater Lake National Park is about 60 miles from the airport in Klamath Falls and 80 miles from the airport in Medford; cars can be rented in both locations. (There is no public transport service available.) The park is open year-round, but some areas may be inaccessible in winter. A seven-day pass is $10 for cars and $5 per person for pedestrians, bicyclists, or motorcycles. Check the official park website for a list of official free days each year.
8. MOUNT PARNASSUS, GREECE
Towering above Delphi in central Greece, this limestone mountain looms large in Greek mythology. In addition to being sacred to the god Apollo, who often visited the nearby Oracle at Delphi, the mountain was thought to be the residence of the Muses and, as a result, the home of poetry and song. The three Corycian Nymphs, each of whom was romanced by a major god, were born of springs located on Parnassus, and the mountain was also the setting for many minor myths. Today, the only sacred activity takes place on the slopes: The mountain is topped by two popular ski centers and is dotted with scenic hiking trails.
Getting There: Mount Parnassus is a winding, two-hour mountain drive from Athens. Day trips and overnight bus tours are also available (Key Tours offers Delphi tours from $120 per person). After exploring the slopes, don't miss a visit to the ancient ruins in Delphi, set in the shadow of the mountain.
9. LAKE ATITLÁN, GUATEMALA
Set up in the Guatemalan Central Highlands, and bordered by three volcanoes, Lake Atitlán is the deepest lake in Central America at 1,114 feet. Along with its natural beauty, the lake is famous for the Maya villages that ring its shores, many of which have been there for centuries. Ninth-century Panajachel, one of the largest, has been drawing tourists since the 1960s, while in Santiago Atitlán, residents are known for their worship of Maximo, a local idol that fuses Mayan gods, Catholic saints, and Spanish legends. Mayan ceremonies still take place at various sites around the lake, from caves to the top of an adjacent hill. The lake's shores are also strewn with archeological sites and ruins of pre-Spanish towns, including Chiutinamit, a mythological "underwater city."
Getting There: Lake Atitlán is located in western Guatemala, about a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Guatemala City or Antigua. Companies like Transport Guatemala can arrange for bus or van service (from $25 per person from Guatemala City, from $15 per person from Antigua). There are a wide array of accommodations, from luxury to budget, in towns like Panajachel, along with tourist activities and dining options.
10. VORTEXES, ARIZONA
Sedona, Arizona, has long drawn people interested in healing, spirituality, mysticism, and metaphysics, who come for more than just the dramatic, red-rock beauty. The area is famous for its vortexes, powerful centers of kinetic energy that can have a deep effect on those who visit them; there are four main ones spread around town, including one near the airport. The ancient Native American Yavapai people knew about these centers, and celebrated this "Great Mother" energy with petroglyph paintings and sacred dwellings. Today, visitors can easily walk or hike to the four spots (the one in Boynton Canyon is among the most popular), and once there, can meditate or just soak up the good vibes. Many feel recharged and uplifted after visiting a vortex, and some guests even report having visions or deeper experiences while in town.
Getting There: Sedona is a scenic two-hour drive from Phoenix, home to an international airport, and 45 minutes from the smaller commercial airport in Flagstaff. Maps highlighting the four vortexes are available at most hotels and online.
11 New Hotel Wonders
If the best architecture aims at eternity, to paraphrase famed English architect Christopher Wren, then these new hotels are bound to be immortal. The 11 hotels on our list all opened within the last four years, and each is an example of awe-inspiring design in its own right. You can stay in a wave-like skyscraper in Chicago, a stack of cantilevered cubes in Portugal, or a hotel tucked into the wild cliffs of an Australian island. And, even better, it won't cost a fortune to spend a night in these architectural wonders. Seven of the 11 are under $200 a night. SEE THE WORLD'S MOST AMAZING NEW HOTELS 1. BELLA SKY COMWELL Copenhagen, DenmarkThe two structures that make up the Bella Sky each incline at a slightly different angle. Or as the architects sweetly put it, the towers are drawn to each other, "yet seem a little shy." In fact, the creative use of angles is employed both inside the property and out—geometric angles give the exterior a filigreed look, while inside the hotel there are rooms where there are no 90-degrees at all (there are over 200 different room shapes in the 812-room hotel). The location, in the Copenhagen neighborhood of Orestad five miles from the city center, actually inspired the leaning-tower design. The buildings are so close to the airport that height restrictions dictate that they must not exceed 246 feet. 011-45/3247-3000, bellaskycomwell.dk, from $155 per night. 2. JUMEIRAH AT ETIHAD TOWERS HOTEL Abu DhabiQueensland architecture firm DBI Design won the World's Leading New Hotel Award for 2011 for this stunning $1 billion residential and retail center. The complex is made up of five towers on a beachside stretch on a peninsula in Abu Dhabi. Constructing the buildings that now dominate the modern skyline posed structural challenges. The towers all curve, meaning each floor slab is a different shape. The 382-room Jumeirah hotel takes up 66 stories of one of the towers. 888/645-5697, jumeirah.com, from $192 per night. 3. HOTEL CONSOLACIÓN Teruel, SpainPerched atop a ridge, this collection of 10 freestanding, wood-clad modernist cubes, or "Kube" suites, opened in 2009. Located in the rural mountain town of Teruel (a three-hour drive from both Barcelona and Valencia), the sleek cubes create a beautiful juxtaposition with the groves of olive and almond trees that surround them. Each suite has a sliding glass wall that opens onto a private terrace, and, inside, sparse interiors combine slate, copper-treated pine, and metal sheeting. The hotel incorporates some classic elements as well: a converted 14th-century hermitage serves as a communal area for guests. 011-34-978/85-67-55, consolacion.com.es, from $185 per night. 4. SOUTHERN OCEAN LODGE Kangaroo Island, Australia Architect Max Pritchard designed this lodge to blend into the dramatic surroundings of Kangaroo Island. Tucked back behind cliffs, the hotel opened in 2008 and consists of 21 suites cascading down a windswept slope, following the natural curve of the land, each with floor-to-ceiling glass walls and sweeping views of the Southern Ocean. Suites were constructed from lightweight materials—steel screw piles, timber framing, iron cladding—that could be carried in to create minimal disturbance to nature, and which also could handle the challenge of building on precarious soil conditions (several feet of sand atop solid limestone). Inside are environmentally sound sandblasted limestone floors and recycled spotted-gum walls. The off-the-grid location led to innovations such as sculptural containers for collecting rainwater. 931/924-5253, southernoceanlodge.com.au, from $1,000 per person, per night with a two-night minimum. 5. MARINA BAY SANDS SingaporeThis trio of 55-story towers opened in 2010 and hold an incredible 2,561 hotel rooms, plus a museum, casino, convention center, waterfront promenade, shops, and restaurants. Architect Moshe Safdie has said that his challenge "was to create a vital public place at the district-urban scale-in other words, to address the issue of megascale and invent an urban landscape that would work at the human scale." His way of dealing with that was to design the complex around two central axes to give a sense of orientation. The towers are connected at the top by the cantilevered, two-and-a-half-acre SkyPark, home to gardens, 250 trees, a public observatory and a 492-foot swimming pool—all perched high in the sky like a fantastical cruise ship forever suspended in midair. 011-65/6688-8868, marinabaysands.com, from $350 per night. 6. YAS VICEROY HOTEL Abu Dhabi This 499-room hotel was the first to be built straddling a Formula 1 racetrack (it opened in 2009 and was renovated in 2011 to become a Viceroy). The structure consists of a pair of 12-story towers joined by a sweeping, 700-foot curvilinear skin of glass and steel—actually 5,800 pivoting, diamond-shaped glass panels that reflect the sky by day and are illuminated up by an LED system at night. The architects' aim was to reflect artistry and geometries associated with ancient Islamic art and craft traditions, and from a distance the panels create the appearance of a spectacular veil. 888/622-4567, viceroyhotelsandresorts.com; from about $210 per night. 7. RADISSON BLU WATERFRONT HOTEL Stockholm, SwedenThe piece de resistance at this 414-room hotel of white polished stone and rough black stone is its attached conference center—a glass structure with an exterior made up of 13 miles of semi-transparent stainless steel rods. They reflect the sky and water, radically change the skyline, and are what architect Hans Forsmark describes as "a reminiscence of the Nordic Light." The interiors of the hotel, which opened in 2011, follow straight lines and geometric precision. 800/333-3333, radissonblu.com, from $155 per night. 8. AXIS VIANA HOTEL Viana do Castelo, Portugal The 88-room Axis Viana Hotel was a striking addition to the folkloric village of Viana do Castelo when it opened in 2008. The exterior is made up of reflective aluminum, black glass, and green stone, and the cantilevered design changes the shape of the hotel depending upon your vantage point. The contrasting interior consists of white finishes and materials including wood and stone. It's all edged by a shimmering outdoor pool and surrounded by views of the Lima River and Mount St. Luzia. 011-351/258-802-000, axishoteis.com, from $100 per night. 9.HÔTEL AMERICANO New York, New York The 10-story Americano sits on the site of a former parking garage in Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood. Neighbors were likely pleased with the swap when the hotel opened in 2011. The building looks like a massive metal sculpture—perfect for the gallery-filled neighborhood—with floors connected by catwalks and wrapped with stainless-steel mesh. The industrial façade holds 56 rooms plus two restaurants, a lobby café and two basement bars; for urban escape, there is a roof deck with a pool, bar, and peaceful garden terrace. 212/216-0000, hotel-americano.com, from $295 per night. 10. MIURA HOTEL Celadná, Czech Republic Rising like a geometric spaceship in the Beskydy Mountains is this distinctive hotel made of concrete, sheet metal, violet glass, Corian, and stone. Miura opened in 2011 and is divided into three parts, one of which seems to levitate above the ground, plus two side wings containing the 44 rooms. The arrangement means that all of the rooms have views of the surrounding mountains. The striking hotel also has an impressive art collection, with works by Andy Warhol, Damien Hirst, and Czech sculptor David Černý. Known for his large-scale installations, Černý's works here include an almost 30-foot-tall stainless-steel man pushing against the exterior of the hotel. 011-420/558-761-100, www.miura.cz, from $126 per night. 11. RADISSON BLU AQUA HOTEL Chicago, Illinois Architect Jeanne Gang literally made waves in a city full of iconic skyscrapers with her showstopper building. The 82-story glass structure's exterior has undulating concrete balconies resembling the swirls and ripples of nearby Lake Michigan. Such a unique design brought with it a unique construction challenge—each floor plate is a different shape, which means a different concrete pour was required for every story. To manage it, the concrete was poured into a specially designed flexible metal edge that was reused over and over again—an important detail for green architecture. Much of the building is designated for private residences, but the 334-room Radisson Blu Aqua opened on 18 floors in November 2011. 312/565-5258, radissonbluchicago.com, from $175 per night. SEE MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL: 12 Elevators You Have to See to BelieveWorld's 16 Most Picturesque Villages15 International Food Etiquette Rules the Might Surprise You12 Hot Springs Worth Traveling For
The 14 Most Beautiful Home and Garden Tours in America
You might think home and garden tours are merely a superficial pleasure (the kind Grandma might enjoy), but you're only half right. Sure, these estates offer their fair share of sensory pleasures—the scent of blossoming flowers, the gurgle of fountains, the warmth of the sunshine as you traverse the grounds—but their beauty is far from skin-deep. To make our list, a property had to be as interesting as it is beautiful, and the result is a collection of homes with real stories to tell. A Georgian Revival mansion that housed descendants of Abraham Lincoln, a palatial, Charles II-style mansion so striking that three classic Hollywood films were shot there—these are the kinds of places you'll still be talking about long after you've left. And then there are the gardens—romantic, Italian-inspired grounds, tropical forests, the gardening world's versions of the Mona Lisa and David. Yes, Grandma would like these places, but who wouldn't? 1. FILOLI, WOODSIDE, CALIFORNIA Husband-and-wife gold-mine owners built this Georgian-inspired 36,000-square-foot house between 1915 and 1917, about 30 miles south of San Francisco. But the property's star feature is the 16-acre English Renaissance garden, which was completed in 1929. The 654-acre Filoli estate is known for its bonsai and magnolia collections, as well as the largest heirloom orchard in private hands in the United States. Best time to visit: In February through August on the fourth Wednesday of every month (and the third Wednesday in September and October), Filoli hosts afternoon teas, where visitors snack on scones with fresh lemon curd and sip tea out of china cups. Open Tuesdays-Sundays (except holidays) until October 21 in 2012, 86 Cañada Rd., 650/364-8300, filoli.org, admission $15, tea $45 (including admission). 2. HILDENE, MANCHESTER, VERMONT The 107-year-old Hildene is a must-see for presidential-history buffs: After all, it was built by Robert Lincoln, the only son of Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln to survive into adulthood. Set on a promontory 300 feet above the Battenkill Valley in Vermont's southwest corner, the Georgian Revival mansion housed descendants of the president until 1975 and still contains Lincoln family heirlooms, such as a 1,000-pipe organ installed in 1908, as well as one of only three of the President's iconic stovepipe hats in existence today. Hildene's gardens are notable for their multi-colored flowers, including more than 1,000 peony blooms, planted to resemble a cathedral-style stained-glass window. Best time to visit: Mid-June marks the start of peony season; visit the Hoyt Garden to see Hildene's massive collection of the flowers (many from the original plantings) in bloom. Open daily (except for major holidays), 1005 Hildene Rd., 800/578-1788, hildene.org, admission $16. 3. VILLA TERRACE DECORATIVE ARTS MUSEUM, MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN Built in 1923, the Villa Terrace was once owned by Lloyd Smith, president of the A.O. Smith Corporation, which made bicycle parts, hot water heaters, and later heavy munitions during World War II. The place now serves as a decorative arts museum, housing pieces from the 15th to the 18th centuries, including an extensive collection of artisan iron crafts. The estate's grounds, which overlook Lake Michigan, are known for the Renaissance Garden, which was modeled after 16th-century Tuscany and restored in 2002. Highlights include bushes that sprout culinary and medicinal herbs and the Scaletta d'Aqua, a water stairway that flows down past three terraces of crab apple trees into a fishpond.Best time to visit: Every year, on the first Sunday in June, the Renaissance Garden celebrates its official opening with free admission. Open Wednesday through Sunday, 2220 N. Terrace Ave., 414/271-3656, villaterracemuseum.org, admission $5. 4. MONTICELLO, CHARLOTTESVILLE, VIRGINIA Designed by Thomas Jefferson in the neoclassical style, this plantation home sits on a mountaintop 70 miles northwest of Richmond. From oval flowerbeds to winding paths, Jefferson designed every fruit, vegetable, and flower garden over two centuries ago. Today, those gardens are planted up to three times per year to let seasonal flowers shine, including bee balm and calendula. Don't miss the home itself, where you can see Jefferson's 18th-century furniture, books, and gadgets such as the polygraph, a device which used pens and ink to make exact duplicates of his letters as he wrote them.Best time to visit: Spring and early summer bring the prettiest blossoms. Vibrant tulips reign late April; ornamental Sweet William and delicate Canterbury bells bloom in May. Open daily except Christmas, 931 Thomas Jefferson Parkway, 434/984-9822, monticello.org, admission $17-$24 (depending on the season). 5. BILTMORE ESTATE, ASHEVILLE, NORTH CAROLINA Set against the Blue Ridge Mountains, George Vanderbilt's 250-room chateau-style estate ranks as the largest private home in America. The 75 acres of formal and informal gardens—from a tree-specked shrub garden with meandering paths to a manicured Italian garden dotted with pools—were designed by master landscaper Frederick Law Olmsted, best known for creating New York City's Central Park. There's also a conservatory filled with tropical plants and a rose garden, which houses more than 250 varieties of the flower.Best time to visit: During the annual Festival of Flowers (April 7-May 20), Biltmore's gardens burst with color as tulips and azaleas start to bloom. Open 365 days a year, 1 Lodge St., 800/411-3812, biltmore.com, admission varies by season and ranges from $35-$64. 6. BARTRAM'S GARDEN, PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA Located less than 15 minutes from downtown Philadelphia, this 45-acre farmstead's bucolic vibe belies its urban surroundings. Not only do the grounds hold native species of ferns, wildflowers, and trees, including America's oldest gingko, but they're also home to the country's oldest living botanical garden, which botanist John Bartram started in 1728. Best time to visit: In past springs, boats to Bartram's have departed from Philadelphia's Central City, though prices and dates have not been set for this year. After a cruise down the Schuylkill River, visitors are led on a tour of Bartram's grounds. Open year-round (except holidays), 54th St. and Lindbergh Blvd., 215/729-5281, bartramsgarden.org, admission $10; boat tour tickets available at schuylkillbankstours.tix.com. 7. MAGNOLIA PLANTATION & GARDENS, CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA A former slave plantation established in 1679, Magnolia contains America's oldest public gardens. They were constructed in 1840 by John Grimké Drayton, the original estate owner's great-great grandson, and opened to visitors three decades later. Today, the English-style gardens feature winding paths lined with native azaleas (Grimké Drayton is said to have introduced the flower to the U.S.) and antique camellias, as well as a pre-Revolution-era plantation house and a petting zoo with African pygmy goats and whitetail deer.Best time to visit: Magnolia is known for its azalea collection—the biggest in the U.S.—so go in late March or early April when the flowers start to pop. Open year-round, 3550 Ashley River Rd., 800/367-3517, magnoliaplantation.com, admission $10. 8. VIZCAYA MUSEUM AND GARDENS, MIAMI Biscayne Bay glitters just beyond the 10 acres of European-inspired gardens and native forest at Vizcaya, an opulent, European-style villa built in 1916 as a winter home for agricultural industrialist James Deering. The mansion-turned-museum houses international antiques and art from the 15th through 19th centuries. But the real scene-stealer is the outdoor sculpture garden, which features artifacts like a Roman altar from the second century AD and the 290-year-old Sutri Fountain, imported from Italy especially by Deering.Best time to visit: Romantics will dig Vizcaya's moonlight garden tours, which offer live music and a chance to gaze at flowers under the stars and are scheduled around full moons. Check the website for dates. Open daily (except Tuesdays and Thanksgiving/Christmas), 3251 South Miami Ave., 305/250-9133, vizcayamuseum.org, admission $15. 9. NAUMKEAG, STOCKBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS This Gilded-Age mansion in the Berkshires was completed in 1886 as a summer retreat for prominent New York attorney Joseph Choate and his family. The 44-room house—which contains the Choates' furniture and artwork from Europe and Asia—sits among 10 acres of terraced gardens designed by America's first Modernist landscape architect, Fletcher Steele. Of particular note are the Blue Steps, four tiers of fountain pools surrounded by a grove of white birches.Best time to visit: The fall foliage in the Berkshires is considered some of the most stunning anywhere in America. The leaves hit their peak in October so head to Naumkeag as close to the end of the season as possible to see the leaves beginning to turn. Open daily, Memorial Day through Columbus Day, 5 Prospect Hill Rd., 413/298-3239, thetrustees.org, admission $15. 10. OLD WESTBURY GARDENS, OLD WESTBURY, NEW YORK Hollywood has made good use of this palatial, Charles II-style mansion on Long Island's Gold Coast: North By Northwest, The Age of Innocence, and Cruel Intentions were all shot here. The estate was built between 1904 and 1906 for financier and lawyer John S. Phipps, with elements borrowed from classic British country estates and the medieval Battle Abbey. The collections of English antiques, American furnishings, and Chinese porcelain were amassed over the family's 50-year residence. Westbury House sits on a 200-acre property that once held a number of Quaker farms, surrounded by eight formal gardens, plus wooded paths, ponds, and more than 100 species of trees.Best time to visit: Over 40 flower varieties (from lilacs to irises to tropical water lilies) bloom April through July, but leaf-peeping is a must in October, when Westbury's grounds burst with bold red, orange, and yellow fall foliage. Open daily (except Tuesdays), April 30 through October 31, 71 Old Westbury Rd., 516/333-0048, oldwestburygardens.org, admission $10. 11. HERMANN-GRIMA, NEW ORLEANS Built in 1831 by a German-Jewish immigrant, who made his fortune in cotton, the pink-bricked Hermann-Grima house—which still includes its original mahogany dining table and hurricane shades—contains the only horse stable and functional outdoor kitchen in the French Quarter. Outside, the grounds include Versailles-inspired ornamental parterre filled with antique roses and citrus trees.Best time to visit: Every October, Hermann-Grima commemorates 19th-century Creole mourning rituals with a "celebration" called Sacred to the Memory. The house is draped in black crepe, and a coffin is stationed in its parlor. It's morbid, sure, but it also happens to be the house's most popular annual event—and the closest you'll get to reenacting a scene from 1800s New Orleans. Open Monday-Saturday, 820 Saint Louis St., 504/525-5661, hgghh.org, admission $12. 12. GREEN ANIMALS TOPIARY GARDEN, PORTSMOUTH, RHODE ISLAND Have you ever seen a tree that looks like a teddy bear, or a reindeer, or a unicorn? You will at Green Animals Topiary Garden, one of the oldest of its kind in the country. Here, more than 80 plants (including California privet, yew, and English boxwood) have been clipped to resemble mammals, birds, and geometric shapes. The garden, which sits on seven acres overlooking Naragansett Bay, shares its land with a rose arbor and fruit trees. The grounds also include a white clapboard house that cotton manufacturer Thomas Brayton bought in 1872—a charmingly meager counterpoint to the ostentatious mansions of Newport, about 10 miles south of here.Best time to visit: Summertime at Green Animals brings sensory overload: The herb gardens are fragrant, the on-site orchards brim with fruit, and Naragansett Bay is guaranteed to be a picturesque shade of blue. Open May 12-October 8, 380 Cory's Ln., 401/847-1000, newportmansions.org, admission $14.50. 13. HISTORIC DEEPWOOD ESTATE, SALEM, OREGON The 4.2 acres of formal English gardens and nature trails at Deepwood—a multi-gabled, Queen Anne Victorian home built in 1894—were designed by Lord & Schryver, the Northwest's first female landscape architecture team. The gardens, which are surrounded by the Rita Steiner Nature Trail, are full of romantic touches: gazebos, ivy-covered arbors, and fleur-de-lis-adorned gates.Best time to visit: TheDeepwood Wine & Jazz Fest takes place in the estate's gardens on June 30; for $10, guests can stroll among the flowers while jamming out to local musicians. Oregon wine and gourmet snacks are on hand, too. Open daily (except Tuesdays), May 1-October 15; open Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, October 16-April 30, 1116 Mission St. SE, 503/363-1825, historicdeepwoodestate.org, admission $4, though access to the grounds is free. 14. TALIESIN WEST, SCOTTSDALE, ARIZONA Frank Lloyd Wright's winter home and studio, where he lived from 1937 until his death in 1959, sits at the foothills of the McDowell Mountains in the Sonoran Desert. (The 550-acre property is now the main campus of the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture and the international headquarters for the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation.) The house, considered to be one of the architect's masterpieces for touches like the cabaret theater and shaded pool, was constructed with native materials such as desert rocks, and its translucent roof and slanted windows let natural light flood in. Wright was so energized and reinvigorated by Taliesin's desert landscape that he designed some of his most renowned buildings, like New York's Guggenheim Museum, in the abode's drafting room. Outside, the grounds include a sculpture garden filled with bronze statues and desert plants.Best time to visit: The year 2012 marks the 75th anniversary of Taliesin, and the milestone is being celebrated throughout the year with a series of symposiums, fundraisers, and concerts (check website for dates). If you want to skip the fanfare, sign up for the Night Lights tour, which runs Fridays from February through October. The two-hour trek starts at twilight and lets you experience Taliesin's grounds under the dusky desert sky. Open daily (except major holidays), 12621 North Frank Lloyd Wright Blvd., 480/627-5340, franklloydwright.org, admission varies by tour ($18-$60), Night Lights, $35. SEE MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL: 15 International Food Etiquette Rules That Might Surprise You To Go or Not to Go: 11 Places With a Bad Rap Secrets of the 10 Most Popular Cruise Ports World's 16 Most Picturesque Villages How to Do America's Most Scenic Drive—Without the Traffic
12 Elevators You Need to See to Believe
Usually, a ride on an elevator involves pushing a button and zoning out until the ding for your floor. Pay attention on these lifts, though, or risk missing out on one of the most thrilling rides of your life (even if it only lasts 30 seconds). From zooming up an inside-out London landmark to climbing to a scenic overlook in rural China to an ascent up an American icon, these vertical feats of engineering are about way more than getting from point A to point B. SEE THE ELEVATORS 1. THE GATEWAY ARCH St. Louis, Missouri The ascent to the top of America's tallest monument begins in a futuristic, white pod elevator at the base. The mod design feels like something straight out of The Jetsons, but the crowning stroke of genius by Finnish architect Eero Saarinen was the addition of glass doors, which reveal the mechanical complexity of the structure's interior as the cars chug up to the observation deck of the 630-foot high wonder. The ride is over in just four minutes, at which point visitors can make their way out to marvel at how tiny the mighty Mississippi River and all of those cars below appear. How to ride: Skip long lines by buying tickets online or over the phone. 11 North 4th St., 877/982-1410, stlouisarch.com, $10 for adults, $5 for children ages 3-15. 2. BAILONG ELEVATOR Hunan, China Bailong Elevator in Zhangjiajie National Forest Park proves that extraordinary lifts aren't just for cities. In a feat of engineering, glass elevator cars rise nearly 1,070 feet up a sheer cliff as they transport folks to a scenic area overlooking the green-swathed valley below. In two minutes time, guests are treated to some of the park's best scenery, including scenic lakes and the distinct sandstone pillars the region is known for. How to ride: The scenery in Zhangjiajie is spectacular, rain or shine, but be aware that the lifts may shut down for inauspicious weather. Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, Hunan Province, 011-86/744-836-2222, $39 for a two-day park ticket, lift is $8.90 per person. 3. THE FALKIRK WHEEL Falkirk, Scotland Imagine boarding an elevator...in a boat. It's not as crazy as it sounds. The Falkirk Wheel is exactly that—a lift for boats-and it serves a very practical purpose. It opened in 2002, the long-awaited answer to the question of how to link two canals whose inconvenient, lock-ridden connection had been severed nearly 70 years earlier. Not surprisingly, the lift has become a popular attraction, with 50-minute gondola tours that traverse both canals and include two rides, up and down, on the elevator. At the zenith of the Wheel's rotation, visitors can see as far as two miles outside of Falkirk proper and marvel at both the bucolic countryside and the 115-foot tall contraption swooping them gently through the air. How to ride: Due to the popularity of the Wheel, pre-booking tickets online or over the phone is recommended. Check the weather beforehand—clear days will yield the best views of these pastoral scenes. Lime Rd., Tamfourhill, 011-44/8700-500208, www.thefalkirkwheel.co.uk, $12.25 for adults, $7.75 for children 3-15. 4. AQUADOM Berlin, Germany It resides in the lobby of Berlin's Radisson Blu Hotel, but the AquaDom goes where few hotel elevators have ever dared venture: the middle of the sea (or close enough, anyway). A lift rising through the hollow center of a cylindrical, 82-foot tall aquarium transports visitors through a full panorama of tropical sea life. Fish festooned with vibrant colors nibble at the aquarium wall inches from their human admirers. Almost a hundred different species, including blow fish, silver moonfish, and humphead wrasse, are represented in the tank, which holds over a million liters of water and is the largest cylindrical tank aquarium in the world. The ride is decidedly leisurely—perfect for reveling in the sensation of floating in an underwater wonderland. How to ride: The AquaDom is one attraction in Sea Life, an aquarium complex within the same property as the hotel. To ensure quick entry—and to shave a few bucks off the walk-up price—purchase your tickets online. 3 Spandauer Str., 011-49/180-5-66-690-101, visitsealife.com, $15.35 for adults, $9 for children 3-14. 5. HAMMETSCHWAND LIFT Lake Lucerne, Switzerland It looks like a rocket ready to blast off into the unknown, but the Hammetschwand Lift offers far more colorful vistas than anything you could find in the emptiness of outer space. The elevator opened in 1905 as an addition to the Bürgenstock Resort and its birds-eye views of the rugged Alps and Lucerne's blue waters have been wowing visitors ever since. The years have done nothing to diminish its impact—the 499-foot, 48-second ride is still the tallest outdoor lift in Europe. And while the structure's spiderweb latticework might seem precarious, the engineers behind the project clearly knew what they were doing because the lift has stood the test of time. Today, modern cars traverse the distance at a brisk speed of 10 feet per second, making this hotel elevator a legitimate thrill ride. Ready for liftoff? How to ride: The lift shuts down for the winter months, so plan your visit between mid-May and mid-October. It stays open late on Saturdays in summer, making it the perfect venue for enjoying a sunset. Bürgenstock Resort, Obbürgen, 011-41/612-9090, buergenstock.ch, tickets are $14 for adults, $7 for children 6-16. 6. SKYVIEW Stockholm, Sweden There is no better way to take in the sights of Stockholm than a ride along the Ericsson Globe. Gondolas attached to a track run along to the exterior of this spherical structure (361 feet in diameter). The glass lifts trace a twenty-minute curve to the very top of the orb and back down, giving visitors a constantly evolving panorama of the city's skyline. The only downside is that it doesn't give you a view of the Globe itself; the clean, white structure dotted with porthole windows is one of Stockholm's most striking landmarks. How to ride: There are only two gondolas for the popular ride, so reserve your spot online in advance to ensure a seat. 2 Globentorget, 011-46/771-811-000, globearenas.se, tickets are $22 for adults, $15 for children 3-12. 7. LLOYD'S BUILDING London, England The Lloyd's of London building on Lime Street was designed inside out, thrilling passersby with massive piping curving around the exterior. The twelve glass elevators are outside as well, gliding smoothly up the side of the building. They might not be the fastest or the tallest, but for these lifts, it's all about the view. The Thames River is only a quarter mile away and some of London's other eminent sights—including the spire at St. Paul's from one side of the building, and the celebrated Gherkin from another—are even closer, making a 30-second trip up those crystal pods is one of the best ways to savor the city. How to ride: This one will be the hardest to check off the list: Lloyd's lifts are only open to employees and official visitors and security is tight. But don't give up hope. The building is usually included in London's annual Open House, when the public gets free access and tours to places normally off-limits. One Lime St., 011-44/20-7327-1000, lloyds.com, free during London's Open House, September 20 and 21, 2014. 8. TAIPAI 101 Taipei, Taiwan Tearing along at almost forty miles per hour, the tower's lifts reach the 89th-floor observatory in just 37 seconds, leaving riders well over a thousand feet above the city. From this viewpoint, every corner of the sprawling metropolis is tiny by sheer distance. Parks, temples, and even other skyscrapers and distant mountains are practically Lilliputian. And the journey is only half over—the stomach-dropping return trip is just as thrilling. How to Ride: The ticket office is found on the tower's fifth floor. Tickets are only sold on-site, so be prepared to wait in line. 7 Hsin Yi Rd., Sec. 5, 011-866/2-8101-8899, www.taipei-101.com.tw, tickets are $13 for adults, $12.35 for children under 12. 9. LUXOR INCLINATOR Las Vegas, Nevada Don't call it an elevator. The Luxor's "inclinators" transport guests up the side of the hotel's iconic pyramid at a sharp 39-degree angle. Unlike others on this list, the cars lack observation windows, and they can't compete with other famed elevators in height (they only span 30 floors). But like so much of Las Vegas, the inclinators are all about standing apart from the crowd. There are also great views from the top floors of the faux Egyptian universe below, especially at night, when the decadent lights of the lobby flash to life. How to ride: Access to the Luxor's higher floors via the inclinators is restricted to guests, so the best way to take a ride is to spend the night at the 4,400-room hotel. 3900 Las Vegas Blvd. South, 702/262-4444, luxor.com, from $89 per night. 10. LONG ISLAND CITY BUSINESS CENTER Queens, New York For most of the lifts on this list, the thrill comes from the view outside the walls. But for this elevator, it's all about the view inside. Don't be fooled by the building's businesslike façade or its no-nonsense entryway. A psychedelic scene awaits behind the deceptively unadorned doors of the elevator near a small entrance on 31st Street. The one-of-a-kind interior is painted with the massive, twisted visage of a grinning dragon with grotesque 3-D beasts bursting from its eye sockets. The effects are striking (made even more disorienting by the small fish-eye mirror on the back wall). The journey up the building's six floors is quite a trip, indeed. How to ride: Anyone who works in the building should be able to point the way. 30-30 47th Ave., Long Island City, free, if you can get to it. 11. MERCEDES-BENZ MUSEUM Stuttgart, Germany With their stark, curving metallic exteriors and glowing visor-shaped windows, the elevators at the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart are as much fun to watch rise and fall along tracks in the museum's atrium as they are to ride. The trip only takes about 30 seconds so feel free to ride multiple times. You might want to pop off every once in a while to see the exhibits covering 125 years of motoring landmarks—and to see the inspiration behind the elevators' uber-modern look. How to ride: The museum itself is worth a visit, but if you are really just there for the elevators (and we wouldn't blame you), tickets are half price between 4:30 p.m. and when the ticket booth closes at 5 p.m. (the museum is open until 6 p.m.). 100 Mercedesstrasse, 011-49/711-17-30-000, mercedes-benz-classic.com, half price tickets are $5.15 for adults, $2.60 for teens 15 to 17 after 4:30 p.m. 12. SKY TOWER Auckland, New Zealand The view from this tower's observation level (610 feet in the air) is impressive for sure, but watching it unfold in front of you on the 40-second ride up is even more magical. The glass-fronted elevators have views of the harbor and Auckland's modest cityscape, as well as the green countryside unfurling like a quilt in the far distance. If you can tear your eyes away from the view out the sides, look down through the glass floor for the extra thrill of seeing the ground speed away from you—and come rushing back towards you on the descent. How to ride: Sky Tower is located at the corner of Victoria and Federal Sts., 011-64/800-759-2489, skycityauckland.co.nz, tickets are $23.50 for adults, $9 for children 6-14.
10 Record-Breaking Bridges
Too often, man-made structures mar the landscape around them. A factory cuts a harsh silhouette against a once-picturesque riverbank; a gaudy hotel sprawls onto an otherwise pristine beach. But somehow, bridges do the opposite. Instead of detracting from the view, they enhance it. A valley that you might have overlooked on its own is suddenly breathtaking with a gleaming white bridge spanning it; an uninspiring river becomes grand when traversed by an elegant steel structure. Add to that the engineering prowess that goes into building them, and bridges become destinations in and of themselves. We've rounded up 10 of the most remarkable examples here, along with insider tips on how best to experience them. SEE THE BRIDGES THAT MADE THE LIST. 1. TALLEST: MILLAU, VIADUCT, FRANCE Not long ago, Millau—a provincial town set between two limestone plateaus in the South of France—was known for little more than its traffic jams. Every July and August, the village would become jammed with travelers en route to their summer vacations in Spain. But thanks to the Millau Viaduct, the town is now home to one of the country's major tourist attractions. Seventeen years in the making, from the first sketches in 1987 to the final touches in 2004, the Millau Viaduct is an architectural feat in more ways than one. Sure, it is held up by the highest pylons in the world (803 feet high) and has the highest road-bridge deck in Europe (886 feet). But, most importantly, it reaches 1,125 feet at its highest point, making it the tallest bridge in the world (for reference, New York's Chrysler Building is only 1,046 feet tall). Impressive stats, to be sure, but it's the bridge's visual effect that has the most impact. Gleaming white and ultra-sleek, it cuts a striking figure against the green valley below and the blue skies above.Best Vantage Point: Millau Viaduct is closed to pedestrians, but if you're a runner you can sign up for La Course du Viaduc de Millau, a 14-mile race that crosses the bridge. Barring that, hop in a car. The bridge was designed with a slight curve, so you can see it in its entirety just before you cross over. course-viaducdemillau.org. 2. WIDEST: SYDNEY HARBOUR BRIDGE, AUSTRALIA Measuring 160 feet across, this suspension bridge has room for eight lanes of traffic, two railroad tracks, a pedestrian walkway, and a bicycle path. A bit much? Not when you consider that the bridge connects Sydney's business district with the residential North Shore, making it the primary route for the city's commuters. A bridge built to accommodate such volume would seem a modern-day creation, but Sydney Harbour Bridge opened back in 1932—it will celebrate its 80th birthday in 2012.Best Vantage Point: On the walkway at the eastern side of the bridge, you'll find the entrance to the Pylon Lookout, a tower with some of the best views of Sydney and the harbor. As you climb the 200 stairs to the top, stop on each of the three levels to check out the exhibits on the history of the bridge. pylonlookout.com.au, $11. 3. LONGEST: DANYANG-KUNSHAN GRAND BRIDGE, CHINA When it comes to bridges, China doesn't mess around—the country is home to 11 of the world's 15 longest. Three of the top five bridges are part of the Beijing-Shanghai High-Speed Railway, a $33 billion project that will nearly double the capacity of the route to 80 million annual passengers. Opened to the public in June 2011, the Danyang-Kunshan Grand Bridge ranks as the world's longest. It stretches an astonishing 102.4 miles—that's longer than the distance between New York City and Philadelphia!Best Vantage Point: This is a railroad bridge, so the only way to experience it is by hopping aboard the train. Thankfully, the high-speed rail travels up to 186 mph, cutting what used to be a 10-hour trip to a much more manageable five hours. trains.china.org.cn, from $89 one way. 4. MOST TRAFFIC: GEORGE WASHINGTON BRIDGE, NEW YORK Last year, 51 million cars, buses, and trucks traveled eastbound across the George Washington Bridge, which connects Manhattan and New Jersey over the Hudson River. Every one of New York City's 8 million residents would have to cross the bridge over six times to hit that number. Fortunately, the bridge is built to accommodate this kind of record-breaking activity, with a total of 14 lanes of traffic (eight on the upper level, six on the lower level). Of course, this statistic only takes into account motorized vehicle traffic. If you count absolutely everything that crosses the bridge, the unofficial winner is the Howrah Bridge in Kolkata, India. The eight-laner is traversed by an estimated 80,000 vehicles, as many as 1 million pedestrians—and countless cows each day. Best Vantage Point: There are additional lanes on either side of the George Washington Bridge for pedestrians and cyclists, but that puts you too close to the action to get a good view. Instead, take the Circle Line's Full Island Cruise, a three-hour tour that circles the entire island of Manhattan and passes under seven bridges, including the George Washington Bridge. Boats leave throughout the day, but hold out for an evening departure so you'll be able to see the bridge lit up against the night sky. circleline42.com, $36. 5. LONGEST SUSPENSION: AKASHI KAIKYO (OR PEARL) BRIDGE, JAPAN Imagine an iconic bridge (the Golden Gate, for example), and chances are you've thought of a suspension bridge. These elegant structures are formed by literally "suspending" the road deck from steel cables strung between towers. This style will never measure as far as other types—viaducts like the Danyang-Kunshan Grand Bridge are supported from below by pylons and can thus stretch as long as needed—but suspension bridges rank among the lightest, strongest, and most beautiful bridges in the world. At nearly four times the length of the Brooklyn Bridge, Japan's Akashi Kaikyo Bridge (also known as the Pearl Bridge) is the clear winner in this category. With three connected spans—two at 3,150 feet and one at 6,532 feet—the Pearl stretches a total of 12,831 feet across the Akashi Strait from the cosmopolitan port city of Kobe to Awaji Island (which, not coincidentally, is the hub of Japan's pearl industry). Japan gets hit with extreme weather conditions, and this bridge, completed in 1998, was built to withstand them all, including winds up to 179 mph and earthquakes up to 8.5 on the Richter scale. But that doesn't mean this bridge isn't a beauty: In addition to its connection to the Japanese pearl industry, the bridge gets its nickname from the lights on its cables, which are said to resemble a strand of colorful pearls at night.Best Vantage Point: From the Kobe side of the bridge, take an elevator to the Maiko Marine Promenade. The 984-foot tubular observation deck offers views of the strait, the bridge's interior, and Osaka Bay. 6. MOST PHOTOGRAPHED: GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE, CALIFORNIA With its trademark "international orange" paint, its picturesque surroundings, and the daily rolling in of the morning fog, it should come as no surprise that the Golden Gate Bridge is said to be the most photographed in the world. David Crandall, assistant professor of informatics and computing at Indiana University, thinks the numbers back up this claim. In a recent study, he tracked text tags for nearly 35 million images on Flickr to determine which world sights were shot the most. While other bridges—namely London's Tower Bridge, Florence's Ponte Vecchio, and New York's Brooklyn Bridge—were close runners-up, two simple facts gave the San Francisco structure a winning edge: geography and size. The City of Hills has so many vantage points—and the bridge is such a looming presence in the skyline—that the Golden Gate manages to sneak into scores of photos, even when it's not the intended subject. Trying to take a shot of the Presidio? The harbor? The city skyline? There's a good chance the Golden Gate might make an appearance, whether as the main focal point or just a happy accident.Best Vantage Point: At Kirby Cove, in the Marin headlands north of the city, you get the trifecta: a spectacular view, a healthy dose of nature, and no crowds. To get there from Highway 101, take the last exit for Sausalito and follow Conzelman Road until you reach the parking area on the left. From there, walk down the steep dirt path lined with eucalyptus and cypress trees until you reach the cove. 7. LONGEST COVERED: HARTLAND COVERED BRIDGE, NEW BRUNSWICK, CANADA When the Canadian government was being wishy-washy about whether or not to build a bridge across the St. John River, a group of private citizens took matters into their own hands. They formed the Hartland Bridge Company and opened the 1,282-foot-long bridge in 1901. Five years later, in what had to be a vindicating we-told-you-so moment, they sold it to the government, who took over all maintenance. Though covered bridges are now seen as quaint and old-fashioned, the icon's construction was not without its share of controversy. Shelter made sense in terms of weather—snow and ice are a sure thing throughout the winters here—but the public worried it would encourage risqué behavior among the town's youth. In the end, it was covered, and perhaps their fears were warranted: Legend has it, men would train their horses to stop halfway across the bridge so they could sneak in a kiss before crossing over to the other side.Best Vantage Point: There's something about a covered bridge that demands you take it slow. Rather than speed across in a car, take the walkway that was added in 1945. 8. MOST BRICKS USED: GOLTZSCH VALLEY, GERMANY At 1,860 feet long, or about one third of a mile, the Goltzsch Valley Bridge in the eastern German state of Saxony may seem like a minor player in the bridge world. But the length isn't what sets it apart; it's the material. At a time when most bridges were built with stone or metal, this one was built with bricks—20 million of them. It would be an odd (and costly) choice of material in most places, but in this area of Saxony, where there were several large clay deposits, it was an economical one. In fact, it's thanks to those same clay deposits that the second-largest brick bridge in the world, the Elster Valley Bridge, is also in Saxony; it's a quaint counterpart, made with only 12 million bricks.Best Vantage Point: Take the autobahn to the town of Mylau, and follow the signs to the bridge from there. You'll find a designated parking lot, but don't stay there. Instead, take the path on the left-hand side just before the lot. It will lead you to a meadow, where you'll get spectacular views of the bridge. 9. LONGEST FOOTBRIDGE: WALKWAY OVER THE HUDSON STATE HISTORIC PARK, NEW YORK When this 6,767-foot-long steel cantilever railroad bridge opened in 1889 over the Hudson River, it ranked as the longest bridge in the world. It carried trains across the river for 85 years until a fire damaged the tracks in 1974, forcing it to close. Thirty-five years later, after several false starts at restoration, a nonprofit group called Walkway Over the Hudson reopened the bridge, this time as a pathway for pedestrians and cyclists, in October 2009. Now a state historic park, the Walkway Over the Hudson is the longest footbridge in the world, serving as a link between trails on both sides of the river for walkers, runners, cyclists, and rollerbladers.Best Vantage Point: In the fall, the leaves turn the banks of the Hudson into a collage of reds, oranges, and yellows. Picnic on one of the tables at either end of the bridge before strolling across, giving yourself plenty of time to snap photos along the way. walkway.org. 10. OLDEST: CARAVAN BRIDGE, TURKEY At first glance, there's nothing remarkable about this bridge. The arched stone slab straddling the River Meles, in Izmir, Turkey, extends only 42½ feet and is about as simple as they come. But it's the age, not the physical aspects, of the Caravan that sets it apart. Built in 850 B.C., the bridge is 2,861 years old and has reportedly been crossed by the likes of Homer and Saint Paul. As impressive as some of the other bridges on this list are, it's hard to imagine they'll last even half that long. Best Vantage Point: Located in old Izmir, the bridge is best reached by taxi. Simply ask your driver to take you to "Sarnic," which is the Turkish name for the bridge. We recommend going during the afternoon, when the light is best for photography. SEE MORE POPULAR CONTENT: 15 Places Every Kid Should See Before 15 10 Most Interesting Beaches 8 Items You Never Pack...But Should Best Travel Confessions of All-Time 8 Most Complicated Countries to Visit
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