The ultimate travel wishlist

9 top destinations for your bucket list

Everyone has a travel dream. Perhaps yours is to walk the Great Wall of China. Or to travel to India and watch the sun set over the magnificent Taj Mahal, its white marble turning to liquid gold. Maybe you’d love to see the Northern Lights streak across the sky from a log cabin in Iceland. So what's stopping you?

To help you decide, we asked our well-travelled staff what was on their bucket list. Here's what they came up with.

1. Whale watching in Alaska

It's one thing to watch the ocean's gentle giants on a BBC nature documentary, but to stand on the deck of a ship and look across at them gliding through the water just a few metres away from you is on an altogether different scale.

Mighty humpback whales are natural performers, particularly around late July in Alaska's Glacier Bay, when sockeye salmon, sea otters, orcas and bears all gather here for a spectacular annual feast in its mineral-rich meltwaters. Humpbacks often hunt in groups, creating a cage of bubbles to capture krill. It is one of the most incredible sights of the natural world - and one that's becoming increasingly accessible for tourists.

Go whale-watching in Alaska

2. See the Northern Lights

Aurora Borealis is one of the most vivid and extraordinary natural phenomena on the planet. Caused by the earth's magnetic field making contact with charged particles from the sun, the Northern Lights appear to streak across the night sky, creating luminous flashes of colour. 

'It was early December, dark and crisp with a clear sky. A group of us had been holed up inside a bar for the evening, sharing the best moments from the day. As we came out, we saw the most incredible sight: Aurora Borealis in a big sweep of colour above our heads. It was as though someone had taken a huge paintbrush and, with a flourish, was painting the sky green!

For all of us, it was the highlight of the trip, literally a breathtaking moment.'

- Helen, Travel Communications

See the Northern Lights in Iceland

3. Visit the Taj Mahal in India

Possibly the most jaw-dropping expression of love ever created, the dazzling grandeur of the Taj Mahal has to be seen to be believed. Made of white marble, inlaid with millions of intricately designed and positioned tiles, it rises like a glimmering vision in the ochre landscape around it.

'When you first walk through and see it, you just stand there trying to take in what's in front of you. The marble is mind-blowing. You can't imagine the detail - it's the ultimate labour of love. You just sit there thinking, how did these people build this 700 years ago? 

'I liked the different reflections you got in the pond. Every time I looked, I got a different image of the Taj Mahal and the buildings around it. And when people dropped a coin into the water, it would change again. 

I was pinching myself constantly. I want to go back.'

- Rob, Operations Team

See the Taj Mahal

4. Take the great American road trip

Searing through vast desert plains, timewarp towns and endless stretches of road, the great trans-American Route 66 has become a symbol of freedom. 

Stretching from Chicago down through Oklahoma, across Arizona and ending in Los Angeles, this historic "mother road" was a lifeline for families who had to leave their homes during the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl eras. It later made philosophers of Jack Kerouac, John Steinbeck, Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda. 

Once a year, you can travel this iconic route in time for the Mother Road festival, where classic cars get the royal treatment, and the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta, when hundreds of colourful teardrops take to the skies at dawn. It's an unforgettable sight to behold.

Take the great American road trip

5. Walk along the Great Wall of China

Centuries in the making, the 22,000km Great Wall of China is an astonishing feat of human engineering.

'The Great Wall was the pinnacle of the whole trip for all of us. We took a vote the night before as to whether we'd get up early so the guides could take us to a different area, so we all did. When we arrived, we were the only ones there. Ten minutes later, other tourists started arriving.

'It's an incredible achievment. This wall took 2,000 years to build. And when you're there, you think, how did they do it? How many millions and millions of people did it take? How do you go to work each day to build a wall, knowing that you will die doing it and never see it completed?'

- Janet, Trade Team

See the Great Wall of China

6. Explore Patagonia

Framed by the breathtaking Andes mountains, Patagonia is a land of fire and ice. Latin cuisine, colourful colonial architecture and a heady cultural mix give Santiago its trademark buzz, while cascading waterfalls, roaring creeks and jagged mountains beckon in the UNESCO-listed Torres del Paine National Park.

Patagonia is one of the earth's richest sources of natural history: at the Milodon Cave, prehistoric fossils date back 14,000 years and include a sabre-toothed tiger and a gigantic sloth, which weighed more than a ton. 

With icebergs, glaciers and lakes teeming with wildlife, a journey through Patagonia is an incredible voyage through evolution - past and present. 

Explore Patagonia

7. Visit Kyoto, Japan

Old Japan may have been and gone, but in Kyoto, you can be transported back to the time of the empire. This beautifully preserved city escaped the bombs of World War II, and is characterised by its exquisite gardens, calm temples, red-lipped geishas, and 2,000 vivid Buddhist and Shinto shrines.

It's pretty at any time of year, but Kyoto really comes into its own during cherry-blossom season at the start of April, and maple leaf season between October and November, when the foliage of its parks, temples and gardens turns many shades of crimson.

Taking part in a tea ceremony is a wonderful way to experience living Japanese tradition. With its origins in Zen Buddhism, its elaborate preparation and presentation can only be properly done by a master of tea. Whenever you visit Kyoto, it's worth participating in this historical ritual in a calm setting to match.

Experience Kyoto on a journey through Japan

8. New England in the Fall

If you love autumn in Europe, New England in the fall should be up there with your travel ambitions. Its blazing showcase of scarlets, gold, bronze, purple and orange leaves put the UK's trusty yellows, browns and copper in the shade. It's the kind of idealised autumn you see in children's books.

New England's arboreal splendour is centred around lakes, fields and mountains. Not far from here, New York City's autumn colour is concentrated in Central Park. An oasis in a cityscape of grey high-rise blocks, the park gives New Yorkers somewhere to meet, wander and kick up leaves - a romantic backdrop in films such as Breakfast at Tiffany's and Annie Hall. Any visit to the eastern states of the USA is only complete with a trip to the city - and there's no better time than during fall.

Kick up leaves in New England in the fall

9. The Temples of Angkor

You may have seen a few temples throughout the world, but you haven’t experienced one until you’ve been to Angkor Wat in Cambodia. This 400sq-acre Hindu monument was built in the 12th century and represents an incredible work of human engineering, and is widely considered the spiritual heart of Cambodia.

‘After waiting a lifetime to visit, I walked through the gates and was immediately awestruck by the vast scale of the place. Arriving at 5am in the pitch black to catch the sunrise over Angkor Wat was a great experience – make sure to get there early for the best views, as it gets very crowded. The complex is full of temples, each with their own unique attractions, be it the way the stone and roots interwine at Ta Prohm or the hidden Buddha carving in the stones at the rear of the Bayon temple.

'If you get templed out, Siem Reap is a lively town with an incredible market for souvenirs, traditional crafts and fantastic food – try the deep-fried tarantulas if you’re brave enough!'

- Matt, Design Team

Experience Angkor Wat in Cambodia