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This southern corner of Iceland is known for two things: the hot-tempered volcano of Eyjafjallajökull which grounded European flights back in 2010 and Seljalandsfoss – the unspoiled 40-metre-high waterfall flanked by emerald green surrounds. The gush of water is fed by the melting of nearby glacier from the very same volcano and visitors can wander around its entirety, sheltered by a rocky ridge.
Avenue of the Baobabs, Madagascar
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With its smooth, bulging trunk and sparse tousle of vegetation, there’s no tree quite like the adansonia grandidieri baobab – a species that’s become Madagascar’s national tree. The distinctive swell of the baobab is due to a clever rationing technique: the deciduous tree stores water in its trunk to survive states of severe drought. This baobab-lined street is one of the island nation’s most visited sites and features trees as old as 800 years.
Sagano Bamboo Forest, Japan
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The visual splendour of this towering bamboo-fringed path in Sagano on the outskirts of Kyoto is as clear as the discomfort a pea under a mattress causes Princesses. The fronds of this path, which leads from Tenryuji Temple and Nonomiya Shrine, make such a pleasing hum as they brush together in the wind, Japan’s Ministry of the Environment voted it as one of the ‘100 Soundscapes of Japan’ in 1996 – a list which details the loveliest sounds in the country.
Chocolate Hills, Philippines
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According to local legend these hills are the result of a stone throwing fight between two giants. Geologists suggest, however, these otherworldly brown bumps - of which there are thought to be as many as 1776 - on the Philippine island of Bohol are more likely due to leftover limestone deposits that were present when sea levels were much higher.
Cave of the Crystals, Mexico
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In 2000 two brothers mining under the Naica Mountain in Mexico’s Chihuahua accidentally drilled into a cave criss-crossed with crystals that date back some 500,000 years. Jaggedly packed and impossibly pretty, these shards of gypsum range in size, with some as long as 11 metres. Unfortunately, the cave is closed to tourists due to previous damage but a piece of the cave can still be appreciated up close – New York’s Astro Gallery houses a 32-inch crystal from the caves for visitors to admire. Image: Flickr Paul Williams (CC BY-NC 2.0).
Kahami Walk, New Zealand
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Also known as Goblin Forest, this area of New Zealand’s north island is bewitching in its abundance of gnarled and crooked trunks, looming over the darkening paths below. Settled in Egmont National Park on the subalpine slopes of towering active volcano of Mount Taranaki, adding to the atmosphere is the brush of unkempt liverworts, ferns and mosses that have since attached themselves to the branches of kamahi trees.
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A clutch of 16th century alpine houses, edged by a lake and mist-dusted mountains – what could be more spellbinding? High in the Austrian Alps of the Salzkammergut region, this UNESCO World Heritage town might be famous for its salt production but it attracts more visitors thanks to its photogenic backdrop and historic buildings. Hallstatt is so captivating, an exact replica of this town (houses, shopfronts and all) was unveiled in 2012 in China’s Guandong region, costing a local mining tycoon and backers a staggering $940 million.
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This minute fishing village floating in the Norwegian archipelago of Lofoten is wild, remote and ringed by dramatic scenery – the perfect setting for a swan who is really a Princess to be stranded. Located 300 kilometres north of the polar circle accessible only by bridge to the next closest island, Hamnøy is about as isolated as you can get.
Hitachi Seaside Park, Japan
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It may look like a page out of Thumbelina but this landscape is actually Hitachi Seaside Park, a pristine public garden on Japan’s eastern coast that grows blooms of bright, vivid colours as far as the eye can see. Two hours’ drive north east of Tokyo, this 350 hectare garden changes hue with the season: in April and May, the park’s most recognisable flower, blue nemophila, blankets the ground. At the tail end of October and November, green kokia bushes turn a deep red, creating rosy tufts that look as soft as pillows.
Hoh Rain Forest, USA
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Green, lush and seemingly full of secrets, this temperate Hoh Rain Forest in the far west of Washington State is truly enchanting. The park covers an astounding 400,000 hectares to the west of Seattle and there are almost 20 kilometres of trails criss-crossing though the expansive, lichen-draped surrounds. Leafy maple trees, licorice and sword ferns paint the entire area a rich, verdant emerald ripe for exploration.
Hohenzollern Castle, Germany
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Thought to have been built in the 11th century, this charming hilltop castle was, until recently, private property of Prussian royalty. Now, Hohenzollern Castle – a thirty-minute drive south of Stuttgart – welcomes visitors on daily tours to explore its stately rooms filled with precious silver, china and clothing, as well as the Prussian Royal crown.
Lake Baikal, Russia
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Like Snow White’s stepmother, Lake Baikal, in Russia’s southern Siberia is unforgiving. The oldest and deepest freshwater lake in the world, this UNESCO World Heritage site frequently dips to temperatures of -21C in winter. Despite that, the small town of Olkhon is home to 1500 residents. Dubbed the ‘Galapagos of Russia’, Lake Baikal is also shelter to over 3500 plant and animal species.
Longleat Maze, England
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There’s nothing like a maze to transport you back to childhood and Alice in Wonderland. This particular labyrinth – which leads the curious through hedges of over 16,000 individual English yew trees – is the world’s longest hedge maze. Just over two hours’ drive west of London, the average time spent solving the twisting, turning mystery is around twenty minutes.
Zhangye Danxia Landform Geological Park, China
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No, these aren’t peaks made of candy – these are the mountains of China’s vivid, watercolour-esque Zhangye Danxia Landform Geological Park near the Mongolian border. Named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2009, these cretaceous sand and siltstone alps acquire their vibrant hue thanks to a combination of the erosion of red sediment, tectonic shifts and climate changes. It’s no surprise they’re also known as the Rainbow Mountains.
Tunnel of Love, Ukraine
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Legend has it couples that make a wish in this lush green tunnel in Klevan, Ukraine will have it granted. Formed thanks to the thrice-daily return journey of a train transporting birch trees from a local factory, the ‘Tunnel of Love’, or the Green Mile Tunnel is free for lovers to roam – outside of the train schedule, of course.
Rakotzbrücke Bridge, Germany
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Despite its peaceful symmetry, this 19th century overpass is actually nicknamed ‘Devil’s Bridge’, as local myths at the time of its construction believed structures this astonishing must have been built by Satan himself. In fact, local stone was used to build this unique bridge in 1860 and its reflection does the rest of the work, drawing a perfect circle on the lake’s surface, enthralling any onlooker.
Vatnajökull ice caves, Iceland
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Translated as ‘the water glacier’, Vatnajökull is the largest ice cap in Iceland, covering an impressive 8100 square kilometres of the country’s landmass. The glacier itself sprawls its crystal-coloured reach over some of the most active volcanoes in Iceland including Grímsvötn, Öræfajökull and Bárðabunga, creating a wildly unique environment for visitors to explore, especially as they’re free to walk amongst the icy confines.
Hallerbos Forest, Belgium
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Known also as ‘the blue forest’, these 550 hectares of ancient woodland are peaceful year-round but one particular month gathers more interested visitors than others. In mid-April, the forest becomes carpeted in purple blooms in the form of endless bluebells. Due to the delicate nature of the flowers, off-path wandering isn’t allowed – and neither is picking and taking them home.
Dark Hedges, Northern Ireland
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You’d half expect a leprechaun to cheekily skip out behind these twisted trunks near Ballymoney in Northern Ireland. Planted by the Stuart family in the 18th century, these atmospheric beech trees create such a magical natural avenue, they’ve even made an appearance in hit TV show Games of Thrones as the setting for the King’s Road.
Up Next: Fairytale Castles You Can Visit
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Throughout the Middle Ages, European nobility went mad constructing enormous, ostentatious fortified structures all over the continent. And it wasn’t just Europe building incredible castles – we’ve even found a stunning Japanese shogun’s castle dating back to 1333... Click below to see some of the best in the world that are open to visitors...