The 12 Most Beautiful Metro Stations In The World

Metro stations are often thought of as being dingy, dark, and sometimes unsafe and generally not a place that you would want to hang out in. But those who think of metro stations this way must not have visited any of these unbelievably breathtaking ones. From the world’s largest art gallery to a station that has been shut off to the public for years, to a station with gold-plated walls; here are the 12 most beautiful metro stations in the world.

12. Saint Petersburg, Russia: Avtovo Station

With a name deriving from a Finnish word meaning “middle of nowhere”, Avtovo is an industrial region that is often overlooked by tourists. But the Avtovo station located underground looks more like a small museum on the outside and offers incredible beauty on the inside. The platform houses ornate glass pillars and a mosaic dedicated to the Leningrad Blockade, and more than one million people who died in the 87day siege of the city by Nazi forces during WWII. The walls are faced with white marble and the domed roof provides a feeling of being in an elegant ballroom, not a metro station. Chandeliers hang from the ceiling and provide soft lighting, a warm welcome to the usual harsh underground lighting. It is actually illegal to take a photo in a Russian subway station so remember just look with your eyes or you may be faced with a fine.

Avtovo Station Russia
Anton Kudelin / Shutterstock.com

11. Washington, D.C: Union Station

In contrast to most of America’s utilitarian subways, this gem sticks out like a sore thumb, a really pretty sore thumb. The history behind this station is interesting as Kennedy was president at the time of the planning and it’s believed that the station represented the dignity of the governments, not the cheapest possible solution. What we have now though is a beautiful crafted metro station that came from the likes of great subways around the world. The series of vaulted cathedral ceilings with coffered blocks and elegant up-lighting gives it a sense of calm and tranquility. Make sure to watch as the lights on the platform begin to throb every time a train approaches. This one of a kind station in America looks more like a church, rather than a train station. Remember, just like church there is no eating here.

Lewis Tse Pui Lung / Shutterstock.com
Lewis Tse Pui Lung / Shutterstock.com

10. Kaohsiung, Taiwan: Formosa Boulevard Station

This station is known as the dome of light, dubbed to be the largest glass work in the world and is overly impressive. It was designed by Italian artist Narcissus Quaglianta and took over four years to complete. The dome spans over 30 meters in diameters and features over 4,500 colored glass panels that were shipped all the way from Germany. The overall message of this piece of art is love and tolerance and has been designed to relate to the story of human life. The themes include water, earth, light and fire. This station is also home to an impressive 3-D art installation done by successful 3-D street artist Su Chia-hsien that has faded over the years but still worth a look. Try to avoid rush hour in order to gain the best pictures of this impressive metro station.

Lau Chun Kit / Shutterstock.com
Lau Chun Kit / Shutterstock.com

9. Moscow: Komsomolskaya Station

It looks more like a ballroom than a metro station and was actually inspired by a wartime speech of Stalin’s. It was constructed in 1952 and remains absolutely breathtaking with its marble pillars and mosaics. Artist Pavel Korin and architect Alexey Schusev were actually awarded the Stalin prize for their work here. Chandeliers are the lighting of choice and there are a total of eight ceiling mosaics throughout the sunny yellow paint job. This huge hall supported by columns has high ceilings, making it feel as though are in a museum rather than a metro station, even its banisters are intricately designed and pretty. Make sure to time your visit accordingly, on the weekdays in the summer tend to be the least crowded times, in order to fully appreciate the works of art throughout the station.

Leonid Andronov / Shutterstock.com
Leonid Andronov / Shutterstock.com

8. Bilbao, Spain: Moyua Square Station

The ambitious Bilbao metro system took two stages to actually complete, the first from 1988-1995 and the second from 1997-2004. The system itself is known as being incredibly fast, cheap, efficient and clean and it’s no wonder why love to ride it. Designers of the metro system used natural light and intuitive space to encourage commuters to walk in the right direction without needing to rely on signage, a design that not only works, but is also beautiful. The routes are meant to flow, like a trail through a cave, guiding you to the stations. The sheltered glass canopies that pay homage to the Paris Metro are light wells during the day and beacons at night, guiding the commuter home. The glass canopy that protrudes out of the Moyua Square Station is the most well-known of all.

Photo by: Wikipedia
Photo by: Wikipedia

7. Naples, Italy: University Station

It took New York designer Karim Rashid to transform this subway station into the colorful, fun station it is today. Sculptures and graphic patterns line the escalators, walls and ceilings here. The curved walls are painted in bright colors, of pink and yellow while floors are a kaleidoscope of rainbows. There is a diverse academic community that travels through this station and Rashid wanted to tap into those minds, creating a space for learning while waiting for the train. Rolling LED programming is situated behind frosted glass and displays universally recognized words and transformational digital artwork takes over the platform stairways. The seating here has even been taken into consideration and is designed to look more like a landscape than furniture. If you have ever wanted to lose yourself in a sea of colors and abstract art, head to this ultra modern avant-garde type subway station.

Baloncici / Shutterstock.com
Baloncici / Shutterstock.com

6. Paris, France: Arts et Metiers Station

The entrances to this station are icons of elegant public architecture but it is what lies beneath that truly amaze visitors. Walking down into this station is like walking into an old-time brass submarine. Riveted copper walls and huge gears hanging from the ceiling set the stage. Port holes along the walls are outfitted with picture boxes depicting 19th-century navigation. Sleep silver and copper chairs are fitted seamlessly against the walls and even the garbage cans fit into the scene. The station was created by Belgian comic’s artist Francois Schuiten and was based on the fiction works of Jules Verne. Don’t miss the museum that is situated above the metro station that is full of inventions and oddities from the 18th and 19th centuries.

Christian Mueller / Shutterstock.com
Christian Mueller / Shutterstock.com

5. Saudi Arabia: Riyadh Metro

It is set to be the most beautiful metro station in the world with its gold-plated walls, huge marble walkways and space-age designs. One of the biggest names in architecture, Zaha Hadid is in charge of the design of this station. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia is funding the station and demands that the metro be ready to use by 2019. The stations will be powered by renewable energy and the façade will be designed to let light in while keeping out the harsh desert sun, there is no need to worry about sweating here, this metro will be fully air-conditioned. The overall shape is meant to look like the country’s sand dunes and will feature raised elevators along with other beautiful finishes. Ground was broken in August 2014 and construction started on what promises to be the most beautiful station in the world.

Photo by: Dubai Metro
Photo by: Dubai Metro

4. New York City: City Hall Station

The city hall station is normally closed to the public but visitors can get down here by taking a tour offered by the New York Transit Museum. This station was built largely as a ceremonial terminal for local government dignitaries and only operated for forty years, from 1904-1945 due to lack of space. Arched ceilings with Guastavino tiles, ornate skylights and the grandest subway architecture that this city offers awaits visitors here. If you don’t want to take a tour but still want to see this wonderful piece of history, stay on the 6 train after its final Brooklyn Bridge stop. As the train makes its turnaround to loop back, riders can catch a glimpse of this beautiful station, lost in history. You will wonder why every other station in New York doesn’t look as good as this one.

Felix Lipov / Shutterstock.com
Felix Lipov / Shutterstock.com

3. Dubai, U.A.E.: Khalid Bin Waleed Station

In a city where the average high temperature in August is over 100 degrees, you may want to escape the heat and head to the spotless and air-conditioned metro station. This just isn’t a normal metro station though, it can be described more of a museum of Dubai’s history. The theme of this station is water, depicting Dubai’s history of fishing and pearl diving. Fiber optic chandeliers hang from the ceilings which result in looking more like breathtaking jellyfish, tiled floors are done in brilliant blues and gold, and the blue mood lighting above makes this station absolutely magnificent. The station is spread over three floors and like everything else in the city; it oozes luxury and cleanliness.

Philip Lange / Shutterstock.com
Philip Lange / Shutterstock.com

2. Naples, Italy: Toledo Metro Station

It seems that nothing can top the dimpled tunnel walls of the metro station here in terms of impressiveness. This city has truly transformed its underground system into a visual spectacle with its art initiative that challenged world renowned architects and designers to overhaul the subway. The Toledo Station that opened in 2012 is amongst its most impressive, featuring mosaics by artist William Kentridge and a seascape made up of LED wall panels. The wall between the ground and lower level is made up of thousands of Bisazza tiles that move from light to dark blue as passengers travel down the escalators. This station was designed around the theme of water and light and passengers will hardly believe their eyes as they wander around, taking in the unusual effects. In a city that is known for its vandalism, it is impressive that this metro station remains unscathed.

luckyraccoon / Shutterstock.com
luckyraccoon / Shutterstock.com

1. Stockholm, Sweden: T-Centralen Station

The Stockholm underground is actually considered the world’s largest art gallery and nearly all of the stations resemble and art gallery or museum. In fact these are so awe-inspiring, many miss their trains as they admire the art work. There are more than 140 artists who are represented across 90 of the station including both permanent and temporary exhibits. The highlight of this underground system is the T-Centralen station where all three stations meet. The blue line section was painted back in 1970 and huge lines of blue and white adorn the walls and ceilings as well as rustic arches and columns decorated with mosaics. It doesn’t matter which station you head to here, they are all ultimately beautiful and fabulous. Spend all day riding the metro and discover a whole new world of underground art.

IvanKravtsov / Shutterstock.com
IvanKravtsov / Shutterstock.com

The 10 Fastest Growing Destination Cities of 2015

With travel for a variety of reasons—business, pleasure and everything in between—on a seemingly ever-upward trend, it’s little wonder that people (and especially experienced travelers) would begin to seek out new places to explore. While there are some places that will always top bucket lists as must-see locales, 2015 has witnessed some destination cities become increasingly popular with travelers of all stripes. Here are 10 of the fastest-growing destination cities around the globe according to a recent MasterCard Global Destination Cities Index report, each vying for the chance to be your next vacation destination.

10. Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

The capital of Vietnam is experiencing a resurgence in tourism. In recent years, Ho Chi Minh City has become increasingly popular, witnessing an almost 13% growth in the number of tourists since 2009 after long languishing behind other Asian destinations, in part due to the legacy of war and communist dictatorship. Formerly known as Saigon, today’s Ho Chi Minh City is a vibrant, flourishing city that serves as the cultural capital of this oft-overlooked Southeast Asian nation. Without a doubt, some of the increase has been brought about by travelers with Vietnamese roots returning to Vietnamese soil, but it seems as though other travelers are also “discovering” Vietnam’s capital as a destination of international renown. Highlights include the Reunification Palace, the Municipal Theatre and Notre-Dame Cathedral, as well as many museums, a zoo and a botanical garden.

Ho Chi Minh City

9. Lima, Peru

Although Lima is the capital—and largest—city of Peru, it has long been overshadowed by Cusco and the ancient Incan ruins of Machu Picchu. Lima, nonetheless, has a developed tourist industry, as it is a major point of entry to the country. Between 2009 and 2015, tourism grew by almost 14%—and for good reason. The city boasts well-preserved colonial buildings in a variety of styles, from Spanish Baroque to Art Nouveau, and a number of parks. The city is known for its greenspace, and is home to the largest fountain complex in the world, the Magical Circuit of Water. Lima is also home to several performing arts troupes, and hosts many festivals and concerts during the summer months. The city’s beaches are also popular attractions, as is the food—Lima has been called the “Gastronomical Capital of the Americas” for its unique blend of global cuisine.

Lima Peru

8. Tokyo, Japan

Japan’s capital city has always had some allure as a tourist destination, but tourism has recently taken off, growing slightly over 14.5% between 2009 and 2015. Tourism is likely to continue to increase over the next few years as the city ramps up for the 2020 Summer Olympics. Tokyo has many other attractions; it is famous for its electronics district, its shopping districts and its nightlife, to name but a few of the reasons people feel compelled to visit this metropolis. Tokyo is also a central place in Japanese culture and history, and features many monuments and museums. Tokyo is home to the world’s largest fish market, as well as the Japanese emperor and his family. With Mount Fuji forming a spectacular backdrop to urban sprawl, Tokyo is also renowned for its stunning cityscapes, making it one of those destinations that “has it all.”

Tokyo

7. Taipei, Tiaiwan

The capital of the nation of Taiwan has long been overlooked in favor of other tourist meccas in Southeast Asia—Tokyo, Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong have traditionally been destinations for those traveling for business or pleasure. Taipei has emerged from the background, however, to become the 15th most visited city in 2013, and tourism continues to grow; the industry recorded a leap of almost 15% between 2009 and 2015. As the center of Taiwan, Taipei is involved in most major high-tech industries in the country, and is an important hub of economic, political and cultural activity. Taipei boasts many architectural and cultural landmarks, including museums, temples and the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. Its nearby hot springs are world-renowned. Taipei also hosts many major festivals, such as the Lantern Festival during New Year’s celebrations, a Dragon Boat Festival and the Moon Festival in mid-autumn.

Taipei 101, Taiwan

6. Xi’An, China

Sometimes known as Xi’an, and formerly written as “Sian,” this city is one of China’s oldest and functions as the capital of Shaanxi province, in the northwest. In 2012, it was named as 1 of 13 emerging megapolises in China. While tourism is still dwarfed by other sectors of the city’s economy, the industry grew 16.2% over the 2009–2015 period, and that trend is likely to remain strong as the city continues to grow. While most people visit Xi’An between May and August, the autmn months are actually considered the best time of year to visit. As one of the oldest cities in China, Xi’An is home to many historical sites, including many temples and pagodas, as well as a Ming dynasty city wall. Perhaps Xi’An’s most famous attraction is the tomb of Qin Shi Huang and the world-renowned terra cotta army.

Xi'An China

5. Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Riyadh has unassumingly become a top destination for travelers, with the number of annual visitors to the city jumping 18% between 2009 and 2015. Riyadh, which means “the Gardens” in Arabic, is Saudi Arabia’s capital and largest city, home to some 5.7 million people. Long an important center for the country, Riyadh and its surrounding districts contain many examples of vernacular architecture, as well as several historic village sites. The best-known monument is the Masmak Fortress, a clay-and-brick construction dating to 1865, located in the commercial center of the old city. The city is also a center of modern architecture, including the first skyscraper in Saudi Arabia, the Al Faisaliyah Center. The city also has several museums and sports venues. Soccer is the most popular sport in the city, as evidenced by the city’s 4 major clubs.

Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

4. Osaka, Japan

Perhaps less well-known than Tokyo, the Japanese city of Osaka has become a popular destination for travelers. Osaka is Japan’s second-largest city, with nearly 19 million inhabitants, and, in addition to being a major economic hub, is also known as Japan’s “kitchen” owing to its role in rice growing and trade, as well as its regional cuisine. The city has long been important, even being declared the capital during the Japanese feudal period. The city underwent rapid industrialization in the 19th century. A consequence is that Osaka has many historic buildings and monuments, such as Osaka castle, with some dating back several centuries. The area also has a rich cultural history, particularly focused on performing arts; kabuki theater in particular is popular. It’s little wonder that travel to Osaka grew by nearly 20% between 2009 and 2015.

Osaka, Japan

3. Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

The UAE’s capital registered 20.4% growth in the number of visitors from 2009 until the present. While business travel has undoubtedly played a part in growing numbers of travelers to the city—especially as the economy continues to diversify—tourism has also been a driving force behind this growth. The UAE has one of the highest per capita GDP’s in the world, and Abu Dhabi has earned a reputation for being something of a “rich person’s” playground. This is reflected in everything from luxury shopping centers to 5-star hotels and some of the world’s most innovative—and expensive—architecture. The Sheikh Zayed Mosque is but one example of the city’s architectural heritage. While the city has often been overshadowed by nearby Dubai, which has also emerged as a global city with economic clout, Abu Dhabi is likely to continue to attract more and more visitors.

Abu Dhabi UAE

2. Chengdu, China

Travel to Chengdu grew at more than 20.5% over the 2009–2015 period, something that’s reflected by Chengdu’s airport being 1 of the 40 most busy airports in the world and the city’s train station being 1 of the 6 largest in China. Situated on the fertile Chengdu plain, the city has long been an important one, and has many historical buildings, including shrines and temples. The city is a bastion of traditional Chinese culture, from mahjong to teahouses. Chengdu is also home to some ancient ruins and at least 3 well-preserved historic towns. Perhaps Chengdu’s biggest draw, however, is that it is home to almost 80% of the world’s remaining giant panda population. Also nearby is Mount Qingcheng, an important Taoist center. Nature, culture, history—Chengdu has it all, so it’s easy to see why more and more people are making a stop in this city.

Chengdu, China

1. Colombo, Sri Lanka

The former capital of Sri Lanka has been getting some serious attention from travelers in the last few years, with the number of visitors growing just over 21% from 2009 to 2015. Colombo is the largest city on the island nation, and has a distinctive mix of multiple ethnicities, which reflects the city’s long history and its importance. Gangaramaya Temple, one of the most important temples in the city, sums up Colombo’s multicultural feel perfectly with its mix of Sri Lankan, Thai, Chinese and Indian architecture. The city also has urban parks, such as Viharamahadevi Park, and a strip of greenspace called Galle Face Green. The city has a large harbor on the Indian Ocean and the 160-acre Beira Lake is located at the heart of the city. In other parts of the city, the legacy of Dutch and British domination remains in the form of colonial-era buildings.

Colombo, Sri Lanka

The 24 Newest UNESCO World Heritage Sites

The ancient city of Ephesus in Turkey and the Blue and John Crow Mountains in Jamaica are just two of the 24 newly inscribed World Heritage sites approved by the 39th UNESCO committee in Bonn, Germany recently.  From ancient, archaeological sites to complex industrial systems and cultural landscapes, the 2015 list provides no shortage of exciting and intriguing travel ideas for the year, sure to peak even the most veteran travelers’ interests.

1. Aqueduct of Padre Tembleque Hydraulic System – Mexico

Constructed in the 16th century and located on the Central Mexican Plateau, this aqueduct was built with support from local indigenous communities.  Along with tanks, bridges and a water catchment area, this heritage canal system has the “highest single-level arcade ever built in an aqueduct”.

Photo by: UNESCO/Espacio de la Imagen/Edgar Valtiago
Photo by: UNESCO/Espacio de la Imagen/Edgar Valtiago

2. Arab-Norman Palermo and the Cathedral Churches of Cefalú and Monreale – Italy

The nine structures included in this Arab-Norman Palermo are comprised of two palaces, three churches, a cathedral, a bridge, the Cefalù cathedral and the Monreale cathedral.  Located on the northern coast of Sicily, this heritage site, dating from the 12th century, depicts the relationships between the Western, Islamic and Byzantine cultures that eventually led to new spatial, structural and decorative concepts.

Arab-Norman Palermo and the Cathedral Churches of Cefalú and Monreale

3. Baekje Historic Areas – Republic of Korea

The Busosanseong Fortress and the royal palace at Wanggung-ri are among the eight archaeological sites that make up the Baekje Historic Areas.  Found in the mid-west region of the Republic of Korea, these sites, dating from 475 to 660 CE, are an accurate representation of the Baekje Kingdom, a time when the ancient kingdoms in Korea, China and Japan were sharing and exchanging thoughts and ideas on contemporary issues such as artistry, religion and technology.

Gongsanseong fortress Korea

4. Baptism Site “Bethany Beyond the Jordan” (Al-Maghtas) – Jordan

This heritage site, located on the eastern bank of the River Jordan, is believed to be the spot where Jesus of Nazareth was baptized by John the Baptist.  With multiple church and monastery remains, this archaeological site is a place of Christian pilgrimage and a testament to the Roman and Byzantine religious influence in the area.

Bethany Beyond the Jordan

5. Champagne Hillsides, Houses and Cellars – France

Already one of the most popular wine regions in the world, the Champagne Hillsides were given World Heritage designation due to its historical importance in the production of sparkling wines.  Since the early 17th century, these historic vineyards have understood the value of illustrating the process of champagne production and have become a household name in the wine and tourism industry.

Champagne hillsides france

6. Christiansfeld, a Moravian Church Settlement – Denmark

This town, a planned settlement of the Moravian Church, was intended to represent the Protestant urban ideal and so was constructed in its entirety around a central Church square.  Founded in 1773 and still used today by a community of the Moravian Church, this town is complete with simple and homogenous architecture, such as its yellow brick buildings with red tile roofs.

Christiansfeld denmark

7. Climats, terroirs of Burgundy – France

These delimited vineyard parcels, found south of Dijon, are an excellent representation of the ancient cultivation and production methods in place since the High Middle Ages.  Due to human cultivation and natural conditions, these parcels, located on the slopes of the Côte de Nuits and the Côte de Beaune, are now identified by the wine they produced.

Château du Clos de Vougeot Burgundy France

8. Cultural Landscape of Maymand – Iran (Islamic Republic of)

This heritage site of Maymand is a self-contained area located in the southern part of Iran’s central mountains.  UNESCO designated this area a heritage site because of the semi-nomadic pastoralists who live with their animals on mountain pastures, and relocate depending on the seasons.  The nomads live low in the valley during the winter months in unique cave dwellings, and live in temporary settlements higher up on the mountain during the spring and autumn months.

Photo by: Ngjyra
Photo by: Ngjyra

9. Diyarbakir Fortress and Hevsel Gardens Cultural Landscape – Turkey

Situated in the aptly-named Fertile Crescent, this city and its surrounding landscape has been given an World Heritage designation due to it being an important center throughout different time periods, from the Hellenistic period, to the Ottoman times and into the present.  The fortified city of Diyarbakir, along with the Hevsel Gardens, is comprised of an inner castle,  a 5.8 kilometer long wall, towers, gates, 63 inscriptions all from different periods and is located on the Upper Tigres River Basin.

Diyarbakir Fortress Turkey

10. Ephesus – Turkey

This World Heritage Site has long since drawn Pilgrims from all around the Mediterranean.  The ancient city of Ephesus, featuring successive Hellenistic and Roman settlements, is comprised of many excavated monuments and historical sites, and is a great example of a Roman port city.

Ephesus Turkey

11. Fray Bentos Cultural-Industrial Landscape – Uruguay

West of the town of Fray Bentos and situated on the Uruguay River, this site was built in order to process the meat that was produced on the nearby prairies.  This was given World Heritage status due to its excellent illustration on the process of meat production; its crucial location, industrial and residential buildings and social institutions ensure that this site of meat production was known on a global scale.

Matyas Rehak / Shutterstock.com
Matyas Rehak / Shutterstock.com

12. Great Burkhan Khaldun Mountain and its surrounding sacred landscape – Mongolia

Having long been a site of ancient shamanic and Buddhist practices, the Burkhan Khaldun, situated in the central part of the Khentii mountain chain in the north-east part of the country, has been a place of worship of the sacred mountains, rivers and ovoo-s (shamanic rock cairns) that make up the landscape.  Believed to be the place of Genghis Khan’s birth and burial, this site is crucial to the unification of the Mongol people and to the mountain worship prevalent in their culture.

mountain mongolia

13. Necropolis of Beth She’arim: A Landmark of Jewish Renewal – Israel

The series of catacombs that make up this heritage site are an important collection of Greek, Aramaic and Hebrew artworks and inscriptions.  Southeast of the city of Haifa, Beth She’arim was the primary Jewish burial place outside of Jerusalem and is an important testimony to ancient Judaism and to the Jewish renewal after 135 CE.

Beth She’arim Israel

14. Rjukan–Notodden Industrial Heritage Site – Norway

Using the natural mountainous landscape to its advantage, the Norsk-Hydro Company manufactured artificial fertilizer from nitrogen in the air and became an example of a new global industry in the early 20th century. The hydroelectric power plants and transport systems and towns included at the Rjukan-Notodden site show how this company used its industry, in combination with nature, to meet the Western world’s increasing demand for agricultural production.

Rjukan-Notodden Norway

15. Rock Art in the Hail Region of Saudi Arabia – Saudi Arabia

Petroglyphs and inscriptions on the rock face of this heritage site offer a glimpse into the passages of the ancient Arab populations across the Great Narfoud Desert.  These preserved depictions of human and animal figures show 10,000 years of history found in this great desert landscape in Saudi Arabia.

Photo by: saudi-archaeology
Photo by: saudi-archaeology

16. San Antonio Missions – United States of America

A great source of pride for Texans now and past are the five frontier mission complexes that make up this newly designated World Heritage site located in southern Texas.  Built by Franciscan missionaries in the 18th century, the San Antonio Missions are symbols of Spain’s colonization of the region and are the site of the historic 1836 Battle of the Alamo.

San Antonio Missions Conception

17. Singapore Botanical Gardens – Singapore

Used for both conservation and education, the Singapore Botanical Gardens, built in 1859, include many historical features that illustrate the development of the garden and its importance as a site for science and research.

Singapore Botanical Gardens

18. Sites of Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution: Iron and Steel, Shipbuilding and Coal Mining – Japan

Eleven properties make up this heritage site, situated in the southwest of Japan.  This site depicts the time in Japanese history when the country actively sought technology from both Europe and America and is considered the first successful transfer of Western industrialization to a non-Western nation.

Nirayama Reverbatory Furnaces Japan

19. Speicherstadt and Kontorhaus District with Chilehaus – Germany

Built on a narrow island in the Elbe River from 1885 to 1927 and partially rebuilt from 1949 to 1967, these two urban areas, centrally located in the port city of Hamburg, are examples of the effects of rapid international trade in the 19th and 20th centuries.  These two areas together are one of the largest historic ensembles of port warehouses in the world.

Speicherstadt Germany

20. Susa – Iran (Islamic Republic of)

These architectural monuments, depicting the nearly extinct Elamite, Persian and Parthian cultural traditions, are comprised of administrative, residential and palatial structures excavated in the south-west of Iran.  These archaeological sites illustrate settlements found in the area from the late 5th millennium BCE to the 13th century CE, successively.

Susa Iran

21. The Forth Bridge – United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

The largest multi-span cantilever bridge, located across the estuary of the Forth River in Scotland, has earned World Heritage designation from UNESCO due to its innovative use of bridge design and construction.

The Forth Bridge UK

22. The Par Force Hunting Landscape in North Zealand – Denmark

The two hunting forests of Store Dyrehave and Gribskov, along with the hunting park of Jaegersborg Hegn/Jaegersborg Dyrehave, where Danish kings hunted with hounds until the end of the 16th century, have reached World Heritage status due to its demonstration of Baroque landscaping principles.

Photo by: .bastian (Flickr) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Photo by: .bastian (Flickr) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

23. Tusi Sites- China

From the Yuan and Ming periods of Chinese civilization, the Tusi Sites depict the tribal domains whose chiefs were elected based on the Tusi system.  This system, in place from the 13th to the 20th century, rose in prominence due to its unification of national administration and its allowance of customs and culture from ethnic minorities.

Photo by: photo.navi
Photo by: photo.navi

24. Blue and John Crow Mountains – Jamaica

Jamaica’s first World Heritage designation is the unique and historically important mountainous region situated in the south-east of Jamaica.  Not only does this site contain many of the endemic plant species present in the Caribbean Islands, but it also provided refuge for both the indigenous Tainos and escaped African slaves known as Maroons.  Due to the isolated nature of these mountains, the refugees managed to resist the European colonial system, and in doing so, developed spiritual connections with the mountains that are still felt today.

Blue Mountains Jamaica

8 Things to Know Before Visiting the Middle East

For many people who live outside the region, the Middle East can seem like a somewhat confusing and chaotic place. Nonetheless, many are compelled to visit for any number of reasons, ranging from business to family ties and heritage to religion. Some people just want to visit the area; others still go to teach or even relocate to the region after a single visit proves too little time in this amazing part of the world. While many feel daunted by the thought of a visit to the Middle East—by stories of political turmoil, religious strife, human rights grievances, harsh climates, and sheer cultural difference—the many countries of the Middle East are wonderful destinations, full of warm and welcoming people, many of them happy to showcase their homelands to those who are willing to visit and learn. Learning, of course, can start before you land at the airport and anyone who plans to visit the Middle East—whether now or in the future—can benefit from knowing a few things before they take-off for the great unknown. And even if you have no plans to visit the Middle East, take heed—because you never know where your travels will take you.

Each Country is Unique

Anybody who is familiar with the Middle East probably knows that the first thing anyone needs to know is that the region is composed of a multitude of countries, each with their own unique history and culture, and often, with their own religious practices and languages as well. While it’s easy for outsiders to talk about the region as one big, monolithic whole where everyone shares in the same culture, language, religion and ethnicity, nothing could be further from the truth. Much like a visitor to Europe can’t research the customs of Norway and expect things to be exactly the same in France, so too should visitors to the Middle East do research on the customs and norms of the particular country they’re going to visit. While some things might not vary a lot from country to country, other things will be quite different depending on where in the Middle East you are! One of the best things you can do before booking your ticket is to actually stop thinking about the region as a whole or as we generally call it “the Middle East.”

middle east life

Dress Conservatively/Respectfully

To immediately contradict that, there are some generalizations that you can make about areas of the Middle East. These “rules of thumb” should serve you well in your travels, but always keep in mind that each country is unique and should never be treated as though it is “exactly the same” as one of its neighbors. One thing you can usually assume in Middle Eastern countries, however, is that you’re going to need to show respect to the local culture. One of the best ways to do this is to dress conservatively. This doesn’t necessarily mean donning a hijab or abaya or any other specific type of clothing for men or women, but it does mean covering up. Both men and women should engage in conservative dress. Low-riding jeans that slide down when you bend over are a huge social faux pas and sleeveless tops are considered rude for both sexes. Shorts (especially short-shorts, ladies) are generally frowned upon, as are crop tops. It might be hot, but most of these clothing items violate social expectations for dress. Although people in the Middle East are often too polite to say anything about how you choose to dress, “letting it all hang out” is actually incredibly rude and shows disrespect and insensitivity toward the cultures of these countries.

ChameleonsEye / Shutterstock.com
ChameleonsEye / Shutterstock.com

Most Women Aren’t Forced to Cover Up

Speaking of clothing and cultural norms, you might be asking about veiling. Above, it was indicated that you might not need to don a headscarf in most places, and, in some areas, putting one on might even be considered a little bit disrespectful. In other countries, like Iran and Saudi Arabia, women will need to wear a headscarf in order to be respectful. As they say, “when in Rome, do as the Romans do,” and nothing could be more true in this case; following local customs is a sign of awareness and respect for the culture. That doesn’t mean that you should assume that a headscarf or any other form of veiling has been forced on a woman; in most Middle Eastern countries, the decision to wear a hijab or another covering is entirely up to a woman and insinuating otherwise is insulting to her! The decision to wear a headscarf or not, in most places, is part of a woman’s identity, much the way wardrobes in the West are used to showcase individual identities. The exceptions to the rule are Iran and northern Pakistan, as well as Afghanistan under the Taliban. Even in Saudi Arabia, no one is exactly forcing women to wear head-coverings, although it is frowned upon to do otherwise.

muslin women

Don’t Refuse Coffee

Another custom that might seem strange to visitors is that it is considered incredibly rude, almost forbidden, to refuse an offer of coffee at a store. While you’re out and about, you might decide to do some shopping. If you’re offered a coffee while you’re in a shop, don’t refuse, especially if you plan to make a purchase or if you’re already at the register putting the transaction through. The offer is simple hospitality throughout much of the Middle East and rarely refused.

Turkish Coffee

Bye Bye Bacon/Alcohol

If you happen to eat out—and you’re likely to visit at least one restaurant on your trip—don’t be surprised if you can’t find any pork dishes on the menu. The tenants of Islam forbid the preparation and eating of pork, so it most definitely won’t be found on the menus of any eateries serving up traditional dishes and, because much of the Middle East is Muslim, most chain restaurants won’t serve it either—even if their counterparts in other countries do. This has to do with strictures about the preparation of food, particularly meat; food must be halal and if there is pork being prepared in the same area, the food would be considered tainted. Another notable absence might be a lack of alcohol; Islam similarly has strictures against the ingestion of alcohol by followers of the faith. While there are certain local spirits or similar beverages that may be served, you shouldn’t expect your Muslim hosts, family, friends or business partners to hit the bar or to have a glass of wine with dinner. The increasing number of foreign businesspersons and international visitors has led to more alcohol being readily available, but it’s still not an embedded part of cuisine and culture like it is in, say, France. You might be invited to partake in hookah, however, which is a Middle Eastern custom in which flavored tobacco, called shishah, is smoked. Nonetheless, don’t assume that your hosts enjoy shishah; it is very much up to individual preference and the customs of the area you’re in.

Kebabs

Haggling is Usually Expected

Customs around money and the exchange of money can also be baffling to someone visiting the Middle East for the very first time. Although customs vary from place to place, haggling is very much the norm in many Middle Eastern stores. While Westerners expect to see set prices when they walk into a store, and to pay those prices when they cash out, most Middle Easterners expect to do a bit of bartering. For that reason, prices in shops may be set high on the assumption that the customer won’t pay that price, but will haggle a bit with the shopkeeper to get a better deal. This is more common in marketplaces and bazaars where individual proprietors can set their prices as they see fit than it is in chain shops, especially those that have parent companies in the West. Nonetheless, you should always be prepared to see if you can get a better deal—especially on things like cab fares—and be prepared to take a bit of extra time to do business. The culture isn’t focused on in-and-out shopping like the West is; in fact, “doing business” is often seen as a way to build social relations and thus it should take time.

Rostislav Glinsky / Shutterstock.com
Rostislav Glinsky / Shutterstock.com

Baksheesh is Everywhere

Baksheesh is another Middle Eastern custom around money that, at first glance, might seem familiar to an outsider. Upon closer examination, however, you’ll quickly find that it can seem a little bit strange. Baksheesh is what is known as “tips” in the English-speaking world. The difference is that anyone can ask for a tip for just about any service, whether it’s a necessary service or not. And many people are not shy about asking for a tip. In most Middle Eastern countries, the customer is allowed to decide whether or not they want to tip, depending on how satisfied they were with the service, but it is almost expected that workers in the hospitality industry, including hotel maids, bellhops, valets and restaurant wait staff, should be tipped. This is because these jobs are low-paying and it’s assumed that baksheesh will make up a large portion of the worker’s income. For other “services,” the cultural push to tip is less pressing—you don’t need to tip everyone, even if they ask for a tip, and you especially don’t need to tip if you didn’t like the service!

middle east currency

Everyone is Unique –Treat Them That Way

Not liking a service or being asked for a tip, however, doesn’t give you free reign to be rude to people and you shouldn’t condone or partake in rude behavior others might engage in, even if it seems to be “culturally acceptable,” such as young men being insolent toward women in Egypt. Leaving those incidents—which aren’t approved or accepted by everyone—aside, Middle Easterners are some of the warmest and most welcoming people on the planet and visitors need to reciprocate that hospitality, while also respecting that every country is different and, beyond that, every person they encounter is a different person. In Lebanon, you’re likely to meet a mix of people from different backgrounds, each of them with a different story. Not every person in a Middle Eastern country is Arab, and not everyone is Muslim—assuming this is like saying that everyone in the United States is white and Christian. It’s simply not true. You will meet Muslims and Arabs, but you will also meet Jews and Christians, Kurds and so many, many others. Even the Muslims you meet will be different in every country, every city and every place you visit. Don’t fall into the trap of assuming that everyone in the Middle East is exactly the same! Experienced travelers know that some people—perhaps a small minority—will fit into the stereotypes they have of a particular population, but the vast majority of people will likely defy all your expectations—and often in the most pleasant of ways. That’s one of the most compelling reasons to travel anywhere in the world, and meeting new people and sharing in what they have to teach you is one of the best reasons you can have for traveling to a Middle Eastern country.

ChameleonsEye / Shutterstock.com
ChameleonsEye / Shutterstock.com

The 10 Most Dangerous Cities in the Middle East

Home to numerous important ancient religious and cultural structures and cities, the region recognized as the Middle East consists of the countries located centered on Western Asia and Egypt. With very corrupt governments in these countries, popular uprisings began to occur throughout the region in 2011 during what is known as the Arab Spring. The resulting uprisings have led to a number of civil wars and violent demonstrations. Civil war in Syria combined with the ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq has created a situation with a great deal of very dangerous cities in the Middle East. For this list, cities like Raqqa and Mosul that are currently under control of extremist groups were excluded.

10. Mecca, Saudi Arabia

In comparison to its neighbors, Saudi Arabia saw a minimal amount of upheaval and violence following the 2011 Arab Spring protests that engulfed much of the Middle East. However, a number of hot button issues are still on the minds of Saudis and the country has experienced a fair amount of turmoil. Potential travelers to Saudi Arabia should note that the country does not issue travel visas, and visit duration requests can be listed in lunar months rather than the standard Western months.

This can lead to travelers overstaying by several days, which can result in a near $3,000 fine and incarceration. Although the city of Mecca – birthplace of the prophet Muhammad and the holiest city in Islam – sees a large number of tourists each year, non-Muslims are prohibited from entering the city. Saudi Arabia has also received threats for its support of the U.S. led coalition targeting the Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria and Iraq. Although the city of Mecca is not an incredibly dangerous place, it is a destination that should be avoided for travelers of non-Muslim faith, and for those unfamiliar with the culture and customs of the region.

Zurijeta / Shutterstock.com
Zurijeta / Shutterstock.com

9. Peshawar, Pakistan

Serving as the link that connects Pakistan to neighboring Afghanistan, the area is regularly struck by outbreaks of violence. Due to the proximity to Afghanistan, and many of the beliefs held by locals, this region can be very unkind to Westerners. Travel at night in Peshawar can be very dangerous, with reports of criminals blocking roads and robbing or kidnapping motorists, both local and foreign.

While the city itself can be friendly to foreigners, tribal authorities rule the surrounding outskirts and subsequently can be very dangerous for unsuspecting travelers. The diverse collection of ethnic and religious groups in the area occasionally results in large demonstrations that can sometimes turn violent. The ongoing conflict between the Pakistani government and the Taliban in the area also causes violence to flare up. Bombings are not unheard of in this region, and it is strongly recommended that visitors avoid drawing any extra attention when in Peshawar.

thomas koch / Shutterstock.com
thomas koch / Shutterstock.com

8. Kabul, Afghanistan

Although generally considered to be one of the safer places in Afghanistan, Kabul is still under the threat of bombings and kidnappings from extremists. A helpful tip for traveler safety is to stay away from restaurants that are popular amongst expats and wealthy Afghans. These locations along with police or military buildings and embassies are the most common targets for attacks. A change in policy has seen the kidnapping of foreigners in Kabul no longer being reported.

For visitors to Afghanistan staying a longer duration, it is suggested to vary routes and timings on a daily basis as a means of staying vigilant. Because Kabul is the capital and most populous city in the country, the political turmoil within the nation is reflected by the occasional riot or demonstration. Though there are dangers, the Afghani people are traditionally welcoming and kind to guests, and the city is home to a number of five star hotels as well as the bonus of excellent cellular reception that lets American and European phones work on the local network.

Kabul, Afghanistan

7. Sana’a, Yemen

The capital of Yemen – and the largest city in the country – Sana’a is one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world (a list that also includes Aleppo and Damascus, Syria). Travel to Sana’a is strongly discouraged due to a serious risk of kidnapping as well as civil unrest and general lawlessness in the country. The threat to Westerners posed by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is very real and should not be taken lightly when traveling to Yemen.

Visitors unfamiliar with the area should find a local guide, and should not be alarmed by the sight of firearms being carried. Many men hold or own a gun for traditional reasons. The Old City of Sana’a is a declared World Heritage Site by the United Nations and has been home to civilization for more than 2,500 years. With tensions seemingly rising in Yemen, the city of Sana’a and its unique cultural sights are at risk as unrest spreads through the nation.

Stefano Ember / Shutterstock.com
Stefano Ember / Shutterstock.com

6. Gaza City, Palestine

One of the most densely populated areas in the world, the Gaza Strip and West Bank is a 25-mile strip of land that is home to some 1.8-million people. While the area is no longer under occupation by Israeli forces, it is still under an extremely strict border control. The Israeli military regularly launches raids inside the region to engage militants who conduct attacks against Israel from inside the border.

Those visiting Gaza should stay away from demonstrations, and off the streets at night when most violent clashes occur. Areas near the border are prone to gunfire and airstrikes, while police stations and government buildings are often targets for larger scale Israeli operations. Hamas imposes strict Shariah law in Gaza, so travelers should be familiar with cultural expectations before landing in the city. Because of damage sustained from Israeli airstrikes, the Gaza power station lacks the ability to operate at full capacity, leading to frequent outages. A large number of generators are used in the city, some of which could be poorly maintained causing a potential risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Ryan Rodrick Beiler / Shutterstock.com
Ryan Rodrick Beiler / Shutterstock.com

5. Kashmir, India

The Jammu and Kashmir region is the most northern area occupied by the state of India. Kashmir is often described as the prototypical idea of “heaven on Earth” because of the serene landscape; however, the area is heavily disputed between the governments of India, Pakistan and China. India and Pakistan in particular have gone to war two times as a result of disputes over the borders of Kashmir. As recent as October 2014, troops have engaged in gunfire across the boundary, and the two countries tested nuclear weapons in 1998 before fighting broke out in Kashmir in 1999.

With violent demonstrations and extremist activities in the area, neither foreign governments nor India can guarantee the safety of visitors to the region. Currently Kashmir is experiencing danger from severe flooding on top of the border turmoil. While there are numerous great sights to see in Kashmir, visitors should be sure to stay far away from the Pakistani border where the conflict is at its most intense.

Kashmir, India

4. Baghdad, Iraq

Since the invasion of Baghdad in 2003, the city has become one of the most dangerous in the world. Following a lull in the violence, large-scale attacks in Baghdad have been on the rise since 2012. Many governments strongly suggest traveler’s stay away from the area because of the extremely volatile situation, where the threat of a terrorist attack or kidnapping is certainly possible.

A common suggestion for staying safe in Baghdad is simply just to not go there. Most visitors to the city hire a security detail for safety, and it should be noted that travel outside of the International Zone is incredibly dangerous. Roadside and car bombings are a daily occurrence in Baghdad. And while the tides seem to be turning against ISIS, the terrorist organization is still in control of Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul, located north of Baghdad and certainly has eyes on the nations capital as it looks to expand its caliphate should it be capable.

Baghdad, Iraq

3. Karachi, Pakistan

The second-largest city in the world in terms of population within the city limits, Karachi is now home to some 23.5-million people, and a population density of more than 15,500 per mile. Over the past decade, millions of residents of northwestern Pakistan fled fighting and settled in the city, the commercial heart of the country. The 12.3 per 100,000 residents homicide rate (25% higher than the next closest) makes Karachi the most dangerous mega-city in the world.

The former capital of Pakistan has been overrun with political strife, gang violence and a growing threat of militant incursion. Karachi is even known to be home to “target killers”, individuals who are known for assassinating victims on motorbike for a relatively small fee. Gangs run smuggling rackets, rob banks and oversee the administration of ruthless justice. It is not uncommon for heated gunfights to be drawn out over days between multiple gangs, or gangs fighting the police.

Asianet-Pakistan / Shutterstock.com
Asianet-Pakistan / Shutterstock.com

2. Damascus, Syria

Starting with peaceful protests in 2011, Damascus and the rest of Syria escalated into a full-blown civil war and has turned the city into an incredibly dangerous place. The city came under heavy attack in 2012, although the Syrian government managed to repel the attacks and maintain control over its capital. Damascus is considered by the U.N. to be a world heritage sight, but because of the civil war and subsequent attacks in the city, ancient ruins have sustained damage from the numerous battles fought through the city.

Those opposed to the Syrian government including ISIS will certainly look to continue attacks in Damascus in hopes of capturing the city from government control to gain a very significant victory. Travel to the area should not be done without an armed companion. Foreigners are under severe threat of attack or kidnapping, potentially from either side of the conflict, and the region should be avoided at all costs.

Damascus, Syria

1. Aleppo, Syria

The largest city in Syria, Aleppo has been, and still is home to some incredibly fierce fighting going on between the Syrian government and opposition forces. Fighting began in Aleppo during February of 2012, and the battle has been the site of atrocities committed by both sides, including barrel bombs allegedly dropped by Syrian military helicopters, and indiscriminate gas cylinder bombings by opposition forces in government held territories.

Although diplomatic measures are trying to be arranged to establish a ceasefire, the Syrian army is pushing forward with a major offensive effort to surround the city. Tragically, Aleppo is also considered to be a world heritage site by the U.N. and much of the ancient city has been irreparably damaged by the heavy bombardments in the area, with no sign of tensions easing any time soon. Travel to Aleppo is nearly impossible, and no visitor should expect even a remotely safe trip to the once great city.

Aleppo, Syria

10 Most Beautiful Airports in the World

In our modern-day where flying is done for pleasure just as much as it’s done for business, airports and airplanes can be found in just about every corner of the world as the demand to reach far-off destinations only increases. Through this shift from flying as a necessity to flying for fun, designs for airports have shifted from simply practical and functional, to highly unique and culturally reflective in design. For visitors to a country, an airport can play a massively impactful role on the perception of the country as the airport creates that first taste of a nation, and countries now know how a great airport can play an important role in tourism. Below is a look at 10 of the most beautiful airports in the world:

10. Carrasco International Airport -Montevideo, Uruguay

Nick Photoworld / Shutterstock

The airport named after a suburb just outside of Montevideo, Uruguay gained a fair amount of international acclaim in 2009 following the opening of a brand new terminal. The refined, classy and elegant design garnered Uruguayan-born architect Rafael Vinoly a great deal of praise for his impressive work. The functionalities of the terminal are all enclosed under one sweeping 365-meter curved roof. The interior of the airport is covered in daylight as a result of the design, and visitors can look out the windows to behold the rolling landscape, which lies beyond the planes taking off.

The original passenger terminal – which is now used as the cargo terminal – was opened in 1947. In 2003 the Uruguayan government transferred the administration, operation and maintenance to a private company, which then invested heavily in the airport. The new capacity for the upgraded Carrasco International Airport can handle around 6-million travelers a year through their doors.

9.  King Fahd International Airport -Dammam, Saudi Arabia

Fedor Selivanov / Shutterstock

The world’s largest airport in terms of land area, King Fahd International Airport in Dammam, Saudi Arabia first saw use in 1991 during the first Gulf War as a storage site for allied aircraft and machinery. Fast-forward to 1999 and the airport was finally opened for commercial traffic. Dammam is one of the most oil-rich cities in the world, though the airport sits some 50km away from the city, and is reached by a road that features camels, Bedouin tents and other traditional Arab imagery.

The massive airport also features an extremely lavish and cushy royal terminal that sees surprisingly little use. One of the more defining characteristics of the airport is how quiet it seems relative to its massive size. In 2013 King Fahd International Airport saw approximately 7-million visitors pass through its terminals, which given the scale of the facility seems like a small number to justify its size.

8. Princess Juliana International Airport -Saint Martin

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The Princess Juliana International Airport located on the Dutch half of the island of Saint Martin is most famous for its extremely low-altitude flyover landing approach. The approach is a scene that looks nearly too fantastical to be true, as huge aircraft touch down on a runway just feet from the shores of Maho Beach which is capable of placing worry in the minds of passengers. However, not only are tourists treated to a tropical paradise, but also get to witness the majesty of a massive Boeing 747 touching down just overhead.

The airport was initially started as a military airstrip in 1942. In 1964, the airport was remodeled and relocated before receiving significant upgrades in 1985 and 2001. The airport is capable of handling around 2.5-million passengers, and is ranked by the History Channel as the 4th most dangerous airport in the world because of its circumstances. Added warnings for those over 6’5″.

7. Giovanni Nicelli Airport -Venice, Italy

Baloncici / Shutterstock

Located on the Venice Lido, the Giovanni Nicelli Airport is a small airport that is considered one of the most delightful city airports in Europe, even though it serves as the little-brother to Marco Polo International Airport. The building’s design features a very unique look that dates back to 1935. The arrival and departure lounge features a grand piano that will have an impromptu pianist take a seat and perform for passersby and a number of murals of 1930’s aircraft.

The airport sits just 13-feet above sea level, and features a small grass surface runway. The area surrounding the airport features the Venetian lagoon, a medieval-era church and other historic buildings that are sure to catch the eye of tourists. Visitors to the airport can reach Nicelli on foot, by bike, or by boat (which is often the preferred and most picturesque way to get around in any Italian city).

6. Kansai International Airport -Osaka, Japan

Taro Hama @ e-kamakura / Getty Images

Located on an artificial island in the middle of Osaka Bay, the Kansai International Airport first opened in 1994 to relieve overcrowding at Osaka International Airport. The complexities of the project meant that it was a hugely ambitious and expensive development to undertake even for this technologically forward-thinking country. The length of Terminal 1 is almost 2km and is one of the longest buildings in the world. The airport is also built to withstand earthquakes and typhoons, which are features that are more important than ever (especially for an airport on the water).

In 1995 an earthquake struck the epicenter not far from Kansai International Airport. The airport remained undamaged, with its acres of glass unbroken, and not a single casualty inside the building. In 2001 the airport was awarded with the honor of being one of just 10 buildings given the American Society of Engineers Civil Engineering Monuments of the Millennium. Needless to say, it’s a grand structure worthy of recognition.

5. Wellington International Airport -Wellington, New Zealand

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Sometimes criticized as being one of the ugliest airports in the world, the “Rock” terminal of Wellington International Airport is an incredibly unique design and is subjective to the opinion of the onlooker. Though some may be critical, the airport has won a number of awards for its design. The airport is only the third busiest in New Zealand but still handled more than 5-million passengers in 2013.

The airport is an important link for connecting many regional and national New Zealand flights, and also has major links to eastern Australian cities. Wellington International Airport comprises just 270-acres of land, and has a reputation for rough and turbulent landings because of strong winds created by the Cook Strait. The surrounding area however is typical of New Zealand (or even Lord of the Rings) with rolling hills and lush greens, which compliment the unique dome-like structure of the inside which certainly lives up to its ‘Rock’ nickname.

4. Marrakech Menara Airport -Marrakech, Morocco

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Another airport known for its culturally unique design, Marrakech Menara Airport in Morocco was created to resemble classic Islamic geometric design and features nature motifs inscribed into a massive network of giant concrete diamond shapes. At its core, the airport is essentially one giant piece of artwork. The structure almost resembles a soccer or football stadium from the outside, presenting itself like a massive steel grating with planes flying in and out. However, the appeal is surprisingly welcoming and pleasing to the eye. The facility serves as a receiving point for a number of European flights from Casablanca, as well as from Arab nations.

The airport was used as a military base during World War 2 and acted as a command hub and stopover for allied cargo, supplies, and personnel. Currently, there are two passenger terminals, with a capacity for handling around 4.5-million passengers a year. A third terminal is currently under construction as the site continues to expand.

3. Courchevel Altiport -Courchevel, France

Roberto Chiartano / Getty Images

Opened in 1961 as a means to boost the number of visitors to this high-class French Alpine ski resort, Courchevel is one of the most demanding airports for pilots. Pilots must negotiate their way through deep mountain valleys and a notoriously short runway that slopes into the mountainside at an 18.5-degree angle.

At over 6,500 feet in elevation, this airport is fit for a movie. In fact, the airport has been featured in the James Bond movie Tomorrow Never Dies. This location is as picturesque in the daytime as it is at night, especially when snow-covered. If tourists manage to land on the short 1,762-foot runway, the pricey-ness of the aforementioned resorts are definitely worth the trip, as this is the type of area only seen once in a lifetime. Along with its movie appearance, the Courchevel Altiport has more claims to fame having been featured on the History Channel’s Most Extreme Airports in 2010.

2. King Abdul Aziz Airport, Jeddah -Saudi Arabia

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The massive King Abdul Aziz Airport is the busiest in Saudi Arabia as well as the third-largest in the country. Taking up an area of over 15 kilometers, it includes a Royal Terminal, housing facilities for staff, as well as facilities used by the Royal Saudi Air Force.

King Abdul Aziz is capable of accommodating 80,000 travelers at once in the Hajj terminal. This 10-module area is covered by 21 “tents” of white Teflon-coated fiberglass to house those on a pilgrimage to nearby Mecca.  The Hajj terminal received the Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 1983 due to “the brilliant and imaginative design of the roofing system met the awesome challenge of covering this vast space with incomparable elegance and beauty”. Servicing 27 million passengers per year, it is interesting to note that the Jeddah airport was voted as the second-worst airport in the world by SleepinginAirports.net.

1. Keflavik International Airport -Keflavik, Iceland

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Almost all international visitors arrive through Keflavik International Airport, which is about 31 miles outside Reykjavik. Iceland’s proximity to Greenland makes a trip to both countries in the same day a distinct and rare possibility.

Along with its excellent scenery of Iceland’s flatlands, mountains and bodies of water the Keflavik International Airport offers a unique history. Keflavik was built during World War II by the United States military specifically to hold American planes capable of dishing out heavy bombers. After the war in 1947, the airport was given to Iceland and changed to its current name. Despite a relatively small population (300,000) the Icelandic airport schedules flights from 10 U.S. cities, four Canadian and 31 across Europe. It may be important to note that while prices of alcohol are very high at this airport, they are much lower in the rest of the country. As well, customs limits travelers to “just” six liters of beer and one liter of spirits. Don’t forget to take in all the beautiful scenery which can be seen from the terminal windows, including Iceland’s famous hot springs.