New bucket list: The seven greatest wonders of travel named

Blame it on the Greeks. Two thousand years ago, the citizens of the ancient Greek city-states were the first to get a taste for globetrotting, enthusiastically gadding about the Mediterranean and beyond to gape at the grandest attractions of the Egyptians, the Persians, and the Babylonians. Many of their awed descriptions survive to this day, along with their lists of must-see monuments, which were usually topped by such sights as the Egyptian pyramids, the hanging gardens and the mighty walls of Babylon.

Fast forward a few millennia and the Traveller team decided it was time we devised our own list of the world's greatest wonders, but with a modern-day travel emphasis, bearing in mind that today's traveller has a slightly broader idea of what makes the ultimate travel experience.

As selected by some of our most experienced writers, our wildly subjective list (one country even figures twice) celebrates wildlife encounters along with cultural treasures and architectural marvels. There are also culinary feasts that you can sink your teeth into, and journeys which are about a lot more than just arriving at the destination. From walking safaris to leisurely strolls between tapas bars, train trips across endless steppes to museums packed with impressive works of art, this list reminds us of a simple truth that those Greeks learned long ago: that the world really is a wondrous place.

Yosemite's 'firefall': capturing the amazing sight

The optical illusion at Horsetail Fall in California that's a challenge to capture.

NATURE

1. THE WONDER OF YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK, US

By Andrew Bain

The fact that it was the world's first national park is wondrous enough, but Yellowstone remains one of the planet's true natural treasures. Scratch alarmingly close to the surface – as little as 10 kilometres down – and you find a great supervolcano that bubbles with tens of thousands of cubic kilometres of molten lava.

Visit the national park, however, and you barely need to scratch anything to sense the power beneath. Almost everywhere, geothermal activity seeps to the earth's surface as if through pores. It's this that makes Yellowstone, which sprawls across the US states of Wyoming, Idaho and Montana, one of the world's most dynamic and unstable landscapes.

It's estimated that about half the planet's geothermal features – 10,000 hot springs and hundreds of spurting geysers – sit inside the Yellowstone Caldera. Turn your back on them for a moment (or at least a geological moment) and everything changes. Earthquakes (Yellowstone is second only to California in the US for number of quakes) and shifts in the land continually reshape the park and its rhythms, tearing open new springs and fumaroles and changing the beat of others. Even Old Faithful, the geyser named for the Swiss-like precision of its eruptions, suddenly became tardy after a 1959 earthquake. If you want a sense of the earth in its full primal fury, this is the place.

Everywhere you tour in Yellowstone, there are smaller wonders within the wonder. The emblematic Grand Prismatic Spring is a remarkable bit of natural psychedelia – a peacock-blue hot spring rimmed with yellow and orange microbial mats. In the Upper Geyser Basin, surrounding Old Faithful, one quarter of the world's geysers fill an area of just four square kilometres, creating in effect some kind of natural dancing fountain.

See nps.gov/yell/

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See also: Yellowstone National Park, US: Where to see the epic power of nature

SEVEN MORE WONDERS OF THE WORLD OF NATURE TRAVEL

AMAZON RAINFOREST, SOUTH AMERICA

Plunge into the forest on a cruise along the world's most voluminous river and enter a world of jaguars, anacondas, piranhas, pink dolphins and about 400 billion trees. See intrepidtravel.com

NORTHERN LIGHTS, SCANDINAVIA

Northern lights in the skies above Iceland.

Northern lights in the skies above Iceland. Photo: iStock

The further north you can get, the greater the chance of seeing them – standing in the dark on a frozen Finnish lake as the northern lights pulse among the stars is like an audience with the gods. See offthemaptravel.co.uk

See also: Bucket-list must: See the Northern Lights in a Finnish bubble sled 

EVEREST BASE CAMP, NEPAL

It takes eight or nine days of trekking to ascend to the oxygen-depleted heights of Everest Base Camp, but then as you scale nearby Kala Pattar, the highest point on earth suddenly towers another three kilometres overhead in a great wall of rock and ice. See worldexpeditions.com

See also: The world's 10 most-climbed mountains

LAKE BAIKAL, RUSSIA

Step off the Trans-Siberian Railway at Irkutsk and head for the village of Listvyanka to stand on the shores of the world's deepest lake, containing 20 per cent of the world's fresh water and often claimed as the clearest lake on earth. See russiatourism.ru/en/

VICTORIA FALLS, AFRICA

Considered the largest waterfall on earth, the 1700-metre-wide wall of water is power personified – think up to 500 million litres of water a second, spraying up to 500 metres into the air. See zambiatourism.com; zimbabwetourism.net

MORENO GLACIER, ARGENTINA

There has been no greater construction firm in the world than glaciers, and they're on their mightiest display at Argentina's Moreno Glacier. From lakeshore lookouts, watch tonnes of ice topple from the glacier, or take a guided hike with crampons onto the ice.. See hieloyaventura.com

See also: The spectacular ice wall that photos can't do justice

GREAT BARRIER REEF, AUSTRALIA

The numbers alone are staggering – 3000 coral reefs combining to form the world's largest reef system with more than 1500 fish species, coloured like party balloons. But it's not until you dive or snorkel on a boat trip from Cairns or Port Douglas, or wander directly into the reef from the likes of Orpheus Island, that you fully grasp the enormity and wonder of the 2000-kilometre-long living ribbon of colour. See queensland.com

See also: The 26 most wonderful places to visit in Australia

JOURNEYS

2. THE WONDER OF TRAVEL ON THE TRANS-MONGOLIAN

The Trans-Mongolian Railway.

The Trans-Mongolian Railway. Photo: iStock

By Ben Groundwater

There is an excitement as you board the Trans-Mongolian that is tempered by trepidation. Six whole days cooped up in a train carriage? Five whole nights sleeping to the soundtrack of "click-clack, click-clack"? More than 130 consecutive hours with your world shrunk to the size of a small bedroom, a few corridors and a window pane?

It's hard to know whether this was the right call, whether the Trans-Mongolian will be your thing. But then a whistle blows, the doors close, the brakes hiss, the train begins rolling out of the station, and the adventure begins.

It's an almost unimaginably long journey – about 7620 kilometres, nearly the same as travelling from Sydney to Perth and then back again – but endlessly fascinating. It snakes its way through desert and tundra, beside lakes and forests, past cold, lonely towns, and through cities huge and imposing.

That window pane in your cabin becomes a picture frame for the world. Through it you glimpse the Great Wall of China way off in the mountains outside Beijing. You see the Gobi Desert appear on the western horizon. You take in the vast emptiness of the Mongolian Steppe, these huge tracts of treeless land pockmarked by traditional gers. You watch as Siberia unfolds, seemingly endless; you gaze at industrial country towns, and you stare as eventually, finally, Moscow appears.

Occasionally, the train creaks to a halt, maybe to cross a border, where customs agents demand papers and stamp passports, or where wheels are changed to suit the new track. Maybe the stop is a station, one of the myriad you come to, where commuters hurry and conductors shout and babushkas sell their homemade goods. It's adventure, it's wonder, it's a thrill. Six days almost doesn't seem enough. See beyondtravel.com.au

See also: Trans-Mongolian train trip: A rail journey like no other

SEVEN MORE WONDERS OF THE WORLD OF JOURNEYS AND TRAVEL

THE SILK ROAD, CENTRAL ASIA

Traders have been making the journey between Asia and Europe since the time of the Roman Empire, laden with spices, paper, and that eponymous cloth. These days it's still possible to explore those ancient routes through Central Asia and the Middle East, travelling by bus or train through some of the least visited parts of the modern world. See captainschoice.com.au

CAMINO DE SANTIAGO, SPAIN

This 780-kilometre pathway from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in France to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, used for so long as a Christian pilgrimage to the burial site of St James, has more recently become a popular walk for travellers of all beliefs. See spain.info

See also: Where does the Camino de Santiago start and finish?

THE SALKANTAY TRAIL, PERU

The Inca Trail is undoubtedly Peru's most popular walk, but it is the lesser known Salkantay Trail – another path carved by the Incas through the spectacular Andes Mountains, ending near Machu Picchu – that provides a multi-day hiking journey like no other. See worldexpeditions.com

CHIANG MAI, THAILAND TO LUANG PRABANG, LAOS

One of the many chapels of the temple in Luang Prabang.

One of the many chapels of the temple in Luang Prabang. Photo: iStock

Though you could easily fly between these two tourist hot spots, or even take the bus, by far the most leisurely and interesting journey is aboard a slow boat, departing from Huay Xai on the Thai-Laos border. This is the way to see northern Laos at its relaxed, indolent best, afloat on the river. See luangsay.com

USHUAIA, ARGENTINA TO ANTARCTICA

The destination is a remarkable one: Antarctica, the last frontier for many travellers, a land of snow and ice and deep, brooding silence. And yet the journey there is formidable, a three-day crossing of the infamously violent Drake Passage aboard an expedition vessel. It's daunting, and occasionally frightening, but worth it. See chimuadventures.com.au

See also: The luxurious hotel at the end of the world

GREAT OCEAN ROAD, AUSTRALIA

Though the drive across the Nullarbor Plain is amazing, and the journey on the Grand Pacific Drive spectacular, there is surely no more famous or beautiful stretch of tarmac in Australia than the Great Ocean Road. This 243-kilometre trip from Torquay to Allansford hugs the rugged coastline of southern Victoria. See visitvictoria.com

See also: One of the most spectacular coastal drives in the world

ROUTE 66, US

Where better to get your kicks than this famous set of roadways running through the heart of the US, a 3940-kilometre journey from Chicago, Illinois to Santa Monica, California? Travellers call through seven states along 12 highways on this now decertified but still much-loved route. See visittheusa.com

See also: World's 10 best road trips

3. ARCHITECTURE

THE WONDER OF THE ALHAMBRA, GRANADA, SPAIN

The Alhambra in Granada, southern Spain.

The Alhambra in Granada, southern Spain. Photo: iStock

By Ute Junker

Remember the sore neck you suffered after gazing up at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel? Expect more of the same after visiting The Alhambra. Intricate decorations cover every inch of this magnificent Moorish palace, but the ceilings are particularly eye-catching. In the Sala de los Reyes, or Hall of the Kings, the ceilings are made of leather, painted with portraits of the Nasrid rulers; in the Salon de los Embajadores, or Hall of the Ambassadors, the intricate star pattern on the ceiling is assembled out of more than 8000 cedar pieces. Elsewhere, the ceilings are studded with muqarnas, intricate honeycomb vaulting.

The ceilings are just the start. Although their story is today often forgotten, the Moorish rulers who for 800 years governed much of Spain – or al-Andalus, as they called it – had a flair for architecture. Under their rule, this was the most cultured part of Europe, where poetry, science and art flourished. Their glorious palaces, monuments to their power and their pride, have largely disappeared but in the Alhambra, perched high above the city of Granada, remains a portal where you can be transported to a vanished past.

The Alhambra was a massive edifice, originally covering more than 10 hectares, and including a fortress, soldiers' barracks, offices and shops. Of course, the loveliest parts are the royal palaces. Walking through the 14th-century Palacio Nazaries, with its succession of fountains and columned courtyards, it is hard to know where to look first, with its double arched windows, the lace-like lattices, the verses transcribed on the walls in exquisite calligraphy and the brightly coloured alicatado tiles, arranged in geometric patterns.

The Nasrids were as skilled at engineering as they were at architecture. As well as toilets with running water, the palace had in-house steam baths, where star-shaped skylights let in light and marble floors concealed pipes that carried hot air and steam to regulate the temperatures.

There are buildings that are older and there are buildings that are bigger, but for sheer sensual delight, the Alhambra remains unsurpassed. In Islamic tradition, paradise is presented as a garden, but the Alhambra makes a case for paradise being an Andalusian palace. See www.spain.info

See also: 10 of the world's great palaces you need to visit

SEVEN MORE WONDERS OF THE WORLD OF ARCHITECTURE AND TRAVEL

BRASILIA CATHEDRAL, BRAZIL

The Renaissance was the peak period for awe-inspiring churches; since then, it has been steadily downhill. Honourable exception: Oscar Niemeyer's dazzling Brasilia Cathedral, part of his modernist design for Brazil's custom-built capital, Brasilia. See visitbrasil.com/en/

See also: Brasilia: How Brazil's capital became a masterpiece

ANTWERP CENTRAL STATION, BELGIUM

Antwerp, Belgium - August 14, 2015: Famous Art Deco interior of central hall Antwerp main station with running commuters and tourists SatFeb11ThreeMin-Antwerp - David Whitley Credit: iStock

The famous Art Deco interior of central hall Antwerp main station. Photo: iStock

Europe's grandest train stations preserve the romance of the golden age of European rail travel, but few of them are as delightfully dazzling as Antwerp's Central Station, with its lashings of marble and gilding. See visitflanders.com

CHAND BAORI STEPWELL, JAIPUR, INDIA

Jaipur is packed with beautiful palaces and forts, so why bother looking at a 1000-year-old piece of infrastructure? Because the Escheresque symmetry of its 3500 steps, which descend 20 metres to the well's bottom, is extraordinarily beautiful. See incredibleindia.org

CHURCH OF ST GEORGE, LALIBELA, ETHIOPIA

According to legend, the magnificent rock churches at Lalibela were actually built by flocks of angels. That seems as reasonable an explanation as any: it's hard to imagine how 13th-century labourers managed to carve this magnificent cruciform church out of a cliff. See ethiopia.travel

TORAJA HOUSES, SULAWESI, INDONESIA

The Toraja people of Sulawesi give a new meaning to the term "house proud". It takes about five months to build one of their striking stilted houses, colourfully painted and topped with oversized boat-shaped roofs. See indonesia.travel

SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE, SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA

Of course, we're partisan, but it is impossible to leave the Opera House, one of the world's most distinctive buildings, off this list. Its soaring sails are equally enchanting glittering in the sun or bathed in the moonlight. See sydneyoperahouse.com

See also: The best of Sydney on a budget

THE TREASURY AT PETRA, JORDAN

Hands-down winner of the prize for Best First Impressions. After a long approach through the sinuous gorge known as the Siq, the first glimpse of The Treasury's 40 metre high facade, carved into the rock face by the ancient Nabateans 2000 years ago, is a knock-out. See visitjordan.com

4. WILDLIFE

THE WONDER OF A RHINO SAFARI IN AFRICA

A black rhino in Etosha National Park.

A black rhino in Etosha National Park. Photo: iStock

By Brian Johnston

A four-wheel-drive safari into the bush is one of travel's greatest experiences. In the early morning and again just before sundown, you set off in open-top Land Rovers that leaveyou seemingly exposed to a passing snap of jaws. A tracker teeters on the car's bonnet, consults droppings and follows animals with impressive experience. Elephants amble past, zebras flee. You stop within arm's reach of two cheetahs and nobody moves, thrilled and half terrified at such a close encounter. The cheetah stares back, golden eyes hypnotising.

Yet if having half a car door between you and an African carnivore sounds thrilling and unnerving enough, undertaking a safari on foot lifts the experience to another level. It is more immediate, more elemental, more like the human-versus-wild test of nerves that our ancestors must have endured.

A walking safari is both frightening and exhilarating. Common sense tells you that few tourists get eaten (though it isn't unknown), while instinct suggests you're being wilfully rash. And of all the creatures you wouldn't care to encounter, a rhino tops the list for being both active by day and unpredictable by nature.

You can track rhino on foot with specialist safaris in various parts of Africa, including Phinda Private Game Reserve in eastern South Africa. When the tracker picks up a rhino's trail, you descend from the vehicle's security and set off across the grassland. The tracker points out scuffs on tree trunks, footprints the size of dinner plates and dung that steams with animal power. Finally the beast appears. Being steps from a wild rhino and its musky smell is a visceral experience that can't be described. You're confronted by three tons of raw muscle topped by a 90-centimetre horn that can punch through the side of a car. Whether you get your money back if you're gored is unclear, but one thing is sure: this is the ultimate adrenaline sport.

See also: White rhino conservation safaris: Trips where you can help save wildlife

SEVEN MORE WONDERS OF THE WORLD OF WILDLIFE TRAVEL

SEASONAL MIGRATION, TANZANIA

Serengeti National Park's annual migration of wildebeest, zebra and gazelle is one of the world's most incredible mass movements of wildlife as vast herds follow new grass growth and give birth to 500,000 calves. See serengeti.org

GORILLA ENCOUNTER, UGANDA

Mountain silverback gorilla in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Uganda.

Mountain silverback gorilla in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Uganda. Photo: iStock

Tracking gorillas in dense rainforest is thrilling and slightly unnerving, but when you come face to face with these magnificent creatures it's a moment of pure heart-pounding animal magic. The bamboo forests of the misty Virunga Mountains are home to half the world's population of critically endangered gorillas. See bwindiforestnationalpark.com

PENGUIN COLONIES, ANTARCTICA

Nothing beats the fabulous sight of vast colonies of these endearing birds, and that requires a cruise to Antarctica or New Zealand's sub-Antarctic islands. Quite the sight as they waddle across the ice, fling themselves into frigid waters, or show their characteristic curiosity by approaching onlookers. See chimuadventures.com

SHARK DIVING, SOUTH AFRICA

South Africa is fabled for its cage dives with great white sharks, nowhere more accessible than at Simonstown, a seaside suburb of Cape Town. Despite the steel bars, your heart will be pounding when you see the predatory fish fronted by its mouthful of knife-long teeth. See southafrica.net

See also: Adventure activities to do in Cape Town

SWIMMING WITH WHALE SHARKS, AUSTRALIA

WHALE SHARKS: The biggest fish on earth – weighing up to 15 tonnes and getting up to 12 metres in length – are whale sharks. And they can be found hanging out off the Ningaloo​ Reef in Western Australia between April and July. Ningaloo Blue is among a number of operators that take swimmers out to meet the lovably docile giants from Exmouth.

The biggest fish on earth: Whale sharks can be found hanging out off the Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia. Photo: iStock

Head out onto Ningaloo Reef in WA for an encounter with other sea monsters as they migrate through between April and July. The world's biggest fish are nearly 10 metres long, and cruise slowly through the clear waters in search of the tiny krill on which they feed. See westernaustralia.com

CHASING DARWIN, ECUADOR

These islands are a wildlife must for helping Darwin formulate his theory of evolution. But they also supply an extraordinarily intimate wildlife experience. Gulls land on your head, iguanas are close enough for you to hear them munching seaweed, seals swim by snorkelers.

POLAR BEAR SPOTTING, CANADA

The poster animals of global warming live across Canada's north but are most accessible at Wapusk National Park near Churchill in Manitoba. Set off in a bear-proof tundra buggy in October or November to see these magnificent animals. See canada.travel

5. FOOD

THE WONDER OF TAPAS IN SPAIN

Spanish snacks (pintxos) on the counter of a tapas bar in  San Sebastian.

Spanish snacks on the counter of a tapas bar in San Sebastian. Photo: iStock

By Terry Durack

This year, the 195 members of the United Nations will vote on whether tapas deserve to be added to UNESCO's Intangible Cultural Heritage list of things "that require urgent measures to keep alive".

You can witness more urgent measures to protect Spain's culinary heritage every night in every tiny village and bustling city street throughout the country as young and old meet over a platter of jamon and a few olives, then move on to the next bar and do it all again.

Because tapas are (it's plural, the singular is tapa, which means "lid") as much about walking and talking as they are about eating and drinking. They may have started as just a slice of manchego or jamon placed over your glass of sherry but now? Now, it's slow-poached eggs buried under shaved truffle or high-tech spherical "olives" made of olive juice gel.

Seville is said to be the birthplace of the enchanting tapas dance known as a the tapeo, so let's meet at the old, worn wooden bar of its oldest tapas bar, the tile-clad El Rinconcillo. The waiter carves the ruby-red jamon as if playing a violin, fingers of salt cod land straight from the deep-fryer, the Valdepenas is poured all night, and the crowd spills out into the street, unable to be contained. But the night is young, so we'll dance off for montaditos (bread topped with ham, cheese, seafood) at the lively Casa Morales, or for the cuttlefish-filled pastry cigar at Eslava.

Then it's on to the lovely Basquaise port city of San Sebastian – not for its many Michelin-starred establishments but for pinchos; small snacks traditionally attached to a piece of bread with a cocktail stick. You pick up, you bite, you drop the stick on the floor, and you dance away, through the old quarter, stopping at Goiz Argi for its garlicky prawns, Ganbara for mushrooms, and Txepetxa, which has been doing great things to anchovies for more than 100 years.

In Barcelona, the dance never stops. Fuelled by the house-made vermut at the historic Quimet y Quimet and the cava at El Xampanyet, you can two-step into the future, as top chefs rethink tapas for the next-gen.

Drop into Tapas 24 for Carles Abellan's cheeky truffle sandwich and "la bomba", a perfect little ball of crisp-fried meat and mashed potato. Or book ahead for Albert Adria's nostalgia-driven Bodega 1900, where manager Angel Geriz will dance you through patatas fritas and tiny calamaretti hot dogs, to aged and cured Galician beef the colour of blood, creamily flecked with fat.

Such a dance could exist only in Spain. It's a commitment to a way of life, a shared experience, a stolen moment; inseparably linked to the culture and agriculture of the country. We should all do what we can to keep it alive. See spain.info

See also: 20 things that will surprise first-time visitors to Spain

SEVEN MORE WONDERS OF THE WORLD OF FOOD AND TRAVEL

MORTADELLA

Genuine mortadella is a giant among sausages, literally, weighing as much as 200 kilograms of what is, quintessentially, pork fat. Sweetly spiced and finely sliced, it is the beating heart of Bologna, in Emilia-Romana. See bolognawelcome.com/en/

THE OYSTER

Educate your oyster palate with the magnificently fleshy Gillardeaus of La Rochelle in France, Colchester Natives of Essex, Kumamotos from north-western America or New Zealand Bluffs from the south of the South Island; all different, all brilliant. See au.france.fr; visitbritain.com/au/en; newzealand.com

ROQUEFORT

Why? Because of its creation story (a shepherd supposedly left his ewe's milk cheese sandwich in a cave, the bread grew a mould that then fermented the cheese, veining it with blue); because it's soft and sharp and creamy; and because you can actually visit the original natural caves of Mount Combalou and the village of Roquefort in southern France. See au.france.fr

AFTERNOON TEA AT THE RITZ, LONDON

Palm Court at the Ritz is one of the most beautiful rooms in London, with an afternoon tea to match.

Palm Court at the Ritz is one of the most beautiful rooms in London, with an afternoon tea to match. Photo: Supplied

To take afternoon tea is the edible mark of a civilised country, and the most civilised afternoon tea in the world is to be found in the gloriously Edwardian Palm Court of The Ritz London where "Tea Is Served" five times a day. (But it's also good at Betty's of Harrogate.) See theritzlondon.com

See also: Six of the best: High teas around the world

PARIS

Because it's not a city; it's an attitude, a style, a grace note. It's the way in which Parisians do things correctly, respectfully, skilfully. It's everywhere – from a grand fine-diner (Restaurant Jean-Francois Piege) to a neighbourhood bistro (Le Comptoir); local wine bar (Le Verre Vole); bustling brasserie (Bofinger); chic modern diner (Septime); exquisite bakery (Du Pain et Des Idees) or irresistible patisserie (Hugo & Victor). See en.parisinfo.com

DIM SUM IN HONG KONG

Dim sum is another art form that you can eat, a product of high Cantonese kitchen craft and a devilishly clever way of doing business and dining at the same time. At its highest skill and luxury level, it has to be at Lung King Heen in Hong Kong, but yum cha brings joy to my heart wherever it may roam, high-end or low. See hongkong.com

See also: World's best places to eat Chinese food

SUSHI IN TOKYO

Tokyo not only has the biggest fish market in the world but it also has no fewer than 50,000 sushi restaurants. Sushi is a performance art as much as a meditative, measured way of eating and learning, and, quite justifiably, it can be very pricey. Try Sukibayashi Jiro, Sushi Sawada, Sushi Saito or Sushi Kanesaka. See jnto.org.au

See also: 20 things that will shock first time visitors to Japan

6. TRANSPORT

THE WONDER OF JAPAN'S BULLET TRAIN

A bullet train capable of 500km/h.

A bullet train capable of 500km/h. Photo: Peter O'Donnell

By Michael Gebicki

Japan has been the trailblazer in the development of high-speed rail travel, setting a benchmark for innovation and engineering excellence that others are now following.

Known modestly as Shinkansen, "new trunk line", the first bullet train was the Tokaido Shinkansen, which began operations in 1964 between Tokyo and Osaka, now the world's busiest high-speed train line and has transported 5.3 billion passengers, far more than any other high-speed railway system in the world.

Since then there have been several mutations of the Shinkansen power plants. In service at the moment, the 500, 700, N700 and 800 series all have a maximum speed of 260-300km/h. There are also the E series Shinkansens, with a maximum speed of 240 to 320km/h in the case of the sleek, futuristic E5 Shinkansen. In testing is the LO Series Shinkansen, an absolute howler of a Maglev with a top speed of 500km/h, requiring a special track and scheduled to begin service in 2025 on a 366-kilometre route from Tokyo to Nagoya. This is the train that broke the world speed record with a pulse-quickening 603km/h performance on a test track in 2015.

For a passenger the first-time ride on a Shinkansen is an experience to savour. On board there is little sensation that you're galloping across 1½ Olympic-size swimming pools a second, until you pass another Shinkansen headed in the opposite direction. There is a slight bump and the other train is gone. A 16-carriage, 400-metre long train has just passed by in slightly less than 2.5 seconds.

Japan's bullet trains are no longer the world's fastest. High-speed trains in Italy and China go at higher speeds, yet Japan's Shinkansen trains have set a safety record that will be hard to beat. During its 50-plus years in operation the Shinkansen have carried more than 10 billion passengers, without a single fatality resulting from a collision or derailment. See jnto.org.au

See also: Five things to know about Japan's Shinkansen

SEVEN MORE WONDERS OF THE WORLD OF TRANSPORT AND TRAVEL

MAGLEV TRAIN, SHANGHAI, CHINA

The Shanghai Maglev Train travels at a scorching 430km/h, covering the 30 kilometres between Pudong International Airport and the city of Shanghai in just eight minutes. World's fastest train and an engineering marvel, the maglev uses an electromagnetic field to glide above the track, eliminating wheel drag. See meet-in-shanghai.net

JUNGFRAU RAILWAY, SWITZERLAND

High above Lauterbrunnen in the Swiss Alps, this mountain railway climbs like a mountain goat to Jungfraujoch, Europe's highest railway station at 3454 metres. For most of its journey the train runs through the Jungfrau Tunnel, a wormhole carved through the innards of the Eiger and Monch mountains, with stops to admire the icy scenery through portholes. See jungfrau.ch

BOEING 787 DREAMLINER

The first new generation commercial aircraft is a game-changer, delivering improved fuel consumption and a more comfortable flying experience with more oxygen in your lungs thanks to a composite cabin able to tolerate higher pressure. See boeing.com

See also: Unusual, record-breaking planes: Six incredible planes you'll never fly on

HARMONY OF THE SEAS

World's largest cruise ship, tipping the scales at 227,000 tonnes, Harmony of the Seas takes the wow factors into the stratosphere for her full complement of almost 5500 guests with four swimming pools and 10 hot tubs, an aqua theatre, a Bionic Bar with robotic barmen, a 1400-seat theatre and a water slide complex. See royalcaribbean.com.au

See also: 20 amazing new ships set to change cruising forever

THE GOLDEN EAGLE, RUSSIA

Decked out like a gilded ballroom from the time of the Russian czars, this is the only fully en-suite train travelling through Russia, China and central Asia, with proper beds, service befitting a posh hotel and caviar all the way. See captainschoice.com.au

AIRBUS A350 XWB

Airbus' answer to Boeing's Dreamliner, the A350 lifts the bar a notch with a roomier cabin, huge overhead bin space, a fourth generation inflight entertainment system and a cabin that sets a new record for noise suppression. See airbus.com

See also: Airbus A350 XWB vs Boeing 787 Dreamliner: Which new long-haul carrier is best?

SHANGHAI–KUNMING HIGH-SPEED RAILWAY

Girdling southern China, this new line is the showpiece in China's rush to develop its high-speed rail network, covering the 2266 kilometres between these two cities in just 11 hours, running at a maximum speed of 330km/h. See china-railway.com.cn/en/

7. CULTURE

THE WONDER OF AMSTERDAM'S MUSEUMS

By Katrina Lobley

Half a lifetime ago I visited Amsterdam. Back then I was more interested in drinking than thinking so museums weren't high on the hit-list. When a recent trip to France included two five-hour stopovers in Amsterdam, instead of cursing the connections I cheered the chance to make up for a misspent youth.

Five hours in an airport are agonising but they whiz by when you set out to squeeze some of the world's greatest masterpieces into your life. Thanks to the dazzling array of wonders contained within museums, it's easy to pursue your own peculiar obsession, whether that is shoes (try Toronto's Bata Shoe Museum), ice-age fossils (LA's La Brea Tar Pits) or ancient erotic pottery (Lima's Museo Larco).

So at Schiphol, I take a deep breath and commit to the crazy stopover – all in the name of art. After a maelstrom of immigration queues, ATMs and information desks, I tumble from a city bus to stand in front of the Rijksmuseum, which showcases Dutch art from the past 800 years. The building resembles a fairytale castle, down to the turrets and arched passageway running through its guts. Cyclists pedal through the tunnel, unaware they're contributing to a charming tableau.

With no queues (it's just past opening time), it takes mere minutes to find myself standing before canvases by the masters: Rembrandt's Night Watch and his self-portrait as the Apostle Paul, Vermeer's Woman Reading a Letter and Hals' joyful Portrait of a Couple, Probably Isaac Abrahamsz Massa and Beatrix van der Laen all leave a lasting impression.

Time ticks down; I speed past blue and white Delftware and then, boom, I'm back at Schiphol, wondering if that all really happened. That surreal feeling returns during Stopover Two. Today, my destination is the Van Gogh Museum, also in Amsterdam's Museum Quarter.

This is the planet's largest collection of Van Gogh works and I peer at them from inches away, absorbing the energetic brushstrokes of the blue-purple irises, wheat fields, self-portraits and interiors.

I have been up since 3am to make this flight into Amsterdam before continuing on to Australia. I'm delirious with sleep deprivation by the time I race for the airport bus. I wouldn't recommend these museum dashes to the anxious or the weak of nerve but the pay-off for me is an art-induced euphoria that lasts all the way back to Sydney. Those rush hours seem, in fact, like a stroke of genius. See iamsterdam.com

See also: Six of the best: Unusual Dutch museums

SEVEN OTHER WONDERS OF THE WORLD OF CULTURE AND TRAVEL

MICHELANGELO'S DAVID, FLORENCE, ITALY

Stand in front of Michelangelo's five-metre-high marble sculpture of David, installed within Florence's Galleria dell'Accademia, and wonder how the 16th-century artist created something so close to perfection while still a mere 20-something. See accademia.org

JAZZFEST, NEW ORLEANS, US

Be there for Jazzfest when music spills from club doors and street corners and the vibe is most definitely on the steamy side, and you'll find yourself falling for the resilient city that has bounced back from hurricane horror. See nojazzfest.com

KYOTO'S TORII GATES, JAPAN

Repetition might sound dull – until you see Kyoto's thousands of vermilion torii (shrine gates) that snake up the side of a sacred mountain. The Fushimi Inari Shrine is among Japan's most popular attractions. See kyoto.travel/en

GRACELAND, MEMPHIS, US

The King's spirit lingers in his kitsch time capsule that is an essential stop for visitors to Memphis. Admire the green shag carpet and Polynesian stylings of the famed Jungle Room and file past Presley's grave before bedding down in The Guest House, a neighbouring hotel where Priscilla Presley had a hand in the design. See graceland.com

GONDOLA, ITALY

A gondola on the Grand Canal, Venice.

A gondola on the Grand Canal, Venice. Photo: iStock

It's a cliche, sure, but that is because there is nothing quite like exploring Venice's aquatic thoroughfares that echo with song while your gondolier uses a few quick kicks to keep the vessel's shiny paintwork away from centuries-old walls. See en.turismovenezia.it

SHEBEEN, SOUTH AFRICA

These township taverns, such as Johannesburg's Chaf-Pozi, are joyous places, especially on weekends when everyone's ready to shake it. When a complete stranger grabs your hand and pulls you onto the dance floor, just know this – resistance is futile. See country.southafrica.net

BERLIN'S EAST SIDE GALLERY, GERMANY

A 1.3-kilometre-long scrap of the Berlin wall, covered in art works that speak to the horror of the capitalist-communist divide that lasted decades, is a potent reminder of the Cold War – and the stupidity of building walls. See visitberlin.de/en

TRAVELLER ASKS

Agree or disagree with our writers' choices? Send us your choices of the seven wonders of travel at travellerletters@fairfaxmedia.com.au

See also: The hottest travel destinations to visit in 2017

See also: Ten countries you (probably) haven't visited - but should

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The best places to visit in 2017

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