28 Places to See Before You Die—the Taj Mahal, Grand Canyon and More

We’ve traveled the globe and compiled a “life list” of places to visit before taking the ultimate trip to the great beyond

The Taj Mahal, Agra, India.

More About the Taj Mahal. Bob Krist/Corbis
Mesa Verde, Colorado National Park, USA

More About Mesa Verde. Jeremy Edwards, iStockphoto
Pompeii, Italy

More About Pompeii. iStockphoto
Tikal, Guatemala

More About Tikal. Daniel Loncarevic, iStockphoto
Petra, Jordan

More About Petra. Jan Rihak, iStockphoto
The Pyramids of Giza, Egypt

More About the Pyramids of Giza. Steven Allan, iStockphoto
Easter Island

More About Easter Island. iStockphoto
The Great Wall, China

More About the Great Wall of China. iStockphoto
Aurora Borealis

More About the Aurora Borealis. Constance McGuire, iStockphoto
Serengeti, Tanzania

More About the Serengeti. Marshall Bruce, iStockphoto
Iguazu Falls, Argentina/Brazil

More About the Iguazu Falls. Torsten Karock, iStockphoto
Machu Picchu, Peru

More About Machu Picchu. Dan Cooper, iStockphoto
The Louvre, Paris, France

More About the Louvre. Sylvie Fourgeot, iStockphoto
Zen Garden of Kyoto, Japan

More About the Zen Gardens of Kyoto. Ralph Howald, iStockphoto
Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy

More About the Uffizi Gallery. Atlantide Phototravel/Corbis
Fallingwater, Pennsylvania

More About Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater. Richard A. Cooke/Corbis
Yangtze River, China

More About the Yangtze River. Ivor Clarke, iStockphoto
Antarctica

More About Antarctica. Jan Will, iStockphoto
Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

More About Mount Kilimanjaro. DLILLC/Corbis
The Grand Canyon, Arizona

More About the Grand Canyon. Alexey Stiop, iStockphoto
Bagan, Myanmar

More About Bagan. Alena Yakusheva, iStockphoto
Parthenon, Athens, Greece

More About the Parthenon. Sean Jolly, iStockphoto
Angkor Wat, Cambodia

More About Angkor Wat. David Licence, iStockphoto
Ephesus, Turkey

More About Ephesus. MedioImages/Corbis
Venice, Italy

More About Venice. Christine Balderas, iStockphoto
Amazon Rain Forest, South America

More About the Amazon Rain Forest. Morley Read, iStockphoto
The Great Barrier Reef, Australia

More About the Great Barrier Reef. iStockphoto
Galápagos Islands,

More About the Galápagos Islands. Aiyana Paterson-Zinkand, iStockphoto
Santorini, Greece

More About Santorini. Phil Dunne / Alamy
Iceland

More About Iceland. Jon Arnold Images Ltd / Alamy
Barcelona, Spain

More About Barcelona. [ apply pictures ] / Alamy
Costa Rica

More About Costa Rica. MostardiPhotography / Alamy
Everglades, Florida, USA

More About the Everglades. Jon Helgason / Alamy
The Tour de France, France

More About the Tour de France. Aurora Photos / Alamy
The Vasaloppet, Sweden

More About the Vasaloppet. Chad Ehlers / Alamy
The Appalachian Trail, USA

More About the Appalachian Trail. Aurora Photos / Alamy
"If James Michener's Hawaii made an impact or if Gauguin's paintings in Tahiti draw you to the Pacific, you'll just fall in love with the place," says Ward Mardfin, treasurer of the Hana Cultural Center. John Elk III / Alamy
Robben Island, in the foreground, is where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned. In the background is the 3,562 foot tall Table Mountain. Images of Africa Photobank / Alamy
Outer Hebrides, Scotland

More About the Outer Hebrides. Brian & Sophia Fuller / Alamy
White Sands, New Mexico

More About White Sands. Bill Coster LA / Alamy
Fatehpur Sikri, Agra, India

More About Fatehpur Sikri. dbimages / Alamy
Berlin, Germany

More About Berlin. Corbis Flirt / Alamy
Newfoundland, Canada

More About Newfoundland. All Canada Photos / Alamy

Editor’s Note: We’ve since expanded our life list to 43 sites around the world for wildlife lovers, adventure seekers and those seeking just a respite from their busy schedules.

"We are all of us resigned to death: it's life we aren't resigned to," novelist Graham Greene once wrote. A growing number of Americans of all ages are embracing that idea by renewing a resolve to live life to its fullest.

Exhibit A is the recent popularity of "life lists"—itineraries of things to do and places to go before taking the ultimate trip to the Great Beyond. Bookstores brim with titles such as 1,000 Places to See Before You Die, 1001 Paintings You Must See Before You Die and—for the high-minded—Fifty Places to Go Birding Before You Die. A cottage industry of Web sites has also popped up, enabling life list enthusiasts to exchange ideas ranging from learning Japanese to getting a tattoo. Now even Hollywood has gotten into the act, with the release this month of the film The Bucket List, in which two cancer patients, played by Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman, break out of their medical ward and embark on a life list road trip that includes dining on expensive caviar and gambling in Monte Carlo.

Life list experts (yes, there are such beings) advise people not to set themselves up for disappointment by trying to accomplish too much. (When's the last time you completed your daily to-do list?) With the entire world to choose from, the maxim "so much to do, so little time" takes on added meaning.

To that end, the staff of Smithsonian—as diverse a group of travelers as you're likely to meet—put their heads together to come up with an exclusive list of 28 places the Smithsonian reader might wish to visit before ...it's too late. Some of the sites are portals into the past—ancient cities so well preserved that visiting them is like stepping into a previous century. Others feature feats of engineering or sublime works of art—or, in the cases of the Taj Mahal and Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater, both. Travelers can visit temples and churches so breathtaking they must have been built with divine inspiration. For the more adventurous, we offer rewards beyond mere sightseeing—from a three-day hike across the Grand Canyon to a ride along China's Yangtze River.

While all of these destinations beckon year-round, there are places where timing matters: many travelers are at a loss for words after witnessing the sun rise over Machu Picchu or seeing Iguazu Falls by the light of a full moon. And, appropriately, some of our sites now confront their own mortality—endangered by pollution or just worn down, like a few of us, by the passage of time.

Whether you visit only a couple of these destinations or all 28, your life will be enriched by the experience. And if along the way you want to gorge on caviar or get a tattoo, that's entirely up to you.

Portals into the Past
Walk the timeless streets and byways of ancient cities on three continents

Mesa Verde
Pompeii
Tikal
Petra

Feats of Engineering
The world's surviving architectural wonders hewed from stone and mortar beckon as ever

Pyramids of Giza
Taj Mahal
Easter Island
The Great Wall

A Matter of Timing
Choosing the right year, month or even moment can make all the difference

Aurora Borealis
Serengeti
Iguazu Falls
Machu Picchu

Triumphs of Vision
Come face to face with history's finest works of art and design

The Louvre
Zen Garden of Kyoto
Uffizi Gallery
Fallingwater

Scale New Heights
Don't just see nature's most spectacular sites—experience them

Yangtze River
Antarctica
Mount Kilimanjaro
Grand Canyon

In the Presence of Gods
Encounter temples so magnificent then could only have been built by divine inspiration

Bagan
Parthenon
Angkor Wat
Ephesus

Here Today, Gone Tomorrow?
Visit these deteriorating or threatened destinations before they disappear

Venice
Amazon Rain Forest
Great Barrier Reef
Galápagos Islands