What kind of extremes do you like? If you're into intense thrills, then you'll wanna ride the world's fastest roller coaster, leap off the world's highest bungee platform, and dive into the world's deepest swimming pool. If, on the other hand, you prefer being awed by natural wonders, then make your way to Laos to see the world's widest waterfall, before popping down to Vietnam to delve into the world's biggest cave. Or if it's the ancient history of the human race that tickles your fancy, then travel to Italy to meet Otzi, who's been around for 5000 years and is Europe's oldest living mummy. But if none of these really appeal, then just head to the heart of Ireland and enjoy an unearned pint in what is probably the oldest pub in the world.
The battle to be the world's most visited city is a remarkably hard-fought affair, and close runners-up Bangkok, Paris and New York will be vying to claim the crown for themselves in subsequent years. But at the time of writing the winner was London, which drew almost 16 million visitors in 2013. Its historic, cultural and political attractions certainly play a large part – the Tower of London, Shakespeare's Globe, the Houses of Parliament – and so perhaps does its exceptionally multicultural population, and its convenient position lodged between Europe and North America.
What could the world's most popular tourist attraction possibly be? An ancient temple, a breathtaking viewpoint, an iconic artwork or a natural wonder? No, it's the Las Vegas Strip, that glitzy neon-lit stretch of resorts and casinos, bars and restaurants, where Hunter S Thompson found the somewhat unsettling heart of the American Dream. Fifteen of the world's largest 25 hotels are located on the Strip, accommodating an almighty 62,000 tourists. Beneath their shadow you can find the world's biggest gift shop, heaps of nightclubs and cabaret venues, and the really rather spectacular dancing Bellagio Fountains.
The centerpiece of Emaar Properties's outrageously opulent new shopping-and-entertainment complex Downtown Dubai, Burj Khalifa towers above a patchwork of turquoise waterscapes and enormous shopping malls. At 828 meters, it's almost 200 meters taller than its nearest competitor, Shanghai Tower, and boasts a boggling 160 stories. Its outdoor observation deck is located on floor 124, where you can gaze out over the oil-rich city to the sand-blown desert beyond.
Appropriately housed in the Ferrari World theme park, the Formula Rossa blows away the competition with its top speed of 150mph (240km/h). Using a hydraulic launch system based on the design of aircraft carrier catapults, it shoots to this speed in only five seconds before hurtling round the rest of the ride's 1.4 mile track. This track's design was inspired by the legendary Italian racetrack Autodromo Nazionale Monza, and riders – like their Grand Prix counterparts – have to wear safety goggles for the duration of the ride.
Photo via their official FB page.
In 1991, two hikers were walking through the Ötztal Alps when they stumbled across a human corpse, its head and torso jutting out of the ice and meltwater. The corpse turned out to be over 5000 years old, last walking the earth sometime between 3350 and 3100 BC. The discovery was an archaeological sensation, providing unprecedented insights into Chalcolithic Europeans: nicknamed Otzi, the mummy was around 45 years old when he died, probably killed by the arrow-wound left in his shoulder; he carried a copper axe, his body was covered with charcoal tattoos, and his stomach contained recent meals of ibex meat and, curiously, pollen. Tourists can meet Otzi at the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Italy.
Though not as well-known as such celebrity waterfalls as Niagara and Victoria, Chutes de Khone actually outdoes them all: an astonishing six miles wide, it gushes out 2,500,000 gallons of water per second. Found in southern Laos, Khone straddles the mighty Mekong River, rendering it impassable and hindering centuries of economic trade between Laos and other east Asian countries. Most of the year the waterfall is split into seven thunderous channels and cascades over a myriad of of smaller falls and rapids, but in Monsoon season the flooding river consumes it entirely, leaving only a few choppy currents to suggest that the world's widest waterfall ever existed.
Photo via their official website.
Yawning beneath the Annamite Mountains, the Son Doong Cave lay untouched and undetected for millions of years – until a local farmer stumbled upon it in 1991. Unfortunately, he promptly forgot where he'd found it, and it wasn't until 2009 that a group of cavers, with the farmer's help, finally identified its mouth, hidden deep in the jungle of central Vietnam. Entering it starts with an 80-meter abseil down a sheer rock-face, followed by a descent mystically swathed in the drifting mists created by the differences in temperature inside and outside the cave. At the bottom, a phenomenal subterranean world appears, composed of raging rivers, lush jungle, 70-meter stalagmites and still lakes, leading to a central cavern that is more than five kilometers long, 200 meters high and 150 meters wide.
Photo via their official FB page.
Until very recently, this title was claimed by the famous Nemo 33 pool in Belgium, where many of the world's top scuba divers – as well as movie stars in various sub-aqueous films – had delved down to the 34.5 meter floor. But the accolade has been snatched by Y-40 in Montegrotto, Italy, which contains a series of platforms and caves at various depths surrounding a central shaft, six meters in diameter, where you can descend to a shadowy 40 meters. Anyone can arrange to take a dip, but if you're not an experienced diver, try not to drop anything too precious...
Photo via the AJ Hackett Bungy Experience.
Bungee jumping is about psychological rather than physical challenge: at the top of the Macau Tower, overlooking the far east's version of Vegas, you won't be gambling with your life. But standing on a narrow ledge 233 meters from the city floor, watching cars crawl through the maze of streets and peering at mainland China shimmering on the horizon, your rational mind will struggle to hold onto that knowledge and keep your tiny legs from trembling. So try not to think too much, and just jump out into the empty air...
Photo via their official FB page.
OK, so the Guinness Book of Records decided it was too thorny a subject to declare this the oldest pub in the world, and only named it the most ancient in Ireland. But no other contender has appeared, and Sean's certainly seems worthy of that title – archaeological tests have found that the walls date back to 900 AD, and stashed behind the bar are records from every landlord back to its founding. To follow in the footsteps of ghosts, anyone who enjoys a cold beer can swill one within the wattle walls and imagine what it must have been like when tenth century punters were strolling in through the front doors.