You may know that Yellowstone is the world’s oldest national park and that the Burj Khalifa is the tallest building in the world. But there are plenty of other superlative spots out there that rarely get their due.
As travelers, we’re often drawn to the rare and extraordinary. Our natural curiosity compels us to chase the best, longest, fastest, oldest, deepest, tallest, most remarkable experiences Earth has to offer. We’d rather go big than go home, which is why we’ve likely visited the world’s tallest building or the oldest national park. But there are plenty of lesser-known places that are just as remarkable, like these 10 record-breaking destinations—and you’ve probably never heard of them.
Longest natural bridge: Xianren Bridge
This impressive natural bridge was discovered on Google Earth in 2009. Jay Wilbur, an aerospace engineer and founder of the Natural Arch and Bridge Society (NABS), spotted Xianren Bridge (literally, “Fairy Bridge”) in a satellite image. In 2010, NABS traveled to China to measure the bridge. At 400 feet, it is more than 100 feet longer than anything in Utah’s famous Arches National Park. The limestone formation is tucked into a remote section of southeastern China and is reachable only by the Buliu River that formed it. Few Westerners have made the trip; NABS was able to do it with the help of China Odyssey Tours.
New York City
Metros and subways might seem like means to an end, but they can also be destinations in their own right. With a total of 472 stations serving 27 lines, the MTA in New York City has more stops than any other system in the world. The distant second, Shanghai Metro, only has 337 stations. While a train-loving local may make it a goal to stop at every station over the course of several years, no one is a bigger fan of the MTA than Matthew Ahn of Ohio, who visited every station in a record-breaking 21 hours, 28 minutes, and 14 seconds in 2016. Now that’s a remarkable way to spend a day in the city.
You’ve likely heard of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), the costar of Cheryl Strayed’s book, Wild, which later became a movie starring Reese Witherspoon. You may have even traversed a section of the 2,650-mile trail, which stretches from Mexico to Canada. But the PCT pales in comparison to the recently completed trans-Canada trail. Aptly named, the Great Trail begins near Vancouver, winds all the way up to the Arctic Ocean, back down around the Great Lakes, and ends on the eastern coast of Newfoundland. It stretches a total of 14,913 miles and is now the longest continuous trail in the world. The last section was finished in September 2017, just two months after Canada’s 150th birthday. At 20 miles a day—which is an average pace for long-distance through hikers—trekking the Great Trail would take about 745 days. Don’t have two years to traverse North America by foot? You can still spend your next vacation hiking, cycling, or cross-country skiing a small (or large) section of the Great Trail.
Fastest bullet train in operation: Fuxing Hao
As the crow flies, the distance from Beijing to Shanghai is 664 miles. To drive would take roughly 13 hours, but thanks to a new bullet train, it’s possible to complete the journey in just over four hours. Operating at an average speed of 217 miles per hour (and a maximum speed of 248), the Fuxing Hao—which means “revival” in Chinese—is the fastest bullet train in the world. When it was released in 2017, the Fuxing Hao bested other bullet train models including Japan’s SCMaglev and France’s TGV, which are limited to 200 miles per hour during operating hours (although in tests, the SCMaglev has reached 375 mph). Convenience aside, a ride in the Fuxing will have you geeking out about the record-breaking speeds at which China whips by your window.
Many believe the world’s oldest university was founded in Bologna in 1088. And indeed, the term “university” was coined with the creation of that school, but the world’s first institution of higher education had already been established in Morocco—229 years earlier. Although it didn’t officially join the modern university system until 1963, the University of Al-Qarawiyyin in Fez opened in 859 and is now considered the oldest continually operating, degree-granting educational institution in the world by both Guinness World Records and UNESCO. The diploma of the school’s formidable female founder and first student, Fatima al-Fihri, sits in the Al-Qarawiyyin library (the world’s oldest library). As a traditional Muslim institution, the university surrounds a namesake mosque, which has become a favorite tourist destination in the Fez Medina. While only Muslims can enter the Al-Qarawiyyin Mosque, it’s worth stopping outside to take in the historic building’s intricate tile work and carved arches no matter your religion. Better yet, visit with a guided walking tour that will help you navigate the Medina and unlock its magic.
Deepest lake: Lake Baikal
You might not think you’d ever have a reason to visit eastern Siberia, but the spectacular views of Lake Baikal will change your mind in a hurry. At 5,315 feet deep—which is almost three times more than the depth of Crater Lake, the deepest lake in the United States—Lake Baikal is the world’s deepest continental body of water and contains one-fifth of the fresh water on the Earth’s surface (about 5,500 cubic miles). It’s also the oldest freshwater lake, formed at least 25 million years ago. While the numbers are certainly impressive, it’s the striking views of the clear water, rocky islands, and surrounding mountains that make Lake Baikal a favorite stop on the Trans-Siberian Railway Tour. A summer swim or dive in the lake’s healing waters is said to give you five extra years of life, and a winter visit offers a true Siberian experience, complete with skiing, dog sledding, and ice fishing.
Oldest operating Ferris wheel: Wiener Riesenrad
First invented in Chicago for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, the Ferris wheel was supposed to be the United States’ answer to the Eiffel Tower. But unlike Paris’s Iron Lady, the expensive-to-maintain first Ferris wheel only stood for 11 years. Still, its legacy survives on boardwalks and in amusement parks across the globe—including in one of the world’s oldest amusement parks, Prater Park, in Vienna. The Wiener Riesenrad—or “Vienna Giant Wheel”—was built to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Emperor Franz Josef I’s reign over the Austro-Hungarian Empire and has rotated 213 feet above the city since 1897, making it the oldest operating Ferris wheel in the world. Today, you can book a private cabin and a candle-lit dinner on the Wiener Riesenrad.
Longest beach: Praia do Cassino
It’s no secret that Brazil is a great beach destination. The 2.2-mile-long sandy shores of Copacabana draw more than two million visitors on New Year’s Eve alone. While the scene is certainly lively, the crowds might make you long for a more spacious place to sunbathe—and you need not leave the country to find it. Running roughly 150 miles down the South Atlantic from the mouth of Lagoa dos Patos to the Uruguayan border, Praia do Cassino, or “Casino Beach,” is the longest beach in the world. Just 15 miles from the city of Rio Grande do Sul, this lengthy waterfront is characterized (as most Brazilian beaches are) by soft white sand and perpetually sunny weather. And in addition to prime swimming, snorkeling, and surfing conditions, there will always be plenty of room for your beach umbrella.
Tallest mountain from base to peak: Mauna Kea
You probably thought that Everest was the tallest mountain in the world. And if we were judging by the peak’s elevation above sea level, you’d be right. But the Himalayan behemoth doesn’t top the charts in every measure. In Hawaii, Mauna Kea’s 33,500 total vertical feet, measured from base to summit, beats Everest by almost a mile. With only 13,796 of those feet above sea level (compared to Everest’s 29,035), more than half of this dormant volcano exists under the ocean’s surface. Hawaiian mythology says the mountain is home to the snow goddess Poli‘ahu (yes, it does snow in Hawaii—but just on the tallest volcanoes) and you can snowboard down it if you can get up the slope without a lift. The mountain is also a popular spot for sensational stargazing. With the right vehicle and caution, it’s possible to visit the peak independently (groups of 10 or more will need to fill out a Special Request Form). Or you can hire an outfitter like Mauna Kea Summit Adventures to arrange the trip for you.
Most remote national park: Kronotsky Zapovednik
Joseph Stalin isn’t generally remembered for his commitment to ecological preservation, but Kronotsky Zapovednik, the world’s most remote national park, is virtually unspoiled partly because of him. Stalin created the park in 1934 in keeping with Russia’s zapovednik—or “strict nature reserve”—system, which had been established in 1916. The objective of the system was to protect nature by limiting human interaction with it. (Conversely, the U.S. National Park System, which was created around the same time, attempted to foster a commitment to environmental preservation by encouraging human interaction.) Located on the coast of the Kamchatka peninsula, Kronotsky is the size of Jamaica; for several decades, it was only visited by scientists. The lack of human contact has protected the park’s hundreds of geysers and hot springs, the 11,552-foot Kronotsky Volcano, and some of the world’s largest brown bears. Today Kronotsky Zapovednik is open and sees approximately 3,000 visitors a year. And because no roads or accommodations exist in the park, staying overnight is not allowed. Day tours (which can run $700) travel by helicopter—an epic way to experience such an impressive place.