Bucket list destinations and how to get there
Pretty much everyone has a bucket list destinations checklist. There are so many places I want to see, I’ll be lucky to make it to the end of mine before that bucket has well and truly been kicked.
Question is, how am I going to make my bucket list dreams a reality?
Bucket list destinations travel tips
I’m using all the tricks up my sleeve to make my bucket list dreams come true:
- having family placed strategically around the world in scenic locations,
- saving up air miles on my American Express credit card,
- joining hotel reward point schemes for free nights,
- building up discounts by booking through Booking.com and Expedia,
- working in a school so I can leave town on a regular basis, and
- having a rotating stay-cation fallow travel year to save up for the long hauls.
Check out my 25 Budget Travel tips for the full arsenal at my disposal.
Soon I will be able to enlist child labour, turning them out into the job market to increase the holiday fund. One day I may only have to pay for 2 of us again. I do dread the inevitable and shortly to arrive day, when they stop letting us all stay in a family room.
In the past I covered a lot of ground using round-the-world-tickets, applying for working visas in Australia and New Zealand and taking up free food and accommodation schemes like Israeli Kibbutzim and volunteer teaching in Thailand. (Look out for my international travel tips post coming soon.) I didn’t go there myself but Camp America, Woofing (farm volunteering) and house sitting are all a thing.
Whether it’s a weekend break, summer holiday or long term travel, use whatever travel tricks you can to realise your travel dreams. I can highly recommend holidays to these affordable bucket list destinations:
Bucket list destinations A - F
Bucket List destination A is for Amsterdam
A is brought to you from Amsterdam with its canals, cheese, tulips, clogs and run-you-down bicycles.
Things you might not know about Amsterdam
- Why are the houses so narrow? When the houses of Amsterdam were built in the 17th century, tax was calculated on the width of a property’s façade, the contemporary money-saving-expert builders’ solution was to go tall and skinny.
- What are those metal bits on the outside? You will see pulleys and hooks on the outside of buildings which are used to hoist furniture to the upper floors, avoiding tall narrow stairwells (and having to repeatedly shout, “Pivot” in the manner of Ross from friends). The walls are angled forwards slightly so you don’t take a chunk out of your frontage on the way up.
- Why are there so many canals? Thank the urban planners in the 1600’s who thought that the best way of transporting people and goods would be watery roads. Fair point.
Things to do in Amsterdam
National museum: Rijksmuseum. The Dutch National Museum, with its photogenic spiral staircase, Delftware, and 800 years’ worth of art, comes packaged in a fabulous building and, this being Holland, is the only museum in the world you can cycle through.
Science: Take a family trip to the Nemo Science museum, for some hands-on fun and a warped perspective.
History: Steal yourself for an emotional wrench at Anne Frank’s House – fascinating and utterly devastating.
- Boats: Take a ferry along one of the pretty-as–a-picture canals, and get a running commentary on city life and history.
- Bikes: Jump on a tuk-tuk (less traditional but fun) or hire a bike if you are pretty cycle-streetwise (maybe not with kids – it’s motorway-style bike traffic),
Check out the tulips from Amsterdam at the canal side flower market (wooden versions out of season are just as colourful).
Stroll around the picturesque canals enjoying cafe life. I believe my record is 11 in a day (not the specialist cafes mind – you’d only manage a couple of them).
Where to eat in Amsterdam
The answer is definitely at the world famous Five Flies restaurant. The name may be a bit off putting, but rest assured the menu is not insect-based. You are more likely to find yourself dining on beef accompanied by strained yogurt perfumed with sea lettuce than bluebottles.
The name derives not from the food, but from the fact it sprawls across the basement of 5 buildings combined with the disposition of the first owner, who was indeed sprightly as a bug.
Following in the footsteps of Elvis, John Wayne and Bruce Springsteen, duck down into the unassuming alleyway entrance and take a seat under 17th century gold-plated leather wallpaper and real Rembrandt etchings. Play musical chairs until you get the required celebrity former occupant on your brass seat plaque.
To meet more stars, ask to see the visitors’ book, which is kept under lock and key and has an original sketch of Alice in Wonderland, penned by Walt Disney himself when he popped in for a bite in the 50’s.
Where to stay in Amsterdam
For an independent traveller budget option, there are loads of funky backpacker hostels in town. Check the Lonely Planet and Trip Advisor for the latest hot stuff and you can choose the appropriate level of party/peaceful.
Stayokay Hostel Amsterdam Oost, housed in an old school building 15 minutes from the centre is currently Trip Advisor’s number 3 in the charts.
Top bucket list destinations tip 1: Although they do have family rooms in hostels in Amsterdam, it is quite often just as cheap to say in a hotel room for 4.
Stay on a boat
For a bit of luxury and ease of luggage manoeuvring, go for a smart hotel near the station. (You can get a train directly from the airport.) Treat yourself to the 4 star Park Plaza Victoria for about £180/ night.
I would also be tempted for about the same price by the Old Town Hall turned hotel Pestana Amsterdam Riverside.
My most recent family accommodation find however, is Duinrell woodland waterpark and fair, a park and ride away (10 mins drive to Leiden then 48 mins by train to central Amsterdam).
Stay in a lodge, a bike ride from the beach and a 5 minute stroll away from traditionally Dutch Wassenaar, with its pancakes and windmills.
The park was clearly designed by someone with a wicked sense of humour. Rowing boats are torpedoed from below and others literally fly though the air before landing in a tidal wave producing moment. The log flume needs its own tsunami warning. And who would not want to be an aquatic human marble in the waterpark funnel slide? If this sounds like your idea of fun, read about our trip here.
Bucket list destinations future - A
My dream future bucket list destinations include the the ice sheets in Antarctica, the white wilds of Alaska and the vertiginous Italian Almalfi coast. I will let you know when I work out how to achieve this on a budget.
Bucket List destination B is for Borneo
Bucket list destination B is brought to you from Borneo, land of Tin Tin, head hunters, hornbills and orangutans.
I may be stretching it a bit to categorise this as an affordable bucket list destination, but it is only a £40 flight from mainland Malaysia and it is cheap to eat and stay when you get there!
Borneo was one of those places that I had heard of but it came as a bit of a surprise to me that it still bore the same name in the modern world, in the same category for me as Timbuktu and Bethlehem. Turns out it does exist but it is not a country, it is the third largest island in the world, made up of bits of Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei (of Sultan fame).
Things you might not know about Borneo
- Borneo is one of only 2 places in the world where you can see orangutans in the wild (literally meaning “man of the forest”).
- It is also home to one of the world’s largest caves (filled with bat and spider troglodytes as you might expect).
- It is inhabited by over 300 different ethnic groups who have spectacular national costume and traditionally use blow darts for hunting.
- The capital of Sabah is Kuching, which always reminds me of a cash register.
- Borneo is heavily referenced in the works Tin Tin – the Tourist Board even features comic excerpts on the front cover of its brochures.
- Expect to find shrunken heads, but usually in museums.
Things to do in Borneo
The wildlife deserves its own section here as it is both spectacular and surprising – not always in a good way. Staying in one of the national parks you will come across creatures you thought belonged only in fiction.
- Trees team with proboscis monkeys (with huge dangly noses).
- Actual bearded pigs (not lying) will come out and snuffle around outside your lodging in the night.
- Black shiny 3 inch long rhino beetles creep through the jungle and hotels receptions.
- The head-sized carving of an atlas moth by your front door will scare the bejaysus out of you by actually being one and not a carving after all.
- Visit Sepliok orangutan sanctuary to see the original wild men of Borneo in their native jungle habitat.
Technology and time have conspired to produce some pretty rubbish photos of these amazing beasts. You will just have to get out there and take some better ones!
World's biggest flower
Check out the Raffelasia, the world’s largest flower and only found in a handful of National Parks in Asia including Gurung Gading National park, Sarawak and Kinabalu National park, Sabah.
Taking 9 months to form, its flower grows up to 1m in size and weighs in at 7kg. Charmingly, it is carnivorous and attracts flies by emitting the stench of rotting flesh, before itself succumbing to decay a couple of days after blooming.
Guides at the parks are available to help you hunt them down. Check out our trip here.
Climb Mount Kinabalu, the largest mountain in SE Asia, and host to its own weather system, as clouds seemingly bend around it .
It is a 2 day climb, and guides are compulsory. The weather let us down so it’s still on my personal bucket list next time I’m in the area (!)
Brunei - boats, theme parks and palaces
- Pop into Brunei for the day, ideally on the Sultan’s birthday as you will encounter a huge (dry) street party, with bands playing on stages, dancing in the street and fairy-lit trees.
- On 3 days of the year you can tour his fabulous golden palace. With just shy of 2000 rooms, a banqueting hall fit for 4,000, 5 pools and garage space for 110 cars, it has been certified by the Guinness book of records as the largest palace in the world.
- Take a boat ride around the watery fringes of the town, past stilt houses and mangroves.
- A bonus of the Sultan being fairly wealthy is that he provides a free theme park for all his citizens. Jerudong Park Playground has a great log flume and hardly any queues. A local feature is that they do tend to stop all rides quite regularly for prayer.
See the original bat cave
Sarawak Chamber at Gunung Mulu National Park is the size of an aircraft carrier, and eerie as a grave. Hear critters scuttle around you and marvel at the cathedral-like proportions of one of the world’s largest cave systems. (This was the world’s largest cave when we visited, before they found a new one in Vietnam and stole its title.) Locals harvest bat guano, balanced on unfeasibly long and thin bamboo ladders.
Where to stay in Borneo
As always, things change quickly, and the best advice is to check out the Lonely Planet for the most luxury/quirky accommodation in your price range. We stayed in lodges and tree houses in national parks, a jungle retreat and hostels in towns.
Get down with the locals, quite literally by arranging to stay with them in a traditional long house.
Top tip: This may be for the more adventurous traveller, as the one we stayed in had no plumbing/toilets.
For a treat, opt for the very fabulous riverfront Mulu Marriott Resort for about £90 per night.
The upside of there being very few roads around this rainforest island is you get to travel into the heart of the jungle by private shuttle boat.
From the hotel you can hike amongst Jurrassic fronds, and oversized millipedes at this remotest of resorts. Also available is eating from bamboo tubes, visiting blow dart competitions in local villages then having a go yourself later firing blowdarts into a surprise traditional pub dartboard in the open air lounge.
For a more rustic experience at Gunung Emas Highlands Resort at Mount Kinabalu National park (near Tambunan) stay in a real tree house, where the trunk grows right through the middle of the room.
In summary a trip to Borneo can be like stepping back in time to a Colonial era safari but in a Jurassic era setting.
Bucket list destinations future - B
The Bahamas have a certain ring to them. Or Barbados? Tropical seas with a side of exotic beaches for me please.
Bucket List destination C is for Cornwall
The bucket list destinations letter C is brought to you from Cornwall, land of smugglers. boats, coastal walks and surprise alpacas.
Things you might not know about Cornwall
- Smugglers: With its cave-riddled coastline, Cornwall is notorious for its smuggling past.
- In towns with fabulous names like Mousehole, smugglers would meet in pubs and hide contraband in kettles, behind false walls and in mine workings.
- The Cruel Gang, real-life Pirates of the Caribbean, sailed in the Black Prince and were known for beheading customs officers in the lawless smuggling hey days of the18th Century.
- An infamous smuggler, the ‘King of Prussia’, protected his base near Lands End with a row of cannons.
- Pirates: For over 300 years, North African Barbary pirates raided Cornish coasts capturing unsuspecting residents for Arab slave markets.
- Wrecking: Finders of goods salvaged from shipwrecks where there were no survivors, were able to claim legal ownership rights. This not only incentivised the wrecking of ships, it pretty much guaranteed the murder of anyone who made it alive.
- Pasties: Cornwall is home of the pasty, a snack with a disposable pastry handle designed to prevent Corish tin miners poisoning themselves with their own lunch.
- Pixies: Legend has it that Cornish “piskies” are mischievous mini-fairies who like to play tricks, dance in the moonlight and lead travellers astray. I think I may have met some.
- King Arthur: King Arthur himself is reputed to have been born in the Cornish coastal village of Tintagel, during the 5th century AD.
- Cornish Miscellany:
- Cornwall has its own language (Kernewek), and flag.
- The Cornish coast is home to dolphin, seals and sometimes surprisingly large sharks,
- Its waves play host to annual international surfing competitions.
Things to do in Cornwall
Beach life - surfing or lounging (delete as appropriate)
Growing up next to the steely North Sea, I was unaware that UK water could be so tropically emerald. But it really is. There are even palm trees. So long as you take a wetsuit and a jumper, you are set for summer on some of the best beaches anywhere!
Being so spectacular, these beaches do fill up in the summer, so head for the unending 5 mile golden stretch of sand at Hayle. Or catch a lucky sunny break at Easter for pristine beaches almost to yourselves.
Check out the full range in my Best Beaches UK post. These are the top of the list:
An untypically Cornish activity, but at the same time an opportunity not to be missed is an alpaca trek with the llama experts at Carthveanalpacas.com (a 30 minute drive from St Ives). Everyone gets their own pompom-headed alpaca or llama to parade around the Cornish hills.
Visit chocolate box St Ives
There are so many characterful Cornish fishing villages, but the whitewashed jewel in the crown is St Ives, perched on its tippy toe.
A network of tiny white cobbled streets lined with traditional fisherman’s cottages connect the 5 sandy beaches which surround it on all sides like an inverse daisy. The water is Caribbean blue and colourful boats bob in the harbour.
Explore arty shops, the Tate Gallery, a headland walk (with decent chance of a pop up seal), beach huts and cafes on the sand.
Top bucket list destinations tip: Do not attempt to drive these tiny lanes – use the train, park and ride or even better stay over and see it when the day trippers have gone back home.
Walk the causeway St Michael's Mount
Catch a cliff top performace at the Minack theatre
No trip to Cornwall would be complete without a cliff top theatre experience, akin to a Roman Colosseum, overlooking some of the best coastline in the land (and the odd basking seal).
Take all-weather gear and sun tan lotion as you are truly open to all the elements.
Seal spotting on a Boat trip
Where to eat in Cornwall
- Book 3 weeks ahead for a sunset spot at the glass fronted Porthmeor beach cafe – we didn’t so missed out, but will make sure to next time.
- Breakfast right on the seafront in St Ives at West Beach Bakery
- It is obligatory to eat fish and chips on a sea wall or beach at some point in your Cornish sojourn – but watch out for those pesky thieving seagulls. You have been warned.
- Dine in a campervan overlooking the sea at Riviera Sands Holiday Park, Perranporth.
Where to stay in Cornwall - our faves
Caravan in the dunes
Bucket list destinations future - C
For bucket list destinations future C I would love to explore some Caribbean Islands, maybe Curacao home to the blue drink I was so partial to as an underage drinker and which I now associate with all things tropicana. The water is actually as blue as the drink!
Bucket List destination D is for Disneyland
Disney is the Marmite of the bucket list world. You are a lover or a hater, and I surprised myself by ending up in the first camp.
Yes, there will be crowds and things made out of plastic not wood, and commercialism is not just its middle name. But it really is a collection of quite magical fun filled kingdoms.
Things you might not know about Disneyland
- The castle which forms the centre piece in any Disneyland was inspired by Walt Disney’s visit in the 1950’s to the Neuschwanstein Castle built by the Bavarian King Ludvig II in 1869. In an ironic twist, Neuschwanstein itself was built as a pastiche of a fairy tale castle, complete with heating and running water to make it a bit more comfy.
- Local cats are deployed at night to rid the park of Mickey’s real life counterparts.
Disneyland Paris Highlights
Disneyland Fantasy realms
In the park you will find surprisingly green bamboo pathways, rope bridges, caves with waterfalls and islands made out of skulls, real jungles, North African lamp-strung deserts, South American temples and Alice’s Wonderland where real flowers are hand-painted just like in the story.
The Disneyland rides
- Thunder Mountain: Thunder round an orange mountain island in a Frontier railroad cart, through tunnels and occasionally fording the waterlogged track.
- Toy Story: Glow in the dark in the subterranean ultra violet waltzer with shooty laser guns on the Toy Story Ride.
- Space Mountain: Speed freaks should give Hyperspace a go for a rocket fuelled experience (not for everyone including me, turns out).
The Disney Parades
Watch Disney royalty on titanic carriages, led by actual fire breathing dragons.
Disney Finale Fireworks
The castle is illuminated in themes from all the Disney films (balloons from Up, snowflakes from Frozen etc.), before a huge multi-coloured bonanza of fountains and fireworks fills the musical sky around it and reflects in the water fountain below.
Where to stay in Disneyland Paris
Affordable Disney accommodation
Disney luxury accommodation
My Disney dream is to stay in the main Disney Hotel, having an hour to play on the rides before everyone else in the morning and watching the parade, glass of wine in hand on a balcony in the evening. It is not cheap but this is definitely one way to feel like Disney royalty. No shuttle queuing either!
Bucket list destinations future - D
There is no way I am kicking that bucket without going to Diamond beach in Iceland first. Just look at those chunks of ice crystal!
Bucket List destination E is for Edinburgh
Bucket list destinations E is for Edinburgh – land of castles, bagpipes, whisky, ghosts and Voldemort’s grave.
Things you might not know about Edinburgh
The city layout is a bit like a spine – with the Royal Mile linking the Castle at the top and the Hollyrood Parliament at the bottom of the hill, and narrow alleyways running off on either side like ribs.
World's first sky scrapers
As the old town expanded in the 500’s, to stay within the confines of the city walls, the builders went up rather than out, up to 10 stories in places. Only the poorest lived at the top as by all accounts, their external stairways were lethal.
A secret underground city
When building the Royal Exchange on the Royal Mile in the 1750’s rather than going to the bother of knocking down what was already there they simply built on top of it, leaving a quirky maze of plague era alleyways entombed below. You can check out the city beneath the city with a Mary King’s Close guided tour.
Famous animals are a local feature.
- Greyfriars Bobby: A small terrier, who had been inseparable from his night watchman owner, refused to leave his master’s grave for 14 years. He became a local celebrity and, on his own death in 1872, was buried in the adjacent plot. Today tourists can rub the brass nose of the statue erected in his honour.
- A noble penguin: The world’s most famous penguin lives in Edinburgh Zoo. Named Sir Nils Olav, he received a Norwegian knighthood in 2008.
- Unicorns: The national animal is the unicorn, a Celtic symbol of purity, innocence and power, whose horns can purify poisoned water.
J K Rowling wrote Harry Potter here at the Elephant House café, drawing inspiration from nearby turrets and cemeteries.
Renowned for its medical research in the 1800’s, Edinburgh Medical School required a steady stream of dead bodies, and were happy to pay cash on delivery. Locals Burke and Hare, eager to earn a quick buck sourced these by murdering their own lodgers. Their little scheme was only discovered when medical students recognised one body as a well known children’s entertainer, “Daft Jack”. Hare turned crown witness against Burke who was hanged and in an ironic twist of fate, got to donate his own body to medical science.
Things to do in Edinburgh
Edinburgh Castle, surveys the city from its elevated perch atop an extinct volcano. From here you get incredible (if windy) views over the town. Don’t miss the wall in which a canon ball is embedded.
Inside, follow one of the free guided tours, and be prepared to absorb a thousand years’ of history in 30 minutes, whilst peering down a barrel of a gun.
For a country hike plonked incongruously into the middle of a city, put on some proper shoes and head up Arthur’s Seat with its 360 degree views to infinity and beyond.
Visit the Athens of the north, so called when someone decided to build a mini-Parthenon replica on top of Carlton Hill. Clamber among the Grecian columns looking out over the River Forth and Arthur’s seat, before spinning the other way for views down the entire length of Princes Street and up to the Castle.
The Elephant Cafe, where J K Rowling wrote the Harry Potter books is just round the corner from Greyfriars Cemetery where you can hunt down the original Potter, Riddle and McGonegal gravestones that inspired their stage names (or just Voldemort’s if your phone dies before it can tell you where the others are).
Where to stay in Edinburgh
Mid-range family luxury
For luxury on a family budget, we went for a Novotel, conveniently sited right opposite the castle and blessed with a pool. In the bar choose from chairs made to look like an airstream caravan or a billiard ball. Also, great live music turns this into a real, rather than just hotel, bar experience. Kids stay free and slap up breakfast for 4 is included.
Old world Scottish luxury
For a money-no-object experience stay at the fabulously opulent Gothic Witchery decked out with gold fringing, wooden panels and four poster beds in suites with names like “The inner sanctum”. It’s more than a bit Hogwarts-y. I read a review that it is “brilliantly bonkers” – which works for me.
Where to eat in Edinburgh
- I can recommend some delicious Scottish fare at Howies. No need to go for haggis if stomach lining isn’t your bag, the equally Scottish tatties and neaps are available. We went with a real Scotsman and he loved it too, so authentication test passed.
- Next time we’re going for The Witchery for food and beds on a grand scale.
Bucket list destinations future - E
- Whist in Edinburgh, we spotted an amazing double decker bus, kitted out with velvet curtains and dining tables (and looking a lot like Harry Potter Night Bus), which takes you on a twilight ghost and graveyard tour. I am totally booking this for next time.
- I would also love to drive up the the very tip of Scotland and look out towards Greenland from a deserted Scottish beach.
Bucket List destination F is for France
Now I’m aware I’m playing fast and loose with the alphabet here using Paris (a very localised interpretation of France) as my F, but I needed to save my P for later!
Paris is a shoo-in on any bucket list list. The Eiffel tower/Louvre/Seine are an incontrovertible must-see combo.
Things you might not know about Paris
- The Catacombs: Placing 6 million skulls in the Parisian catacombs, was a 19th century solution to the city’s overflowing cemeteries (and as a contemporary tourist you could have attended underground concerts surrounded by the dead).
- What exactly is the Moulin Rouge? Starting as a cabaret show in 1889, the Moulin Rouge is the birth place of the ever popular can-can. You can still see its iconic red windmill today.
- Arc de Triomphe: Does all car insurance cease at the 10 lane Arc de Triomphe roundabout (the Wild West of the Parisian road system)? No, but you have to add it for an additional premium.
Top bucket list destinations tip: To get to the Arc you need not dice with death amongst the traffic. Instead avail yourself of the underground passageway.
Things to do in Paris
The Eiffel Tower
Built following a competition to mark 100 years since the French Revolution, the Tower was castigated at the time as a tragic street lamp and belfry skeleton. It is now one of the most famous icons in the world
You could climb up its 300m of ironwork, or instead you may choose to just stand underneath it, soaking up its metallic immensity for free – trying out arty black and white photos on your camera. Then maybe sit down in the field next door with a sandwich watching the sunlight shine through its lattices.
Walk along the Seine
From the Eiffel Tower, you can amble along the world famous Seine, past golden gates, shiny lizard statues and exotic fountains at the Place de la Concorde.
Then take a stroll through the lovely Jardin de Tuileries park, sit by the fountains for a while and pop out handily by the Louvre. From there it’s a hop, skip and a jump over to Notre Dame. It’s a bit like London that way, all the famous places within a stone’s throw of each other.
The building and its art are both must-sees on the Paris trail.
The Louvre, it turns out is in many ways twinned with the Tower of London.
Having originally been built at a fort in 1190, it was reconstructed as a palace in the 16th Century, each Royal owner adding their own extensions. Kings and Queens have been imprisoned, then beheaded in adjacent palace. Eventually the royals moved out and the buildings given over as a museum for the people.
Its controversial modern glass pyramid extension was not to everyone’s taste, and the Tower of London did not follow suit.
Inside, you can’t miss the fabulous gold sculpture which adorns the entrance. Also available are the Mona Lisa and Venus do Milo to name but 2 world famous works of art within.
Where to stay in Paris
- I cheated here by knowing someone who lives there, and would whole-heartedly recommend this as your plan A.
- But if you have yet to make that friend, then 4 star hotels on the Champs Elysee are about £150-£200.
- I’d be tempted to stay in a building that looks like a cross between a theatre and a cake, the (not very glamorously named) Hotel Bedford
- As always check the star ratings on booking.com (and get the cheapest rate though Trivago).
Bucket list destinations future - F
For my bucket list destinations future, I’m dreaming of the Faroe Islands with their hanging waterfalls, the electric waters of French Polynesia or Christmas-card-impersonator Finland. What I’m getting from this, is I don’t really have a type. Do you?
Bucket list destinations to be continued...
Follow Holiday from Hels on:
Pin this Bucket List Destinations post: