One of my favorite travel gifts is the magnetic pin board I was given several years ago. It not only helps me teach my sons geography, but I sometimes find myself looking up from the table, staring at one specific pin, and recalling the trip that took me to that far-flung place.

I’ve enjoyed most places I’ve visited, mainly because novelty is a key travel ingredient for me. But a special few made an indelible impression. The feeling I had is hard to put into words, other than simply: wonder.

La Sagrada Familia – A Cathedral Unlike Any Other

Few structures have awed me more than the Sagrada Familia cathedral. I visited at the tail end of a whirlwind trip to Barcelona a few years ago and would call it the #1 must-see in the city. 

I knew it would be amazing. I didn’t realize I’d just sit there and stare at the ceiling. And stare. And stare. It’s incredible.

Antoni Gaudí was a man with a vision. Not just any vision, one that would truly outlast him. He didn’t settle for another eclectic house that he’d see completed before his death. No, he envisioned a cathedral that would take another lifetime to complete. More than one lifetime. It has now been over 140 years since initial construction began on La Sagrada Familia. The massive cathedral is finally nearing completion, scheduled to be completed in 2026. 

La Sagrada Familia doesn’t have the best stained glass, and it certainly doesn’t have the rich history of other cathedrals. But the architecture is like nothing I’ve ever seen. Don’t skip it.

a boy looking at a wall

Great Wall of China – Walking These Ancient Steps

I cannot forget the moment we arrived on the Great Wall of China. It was mesmerizing just standing there in the warm morning sun with my two older kids, seeing this ancient icon winding its way over the distant hills. It’s cool to read about places in books and see them in films and photographs. It’s entirely different to be there in person. I could feel the Great Wall’s stone with my hands and walk its steps. 

We’d gotten up early to beat the crowds, and, man, was it worth it. That would have taken away from the experience tremendously. When you visit, make sure to go to one of the sections further from Beijing. And get on the first bus out. 

Colosseum of Rome – The First Glimpse

The moment I first laid eyes on the Colosseum of Rome might trump all others, though. I think it was because I didn’t expect it. We had arrived in Italy’s famous capital, planning to see the sights over several days. The famous Colosseum was on the list, but I was in no rush. We’d get there soon. 

In that specific moment, we were looking for gelato. After looking up several shops, we headed out on the metro. Turning a corner, I stopped in my tracks. There it was, the Colosseum, far down the road, large as life. I just stared, all thoughts of Italian ice cream now forgotten.

I know I said something lame like, “there’s the Colosseum.” As my twelve-year-old would say, “no, really?” Words failed. It was a strange moment. I was staring at a place where gladiators fought millennia ago, when Rome was the lively, bustling capital of a vast, glorious empire. It’s was a profound moment, one I will never forget.

Final Thoughts

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has had travel experiences of these. What places in the world have evoked a profound sense of wonder for you?