Do you believe in magic? The jury’s still out for me on that one, but what I do know is how much I love traveling to places that encompass elements of the supernatural or spiritual. I’m fascinated by the history of the occult; I’m also super curious about pagan religions and obsessed with folklore. Thankfully, our big beautiful planet has loads of spiritual travel destinations to sate my growing appetite for this sort of thing.
But here’s the awesome thing: These places are so magical that their beauty, mysticism, and folklore are tangible even through a screen. Check out these places on Instagram — or the hashtag #magicalplaces — and you’ll get that eyes open wide, shiver up your back feeling that makes you realize that the world is so much more than meets the eye. Here, four of my most favorite places on the planet. Check them out — and consider making one a screensaver. Even if you’re only traveling locally at the moment, remembering just how dazzling the world can be can elevate your soul.
Bagan Archaeological Zone, Myanmar
While the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon is the most sacred Buddhist pagoda in the country, the most whimsical place for me has to be the ancient city of Bagan. Rich in spirituality, the Bagan Archaeological Zone comprises over 2200 pagodas, temples, and monasteries! Pro tip: A hot air balloon ride at dawn over the temple is dreamy and definitely #bucketlist material.
“This place is breathtaking,” says Instagram user @ramiray15. “It’s a very zen and relaxing place. I drove a motorbike from temple to temple on a dirt road, but the best part was just sitting at sunrise and admiring the view. I felt nothing but at peace.”
Valley of the Kings, Luxor, Egypt
To see hieroglyphics on walls etched by humans thousands of years ago is pure magic. While the whole country is filled with sights that will resonate with your soul, one of the most spiritual places I have ever visited was the Valley of the Kings. Found on the west bank of the Nile, the site was the main burial place of Egypt’s most important Pharoahs and nobles, and tells a story of foregone opulence, crushing power, and intense mythology.
Instagram user @saschasaskiia headed there recently — showing off the hieroglyphics alongside her baby bump. Because the space is so sacred (this was the burial place of royalty) photography isn’t allowed in the valley itself — one of those sights you truly have to see to believe.
The Fairy Tale Route, Germany
Are whimsical castles, enchanted forests, and bewitched medieval towns more your thing? If so, you should head to Germany’s Fairy Tale Route, the 600 km stretch of road between Kassel and Bremen where the sagas and legends of your childhood come alive. This is the home of fairies, princes, and scorned witches—famed storytellers Brothers Grimm lived in this area for most of their lives and drew inspiration from the eerie forests and haunted-looking castles surrounding their village. This is also the perfect place to get in touch with nature—I mean, just look at these mysterious trails. But even more hair raising are the myths that lurk just beyond the photo frame.
“There’s always a story behind the story,” says Instagram user @storyseeker_ who documented the trail. You know the story of Hansel & Gretel, about the witch who lives in a house made of gingerbread and eats children alive? That one is reportedly based in reality—during the Great Famine in the Middle Ages, it wasn’t uncommon for parents to abandon their kids in the woods—or even resort to cannibalism. Yes, the story is spooky. But I like to think that the woods, castles, and waterfalls are a reminder of the power of imagination—and how stories can connect us all, even through the centuries.
Taj Mahal, India
The beauty and wonder of the Taj Mahal probably doesn’t need any explanation—I mean, just look at it! I’m rarely one to get emotional when I visit monuments, but visiting the Taj in the half light of dawn caused spontaneous tears to spring to my eyes. To me, that’s magical. While the aesthetics of the palace are seductive—and plenty of visitors can be found kissing as the palace looms above them—the story behind the construction is steeped in tragedy. According to legend, Shah Jahan built the temple to palace in memory of his dead wife, Mumtaz Mahal in the 17th Century. And of course, the Taj Mahal wouldn’t be complete without a magical myth surrounding it: There’s a carving of the palace near the river, and legend has it that if you hit it, water will spurt forth. Don’t try it—there are plenty of warnings to keep your hands off—but know this palace definitely has many secrets wrapped in the walls.