The United States has 170,000 active-duty personnel serving at overseas installations; we’ve planted our flag in more than 150 countries. This World Tourism Day, we’re going to explore some of the places the military may take you.
Number one on our list, no surprise, is Japan. With more than 55,000 men and women occupying over 30 bases, Japan is the most common placement to get. Whether it’s high up on your travel list or not, Japan is chock-full of culture and experiences that will make your time there unforgettable.
- Mt. Fuji is a great trip to plan if you’re a fan of hiking and the outdoors. During the climbing season that lasts from mid-July to September, you can stay at the Combined Arms Training Center (CATC) Camp Fuji for easy access to the mountain. If you miss the climbing season, you can take the opportunity to view Fuji in its snow-capped Winter glory from the five-story Chureito Pagoda, or explore the nearby Fuji Five Lakes area. Eat the local food and bask in one of the many hot springs.
- Okinawa is one of the most popular tourist spots in Japan — especially for military stationed there. Water activities like SCUBA diving, snorkeling, and boating are a must. The Japanese culture runs deep in Okinawa, with an abundance of historical structures and shrines to see while you’re there. It is known as one of the most peaceful islands on earth, and has highest population of 100+year-olds per capita. Coincidentally, it’s also the location of the Peace Memorial Museum. It includes the Churaumi Aquarium and Ocean Expo Park if you have kids (or are a kid at heart). For more ideas, visit: https://okinawahai.com/
- Tokyo is the epitome of the American perspective on Japan. This bustling epicenter has something for everyone. Try new food at the famous Tsukiji Fish Market, tour temples and shrines, or go on the most extravagant shopping trip of your life. Tokyo offers (relatively) cheap accommodations, such as the New Sanno downtown.
- Hiroshima and Nagasaki both have attractions related to World War II. The Peace Memorial and Atomic Bomb Dome are on Hiroshima, and the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum is a powerful experience. The nearby island of Miyajima is considered one of the most beautiful sites in Japan, as well as the night view from the top of Mt. Inasa.
Here’s a tip: use your military benefits to get affordable travel and accommodations by flying with space-A. You can make reservations using space-A almost anywhere in Japan.
With almost 35,000 troops in this European nation, we are concentrated mostly in the southwest — but there’s a lot of land to cover if you want to see Germany at its fullest.
- Germany has some of the most incredible architecture in the world, and site’s like the Neuschwanstein Castle are a must-see. This wonder rises above the Bavarian woods and was the blueprint for the castle in Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty. Built in the mid-nineteenth century, Neuschwanstein was Ludwig II’s dedication to the classical composer Richard Wagner.
- The “Land of Ideas” boasts many other historical monuments, including the Burg Eltz, one of the only medieval fortresses to have remained completely intact. Most impressive? It has fully functioning bathrooms made in the 15th century! Schloss Herrenchiemsee is another Ludwig II creation. It was his most grandiose project, a palace built amidst Bavaria’s largest lake and modeled after Versailles.
- Churches are also a big tourist attraction here. The Cologne Cathedral took 600 years to be finished, and is on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. It sits on the site of a Roman Temple from the 4th century and houses three golden-crowned skulls. The Aachen Cathedral (“Imperial Cathedral”) is the oldest cathedral in all of Europe (built in 935). It oversaw the coronation of 30 German kings and 12 German queens, and is the final resting place of the medieval ruler Charlemagne.
- Berlin, aside from being the largest city in Germany, includes the remains of the Berlin Wall — which was erected in Soviet-controlled Germany and is remembered as a time of fear and oppression. Berlin is, in fact, a historical and educational hub, with an island off the Spree River dubbed ‘Museum Island.’ The five museums there are the homes of collections unlike any other, including art from Byzantine and Late Antique. The city also hosts Erholungspark Marzahn, a public park that combines the natural beauty of its huge Chinese garden with the urban reality of the city.
- Old towns aplenty! Trier is the oldest town of Germany with its 2,000-year history. Six different Roman emperors called it home, turning the place into a hotbed of ancient Roman remnants. Regensburg is a cultural trading center founded by the Romans in 179 AD. It’s a remarkably preserved and lively town that will charm its visitors with its unique artistry and romanticism. It’s the Middle Ages coming to life right in front of you.
- Nature attractions like the Berchtesgaden National Park are representative of the beautiful landscapes and wildlife in this country. Enjoy cycling, hiking, and sightseeing in its lush forests. Sylt is a serene island in Northern Germany that captures the laid-back beach vibe most people would expect in South America. And, if you’re interested in a water tour, paddle down the Goethe to view Rhine Valley, with its historic towns, castles, and miles of vineyards.
3. South Korea
America’s 25,000-strong military presence in SK isn’t a big shocker with their noisy neighbors up North. Spend some time exploring and you may be surprised with the depth and beauty of Korean culture here.
- Seoul is South Korea’s main attraction and largest city. It has five palaces, including the impressive Gyeongbokgung, that capture the complexity of Korean architecture and history. It is also the food hub of Korea and may be some of the best cuisine you’ve had in your life. In the Myeongdong shopping district, you’ll be thrown into a mix of cultures and languages amidst designer shops and popular street vendors. You can also visit a traditional tea room in Insadong and unwind. There’s really no end to the things you can do in Seoul!
- Step inside a jimjilbnag! These naked saunas are located across Korea. They feature a giant bathing room with separate areas for massage, cold plunge pools, and hot tubs. They’re generally open 24 hours and are very affordable.
- Jeonju Hanok Maeul is a village in Jeonju that has more than 500 traditional Korean wooden homes, or hanoks. They contain guesthouses, restaurants, cafes, and hanbok (traditional clothing) rental shops, where you can fully immerse yourself in the culture.
- The DMZ — demilitarized zone between North and South Korea — is the cheapest way to get a glimpse of life in the communist state. You can take a day tour from Seoul to see what Bill Clinton claims is the “scariest place on Earth.”
- Loveland is just as tranquil as its name leads you to believe. It’s located on the volcanic island of Jeju and features statues of a very erotic nature (this is not a vacation to bring the kids on). Check out HyeopJae beach and the waterfalls there, or go hiking up Halla Mountain to see crater lakes. Jeju bares a striking resemblance to Hawaii, where visitors can enjoy the warm weather and scenery as well as Korea’s unique art.
Of course, 13,000 of us are going to flock to the origin of all things pizza. Italy is one of the most popular travel destinations in the world, so you might as well see a few things while you’re stuffing your face.
- Rome. This city acts as a centerpiece to all that Italy has to offer, and if you want the full Italian experience, you have to see it. The crumbling ruins of the mighty Coliseum is one of the greatest historical relics of our time. It once held 50,000 spectators and featured intricate tunnels that had the capacity to flood the entire arena. Its bloody past doesn’t take away from the architectural marvel that it is, even today. The Roman Forum is another tourist spot, lying between the Capitoline and Palatine hills. It was once the center of the Roman Empire. And before you leave Rome, be sure to throw a coin in the Trevi Fountain; it is carved in the Baroque style from marble and completely lit up at night. Whoever tosses a coin in is said to have good luck and will one day return to Rome.
- Vatican City is considered its own state, but accessible through Rome. It is a deeply religious spot as the home of Pope Francis III, the leader of the Catholic church. Visit the Vatican Palace and the Sistine Chapel, featuring the Creation of Adam.
- Sicily is a smaller, charming town located in the central Mediterranean Sea. Here you can visit the Valley of the Temples, a huge archeological complex with Doric temples built in the 5th century. Hikers should climb Mt. Stromboli, an active volcano that still billows clouds of ash and fire.
- Climbers and adventurers: you know you want to take on Mt. Vesuvius. Its famous eruption in 79 AD rained ash on all of Pompeii, killing its inhabitants and perfectly preserving the city for archeologists to uncover many hundreds of years later. Nowadays, it’s a fairly safe trek to the crater of the mountain, with breathtaking views. While you’re at it, see Pompeii, an open air museum of the eruption site where you will glimpse what Roman life was like.
- Cinque Terre is a designated national park, but reads more as a fantasy land. Its five villages sit atop craggy cliffs that overlook the Italian Riviera in Liguria. Each village has its own unique sights, featuring distinctly colorful Italian architecture. Sprawling olive groves, traditional restaurants, and dazzling sea views come together to create a magical experience at Cinque Terre. Other famed sights include the Blue Grotto, a glowing blue water cavern, and the Frasassi Cave that descends deep into the grounds of Ancona.
- Florence is a city alive with art. The famous Uffizi Gallery is one of the best in the world, full of works by greats such as Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Michelangelo, and Caravaggio. They are all displayed in the Palazzo degli Uffizi, one of the prettiest buildings in Italy, and looking over the Arno River. You can also visit the iconic Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. It’s a rising dome that can be seen from anywhere in Florence.
- Venice is home to many attractions, including Saint Mark’s Basilica in Saint Mark’s Square. It’s the final resting place of Saint Mark the Evangelist and began as a Byzantine church; it is a work of art, littered with glittering mosaics and complex marble decorations. The Grand Canal in Venice is one of the most famous waterways in the world. You can enjoy it by taking a water bus (vaporetto), but Gondola rides are the more traditional way to experience the canal.
- The largest church in Italy is in Milan. The Milan Cathedral took six centuries to build, and is dedicated to Saint Mary. You can climb a staircase to the top and overlook all of Milan. The Santa Maria delle Grazie in this city displays the Last Supper, a famous piece by da Vinci. The mural depicts Christ and the apostles dining before his crucifixion.
- If you’re just here for the wine, follow the Chianti Wine Route between Florence and Siena. These wine tours will take you through miles of vineyards and to villages with local wineries. The best city for food is said to be Naples, the inspiration for the pizza scene in the movie Eat Pray Love. It’s known for inventing pizza and is overflowing with pizza parlors and restaurants.
5. United Kingdom
Last on our list, nearly 10,000 Americans are stationed here. Did you know that we have an entire base located in the British Indian Ocean?
- London is the heart of England; a gigantic, sprawling city with iconic imagery of its famous clock tower and sightly bridge. Like any other capital, there are too many things to do. Some popular ones are visiting Shakespeare’s place of origin, Stratford-upon-Avon, and seeing performances at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. More historical sites such as Winston Churchill’s War Rooms are available to tour. The Warner Bros. studio allows book and movie enthusiasts to explore the world of Harry Potter, set in the UK itself. Madame Tussauds Wax Museum is located here as well, founded by the wax sculptor Marie Tussaud and featuring the likenesses of famous people from around the world. Brighton is just a short train ride from the London Bridge and is known for its quirky shops and relaxed atmosphere.
- If you’re hoping to catch a glimpse of the royal family, take a tour of the Buckingham Palace in Westminster, London. You should also stop by Westminster Abbey, with thousands of years of history in its Gothic architecture and stained glass.
- Edinburgh, Scotland is another melting pot, featuring the famous Edinburgh Castle. Museums, graveyard tours, and local pubs are just the tip of the iceberg here. If you’re a fan of lore, Loch Ness in Scotland is Britain’s deepest lake and home to the famed monster.
- In Northern Ireland’s Belfast, tour the Titanic shipyard — walk the decks and become immersed in the story of the Titanic in the city where it all began. You can also visit the Botanic Gardens, and get a sense for their historic culture at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum. If you didn’t know, HBO’s Game of Thrones is filmed in Belfast and across Northern Ireland. Their rugged coastlines and looming castles are a sight to behold.
- Stonehenge is a prehistoric monument in Wiltshire, England, consisting of a ring of standing stones put in place around 5,000 years ago. Each stone is roughly 13 feet high and 7 feet wide, weighing approximately 25 tons. Though the popular theory claims Stonehenge to be built by Celtic high priests known as Druids, no one knows the origin of the stones (or how anyone managed to move them, for that matter). Many regard it as the most mysterious place in the world.
- Capping off our list is Scotland’s Isle of Skye, a picturesque island that is connected to the northwest coast by bridge. Its name is derived from old Norse and means ‘cloud island,’ a Viking reference to the mist that often shrouds it. Skye is a 50-mile long piece of land known for its jagged mountains, tall sea cliffs, and sparkling lochs. Nature-lovers will not be disappointed.