25 Bucket-List Birthday Trip Ideas to Celebrate Any Year

There's never been a better time to sleep in an underwater hotel in the Maldives or a treehouse in the Arctic.
Hot air balloons over Cappadocia, Turkey
Photo: Francesco Riccardo Iacomino / Getty Images
Lane Nieset
by Lane Nieset
Updated Apr 10, 2024
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Toasting to a new decade often calls for a big trip, but you don't have to wait for a milestone moment to start researching birthday trip ideas for a bucket list couple's vacation. Every year is one that deserves celebrating, and what better excuse to book a dream getaway cruising the Nile or venturing to Antarctica than a birthday? We've scoured the latest travel trends and bucket list events to narrow down 25 memorable birthday trip ideas fantastic for fêting any year.

Eat Your Way Across Sicily

Open air farmers market in Sicily, Italy
Photo: Gary Yeowell / Getty Images

The largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, Sicily's storied sights and towns received a major tourism boost after serving as a set for hit series The White Lotus (the show was shot at Taormina, A Four Seasons Hotel, if you want to go set-jetting). History buffs can cross off Greek temples, Arab mosques, Spanish baroque palaces and more all on the same day, while foodies can embrace Sicily's renowned cuisine and street food in capital Palermo. In Catania, indulge in what's said to be the best arancini (stuffed rice balls) on the island, which you can wash down with a glass of Etna Bianco white wine.

Cycle Through Vineyards in Provence

Gorgeous fields surrounding Provence, France
Photo: visuall2 / Getty Images

Hills lined with sunflowers or lavender fields, perched medieval villages carved with cobbled lanes, vineyards at practically every turn — there's a reason why cycling through Provence has become a bucket list trip. Book a multi-day cycling tour with an operator like DuVine that passes through Provence's most charming villages or stay in the heart of Luberon Regional Nature Park at Coquillade Provence, which has vineyards (and wine!) of its own and a full cycling program.

Play Golf Courses in Scotland

18th hole on at the golf club in St Andrews, Scotland
Photo: Meowgli / Getty Images

Hosting some of the world's most prestigious golf courses, Scotland is a land of greens, with more than 550 courses to choose from. Take a swing in the seaside town of North Berwick, where the West Links course comes with views of the islands of Craigleith, Lamb and Fidra, or play at the birthplace of the Open Championship at the Prestwick Golf Club, originally designed by Scottish legend Old Tom Morris. Of course you can't leave without a trip to the "home of golf," where the sport has been played for 600 years at St. Andrews Links in Fife.

Sleep in a Treehouse in the Arctic

Norbotten county, Lapland, Sweden in the Arctic Circle
Photo: Roberto Moiola / Sysaworld / Getty Images

Get off-grid in the Swedish Arctic, sleeping in secluded pine forest in one of Treehotel's whimsical "treehouses." A design lover's dream, each of the rooms were envisioned by top architects and firms in shapes and styles ranging from a mirror cube to a bird's nest and UFO. Glide through the snow-filled forest by dogsled or on a horse-pulled cart ride before cozying up for dinner in a tent propped on the frozen river, where, if you're lucky, you may spot the Northern Lights.

Go Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda and Uganda

Sighting of a wild gorilla in Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda, Africa
Photo: guenterguni / Getty Images

Experience a unique side to East Africa's wildlife while helping to preserve it on a gorilla trekking trip in Rwanda and Uganda. With a mere 1,100 mountain gorillas left in the world, this bucket list moment is a truly memorable one. Both countries offer guided treks to encounter mountain gorillas in the wild, but the terrain you'll be walking varies (Rwanda's landscape is slightly easier). An option that gives travelers the best of the two countries is Volcanoes Safaris, whose design-savvy lodges are located near both the gorillas and chimpanzees—meaning plenty of wildlife-viewing opportunities and ways to give back to the communities through conservation activities.

Take a Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip

The gorgeous coastline along the Pacific Coast Highway in the USA
Photo: benedek / Getty Images

Plan a weekend getaway cruising one of America's most scenic stretches—the Pacific Coast Highway. The coastal route starts at Dana Point in Orange County and extends up to Leggett in Mendocino County, offering couples 656 miles with multiple must-visit spots like Big Sur and Santa Cruz to hit along the way. Start making a road trip playlist to set the mood and go a step further renting a slick car like a convertible for the trip.

Relax in Japanese Onsen

Jigokunuma Pond onsen in Aomori Prefecture, Japan
Photo: twomeows / Getty Images

A highlight of a trip to Japan, onsen, or natural hot springs, are scattered throughout the country and are an integral part of the culture. Visit one of the many resort towns around Tokyo (Hakone is a favorite for its high concentration of springs) or the island of Hokkaido, or stay in a hotel with its own private onsen, like The Ritz-Carlton, Nikko or Hiramatsu Hotels & Resorts Kashikojima.

Learn to Surf in Bali

A bird's eye view of surfers near Bali, Indonesia.
Photo: joakimbkk / Getty Images

Bali's waves have attracted the biggest surfers in the world, but even beginners will have plenty of places to learn and practice, like Thomas Beach in Uluwatu. Watch the pros rip through barrels from one of the cliffside bars like Ulu Cliffhouse and sleep at Uluwatu Surf Villas, where teak villas hug the cliffside or sit tucked in the jungle. Time your trip around one of the surf retreats, learning alongside the pros in the waves below.

Sleep Underwater in the Maldives

Venturing into the crystal clear water in the Maldives
Photo: Mystockimages / Getty Images

With a primary bedroom submerged 16 feet below the sea, two-story THE MURAKA, at Conrad Maldives Rangali Island, is like an underwater aquarium, with a 180-degree glass dome ceiling and floor-to-ceiling windows in the walk-in closet. The views are just as spectacular above the surface, with an ocean-facing tub and infinity pool complete with a ladder leading down to the sea. Don't worry about it getting too dark in the evenings—considered one of the best underwater hotels in the world, you'll have an even better viewing experience at night, when the surrounding ocean is illuminated.

Take a Hot Air Balloon Ride in Cappadocia

Watching the Hot Air Balloons in Cappadocia, Turkey
Photo: Francesco Riccardo Iacomino / Getty Images

The best way to soak up Cappadocia's dramatic landscape with its characteristic "fairy chimneys" and cave homes is floating above in a hot air balloon. The best times to fly are at sunrise or sunset, when the valleys take on a pink glow. The Kelebek Special Cave Hotel sits above the village of Göreme and has long been a top pick in the region. Sister hotel Sultan Cave Suites is another great option, with multiple terraces and a rooftop perfect for watching hot air balloons soar overhead.

Island Hop in Greece

Bird's eye view over Santorini, Greece
Photo: mrtekmekci / Getty Images

With more than 6,000 islands, each boasting their own personality, Greece is one of the top spots in the world for island hopping. Looking for a place with vibrant parties and nightlife? Mykonos is for you! Something romantic and luxurious? Santorini it is! Culture and wine? Crete! While some islands are on the pricier side, others have a mix of locally-run boutique hotels, villa rentals and guesthouses that can meet a variety of travel budgets.

Watch the Olympic Games in Paris

Sunset over Paris, France
Photo: Alexander Spatari / Getty Images

When the world's greatest sporting event comes to one of the most romantic cities on the planet, the stars have aligned for a couple's trip to the French capital. The Summer Games will take place in Paris from July 26 to August 11, with Opening Ceremonies on the Seine and fan zones in La Villette, in the 19th arrondissement and Trocadéro, in the 16th arrondissement. Experience all of the fanfare (and fabulous fine-dining!) before setting off to another part of the country like the French Riviera, basking on beaches or cruising along the coast for the ultimate summer getaway.

Cruise to Antarctica

Penguins in Antarctica for your birthday cruise
Photo: SZakharov / Shutterstock

The seventh continent has never been easier to reach thanks to the boom in boats trekking to the South Pole. A great surprise for a milestone birthday or honeymoon, cruise to the final frontier, through icebergs and penguin-lined coasts, with a luxury outfitter like Abercrombie & Kent, on a six-star yacht with Scenic or on an expedition with a team of biologists and geologists with National Geographic.

Chase the Northern Lights in Iceland

See the aurora borealis on your birthday trip
Photo: Jamen Percy / Shutterstock

A trip to see the Northern Lights is similar to going on safari—you may come away with one of nature's most spectacular shows or simply enjoy the experience along the way. Up your odds in a place so scenic, even if the lights aren't dancing in the night sky you'll still have seen plenty. Iceland is one of your best bets, given its far north locale and minimal light pollution. Up the romance factor staying in a cozy, transparent dome at the 5 Million Star Hotel, where you can stargaze as you fall asleep and book a private tour to explore the area.

Stay in an Ice Hotel in Norway

Winter day in Reine Village, Lofoten Islands, Norway
Photo: ESB Professional / Shutterstock

After cruising Norway's fairytale-like fjords, head up north to Arctic retreat Snowhotel Kirkenes, which is open all year long and features one of the best bars we've seen in any ice hotel, composed of 15 tons of ice from the lake that was sculpted by a team of artists. This is king crab territory, so if you're visiting in winter, you can set off on a fishing adventure via snowmobile on the fjord ice before sampling the local specialty in a rustic farmhouse nearby.

Bask on Canouan in the Caribbean

Sunny day on the water near Canouan
Photo: Pawel Kazmierczak / Shutterstock

You've hopped around some of the Caribbean's most glamorous islands like St. Barts, but one that probably hasn't been on your radar is Canouan in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Sister island Mustique has long been a favorite, but Canouan's low-key profile has made it a hotspot for superyachts cruising the Caribbean. Take your pick of the only two hotels on the (practically private) island: the opulent Mandarin Oriental Canouan, where all of the suites and villas show off ocean views, or Soho Beach House Canouan, the members' club's sole property in the Caribbean, where toes-in-the-sand dining is the preferred choice and romantic moments include dinner under the stars on the Instagrammable jetty.

Train Through Southeast Asia

View of the Rong Bridge in Da Nang, Vietnam
Photo: galitskaya / Getty Images

The Eastern & Oriental Express made its inaugural journey from Bangkok to Singapore 30 years ago, but this Old World way of exploring Malaysia is as popular as ever — especially since the cabins have received a stylish update. Not only will you sleep in decadence, you'll be eating luxuriously, too, in the two restaurant carriages serving modern takes on Southeast Asian cuisine.

Sip Whisky in Scotland

A whiskey expert checks a casque
Photo: Leon Harris / Getty Images

Scotland's five whisky-producing regions are home to nearly 150 active distilleries, so you don't have to look too far to find a sip of the country's signature spirit. Follow Speyside's Malt Whisky Trail, visiting the UK's only working cooperage and Dufftown, the "Malt Whisky Capital of the World," or set off to the rolling hills and mountains of the Highlands. When you're ready to call it a night, cozy up in one of the many castles that have been transformed into five-star hotels, such as Glenapp Castle or Inverlochy Castle Hotel.

Connect with Nature in the Italian Dolomites

The Dolomites mountain range in Italy
Photo: Ratnakorn Piyasirisorost / Getty Images

A former sanatorium intended for Austrian aristocrats is now one of Europe's sleekest wellness retreats. Located in the South Tyrolean Alps, with rooms framing views of the Dolomites, Forestis features three towers home to suites that blend in with the surrounding forest. A design-savvy take on a treehouse, the wood-lined suites show off panoramic views through floor-to-ceiling windows and expansive terraces with daybeds that can be prepared for an evening of sleeping under the stars.

Head Down Under to the Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef for the best Birthday Trip
Photo: Grant Faint / Getty Images

The world's biggest coral reef ecosystem is one of the most beautiful, mythical places on the planet—and one that could disappear before we know it. If learning how to dive has been on your bucket list of must-try activities, there's no better excuse than a birthday trip to Australia's Great Barrier Reef. The best time to visit for snorkeling and diving is from June to October, but the tropical town of Cairns—the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef—offers plenty of other aquatic attractions year-round, from speedboat tours through the mangroves to swimming with dwarf minke whales in June and July.

Cruise the Nile in Egypt

Boats sailing down the Nile River in Egypt
Photo: Peter Adams / Getty Images

One of the top river cruises in the world, trips on the Nile in Egypt have been selling out quickly — which gives you plenty of lead time to plan for a milestone birthday. Explore ancient Egypt on a modern Nile ship with Viking, hopping off to admire the pyramids by camel, visit Queen Nefertari's tomb in the Valley of the Kings and stroll through Aswan's fragrant spice market. While you'll see plenty on shore, you won't have to worry about unpacking and repacking since you'll have the comfort of your cabin to return to each evening.

Hike the Himalayas in Bhutan

Tiger's Nest Monastery in the mountains of the Kingdom of Bhutan
Photo: narvikk / Getty Images

The landlocked Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan is one of the most mysterious spots in Asia, since it didn't open to tourism until the 1970s. Since the number of tourists is capped each year, you won't be shoulder-to-shoulder when peering at the country's sacred sites like Buddha Dordenma, one of the largest gilded Buddhas in the world. For active couples looking for a once-in-a-lifetime trek, the Trans-Bhutan Trail is one to add to your list. Taking around 36 days to complete, the long-distance trek passes through 27 gewogs (villages), 21 temples and 12 mountain passes. Choose a shorter stretch and toast to crossing the "finish line" in a luxe lodge like the 8-suite Six Senses Gangtey.

Safari in South Africa

A safari near Kruger National Park, South Africa
Photo: Martin Harvey / Getty Images

Pioneers in the luxury safari realm with a heavy focus on ecotourism and conservation, Singita is a leader in the industry—which has made it a bucket list safari for honeymooners. With lodges scattered throughout South Africa, Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Rwanda, you can turn this trip into a multi-leg one, hopping from the Mara River Tented Camp in the Serengeti to one of the handful of lodges in South Africa's Sabi Sand, near Kruger. The soon-to-reopen Ebony Lodge was the first in the brand's portfolio, so as it celebrates its 30th birthday, now's a great time to celebrate a milestone moment of your own. Cozy up in one of 12 sumptuous suites with private plunge pools overlooking the river, where you're sure to spot grazing elephants passing below.

Soak in Alaska's Hot Springs

Head to Alaska's hot springs for your birthday trip
Photo: Walter Bibikow / Getty Images

For a scenic birthday locale, you don't have to trek across the world — the natural beauty of the US offers plenty of other options in the form of national parks, geysers and hot springs. Head up to Fairbanks, Alaska, and set off to Chena Hot Springs, which conveniently sits under the aurora oval, so you may get a glimpse of the northern lights while soaking in the healing geothermal waters.

Attend the Monaco Grand Prix

Sunset over the beaches of Monaco
Photo: John Harper / Getty Images

For racing fans, the Monaco Grand Prix is the pinnacle. The principality on the French Riviera transforms into a racetrack each May, with grandstands set up along the port, hotel terraces above hairpins hosting viewing parties and yachts filling the harbor for events of their own. Splurge on a stay at Hôtel Hermitage, where you'll be able to soak up some of the best views over the track from your own private balcony. If you want a Princess Grace moment, you can't get much better than this.

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