Retirement should be the time for you to do the things you have always dreamed of doing. No kids. No worries. We’ve partnered with Susan Lanier-Graham of Wander With Wonder to show us the top bucket list retirement trips you must book now.
We literally wait our entire lives for retirement. It’s time to see the world. There are some incredible bucket list trips available for empty nesters, but what about after retirement? Go ahead and take that long trip you’ve always imagined. Finally check that dream destination off the bucket list. Whether you are traveling with someone else — a spouse, partner, friend — or going solo, these are my suggestions for the best retirement trips you need to book now.
9 Bucket List Retirement Trips You Must Book Now
Take a European Vacation
I adore Europe. There are places that beckon for retirement trips of a lifetime, where you can meander during the day and explore the wonders of a small European village. Head north out of Milan to the beautiful Lake Como region. Find a beautiful small hotel along the banks of this dreamscape and spend days exploring small villages. I fell in love with the small town of Bellagio, but enjoyed taking the ferry to other towns dotting the magical landscape.
Retirement trips to Italy need to include a visit to Tuscany and picturesque Le Marche. These two regions of Italy — one famous and one its lesser known neighbor — are ideal for retirement trips. Find a lovely spot in the country or an inn near Florence. This is the stuff dreams are made of and you know you’ve waited a lifetime to visit these amazing spots.
While in Tuscany, wander the countrysides, then visit the beautiful town of Siena. Sit with the locals and have a coffee while taking in the sights and sounds. Le Marche is Tuscany’s more rural neighbor, filled with charm. The small town of Urbino is a quaint small town, but I lost my heart to the tiny hamlet of Metauro. There are some charming escapes there, making it ideal for bucket list retirement trips.
Visit UNESCO World Heritage Sites
One of my favorite things to do when traveling is to visit UNESCO World Heritage sites. These are amazing destinations around the world, recognized as outstanding examples of culture, human creativity, architecture, beauty and history. Retirement trips are the perfect opportunity to experience some of these amazing sites around the world.
One of the most famous UNESCO World Heritage Sites — and a must-see for bucket list retirement trips — is The Great Wall in China. Started in 220 BC, construction continued through the Ming dynasty (1368-1644 AD). The Great Wall extends more than 12,000 miles and has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987. Book a tour that includes a local expert who can show off the most amazing sections of this wonder.
One of my favorite UNESCO World Heritage Sites is Champagne, France — the rolling hillsides, Champagne houses and miles of cellars that produce the greatest sparkling wine in the world. This area was named a UNESCO site in 2015 and visiting the Champagne Houses around Reims and Epernay are life changing.
Go Castle and Cathedral Hunting
One of my favorite things to do when traveling is to search for castles and visit cathedrals. One of my favorite castles is the famous Highclere Castle in England, famous as the setting for the fictional Downtown Abbey. There are some amazing hotels in the Berkshire region around the castle — my favorite is The Vineyard, a five-star country inn with an unforgettable wine offering — making this ideal for castle hunting on retirement trips. Be sure to look for Donnington Castle while in the area. Although only ruins remain, this is a beautiful spot and it captured my imagination.
Every major city in Europe has beautiful cathedrals and visiting them is often a moving experience. The workmanship that went into building these massive architectural wonders leaves me speechless and cathedrals are often my most memorable wow moments on trips.
One of the most impressive cathedrals I’ve ever experienced was the Milan Cathedral in Italy. Stay near the Milan Centrale Station and explore the area on foot or using the easy-to-navigate public transportation. As a bonus, the shopping is incredible.
See Natural Wonders
Natural wonders of the world are everywhere and I’ve been fortunate to see some impressive ones. However, there are some pretty amazing ones here in the United States. Have you visited the Grand Canyon? It’s one of those bucket list trips that is best done without kids in tow, making it ideal for one of your retirement trips. Take time to explore. Live the history. Watch the sun as it reflects off the sandstone cliffs. Book in advance and stay in one of the cabins or nearby hotels and spend time truly exploring this wild wonder. As a bonus, drive about two hours south to Sedona for some of the most beautiful red rock scenery in the country.
Another favorite natural wonder of mine is the California coast. There are a number of ways to experience what I consider to be one of the most beautiful coasts in the world. One of my favorite drives in the world is down California’s Highway 1 from San Francisco to Carmel.
I encourage you to spend some time right outside San Francisco in the beautiful San Mateo Valley. An overnight at the Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay is the perfect start to coastal retirement trips. As you meander down the coast, exploring the villages and scenery, there’s no need to hurry. Stop and take in the wild beauty along the way.
Take a Cruise
While there are plenty of family-friendly cruises, when you’re looking for retirement trips, you want to find that perfect cruise where you can sit back, relax and let someone else wait on you for a change. My suggestion is to find a slow river cruise, or perhaps even a canal cruise in Europe. These are designed to give you a chance to experience the art, culture and history of the area.
If you prefer the open seas, no worries. There are plenty of traditional cruises just waiting for retirement trips. The possibilities are almost endless. I’ve discovered that cuisine on cruises today is amazing and the wine offerings are exciting — but don’t worry if you’ve never really understood wine; there’s always someone there to explain things and help you make choices. Be sure to save time for a great spa treatment and do as many or as few of the excursions as you want. After all, you’re retired. You set your own schedule!
Visit an Island Paradise
Who doesn’t want to find paradise when they retire? For the ultimate in an island paradise, head to St. Kitts and Nevis. You’ll fly into St. Kitts and take a short — less than ten minutes — boat ride to neighboring Nevis. While St. Kitts is filled with condos, you won’t find that on Nevis. You will find a handful of lovely resorts set against the backdrop of Mount Nevis.
Both Four Seasons Resort Nevis and Nisbet Plantation Beach Club offer beach front stays while Montpelier Plantation & Beach and Golden Rock Inn offer a more secluded experience in the jungle, but with easy beach access on this small tropical island. The beautiful paradise of Nevis was spared damage during the 2017 hurricane season, so it is open and ready for your retirement trips.
Seek Out Your Roots
Something we all seek out as we grow older is a connection with our past. I have been fortunate growing up to know quite a bit about my ancestors. On a recent trip to Germany, it was a thrill for me to walk the streets in an area where my maternal grandmother’s family once lived. When the locals served a pie that had been passed down through the generations, it was oddly familiar to me —something my grandmother baked often.
With the online prominence of ancestry sites, the search for our roots has become more popular. Plan a visit to the places your ancestors called home. Find the villages that might have been home to your great-great-grandmother. Taste the dishes that inspired Grandmother’s favorite recipe. Wander through the local headstones looking for familiar surnames. Don’t be afraid to talk to the locals —you’ll be thrilled when you meet a distant cousin. Some local towns also have ancestry offices that can answer questions.
Go Around the World
You’re retired! Retirement trips can be longer. You can plan that trip around the world. Visit Australia. See the Sydney Opera House. Go to Bangkok. I was in awe as I stood in front of the beautiful palaces and shrines there. See Wat Phra Kaew, or the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, in Bangkok. Go visit the Taj Mahal. Stand before the Great Pyramids. Go shopping in Harrods.
Nervous about making those kinds of preparations on your own? No worries. There are world cruises that take care of all that for you. They will make all of the arrangements and you can keep everything unpacked and still see the world. That sounds like it might be the perfect way to experience the world post-retirement.
Channel Your Inner Child at a Theme Park
So we all think theme parks are for children. I totally disagree. Children get tired. And cranky. And they don’t really understand the subtleties of fun at theme parks. I never really enjoyed going until I returned as an adult. I’m a huge fan of Universal Theme Parks. I’ve been once to Universal Orlando Resort™ and discovered that, although I spent my childhood terrified of rides, I can’t wait to try out all of those new 3-D rides. I can’t wait to return! And as an adult you can find great food and drink at theme parks. Who knew?
Disney also has some great offerings for adults. Walt Disney World especially caters to adults each year during the International Food & Wine Festival. Sure, it’s open to children, but the best offerings are for adults only. It’s a time of culinary demonstrations; wine, beer and spirit seminars; concerts; cheese tastings; and food and wine pairings. Of course, there’s still plenty happening at the theme parks. You have the perfect opportunity to bring out your inner child, but without the restrictions of childhood.
You’ve waited a lifetime to retire. These top bucket list retirement trips are waiting for you to book them now. Go on and get exploring. The world is waiting!
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