Watching the sunrise requires waking up before the sun, but boy is it worth it! Our writers have traveled the world, so they’ve seen jaw-dropping sunrises everywhere from a hot air balloon over Myanmar to atop a sacred Sri Lankan mountain. Here are their favorite places to catch the sunrise.
1. Easter Island
Freelance travel writer and guidebook author Ulrike Lemmin-Woolfrey has been to more than 90 countries, including the remote Polynesian island of Rapa Nui, or Easter Island as you may know it. The island’s infamous monolithic statues of human figures with oversized heads are called moai. Created during the 13th–16th centuries, nearly 900 sculptures were carved from volcanic stone and placed on ceremonial platforms throughout the island.
Although admittedly not a morning person, Lemmin-Woolfrey managed to make it to Ahu Tongariki, the largest of the ceremonial platforms on the island, in time for a 7:30 a.m. sunrise with an “excited husband yapping at my heels,” as she describes.
“The Ahu Tongariki is the largest of the ceremonial platforms on the island, with 15 Moai facing inland, one with a topknot on his head, with the Pacific Ocean behind them,” explains Lemmin-Woolfrey. “The place is awe-inspiring any time of the day, but arriving in the dark, finding a spot to sit on the ground in front of the Ahu, and then waiting for the sun to slowly appear, was just magical. Even without coffee in hand,” she quips.
“The sky turned from dark to yellow and orange, before the sun slowly rose between the Moai creating perfect sunbursts between the heads of the Moai. The natural spectacle playing off the manmade statues somehow brought all of us who sat there looking more or less early-morning-disheveled a step closer to the magic and mystery that is Easter Island,” Lemmin-Woolfrey recounts. “There was a reverent hush all the while the sun rose, which ended with a near cheer when eventually a van selling coffee turned up.” Three cheers for coffee and three cheers for magical sunrises!
2. Joshua Tree National Park
Black Rock Campground
Professional photographer, educator, travel writer, and journalist, Julie Diebolt Price calls Joshua Tree National Park her “sacred place” where she goes to “enjoy quiet solitude and commune with nature.” With over 100 miles of hiking trails, numerous rock formations for climbing and scrambling, and some of the best stargazing in the world, it’s easy to see why Joshua Tree was the 10th most-visited National Park last year.
Getting to Joshua Tree National Park is easy, too — from Los Angeles, Orange County, Palm Springs, or Phoenix, just take Highway 10 to Highway 62 and go north until you reach the Black Rock Canyon entrance. Close to civilization yet remote enough to capture photographs of the stars and enjoy the night sky, Black Rock Campground is home to the most abundant Joshua tree growth in the park, according to Price. She was not disappointed when she chose the campground to enjoy an unimpeded sunrise view on a solo camping expedition.
“In the still of the early morning with dawn just breaking, Mother Nature painted the desert landscape with her vivid paintbrush,” Price recalls. “I expected it to have a sound. The only sound I heard, though, was my gasp of amazement at the unexpected splendor of the rosé wine-colored hue. Everything — every plant, rock, and Joshua tree was bathed in color.”
Price recommends visiting in the fall. “November in the desert brings cool, crisp nights and warm, sunny days. She says that’s when chances for stunning sunsets and sunrises increase.
3. Paris, France
San Diego-based travel writer and photographer Sharon Odegaard is a big fan of history, so it’s no surprise that her favorite sunrise was at such a historic place. “Grand Notre-Dame cathedral stands in the middle of Paris on an island where the city was born,” Odegaard explains. “It’s seen centuries of sunrises and sunsets and generations of people have walked in its shadow. A few years back, I walked through the Latin Quarter and across a bridge over the Seine to see the day begin in this iconic place.”
“The courtyard would soon be crowded with people, but at sunrise, I was alone with the little birds singing. A feeling of peace blanketed Paris,” she recalls of that morning. “In my photos of that day, I captured the sun rising on Notre-Dame’s massive, 750-ton spire. Later, in April of 2019, the cathedral burned. Firefighters braved the flames and saved the front twin towers and much of the interior. But the spire came crashing down.”
“I treasure those early morning moments watching the sun and shadows play on the buttresses, sculptures, walls, towers, gargoyles, and spire. Notre-Dame will never be the same, but it survived,” she remarks. “And I will never be quite the same after the moving experience of being there as Paris came to life for a new day.”
4. Bagan, Myanmar
Off the beaten path in Southeast Asia is the ancient city of Bagan in central Myanmar (formerly known as Burma). Home to thousands of temples, Bagan boasts one of the greatest concentrations of religious buildings in the world. Its surreal landscape makes it popular during hot air balloon season, from October to April.
“My most beautiful sunrise moment almost never happened,” comments award-winning writer Vanessa Chiasson. Chiasson says making the arrangements for her sunrise hot air balloon ride over Bagan wasn’t necessarily easy due to some miscommunications, but everything worked out and she ended up arriving in style. “Waking up well before dawn, I was picked up at my hotel by the Balloons Over Bagan team in a restored WWII-era bus. Talk about a memorable start!”
Here, she recounts the experience: “After a short drive to the launch site, I climbed into the hot air balloon’s basket with my typical lack of grace and before long, the ground just melted away. We glided above hundreds of temples, stupas, and pagodas — some dating to the 11th century. As the sky lightened and brightened, we saw the gold-tipped spires of several buildings start glowing in the early morning sun and watched small villages slowly wake up below us. After a gentle landing, a champagne breakfast completed the experience in high style.”
Thinking of visiting Bagan and taking a hot air balloon ride at sunrise yourself? TravelAwaits writer Judi Cohen recommends exploring Myanmar by river cruise.
5. Adam’s Peak, Sri Lanka
“What could be better than watching the sunrise from a pilgrimage site honored by four religions?” asks Louisa Rogers, a self-described writer, leadership coach, trainer, ex-pat, hiker, cook, and paddleboarder. “Adam’s Peak in Sri Lanka is a place of worship for Buddhists, Hindus, Christians, and Muslims. Every year, approximately 20,000 pilgrims, ranging in age and fitness level, climb Adam’s Peak for its spiritual significance,” according to Rogers. Rogers and her husband Barry Evans made a pilgrimage of their own back in February of 2002.
To get to Adam’s Peak, the couple first took a train in Kandy. Famous for the Buddhist Temple of the Tooth Relic, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is another pilgrimage destination. From there, the pair took the train to Hatton and completed the journey to Dalhousie by rickshaw. Their three-hour hike up the 5,500 steps to the top of the peak began in the wee hours of the morning, at 2:30 a.m.
“Along the way, we passed old women hobbling up the steps with canes, families, teenagers, other tourists, tea shops, and a few benches here and there for resting. Although we sweated on the climb, we were glad we had layers because it was chilly at the summit,” informs Rogers. At the top they shivered as they milled around with the others, waiting for sunrise. “I’ll never forget the collective ‘Ahhh,’ which seemed to be one sound from the crowd as the sun peeked out of the horizon,” Rogers recalls.
6. Prague, Czech Republic
Old Town Square
Cindy Barks has jet lag to thank for catching her favorite sunrise ever in Prague. An Arizona-based newspaper reporter and travel writer, Barks found herself wide awake at 3 a.m. on the first day of her sojourn back in July of 2018. She walked a couple of blocks to the city’s historic Old Town Square in search of coffee. “As I wandered the square in the pre-dawn hours, I noticed that a few people were starting to gather, with eyes cast toward the gothic towers of Tyn Church. The reason became obvious soon enough,” she says. “As I watched, the rising sun began to peek through a gap in the church facade, its golden rays casting a beautiful reflection on the cobblestone square. It made for an incredibly lovely sunrise scene.”
“Although there were a few other people around me, the square in the early morning hours was much less crowded than it would be a few hours later,” asserts Barks. “Capping it all off was a young bride and groom posing for a photographer, the bride’s veil glowing golden in the light,” Barks describes, calling it “Altogether, an unforgettable experience.”
7. Pico do Arieiro Madeira, Portugal
Authors, entrepreneurs, and world travelers Diana Laskaris and Sue Reddel describe the sunrise over Portugal’s Pico do Arieiro as phenomenal. “Portugal is a country with so many natural wonders and Madeira is one of the most beautiful places we have ever been,” the pair declares.
Pico do Arriero is located less than an hour’s drive from Madeira’s main town of Funchal. Laskaris and Reddel call driving in a Jeep through the darkness to arrive on a mountaintop 6,000 feet high “worth the effort.” Viewing areas on the mountaintop are just a short walk from where you park, according to the duo.
While the mountaintop was cold, the two wore jackets, enjoying hot cocoa and tea as they huddled under warm blankets. “The stillness and quiet while the sun came up over the mountain made us feel like we were just one part of the whole world as it was waking up to a new and glorious day,” describe the two. Madeira Island may be known for its beaches, but Laskaris and Reddel say “Watching the sunrise over Pico do Arieiro is one of the memories we treasure the most.”
8. Avalon, New Jersey
The best sunrise Pennslyvania-based freelance travel writer, photographer, and foodie Jeanine Consoli has ever seen was less than a month ago in Avalon, New Jersey. A retired elementary school teacher, Consoli was there for a ladies’ weekend of “toasting and laughter,” celebrating a close friend’s bachelorette party. “It had been a long time since we’d been together because she moved to a different city to be with her soulmate after years of being alone,” Consoli explains. “We got up early to see the sunrise and welcome the beauty of new beginnings, a new day, a new partnership, a new stage in life,” she reflects.
9. Edinburgh, Scotland
In 2019, Kelly Hayes-Raitt sold her California home in order to become an international housesitter. Soon, however, people the world over would stop traveling due to the pandemic, and Hayes-Raitt would find herself stuck in the UK, homeless. “When a woman I had housesat for years before read my Facebook post about my dilemma, she asked if I would stay in a house she had just purchased in Edinburgh, as she was in Dubai and unable to return to the UK,” Hayes-Raitt rehashes.
The homeowner arranged to have her stored furniture delivered to the new house. “It was a win-win! I saved her storage fees and higher property taxes — which are doubled for unoccupied homes — and she provided me with a lovely house in fabulous Edinburgh with this magical view,” Hayes-Raitt exclaims.
Scottland may be known for its whisky, kilts, and bagpipes, but Hayes-Raitt claims that its capital is known for its storybook light. She snapped this sunrise from the bedroom in Edinburgh that she was so thankful to have during lockdown. “This photo will always remind me of the beauty that broke through that bleak winter,” Kelly relates, “not only the stunning sunrise but the homeowner’s kindness and generosity.”