Though it’s no longer the only travel magazine or website in the game, National Geographic still seems to dominate the world of travel photography. Each year, the magazine publishes work from intrepid photographers from all around the globe. Some of them are novices, others are magazine staff: All of their photos are jaw-dropping. Below are some of the best National Geographic photos from 2015, taken in fascinating locations all around the world. From the churches of St. Petersburg to the forests of Yellowstone, each one of these images seems to be more gorgeous than the last. The last one will take your breath away.Fresh produce and baskets of fish surround a woman at the Siti Khadijah market in Kota Bharu, Malaysia. The city is close to the Thai border.
“I took this picture at an amusement park down by the [Victoria and Alfred] Waterfront in Cape Town,” says Philip Grube, who entered the 2015 Traveler Photo Contest. “It was a clear blue sky when I saw these kids crawling, running, and trying to balance themselves in these shiny plastic bubbles in a pool of water. The reflection of the water in combination with the effect of the bubbles under the blue sky looked somehow surreal.”
An artist spins molten iron at a brick wall in the practice of Da Shuhua, or “tree flower.” The local tradition takes place during the Lantern Festival in China’s Hebei Province.
Lesser flamingos take flight over Lake Bogoria in Kenya. The alkaline waters of Bogoria and other Rift Valley lakes support the cyanobacteria that the birds feed on.
An elaborate mosaic under the central dome in the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood in St. Petersburg, Russia, draws the eye up. The church contains nearly 1.9 acres of mosaics.
Fishermen wait for glass eels to be drawn to the bright lights they’re shining on Japan’s Yoshino River. When the eels are close, the fishermen scoop them up. This type of traditional fishing is best done on the darkest nights.
Under a stormy sky, hikers round a small lake in La Réunion National Park, located on the French island of Réunion in the southwest Indian Ocean. Added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 2010, the 247,000-acre park features dramatic, rugged landscapes and valuable ecosystems—including cloud forests, subtropical rain forests, and heaths—that are home to many threatened and endangered species.
The Cuernos (Horns) del Paine grab the early morning light in Chile’s wild Torres del Paine National Park. Once the haunt of a few stalwart climbers, the park now draws more than 100,000 visitors a year.
The aurora borealis sets the Iceland sky alight with an otherworldly glow. This phenomenon is triggered when the sun sends charged particles coursing to Earth. The best time to see the light show in Iceland is on a clear night in winter—visibility improves the colder it gets.
The town of Binche, Belgium, takes its Mardi Gras silliness seriously, with street performances, costumed revelers, music, and dancing. The centuries-old event has been named by UNESCO a “masterpiece of the oral and intangible heritage of humanity.”
Photographer Sean Ensch captured this shot of western Norway’s famously serpentine Trollstigen road. “I was lucky enough to live here for two months during summer, and one evening I saw the valley filling with fog,” he says in his 2015 Traveler Photo Contest submission. “So I drove up the road to watch the late summer midnight sun set as the fog swayed through the valley below.”
Frost rimes a walkway—and the greenery surrounding it—on Tianmen Mountain in Zhangjiajie, Hunan Province, China. The bridge connects with an all-glass walkway that hugs the mountain some 4,700 feet above sea level.
Space is tight for onlookers during opening day of the San Fermin Festival’s Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, Spain. Held since 1591, the event attracts tens of thousands of visitors each year for nine days of revelry, morning bull runs, and afternoon bullfights. The festival gained worldwide fame after appearing in Ernest Hemingway’s 1926 novel The Sun Also Rises.
Frost paints Yellowstone’s Lower Geyser Basin white early one January morning. The world’s first national park doesn’t shut down during the long winter—cross-country skiing and snowmobiling are popular snowy activities.
The Coca River roars over the San Rafael Falls, the largest waterfall in Ecuador. Tucked into a cloud forest, San Rafael is near Baeza in the country’s northeast.