A Journey Through the Top UNESCO World Heritage Sites

2023-11-22 00:24:49 - Drany Macley Drany Macley, the senior editor of Vytravels.com, brings extensive journalism background and over eight years of experience in travel writing and editing to the site, offering practical insights and first-hand knowledge through articles on innovative hotels, backed by a BA in Journalism from Ithaca College.
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Embark on a journey to the most captivating and awe-inspiring destinations on our planet - the Top UNESCO World Heritage Sites. From the mystical ruins of Machu Picchu in Peru to the architectural marvels of the Forbidden City in China, these breathtaking wonders of human history and nature are bound to enchant and enthrall you. Delve into the cultural landscapes of Sintra in Portugal and Sigiriya in Sri Lanka, or stand in awe of the mighty Great Wall in China. Join us as we explore these extraordinary sites that have shaped civilizations and captured the imagination of travelers for centuries. Get ready to be immersed in a world of unparalleled beauty and cultural significance, where history comes alive and the wonders of our planet unfold before your eyes.

Cultural Landscape of Sintra, Portugal

Experience the enchanting town of Sintra in Portugal, where fairy tales come to life. Explore magical castles, palaces, and stunning gardens fit for royalty. This UNESCO heritage site is a sprawling natural park that requires 2-3 days to fully discover.

Ancient City of Sigiriya, Sri Lanka

Immerse yourself in the captivating rock fortress built for a King in Sri Lanka. This incredible structure features stairs, terraced gardens, magnificent wall paintings, and intricate carvings. The challenging climb to the top offers breathtaking panoramic views of the lush Sri Lankan landscape.

Trang An Landscape Complex

Indulge in the extraordinary beauty of Vietnam's Trang An Landscape Complex, a unique UNESCO World Heritage site. This mixed site combines stunning karst peaks with archaeological evidence of human activity spanning thousands of years. Paddle through secret caves and marvel at majestic karst peaks surrounded by lush rainforests.

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A sea turtle looks into the camera while a scuba diver poses in the backgroundWitness the beauty of sea turtles in the waters near Coiba, Panama.

Bryggen, Norway

Step into history at Bryggen, an ancient wharf in Bergen, Norway. This site showcases 62 buildings that played a significant role in the Hanseatic League's trading empire during the 14th to mid-16th centuries. Despite several fires throughout the years, the wooden buildings have been faithfully reconstructed, preserving the authenticity of the original structures.

Famous Bryggen street with wooden colored houses in Bergen, Norway, UNESCO world heritage siteImmerse yourself in the charm of Bryggen, a UNESCO world heritage site in Bergen, Norway.

Medina of Fez

Step back in time and discover the unique and authentic Medina of Fez in Morocco. This historic city still retains its medieval atmosphere and is home to one of the oldest universities in the world. Lose yourself in the labyrinthine streets, explore magnificent architecture, and immerse yourself in the vibrant markets.

Small boats lining the shore of a river flanked by dense forest, with tall mountains behindEmbark on a serene journey through Trang An, Vietnam, surrounded by breathtaking karst peaks and lush rainforests.

Prambanan, Indonesia

Visit the majestic Prambanan, the largest Hindu temple complex in Indonesia. Dedicated to the deities Vishnu, Shiva, and Brahma, this architectural wonder features 240 temples within its compound. Admire the intricate carved reliefs that showcase captivating narratives.

View of the Sewu temple complex under a blue sky with clouds. The Sewu temple is the second largest Buddhist temple of Indonesia and is located near the famous Prambanan temple.Explore the grandeur of Prambanan, a UNESCO World Heritage site in Indonesia.

Kandy, Sri Lanka

Discover the sacred city of Kandy, perched in the hills of Sri Lanka. Once the capital city of the kings of Sri Lanka, Kandy boasts a rich history dating back to the 13th century. Marvel at the magnificent Temple of the Tooth, a lavishly decorated building housing a revered tooth relic of Buddha.

Plan your Sri Lanka holidays and explore the wonders of Kandy.

The Treasury in Petra, Jordan- one of the best Unesco world heritage sitesWitness the awe-inspiring Treasury, one of the best UNESCO World Heritage sites in Petra, Jordan.

Machu Picchu, Peru

Uncover the archaeological wonder of Machu Picchu in Peru, nestled atop the Andes Mountains. This iconic UNESCO site was built by the Inca Empire in the 1400s. Traverse the multi-day hike to reach this awe-inspiring citadel and witness the incredible craftsmanship of Incan architecture, art, and religion.

Machu Picchu ruins in Peru. It's one of the top UNESCO World Heritage Sites.Explore the mystical ruins of Machu Picchu, one of the top UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Rapa Nui National Park (Easter Island), Chile

Venture to Easter Island, also known as Rapa Nui National Park, and discover its astonishing Moai sculptures. These massive stone heads and torsos, carved from volcanic ash, are a testament to the preservation of Eastern Polynesian culture. Explore this remote island and witness the cultural legacy of its inhabitants.

Hampi, India

Immerse yourself in the majestic city of Hampi, the former capital of the Vijayanagara Empire in India. This UNESCO World Heritage site boasts over 1,600 remains, including temples, fortifications, and gateways. Explore the unique landscape defined by hills, plains, and the scenic Tungabhadra River.

Virupaksha Temple, located in the ruins of ancient city Vijayanagar at Hampi, IndiaVisit the mesmerizing Virupaksha Temple in the ancient city of Hampi, India.

Mtskheta, Georgia

Uncover the treasures of Mtskheta, the ancient capital and religious center of Georgia. This lesser-known UNESCO site offers the chance to explore the magnificent Svetitskhoveli Cathedral, believed to house the burial spot of Jesus Christ's robe. Marvel at the Jvari Monastery, nestled atop a mountain, and soak in the rich history of this town.

Taking in the views at Thingvellir National Park, Iceland - one of the best Unesco world heritage sitesEnjoy the breathtaking views at Thingvellir National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site in Iceland.

Forbidden City, China - One of the Most Unique UNESCO Sites

Immerse yourself in the grandeur of the Forbidden City in Beijing, China. This UNESCO World Heritage site presents a mesmerizing blend of red walls, golden roofs, and a thousand stories. As the world's largest palace complex, it showcases over 8,000 rooms that echo with the rich history of ancient ceremonies and royal intrigues.

The Forbidden City in Beijing is one of the best UNESCO World Heritage Sites.Explore the architectural marvels of the Forbidden City, one of the best UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Coiba National Park and its Special Zone of Marine Protection

Discover the hidden gem of Coiba National Park in Panama, a lesser-known protected marine area. This park encompasses Coiba Island and its surrounding 38 smaller islands, offering excellent diving opportunities. Encounter threatened animals and witness the extraordinary biodiversity of this remote and untouched paradise.

A stone pyramid with cloud-covered hillsides in the backgroundMarvel at the ancient stone pyramids in Teotihuacan, Mexico.

Leshan Giant Buddha, China

Visit the awe-inspiring Leshan Giant Buddha, the largest stone Buddha in the world. This 232-foot (71 m) tall Buddha statue was carved out of red sandstone between the 8th and 9th centuries. Marvel at the skillful craftsmanship and religious significance of this iconic landmark.

The Leshan Giant Buddha in China is absolutely massive. It's among the most popular heritage sites in China.Discover the incredible magnitude of the Leshan Giant Buddha, one of the most popular heritage sites in China.

Bagan, Myanmar

Step into a real-life fairy tale as you explore the legendary city of Bagan in Myanmar. Admire the mystical temples that rise out of the mist and lush green landscape. This UNESCO site is home to an astonishing collection of 2,200 temples, offering a glimpse into the rich history of this magical place.

The Rock Sites of Cappadocia, Turkey - Must-visit UNESCO site

Embark on a surreal journey to the rock sites of Cappadocia in Turkey. Stay in a cave hotel, stargaze at night, and witness the breathtaking beauty of the region from a hot air balloon. Experience the extraordinary landscape and create unforgettable memories in this unique UNESCO World Heritage site.

The Taj Mahal, India

Admire the splendor of the Taj Mahal, a mesmerizing white marble mausoleum in India. Built by Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his beloved wife, this architectural masterpiece astounds with its perfect symmetry and exquisite design. Marvel at the intricate minarets against the backdrop of the blue Indian sky.

Petra, Jordan - Best of UNESCO!

Step into history and uncover the wonders of the lost city of Petra in Jordan. Carved out of rose-colored stone, this ancient city was hidden for centuries before its discovery in the 19th century. Marvel at the well-preserved architectural marvels and immerse yourself in the mystery of this UNESCO World Heritage site.

The Great Wall, China

Marvel at the awe-inspiring Great Wall of China, one of the most iconic UNESCO World Heritage sites. Constructed over centuries, this monumental defensive wall stretches over 20,000 kilometers. Stand in awe of the human effort and admire the unparalleled views from this incredible feat of engineering.

Galápagos Islands, Ecuador

Embark on a journey to the pristine Galápagos Islands in Ecuador, a haven where wildlife thrives undisturbed by human presence. Nestled in the Pacific Ocean, this archipelago is renowned for its unique and diverse wildlife. Explore the islands that inspired Charles Darwin's theory of evolution and witness the delicate balance between humans and nature.

The Galápagos Islands is one of the most diverse and beautiful UNESCO World Heritage Sites.Experience the unparalleled beauty and wildlife of the Galápagos Islands, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Old City of Jerusalem, Israel

Jerusalem is revered as one of the holiest cities for Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. This historic area is rich in cultural and historical landmarks that date back over a thousand years.

Jerusalem is more than just a city; it serves as a living testament to centuries of faith, struggles, and triumphs. Walking through its ancient cobblestone streets, every corner whispers tales from the past. Renowned as one of the top destinations to visit in Israel, Jerusalem holds a unique position not only geographically, but also spiritually.

Prominent attractions here include the Walls of Jerusalem and the Dome of the Rock, a 7th-century Islamic shrine. All three major Abrahamic religions acknowledge this shrine as the site of Abraham's sacrifice.

Situated between the Dead Sea and the Judaean Mountains, Jerusalem stands as one of the oldest and most captivating cities in the world. As a UNESCO World Heritage site, Jerusalem seamlessly blends the ancient with the modern, ensuring that every visitor departs with indelible memories. It truly is an ancient city overflowing with enriching experiences for travelers.

How to get there:

Jerusalem is easily accessible by a less than 1-hour bus ride from Tel Aviv, Israel.

Built in 326 A.D., the Church of the Holy Sepulchre contains Jesus Christ’s tomb.Built in 326 A.D., the Church of the Holy Sepulchre houses Jesus Christ's tomb.

Chichen Itza, Mexico - A Unique World Heritage Site

The Yucatan Peninsula harbors numerous hidden treasures, yet Chichen Itza shines brightest among them. This archaeological wonder, a vestige of the mighty Maya civilization, serves as a testament to Mexico's rich tapestry of history and culture.

Three millennia after the ancient Egyptians constructed the pyramids of Giza, the Maya built their own impressive pyramids. Chichen Itza, an ancient Mayan city on the Yucatan Peninsula, stands as one of the best-preserved remnants of this enigmatic empire. To this day, the reason behind the Maya's abandonment of their cities in 900 A.D. remains unclear. Hopefully, in the coming years, this archaeological site and others in the region will shed light on this mystery.

Dominating the landscape is the awe-inspiring El Castillo pyramid, drawing visitors into a world of myths and rituals. Envision the sounds of age-old ceremonies, the vibrant festivities, and the Maya astronomers charting the skies from these very grounds. It comes as no surprise that Chichen Itza is frequently hailed as one of Mexico's most beautiful destinations.

How to get there:

Chichen Itza is a 3-hour bus ride away from Cancun.

Chichen Itza is a historic temple on the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico.Built between the 8th and 12th centuries, the El Castillo pyramid is one of Chichen Itza's most recognized structures. It is also among the world's most popular World Heritage sites.

Machu Picchu, Peru - One of the best UNESCO world heritage sites

As one of the new seven wonders of the world, every aspect of visiting Machu Picchu, including the journey to reach it, is simply breathtaking. Witness the sun's rays casting a golden glow upon the ancient Incan city, nestled amidst lush green mountains.

Ancient Kyoto, Japan

Founded in 794 AD, Kyoto served as Japan's capital until the mid-19th century. Its UNESCO designation encompasses 17 locations comprising 198 buildings and 12 gardens dating back to the 10th to 17th centuries. Among the most popular sites are the Zen Buddhist temple Kinkaku-ji and Kamigamo Shrine, one of Japan's oldest Shinto shrines. Kyoto's profound influence on landscape gardening and wooden architecture is evident and visiting this city showcases the remarkable development of Japanese gardens and architecture.

Daigo-ji temple with colorful maple trees in autumn, Kyoto, JapanPatryk Kosmider / shutterstock.com

Mount Fuji, Japan

As you fly to Japan, one sight captures your attention from the airplane window—the snow-capped summit of Mount Fuji. Symbolizing beauty and resilience, this iconic peak is not only among Japan's most stunning destinations, but it is also recognized globally as a World Heritage site.

Rising over 12,380 feet (3,775 m) above the Japanese landscape, Mount Fuji has inspired writers, artists, and worshippers for centuries. It holds a significant cultural and spiritual importance, which led to its designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2013.

Whether you admire its shimmering beauty against a backdrop of cherry blossoms, witness its reflection in the Five Lakes, or embark on the rewarding hike to its summit, Mount Fuji captivates in every setting.

How to get there:

Mount Fuji is conveniently accessible via a 2-hour train ride from Tokyo.

Mt. Fuji is a beautiful mountain in Japan. It's one of the best and most noteworthy UNESCO World Heritage Sites."He who climbs Mt. Fuji [once] is a wise man; he who climbs twice is a fool." – Japanese proverb

Historic Centre of Tallinn, Estonia

Dating back to the 13th century and serving as a central hub of the Hanseatic League, Tallinn offers numerous reasons to explore Estonia. Resilient and enduring, impressive architecture graces the merchant houses, churches, and buildings within this historically significant area. The medieval lower town, characterized by its church spires, contrasts strikingly with the upper town, where Toompea Castle and St. Mary's Cathedral are located. Standing at the crossroads of land and water, Tallinn's dramatic skyline provides a picture-perfect opportunity.

Aerial View of Tallinn Old Town in a beautiful summer day, EstoniaS-F / shutterstock.com

Angkor Wat, Cambodia

The world's largest religious monument, Angkor Wat, holds an impressive collection of remains from the Khmer Empire, spanning the 9th to 15th centuries. Welcoming over two million visitors annually, this artistic masterpiece is one of the most-visited historical sites in the world.

Angkor Wat seen across the lake, CambodiaTom Roche / shutterstock.com

Best of Japan Tour

Experience Japan's historical treasures and cultural marvels on this comprehensive 18-day tour that traverses the country's most spectacular landscapes, including Mount Fuji and the Japanese Alps.

Highlights

  • Partake in a tea ceremony at Kyoto's 17th-century Kiyomizu temple.
  • Witness snow monkeys in the hot springs of Jigokudani Monkey Park.
  • Visit Hiroshima and take a leisurely stroll through the Peace Memorial Park.

What's included?

  • International flights and applicable taxes
  • Exclusive free pre-tour extension, which includes a hotel night, dinner, breakfast, and a sushi-making class—quote TIMES-ON when booking
  • 16 breakfasts, 15 lunches, and 16 dinners

The Jinshanling and Simatai section of the Great Wall of China - one of the best Unesco world heritage sitesThe Jinshanling and Simatai section of the Great Wall of China (Alamy)

Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany

Ranked among Germany's most breathtaking castles, Neuschwanstein Castle was commissioned by Ludwig II of Bavaria as his personal and opulent hideaway. Construction of this Romanesque Revival masterpiece was completed in 1886, shortly before the king's untimely demise. Subsequently, the castle opened its doors to the public. Its stunning appearance not only served as inspiration for the iconic Disneyland castle but also for the castle in Disney's Sleeping Beauty.

Neuschwanstein Castle on the top of the mountain in Bavaria, GermanyYury Dmitrienko / shutterstock.com

Statue of Liberty, USA

Gifted to the USA by France on its 100th anniversary of independence and designed by the same engineer responsible for the Eiffel Tower, the Statue of Liberty stands as a neoclassical sculpture on Liberty Island. Lady Liberty symbolizes freedom, with her raised torch in her right hand and a tablet bearing the date of the U.S. Declaration of Independence in her left. At her feet rests a broken chain, serving as a powerful reminder of liberation.

New York City skyline with Statue of Liberty over Hudson RiverUTBP / shutterstock.com

Great Barrier Reef, Australia

The Great Barrier Reef not only stands as one of the most vibrant places on Earth, but it is also the largest coral reef system on the planet. Encompassing around 133,000 square miles, this captivating ecosystem is home to 400 types of coral, over 900 islands, more than 2,000 plant species, and various endangered marine creatures like the sea cow. The massive Great Barrier Reef is even visible from outer space.

Great Barrier Reef in AustraliaBrian Kinney / shutterstock.com

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

This World Heritage site holds a special place in my heart because it was the first one I ever visited at the young age of nine. Back then, I had no knowledge of UNESCO, but I was overwhelmed with awe and amazement as I encountered numerous waterfalls, moss-covered rocks, trickling streams, and even wild black bears.

The Great Smoky Mountains' designation stems from the park's rich diversity of plant and animal life. From backcountry camping to simply dipping your toes in a stream, there are options to suit every interest and ability.

Birds with blue feet stand on a rocky shorelineBlue-footed boobies in the Galápagos © Amanda McCadams

Grand Canyon, US

The Grand Canyon, located in the US, is a remarkable natural wonder that was carved out by the Colorado River over five million years ago. Surprisingly, very little was known about this magnificent gorge until the mid-19th century, when it was finally recognized and marked on maps. If you have the opportunity, consider staying in a hotel on the rim of the canyon and embarking on a guided hike along its edge. This is one of the best ways to explore the more remote trails of the canyon while learning about its fascinating history.

Explore more about holidays in the USA* here.

Learn about the best time to visit the Grand Canyon.

Discover the best national parks in the US.

Pilgrims light candles in the Svetitskhoveli (Life Giving Pillar) Cathedral in Mtskheta - one of the best Unesco world heritage sitesPilgrims light candles in the Svetitskhoveli (Life Giving Pillar) Cathedral in Mtskheta (Getty Images)

Loire Valley, France

The Loire Valley in France is an enchanting region known for its historic towns, breathtaking architecture, and exquisite wines. Along the river banks, you'll find delightful fruit orchards, vineyards, and fields of asparagus and artichokes. While every part of the Loire Valley is beautiful, the Château de Chambord is a standout attraction. This magnificent castle showcases the distinct French Renaissance architectural style and is considered one of the world's most remarkable châteaux. For more information, take a look at our guide to visiting the Loire Valley from Paris.

Chateau de Chenonceau on the Cher River, Loire Valley, Francejavarman / shutterstock.com

Yellowstone National Park, USA

Yellowstone National Park, located in the USA, holds the prestigious title of being the world's first national park and one of the original 12 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. This park is a haven for diverse wildlife and features a wide range of breathtaking natural landscapes. From roaring waterfalls to peaceful valleys, and from steaming geysers to lush forests, Yellowstone truly showcases the grandeur of our planet. If you're wondering about the coolest spots to explore in Yellowstone, there are plenty! This captivating natural wonderland is home to dense forests, stunning canyons, hot springs, and geysers. While visiting, you may even have the chance to spot grizzly bears from a safe distance. Yellowstone National Park is a must-see destination that should be on everyone's USA bucket list.

Discover more about the most beautiful places in Yellowstone.

Plan your ultimate USA bucket list with Yellowstone National Park as a highlight.

Explore one of the most unique places in the US: Yellowstone National Park.

Learn how to get to Yellowstone National Park – it's just a 1-hour drive from Jackson Hole Airport.

Yellowstone National Park in Montana is one of the world's greatest UNESCO World Heritage Sites.One of the most iconic features of Yellowstone's incredible diversity is the Grand Prismatic Spring, an enchanting hot spring surrounded by rainbow-colored hues.

Los Glaciares National Park, Argentina

Los Glaciares National Park, located in Argentina, is a stunning destination that features glacial lakes and rugged mountains. This park is considered one of the most beautiful places in South America. With one-third of the park covered in ice, its glaciers are easily accessible and showcase breathtaking natural wonders. Los Glaciares National Park offers a range of outdoor activities, including wildlife viewing, hiking, climbing, and even helicopter rides over the park.

Panoramic view at the Perito Moreno Glacier, Patagonia, ArgentinaGabor Kovacs Photography / shutterstock.com

Cappadocia, Turkey

Cappadocia, situated in Turkey, is a fascinating geological wonderland known for its unique "fairy chimney" rock formations. This extraordinary destination is also home to numerous caves, cave churches, fantastical landscapes, and underground cities. To truly experience the wonders of Cappadocia, consider booking a hot air balloon ride. This offers an incredible vantage point to admire the breathtaking landscapes and witness one of the most spectacular sunrises in the world.

The great tourist attraction of Cappadocia - balloon flight. Cappadocia is known around the world as one of the best places to fly with hot air balloons. Goreme, Cappadocia, TurkeyOlena Tur / shutterstock.com

Old Walled City of Shibam, Yemen

Known as the "Manhattan of the Desert," the Old Walled City of Shibam in Yemen is a historic city that dates back to the 16th century. It served as the capital of the Hadramawt Kingdom and is renowned for its unique building construction and gridded streets. The city's mud brick tower blocks, some reaching up to 11 levels high, rise dramatically from the cliffs. The rectangular layout of the squares and streets is considered a brilliant example of traditional Hadrami urban architecture. A visit to Shibam offers a glimpse into the traditional way of life of the Wadi Hadramaut people, showcasing their cultural heritage and the influences of traditional Muslim and Arab culture.

Yemeni boys playing soccer at Shibam, Hadramaut province, Yemenjavarman / shutterstock.com

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

Ha Long Bay, located in Vietnam, is renowned for its magical scenery of limestone pillars and lush rainforests. This incredible bay consists of nearly 2,000 islands, most of which are uninhabited. Many of the islands feature awe-inspiring caves and are adorned with beautiful trees, creating a truly breathtaking landscape.

Floating village and rock islands in Halong Bay, Vietnam, Southeast AsiaPhotoRoman / shutterstock.com

Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic

Český Krumlov, located in the Czech Republic, is a picturesque town renowned for its stunning castle. Construction of the castle began in 1240, and it showcases a beautiful blend of Renaissance, Gothic, and Baroque architectural styles. Over the years, the castle complex expanded to include a theater, gardens, a pavilion, and a winter riding school. This medieval town has preserved its architectural history for over five centuries, and it continues to captivate visitors with its charming river views, cobblestone streets, and frequent cultural events. Český Krumlov is undeniably one of the best places to visit in the Czech Republic.

View on the Old Town Cesky Krumlov, Czech RepublicScorpp / shutterstock.com

Valletta, Malta

Valletta, the capital city of Malta, is a historic town like no other. Despite its small size (just 1 kilometer long and 600 meters wide), Valletta is home to a wealth of ancient and medieval buildings enclosed within its old city walls. Must-see attractions in Valletta include St. John's Co-Cathedral and Casa Rocca Piccola. The city's honey-colored buildings and narrow streets exude charm and offer an immersive experience in grandeur and history. Built by the Knights of St. John, Valletta showcases a captivating blend of Baroque and Renaissance architecture. Every corner of the city reveals palaces, churches, and squares, each with its own story from the past.

Among the many things to do in Malta, taking a stroll through Valletta's streets is a top highlight. As a UNESCO World Heritage site, Valletta is not just a city but a living testament to Mediterranean resilience and splendor.

Discover more about Valletta, Malta, which was once ruled by the Greeks, Phoenicians, Romans, Byzantines, and Arabs. Walk through its quaint streets and witness the historic and cultural influences that have shaped the city.

Whether you're catching a performance at the Manoel Theatre or admiring the panoramic harbor views, Valletta promises an unforgettable journey.

Learn how to get to Valletta, Malta – it's just a short flight from most major European airports.

Valletta is a compact city in the heart of Malta.Though compact in size, Valletta is brimming with cultural attractions at every turn within its fortified city walls. Discover the most Instagrammable places in Malta.

Swiss Alps Jungfrau-Aletsch, Switzerland

The Swiss Alps Jungfrau-Aletsch region in Switzerland is the Alps' first World Natural Heritage Site. This mountainous area has played a significant role in alpine tourism, mountaineering, European art, and literature. It is home to the Aletsch Glacier, Europe's largest glacier, and exhibits the most glaciated part of the European Alps. The area boasts a multitude of plant and animal species, with over 1,250 animal species, 1,800 vascular plant species, and 700 moss types identified.

Famous mount Jungfrau in the swiss alpsFedor Selivanov / shutterstock.com

Schönbrunn Palace and Gardens, Austria

Schönbrunn Palace and Gardens, located in Austria, is a magnificent palace complex that was once the residence of the Habsburg emperors. With 1,441 rooms, this palace is an outstanding example of Baroque art and Gesamtkunstwerk, which blends various art forms. The interior of the palace has been graced by renowned figures such as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Napoleon Bonaparte. Visitors can tour the palace and marvel at its Rococo style. Schönbrunn Palace is one of Vienna's top attractions and is also home to the world's first zoo, which was established in 1752.

Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna

Sydney Opera House, Australia

The Sydney Opera House, located in Australia, is a renowned performing arts center and a true architectural masterpiece. Inaugurated in 1973, this iconic landmark boasts an expressionist style and is distinguished by its vaulted shell-like structures on the roof. The Sydney Opera House has had a significant impact on the field of architecture and hosts over 1,500 performances annually. Its location at the end of a peninsula in Sydney Harbour provides a majestic waterscape, adding to its allure.

Sydney Opera house close up with office buildings of Sydney Central Business District on the background. Circular Quay, Sydney HarbourOlga Kashubin / shutterstock.com

Palace and Park of Versailles, France

The Palace and Park of Versailles, located in France, is a world-famous attraction that served as the royal residence during the reign of King Louis XIV. Established as the ideal royal residence in 1682, this opulent palace continues to be one of the most visited sites in France. Although it ceased to function as a royal residence after the reign of Louis XVI, the palace underwent various additions and embellishments by decorators, sculptors, and architects. The symmetrical gardens, designed by landscape architect André Le Nôtre, are considered one of the finest examples of French formal garden style.

Hall of Mirrors in the palace of Versailles, FranceMister_Knight / shutterstock.com

Acropolis, Athens, Greece

The Acropolis, located in Athens, Greece, is an ancient citadel that dominates the city's skyline. It holds the remnants of buildings that played a major role in history and gave birth to theater, democracy, philosophy, speech, and freedom of expression. The most prominent structure on the Acropolis is the Parthenon, which stands as one of the most significant ancient sites in the world.

Parthenon temple on a bright day. Acropolis in Athens, Greeceanyaivanova / shutterstock.com

Mont Saint Michel, France

Mont Saint Michel, located in France, is a medieval town renowned for its intricate architecture and winding streets. Its most significant attraction is the Mont Saint Michel Abbey, which is considered one of France's finest. Construction of the abbey began in the 10th century, and it showcases magnificent Gothic and Romanesque architectural styles. Mont Saint Michel is also home to over 60 buildings that are protected as French national heritage sites. Its rocky isle setting, surrounded by panoramic views, adds to its allure.

Beautiful view of famous historic Le Mont Saint-Michel tidal island in beautiful golden evening light at sunset in summer with hay bales on empty fields, Normandy, northern Francecanadastock / shutterstock.com

Bryggen, Norway

Bryggen, situated in Bergen, Norway, is an ancient wharf consisting of approximately 62 buildings. This wharf showcases the historical significance of Bergen during the trading empire of the Hanseatic League from the 14th to the mid-16th centuries. Despite several fires that have occurred over the years, the wooden buildings are meticulously rebuilt to maintain the authenticity of the original structures. Bryggen is now home to museums, restaurants, and shops, and the 300-year-old Bellgården building is a true highlight.

Famous Bryggen street with wooden colored houses in Bergen, Norway, UNESCO world heritage siteMikhail Varentsov / shutterstock.com

Old and New Towns of Edinburgh, Scotland

The beautiful contrast found in Scotland's capital city is what draws people back time and time again. The medieval Old Town, with its iconic Edinburgh Castle, showcases impressive 16th and 17th-century merchant and noble homes like the Gladstone's Land mansion house. On the other hand, the neoclassical New Town, established in 1767, boasts a sophisticated Georgian style and expansive green spaces. Both of these distinct areas offer a plethora of exciting activities and attractions to enjoy in Edinburgh.

Edinburgh city in winter from Calton hill, Scotland, UKalice-photo / shutterstock.com

Itsukushima Shinto Shrine, Japan

Renowned for its floating torii gate, the Itsukushima Shinto Shrine has a history that spans more than 1,400 years. This sacred place of Shintoism is composed of 20 structures connected by boardwalks. One of the best ways to experience the shrine complex is by taking a boat cruise around the inlet during high tide.

Itsukushima Shrine, floating Japanese Torii GateJonathan Chu / shutterstock.com

Old Havana, Cuba

Once a thriving hub for ship-building, the extensive system of defensive fortifications in Old Havana now showcases some of the largest and oldest in the Americas. While there is much to see and do, the Neoclassical and Baroque architecture surrounding the unique plazas of Old Havana is truly magnificent.

Street scene with colorful buildings and old american car in downtown Havana, CubaKamira / shutterstock.com

Acropolis of Athens - One of the Top Ancient UNESCO Sites

When you think of the top things to do in Greece, the Acropolis of Athens instantly springs to mind. Towering over the modern city, this ancient citadel embodies the spirit and grandeur of classical Greece. The iconic Parthenon temple, dedicated to the goddess Athena, is a testament to the architectural and artistic achievements of the Golden Age of Athens.

The Acropolis of Athens is truly the heart and soul of the Greek capital. This ancient citadel stands atop a cliff overlooking the bustling city below.

Built during the 5th century B.C., the Acropolis is a complex of temples, monuments, and statues. It includes top sights such as the Parthenon, Temple of Athena Nike, and Odeon of Herodes Atticus.

Not only is the Acropolis an essential stop on any Athenian itinerary, but it also ranks high among the unique places in Greece to visit. With every step on its weathered stones, you’re treading on layers of history, myths, and legends. Is this among the most famous world heritage sites? 100%!

How to get there:

When you're in Athens, look up and you won't miss it.

The Acropolis of Athens is one of the world's most beautiful ancient ruins.For over 2,000 years, the Acropolis has stood as a symbol of Ancient Greece and its achievements in art, architecture, and philosophy.

Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany

Regarded as one of Germany's most beautiful castles, Neuschwanstein Castle was commissioned by Ludwig II of Bavaria as his personal lavish hideaway. Completed in 1886 in the Romanesque Revival style, the castle opened to the public shortly after the death of Ludwig II. Its stunning architecture served as inspiration for the iconic Disneyland castle and Sleeping Beauty's castle in the Disney film.

Neuschwanstein Castle on the top of the mountain in Bavaria, GermanyYury Dmitrienko / shutterstock.com

La Grand-Place, Belgium

Representing the success and prosperity of Brussels, La Grand-Place is one of Europe's most beautiful central market squares. After suffering bombardment by Louis XIV and the French in 1695, the square was transformed into an architectural gem by blending together various artistic styles. Its centerpiece is the Brabantine Gothic Town Hall, the only remaining medieval building, surrounded by opulent guildhouses and other magnificent Baroque and Gothic structures.

Buildings at the Grand place central square, old town of Brussels, BelgiumPaii VeGa / shutterstock.com

Budapest, Hungary

Buda is renowned for its Baroque castle, while Pest is known for being the first medieval urban center. UNESCO praises Budapest as "one of the world's outstanding urban landscapes" that showcases the history of the Hungarian capital. The ancient city of Aquincum marks the beginning of Budapest's history, and today it thrives as a vibrant city with impressive advancements in research, education, and commerce.

Hungarian Parliament at daytime. Budapest. One of the most beautiful buildings in the Hungarian capital.Brian Kinney / shutterstock.com

Ayutthaya Historical Park, Thailand

Among the best places to visit in Thailand, the island city of Ayutthaya was established in 1351 and became Siam's second capital under King Ramathibodi I. Today, the Ayutthaya Historical Park encompasses the ruins of the city, with 289 hectares of the park designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The park showcases exemplary Thai art, and visitors can explore various buildings, including the Buddhist temples of Wat Mahathat, Wat Phra Sri Sanphet, and Wat Ratchaburana.

Ayutthaya in Thailand

Serengeti National Park, Tanzania

Visit Serengeti National Park to witness the most magnificent natural event in the world – the great wildebeest migration. Every year, between October and November, two million wildebeest, along with hundreds of thousands of zebras and gazelles, migrate south in search of water and grazing land. The park is also home to the highest concentration of large mammals on the planet, including the Big Five – lion, Cape buffalo, leopard, elephant, and rhinoceros. With around 500 species of birds, Serengeti National Park offers a perfect safari experience.

Zebras and wildebeests during the big migration in Serengeti National Park, Tanzaniaevenfh / shutterstock.com

Kremlin and Red Square, Moscow

The Kremlin and the Red Square, united through their connection to significant Russian events, are two of Russia's most popular sites. Originally designed to be Moscow's main marketplace, the Red Square stands as a plaza between the Kremlin and the cultural area, Kitay-gorod. Every corner of the Red Square offers a significant building, such as the vibrant Saint Basil's Cathedral or Lenin's Mausoleum. The fortified Kremlin complex serves as the official residence of the President, featuring five palaces, four cathedrals, several towers, and countless other attractions for guests to explore.

St. Basils cathedral and monument to Minin and Pozharsky on Red Square in Moscow, Russiaandriano.cz / shutterstock.com

Old City of Dubrovnik, Croatia

If you're road tripping through Croatia, Dubrovnik is an absolute must-see destination, and not just because of its appearance in Game of Thrones. Located on the Dalmatian coast, Dubrovnik was beautifully restored and preserved after a 17th-century earthquake. The medieval city boasts churches, fountains, monasteries, and palaces that adorn its streets. The Baroque, Gothic, and Renaissance architecture adds to the charm as you explore the bustling streets and immerse yourself in the local culture and markets.

The Old Town of Dubrovnik, CroatiaSimone Simone / shutterstock.com

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

This World Heritage site holds a special place in my heart because it was the first one I ever visited at the age of nine. Even though I didn't know about UNESCO back then, I was in awe of the abundance of waterfalls, moss-covered rocks, rolling streams, and wild black bears that I encountered on that trip.

The diversity of plant and animal life within the Great Smoky Mountains is what garners its World Heritage status. A trip to this US national park can be tailored to suit all levels of interest and abilities, from back-country camping to simply taking a detour from the main road to wade in a stream.

Birds with blue feet stand on a rocky shorelineBlue-footed boobies in the Galápagos © Amanda McCadams

Carlsbad Caverns National Park, USA

Carlsbad Caverns National Park is defined by its karst landscape, which is home to over 119 caves. The park's main attractions are Carlsbad Cavern and Lechuguilla Cave. Both caves showcase natural beauty, reef formations, and unique geological features. Carlsbad Cavern is particularly renowned for its large limestone cave chamber, measuring 4,000 feet in length, while Lechuguilla Cave stands out for its rare speleothems, providing a natural laboratory for the study of biological and geological processes.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park is a United States National Park located in the Guadalupe Mountains in southeastern New Mexico.Mariusz S. Jurgielewicz / shutterstock.com

Historic Centre of Arequipa, Peru

Arequipa is truly one-of-a-kind in every aspect. Its origins lie in the use of white volcanic stone taken from the neighboring volcanoes, resulting in a fascinating blend of European and Indigenous influences. The city's beauty is further complemented by its environment, with the snow-capped volcano El Misti casting a shadow over the surroundings.

Works of Antoni Gaudi, Spain

Immerse yourself in the colorful creations of the mastermind that is Antoni Gaudi! Spend a day exploring his imaginative architecture in Barcelona, marveling at the bold and unique designs. Don't miss a visit to Park Guell, the most creative park in the world, showcasing Gaudi's signature mosaic works.

Geirangerfjord and Nærøyfjord, Norway

As part of the west Norwegian fjord landscape, Geirangerfjord and Nærøyfjord rank among the deepest and longest fjords in the world. These two fjords, located 120 kilometers apart, boast widths of up to 2.5 kilometers and stretch from 500 meters below sea level to 1,400 meters above the Norwegian Sea. The natural beauty of the landscape is simply breathtaking, with forests, glacial lakes, and waterfalls to be admired.

Geirangerfjord with a ship in a port from above, with mountain peaks covered with snowPavel Tvrdy / shutterstock.com

Lalibela, Ethiopia: One of the Finest UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Africa

The town of Lalibela was one of the first 12 UNESCO World Heritage Sites to be recognized in 1978. This historic location in Ethiopia is renowned for its 11 monolithic rock-hewn churches, which date back to the 13th century. It is truly a showcase of human history!

Nestled in the highlands of Ethiopia, Lalibela is a testament to faith, ingenuity, and architectural brilliance. This ancient town is home to eleven churches that have been carved out of solid rock in the 12th century. These remarkable structures, connected by a network of trenches and tunnels, attract many Orthodox Christians who consider Lalibela a destination for pilgrimage.

But Lalibela isn't just significant in terms of religion. It has rightfully earned its place among the top tourist destinations in Africa. With its mystical atmosphere, Lalibela offers travelers a chance to explore a side of Africa that is rich in history and spirituality. In the midst of the continent's diverse attractions, Lalibela stands out as a unique blend of tradition and natural wonders.

After the Muslims conquered the "Old Jerusalem," the Ethiopian king of that time declared Lalibela as the "New Jerusalem." Since Christians were no longer able to undertake the pilgrimage to the Holy Land, Lalibela became a substitute. Even today, Lalibela holds great importance as a cherished pilgrimage site for Ethiopian Christians.

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Lalibela can be reached by a one-hour flight from Addis Ababa.

Lalibela Ethiopia

Cultural Landscape of Bali, Indonesia

Bali is often revered for its stunning beaches and mountains. However, UNESCO highlights its five rice terraces and water temples, including the 18th-century Royal Water Temple of Pura Taman Ayun. One of the reasons for their significance is the implementation of the 9th-century farming technique called subak, which played a crucial role in transforming the Balinese into skilled rice cultivators.

Beautiful rice terraces in the morning light near Tegallalang village, Ubud, Bali, Indonesia.Elena Ermakova / shutterstock.com

Yosemite National Park, USA

Yosemite's glacial formations secure its position among the finest parks in the USA. This remarkable park is also famous for its massive sequoias and granite cliffs. Additionally, visitors can enjoy picturesque meadows, waterfalls, streams, mountains, and a wide variety of flora and fauna.

Yosemite National ParkMikhail Kolesnikov / shutterstock.com

Abu Simbel, Egypt

Located in a scenic village with views of the desert and a lake, Abu Simbel is renowned for its two colossal temples that were rescued from the rising waters of Lake Nasser. Each temple is magnificent in its own right, with the Temple of Ramses II featuring four statues of Ramses that stand over 20 meters tall, and the Temple of Hathor being one of Egypt's most well-preserved complexes.

Abu Simbel in EgyptLisa S. / shutterstock.com

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, USA

Home to two of the world's most active volcanoes, Mauna Loa and Kilauea, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987 in recognition of its exceptional natural values. The park is a major attraction in Hawaii, offering visitors breathtaking volcanic landscapes and a glimpse of rare flora and fauna.

Hawaii Volcanoes National ParkYvonne Baur / shutterstock.com

Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia

Waterfalls, lakes, and caves define one of Europe's top national parks. Apart from their natural beauty, the park's 16 lakes are renowned for their vibrant colors, which change depending on the sunlight and the presence of different organisms and minerals in the water. The heavily forested Plitvice Lakes National Park is also home to various animal species, birds, and trees.

Plitvice Lakes in CroatiaMitchell Prest / shutterstock.com

Timbuktu, Mali

Situated at the entrance of the Sahara Desert, this city that dates back to the 5th century played a vital role in spreading Islam across Africa. Timbuktu's golden age is reflected in its three iconic mosques: the 14th-century Sankore, the 14th-century Djinguereber, and the 15th-century Sidi Yahya. Throughout the city, you'll find impressive earthen architecture and 16 mausoleums and holy places.

Timbuktu, Mali, AfricaQuick Shot / shutterstock.com

Old Town of Ghadames, Libya

With archaeological evidence dating back to the 4th century BC, this Berber town is one of the oldest settlements in the pre-Saharan region. The walled Old Town, situated in an oasis, represents a traditional settlement perfectly. Another notable feature of the town is its domestic architecture, which is organized into four levels. These levels consist of underground passageways, storage spaces on the ground floor, living quarters on the upper floors, and open-air terraces on the roofs.

Ghadames, ancient berber city, Libya, UNESCO wold heritage site. The pearl of the desert.Aleksandra H. Kossowska / shutterstock.com

Historic Areas of Istanbul, Turkey

Istanbul's strategic location bridges the gap between Asia and Europe. The city has been a center for major artistic, political, and religious developments throughout history. Notable buildings like the Topkapi Palace and the Hagia Sophia captivate visitors with their impressive designs, both inside and out.

From ancient cities to stunning landscapes, the UNESCO World Heritage Sites offer a glimpse into the rich history and natural wonders of our world. Whether it's the awe-inspiring Machu Picchu in Peru, the mysterious stone statues of Easter Island, or the architectural marvels of the Forbidden City in China, these sites transport us to different time periods and civilizations. Each one has its own unique story to tell, captivating visitors with their cultural significance and breathtaking beauty. With so many incredible sites to explore, the UNESCO World Heritage Sites prove that our world is a treasure trove of history and wonder, waiting to be discovered and cherished by generations to come.

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