Journey Through Time: Exploring the Best Ancient Ruins Around the World
Step back in time and explore the world's most awe-inspiring ancient ruins! From the mystical Pyramids of Giza in Egypt to the majestic Great Wall of China, these incredible relics of the past hold the secrets of civilizations long gone. Embark on a journey to uncover the best ancient ruins scattered across the globe, where tales of empires, myths, and ancient wonders come alive. Buckle up and get ready to immerse yourself in a world of history, mystery, and timeless grandeur. Get ready to be captivated by the wonders of the past!
Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks
The Octagon portion of the Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks, which is part of a larger network of hand-built hills in central and southern Ohio, was constructed over 2,000 years ago. Recent studies have revealed that these remarkable mounds are connected to the movement of the moon. The Ohio History Connection's World Heritage Program is currently applying for the UNESCO designation, alongside other renowned World Heritage sites like the Egyptian Pyramid Fields and Peru's Machu Picchu.
I visited this site in the 1970s while attending the University of Cincinnati, and even after seeing numerous ancient mounds in the United States, I still believe that the Hopewell site is the most impressive.
This stunning image shows the village in the desert at Chaco Culture National Historical Park in New Mexico. Photo credit: Ann Bush
Montezuma Castle National Monument, Arizona
Montezuma Castle National Monument in Cape Verde, Arizona is like a modern high-rise apartment built into the side of cliffs, but it's over 600 years old. Constructed by the ancient Sinagua people, these cliff dwellings are among the most remarkable sites in the American Southwest. Despite the harsh environment, these structures showcase the endurance of the Sinagua people and their impressive architectural skills.
Petrified Forest National Park
My first visit to Petrified Forest National Park was as a child with my parents. Since then, I have returned to this park multiple times. As a National Park Golden Pass holder, I find Petrified Forest to be a convenient and affordable stop on longer road trips, where I can stretch my legs, grab a snack, and reflect on the beauty of the ancient landscapes.
Archeological evidence reveals that the Petrified Forest area has been inhabited for thousands of years, with six periods of different cultures dating back to 13,500 B.C. One of the most fascinating periods is the Paleoindian Period, also known as the Ice Age, when Paleo Indians hunted and gathered food in the grasslands and forests. Walking among the colorful petrified trees, it's easy to imagine our ancestors walking the same path when these trees were young saplings.
In the 1300s, the ancestral Puebloan people used the petrified trees to build homes, and one of these homes, called the Agate House, still stands in the park.
This captivating image shows Newspaper Rock in Utah, which has been telling the story of ancient civilizations for 2,000 years. Photo credit: Ann Bush
Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado is home to ancient ruins that date back 900 years. These cliff dwellings, situated over 8,000 feet above the ground, were built by the Pueblo Indian people.
Exploring the ruins, you'll discover fascinating sights such as the Cliff Palace with its 150 rooms and the Long House. To fully appreciate these structures, you may need to climb a few ladders, but the effort is worth it!
Volubilis in Morocco is an incredible site that has only been partially excavated. Dating back to the 3rd century BC, this Roman City offers well-preserved remains, including marble columns, a temple, statues, and various structures adorned with frescoes and mosaics.
Roman Baths, England
The Roman Baths in England are one of the world's most famous ancient ruins and a popular tourist destination. These baths, built around 65 AD, served as a luxurious bathing and socializing complex. Despite their age, the baths are remarkably well-preserved, featuring the Grand Pump Room, the Roman temple, ancient change rooms, the baths themselves, and a museum displaying various artifacts. The baths continue to be filled with over a million liters of spring water daily, providing a mesmerizing sight for visitors.
Stonehenge in England is perhaps the most recognizable ancient ruin in the world. Believed to have been built around 3100 BC, the purpose and significance of this elaborate monument remain a mystery. Some speculate that it has astronomical connections, while others attribute it to dark magic. The circular arrangement of giant stones, along with nearby burial mounds and aligned structures, adds to the intrigue of Stonehenge.
Valley of the Temples, Sicily
Among the many archeological sites in Sicily, the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento is a must-visit. This site boasts eight ancient temples that date back 2,500 years. Two of these temples are exceptionally well-preserved, allowing visitors to appreciate the intricate Greek architecture and artwork that adorn them.
Luxor Temple, Egypt
A visit to Luxor Temple is a must when exploring Egypt. This ancient marvel, dating back to 1400 BC, is located in the city of Luxor and served as a significant center of religious devotion. Throughout its history, the temple underwent construction and restoration under various rulers, leaving behind awe-inspiring ruins. Notable features include a complex of nearly 30 pillars, standing at a height of 20 feet, adorned with intricate carvings.
The Pyramids of Giza, Egypt
The Pyramids of Giza are an iconic ancient ruin and a must-see attraction in Egypt. These incredible structures, built over 3,000 years ago, continue to inspire awe. Inside the pyramids, you'll find ancient burial chambers where pharaohs were laid to rest with everything they needed for the afterlife. Each pyramid also features a palace and several temples.
Temple of Karnak, Egypt
The Temple of Karnak is a primary attraction in Egypt. What sets this temple apart is its vast complex, comprising not just one structure but various temples, chapels, pillars, and edifices. The temple, which dates back to around 2055 BC, underwent significant construction and preservation efforts. Among the four sections of the complex, the largest one, known as the Precinct of Amun-Re, is accessible to travelers.
The ancient city of Jerash in Jordan traces its origins back approximately 6,500 years. Although the ruins of this once-thriving urban center were only discovered in the early 1800s, they offer a fascinating glimpse into the past. The site features fountains, walls, plazas, temples, the South Theater, the Oval Plaza, the Temple of Artemis, and the Colonnaded Street.
Petra, dating back to 300 BC, is a renowned ancient ruin and a highly visited site. Once the capital of the Nabatean Kingdom, this city in the southwestern desert region of Jordan is often referred to as the Rose City due to the color of the sandstone rock used in its structures. Notable sites within Petra include the Al Khazneh, a prominent temple, and various tombs and temples carved into the rock.
Baalbek, located just a two-hour drive from Beirut, is a captivating ancient ruin. While the origins of this sacred place remain mysterious, it is believed to have been initially constructed by the Phoenicians around four millennia ago. Over the years, it was claimed by the Greeks, Romans, and Arabs. What truly sets Baalbek apart is its colossal scale, with towering stone walls and mighty columns that evoke a sense of both fear and awe.
Lalibela in northern Ethiopia is famous for its extraordinary rock-hewn churches, which date back to the 12th and 13th centuries. Carved meticulously out of solid rock, these underground monoliths, including the Bete Medhane Alem and the Bete Giyorgis, are sacred pilgrimage destinations for Coptic Christians. Inside the churches, visitors can admire intricate bas-reliefs and vibrant frescoes, connected through tunnels and trenches.
Aksum, located in Ethiopia, was once a thriving trading center that flourished for around a thousand years, overlapping with the peak of the Roman Empire. Today, it is a treasure trove of fascinating ruins and artifacts. The remains include a palace, royal tombs, stately obelisks, and stone tablets with inscriptions in various languages.
Palmyra in Syria is a fascinating ancient ruin that dates back almost 4,000 years. This historical site was once a significant cultural center in the ancient world. Despite its age, much of Palmyra still stands in remarkably good condition. Visitors can explore attractions such as the Temple of Ba'al, the Roman Theater, the Hypogeum of 3 Brothers, the Tetrapylon, and the Arab Castle.
Göbekli Tepe, Turkey
Göbekli Tepe in Turkey may not be the most thrilling ancient ruin to visit, but it holds immense historical significance. This site is considered the most ancient and consequential ever discovered by humans, with only a stone wall in Greece surpassing it in age. The intricate nature of Göbekli Tepe, which has been studied for the past 30 years, continues to reveal fascinating secrets, and experts believe excavations could persist for decades.
Ephesus, an ancient coastal city in Turkey, was constructed by Ionian Greek settlers in the 10th century. The remains of this once-thriving commercial center still showcase its storied history. Walking down the paved roads, visitors can witness ancient baths, squares, and ruins that represent centuries of empires, cultures, and religions.
Cappadocia in Turkey is not only known for its hot air ballooning experiences but also for its ancient city, which was once part of the Hittite Empire. These ruins, dating back to the 6th century BC, are carved into the rocks and feature unique fairy chimneys. Some of the cave dwellings have been transformed into modern cave hotels, allowing visitors to stay amidst these ancient structures.
The Colosseum, Italy
When in Rome, a visit to the Colosseum is a must. As the largest amphitheater in the world, it is one of the most famous landmarks on the planet. Built around 2,000 years ago, the Colosseum was a venue for gladiatorial fights and extravagant spectacles. Exploring the maze of rooms and tunnels beneath the Colosseum provides a deeper understanding of the grandeur of this ancient structure.
Pompeii in Italy is an ancient ruin that has captured the world's imagination. Buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD, the city remained remarkably preserved. Today, visitors can walk through the streets and explore homes adorned with ancient graffiti, offering a glimpse into the lives of the people who once lived there.
Sigiriya, Sri Lanka
During its prime, Sigiriya in Sri Lanka flourished as a bustling city. Today, it attracts visitors from all corners of the world, who come to witness the captivating remains of this ancient fortress built into the side of a cliff.
Sigiriya is recognized as one of the top destinations to visit in Sri Lanka. However, reaching the fortress's summit is no easy task. But if you manage to accomplish it, you will be rewarded with breathtaking views.
Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Receive a blessing from a monk
Angkor Wat is a sprawling Hindu temple complex that is 900 years old—and it holds the distinction of being the largest religious monument globally. Within this relic of the Khmer empire, you'll find ancient structures such as the Bayon Temple, adorned with carvings of ancient faces, and the Temple of Ta Prohm, a captivating ruin engulfed by jungle growth.
Within this sacred site, Buddhist monks quietly sit on its stone floors, offering blessings to visitors like staffer Lindsay. "Travelers who visit Angkor Wat can receive blessings from young monks within the temple," said Lindsay. "Observing a monk silently and delicately tying a red bracelet around my wrist was a tranquil moment and a beautiful way to feel connected to the place." Out of the many awe-inspiring ancient locations, Angkor Wat should be at the top of your bucket list. Experience this special moment for yourself on our Vietnam & Angkor Wat tour.
Ta Prohm, Cambodia
You might recognize Ta Prohm from the movie Tomb Raider, but to truly appreciate its ambiance, you must visit in person!
Situated in Cambodia, this ancient temple from the 12th century is incredibly well-preserved, with several galleries featuring towers and gopuras. One distinct characteristic of this site is the massive tree roots that have gradually intertwined with the structures.
Hidden within the jungles of Guatemala lies an astonishing ancient Mayan site that boasts a history of over 2,000 years. Known as Tikal, this site was once a thriving city with a population of up to 90,000 residents.
The main attractions at Tikal are the numerous large temples shaped like stepped pyramids. If you're up for a steep climb, head to the top of one of these pyramids to experience breathtaking views of the surrounding area.
Chichén Itzá, Mexico
Located in Mexico, Chichen Itza is an ancient Mayan city with a history that spans nearly 1,000 years. This site exemplifies traditional Mayan architectural techniques and showcases well-preserved structures such as the step pyramid of El Castillo and the El Caracol Observatory. Stone carvings and ancient artworks can be found throughout the site.
Set against the awe-inspiring coastal scenery of Tulum, the Mayan ruins of the same name lie just above some of Mexico's most beautiful coastlines. This blend of history and natural beauty makes Tulum a top destination to visit on the Riviera Maya.
This beautifully-preserved ancient Mayan city features notable structures such as El Castillo, the Temple of the Frescoes, and the Temple of the Descending God. At the bottom of the imposing 39-foot cliffs that border the site, you'll find a stunning sandy beach where you can take a refreshing dip after exploring.
The elaborate ancient Mayan city of Coba, located on Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, was once home to over 50,000 inhabitants. Today, its ruins are a top attraction in the country.
While exploring the ruins, you'll encounter a series of pyramids, with the tallest one reaching 138 feet in height. Additionally, you'll see stone causeways and slabs depicting daily life dating back to 600 AD.
El Jem, Tunisia
If you've already visited the crowded Colosseum, consider heading to the lesser-known town of El Jem in Tunisia. There, you will find a massive amphitheater that rivals its Roman counterpart, although it remains unfamiliar to many.
The amphitheater, known as the Amphitheatre of Thysdrus, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that was built in the 3rd century AD and could accommodate up to 35,000 spectators. This well-preserved elliptical structure offers a museum displaying Roman artifacts, and visitors can even walk underneath it, unlike in Rome.
When we explored El Jem, we were among just ten people discovering the site!
Moai of Easter Island, Chile
You may be familiar with the enigmatic Moai statues of Easter Island, but do you know the story behind these colossal and ancient figures scattered across the remote island? The island itself is worth a visit purely for these statues.
The statues, carved by the local Rapa Nui people starting around 1250 AD, each weigh approximately 80 tons. To this day, it remains a mystery how these statues were transported to their current locations. Standing against the backdrop of the sparkling blue Pacific, they possess an aura of mystery and provide a captivating sight.
The Great Wall of China, China
The Great Wall of China is not merely an ancient wall—it is a monumental fortification, an architectural marvel, and one of the most well-known ancient ruins of all time. However, sections of the wall are remarkably well-preserved, defying the notion of "ruins."
Constructed as early as the 3rd century BC and continuing until the 17th century AD, the wall spans over 12,000 miles through rugged terrain, surrounded by breathtaking scenery. The main section of the wall showcases watchtowers, shelters, forts, and even horse tracks.
Greece boasts numerous famous ancient ruins, and one must-see destination is the Greek site of Mycenae. This ancient city thrived between 1600 and 1100 BC and is famously tied to Homer's Iliad and the Odyssey.
As you enter, the Lion Gate welcomes you—a remarkable entrance to the ancient city. While exploring, you'll also encounter the Treasury of Atreus and the Cyclopean Walls. Don't forget to visit the Archaeological Museum, featuring exhibits showcasing artifacts excavated from the site.
Among the incredible wonders that Greece offers, the Monasteries of Meteora stand out as one of the most remarkable and distinct. Nestled amid breathtaking natural rock formations, these six monasteries (originally twenty-four) command majestic heights and evoke a sense of awe.
As a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, this enchanting location seamlessly brings together history and nature. The mountaintop monasteries represent the limitless creativity of humanity and present an unparalleled marvel.
Entrance to the Monastery costs a mere €3 per person, while organized day trips from Athens usually amount to around €60. Due to its popularity, it is advisable to book a tour in advance. Opting for a guided tour provides the added advantage of knowledgeable insights while exploring this captivating Greek attraction.
Ellora, located in Maharashtra, India, holds the status of a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is an extraordinary archeological site featuring caves and rock shrines representing Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism.
Dating back to the 5th-13th centuries AD, this site is predominantly known for its 34 cave temples carved into the Charanandri Hills. Among these caves, the Kailasa Temple is hailed as one of the most exquisite temples on Earth.
Wat Ratchaburana, Thailand
When it comes to Buddhist temples in Ayutthaya, none can match the grandeur of Wat Ratchaburana, especially its elaborate prang. This temple was constructed in 1424 for King Borommarachathirat II. In the mid-1900s, the crypt within the temple was looted, resulting in the loss of priceless gold artifacts.
The remaining artifacts can now be seen at the Chao Sam Phraya National Museum. If you don't mind heights, climb inside the prang to witness the crypt and its ancient murals.
Great Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe
Great Zimbabwe refers to the remnants of an ancient city near present-day Masvingo, Zimbabwe. Inhabited since around 1100 C.E., this city served as the capital of the Kingdom of Zimbabwe—an influential Shona (Bantu) trading empire. The name "Zimbabwe" translates to "stone houses" in the Shona language.
Great Zimbabwe played a crucial role within an expansive and prosperous global trading network. Archaeologists have uncovered Chinese and Persian pottery, as well as Arab coins, within its ruins.
The influential figures of the Zimbabwe Empire controlled the trade routes along the East African coast, facilitating commerce throughout the region.
Founded around 110 AD, Tiwanaku stands as one of Bolivia's most significant pre-Incan sites. This ancient city features remarkable highlights such as the Akaspana Pyramid, the Gate of the Sun, and the Kalasasaya Temple. The area you can explore covers approximately 2.5 square miles.
A visit to the ruins is incomplete without exploring the Museo del Sitio de Tiwanaku, which displays artifacts unearthed from the site.
Witness the sunset over a sacred site
In the heart of the Australian Outback, there exists a natural landmark that can be described as an ancient open-air cathedral. For the Aboriginal people of Australia, the monolithic formation of Uluru holds deep spiritual significance as the source of their creation story—known as the Dreamtime. Depending on the time of day, the sandstone structure reflects different colors, ranging from gray to purple at sunrise and a glowing red at sunset. Experience the mesmerizing sunset over this unique location on our Australia & New Zealand tour.
As we conclude our journey through the best ancient ruins around the world, we are left in awe of the incredible architectural achievements, cultural significance, and historical marvels that have stood the test of time. From the mystical Stonehenge in England to the grandeur of the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt and the magnificent Angkor Wat in Cambodia, each of these ruins transports us to a different era and offers a glimpse into the rich tapestry of human civilization. As we reflect on these extraordinary landmarks, we are reminded of the indomitable spirit and ingenuity of our ancestors, leaving us with a profound sense of wonder and appreciation for the wonders that lie within our historical past.
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