Looking to visit the coolest and most unique UNESCO World Heritage Sites? From ancient landmarks to jaw-dropping nature, here are some must-see locations you should add to your bucket list.
Imagine setting foot in places where history leaps out of the pages of textbooks and unfolds before your eyes. These destinations offer more than just stunning vistas; they narrate tales of ancient times, grand empires, and cultural revolutions. Welcome to the UNESCO World Heritage Sites, a testament to our world’s shared history and extraordinary beauty.
UNESCO World Heritage Sites were created to celebrate and safeguard the best and most unique places around the world. Each site, whether natural or man-made, stands as a monument to the world’s diverse heritage. Think of them as bookmarks in the vast book of global history. Here, you won’t only witness the remnants of lost civilizations or nature’s grandeur. You’re actively stepping into their stories, becoming a character in the age-old tale of humanity’s journey.
Today, there are over 1,150 UNESCO World Heritage Sites across 167 countries. Of these, there are 900 cultural, 218 natural, and 39 of mixed significance. I perused this UNESCO list to come up with the 28 best and most beautiful UNESCO World Heritage Sites to visit right now. Without further ado, let’s get to it!
Map of the best UNESCO World Heritage Sites
In this guide of the top UNESCO sites, we’ll traverse continents and timelines to spotlight some of thesune unparalleled locations. Every stop promises a unique adventure, an intimate look at the crossroads of culture, time, and place.
Ready to embark on a journey that weaves the past with the present? Let’s explore the treasures that the World Heritage Sites have in store – starting with this UNESCO map.
1. Taj Mahal, India
Looking to visit a top UNESCO World Heritage Site? Prepare to be amazed by the Taj Mahal in India.
There are few structures in the world that can rival the sheer magnificence and artistic brilliance of the Taj Mahal. An epitome of love and an architectural marvel, it stands majestically on the banks of the Yamuna River in Agra, India. While there are numerous beautiful places in India, the Taj Mahal, undoubtedly, shines brightest among them.
Constructed in 1643, the Taj Mahal is a dazzling display of Indo-Islamic architecture. This ivory marble structure was built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan as a tomb for his wife. Today, it stands proudly and effervescently as one of the New 7 Wonders of the World!
How to get there: The Taj Mahal isa2-3 hour train ride from Delhi.
2. Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Tucked away amidst the dense Cambodian jungle lies an archaeological masterpiece that has stood the test of time: Angkor Wat. Stretching over 400 square kilometers, this sprawling temple complex is not only the largest religious monument in the world but also one of the most mesmerizing UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Dating back to the 12th century, Angkor Wat was originally built as a Hindu temple before later becoming a Buddhist temple. The ruins are camouflaged by trees and other shrubbery, giving it a special aura of mystique.
Beyond its architectural and historical significance, Angkor Wat embodies the spirit and resilience of the Cambodian people. Having survived centuries of nature’s reclaim and recent turbulent history, it stands today as a testament to Cambodia’s enduring cultural legacy.
Over 400 acres (162 hectares) in size, Angkor Wat is among the largest religious monuments in the world. It’s also one of the prettiest places to visit in Asia.
How to get there: Angkor Wat (located in Siem Reap)isa1-hour flight from Bangkok, Thailand.
3. Machu Picchu, Peru
Fortified atop the Andes Mountains, Machu Picchu is one of the most iconic structures in South America. This archaeological site is steeped in history, undoubtedly making it one of the top UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
This citadel was built in the 1400s under the Inca Empire, which dominated the region at the time. Today, Machu Picchu stands as a surviving testament of Incan architecture, astronomy, art, and religion.
The multi-day hike to get here is also an incredible experience. Machu Picchu has an elevation of 8,000 feet (2,400 m), so it’s advisable to spend a day or two acclimating yourself to the altitude in nearby Aguas Calientes.
Machu Picchu stands out not only as one of the most beautiful places in Peru but also as a global emblem of exploration and discovery. The sheer spectacle of the ruins set against the backdrop of the majestic Andes is an experience that resonates deeply with the soul. It always reminds me of the indomitable spirit of human endeavor and our eternal quest for knowledge.
How to get there: Machu Picchu is a short bus ride or hike from Aguas Calientes, a 3.5-hour train ride from Cuzco, which contains one of the best Airbnbs in the world.
4. Pyramids of Giza, Egypt
No Egyptian landscape is more iconic than the Pyramids of Giza. A mere glimpse of these grand structures evokes thoughts of pharaohs, ancient gods, and a civilization that laid many of the foundations for the modern world. As one of the last remaining Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Pyramids have rightly earned their place as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Ancient Pyramids of Giza were built around 2,500 B.C. This complex is made up of pyramids, rock tombs, and a sphinx. These pyramids served as tombs for Pharaohs, who were mummified and buried with treasures to prepare them for the afterlife.
Dominating the skyline, the Great Pyramid of Khufu embodies the architectural prowess and spirit of the ancient Egyptians. The nearby Sphinx, with its lion’s body and human head, further accentuates the aura of mystery and grandeur, gazing eternally into the horizon, as if guarding the secrets of the ages.
What makes the Pyramids of Giza particularly enthralling is their representation as some of the most iconic places in Egypt. Despite millennia having passed since their construction, they continue to capture the collective imagination of humanity.
How to get there: The Pyramids of Giza areashort bus or taxi ride from Cairo.
5. Swiss Alps Jungfrau-Aletsch – Best UNESCO World Heritage Site for Nature Lovers
It would be a crime to make a list of the most beautiful UNESCO World Heritage Sites and omit the Swiss Alps.
Nestled in the heart of Europe, the Jungfrau-Aletsch region is among the most picturesque destinations in Switzerland. As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Jungfrau-Aletsch stands out, not only for its breathtaking beauty but also for the unique insights it offers into our planet’s geological and glacial history.
Officially known as the Swiss Alps Jungfrau-Aletsch, this protected area in the Swiss Alps is located between Bern and Valais in southwestern Switzerland. It’s filled with breathtaking scenery, diverse habitats, and many glaciers. This mountainous region is also home to three prominent peaks: Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau.
But it’s not just about ice. Among the many things to see in the Swiss Alps, the diverse ecosystems of Jungfrau-Aletsch offer a captivating contrast. From alpine meadows bursting with wildflowers to rugged, rocky terrains, and isolated valleys, the area is a treasure trove of biodiversity.
There are lots of amazing places to see in this part of Switzerland, but some of my favorites are Grindelwald and Lauterbrunnen Valley. Stay at a unique chalet accommodation nestled in the Swiss Alps, and you’ll see why this region is among the best UNESCO World Heritage Sites!
How to get there: Drive or take a train from Bern to Interlaken, and then take the Bernese Oberland Railway to Lauterbrunnen or Grinelwald.
6. Bagan, Myanmar
Imagine a place dotted with over 2,000 temples stretching across a lush landscape. That’s Bagan, Myanmar’s hidden gem. A lesser-known UNESCO site, it’s a dream for every wanderlust soul.
This ancient city, once buzzing with monks and pilgrims, now whispers tales of the past. From the 9th to 13th centuries, Bagan was the heart of the Pagan Empire. At its peak? Over 10,000 stunning temples!
Today, remnants of these structures stand tall, overlooking the calming Irrawaddy River. Each temple tells a story with its beautiful carvings and golden spires.
Want the best view? Hop on a hot air balloon at dawn. Watch the sun light up the plains, casting magical shadows on the temples below. It’s a sight you’ll never forget.
Bagan isn’t just a visual treat. It’s a journey for the soul. Amidst its beauty, you’ll feel connected to its rich history and sacred aura. Dive in, and let Bagan’s magic pull you into its enchanting world. It’s easy to see why this is a top UNESCO World Heritage Site.
How to get there: Fly to Nyaunt-U Airport, and then take a 15-minute taxi ride to Bagan.
7. Petra, Jordan
Located amid rugged desert canyons of southern Jordan, Petra emerges like a mirage, defying both time and the elements. Known as the ‘Rose-Red City’ due to the mesmerizing hue of its rock-cut architecture, Petra stands as one of the world’s most beautiful UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
The ancient city of Petra was established over 2,300 years ago. It’s recognizable for its temples and tombs that are carved into rose-colored sandstone.
Beyond its entrance, the Siq—a narrow and winding gorge—guides visitors to Petra’s crowning glory: Al-Khazneh or the Treasury. This monumental temple facade, intricately carved directly into the rose-hued cliffs, reflects the ingenuity and artistic prowess of the Nabateans, an ancient Arab civilization.
But Petra’s wonders don’t end there. With over 800 individual monuments including tombs, temples, sacrificial altars, and streets lined with columns, the city invites exploration. Each corner tells a story of trade, culture, and an amalgamation of ancient traditions.
Petra is nestled between mountains, canyons, and river beds, extending over 100 square miles (264 square km).
How to get there: Petra is a 3-hour drive from Amman.
8. Great Wall of China
Winding its way through vast terrains, from rugged mountains to desolate deserts, the Great Wall of China is an architectural marvel like no other. Stretching over 13,000 miles (22,000 km), it’s not just a wall. It’s a sprawling network of walls and fortifications. Among the many pretty destinations in China, the Great Wall holds a unique place, both in history and in the hearts of those who visit.
Construction began in the 3rd century B.C. to protect the Chinese Empire from foreign invaders. However, the modern expansion of the Great Wall didn’t occur until the Ming Dynasty, which ruled between the 1300s-1600s. Today, this historic structure definitely merits a spot among the best UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the world.
Visiting the Great Wall is like stepping into a time machine. It’s truly where every brick has a story to tell, every watchtower sings of battles long past, and every stretch offers a new vista, painting a vivid picture of China’s vast and varied beauty. The Great Wall definitely remains one of the most unforgettable experiences on the planet.
How to get there: The Great Wall of China is accessible from several cities and towns. One popular route is from Beijing to Badaling, a 40 mile (70 km) bus ride.
9. Historic Centre of Rome, Italy
Step into the heart of Rome, and you’re stepping into history itself. The city’s historic center isn’t just a place—it’s a living, breathing chronicle of the past. From ancient ruins to Renaissance art, every corner whispers tales of epochs gone by.
The historic center of Rome is an open-air museum that’s home to some of the world’s most beautiful sights. Chief among them are the Colosseum, Pantheon, and Roman Forum.
Among the myriad of pretty places in Rome, the historic center stands unparalleled. The iconic Colosseum narrates tales of gladiators, echoing their fierce battles. Nearby, the Roman Forum sprawls out, once the epicenter of Roman public life. As you wander, it’s hard not to imagine the echoes of orators, the steps of senators, and the bustle of ancient markets.
According to mythology, Rome was founded by Romulus and Remus in 750 B.C. Rome was later the capital of the Roman Empire until its collapse in the 5th century A.D.
How to get there: Rome Fiumicino Airport is one of the largest airports in Europe. I recommend booking flights with Skyscanner to find the best deals.
10. Chichen Itza, Mexico – A Unique World Heritage Site
The Yucatan Peninsula hides many gems, but Chichen Itza shines brightest among them. This archaeological wonder, a relic from the mighty Maya civilization, stands as a testament to Mexico’s rich tapestry of history and culture.
Three millennia after the ancient Egyptians built the pyramids of Giza, the Mayans built some impressive pyramids of their own. Chichen Itza—an ancient Mayan city on the Yucatan Peninsula—is among the best-preserved remnants of this mysterious empire. To this day, it’s still not clear what caused Mayans to desert their cities in 900 A.D. Hopefully in the coming years, this archaeological site and others in the region will help us find an answer.
Dominated by the impressive El Castillo pyramid, Chichen Itza draws you into a world of myths and rituals. Imagine the sounds of ancient ceremonies, the color-drenched festivities, and the Maya astronomers charting the skies from these very grounds. It’s no surprise that Chichen Itza is often celebrated among Mexico’s most beautiful places.
How to get there: Chichen Itza is a 3-hour bus ride from Cancun.
11. Historic Centre of Florence, Italy
The historic center of Florence attracts millions of tourists a year, making it one of the most popular UNESCO World Heritage Sites. As the birthplace of the Renaissance, Florence has an abundance of art and architecture dating back several centuries.
Florence, with its sun-kissed terracotta rooftops and meandering cobblestone streets, is like stepping into a living canvas. Nestled in the heart of Tuscany, the historic center of Florence is a treasure trove of art, architecture, and history.
As you stroll down its quaint and colorful streets, you’ll discover many historical treasures, including the Florence Cathedral, Uffizi Gallery, and Palazzo Vecchio.
Yet, beyond the obvious landmarks, it’s the intimate squares, the unexpected glimpses of everyday life, and the aroma of Tuscan cuisine wafting through the air that truly capture the soul of Florence. For many, it ranks high among the prettiest places in Italy.
Today, Florence is among the most beautiful cities in Europe.
How to get there: Florence is a 1-hour flight or 1.5-hour train ride from Rome.
12. Yellowstone National Park, USA
Yellowstone is the world’s first national park and among the first 12 sites to reach UNESCO Status in 1978. It’s home to diverse nature and wildlife, and a variety of exciting outdoor activities.
Yellowstone National Park is nature’s masterpiece. As the world’s first national park, it’s a testament to the wonders our planet holds. With sprawling landscapes that encompass everything from roaring waterfalls to serene valleys and from steaming geysers to thick, lush forests, it’s a kaleidoscope of Earth’s grandeur.
Wondering about the coolest spots in Yellowstone? They are many! Inside this beautiful natural site, you’ll find everything from dense forests and canyons to hot springs and geysers. You’ll also likely encounter grizzly bears, but hopefully from afar. This park brims with natural beauty, and deserves a spot on your USA bucket list.
Yellowstone National Park is one of the most unique places in the US.
How to get there: Yellowstone National Park is a 1-hour drive from Jackson Hole Airport.
13. Leshan Giant Buddha, China
For another top 10 UNESCO World Heritage Site, you won’t want to miss this one in China.
Leshan Giant Buddha is a 232-foot (71 m) tall Buddha statue built between the 8th and 9th centuries. Carved out of red sandstone, it’s the largest stone buddha in the world.
Today, the Leshan Giant Buddha is a popular pilgrimage site for Buddhists and a bucket list destination for tourists.
How to get there: Leshan City is a 1-hour bullet-train ride from Chengdu, China.
Read next: Coolest Bucket List Ideas that Will Inspire You
14. Vatican City
Nothing says world heritage quite like the Vatican. Just 110 acres (44 hectares), Vatican City is the world’s smallest country. Though tiny in size, it’s mighty in terms of its historic and religious significance.
Vatican City is the home of the Pope, the spiritual head of the Catholic Church. It’s also the site of one of the world’s most magnificent churches, St. Peter’s Basilica. This Italian Renaissance church was built in the 1500s, and has undergone significant artistic renovations since then.
How to get there: Vatican City is adjacent to Rome. It’s less than a 20-minute subway ride from the Rome Termini Station.
15. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Looking to visit South America? Add this to your bucket list!
Rio de Janeiro is one of the more recent additions to the UNESCO World Heritage list. Surrounded by mountains and sea, Rio de Janeiro’s Carioca Landscapes have been a source of inspiration of artists, musicians, and urbanists for centuries.
Rio de Janeiro is a dance of colors, sounds, and emotions. Nestled between steep green mountains and azure seas, this Brazilian gem is a feast for the senses. From the iconic Christ the Redeemer to the rhythmic beats of samba that fill the air – Rio is truly alive.
Among Brazil’s prettiest places, Rio stands out. Sugarloaf Mountain offers panoramic vistas that capture the city’s unique landscape, where urban living seamlessly blends with nature. Then there’s the world-famous Copacabana beach, where golden sands meet the South Atlantic’s embrace.
The most recognizable symbol of Rio is undoubtedly the Christ the Redeemer statue. This historic monument and cultural site was built in 1931 and stands nearly 100 feet tall. Other culturally significant sites include the Botanical Garden and the hills around Guanabara Bay. In Rio, cultural heritage is truly on full display.
How to get there: Rio de Janeiro is the second busiest airport in Brazil and the fourth busiest in South America. I recommend booking a flight with Skyscanner to uncover the best deals.
Read next: Top Bucket List Ideas for Travel Lovers
16. Paris, Banks of the Seine, France
Oh Paris! The mere mention of the name conjures images of romantic evenings, exquisite cuisine, and art that speaks to the soul. No wonder flying to Paris is a dream for many. It’s not just a city; it’s a world of its own, brimming with history and allure.
Paris is home to a treasure trove of historic and cultural sites that straddle the River Seine. These precious sights include the Notre-Dame Cathedral, Palais de Louvre, and Eiffel Tower, to name a few.
Among the many stunning sights in Paris, the Eiffel Tower stands supreme. Its iron lattice structure, glowing against the night sky, is a symbol of love and elegance. But the beauty doesn’t stop there. The historic banks of the River Seine, the gothic majesty of Notre-Dame Cathedral, and the vast art treasures of the Louvre are just a few highlights that beckon travelers.
For a vacation like no other, I highly recommend visiting the French capital. The city’s rich history and culture make Paris one of the best UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
How to get there: Paris is home to four airports, and is accessible from pretty much every continent. Check out my travel hacks article to learn how I’ve found roundtrip fares for under $250 from Boston.
17. Galápagos Islands, Ecuador
Imagine stepping onto islands where wildlife roams freely, unaffected by human presence. The Galapagos Islands offer just that—a realm where the boundaries between humans and nature blur. Nestled in the Pacific Ocean, this archipelago stands out as one of the coolest places to visit in South America.
Located 620 miles (1,000 km) off the coast of South America, the Galápagos Islands are home to some of the world’s most unique wildlife.
Charles Darwin visited the Galápagos Islands in the mid-1800s, where he observed that each island had its own distinct wildlife. This scientific breakthrough, in part, paved the way to the Galápagos Islands’ UNESCO world heritage status.
How to get there: The Galápagos Islands is just under a 2-hour flight from Guayaquil, Ecuador. It may be a bit challenging to get to, but it’s so worth it to see one of the world’s most amazing islands.
18. Old City of Jerusalem, Israel
Jerusalem is considered one of the holiest cities for Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. This historic area is chock-full of cultural and historic monuments dating back over a thousand years.
Jerusalem is more than just a city; it’s a living testament to millennia of faith, struggles, and triumphs. As one walks its ancient cobblestone streets, every corner seems to whisper tales from the past. Recognized as one of the top places in Israel to visit, Jerusalem holds a unique position not just geographically but also spiritually.
Top sights here include the Walls of Jerusalem and Dome of the Rock, a 7th century Islamic shrine. All three of the Abrahamic religions acknowledge that this shrine was the site of Abraham’s sacrifice.
Situated between the Dead Sea and Judaean Mountains, Jerusalem is one of the oldest and most intriguing cities in the world. As a UNESCO World Heritage site, Jerusalem masterfully blends the ancient with the modern, ensuring every visitor leaves with memories etched in their hearts. It’s truly an ancient city with so much to offer travelers!
How to get there: Jerusalem is less than a 1-hour bus ride from Tel Aviv, Israel.
19. Forbidden City, China – One of the Most Unique UNESCO Sites
Looking for a world heritage site that will blow your mind? Step into a realm where emperors once ruled and dragons danced. The Forbidden City, at the heart of Beijing, is a mesmerizing tapestry of red walls, golden roofs, and a thousand stories. As the world’s largest palace complex, it boasts over 8,000 rooms, each echoing with whispers of ancient ceremonies and royal intrigues.
Built in the early 1400s, the Forbidden City is a cultural gem in the heart of Beijing. It was used as an imperial royal palace complex during the Ming and Qing Dynasties.
The Forbidden City has 980 historic buildings, many of which are wooden and remarkably well preserved. It’s home to a vast collection of artifacts and artwork from centuries past. As such, this landmark helps visitors paint a picture of China’s cultural landscape. Is this one of the UNESCO sites everyone should visit? You bet!
How to get there: Beijing Capital International Airport is the busiest airport in Asia, with over 100,000,000 reported passengers in 2018. As such, you can get here from pretty much anywhere in the world.
20. Ksar of Ait-Ben-Haddou, Morocco
On this world heritage list, nothing quite compares to this ancient city. Nestled on the edges of the Sahara, the Ksar of Ait-Ben-Haddou stands as a testament to Morocco’s rich history.
This ancient fortified village, built with earth and straw, captures the essence of pre-Saharan architecture. Its majestic towers and ornate decorations are reminiscent of a time when caravans passed through, carrying spices, gold, and tales from distant lands.
Walking through its narrow lanes feels like stepping into a time capsule. The earthen red walls, reflecting the golden hue of the sun, have witnessed the ebb and flow of dynasties. It’s no wonder that this breathtaking ksar has been a backdrop for numerous films, bringing epic tales to life on the silver screen.
If you’re charting out the top things to see in Morocco, ensure this enchanting ksar is high on your list. Embrace its history, marvel at its beauty, and let the tales of Ait-Ben-Haddou whisk you away on an unforgettable Moroccan adventure.
How to get there: Fly into Marrakech and hire a driver (or do a tour) of the Atlas Mountains and Ait Ben Haddou.
21. Valletta, Malta
Next on this world heritage list is a historic town like no other.
Just 1 kilometer long and 600 meters wide, Valletta is one of the smallest capital cities in the world. Despite its size, this historic city is jam-packed with ancient and medieval buildings inside its old city walls. Top sights include St. John’s Co-Cathedral and the Casa Rocca Piccola.
Valletta, Malta’s capital, is a city steeped in grandeur and history. With its honey-colored buildings and narrow streets, it’s easy to get lost in its charm. This fortified city, built by the Knights of St. John, showcases an intricate blend of Baroque and Renaissance architecture. Every corner reveals palaces, churches, and squares, each with a tale of the past.
Among the many things to do in Malta, a stroll through Valletta’s streets tops the list. As a UNESCO World Heritage site, it’s not just a city, but a living testament to Mediterranean resilience and splendor.
Valletta was once ruled by the Greeks, Phoenicians, Romans, Byzantines, and Arabs. As you walk down its quaint streets today, you’ll see several historic and cultural influences at play.
Whether you’re catching a performance at the Manoel Theatre or admiring the panoramic harbor views, Valletta promises an unforgettable journey.
How to get there: Valletta, Malta is a short flight from most major European airports.
22. Historic Centre of Prague, Czech Republic
Prague is a cultural and historic hub in the heart of central Europe. This medieval town brims with unique sights and attractions, and it truly feels like an open-air museum. From its Old Town Square to its lesser known hidden gems, Prague’s historic center is one of the best UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Other top sights in the Old Town include the Prague Castle and Charles Bridge, which date back to the 9th and 14th centuries, respectively.
For the budget-conscious traveler, Prague is also one of the cheapest cities in Europe.
How to get there: Prague is smack dab in the center of Europe, so it’s a convenient flight away from most places across the continent. It’s about a 5-hour bus ride north of Vienna.
23. Lalibela, Ethiopia: One of the Best UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Africa
Lalibela was among the first 12 UNESCO World Heritage Sites inscribed in 1978. This historic town in Ethiopia is known for its 11 monolithic rock-hewn churches, which trace back to the 13th century. Human history is truly on full display here!
Tucked away in Ethiopia’s highlands, Lalibela stands as a testament to faith, ingenuity, and architecture. This ancient town is home to eleven rock-hewn churches, carved out of solid stone in the 12th century. These architectural wonders, connected by a network of trenches and tunnels, are a pilgrimage site for many Orthodox Christians.
But beyond its religious significance, Lalibela has rightfully earned its spot among the best places to visit in Africa. With its mystical aura, the city invites travelers to explore a side of Africa that’s brimming with history and spirituality. Amid the vast continent’s diverse attractions, Lalibela shines as a unique blend of tradition and natural wonder.
After the Muslims conquered the “Old Jerusalem,” the Ethiopian king at the time named Lalibela the “New Jerusalem.” Christians were no longer allowed to take the pilgrimage route to the Holy Land, so Lalibela filled the void. To this day, Lalibela is a prized pilgrimage site for Ethiopian Christians.
How to get there: Lalibela isa1-hour flight from Addis Ababa.
24. Kremlin and Red Square, Moscow
Are you into bustling cities? Then definitely add this UNESCO World Heritage Site to your wish list.
The Kremlin and adjoining Red Square make up the heart of Moscow. They’ve been at the center of Russia’s history and politics for over 700 years. The square pulsates with life and stories from centuries gone by. Festivals, parades, and everyday gatherings make it a lively hub for locals and tourists alike.
Among Russia’s beautiful vacation spots, Red Square holds a unique charm that captivates every visitor. If you’re looking to experience the heartbeat of Russia and delve into its rich heritage, a stroll across this expansive square is an absolute must.
In addition to being a political center, the Kremlin is also home to many Russian Orthodox churches. Chief among them are the Cathedral of the Dormition, Church of the Annunciation, and Church of the Archangel. A stone’s throw away is St. Basil’s Cathedral, perhaps the most iconic structure in all of Russia.
How to get there: Red Square is less than an hour by bus, train, and car from Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport.
25. 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. Standing tall above the modern city, this ancient citadel embodies the spirit and grandeur of classical Greece. Its 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.
26. Historic Centre of Bukhara, Uzbekistan
Situated along the historic Silk Road route, Bukhara is a city in Uzbekistan that’s over 2,000 years old. It contains 140 architectural treasures—including mosques, bazaars, and medressas— making it a hub of Islamic culture. It is truly cultural heritage at its finest.
This ancient city hasn’t changed much since medieval times, and that’s precisely why it draws people from all over the world.
How to get there: Bukhara, and Uzbekistan in general, are definitely off the beaten path. The most convenient way to get here is by taking a flight from Moscow, which currently has services three days a week (Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday).
27. Mount Fuji, Japan
When you’re flying to Japan, one sight stands out from the airplane window — the snow-capped summit of Mount Fuji. A symbol of beauty and resilience, this iconic peak is not just one of the most stunning places in Japan; it’s also recognized globally as a World Heritage site.
At over 12,380 feet (3,775 m) in elevation, Mount Fuji towers over the Japanese landscape below. It’s been a source of inspiration for writers, artists, and worshippers going back over a thousand years.
This snow-capped mountain is climbed by hundreds of thousands of pilgrims each year. As of 2013, Mount Fuji is deemed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, due to its cultural and spiritual importance.
Whether you’re watching it glisten under a cherry blossom sky, catching its reflection in the Five Lakes, or attempting the rewarding hike to its summit, Mount Fuji captivates in every setting.
How to get there: Mount Fuji is just a 2-hour train ride from Tokyo.
28. Mesa Verde National Park, USA
Looking for fun Colorado things to do? Turn your gaze to the past and explore Mesa Verde National Park. Nestled among the pretty locations in CO, this park offers a unique journey into the lives of the Ancestral Puebloans. As you wander through cliff dwellings and ancient structures, you’re literally walking through history.
Located in southwesternColorado, Mesa Verde National Park is known for its well-preserved cliff dwellings dating back to 600 A.D. These dwellings belonged to the Ancestral Pueblo people, who were formerly (and incorrectly) called the Anasazi.
Archaeologists in Mesa Verde National Park have uncovered over 5,000 ancient artifacts and 600 cliff dwellings. They were mysteriously abandoned during around 1200 A.D., only to be rediscovered by cowboys in the late 19th century. As such, it’s no surprise that such a remarkable place is listed among the top world heritage sites.
Here’s an interesting video covering Mesa Verde National Park:
How to get there: Mesa Verde National Park is a half-hour drive from Cortez, Colorado and an hour from Durango, Colorado.
29. Rapa Nui National Park (Easter Island)
Easter Island, known by its indigenous inhabitants as Rapa Nui, is one of the most unique and mysterious places on Earth. It’s located in the southeastern Pacific Ocean, more than 2,182 miles (3,700 km) from Chile. As such, it’s incredibly isolated and lesser visited than the other UNESCO World Heritage Sites on this list.
This island is best known for its hundreds of moai statues, made from stone by the early Rapa Nui people who lived on the island around 300 AD. Ecotourism and cultural awareness are paramount here to ensure that the cultural monuments will be preserved for generations to come.
Beyond the open-air museum, there’s also surfing and snorkeling that you can enjoy.
How to get there: Take a flight to Santiago, Chile, and then from there, a six-hour flight to Easter Island. Note: There’s only one LAN Airlines flight to Easter Island per day.
30. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Imagine standing at the edge of a smoldering crater, watching plumes of smoke rise, feeling the warmth beneath your feet, and being surrounded by a lush tropical rainforest. Welcome to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, a truly beautiful location in Hawaii that brings together the raw power of creation and nature’s bounty.
This national park is comprised of over 500 square miles of sacred land and is home to one of the world’s most active volcanoes, Kilauea. Here you’ll find volcanic craters, deserts and rainforests, and even ancient petroglyphs.
Kilauea last erupted in 2018, and it’s considered the only “drive-in” volcano on Earth. It produces tons of lava each day, making it a popular tourist attraction. It’s truly an extraordinary experience to witness the volcano’s sheer power up close.
As a sacred place that has shaped Hawaiian culture for generations, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is easily among the best UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
On the same trip to Hawaii, be sure to carve out enough time to go island hopping to nearby Maui, Oahu, and Molokai!
How to get there: Take a flight to Hilo, which is located on the Big Island of Hawaii, and then drive about 45 minutes south.
Read next: Coolest things to do on Oahu
Frequently asked questions (FAQs) about world heritage sites
Looking to dive deeper into the most famous world heritage sites on Earth? Here are some popular questions (and answers) I get about these unique treasures:
What are the 5 most popular Unesco World Heritage sites?
The popularity of UNESCO World Heritage sites can vary depending on the criteria used (e.g., visitor numbers, global recognition, or historical significance). However, based on a combination of these factors, the following five sites are among the most popular and recognized around the world:
- The Great Wall of China, China: Spanning thousands of miles, this ancient wall represents the historical defense mechanism of multiple Chinese dynasties and is an architectural marvel.
- Machu Picchu, Peru: Located in the Andes Mountains, this 15th-century Incan citadel is known for its archaeological significance and breathtaking panoramic views.
- The Pyramids of Giza, Egypt: The only surviving wonder of the ancient world, these pyramids have stood as a testament to the engineering prowess of the ancient Egyptians.
- The Taj Mahal, India: A mausoleum built of white marble, the Taj Mahal is an epitome of Mughal architecture and a symbol of love.
- The Roman Colosseum, Italy: An iconic representation of Roman engineering and architecture, the Colosseum has witnessed gladiator contests and various public spectacles.
It’s important to note that there are over 1,000 UNESCO World Heritage sites around the world, each unique and significant in its own right. While these five are among the most popular, many other sites offer equally enriching cultural, historical, or natural experiences.
What makes a Unesco World Heritage site?
A UNESCO World Heritage site is a landmark or area that is selected by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) for having cultural, historical, scientific, or other forms of significance. These sites are legally protected by international treaties and are regarded as being important to the collective interests of humanity.
Here’s what makes a location eligible to be designated as a World Heritage site:
- Outstanding Universal Value: This is the primary criteria. The site should represent a masterpiece of human creative genius, an important interchange of human values, or be an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural or technological ensemble, or landscape which illustrates a significant stage in human history.
- Integrity and Authenticity: The site must be authentic in its cultural expression, and its form and design, materials, and substance, and its setting, as well as intangible elements such as sound, smell, and atmosphere, should be intact.
- Criteria for Selection: There are ten specific criteria, and a potential World Heritage site must meet at least one of them. These range from representing a masterpiece of human creative genius (like the Taj Mahal) to containing superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance (like the Great Barrier Reef).
- Conservation: Sites must be well-preserved, reflecting a balance between maintaining the site’s values and the evolving needs of contemporary societies.
- Protection and Management Requirements: Once designated, World Heritage sites must have proper management and conservation measures in place to maintain their Outstanding Universal Value.
- Boundaries of the Site: The site should have clear boundaries to ensure effective protection of its heritage value.
Which continent has the most World Heritage sites?
Currently, Europe has the most UNESCO World Heritage sites of any continent. However, numbers can change as new sites are added each year. It’s always a good idea to refer to the official UNESCO website or the latest data for the most current count and distribution of World Heritage sites across continents.
What are the best Unesco World Heritage sites to visit?
Here are some of the most renowned UNESCO World Heritage sites from around the world, known for their cultural, historical, or natural significance:
- Great Wall of China, China: An iconic symbol of China’s historical strength and perseverance, stretching over 13,000 miles.
- Machu Picchu, Peru: The mystical ruins of an Incan city set high in the Andes Mountains.
- Pyramids of Giza, Egypt: The last of the original Seven Wonders of the World and an enduring testament to the grandeur of Ancient Egypt.
- Acropolis, Greece: Overlooking Athens, this ancient citadel includes the remains of several historically significant ancient buildings, the most famous being the Parthenon.
- Taj Mahal, India: A magnificent white marble mausoleum built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his wife Mumtaz Mahal.
- Serengeti National Park, Tanzania: A vast ecosystem known for its annual migration of over 1.5 million wildebeest and 250,000 zebras.
- Venice and its Lagoon, Italy: The city built on canals, known for its beauty, architecture, and artworks.
- Angkor Wat, Cambodia: The largest religious monument in the world, initially dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu.
- Galápagos Islands, Ecuador: An archipelago with a vast number of unique species that inspired Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.
- Château de Versailles, France: A symbol of the absolute monarchy of the Ancien Régime in France, known for its history, architecture, and beautiful gardens.
Is it possible to visit every Unesco World Heritage Site?
Visiting every UNESCO World Heritage Site is theoretically possible. However, in practice, it’s an enormous undertaking with various challenges:
- Number of Sites: There are over 1,100 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and this number increases almost every year.
- Logistics: Some sites are remote or difficult to access. Traveling to each would require meticulous planning, potentially specialized equipment, or even hiring local guides.
- Time: If someone were to visit a site every day, it would take over three years without breaks. But considering travel time, days of rest, and the time to genuinely appreciate each site, it could easily take decades.
- Cost: The financial aspect would be significant. Beyond travel costs, there are visa fees, accommodation, site entry fees, food, local transportation, and more.
- Visa and Entry Restrictions: Some countries have stringent visa requirements, which could be a barrier. Additionally, political tensions or wars might make some regions unsafe or inaccessible for certain periods.
- Environmental Impact: The carbon footprint of such extensive travel would be significant, which is an ethical consideration, especially when visiting natural sites that are recognized for their environmental significance.
- Physical and Mental Fatigue: Continual travel can be exhausting and stressful. Health considerations, both physical and mental, would be paramount.
- Changing Status of Sites: Some sites are in danger due to natural disasters, war, erosion, or other reasons. They might be inaccessible or severely damaged by the time a traveler gets there.
Some of the best UNESCO World Heritage Sites to visit in 2023
I hope you enjoyed browsing through my list of the 28 best UNESCO World Heritage Sites! There’s such a wide variety of them, so I encourage you to check out the official UNESCO World Heritage Site List to see them all. This list is revised each year, so I will do my best to update my short list based on what’s added or removed (only 2 sites have been delisted so far).
Which of these UNESCO World Heritage Sites have you visited? Let me know in the comments below!
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