From the Great Barrier Reef in Australia to Mont St. Michel in France, there are endless UNESCO World Heritage sites to visit around the globe. So how do you decide which ones to explore? To help you choose, we’ve put together a list of our favorites that we know are always worth the visit! Whether you love admiring city architecture, learning about historic landmarks, or embracing nature and animals, there is a site for every kind of traveler.
(Pictured: Mont St. Michel)
1. Machu Picchu
High in the Andes, overlooking the Sacred Valley of the Incas lies the majestic Machu Picchu. Archeologists believe these stone pyramids date to the 15th c. and represent the estate of Incan Emperor Pachacuti. Abandoned in the 1500’s, these pyramids were overgrown and forgotten to the world until American archeologist Hiram Bingham stumbled on them in 1911. Nowadays, people travel far and wide to take in the breathtaking beauty of this natural and architectural phenomenon.
2. Galapagos Islands
Penguins, sea turtles, and iguanas are just a few of the 500+ species who call these remote islands home. When Charles Darwin visited in 1835, he was so engrossed in the biodiversity there that he was able to establish his theory of evolution. The Galapagos Islands features the second largest marine reserve in the world—making this one of the most diverse and highly coveted sites to visit!
3. Great Barrier Reef
Under tropical palms, visitors enjoy the sparkling water of the Pacific Ocean, along with what lies underneath it—the world’s largest coral reef. Brimming with exotic sea creatures and plant life this vibrant ecosystem is a literal paradise for snorkelers and scuba divers. And as we are learning, this natural wonder is starting to perish, making it more urgent than ever to cross it off your bucket list.
4. Petra, Jordan
This 2,000-year old city will keep archaeological buffs enraptured. Also named one of the new Seven Wonders of the World, Petra is carved out of sandstone in mammoth desert rock and features the iconic Al-Khazneh temple (The Treasury), which is considered one of the most elaborate temples in the Ancient world. Plus, with captivating sights like the Roman Theater, Temple of the Winged Lion, and Qasr Bint Pharaoun, you’ll have one of the most fascinating trips the Middle East can offer.
5. Torres del Paine, Chile
Widely considered one of the most scenic views in the world, this national park is known for its pointed snow-capped mountains, sparkling glacier lakes, rushing waterfalls, and picturesque grasslands. Adventurers can take advantage of the unique hiking terrain while birdwatchers seek out the wide-variety of feathered creatures flying about. Visitors also often get the chance to spot rare wildlife like pumas, llamas, and ostrich-like nandus.
6. Old City of Dubrovnik, Croatia
Known as “The Pearl of the Adriatic”, it’s no secret that Dubrovnik, Croatia has a stunning coastline and amazing ocean views. But, you may not realize this city is one of the most well-preserved medieval cities in the world. Inside its stone walls you’ll find churches representing Baroque and Renaissance time periods, as well as plenty of sidewalk cafes and strolling performers. Game of Thrones fans will especially love it here, as it was used as a filming location for King’s Landing.
7. Agra Fort
Less than two miles away from the famed Taj Mahal lies the sprawling Agra Fort. The red sandstone fortress protected four generations of the Mughal Dynasty within its thick walls. Inside there are maze-like courtyards and opulent private quarters that include marble palaces, mosques, and a tomb dedicated to the father of an empress. Some consider Agra Fort to be the highlight over the Taj Mahal!
8. Red Square in Moscow
The renowned Red Square is comprised of the Kremlin, St. Basil’s Cathedral, and the State Historical Museum, among other historical treasures. It dates back from the late 15th c. and has long served as Moscow’s primary marketplace, as well as the site of military formations designed to display Soviet strength— and it’s even been staging grounds for rock performances from bands such as Pink Floyd. The distinctive architecture of colorful onion domes and numerous buildings telling of Russia’s past is a one-of-a-kind experience.
9. Venice, Italy
Gondolas, canals, narrow alleys, St. Mark’s Cathedral, and the Doge’s Palace; these are the elements that give Venice its unique appeal, as well as its place on the UNESCO list. This city offers a charming journey no matter how many times you visit! Wander the quaint streets, admire the blend of East and West architecture, and take in the world-class museums. Most travelers round out their experience here by living “la dolce vita” and savoring a glass of wine by a canal.
10. Mont St. Michel, France
Built on a tiny island on the rugged shores of Normandy sits an enormous medieval Abbey. Built in the 8th c. and dedicated to Archangel Michael, early pilgrims navigated the tide to approach the magnificent structure and pay their respects. There is a small village at the base of the Abbey with shops and restaurants. The outstanding beauty of not only the castle, but its scenic surroundings make seeing this site up close a “must do” when in France.
Each UNESCO World Heritage Site has a special flare that is unique to its location, geography, or history. These 10 favorites only scratch the surface of the many outstanding sites that are worth visiting. So, which one will you discover first? Be sure to browse our tours to find even more of the World Heritage sites we feature!