As of 2018, there are 1,092 UNESCO World Heritage sites that enjoy legal protection by international treaties. Of these, 845 are culturally significant, 209 are recognized for their natural beauty and 38 are a mixture of both. Each has been chosen because of its importance to the collective interests of humanity, and all are absolutely stunning.
With so many to choose from, it’s almost impossible to come up with a list of the “best”, but here are a few from each category that should be on everyone’s must-see list.
Cultural Heritage Sites
The Taj Mahal, India
Shah Jahan built this marble mausoleum in 1643 in memory of his wife, Mumtaz Mahal. It stands on the banks of the Yamuna river in Agra, surrounded by formal gardens. It is estimated that 20,000 artisans worked on the project and the Taj Mahal now draws over 8 million visitors a year.
Castel del Monte, Italy
Italy hosts the most UNESCO World Heritage Sites on the planet, including the entire city of Verona, Venice, and much of Rome. A little further off the beaten track, near the southern city of Bari, lies this 13th century castle. It has a perfect octagonal shape and blends elements from the Islamic orient with gothic architecture in a seamless combination of Eastern and Western influences. It was built by Emperor Frederick II and stands as a testament to his broad education and cultural vision – and it’s just incredibly cool.
Statue of Liberty, U.S.A.
The statue was made in Paris but has been standing at the entrance to New York harbor since 1886. At the time, Lady Liberty was a marvel of modern engineering and is still mighty impressive. She’s 151 feet high, made of copper sheets, and an eternal symbol of American independence and freedom. In addition to welcoming generations of new immigrants, the Statue of Liberty is seen by over 3 million visitors a year.
Natural Heritage Sites
Serengeti National Park, Tanzania
The Masai grazed their livestock on these massive plains long before the first Europeans came to marvel at the exotic wild life. The park was created in 1951 and covers almost 6,000 square miles of grass and woodlands. All of Africa’s iconic animals can be found in this nature preserve, including an annual migration of 1.5 million wildebeest.
Great Barrier Reef, Australia
This part of Australia’s north-eastern coast holds the world’s biggest collection of coral reefs and is home to over 1,500 species of fish. It is one of the richest and most complex natural ecosystems on the planet and protects species that are close to extinction like the dugong and green turtle. A visit to the reef is an unforgettable journey to the remarkable beauty that lies both on the surface of the ocean and just beneath its waters.
Dinosaur Provincial Park, Canada
Many of the most important fossils ever uncovered were found deep in the rocks of Alberta’s badlands. Specimens from over 44 different species of dinosaur have been discovered here and the stark landscape looks very much as it did millions of years ago. Paleontologists continue to find bones and fossils from every known group of Cretaceous dinosaurs, with 150 complete skeletons residing in museums around the world.
Mixed Heritage Sites
Göreme National Park and the Rock Sites of Cappadocia, Turkey
The volcanic landscape on the Anatolian plateau is filled with hoodoos, rocks sculpted by erosion into towering landforms that seem to defy gravity. Beneath, there are the remains of underground villages and cave dwellings that date back to the 4th century. These provided refuge from invaders and were also used as sanctuaries and places of worship. The natural beauty of the region is matched only by the striking examples of Byzantine art.
Machu Picchu, Peru
Located almost 8,000 feet above sea level, this Incan citadel was abandoned in the 1500s during the Spanish Conquest. About a third of the site has been restored, and work continues on what was voted one of the new Seven Wonders of the World. Giant walls, intricate terraces, and the remains of over 200 structures full of ancient mysteries in one of the most breathtaking settings on earth.
With UNESCO World Heritage sites in 167 different countries and more being added every year, there’s probably a spectacular cultural or natural wonder waiting on your next adventure. If it’s made the UNESCO list, you’ll definitely want to check it out.