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21 Best UNESCO World Heritage Sites

From archaeological ruins in Europe, natural wonders in Asia, animal sanctuaries in Latin America and the wilds of Africa...
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Written by
Rachel O'Leary, Jennifer Richt, Melania Siriu & Jody van Merode

Published on: July 18th, 2019

Last updated: July 3rd, 2023

There are so many incredible places to see in the world that narrowing it down may seem overwhelming when planning a trip. Choosing from one of the 1157 places on the Unesco World Heritage Sites list can be a good place to start. To help you choose we’ve compiled a list of our favourites across Europe, Latin America, Africa, Asia and Australasia.

The very first site added to the list back in the 1970s was the Galápagos Islands, which still features as one of our favourites. Every year, new places are added, with Italy holding the honour of being home to the most - close to 60. Europe as a whole has over 400, Latin America over 70, Africa close to 100, Asia close to 270 and Australasia over 20.

From the Douro Valley in Portugal and Machu Picchu in Peru, to the Taj Mahal in India, the Great Barrier Reef in Australia and the Okavango Delta in Botswana , our list has something of everything. From natural wonders, to man-made marvels, explore some of the world’s best places with us, and help to ensure they remain as remarkable as they are today, for generations to come.

Best UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Europe

 

Europe boasts a wealth of cultural and historic places of interest. The continent is particularly notable for its evidence of ancient civilisations. A European adventure offers enlightening glimpses into the distant past, as well as the chance to find yourself in breathtaking natural spaces.

1. Acropolis of Athens, Greece

You’ll find this ancient citadel set on a rocky outcrop overlooking the city of Athens. The complex comprises the remains of buildings dating back to the fifth century. Here you’ll find the majestic Parthenon, a temple dedicated to the goddess of wisdom and war, Athena. The best time to visit is between October and April to avoid the hot weather and crowds. 

 

Parthenon Athens Acropolis Greece

2. The Dolomites, Italy

Impressive snow-capped peaks, stunning mountain lakes and quaint Alpine villages – the Italian Dolomites make for a breathtaking destination. In the winter the region is popular with skiers, and during the summer months (June to September) it’s perfect for hiking, climbing and cycling. The Dolomites were added to UNESCO’s list in 2009.

Mountain valley in the Italy alps. Beautiful natural sunset in the summer time

3. Stonehenge, England

This iconic prehistoric monument in Wiltshire, Southern England, was added to UNESCO’s list together with Avebury in 1986. The collection of standing stones and lintels was believed to have been constructed from 3000 BC to 2000 BC. How it was built and what it was used for are still widely debated among archaeologists, historians and enthusiasts alike.

4. Douro Valley, Portugal

This picturesque region in northern Portugal is known for its terraced vineyards and Port wine. The Douro Valley is one of the oldest wine-growing regions in the world with some 24,600 hectares of the region added to the UNESCO list in 2001.

There’s more to the valley than wine, with the meandering river, one of the most scenic railways in Europe, historic towns and even some prehistoric rock art. For a truly sumptuous hotel experience, be sure to stay at the  Six Senses Douro Valley.

vineyards-landscape-douro-valley-portugal

5. Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia

Croatia has many stunning national parks, the largest, Plitvice Lakes National Park, covers almost 30,000 hectares and was added to UNESCO’s list in 1979. The park is full of stunning lakes, waterfalls and caves that have been created by waters flowing across the chalk and limestone. The area is shrouded in local legend and the wildlife here is spectacular.

plitvice-national-park-croatia

Luxury accommodation in Europe

There are many incredible places to stay in Europe. Here are some of our favourites, handpicked by our travel designers:

Best UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Latin America

 

From snow-capped mountains, picture-perfect beaches and tropical rainforests to ancient civilisations, Latin America is not to be missed if you’re looking for memorable experiences in beautiful destinations.

6. Machu Picchu, Peru

The awe-inspiring ancient Machu Picchu is perched on cloud forest-covered mountains and is one of Peru‘s most important archaeological sites.

There’s many ways to explore and learn about Incan history here; take a guided tour with an expert guide, climb Huayna Picchu for epic views or challenge yourself to reach the citadel on the Inca Trail. Alternatively, skip the hike and wind your way alongside the Urubamba on a luxury journey instead.

Machu Picchu ruins, Peru

7. Iguazu Falls, Argentina & Brazil

These spectacular falls are surrounded by lush tropical rainforests, providing prime bird-watching, on the border between Brazil and Argentina. Iguazu Falls was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1984.

The waterfalls can be explored in all their glory with many different walkways around and over the cascades. Be sure to stay at Awasi Iguazu for a taste of sustainable luxury at its very best.

 

8. The Galápagos Islands, Ecuador

Located 600 miles from mainland Ecuador, the Galápagos Islands offer you the opportunity to see wildlife up close. The islands are a living museum and one of the world’s richest marine ecosystems.

Walking among giant tortoises, snorkelling with sharks and swimming with playful sea lions are just some of what comes with the territory on the Galápagos Islands. Explore the islands on cruises or opt to stay in a luxury lodge on Santa Cruz island.

9. Cartagena, Colombia

Steeped in colonial and nautical history, Cartagena boasts impressive ramparts, forts and bastions as well as plenty of Spanish-style architecture. Known as the ‘Jewel of the Caribbean’, this is one of Colombia‘s prettiest cities.

Cafes, bars and restaurants line the cobbled streets where locals and visitors alike spill out onto the sidewalks in the balmy evenings. One of our favourite hotels is the historic Casa San Augustine.

10. Los Glaciares National Park, Patagonia

Argentina’s second largest national park, Los Glaciares in Calafate was added to UNESCO’s list in 1981. Among its most popular features is Perito Moreno glacier with its impressive icefalls that plunge into Lake Argentino. Perito Moreno is just one of about 356 glaciers that can be found within the park. 

perito-moreno-argentina

Luxury accommodation in Latin America

There are many incredible places to stay in Latin America. Here are some of our favourites, handpicked by our travel designers:

Best UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Asia & Australasia

 

Beautiful monuments to eternal love, ancient towns and prehistoric-looking wildlife; Asia and Australasia have so much to offer. Go wandering down historic pathways or spend your days island hopping, the memories are waiting to be made. 

11. Komodo National Park, Indonesia

Komodo National Park has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site for Indonesia since 1991. It’s home to the legendary Komodo Dragon and is made up of three main islands – Komodo, Rinca and Padar. 

The islands of the park are surrounded by shallow seas filled with vibrant marine life. In fact the diving and snorkelling in this region, best viewed from a luxurious private cruise, is some of the best in the world.

12. Hội An, Vietnam

Hội An is a pretty riverside city, peppered with colourful buildings that reflect in the city’s waterways. There are some 844 UNESCO protected structures here, making it one of Vietnam’s greatest cultural relics and a melting pot of Chinese, Japanese and French influences.

13. Taj Mahal, India

The ultimate symbol of eternal love, the Taj Mahal is one of India’s most memorable and emotive sights. The Taj Mahal sits on the banks of the holy Yamuna River within sprawling, manicured gardens.

One of the best times to visit is in the early hours when it is bathed in the ethereal glow of the morning light. The inside is no less beautiful with precious stones, intricate carvings and ornate inscriptions of the Koran.

Taj Mahal, Agra, India in the lights of the sunset.

14. Galle, Sri Lanka

This stunningly atmospheric Old Town of Galle and its fortifications at the southern edge of Sri Lanka were added to the list in 1988. Fascinating history is evident at every turn through its eclectic assemblage of architecture.

The walls and everything inside them are protected, with beautiful Dutch fusion architecture, a commanding Victorian lighthouse, grand churches and mosques, all in a sultry tropical setting.

15. Ayutthaya, Thailand

Ayutthaya, just north of Bangkok, was the capital of the Kingdom of Siam and is now one of Thailand‘s most treasured archaeological sites. Today the ruins of the old city are known as Ayutthaya Historical Park which includes palaces, Buddhist temples, monasteries and statues.

 

16. Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Considered one of the great natural wonders of the world, the Great Barrier Reef in Australia is the biggest coral reef system on the planet. The reef boasts 400 types of coral, 1,500 species of fish and 4,000 types of mollusc.

Explore this underwater marvel with unmatched snorkelling, diving and wildlife watching boat trips. After a day of activites, relax at the secluded reef getaway of Lizard Island.

Luxury accommodation in Asia and the Pacific

There are many incredible places to stay in Asia and the Pacific. Here are some of our favourites, handpicked by our travel designers:

Best UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Africa

 

Unsurprisingly, some of Africa’s most remarkable places that feature on the UNESCO World Heritage List are naturally beautiful and ecologically important. From lush jungles, to expansive savannahs and a towering extinct volcano, the continent is an adventure traveller’s dream.

17. Okavango Delta, Botswana

There’s something magical about the Okavango Delta, with its glowing sunsets and elephants wading through the reeds. Home to cheetahs, white and black rhinos, African wild dogs plus countless other species. 

Within the Delta the private concessions of Moremi and Mombo are dedicated to sustainable luxury and wildlife conservation. With only a few camps here, guests enjoy exclusive safari experiences.

18. Mount Kenya National Park, Kenya

On the high plains of the Kenya‘s Laikipia Plateau the snow capped peak of Mount Kenya towers. The peak is an ancient extinct volcano and one of East Africa’s most impressive landscapes complete with rugged glaciers and lush forests. The Kikuyu and Meru communities who live at its feet consider it to be a holy mountain.  

 

19. Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda

Uganda, once described as the ‘Pearl of Africa’ is one of East Africa’s hidden gems. Lush jungle and tropical wildlife are primary features of Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, home to the highest concentration of primates on Earth. 

mountain-silverback-gorilla-in-bwindi-impenetrable-forest

20. Serengeti National Park, Tanzania

Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park is one of the world’s most famous national parks, annually hosting the Great Migration of over a million wildebeest and thousands of zebras who follow the grass to and from the neighbouring Maasai Mara.

These vast plains made their way onto the UNESCO list in 1981. Beside the migration, wildlife spotting is rewarding year round in the central parts of the park.

21. Mana Pools National Park, Zimbabwe

 Mana Pools National Park  in northern Zimbabwe, is home to a remarkable concentration of animals. Naturally beautiful, track leopards, elephants, cheetahs and buffalos on game drives and walking safaris with expert rangers through the stunning scenery.

Luxury accommodation in Africa

There are many incredible places to stay in Africa. Here are some of our favourites, handpicked by our travel designers:

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