- Plan your dream holiday to explore one of our top 10 UNESCO World Heritage Sites
- From the Nubian Monuments of Egypt to Bruges in Belgium – where to go and what to see
- All the facts, sights and inspirational ideas chosen from over 1,000 UNESCO World Heritage Sites
There are a total of 1,092 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the world, including 209 natural sites and 845 which have cultural and historical significance – all recognised as being internationally important and deserving special protection. Choosing our top 10 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, therefore, was understandably quite a challenge. However, those that appear on our final list are worthy of the accolade, and conveniently all the destinations are easily accessible and can be found on the itineraries of many worldwide holidays.
So what and where can you find the best sites? Here is our list of top 10 UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
1. Nubian Monuments, Egypt
Not only are the majestic rock-cut Temples of Ramses II and his queen Nefertari a truly wonderful sight at Abu Simbel, but the fact that this iconic monument with its four towering statues were relocated to avoid the rising waters of the Nile makes them all the more breath-taking. Likewise, the Sanctuary of Isis at Philae, a temple dedicated to the ancient Egyptian goddess, was moved to its current location as part of an incredible UNESCO-led project in the 1960s. Collectively named the Nubian Monuments, this top 10 World Heritage Site is a must-see on a holiday to Egypt.
2. Kathmandu Valley, Nepal
If planning a holiday to Nepal, don’t miss the chance to explore the Kathmandu Valley, a worthy entry in our list of top 10 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The area, located in the foothills of the Himalayas, is recognised as the home of two Buddhist stupas, two Hindu temples and three secular sites, all culturally and religiously significant. A highlight of a visit to Nepal is an excursion to see the famous 14th-Century Boudhanath Stupa, one of the largest and holiest Buddhist sites in the world. Dominating the skyline, the stupa’s eyes appear to watch your every move.
3. Cape Floral Region, South Africa
Cape Town’s Table Mountain National Park, Groot Winterhoek Wilderness Area, and De Hoop Nature Reserve are just three of the 13 protected areas in South Africa that make up the Cape Floral Region, one of the world’s greatest centres of terrestrial biodiversity. Recognised as a World Heritage Site in 2004 and making our list of top 10 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the area is a plant hotspot, home to 20% of Africa’s flora despite representing less than 0.5% of the continent’s size. With two-thirds of the estimated 6,000 plant species in the region listed as endemic, and a further 1,736 identified as threatened, a holiday to South Africa will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
4. Machu Picchu, Peru
The iconic Machu Picchu stands 2,430 metres above sea level on the eastern slopes of the Andes and is a not-to-be-missed destination if considering a holiday to Peru. The most significant legacy of the Inca civilisation, there is still much debate as to the reason Machu Picchu was built, then later mysteriously abandoned. However, it is agreed that the mesmerising religious, ceremonial, agricultural and astronomical sanctuary, comprised of around 200 structures, is a sight to behold. Unleash your imagination as you walk through its gates, temples and houses, and simply marvel at the Lost City of the Incas.
5. Great Barrier Reef, Australia
No holiday Down Under or tour of Australia would be complete without a trip to the Great Barrier Reef. And the natural World Heritage Site is indeed great, containing the world’s largest collection of coral reefs, over 1,500 species of fish and around 240 species of birds, as well as a diversity of crustaceans, anemones and marine worms. Snorkelling at the stunning Michaelmas Cay National Park, easily accessible from Cairns on the mainland, there’s the opportunity to get up close to parrot fish, giant clams and even sea turtles. For landlubbers, glass-bottom boats mean you don’t miss out.
6. Bruges, Belgium
A little closer to home, the picturesque city of Bruges also makes it on to our list of top 10 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and it’s easy to see why. Marvellous medieval buildings, romantic squares and charming canals fill this chocolate-box destination, a highlight of any holiday to Belgium. Bruges’ historic centre is also associated with outstanding Gothic architecture and world-famous Flemish art by the likes of Jan van Eyck – his classic paintings still hang on the walls at the nearby Groeningemuseum. Another must-see attraction is the Basilica of the Holy Blood, home to a venerated relic of Christ.
7. Yellowstone National Park, USA
You’ll undeniably take a walk on the wild side at Yellowstone National Park, while on holiday in the USA. The country’s first and finest nature reserve is an awe-inspiring blend of natural beauty and rugged wilderness, and home to grizzly bears, bison and elk. Yellowstone additionally has the world’s largest concentration of geysers – more than 300, or two-thirds of all those on the planet. The most famous, Old Faithful, is also the most reliable, frequently erupting to the delight of watching visitors. Look out too for the park’s tallest waterfall, Lower Falls, nearly twice the size of the falls at Niagara.
8. The Great Wall, China
When researching tours to China, you’ll undoubtedly find that the Great Wall appears on most itineraries. Rightly so. The UNESCO World Heritage Site snakes almost 12,500 miles along the country’s forested ridges and is a formidable protective barrier, one of the world’s largest military structures – and the only man-made monument visible from space. Built from the 3rd Century BC to the 17th Century AD, the main body consists of walls, watch towers, horse tracks, fortresses and passes, and is still considered to be a national symbol for safeguarding the security of China and its people.
9. Petra, Jordan
Petra is not only a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this archaeological site in Jordan’s southwestern desert has now deservedly become one of the new Seven Wonders of the World. Often called the rose-red city, referring to the striking red sandstone surrounding Petra’s half-built, half-carved rock setting, visitors can’t help but be astounded by the sheer enormity of the place. Especially resplendent is the Treasury, a 40-metre high façade thought to be constructed in the 1st Century BC, which appears like a mirage through a slit in a narrow gorge. That memorable moment alone is a good reason to find out more about holidays to Jordan.
10. Taj Mahal, India
We simply couldn’t leave the Taj Mahal off our list of top 10 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The white marble mausoleum is universally admired and understandably appears on many a traveller’s wish list. Fortunately, the symbolic masterpiece – a 17th-Century memorial built in Agra to honour the favourite wife of a Mughal emperor – is on the itinerary of most escorted holidays to India, so it’s easy to appreciate the exquisite workmanship for yourself. Early morning visits are the most magical and the best time to avoid the heat and crowds. Perhaps you’ll snap a people-free photo too.
What are your top 10 UNESCO World Heritage Sites?
How many of these top 10 UNESCO World Heritage Sites have you already visited? And are there others that appear on your must-see list too, or are being quickly added? Perhaps it’s time to start planning your next holiday and making those destination dreams come true!
Ready to explore some of the world’s most breath-taking UNESCO World Heritage Sites? Visit our collection of escorted tour holidays to plan your next adventure. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.