20 of the World's Most Beautiful World Heritage Sites

20 of the World’s Most Beautiful World Heritage Sites

How many UNESCO World Heritage Sites have you visited? Here are 20 of the world's most beautiful World Heritage Sites you can't miss in your lifetime.

Countries spend years developing pitches to get into the UNESCO World Heritage List and they have to convince the United Nations body that they will commit to protecting their sites and support them financially.

Take Singapore for example, the government submitted its bid for Botanic Gardens to be recognised in Feb this year and it had to submit two documents, according to The Straits Times; one outlining the 155-year-old Garden’s historical and socio-cultural importance; while the other is a proposed site management plan.

But why do so many countries vie to have their sites listed and what is the big deal with UNESCO heritage sites anyway?

UNESCO has been adding to the World Heritage List since 1978. Earlier in June, UNESCO added several more sites to its list.

The world now has over 1,000 sites and what this means for the wanderlusting individual is that he/she gets to see more places of “outstanding universal value” – and if countries pledge to do what they say they will, our future generations will get to do the same.

In addition to being of “outstanding universal value,” an inscribed site must also meet at least one of 10 criteria, which includes “representing a masterpiece of human creative genius,” containing “exceptional natural beauty” or being an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement.

New World Heritage Sites include Myanmar’s Pyu ancient cities (Myanmar’s first-ever site), and evidence of the end of the age of dinosaurs at the cliffs of Stevns Klint in Denmark.

With new sites to see, there are also the well-trodden sites that are not to be missed. Find out what they are below.

1. Angkor, Cambodia

Image credits: Bjørn Christian Tørrissen

Stretching over some 400 square kilometres, including forested area, Angkor Archaeological Park contains the magnificent remains of several capitals of the Khmer Empire of the 9th to the 15th centuries, including the largest pre-industrial city in the world. The most famous are the Temple of Angkor Wat and, at Angkor Thom, the Bayon Temple. It remains one of the most important archaeological sites in Southeast Asia.

Also read: 5 Reasons Why Cambodia Should Be On Your Bucket List

2. Acropolis, Greece

Image credits: Steve Swayne

The Athenian Acropolis is the ancient high city of Athens, a prominent plateaued rock perched high above the modern city with commanding views and an amazing array of ancient architecture, mostly from the Classical period of Ancient Greece, the most famous of which is the Parthenon.

Despite being attacked and pillaged by everyone from the Byzantines to the Venetians, the site still stands to provide an important insight into Greek mythology.

3. Bagan, Myanmar

world heritage sites

Image credits: Corto Maltese 1999

Well, this site has not officially been confirmed by UNESCO yet, but as Myanmar finally opens up to tourism, the importance of protecting its monuments is greater than ever. As the capital city of this first Myanmar Kingdom, this enormous Buddhist complex on the Irrawaddy River contains more than 2,500 intricate monuments dating back to the 10th century.

Also read: Baring My Soles in Bagan, Myanmar

4. Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

Image credits: Marc Figueras

Due to islands’ far-flung location at the confluence of three ocean currents, the islands attract a diverse array of marine life that has remained unchanged for centuries.

It was one of the first few sites to be listed by UNESCO in the 1970s.

Also read: Galapagos Islands – A Land of Exotic and Brave Animals

5. Goreme National Park, Turkey

Image credits: Jalo

Goreme located among the “fairy chimney” rock formations, is a town in Cappadocia, Turkey. Carved out by erosion, the rocks in the valley provide unique evidence of Byzantine art in the post-Iconoclastic period.

Also read: A General Guide to Turkey: SGD 1000 in 7 days

6. Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Image credits: Sarah_Ackerman

Home to more than 3,000 individual reefs interspersed across over 600 topical islands, this is the world’s most extensive coral reef system – so large it can be seen from space.

While it is a protected region, a 2012 study found that the delicate ecosystem has lost more than half of its coral since 1985 to coral bleaching caused by climate change.

Also read: Which of These Places in Australia Would You Visit? We’re Not Judging

7. Hampi, India

Image credits: Apadegal

Nestled between emerald banana plantations and an enormous group of monuments that comprise the former capital of the last great Hindu kingdom of Vijayanagara which dates back to the 14th century, highlights at this site include the elephant stables, Kallina Ratha (Stone Chariot) and the towering Virupaksha Temple.

8. Iguazu National Park, Brazil and Argentina

Image credits: Anouchka Unel

Spanning almost 300m in diameter and up to 80m in height, this semicircular waterfall forms the border of Argentina and Brazil. It is home to several rare and threatened species: jaguar, jaguarundi, South American Tapir, Ocelot, tirica, anteater, the Black-fronted Piping Guan, the Harpy Eagle, and the Yacare Caiman.

Also read: Iguazu Falls: Its Grandeur Will Leave You Speechless

9. Los Glaciares National Park, Argentina

Image credits: Marianocecowski

One of the largest ice mantle outside of Antarctica, this is one of the best places to watch glacial activity.

10. Machu Picchu, Peru

Image credits: Martin St-Amant

There is no doubt that this Cusco Sacred City is spectacular, but what is even more amazing is the sunrise over the ruins that is some 2,430m above sea level tucked away in the middle of a tropical forest.

Also read: Unknown Secrets Behind the 5 Great Wonders of the World

11. Mont-Saint-Michel, France

Image credits: Diliff

This fortified village located on the coast of Normandy appears to float on the ocean from a high vantage point during high tide. Despite its seemingly unstable sandbanks, the picturesque little village has survived since the 11th century.

12. Petra, Jordan

Image credits: vagabondpix.com

Strategically positioned between the Dead Sea and the Red Sea, Petra acted as the capital of the Nabataean caravanning kingdom from around the 6th century BC. It was later absorbed by the Roman Empire but eventually abandoned in the 2nd century AD following a catastrophic earthquake that crippled its advanced water management system.

It is reported that the desert city carved from rose-red limestone remains one of the most important archaeological sites in the world.

13. Pyramids of Giza, Egypt

Image credits: Nina Aldin Thune

The most famous Egyptian pyramids are those found at Giza, on the outskirts of Cairo. The Pyramid of Khufu at Giza is the largest Egyptian pyramid and is the only one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World still in existence – and today, it is still fantastically preserved.

14. Rapa Nui, Chile

Image credits: wanderingtrader.com

Easter Island is the most remote inhabited island on the planet. Located in the Pacific Ocean, the group of about 800 massive stone monuments were carved from solid basalt between the 13th and 16th centuries. The moai as they are locally known, are scattered across the island and are the legacy of a Polynesian society who settled there around 300 AD.

15. Serengeti-National-Park, Tanzania

Image credits: Bjørn Christian Tørrissen

Located in northern Tanzania and spilling into nearby Kenya, this iconic safari hosts one of the largest remaining annual migration in the world where some 2 million wildebeests, zebras and gazelles move in search of pasture and water, or when they get chased down by their predators.

Also read: 8 Things You Must Do When You Visit Kenya

16. Sigiriya, Sri Lanka

Image credits: asianinny.com

Sigiriya is an ancient palace located in the central Matale District near the town of Dambulla in the Central Province, Sri Lanka. Also, known as Lion Mountain for the giant clawed feet carved into the granite alongside a staircase leading to the remains of a fortified palace built atop the 370-metre peak.

Also read: 5 Reasons You Need to Visit Sri Lanka

According to the ancient Sri Lankan chronicle the Culavangsha, this site was selected by King Kasyapa (477 – 495 CE) for his new capital. He built his palace on the top of this rock and decorated its sides with stunning frescoes and lashings of “Sigiri graffiti,” one of the most ancient texts in the Sinhalese language.

17. Tulum, Mexico

Image credits: Bjørn Christian Tørrissen

The ruins of Tulum are situated on a 12 metre-tall cliff along the east coast of Yucatan Peninsula on the Caribbean Sea in the state of Mexico.

Tulum was one of the last cities inhabited and built by the Mayas.

18. Valletta, Malta

Image credits: Maximilian Bühn

Valetta is the capital city of Malta. It is occupied by only about 6,600 residents.

It was ruled successively by the Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs and the Order of the Knights of St. John, the latter of which was responsible for building the city in the 16th century.

According to CNN Travel, Valletta is one of the world’s rare urban sites that has been preserved near perfectly. Comprises 320 monuments on one tiny peninsular, it is one of the most concentrated historic areas in the world.

19. Venice and its lagoon, Italy

Image credits: wallpaperbod.com

Italy has the most World Heritage Sites than any other nation. One of them is Venice that was discovered in the 5th century and is made up of 11 small islands. With gondolas as its main mode of transport though weaving canals, Venice remains the world’s only pedestrian city.

Also read: A Trip to Venice: Charming Views of Gondolas and Canals

20. Yellowstone National Park, United States

Image credits: hir.ma

The world’s first national park, sprawling across some 9,000km2, the park in Wyoming contains half of the globe’s known geothermal features and is home to a diversity of wildlife including grizzlies, wolves and bisons.

Also read: Grand Prismatic Spring Leaves Visitors Gaping in Awe

UNESCO’s newest World Heritage Sites

1. Pyu ancient cities, Myanmar

Image credits: timetravelturtle.com

Also read: Ancient Pyu Cities: Myanmar’s 1st UNESCO World Heritage Site

2. Andean road system, South America

Image credits: timetravelturtle.com

3. Battir, West Bank

Image credits: Andrea Moroni

Also read: UNESCO Names Battir As New World Heritage Site

4. Bolgar complex, Russia

Image credits: Indeikin

5. Caves of Maresha and Bet Guvrin, Israel

Image credits: pikiwiki.org.il

6. Earthworks of Poverty Point, United States

Image credits: Billy Hathorn

7. Grotte Chauvet-Pont d’Arc, France

Image credits: HTO

8. Historic Jedda, Gate to Makkah, Saudi Arabia

Image credits: designhome.ae

9. Irbil Citadel, Iraq

Image credits: jan kurdistani

10. Namhansanseong, South Korea

Image credits: Khitai

11. Okavango Delta, Botswana


Image credits: DDD DDD

Also read: Okavango Delta: Africa’s Newest UNESCO World Heritage Site

12. Pre-Columbian settlements, Costa Rica

Image credits: A. Egitto

13. Rani-ki-Vav (the Queen’s Stepwell), India

Image credits: Bernard Gagnon

14. Stevns Klint chalk cliffs, Denmark

Image credits: Lisa Risager

15. Tian-Shan Corridor, Silk Roads, Asia

Image credits: usa.chinadaily.com.cn

16. Tomioka Silk Mill, Japan

Image credits: yellow bird woodstock

17. Trang An complex, Viet Nam

Image credits: Juliana Ng

18. Van Nellefabriek, Netherlands

Image credits: F.Eveleens

19. Westwork and Civitas Corvey, Germany

Image credits: Unesco Postcards

20. Vineyard landscape of Piedmont, Italy

Image credits: Phalaenopsis Aphrodite

Contributed by AsiaOne Travel.

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