Underrated UNESCO World Heritage Sites That Should Be On Your Travel Bucket List

12 Underrated UNESCO World Heritage Sites That Should Be On Your Travel Bucket List

Have you been to any of these wonders?

Do underrated UNESCO World Heritage sites even exist?

What we mean to say is, UNESCO World Heritage Sites are declared as such for a reason — they are deemed to be “of outstanding universal value” upon the perusal of an esteemed panel of heritage, history, culture, and tourism experts. To become a UNESCO World Heritage Site means the destination has ticked off more than one item from a very hefty criteria.

But this isn’t the place to discuss this matter. What we’re getting at is: Some sites are more popular than others. If you’re a history and culture buff with a serious case of wanderlust, you might want to check out these underrated UNESCO World Heritage Sites. We assure you, they’re all bucket list-worthy.

Age-old cities

1. Berat and Gjirokastra, Albania

Gijrokastra | Image credit: Adam Jones

There are places that simply transport you back in time. Berat and Gijrokastra in Albania are two cities that do exactly that. While Berat is situated in Central Albania near the Osum River and Gijrokastra farther down south by the Gjerë mountains, both cities are known for architectural features that reflect the Ottoman period.

Image credit: StepWorld

Aside from having traditional two-storey Ottoman houses, Berat is also home to a 13th-century castle called the Kala. In Gijrokastra, travellers often visit 18th-century churches and a mosque of the same period.

2. Ouro Preto, Brazil

Image credit: Raquel Mendes Silva

Ouro Preto (or Black Gold in English) is a historical town in Eastern Brazil. Located in the Serra do Espinhaço mountains, it was a hotspot for mining during the country’s gold rush from the 17th to the 18th centuries. Its obvious wealth meant that at one point, it was also a centre for culture and trade.

3. Valetta, Malta

Image credit: Mike McBey

The capital city of Malta is a popular tourist spot, but not a lot of people know that Valetta is home to a whopping 320 monuments dedicated to the Order of the Knights of St. John Valleta. According to the Unesco website, “It was ruled successively by the Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, and the Order of the Knights of St John.” Now that’s a rich history.

4. Bukhara, Uzbekistan

Image credit: Dan Lundberg

The city of Bukhara in Uzbekistan is a historic centre because it lies directly on the Silk Route, a known trading route that’s more than 2,000 years of age. You’ve probably heard about it in history classes at school. With a past that long, you’re bound to be amazed by breathtaking structures and practices that have stood the test of time.

Natural wonders

1. Mt. Hamiguitan Range Wildlife Sanctuary, Philippines

Image credit: Kleomarlo

Located in Davao Oriental in Mindanao, Mt. Hamiguitan Range Wildlife Sanctuary is a haven for threatened flora and fauna endemic to the Philippines. It’s mostly known for housing the world’s largest pygmy forest — so if you’re a fan of miniature trees, this would be a must-see! Here, you can also spot the Philippine Eagle and the Philippine Cockatoo.

2. Banc d’Arguin National Park, Mauritania

Image credit: Pinpin

A diverse terrain in the Northwest African country of Mauritania, Banc d’Arguin National Park boasts of sand dunes, coastal swamps, shallow coastal waters, and even islets. This is where you see the desert’s harsh environment not so far away from a beautiful seascape.

3. New Zealand Sub-Antartic Islands, New Zealand

Image credit: Lawrie Mead

Five island groups make up the New Zealan Sub-Antartic Islands: Antipodes Islands, Auckland Islands, Bounty Islands, Campbell Islands, and the Snares. What will you see here? Flocks of seabirds and penguins — something that definitely draws crowds of animal lovers!

4. Lut Desert, Iran

Image credit: Erik Albers

We’ve already talked about how much of an underrated destination Iran is. But here’s another thing you have to see on your first trip — the UNESCO-enlisted Lut Desert.

Also read: Iran Tourist Circuit: A 12-Day Itinerary for Your First Trip

5. Socotra Archipelago, Yemen

Image credit: Rod Waddington

Have you ever seen a Dragon’s Blood Tree? Well, that’s what Socotra Island is known for — along with several animal and plant species that you’ll only see in that part of the world. UNESCO says that “37% of Socotra’s plant species, 90% of its reptile species, and 95% of its land snail species do not occur anywhere else in the world.” How amazing is that?

Architectural marvels

1. Sanahin Monastery, Armenia

Image credit: Diego Delso

In countries steeped in faith, like Armenia, you’ll be able to see ecclesiastical architecture that dates back to the 10th century. A notable example is the Sanahin Monastery, a structure that artfully combines Byzantine and Caucasus elements of design.

2. Preah Vihear Temple, Cambodia

Image credit: Tetsuya Kitahata

Cambodia is home to probably one of the most iconic UNESCO Heritage Sites in the world. We doubt that you’ve never heard of Angkor Wat. But it has a lesser-known counterpart in the Dângrêk Mountains and you’ll find it sitting on top of a picturesque cliff. Aside from that, the UNESCO affirms that Preah Vihear Temple is an outstanding example of Khmer architecture to this day. That’s saying a lot since it was completed sometime in the 4th century.

3. Selimiye Mosque, Turkey

Image credit: Stylommatophora

One look and it cannot be denied: The Selimiye Mosque in Edirne, Turkey is breathtaking from all angles. Inside, the dome is vibrant, marked with intricate carvings and calligraphy. Its exterior commands attention even from a distance with minarets that pierce through the city’s skyline. Beyond the mosque is a complex that houses madrasas or Islamic schools, a clock house and library, and a covered market.

Have you been to any of these destinations? If not, then it’s the perfect excuse to update that travel bucket list!

Also read: 16 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Southeast Asia For Your Next Weekend Getaway

About Author

Alyosha Robillos
Alyosha Robillos

In Russia, Alyosha is a boy's name popularized by literary greats Dostoevsky and Tolstoy—but this particular Alyosha is neither Russian nor a boy. She is a writer from the Philippines who loves exploring the world as much as she likes staying at home. Her life's mission is to pet every friendly critter there is. When she isn't busy doing that, she sniffs out stories and scribbles away on the backs of old receipts. She is an advocate of many things: culture and heritage, the environment, skincare and snacking, to name a few. She will work for lifetime supplies of french fries and coffee. Or yogurt. Or cheese, preferably Brie.

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