Seek an adventure, revel in the remarkable and explore the extraordinary…

Travel dreams, wish lists and bucket lists – what’s on your travel agenda? If the thought of an endless beach leaves you bored to distraction and you seek a more lasting cocktail — one of adventure and exploration — then, perhaps, it’s time to hit the UNESCO trail. Allow yourself to engage with the past and venture a path-less-travelled with our collection of wish list wonders and unique UNESCO Sites.

A Collection of UNESCO Sites to Inspire Your Travel Bucket List

Recognised by the ‘United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’, over 1,000 global sites and landmarks have been officially listed as unique places of interest — providing special cultural or physical significance and regarded as ‘important to the collective interests of humanity’. So, why not opt out of a conventional resort stay, book in with an expert guide and become moved by mighty monuments? Forget any thoughts of a gentle sea breeze and feel the palpable history instead. Swap soft sand for enduring stone relics and savour the incredible natural settings — with more than a dash of culture to the side.

With the north west’s Lake District recently joining the likes of the Grand Canyon, Taj Mahal and Machu Picchu in being awarded UNESCO World Heritage status, we ponder the variety of 1,053 World Heritage Sites to choose from. With so many to visit, which one would inspire you to grab your hiking boots and camera, accessorise with a guide book and embrace a thrilling luxury travel adventure?

Close to home or far afield, we’ve picked a few UNESCO World Heritage Site marvels to whet your travel appetite…

Starting close to home, Stonehenge is, of course, a world-famous site and one of Britain’s greatest national icons. A Neolithic and Bronze Age stone monument, located within the UNESCO World Heritage Site on Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire in England, the 2,000-hectare formation is considered one of the most archaeologically rich in Europe. Containing 200 scheduled monuments, it is also the home of one of the biggest chalk grassland areas and has recently celebrated thirty years as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Within the heart of Rome, and at the centre of Catholicism, Vatican City, which can be traced back to AD 756, was declared an independent state in 1929. As the latest and only current Papal state, it includes The Vatican Museum — one of the greatest art galleries in the world. Boasting a famous spiral staircase, the Raphael Rooms house the beautifully decorated Sistine Chapel, complete with Michelangelo’s magnificent frescos. Visitors can also venture to the incredibly ornate St Peter’s Basilica nearby, with its breathtaking interior dome. As the world’s smallest state, this site alone provides a wealth of artwork to admire and inspire.

Travelling east, the ancient temple complex of Angkor Wat, in Siem Reap, Cambodia, represents the largest religious monument in the world. Known as the Seventh Wonder of the World, this archeological park comprises an area measuring 162.6 hectares and was built in the 12th century. The temple is said to have taken thirty years to build and was the vision of King Suryavarman II, during the ancient Khmer empire. In addition to the Temple of Angkor Wat, there is Angkor Thom, the Bayon Temple with its numerous sculptural decorations, plus the must-see jungle-shrouded, Banyan Tree-covered Ta Prohm Temple. Left untouched by archaeologists, this serene relic is especially beautiful and emotive to see during sunrise.

From one hidden South Eastern treasure to another — Myanmar (formerly Burma) is a south east Asian nation that has only recently become accessible to tourists. Enigmatic and enchanting, visiting Myanmar is like stepping back in time. Boasting the striking, gilded Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, bustling markets, pretty parks, Inle Lake and the incredible plains of Bagan, strewn with 6th century Buddhist relics, this is a destination worth discovering. A river cruise along the Irrawaddy River to Mandalay is a captivating way to see the rich culture, temples and pagodas. In the Irrawaddy basin, the three ancient cities – Halin, Beikthano and Sri Ksetra – are remains of the Pyu kingdoms that spanned eleven centuries, from 200 BC to 900 AD, and exhibit a rich Buddhist culture.

UNESCO Wonders and Wondrous Wildlife

Holding similar intrigue, remote Easter Island, located in the south eastern Pacific Ocean, is famous for its remarkable 887 monumental statues (called moai). Created by the early Rapanui people, these dramatic figures were discovered by Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen on Easter Sunday in 1722. Each statue casts a haunting shadow across the unique landscape — one of the most remote isolated places on Earth. Part of a volcanic chain, this ecologically important island chain showcases remnants of a lost culture, with a backdrop of raw natural beauty.

A land littered with ancient treasures, South America lays claim to 59 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including such gems as Machu Picchu, Iguazu Falls, Cusco and the Galápagos Islands. These sites boast unique species of wildlife, plus Mayan, Inca and Aztec ruins. Striking Machu Picchu, a pre-Columbian site located 2,430 metres above sea level on a mountain ridge above the Urubamba Valley in Peru, plus Chichen Itza, in Mexico, one of the New Wonders of the World, provide invaluable insights into early pre-Columbian Mayan civilisation.

A relative newcomer, the Great Wall of China was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1987 — despite being built between the 5th and 16th centuries! China itself has 52 UNESCO World Heritage Sites and ranks second in the world. Boasting 37 Cultural Heritage, eight Natural Heritage and three combined Cultural and Natural sites, it is a vast nation and traveller’s dream. With fascinating ancient treasures, such as the Leshan Giant Buddha, Summer Palace and Ming tombs, it provides a journey through time (ancient cities to the ultra-modern cities) and is a land of extraordinary contrasts.

Cultural Gems

Whichever of the above significant sites (by no means an exhaustive list) may inspire your travels, such timeless treasures, remarkable relics and spiritual sanctuaries will undoubtedly enrich your journey. Be prepared to be humbled and inspired by the sheer skill and scale of these mighty monuments. From expansive temple complexes and giant stone statues, to exquisitely ornate interiors, there is plenty to capture your imagination. Whether a religious relic, royal tomb or mysterious folly, there is a world full of extraordinary places to whet your cultural appetite and appeal to your inner curiosity. So, venture to less-explored destinations, seek to be surprised and be prepared to be moved.

Feeling Inspired?

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