15 UNESCO World Heritage Sites worth seeing for yourself

Posted on 16 September 2019

There are currently 1,121 UNESCO World Heritage sites worldwide and each has to meet a set of strict criteria to become one of these protected locations. Here is a bit about these site and why you should make a point of picking your favourite and visiting them.

What is a World Heritage Site?

UNESCO World Heritage sites are protected locations which have been chosen as being of ‘outstanding value to humanity.’ The list was created as part of the Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, which was adopted in 1972. By being placed on the list, sites are meant to be protected from destruction and encourage local participation in the sites’ upkeep and protection. Sites are placed into the categories of  ‘cultural’, ‘natural’ or a mix of the two.

‘What makes the concept of World Heritage exceptional is its universal application. World Heritage sites belong to all the peoples of the world, irrespective of the territory on which they are located,’ say UNESCO.

Hows does a site qualify?

There are ten qualifying criteria and a nominated site needs to have at least one of these to be considered. UNESCO changes these criteria over time but most relate to sites representing aspects of cultural significance or an outstanding representation of natural beauty or evolution. Each year UNESCO adds nominated sites to the list, with 2019 seeing 29 new sites added.

Why visit these sites?

While not all of these sites are easily accessible, many are among the most visited areas in the world. Because each site has been carefully considered before being listed, there is little doubt that visitors will be impressed when exploring these marvels. Besides being beautiful, these sites contain important history or fascinating natural phenomena which will give you plenty to absorb and appreciate.


Fifteen sites to spark inspiration

While it is impossible to choose from the best on the list, here are a few which are well worth the visit and not too difficult to get to. If you’d like more of a challenge and want to go well off the beaten track, take a look at the full list of sites here.

1. Simien Mountains National Park, Ethiopia

Home to threatened species like the endemic Walya ibex,Gelada Baboon and Ethiopian Wolf, the Simien National Park in northern Ethiopia is a natural beauty. Declared in 1978, this park is significant for its biodiversity conservation.Visitors can do multi-day treks through the steep mountains to get the most spectacular views.


2. Historic Old Québec, Canada

The preserved Québec City was added to the list in 1985 and is one of the world’s best examples of a fortified colonial town. It became the capital of New France after it was founded in the 17th Century and is made up of the Upper Town and Lower Town. The Upper Town was built on the cliff and has remained the religious and administrative centre while the Lower Town grew along the harbour. Visitors can tour these historical sites, making their way through the french colonial streets.


3. Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape, South Africa

Mapungubwe was the largest kingdom in Southern Africa before it was abandoned in the 14th century. Set along the border between South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana, it’s inhabitants traded gold and ivory with traders from China and India making it historically significant. Declared in 2003, visitors can view the ruins of the settlements, see where the Limpopo and Sashe rivers meet creating the borders between the three countries or drive around to see the animals living in the park.


4. Fraser Island, Australia

Fraser Island, also known by it’s aboriginal name K’gari, is just off the coast of Queensland and is the world’s largest sand island. With a beautiful tall rainforest and freshwater dune lakes, this island was declared in 1992. Visitors can take a 4×4 along the beachfront, swim in the sea or one of the inland freshwater lakes or take a flight over the island- maybe even skydive if you’re feeling brave.


5. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, United States of America

With two of the most active volcanoes in the world, this park’s landscape has been continuously changing. Declared in 1987, this park is home to rare birds and endemic species, including Hawaii’s state bird the  endangered Nēnē (Hawaiian Goose). Visitors can hike various trails in the park and view the ancient Pu’u Loa petroglyphs.


6. Galápagos Islands, Ecuador

Declared in 1978, these 19 islands are considered a ‘living museum and showcase of evolution.’ The isolated islands combined with the volcanic activity led to the development of unusual animals including the land iguana, giant tortoise and different types of finch. Visitors have to be taken over by a licensed guide and activities include hanging out on the beach with friendly sea lions, hiking, snorkeling, kayaking and diving.


7. Angkor Archaeological Park, Cambodia

With the main temple featured on the Cambodian flag, it is no surprise that the Angkor Archaeological Park is on the one of the most important archaeological sites in South-East Asia. It contains the different capitals of the of the Khmer Empire which were situated there from the 9th to the 15th century. Declared in 1992, this site sees thousands of visitors a year. Some Cambodians still live in the park and visitors can walk, cycle or take a tuk tuk through the massive complex to all the sites.


8. Incense Route – Desert Cities in the Negev, Israel 

Linking the incense and spice route across the Mediterranean, are four Nabatean towns Haluza, Mamshit, Avdat and Shivta. Them along with their associated fortresses and agricultural landscapes in the Negev were declared in 2005. These sites are remnants of the hugely profitable trade in frankincense and myrrh from south Arabia to the Mediterranean. Visitors can explore the ruins which have clearly identifiable structures and infrastructure dating back to the 3rd century BC until the 2nd century AD.


9. Jaipur City, India

The newest addition on our list this site was only declared this year. This fortified city was founded in 1727 it made the list for it’s interesting city planning. The streets feature continuous colonnaded businesses that intersect in the centre, creating large public squares called chaupars. The city’s urban planning shows an intersection of ancient Hindu and modern Mughal as well as Western cultures. Visitors visit one of the  most well-known facade at the Palace of the Winds.


10. Historic Monuments of Novgorod and Surroundings, Russia

Russia’s first capital, Novgorod, was founded in the 9th century. Declared in 1992, the old town is surrounded by walls and a moat which you can still see today. During the 14th Century, it was one of Europe’s biggest cities and the centre of Russian Orthodox spirituality. Visitors can visit the fortified kremlin or visit the Vitoslavitsy Museum of Folk Wooden Architecture which is made up old-style Russian buildings.


11. Al Zubarah Archaeological Site, Qatar

Another more recent addition, this walled coastal town was declared in 2013. As a centre for trade in the late 18th and early 19th century it was destroyed in 1811 and abandoned in the early 1900s. With a small archaeological site, details of the towns trading and pearl-diving traditions have been discovered. Visitors can view the ruins of palaces, mosques and fisherman’s huts that were luckily protected by the layers of desert sand blown onto them.


12. Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, Mexico

Every year millions of butterflies from North America return to the forested mountains outside Mexico City. This is the Monarch butterflies overwintering site, where they cluster on tree branches and bend them under their weight. Declared in 2008, this 56,259 hectare biosphere is best visited between January and February as this is when the butterflies are at their peak numbers.


13. Giant’s Causeway and Causeway Coast, Northern Ireland

The Giant’s Causeway is made up of 40,000 black basalt columns that make their way from the shore into the sea and are seen again coming out the sea in Scotland. Called the Giant’s causeway as local legends explain the columns as a causeway built by giants so they could walk over the sea to Scotland, this site was declared in 1986. Visitors can visit and walk over this spectacular site which was actually formed by volcanic activity between 50 and 60 million years ago.


14. Te Wahipounamu, New Zealand

Found on the south island of New Zealand, these 2.6 million hectares incorporate four national parks and are home to flora and fauna considered the world’s best intact modern representation of the ancient biota of Gondwana. Declared in 1990, visitors to the parks can take cruises across the scenic lakes, hike in the area or visit the Te Anau glowworm caves.


15. Historic Centre of Kraków, Poland

The former capital of Poland, has the largest market square in Europe and avoided bombing during World War II meaning much of it’s original architecture is still in tact. Declared in 1978, this merchant town is acknowledged for once being one of central Europe’s largest administrative and commercial centers. Visitors can walk through the old streets through to the see the medieval site of Kazimierz with its ancient synagogues in the southern part of town and walk up the clocktower of the  Gothic cathedral where the kings of Poland were buried.


Image source: Pixabay


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