Top 10 Beautiful UNESCO World Heritage Sites
With over 1000 sites now listed, UNESCO’s mission is to ‘encourage the identification, protection and preservation of cultural and natural heritage around the world, considered to be of outstanding value to humanity’. Here’s a list of 10 of the best, to get you started on an exploration of remarkable UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
1. Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Believed to be the world’s largest religious building, Angkor Wat is a staggering example of size, scale, symmetry and spirituality. Built in the 12th century, Angkor Wat was originally a Hindu temple, dedicated to Vishnu, before it converted to Buddhism in the 14th century. To explore the ‘temple city’ that is the heart and soul of Cambodia, your best option is to stay in the city of Siam Reap and hire a driver for a few days, to visit other temples including Ta Prohm, the exotic setting for the movie, ‘Tomb Raider’.
2. Rapa Nui, Chile
Rapa Nui is the indigenous name of Easter Island, the most remote inhabited island in the world. The Rapa Nui National Park is a protected wildlife area, with archaeological sites including the famous Moai; the remarkable statues by early settlers, representing ancestors from Polynesia. You can fly to Easter Island from Chile and Tahiti, hire rental cars or tour guides once there and stay in a range of hotels.
3. Taj Mahal, India
Perched on the banks of the River Yamuna, the grandeur and white marble glow of the Taj Mahal is truly breath-taking for the first time visitor. As an ode of love to his wife, Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan commissioned its construction in 1632 to house her tomb. You can explore the Taj Mahal from Agra and many hotels boast views of the famous structure from rooms, balconies and dining terraces.
4. Machu Picchu, Peru
The mysterious lost city of Machu Picchu is a 15th century Inca site, over 2000 metres above sea level. The spectacular ruins blend into the mountainous hillside, creating a magical image of awe-inspiring history. You can visit Machu Picchu by flying to Cusco from London and taking the train to Aguas Caliente , where you can stay overnight.
5. Petra, Jordan
The pre-historic capital of the Nabateans, Petra, is half cut into rock and majestically surrounded by towering mountains. Famous then for its spice trade and ingenious hydraulic engineering systems, Petra is now on bucket lists worldwide as a place to see before you die. You can fly into Amman or Aqaba airports and take a bus, rental car or private transfer to the closest town, Wadi Musa.
6. Yellowstone National Park, USA
America’s first national park is home to bears, bison, wolves, rivers, waterfalls, the rainbow coloured Grand Prismatic Spring, wildlife filled Lamar Valley and the regularly erupting geyser, Old Faithful. To visit the home of Yogi Bear, fly direct from London to Denver, then on to Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
7. Pyramids of Giza, Egypt
The great pyramids of Giza are perhaps the most widely recognised ancient structures on the planet and the majestic Sphinx is one the the world’s largest statues. You can fly direct from London to Cairo, to witness the mighty remnants of a powerful civilisation.
8. Iguazu National Park, Brazil and Argentina
Famous for the mind-boggling semi-circular waterfall at the heart of the site, Iguazu National Park is a natural wonder of sub-tropical rainforest and home to jaguars, monkeys, giant anteaters, blue and yellow macaws and the endangered ocelot. You can fly into Cataratas airport in Argentina or Foz do Iguacu in Brazil.
9. Great Barrier Reef, Australia
The world’s largest coral reef teems with colourful marine life and comprises of over 3000 individual reef systems. It’s bigger than The Great Wall of China and it’s the only living thing on earth that’s visible from space. It’s also surrounded by tropical islands with white-sand beaches. Sold? You can fly into any capital city in Australia and on to Cairns, in north Queensland, from there.
10. Venice, Italy
The architectural masterpiece that is Venice is entirely unique in it’s crumbling, magnificent grandeur. Built on 118 islands in the Venetian lagoon, the romantic city has inspired artists, lovers and poets for hundreds of years. Fly direct to Venice Marco Polo Airport from London.
Image source: (c) istock/thinkstock