The UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites now sits at over 900 – but how many are truly awe-inspiring, must-see places to visit before you die? We’ve whittled the list down to just five, ranging from a city carved from rock to a world-famous mausoleum…
#1 Banks of the Seine in Paris, France
Taking a stroll between Pont de Sully and Pont d’léna along the river Seine isn’t just a pleasant diversion – it’s a fairy tale trail, a cultural tour and a history lesson all in one. From the sculpted beauty of formerly royal buildings such as the Louvre to the 19th-century marvels of the Eiffel Tower and the Grand Palais, to walk along the Seine is to discover the story of Paris itself. Other notable contrasts include the gothic masterpiece of Notre Dame Cathedral and the wide boulevards of Haussman’s 19th-centrury urban redevelopment (which influenced town planning across the world well into the first half of the 20th century).
The banks of the Seine host a confectionary of architectural delights – if you plan on going to Paris to experience the sight for yourself, save money on your trip and browse our list of cheap Paris hotels
#2 Petra, Jordan
Brought to the wider world’s attention as the setting for the final scenes of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Petra is one of the world’s most famous archaeological sites with around visitors every year. What makes it awe-inspiring is the sheer uniqueness and majesty of the place on such a grand scale. Its rock-cut Nabataean temples and tombs fuse with the Hellenic architectural style to create truly jaw-dropping vistas – made all the more exciting today by the knowledge that this was once a thriving trade city at the end of the Negev spice route.
#3 Taj Mahal, Agra, India
Built between 1631 – 1648 by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memorial of his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, the Taj Mahal is one of the world’s most recognised, celebrated and enduring symbols of love. A mausoleum built in dazzling white marble, the Taj Mahal glows pink and red during sunrise and silvery in moonlight, and is the central focus of a complex of adorned buildings within ornamental gardens. It’s seen as the jewel in the crown of Islamic art and attracts over two million visitors a year.
#4 Acropolis, Athens, Greece
Built to command awe as well as inspire it, The Acropolis dominates Athens’ skyline. The site’s most famous building, the Parthenon was built as a temple to ancient Greek goddess Athena and is our best-known symbol of Classical Greece. Hike up to the Acropolis’s summit to wander around it – the temple is damaged, but undergoing restoration, and still incurs a powerful sense of wonder. Other things to see include two old amphitheatres on the southern slopes, and a new museum of the Acropolis located at the foot of the hill.
#5 Machu Picchu, Cusco, Peru
American explorer Henry Bingham rediscovered the lost Incan city of Machu Picchu in 1911, and caused an international sensation that hasn’t died down since. Machu Picchu is now the established ‘finish line’ for thousands of Inca Trail followers every year. Reach the city in the way it was intended with two- to four-day hike from Cusco – getting your first glimpse of the site through its original Sun Gate entrance is far better than pulling up in a coach car park! Once inside, spend the day wandering among the site’s ruined homes and re-constructed temples: it’s impossible not to feel awe-inspired staring out into a mist-laden valley from the Temple of the Sun.
Want to discover more amazing UNESCO sites? Find out how to book hotels with UNESCO views.