“As travel becomes accessible to more people by the day, it’s important to stop for a moment and remember exactly WHY we travel.” ~ Alyse.
For the second smallest continent in the world, there’s quite a high concentration of UNESCO sites in Europe to add to your bucket list. This may come as no surprise considering some of the world’s greatest empires have sprouted from European soil – the Romans and British to Spanish and Russian, it’s believed this continent was the birthplace of Western civilization.
On the surface, Europe’s face has altered numerous times throughout history. Its people have celebrated triumphs and discoveries in medicine and sciences, as well as being permanently scarred by war and plague. Cultures have blended and been divided, significant sites and artefacts left behind over the centuries to tell the tale.
As there are over 400 UNESCO World Heritage sites in Europe, some of these featured locations are bound to be familiar, while others are lesser-known gems I’m sure you’ve never heard of.
Invisible Tourists don’t just visit a destination so they can say “I’ve been there”. There’s so much more to travel than the satisfaction of checking something off a list. For us, it’s a thrill travelling to an exciting new place to gain a better understanding of its people, history, culture and their natural environment. A huge part of that is learning about attractions that have significance to that culture, and why.
Thankfully, in 1946 the United Nations created the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, (UNESCO) with the aim of securing and preserving the world’s cultural and natural heritage. To further question why we travel, I’ve reached out to travel bloggers around the globe to ask them what their favourite UNESCO World Heritage site in Europe is, and the reasons behind their decision. Read on for more!
Here are 42 UNESCO Sites in Europe to Add to Your Bucket List
This six-part bucket list series explores why adding UNESCO World Heritage listings to any itinerary will make it more meaningful and fulfilling (here’s my entire UNESCO series if you missed it). Let’s get into Part Four that focuses on magnificent UNESCO sites in Europe with locations around these 25 countries:
Listed alphabetically by country:
Historic Centre of Berat
Contributed by: Karen, Wanderlustingk
Berat, Albania is an absolutely stunning UNESCO World Heritage site. This perfectly preserved Ottoman town in Albania is still lived in and still feels like a fortress. The castle, the most stunning part of Berat, is over 2,500 years old although you’ll find many parts that were built in the medieval era.
Within this area, you’ll also find houses as well as churches of residents who were protected within the city walls. Most notably, you can almost hop onto the houses below, which mostly date back to the 1500s.
Berat, along with Gjirokaster, is listed as one of the UNESCO world heritage sites in Albania and it’s 100% free to explore.
TIP: Be sure to take a bus down from Tirana to spend a night in this stunning Albanian town!
Contributed by: Maire, Vienna 101 Facets
Visiting Vienna won’t be complete without seeing the Schönbrunn Palace and grounds. It’s beautiful no matter the season that I take photos every year – when the flowers are in full bloom, when the sun is at its bluest, when the leaves are yellow and orange, and when the grounds are covered in snow.
For those who love nature, Schönbrunn is a relaxing spot to go to – Schönbrunn has a plethora of different plants and flowers showcased at the Parterre, Japanese garden, the Palm house (tropical plants), and the Wüstenhaus (desert plants).
TIP: There’s also a maze, a zoo and an aquarium, which kids would surely enjoy… and if you are curious to know if there’s a Kangaroo in Austria, you’ll find one or two in there!
Historic Centre of Brugge (Bruges)
Contributed by: Gábor, Surfing the Planet
Walking in the Old Town of Bruges is like being inside a fairy tale, therefore, it isn’t surprising that the historical center of this Belgian town was declared UNESCO World Heritage Site as whole. Visiting Bruges is getting to know one of the most romantic and colorful towns in Europe.
The Flemish town Bruges was one of the most important commercial centres in Europe between the 12th and 15th century. Due to its strategic location, Bruges lived a golden era then, which can be appreciated now visiting the large number of beautiful Gothic style buildings there.
The main sights are located around Market Square with its beautiful colourful brick houses that transfer you to the middle ages. There are many things to see and do in Bruges, but our favourite is simply strolling near the canals and bridges, especially at night when the lights give a special charm to the Old Town.
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Contibuted by: Melanie, BRB Travel Blog
The Rila Monastery is one of the hidden gem of Eastern Europe. Located in the largely under radar of mass tourism, Bulgaria hosts many UNESCO World Heritage sites. The monastery is a true masterpiece and can be a great trip from Sofia since it is only 2 hours away from the capital.
The monastery was founded in the 10th Century and has become an important spiritual hub since the medieval times. It was added to the UNESCO list for its beautiful architecture that contains bright yellow domes as well as archways striped in black, red and white.
The inside is ornate with jaw-dropping frescoes depicting the apocalyptic dance. The monastery also offers accommodations for those who want the full experience. A few minutes away, there are the Seven Rila lakes in the mountains which are also a must see!
Old City of Dubrovnik
Contributed by: Constance, The Adventures of Panda Bear
This may sound cliche, but the Old City of Dubrovnik was the most magical UNESCO site we’ve ever seen. From the medieval walls of the old city to the glow of the buildings during golden hour, it’s definitely one of the most picturesque cities.
The Old City of Dubrovnik was named a UNESCO site for its well-preserved Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque architecture. The city is full of churches, monasteries, and palaces. Some of these are the City Walls of Dubrovnik, the Dominican Monastery, and the Franciscan Monastery. Even the oldest pharmacy in Europe can be found here!
It is also known for its importance in defending the country against seafaring attacks, which went beyond just the city walls themselves. Fort St. Lawrence (Fort Lovrenjac) was built expressly for the purpose of defending the city against the Venetians.
Aside from its historical and architectural importance, the city is also very quaint and well worth visiting. You can easily see all of these spots in a 2-3 day trip to Dubrovnik.
Contributed by: Eric & Lisa, Penguin And Pia
With its marble alleyways and beautiful cathedral, the old town of Trogir, Croatia is easily one of our favourite UNESCO World Heritage Sites. While Trogir is a larger city, it has a beautiful medieval old town on an island.
This island is wedged between the mainland and another island and connected via bridges. Because of this strategic location, Trogir played a significant role to the seafarers of medieval Croatia.
Trogir is like a well-preserved time capsule. Once you cross the small bridge from the bus station, you’re transported back in time. The old town is known to be an architecture lover’s dream – featuring many styles like Renaissance, Baroque, and more. Even though the small fortress old town is crawling with tourists, we still enjoyed exploring the streets and even a sweet treat on one of the numerous patios.
TIP: Trogir is easy to reach on a day trip from Split – just take the #37 bus from the local bus station in Split and ride until the last stop!
Contributed by: Kami, My Wanderlust
Trebic, Czech Republic is a small town located in the southern part of the country, close to Brno. What makes it special is not one but two UNESCO World Heritage Sites!
St. Procopius Basilica was built in the 13th century in the western European style of that time and is the example of how the architecture can be mixed (here gothic and baroque). Not far from the Basilica you will find the second UNESCO site – the Jewish quarter. It is one of the best preserved Jewish areas in Europe and the only UNESCO listed Jewish place outside of Israel.
Wandering around the winding lanes is a pure pleasure but it’s especially worth to visit one of the synagogues as the interior is amazing! Both, the Basilica and the Jewish quarter made it to UNESCO list as the great examples of the coexistence of Christian and Jewish religions and cultures.
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Contributed by: Jacky, Nomad Epicureans
Kronborg Castle is one of the most important Renaissance castles in Northern Europe and the castle that inspired Shakespeare’s Hamlet. It has been a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2000.
The castle is open to visitors around the years, although the Hamlet reenactments only take place during the summer months. Located in Helsingør, Denmark, the castle is easily accessible from Copenhagen.
Kronborg Castle is fun to explore as you get beautiful views of Helsingør from the tower and the dungeons are utterly eerie during the evenings.
TIP: To get the best view of the castle itself, get on a ferry to Helsingborg and admire it from the water; it’s simply beautiful!
Fortress of Suomenlinna
Contributed by: Dana, The Talking Suitcase
The Fortress of Suomenlinna is located on a group of islands at the entrance to Helsinki’s harbour. Since construction began in 1748, the fortress has been used for defense by Sweden, Russia and Finland.
We found it to be a unique UNESCO World Heritage site with original buildings and fortifications all dating from different eras and realms, showcasing the unique military architecture of the three countries.
In addition to being one of the top tourists attractions in Finland, the fortress is home to approximately 800 residents where the locals have a primary school, library and grocery store.
Visiting the site is free but entrance fees are required for the Suomenlinna Museum, Submarine Vesikko and other attractions on the islands. These attractions are all included in the Helsinki Pass as well as the ferry ride to the fortress.
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Contributed by: Elisa, World in Paris
Fontainebleau Castle is one of my favourite UNESCO sites in France. Its proximity to the French capital and easy train connection make of Fontainebleau one of the best day trips from Paris.
Fontainebleau forest was since the Middle Ages a hunting place for French kings and nobles. Louis VII was the first King to build a castle in Fontainebleau (12th century). Since then, his successors enlarged and embellished this former castle, turning it into one of the most beautiful castles in France.
Fontainebleau Castle has amazing rooms and halls richly decorated with the best materials. Also, the property is surrounded by beautiful gardens with fountains and ponds.
TIP: In Fontainebleau Castle, there are no crowds so you can enjoy it at your own pace and without any stress. In addition, it is possible to visit Fontainebleau for free during the first Sunday of the month (except the months of July and August).
La Roque Saint-Christophe
Contributed by: Tracey, Pack the PJs
La Roque Saint-Christophe, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Dordogne, France, is a ‘city’, a refuge, built by the ‘People of the Cliffs’ thousands of years ago. The city is a kilometre long and 80 metres high.
It’s a living example of how mankind lived in prehistoric times, and how it was adapted into a valuable fort in the Middle Ages. They believe that, at one point, La Roque had 1,000 people living there.
The visit is a self-guided tour – and it’s 100% pet friendly if you are travelling with dogs. You are taken on a ‘journey’ through the city – the areas assigned as the slaughter house, the butchery, the kitchens, the carpentry area – even the chapel. There’s also a reconstruction of early civil engineering machines.
TIP: The views from La Roque are outstanding too!
Pont du Gard
Contributed by: Nadine, Le Long Weekend
The Pont du Gard is one of the most iconic sites in France. Images of this grand Roman aqueduct abound in brochures and websites about the South of France, and yet, nothing comes close to visiting it up close.
The sheer size and stature of the bridge as it looms over the Gardon River is an incredible sight. In fact, it’s the highest Roman aqueduct in the world! Walking along the ancient road, you can start to imagine how life might have been in this area almost 2,000 years ago.
The visit is well rounded with a visit to the upper-level conduit, a swim in the cooling river below, a wander through the fragrant Mémoires de Garrigue – a short marked trail through vineyards, olive groves and oak trees, or a trip to the null museum.
TIP: If you’re visiting in summer, be sure to get there early, as it’s a very popular spot.
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Ushguli, Upper Svaneti Region
Contributed by: Emily, Wander-Lush
One of three World Heritage-listed cultural sites in the Republic of Georgia, the Upper Svaneti Region is one of the most breathtaking landscapes I’ve ever laid eyes on.
According to UNESCO, Ushguli is one of the highest continuously inhabited settlements in Europe. It’s actually made up of several small villages laid out across a lush valley. Chazhashi is the most picturesque. It contains more than 200 stone murkvam towers—fortified family homes built by the area’s traditional inhabitants, the Svans. Fearsome warriors, it’s said that Svan men still got around in chainmail until the 1970s.
You can visit Ushguli as a day trip from the nearby town of Mestia. It involves a long drive along a treacherous cliff road. There are guesthouses in Ushguli if you want to spend a bit longer. Another option is to take the popular trekking route that ends in Ushguli, overnighting in smaller villages along the way.
Contributed by: Vicki, Vicki Viaja
Goslar is a small town in Lower Saxony, Germany which is located near the Harz Mountains. The Old town such as the mine of Goslar are part of the UNESCO World Heritage since 1992. Both UNESCO sites have a history of more than 1000 years and walking through the narrow streets of this town filled with half-timbered houses makes you feel like you’ve just been sent back in time.
Even though the old town of Goslar is not precisely big, there is a lot to see. The most popular attraction in Goslar is the impressive Emperor’s Palace in which several German emperors have stayed during summer.
The best time to visit Goslar is probably during Christmas when the Christmas Market is opened. With its cute Christmas decoration and its Christmas forest right in the historical center, it looks like being cut straight out of a fairytale book.
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Contributed by: Slavi, Global Castaway
Overlooking Athens, The Acropolis is one of the most recognizable ancient buildings in the world. Built in the 5th century BC, nowadays the UNESCO World Heritage site is not only the symbol of Greece but also a symbol of the whole western civilization.
The most famous part of the Acropolis is the Parthenon. Even though the Persians and later the Ottomans tried to destroy it, the temple dedicated to the goddess Athena still stands tall, and I can guarantee that a walk around its white columns will transport you right back to classical Greece!
TIP: If you visit during the summer take sunscreen and an umbrella with you. The area is not small, and the Greek sun is merciless.
NOTE: Is Greece on your wishlist? These reasons to visit Greece will inspire you to make the trip. For essential advice when visiting the Greek capital, these Athens travel tips will help you know the do’s and don’ts before you go!
Delphi – The Navel of the World
Contributed by: Dave, Dave’s Travel Pages
The sanctuary of Delphi is one of 18 UNESCO World Heritage SItes in Greece, and was often referred to as the Navel of the World. It played an important role in the political and cultural lives of the ancient Greeks, and was a place of pilgrimage.
Here, the Oracle would be consulted before major decisions such as building colonies or war were made, and it was also one of the original sites that held the Panhellenic Games over 3000 years ago.
Today, the site of Delphi still retains an air of mystery around it, best experienced by arriving early or late to avoid the coach tours.
Delphi is most popularly visited as a day trip from Athens, but I’d suggest spending the night in town if you can. Not only can you spend longer at this ancient site when it’s quieter, but also enjoy some incredible views over the valley below.
Contributed by: Stephanie, History Fangirl
Greece has many UNESCO World Heritage Sites, but Meteora is the most spectacular by far. A series of gorgeous Greek Orthodox monasteries built atop rock formations so that they look like they are practically suspended in air, this UNESCO site is a fantastic combination or architecture, history, and nature coalescing to form something truly one of a kind.
While I’ve visited Orthodox monasteries all over Europe and the Caucasus, nowhere on earth are the monasteries set in such a spectacular natural setting.
I visited Meteora as a day trip from Athens, but I want to go back and spend a few days exploring the area. There is so much to see that it really can’t be done in a single day.
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Thingvellir National Park
Contributed by: Catherine, We Go With Kids
Thingvellir National Park is my favourite UNESCO World Heritage Site because it is not only a beautiful national park located on the continental divide but also an important historical landmark. Thingvellir is located in a rift valley caused by the separation of the North American and Eurasian Plates and was the location of Iceland’s first Parliament, which convened here in 930.
Our family spent a an hour or so hiking in Thingvellir and enjoying the beautiful vistas, rocky cliffs and fissures along the way to Prime Minister’s summer house, Thingvallabaer, a tiny nearby church, Thingvallakirkja.
We also drove by Silfra, where snorkelers can get a unique perspective of the continental divide in the Park. While we visited Thingvellir as part of a day trip exploring the Iceland’s Golden Circle, it would be easy to spend a whole day exploring this amazing site.
Contributed by: David & Elaine, The Whole World Is A Playground
Rising from the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Ireland is the UNESCO World Heritage site of Skellig Michael, one of the Skellig Islands. The Skellig Islands comprise two islands: Skellig Beag and the larger Skellig Michael.
Visible from the Irish mainland, the Skelligs were chosen by monks in the 6th-8th century as a monastic settlement and their beehive huts still stand today. Skellig Michael has had some recent fame as the setting for scenes in the new Star Wars movies.
Visiting Skellig Michael requires some planning: visitor numbers are limited to around 100 a day and the unpredictable Atlantic swell causes many boat tours to the island to be cancelled. If you’re lucky enough to get onto Skellig Michael we promise it will be one of the most memorable places in the world you’ll ever visit!
Contributed by: Cathy & Danni, Cathy Travelling
A day drive in the Dolomites Italy is dramatic, delightful, magical, mystical, captivating … The Dolomites: Dolomiti in Italian are a mountain range in northeastern Italy.
The Dolomites form part of the Limestone Alps. Named from the carbonate rock, dolomite which is part of the rock formation. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. And you can understand why.
With five days in Bassano del Grappa we take a leisurely twelve hour drive, in a six car convoy, stopping often and walking to find a small Catholic Church that acknowledges the many who have died in this beautiful, brutal land.
Historic Centre of Rome
Contributed by: Katy, Untold Morsels
Rome is my favourite and perhaps the ultimate UNESCO site. As you explore the city, you can’t help but be in awe of over 2,000 years of culture and history. From the landmarks and temples of Ancient Rome to the Renaissance splendour of the Vatican, there is a cultural treasure on every street corner.
Of course you must see the iconic landmarks – the Colosseum, Roman Forum, Pantheon and the Vatican. But take some time to explore the side streets and tiny piazzas of the Centro Storico. Here you will find smaller treasures – a fountain dedicated to a library, or the ruins of one of city’s ancient temples.
Rome is a living modern city but it is made all the more exciting by the preservation of its wonderful past.
Natural & Cultural Heritage of the Ohrid Region
Contributed by: Leah, Kid Bucket List
Often referred to as the Jerusalem of the Balkans, Ohrid is a mixed world Heritage area listed as both a Natural and Cultural Heritage property.
It is one of the oldest human settlements in Europe and features archaeological remains spanning from the Bronze Age, through the Middle Ages to modern times. Lake Ohrid itself has existed continuously for around 3 million years.
On your visit, sail on the lake and enjoy many of the local sites. Walk through old Ohrid town and explore an ancient open-air theatre, the 13th century Church of Sveti Jovan of Kaneo, St Pantelejmon, the oldest Slav monastery in the world, and the largest collection of Byzantine styled icons from the 11-14th century outside the Tretiakov Gallery in Moscow.
The mix of incredible cultural and natural sites across the town makes Ohrid a fascinating UNESCO site to visit and marvel.
Region of Kotor
Contributed by: Maria, Two Find A Way
Every UNESCO site is special for a reason, but we’re yet to visit one that feels like a fairytale as much as the region of Kotor does. If you are not familiar with this location, make sure to find Montenegro on a map and start searching for a flight, you’ll definitely want to after you have seen some photos.
That is what took us to this part of the Balkans: a breathtakingly beautiful photo of Kotor.
The region of Kotor is protected for its architectural significance and nature, with the southernmost fiord of Europe located in the region. Due to excessive tourism, Kotor stands at a risk of losing its UNESCO site status, although it has recently been given a new chance.
TIP: As a visitor, try to go during the low season and be mindful of where you stay to minimize the impact of your stay in this magical place.
Naeroyfjord (West Norwegian Fjords)
Contributed by: Kaylie, Happiness Travels Here
The UNESCO Naeroyfjord (Narrow Fjord) in Norway is a branch of the larger Sognefjord. The narrowest fjord in the world at only 250m wide at some points the crystalline mountains that rise over a 1000 metres about the ocean make it the most dramatic and outstanding fjords on earth.
The dramatic geography provides a landscape for waterfalls, forest, glacial lakes and human settlement. Providing habitat for flora and fauna about the ocean and below, with the fjords descending to 500m deep in some places. Apart from natural splendour, the area is also unique due to the long history of farming and interaction in the isolated area.
The easiest way to see the Fjord is on the Norway in a nutshell itinerary a tour that can be done from either Bergen or Oslo and uses multiple modes of transport goes through some of the most beautiful scenery in Norway.
Viscri Fortified Church
Contributed by: Andra, Our World To Wander
Romania’s Transylvania area is full of secret gems, including the medieval fortified churches dating from the 13th to the 16th century. These churches are hidden in picturesque villages where you can still experience the authentic rural lifestyle.
And one of these villages is Viscri, now famous for being Prince Charles’ favourite (he even has a property in Viscri ready to accommodate tourists).
What I love most about going to Viscri is the feel of entering a different world, one where time seems to stand still, where people live simple and rural lives. It’s a tranquil and peaceful place, perfect for a weekend getaway.
You can walk around its cobblestone roads, visit the Viscri White Church, enjoy some tasty local food made with fresh ingredients and discover the Transylvanian lifestyle by trying a homestay. The locals will be more than happy to have you as their guest.
The Historic Centre of Saint Petersburg and Related Groups of Monuments
Contributed by: Tom, Travel Past 50
According to UNESCO, what makes Saint Petersburg, Russia a World Heritage Site was the building “the greatest urban creation of the 18th century” on the swampy estuary of the Neva River. The realization of the vision of Tsar Peter the Great to build, over a very short period of time, a city of distinguished edifices and beautiful waterways, was indeed an achievement worthy of world recognition.
And, for the visitor to Saint Petersburg, a day spent walking around the city will certainly give a sense of the monumental scope of Peter’s dream. But, the best part is actually getting inside the palaces and churches which limn the waterways and seeing up close the grandeur of the execution of Peter’s and his successors’ imaginations.
First is the Winter Palace, which encompasses not only a spectacularly ornate palace, but also The Hermitage, one of the world’s largest and greatest art museums. The collection spans from ancient Egyptian sarcophagi to an unsurpassed array of French Impressionists.
The Russian State Museum has a more modern bent, and also includes a room full of enormous Soviet era murals. And, perhaps the most impressive art is the mosaic-covered walls of the Church of the Saviour on the Spilled Blood, built on the site of the assassination of the Tsar Alexander II.
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La Martorana (Arab-Norman Churches), Palermo
Contributed by: Steph, The Mediterranean Traveller
Palermo’s Arab-Norman sites are relatively new to the UNESCO World Heritage canon; they were listed as recently as 2015. And the listing is not one monument but a collection of 9 buildings and structures in Palermo and the surrounding area which represent the unique multicultural tendencies of Norman rule in Sicily (1130-1194).
Due to Sicily’s position at the crossroads of the Mediterranean Palermo was home to a number of different religious and ethnic identities which coexisted alongside one another.
In simple terms, in Palermo, you’ll find buildings that borrow heavily from the architectural language of mosques and churches from around the kingdom. Of the 9 sites, the main attractions are the exterior of Palermo’s ornate cathedral and the Royal Palace with its spectacular Palatine Chapel.
These manifestations of religious tolerance have taken on a new significance at a time of heightened tensions between Christianity and Islam.
TIP: My favourite was the interior of La Martorana—less packed with tourists than the Palatine Chapel, its dazzling Byzantine mosaic ceilings felt even more magical thanks to its intimacy.
Villa Romana Del Casale, Piazza Armerina
Contributed by: Talek, Travels With Talek
There is a spectacular Roman Villa on the way to Agrigento. It is the well excavated Villa Romana del Casale, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
If you are on your way the more popular Agrigento with its amazing Greek temples and other ruins, you may be tempted to bypass the Roman Villa. That would be a grave error. The Villa itself is every bit as impressive as the great ruins of the Valley of Temples in Agrigento.
The villa houses the largest, most complex and best-preserved collection of Roman mosaics in the world. How is it this is not well-known to everyone?! Built in the 4th century AD the villa was severely damaged at various times in its history until it was finally abandoned in the 12th century after a landslide buried it.
Excavations took place throughout the 20th century and the mosaics survived relatively intact. The intricacy of the mosaic work is outstanding. Standing there seeing these works of art is another one of those travel moments where you feel a connection to the past.
Contributed by: Jess, Longest Bus Rides
La Alhambra in Granada (southern) Spain is a popular UNESCO site for a reason. The Moorish palace has amazingly detailed tile work and archways. The gardens are gorgeous with flowering plants, fruit trees, and innumerable fountains.
Enter through the old twisting tunnel, Gate of Justice, and you can feel yourself passing back in time hundreds of years. Be sure to rent the audio guide as soon as you enter.
The Smartphone-like guide gives audio, video, photos, and invaluable in appreciating the entire area. Be sure and reserve your entry ticket as early as possible, since they sell out well in advance during the high season.
Keep in mind, there are free entry areas, in case you can’t get a ticket, so you can at least see some of this amazing place high on the hill overlooking Granada.
Historic Centre of Córdoba
Contributed by: Dhara, It’s Not About the Miles
Cordoba’s mosque-cathedral, La Mezquita, was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1984. A decade later, the designation was expanded to include most of Cordoba’s historic centre.
Cordoba was controlled first by the Romans, next by the Visigoths, then by the Moors and finally by the Christians again. For a long time, Jews, Moslems and Christians all lived together amicably in Cordoba. How cool is that?
Today’s historical centre of Cordoba houses monuments from the different periods in its history, with contributions from each civilization. The Roman presence can be seen in the Puenta Romano and the Roman Temple. The Moors left behind the Mezquita and the Alcazar, and the Jews the medieval Synagoga.
The Christians’ work is seen in the cathedral inside the Great Mosque. Such a lovely amalgam of religions, cultures, and architectural styles, all in one historic centre!
TIP: Visit Cordoba in the spring, when daytime temperatures are pleasant.
Historic City of Toledo
Contributed by: Jennifer, World On A Whim
Toledo, Spain immediately took my breath away. Not only is it a walled city seated atop a gorge overlooking the river Tajo, but it was known in the Middle Ages as the “city of three cultures” where Muslims, Christians, and Jews all coexisted peacefully.
Today, those religious influences are still very much a part of the landscape and the fact that Toledo’s historic centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site comes as no surprise. Toledo is only 70 km outside of Madrid so many people visit as a day trip. You can either take a train from Atocha, the main train station in Madrid, or a bus from Plaza Elliptic for minimal cost.
Once in Toledo, make an effort to walk around the historic centre and get lost in the city. If you’re feeling adventurous, try the traditional dish, partridge stew, for lunch or a pork dish called carcamusa. Highlight attractions include La Catedral Primada and the Mirador del Valle as well as the El Greco museum and monastery.
TIP: You can purchase a variety of souvenirs from the plethora of shops including marzipan sweets and swords. This is a medieval city after all!
La Sagrada Familia (Works of Antoni Gaudí), Barcelona
Contributed by: Justine, Latitude 41
La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain, is one of the most architecturally unique Catholic churches designed by the famed Catalan architect, Antoni Gaudí. I first saw a photo of La Sagrada Familia pre-Internet days from my Spanish History teacher and was astounded by its “melting” quality of the facade at first glance.
From its inception in 1882 until now, its construction is still in the works because of funding, the Civil War, and fires, and is expected to be completed in 2026. It’s Catalan modernism and organic structure make it a masterpiece of Christian symbolism. The white interior represents Heaven, supported by 18 lofty towers, geometric and nature-inspired figures, and its coloured-stained glass windows.
To get up-close views of the towers and sweeping views of the city, take the elevator up. Be careful not to get vertigo on the way down, as the only way to descend is through the spiralling stairs. Upon its completion in 2026, the Sagrada Familia will be one of the tallest and outstanding religious structures in the world.
Contributed by: Marta, Learning Escapes
One of my favourite UNESCO World Heritage sites and one I recommend adding to any Spanish itinerary is the city of Segovia.
Located less than 2 hours from Madrid, the city has been inhabited since ancient times and, over the course of the centuries, has acquired impressive buildings thanks to the Romans, the Jews, the Christians and the Moors, communities that all called Segovia home.
You can visit Segovia’s old centre in one day. Start your morning at the Roman aqueduct. It towers above the city and is an impressive engineering feat: it is almost 30 metres tall and was built with no mortar! Then, wander around the medieval alleys of the old Jewish quarter and take in the beauty of Segovia’s cathedral, in the city’s main square.
TIP: Finish your day with a visit to the Alcazar, the city’s castle, the jewel in the crown of this stunning UNESCO ancient city.
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Contributed by: Elena, Traveling Bytes
Skogskyrkogården, or Woodland Cemetery in English, is a Stockholm’s extraordinary landmark and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, one of a few that date to the early 20th century.
It is by far one of the most remarkable cemeteries in existence. Situated slightly off the beaten path, it is one of those understated treasures hidden in plain sight.
Skogskyrkogården was designed by Erik Gunnar Asplund and Sigurd Lewerentz. Their creation is a successful example of the integration of functionalist architecture and landscape.
When you enter Skogskyrkogården, unless you prepared yourself with a bit of research and reading, you might feel confused. Sunny summer afternoon is so serene and quiet.
Long shadows, a refreshing swoosh of wind, emerald green birches and dark Nordic pines seamlessly merge with striking modernist structures. Souls, nature and human beings peacefully share the same space.
TIP: The best time to visit is when the sun is getting down, and the shadows begin to grow. The sheer beauty of the place is astonishing.
Old City of Bern
Contributed by: Alyse, The Invisible Tourist
Bern is one of those underrated European cities you’ve probably never thought of! When thinking of Swiss cities the first places that are front of mind to most people are Zürich or Lucerne, rather than the country’s capital.
Being inquisitive, I enjoy visiting cities that fly under the tourist radar so naturally Bern was at the top of my list of places to see in Switzerland. And I was so glad I did!
As the Old Town (Altstadt) has remained almost unchanged since its founding in 1191 (yes, seriously) Bern was dedicated as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1983. It was so amazing to step back in time almost a millennia to wander the medieval streets and six kilometres of arcades.
The Zytglogge (Clock Tower) in the city’s beating heart rivals the Astronomical Clock in Prague with its numerous hands and dials indicating time of day, signs of the zodiac, lunar calendar features and more. As an icon of the city she looks amazing for her 800+ years of age!
TIP: Grab your morning coffee from Einstein Café. The café is located on the ground floor of the apartment building where Albert Einstein resided and developed his Theory of Relativity. Sip your coffee right where this genius made history!
If you’re interested, check out all my articles on Switzerland:
- 9 Inspiring Reasons to Visit Switzerland in Winter
- One Week in Switzerland Itinerary: Complete Guide for First Timers
- One Day in Geneva Itinerary: Uncover Secrets of the Old Town
- One day in Zurich Itinerary: Uncover Secrets of the Old Town
- 2 Days in Lucerne Itinerary: Best of the Old Town & Mt Pilatus
Swiss Alps Jungfrau-Aletsch Region
Contributed by: Joel, World Heritage Journey (YouTube)
As of June 2018, we’ve visited almost 350 UNESCO World Heritage sites, and one of our favourites is still Jungfrau-Aletsch Glacier, near Grindelwald in central Switzerland. We’re originally from Australia, the world’s flattest continent, so jagged mountains and huge glaciers are a huge draw for us.
The scenery is absolutely incredible, with snow-capped peaks, beautiful glaciers, great hiking on the glacier itself, and of course the incredible train tunnel that runs up to the observatory.
TIP: One tip we’d give to first-time visitors is to purchase the “Good Morning” ticket. You have to ascend on either of the morning’s first two trains, and descend by 1pm, but it saves a lot of money and gets you there before the crowds arrive.
And if you can, keep an eye on the weather and wait until the night before to book your tickets. No sense paying for expensive tickets if you’re only going to see clouds at the top!
Conwy Castle (Castles and Town Walls of King Edward in Gwynedd), Northern Wales
Contributed by: David, Travel With Little One
I’ve been to well over a hundred UNESCO World Heritage Sites, but one of my favourites is one of the very first I visited – the four castles that make up the Castles and Towns of King Edward I in Gwynedd, in North Wales.
The four castles that comprise the site are Conwy, Caernarfon, Beaumaris and Harlech, and they are all impressive in different ways.
Harlech is dramatically set on a former sea cliff looking out over the coast and Snowdonia. Caernarfon guards an estuary, its sturdy thick walls never breached. Unfinished Beaumaris is the purists’ favourite because of its concentric design.
For me, the most impressive is Conwy. Its eight towers dominate the town and surrounding area, in a romantic setting with the mountains of Snowdonia behind. We used to have annual family holidays nearby, and the sight of it was always guaranteed to lift my travelling spirit.
Edinburgh Old and New Towns, Scotland
Contributed by: Susanne, Adventures Around Scotland
The Old and New Towns of Edinburgh have been granted UNESCO world heritage status since 1995 due their contrasting and unique architectural character.
Like many visitors, I love wandering around the cobbled streets and narrow closes of the medieval Old Town which feels like walking through a historic film set, however it was never the most pleasant of places to stay and the poor living standards prompted the City of Edinburgh to design a new residential suburb for the wealthier inhabitants of the Capital.
A stroll through the grand streets of the Georgian New Town, which isn’t actually that new as it dates back to the 1700s, feels like a completely different city despite its proximity to the Old Town.
Visit The Real Mary King’s Close in the Old Town and the Georgian House in the New Town to experience what life was once like for residents in each part of Edinburgh.
Frontiers of the Roman Empire: Hadrian’s Wall, Northern England
Contributed by: Stuart, Go Eat Do
Built by the Roman Army during the second century, Hadrian’ Wall snakes through some of the most beautiful landscape in northern England. I regularly head to locations along the wall for long walks. In rural parts of Northumberland and Cumbria, remnants of the stone wall still stand well over two metres tall.
The wall was built, as part of a network of ditches and fortifications, to control passage into and out of the Roman Empire. I love that I’m able to stand by the wall and look onto a landscape that has changed little over the past 1,900 years.
It strikes me as remarkable that guards who manned this northern outpost of the mighty empire came from as far afield as southern Europe, north Africa and Asia Minor, during an age when the journey north would have taken far longer than today. The museum at Vindolanda conveys the wall’s story.
Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland
Contributed by: Roxanna, Gypsy With A Day Job
The first time I saw Giant’s Causeway as a child, was on a television commercial. I found those fleeting glimpses so compelling that I knew some day I had to visit. The geological structure of 40,000 hexagonal basalt columns was intriguing.
How was such a landscape even possible? It was no surprise that tales had been told, or that the legendary giant Finn McCool had created this wonder.
Giant’s Causeway is actually much more than the basalt pillars. Behind them is a plateau, and erosion has revealed iron rich mineral layers. These features tell the geological story of three periods of volcanic activity. UNESCO has referred to this as a prime example of the earth’s evolutionary history. The Causeway really does hold secrets within it.
Nonetheless, it is the stunning scenery which bring many visitors to the Causeway, with or without the legends, or the earth history it reveals. There are many other basalt features around the world, but in Northern Ireland, the contrast of the North Sea before it, make Giant’s Causeway something truly special.
Lake District, England
Contributed by: Rebecca, Almost Ginger
Though the Lake District is one of the youngest World Heritage Sites at barely one-year-old, it’s without a doubt my favourite because it’s where I grew up. Situated in the county of Cumbria in Northwest England, the Lake District boasts 16 picturesque lakes, over 150 peaks, miles of untapped countryside and countless quaint pubs.
The breathtaking scenery drew Romantic artists and poets like William Wordsworth to Grasmere and convinced Beatrix Potter, author of many children’s books including The Tale of Peter Rabbit, to live in Ambleside. Derwentwater was even used as a filming location for Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens; the cultural significance of the Lake District is limitless.
While beautiful, the unspoilt nature of the site means public transport is either unreliable or non-existent, so I recommend hiring a car. And while Windermere might be the most popular lake for visitors, try Coniston if you want a slightly smaller and less crowded Lake District experience.
Palace of Westminster (Houses of Parliament) London, England
Contributed by: David, Delve into Europe
Westminster has been the seat of political power and religion in England for a thousand years, and these buildings are at the very core of English and British identity.
Westminster Abbey is crammed with history, and is the venue for coronations of kings and queens, royal weddings and funerals. It’s also one of the finest Gothic churches in Europe. Next door, St Margaret’s Church is the parish church of the House of Commons.
The Palace of Westminster is better known as the Houses of Parliament. It’s one of the most iconic sights in the UK, Europe and, indeed, the world.
The Elizabeth Tower, better known as Big Ben after the bell inside, is a beautiful 19th century Victorian Gothic masterpiece. It’s also probably one of my favourite photographic subjects in London, one I’ve come to love over many years of shooting around the city.
Secrets of Castle Tioram: From a Highlander Clan Ancestor
How to Avoid Looking Like a Tourist in London, UK
What UNESCO sites in Europe will you add to your bucket list?
So that’s a wrap for some of the most magnificent UNESCO sites in Europe! After finding out why each world heritage site holds significant meaning and are our bloggers’ favourites, are you planning on adding any to your Europe bucket list you hadn’t thought about or known of before? Let me know!
If you enjoyed this article stay tuned for Part Five of my UNESCO World Heritage site series coming very soon (and here’s the series so far if you’d like some further UNESCO inspiration). I’d also love if you’d come and join me on Facebook, TikTok, follow me on Instagram or don’t forget to pin it to Pinterest 📌
Until next time,
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Second image credit: fxxu via Pixabay
All blogger images are used with permission from the copyright holders.
Hi how many world heritage sites are in Europe?
I believe there are around 400! Too many to include in a single article 🙂
Missing old cties of Salamanca and Cáceres and the roman city of Mérida. Unforgiven flor a realistic list of UNESCO heritage in Spain.
Hi Pebbles, this list was created by contributions from fellow travel bloggers, as I mentioned at the beginning of the article. I asked these contributors what their favourite UNESCO World Heritage sites in Europe were and these were their answers. There are many UNESCO sites in Spain and I know not all have been covered in this article as it is meant to be an overview 🙂 Thanks for your input!