Best of the best. Crème de la crème. Ranging from national parks, masterpieces of creative genius, ancient architecture, to whole cities—UNESCO World Heritage Sites take us on a journey back in time to the most significant legacies of humankind and Mother Earth.
Can you think of a better place to visit than the most exceptional examples of our shared human heritage? We often spot good prices to countries where you can find these exciting sites on our cheap flight deals page.
Since tomorrow I am visiting a UNESCO World Heritage Site (and one of the 7 natural wonders of the world—more on that next week), I wanted to share this list to inspire you.
I often research the UNESCO protected sites when planning upcoming trips and try to visit as many as I can. If you want to play around and do your research, I suggest using the official interactive UNESCO World Heritage Sites Map. You can search for specific sites, or filter the list below the map by countries, regions, or categories.
By the way, you might be asking yourself this question: how does a place become a UNESCO World Heritage Site?
For a place to be recognized by UNESCO, it has to be of outstanding cultural, historical, or physical significance and meet at least one of the ten criteria. They are classified as natural or cultural (or sometimes mixed).
Here are the 15 countries that have the most UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Italy—the home to the Roman Empire and the Renaissance—unsurprisingly takes the crown as the country with the most UNESCO sites, tied with the next country. There are 55 sites, 50 of them are cultural, and 5 are natural.
Four of the amazing sites are:
- The Archaeological Areas of Pompeii, Herculaneum and Torre Annunziata
This site consists of what’s left of the ancient towns of Pompei and Herculaneum after the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD. The remains’ fundamental value was the unparalleled insight they portray into Roman’s society everyday life at that time.
- The Historic Center of Florence
Home to many crucial art and literature figures like Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Boccaccio and Petrarch, Florence is practically a living museum of the European and the Italian culture.
- The Dolomites mountain range
It consists of 9 systems, counts 18 peaks and features the most beautiful mountain landscapes on Earth.
- The Historic Center of Rome
All within the city walls of Rome is UNESCO protected property. The main attractions include the Colosseum, Fontana di Trevi, the Roman Forum, the Mausoleums of Augustus and Hadrian, the Pantheon, and the Column of Marcus Aurelius.
I was just there last week on a long layover. Long layovers are great if you love to travel, unlike what all those who complain about them seem to think… there are worse things in life than spending a day strolling through Rome like I did, right ??
Especially since in this case the deal’s longer layover meant my flights from Montreal to South Africa cost me $550 roundtrip instead of $1,000 or more!!!
Rome is truly an impressive city to discover. A day isn’t enough, but it’s infinitely better than not seeing it at all.
With 55 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, China shares first place with Italy. As the home of one of the oldest civilizations in the world, China has 14 natural and 37 cultural sites.
It’s an interesting destination (I loved my trip there in 2017), but it also happens to be one of the best places to visit if you want to prioritize getting free nights in nice hotels.
Just by each signing up for a Marriott Bonvoy Card, you and your travel buddy can get 17 hotel nights in China for just $120 each (and potentially even more nights by traveling on off-peak dates).
The eligible hotels aren’t always near the top sights, obviously, but if you want to travel for less, you can combine less touristy towns and visits to some of the country’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Here are 4 top sites:
- The Great Wall of China
Considered one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the Great Wall of China is also the largest human-made structure ever made. It extends for over 21,000 km and is more than a thousand years old. It was one of the highlights of my trip, if not the highlight.
- The Forbidden City
Constructed as a display of the emperor’s power, the Forbidden City is a palace complex with 1000 buildings. It is located in Beijing, just outside of Tiananmen Square.
I didn’t do the full visit since it was relatively expensive and I prefer to travel more often, rather than see every touristy thing in every single destination I visit, but you can still walk within the complex for free. There’s a great viewpoint where you can see the sprawling complex from above, which was very nice (and also free).
- China Danxia
This natural UNESCO site consists of unusually colorful eroded sandstone formations, located in the sub-tropical zone of south-west China.
- Chengjiang Fossil Site
Standing as evidence for explosive evolution, the Chengjiang Fossil Site is one of the best-preserved fossil sites of Cambrian fauna. The fossils are estimated to date back to 541 million years ago.
Spain has 47 staggering UNESCO World Heritage sites—4 natural, 42 cultural and two mixed. Spain has been the birthplace of many creative artists, and its natural beauty is no secret among the travelers of the world.
Again, it’s a fantastic destination (the 2nd most visited country in the world), but it’s also the best place to visit in Europe for free hotel nights.
As in China, you can use 5 or 10 of your 17 free nights in smaller (yet just as beautiful) authentic Spanish cities and hit some of the popular sights before or after to minimize the cost of your trip. I’m spending almost all of October in Spain myself to take advantage of this great deal.
Make sure to see the following sites:
- The Alhambra
This fortress was the residence of the Moorish emirs during the 13th and 14th century. It is located in Granada, and more 2 million people visit it each year.
- Alcala de Henares
Founded by Cardinal Jiménez de Cisneros, this lovely town is the first planned university city in the world. Located just 30 km away from Madrid, Alcala de Henares has a grand complex of historic buildings. The most popular ones are the outstanding Colegio Mayor de San Idelfonso and the Monastery of St Bernard.
The parties at Ibiza aren’t UNESCO protected (yet). But the stunning biodiversity of marine life and the historic buildings are recognized as an important world heritage site.
- Teide National Park
Another site that isn’t on the mainland, Teide National Park is on Tenerife, one of the Canary Islands, and it is breathtaking.
Both of us Flytrippers co-founders were lucky enough to go on a sunset excursion to the volcano with the great owner of the Casa El Zaguan Vilaflor Hotel on our trip there, and it was gorgeous. You will be able to read our article about the Canaries trip soon.
The two-thousand-year-old German history has left many must-see attractions around the country. Germany has 46 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in total. Three of them are natural sites, and 43 are cultural.
Some of the most notable are:
- Berlin’s Museum Island
This UNESCO site includes the Pergamon Museum, Bode Museum, Museum of the Ancient World, New Museum, and the Old National Gallery.
- Cologne Cathedral
Over 6 million people visit the Cologne Cathedral each year. It is the largest and the most enchanting Gothic church in Northern Europe, with 509 steps leading to a platform offering astonishing views over the Rhine river.
We went there on one of our Flytrippers trips, and believe me, it’s an insanely huge church. I really couldn’t believe it.
- Roman Monuments in Trier
Trier is thought to be the oldest city in Germany. The Roman monuments, the Cathedral of St. Peter and the Church of Our Lady, offer some compelling insights into the Roman culture that was dominating this land at that time.
- Upper Middle Rhine Valley
Also known as Rhine Gorge, this Valley is a 40-mile stretch between Koblenz and Bingen. It got recognized as a World Heritage Site because of its unique mix of geological, historical, and cultural elements.
With 45 UNESCO sites, France takes the 5th place on this list. Although it is most famous for its exceptional wine and cheese, this country doesn’t lack any architectural or engineering prowess either.
The many sites are one of the reasons it is the most visited country in the world. We will soon share a detailed article about places to see in France since it’s one of our readers’ most popular destinations.
Here’s a peek at the four most outstanding sites in France:
- The Mont-Saint-Michel
This iconic island located in the northwest is one of France’s most unforgettable and symbolic landmarks. There are many attractions worth seeing—museums, fortresses, churches and of course, the glorious Abbey that’s resting on top of the island.
- Cathédrale Notre-Dame
Built more than 900 years ago, the stunning Gothic Cathedral of Notre-Dame is the most visited monument in France. It’s famous for having one of the largest organs in the world and enormous church bells.
Recently, it suffered a devastating fire, so keep in mind that the reconstruction may affect visiting hours.
We were lucky to visit before the fire, on that same Canary Islands trip I mentioned, and of course, it’s beautiful, but still maybe a bit less breathtaking than the Cologne Cathedral we just talked about, in my opinion.
Why did we combine Paris and the Canary Islands? Because flying to less popular European destinations is often expensive when bought on one itinerary. That’s our multi-ticket itinerary tip: just buy the cheapest flight to Europe (in our case, that was Paris) and then buy a separate flight to your destination. We saved 50% this way. It won’t always work, but it’s worth comparing.
- Palace and Park of Versailles
The royal castle of Versailles was built in the 17th century and was standing as a symbol of the absolute French monarchy. It is also significant for the elaborate embellishments of the sculptures, decorations, and the park’s outstanding landscaping.
- Gulf of Porto
One of the most beautiful regions in Corsica, the Gulf of Porto is full of natural reserves and breathtaking sceneries. The red granite cliffs, the Piana, and the Girolata peninsula creeks are just a few of the must-see natural attractions on this magical island.
Wherever you go in this incredible country, you’ll come across some jaw-dropping sites and breathtaking views. India has 38 UNESCO sites in total—7 of them natural, 30 cultural, and one mixed.
We sometimes spot half-priced deals to India and I can’t wait to discover this country: it looks incredible, it’s very affordable, and it’s one of the best places for lots of free Marriott hotel stays.
Here are some highlights:
- The Taj Mahal
The Taj Mahal is widely famous, and for a good reason. The emperor Shah Jahan commissioned it in the memory of his wife. He picked a beautiful place, too—this stunning monument is located by the river Yamuna in Agra. Furthermore, this white marble piece of Mughal architecture is one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
Standing as a testimony to the rich cultural heritage of India, the Khajuraho is a prominent UNESCO site. It’s a complex of Hindu and Jain Temples, located in the Chhatarpur district. The temples are most famous for the nagara-style, rock-cut cave monuments and lavishly decorated erotic paintings and frescoes.
- Nanda Devi and Valley of Flowers National Parks
Situated in the West Himalayas, these parks are home to many endemic alpine flowers, and exotic animals like blue sheep, snow leopards, and Asiatic black bears.
- Bodh Gaya, Bihar
Bodh Gaya is a significant religious site and place of pilgrimage. More specifically, many think this site is where Buddha obtained enlightenment. The site is built by the bank of river Niranjana in the southwestern Bihar state.
With 35 outstanding sites, Mexico holds the 7th place on the list of countries with most UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
I am currently in Panama and Mexico is a destination I’m considering for my next stop since there are many nice places to visit if you go outside the resort areas and explore. Many cities in the country also have Marriott Category 1 hotels. We spot deals in the $300s very frequently to this country that is so close.
Here are 4 top sites:
- Chichen Itza
Built by the Maya peoples during the Terminal Classic period, the ancient city of Chichen Itza holds the title as one of the New Wonders of the World. The main attractions include the sacred temple of El Castillo, the Temple of the Warriors, the Hall of the Thousand Columns, the Tomb of Chacmool, and the Tomb of the High Priest.
Teotihuacan is another notable ancient holy city in Mexico. Step back in time in this vast pre-Columbian place, famous for the magnificent Avenue of the Dead, the Pyramid of the Moon, and the Pyramid of the Sun.
- Ancient Mayan City and The Tropical Forest of Calakmul
If you travel to southern Mexico, you’ll find the site with the most abundant archaeological remains of Calakmul, a significant Mayan City. It rests deep in the tropical forests of the Tierras Bajas. This site is a mystical place where archaeology and ecology blend nicely.
- Historic Center of Mexico City and Xochimilco
Built by the Spanish on the ruins of Tenochtitlan—the capital of the Aztec Empire—Mexico City is one of the largest and most densely populated cities in the world. The main attractions of the historic center include 5 Aztec temples, the largest cathedral on the continent, and Palacio de las Bellas Artes. You can sometimes get a nice long layover in Mexico City with some of our deals to Central or South America, which is great if you love to travel, in other words, if you love to discover new places. I did it 2 years ago on the way to Colombia (what to do on a long layover in Mexico City) and Flytrippers’ other co-founder Andrew did the same on the way to Peru a few days later.
8. United Kingdom
The UK has an impressive 32 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, which include fantastic coastlines, dramatic bridges, and uninhabited islands. The main British Isles have 29 of them, and you’ll find the remaining 3 sites in the UK’s many overseas territories.
Since WOW air’s demise, flights to the UK are sometimes more expensive, but if you can’t find a deal there, you can sometimes combine a deal to anywhere in Europe with cheap intra-European flights and see 2 countries too!
Here are 4 of the top sites:
- Stonehenge, Avebury, and Associated Sites
Probably the most famous groups of megaliths, these two sanctuaries are an incomparable testimony to prehistoric times. Both hold impressive titles: Stonehenge is the most sophisticated, and Avebury is the largest stone circle in the world.
- The Forth Bridge
Okay, this is one that I can’t leave out as a structural engineer. Located in Scotland, this innovative bridge appeared on the list in 2015. Opening in 1890, the Forth Bridge was the first multi-span cantilever bridge. Today, it’s still one of the longest in the world, with a span of 2,529 meters.
- Canterbury Cathedral, St. Augustine’s Abbey and St. Martin’s Church
For nearly 500 years, Canterbury was the seat of the head of the Church of England. Both St. Martin’s Church, which is the oldest church in England, and St. Augustine’s Abbey are associated with the spread of Christianity in Anglo-Saxon kingdoms.
- Dorset and East Devon Coast
The Dorset and East Devon Coast is a mix of geological, paleontological, and geomorphological rock formations and fossils. It has been influential in the study of earth sciences. The area is divided into eight sections along the south of England.
Because of its breathtaking nature, Russia is home to 11 natural UNESCO sites. The country is also home to 18 fascinating cultural sites, thanks to its rich history.
Russia is definitely on my bucket list, hopefully, one day the visa requirement is loosened to make it more affordable for budget travelers like us. We sometimes spot deals to Moscow under $1,000 but they aren’t very frequent.
Here are 4 of the top sites:
- Red Square and Kremlin
A former residence of the Great Prince and a religious center, the Kremlin is the oldest part of Moscow. Many consider the St. Basil’s Basilica, located on Red Square, to be one of the most beautiful orthodox cathedrals in the world.
- St. Petersburg
One of the largest inhabited UNESCO sites, the historical center of St. Petersburg is a result of a large urban project that began in 1703. The main attractions include the Admiralty, the Winter Palace, the Marble Palace, and the Hermitage. There is a pro trick to visit Russia without a visa: a cruise to St. Petersburg.
- Lake Baikal
The south of Siberia is home to Lake Baikal. It is the largest lake in the world (by water volume), containing more water than all the Great Lakes combined, and also the deepest. Many consider it to also be the oldest and cleanest lake in the world.
- Wrangel Island
Situated in the Arctic Ocean, this remote island is one of the least-accessible natural reserves in the world. It’s known for having the highest biodiversity in the high Arctic. It’s also the last home of the wooly mammoth.
With 2 natural and 22 cultural sites, Iran holds the 10th place on the list of countries with most UNESCO sites.
Another country that we are passionate about and can’t wait to visit, Iran is a complicated country to go to for North American passport holders since a guide or host is required, making it very expensive for budget-travelers. But it looks like a wonderful country.
Here are 4 of the top sites:
Located 60 km northeast of Shiraz, the capital of the Achaemenid Empire of Persia, Persepolis, represents one of the most magnificent architectural complexes of the ancient world. The remains of the city, after it was burned by Alexander the Great, stand as a symbol of the first culture that welcomed cultural and ethnic diversity.
- Hyrcanian forests
The remarkable floristic biodiversity of the Hyrcanian forests was recognized by UNESCO fairly recently. The Hyrcanian forests stretch for 850 km on the southern coast of the Caspian Sea and are thought to date back 25–50 million years.
- Masjed-e Jame of Isfahan
Masjed-e Jame, also known as the Friday Mosque, sits in the center of the city of Isfahan. The construction started in 841 AD and lasted over 12 centuries. Because its construction lasted for such an extended period, the mosque represents the development of mosque architecture.
The ancient desert city, and its citadel, looks like a real-life sandcastle. Unfortunately, a massive earthquake hit the area and destroyed much of the city in 2003, also killing tens of thousands of residents. This is a reminder that we must see as much of the world as we can as fast as we can!
11. United States
The US is home to 24 astonishing World Heritage Sites: 12 of them natural, 11 cultural, and one mixed site.
Here are 4 top sites:
- Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve
With over 3.3 million acres of rocky mountains, wild coastlines, dynamic fjords, and amazing glaciers, this park is a pure natural wonder. The park is in Alaska, and you can only access it by boat or plane.
- Grand Canyon National Park
Another natural world heritage site, the Grand Canyon, is one of the most iconic locations in the US. This geological spectacle is a result of over 6 million years of erosion. Today, the Grand Canyon offers many activities for visitors like hiking, horse riding, and rafting. We enjoyed our roadtrip there during one of our first Flytrippers trips and our other co-founder Andrew went back to Arizona and loved every part of this very scenic state.
- Independence Hall
The place where the Declaration of Independence came to fruition, the Independence Hall is one of the most notable attractions in the US. It’s in the heart of Philadelphia, considered by many to be the birthplace of America.
- Taos Pueblo
A rare and outstanding example of the traditional architecture of the Native Americans, you’ll find Taos Pueblo in the Rio Grande’s valley in New Mexico.
There are 23 World Heritage Sites in total in Japan. Four of them are natural, 19 are cultural, and all are tremendously beautiful.
Here are 3 favorites:
- Shirakawa-go and Gokayama
Recognized as a UNESCO site in 1995, Shirakawa-go and Gokayama are well-known for their traditional mountain farmhouses built in gassho-zukuri style.
- The Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto
This cultural site includes 17 monuments located around the historic city of Kyoto. Most popular amongst them are Kinkakuji, Ginkakuji, and Nijo Castle.
- Mount Fuji
Known as the most iconic symbol of Japan, Mount Fiji is a sacred place and a tremendous source of inspiration for many artists.
Abundant in nature and history, Brazil is home to 7 natural, 14 cultural, and one mixed UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Here are 3 highlights:
- Iguaçu National Park
Home to the widest waterfalls in the world and many rare species, Iguaçu National Park is a remarkable, must-see wonder of nature. See our article about the best waterfalls in the world.
Salvador was the first capital of Brazil. Today, it remains home to many exceptional Renaissance buildings and brightly-painted houses.
- The Amazon Rainforest
Also known as the “world’s lungs,” the Amazon Rainforest is an incredibly vital ecosystem. It covers 5.5 million square kilometers and includes an enormous variety of terrain and wildlife species.
Australia is the land of sun, sand, and diverse landscapes. It’s home to 20 World Heritage Sites.
Here are 3 classics:
- Great Barrier Reef
The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest coral reef ecosystem, with over 2,500 individual reefs, 1,500 fish species, and 900 tropical islands.
- Purnululu National Park
The Purnululu National Park is in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. It’s widely popular for the Bungle Bungle Range landform, which includes quartz sandstone that eroded for over 20 million years.
- Sydney Opera House
Visited by more than 4 million people annually, this architectural masterpiece exceptionally blends creativity and innovation. Designed by the Danish architect Jorn Utzon, UNESCO recognized it as a cultural heritage site in 2007.
Canada is a country blessed with many natural wonders and 18 astonishing UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Ten of those sites are natural, 9 cultural, and one mixed. You can also read our article with 3 pictures of each province that will make you want to explore Canada.
Here are 4 notable UNESCO sites in Canada:
- Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks
One of the most renowned places in Canada, the Rocky Mountain Parks, consists of 7 parks full of fantastic mountain peaks, glaciers, waterfalls, caves, and striking mountain scenery.
- Gros Morne National Park
Located in Newfoundland, this park is one of the country’s hidden gems—a highlight of any trip to this fascinating island.
- Wood Buffalo National Park
This park is home to the largest wild bison population in North America. It’s the largest National Park in Canada, covering part of Northern Alberta and a small part of the Northwest Territories. It has been a natural world heritage site since 1983.
- Old Quebec City
This historic district is a unique example of an American (as in the continent) fortified colonial city north of Mexico.
Bonus: Greece and Turkey
We love giving you bonuses.
With 16 UNESCO sites each, the neighboring (and historical rival) countries of Greece and Turkey share the 16th place on the prestigious list. Some of the most astounding must-see attractions in the world stem from the whimsical nature and rich history of these countries.
Top UNESCO sites in Greece include the Acropolis, the Archaeological Site of Delphi, the Archaeological Site of Olympia, Meteora, Delos, and Rhodes. It’s an amazing destination, I enjoyed my trip there.
But not as much as my trip to Turkey.
Top UNESCO sites in Turkey include Pamukkale, the Selimiye Mosque, Göreme National Park, Cappadocia, Hierapolis, and the historical center of Istanbul. It’s still one of my favorite countries out of the dozens I’ve been to.
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Visiting a UNESCO World Heritage means witnessing the most exceptional examples of our shared human and natural heritage and choosing one of these 15 countries is a great way to see amazing places. One lifetime is not enough to visit all the fantastic places on our diverse planet, but, hey—let’s do our best!
Which UNESCO protected sites have you visited? Which one was your favorite? Tell us in the comments below!
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