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 flights 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 5 countries that have the most UNESCO World Heritage Sites (we’ll have Part 2 of the list next week for even more great places to visit).
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. 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 then 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 Site.
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, that 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 from 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.
- 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 Canarias trip soon.
The two thousand years 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 neither.
The many sites is 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 destination.
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 the 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 the 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, the Girolata peninsula creeks are just a few of the must-see natural attractions on this magical island.
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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 5 countries is a great way to see amazing places.
Which UNESCO protected sites have you visited? Which one was your favorite? Tell us in the comments below!
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Featured image: Rome’s Colosseo (photo credit: Willian West)
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