Sure, there are special destinations to visit all over the world. Some of our favorite places, especially, will be those marked by a private moment, an inside joke, or unique occasion; remember the first time you journeyed outside of your home country, or that secret coffee shop off the beaten path that served the best cappuccino you've ever tasted? Traveling, in large part, is certainly what you make of it and great memories are yours to create.
But then there are places that hold a monumental significance not only to those who place personal value on the spot with intimate experiences, but to the entire world and humanity on the whole. We're not only talking about aesthetic value or lengthy history here; these places define the unified culture of mankind and highlight all that we hold dear as inhabitants of planet Earth, offering a surefire "wow" factor for anyone who comes to visit. What are these magnificent places called? Why, UNESCO World Heritage Sites, of course!
With plenty of mentions throughout the realm of travel, you may be wondering to yourself; exactly what is a UNESCO world heritage site?
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) established a list of World Heritage sites as a means of identifying places of intrinsic and universal value to all mankind. According to UNESCO's mission statement, "World Heritage sites belong to all the peoples of the world, irrespective of the territory on which they are located." An underlying goal of collective responsibility towards preservation and cooperation in keeping World Heritage sites pristine for generations to come permeates the UNESCO foundation. "Heritage is our legacy from the past, what we live with today, and what we pass on to future generations. Our cultural and natural heritage are both irreplaceable sources of life and inspiration." A UNESCO World Heritage site can be anything, from natural sites like mountains, rivers, lakes, and islands, to cultural sites like monuments, churches, compounds, or even entire cities.
The World Heritage sites are divided into two main categories, natural and cultural, and must pass a rigorous process of application and judgment before being inducted. Any country in the world can apply for a specific site to become a World Heritage site, but they must first draft a list of tentative sites and submit a detailed plea for each location explaining why it qualifies as a place of global significance. To help normalize the standards that define World Heritage sites, UNESCO drafted a series of critereon that candidate sites could be judged by; each site must satisfy at least one of the criteria in order to qualify.
Almost all of these iconic attractions are open to the public and visiting the best UNESCO world heritage sites is as easy as finding one that interests you! Some are museums or buildings that will charge admission for entry, but the sites are usually open-air spectacles that you can view from afar or experience just by passing through. If you've already got your vacation destination planned, check out the world heritage sites map below to see what may be worth visiting in the area, or plan an international road trip that tours all the once-in-a-lifetime spots you've always wanted to see. Visiting the best UNESCO world heritage sites is an experience that tops any avid travelers bucket list so, regardless of where you're spending your holiday, you'll want to take in as many as possible during your time spent abroad.
What's the cheapest way to get around while visiting world heritage sites? Find out here!
Get some inspiration and plan a tour of UNESCO sites with the help of our in-depth road trip planners.
You may be wondering, out of the many nations and states in Europe what country has the most World Heritage sites? Although not an overall judge of a country's touristic value, there are several European nations full of UNESCO sites that travelers come from around the globe to visit! Here is a list of UNESCO World Heritage sites by country, ordered according to total number of sites: