Looking to visit some of the best UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Europe? In this post, we covered some of the top sites you can visit!
It takes a lot for an area to be deemed a World Heritage Site. An area to become a World Heritage Site must either be rich in history and cultural value while also showcasing something unique about both the regional and human experience or be a breathtaking and relatively unspoiled natural wonder.
With just over a thousand UNESCO World Heritage Sites around the globe, these locales continue to be some of the most frequented areas in the world, and for a good reason.
Below is a list of just a few of the many UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Europe. These locations represent military history sites, cultural sites, natural wonders, and everything in between. These listed sites can serve as the starting blocks of planning a memorable trip to Europe.
Table of Contents
- Top 20 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Europe
- Fortress of Suomenlinna in Helsinki, Finland
- Acropolis of Athens, Greece
- Historical Center (Old Town) of Tallinn, Estonia
- Old Bridge, Old City, Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina
- Budapest, Hungary
- Old City of Dubrovnik, Croatia
- Bordeaux, Port of the Moon, France
- Škocjan Caves, Slovenia
- Old and New Towns of Edinburgh, United Kingdom
- City of Valletta, Malta
- Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia
- Cultural Landscape of Sintra, Portugal
- Santiago de Compostela, Spain
- Vatican City
- Ancient City of Nessebar, Bulgaria
- Kraków’s historical Center, Poland
- Medieval Town of Toruń, Poland
- Thracian Tomb of Sveshtari, Bulgaria
- Tokaj Wine Region of Hungary
- Palace of Westminster, United Kingdom
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Top 20 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Europe
Fortress of Suomenlinna in Helsinki, Finland
Construction beginning in 1748, Suomenlinna is an old maritime fortress located on an archipelago of six islands just off of Helsinki, Finland. The fort was initially occupied by the Swedish from 1748 to 1808, and then by the Russians until 1917, and then was won by and is now occupied by the Finnish who presently work to keep this marvelous site preserved.
As of 1973, Suomenlinna is no longer an operating military base. In 1991, Suomenlinna joined the prestigious ranks of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Finland.
What makes Suomenlinna unique is the vastly different roles it filled while under the various governing bodies. The fortress represents one of Sweden’s last attempts at maintaining their superpower status within Europe before being defeated by the Russians; it was one of Russia’s naval outposts that kept control over the Russian Empire, and for Finland, it represents their independence from Russia.
Nowadays, the islands of Suomenlinna are not only a historical site but also a thriving residential community. Visitors to the islands arrive on a ferry from Helsinki. Not only can visitors explore the expansive military fortress, but they can visit some of the many museums, such as the Ehrensvärd Museum of Swedish history or the Toy Museum, the Nordic Art Center galleries, or if visiting in the summer months, the Art Center’s theatre.
If none of the islands’ dozen or so cafés and restaurants interest you, Suomenlinna is frequented by Helsinki-natives as a picturesque picnic destination.
Acropolis of Athens, Greece
With some of the most delicate objects of classical architecture in Europe, the Acropolis of Athens is one of the most visited tourist destinations in Greece, and for a good reason. Initially built in the 13th century BCE, this famous cultural site was once the bustling town center of ancient Athens and the center of the Grecian Empire.
Even today, the Acropolis of Athens still commands the same power it did at its height in the 5th century BCE. It is an absolute miracle that this testament to human willpower has survived the test of time as long as it has. To honor this tremendous site, UNESCO added the Acropolis to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Europe in 1987.
Situated on top of a hill, visitors to the Acropolis can only ascend on the western side. Once atop the highland, visitors can explore the different monuments such as the Parthenon, the Propylaia, the Erechtheion, and the temple of Athena Nike, the patron goddess of Athens.
Not only will visitors get to immerse themselves within this little pocket of human history, but those who climb to the top will also be rewarded with a panoramic view of the romantic city of Athens, Greece. If you plan to go there during the day, it is recommended to jump on one of the tours. However, if you want to have as much of the Acropolis yourself as possible, go early in the morning.
After hiking up and down the hill to the Acropolis, visitors may want to step into the Athens University Museum to cool down and learn even more about what they’ve just seen as well as more about Greek history.
If you ventured up to the Acropolis early in the morning for a self-guided tour, treat yourself to breakfast at one of the many cafés or coffee shops after your hike back down to modernity.
Historical Center (Old Town) of Tallinn, Estonia
Once a visitor passes through the walls of the Historical Center (Old Town) of Tallinn, they are transported to a fairytale town of astounding proportions. This medieval city, dating back to potentially as early as 1219, is arguably one of the best-preserved medieval cities in Europe. Because visitors can walk the authentic streets and see many of the original buildings, or at least newer buildings where the original ones once stood, is why the Historic Center of Tallinn is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Europe.
Just a ferry ride away from Helsinki, this sprawling capital of Estonia has so much to offer any visitor. Only by walking through the town, you are immersed in Estonian culture and heritage. To maintain this historical feeling, you will be hard-pressed to find any symbol of modernity within the walls of the Old Town of Tallinn.
While many visitors to the Historical Center (Old Town) of Tallinn say that wandering the streets is enough to enjoy all the Old City has to offer fully, there are a few high points you’ll undoubtedly want to hit.
To get as authentic a feel as possible, reserve a table at the Olde Hansa. While it is a little more geared towards tourists, this restaurant has done its best to remain as true to medieval Estonia as possible. It only serves local, as historically prepared as possible, fare by candlelight.
The menu is entirely determined by what game they were able to catch and what produce is currently growing. After a large meal, be sure to visit any of the town squares and take a look at the various open markets. There, you can find desserts and snacks, little toys, and amber jewelry.
Old Bridge, Old City, Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina
This picturesque setting of Stari Most, known as Old Bridge, over the Neretva River represents much more than just a postcard home.
The bridge and surrounding area were deemed a UNESCO World Heritage site in Europe in 2005 for more than just its Ottoman history, but rather as a symbol for humanity and unity. This bridge connects one part of Mostar to the other due to the fact that the Neretva River runs through the city.
During the Bosnian conflicts, the more than 400-year-old bridge was nearly destroyed on November 9, 1993. However, in 2004, UNESCO and a team of engineers from UNPROFOR worked together to rebuild the bridge to its former glory. This rebuild symbolizes the reunification of the country and shows just how resilient Bosnia and Herzegovina is.
Mostar was officially recognized in 1452, although people have lived in this natural haven since prehistory. The town, located on one bank of the river, served as a trading post and stopover for merchants, while there was a fortress on the other side of the river to protect the town and surrounding area. However, after the Ottomans took control of the territory in 1468, the city grew exponentially.
Mostar is home to some of the best-preserved Islamic architecture in Europe, with Old Bridge being a prime example. After the many regime changes throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina’s history, from the Ottomans to the Austria-Hungarian Empire to Yugoslavia to the present day, Mostar has remained the cultural capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
If your travel plans are flexible, travel to Mostar at the end of July when visitors can enjoy watching trained divers from Mostar in a diving competition off of the Old Bridge. If your travel plans-to-do allow for that, there is no lack of entertainment in this crossroads of a town.
Due to the ever-changing governing bodies, the range of architecture within this medieval city is breathtaking. You can see mosques, basilicas, and medieval roads blending seamlessly with modern buildings such as the largest shopping mall in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Old Bridge and the surrounding city Mostar are symbols of unity and growth that showcase the determination of this small, unfortunately, underrated country.
If any city is to be put on the UNESCO World Heritage list in almost its entirety for culture, it’s not surprising that it is Budapest, Hungary. Often voted into the top ranks of cities to visit and live in, this cultural hub has much to offer. This jewel on the Danube River in Central Europe continues to be one of the most visited cities in the world, and for a good reason.
If any city represents the determination and human resilience, it’s Budapest. After natural disasters, warfare, changing rulers and regimes, Budapest still rose up to every challenge and thrived.
Nowadays, Budapest represents a little of medieval Europe, of the Ottoman Empire, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire and yet supports all of the hustle and bustle of a significant 21st-century city.
It is evident in the architecture you can see while walking around this breathtaking city and throughout the halls of just about every museum, castle, and religious center.
While in Budapest, there are several favorite stops every visitor must experience. Visit the namesake of the city by stopping at Buda Castle. The castle was first built in 1256, but all of the expansions were constructed between 1749 and 1769 in a Baroque fashion.
Located near the center of town, this once political powerhouse and home of the royal family is now home to a seemingly endless collection of Hungarian art. Visiting Buda Castle is like experiencing all of Hungarian history at once.
Many more of Budapest’s main tourist attractions are within walking distance of Buda Castle, such as Matthias Church and the fortress Fisherman’s Bastion. But if you’re looking to wind down, take a picnic to Margaret Island and do a little hiking and sunbathing or even take a dip in the Széchenyi Thermal Baths.
No matter what you desire, Budapest will have ample opportunity for you to explore and relax.
Old City of Dubrovnik, Croatia
The seaside cliff-side town of Dubrovnik continues to be one of the most dazzling and spectacular reprieves for travelers. Founded in the 7th century, Dubrovnik has stood the test of time, as well as the cliffs, have withstood the waves of the Adriatic. Because of this show of resilience, through natural disaster and warfare, the Old City of Dubrovnik joined the ranks of the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1979.
Unfortunately, not too long after its inclusion to the coveted UNESCO list, war broke out in the 1990s, and much of the town was damaged. In response, UNESCO leads a team in an attempt to restore the Old City to its former glory.
Located within the modern city of Dubrovnik, Croatia, the Old City of Dubrovnik is what remains of the medieval Mediterranean maritime superpower and trading port. Dubrovnik held significant power from the 13th century until the late 17th century when a fire ravaged much of the city. After this, Dubrovnik continued to be a key player in the Mediterranean trade, but never back at its previous status. However, that didn’t stop the city.
Nowadays, Dubrovnik is one of the more frequented towns by visitors to Croatia. Whether you are looking for clear-water beaches with some of the best sunsets you will ever see or to get lost in a little sliver of history, the Old City of Dubrovnik is the perfect stop.
As you enter into the Old City, the massive Onofrio’s Fountain, a still-functioning water fountain that dates back to 1438, welcomes you to step back in time. If you listen carefully, you can hear the din of nearby pedestrian traffic. Following that noise, you’ll be led onto one of the Dubrovnik’s main streets, Stradun. Here, you can take a break and enjoy some lunch at one of the many cafés, or you can take in the blended medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque Dubrovnik skyline from within the city itself and absorb the stunning sights of the many cathedrals and bell towers.
You can enjoy the various street performers and small museums or retire back the beach just outside of the Old City walls.
Bordeaux, Port of the Moon, France
With the second-largest amount of protected historic buildings in all of France, just behind Paris, it is no surprise that the Port of the Moon is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This large port city centered on the Garonne River was founded by the Romans in 56 BCE and has been a bustling town ever since.
Bordeaux’s harbor region received this nickname “Port of the Moon” from the crescent shape that the docks formed, so it was as if merchants were pulling into the moon. The historic buildings that lay along and just beyond the docks further emphasize this crescent shape to create a dramatic first impression.
Because it is a port city for France, Bordeaux, especially the Port of the Moon region, has been a cultural melting pot for centuries. Pair the combined human experience of more than 2,000 years with the various styles of architecture that dot the bay, and you have an ideal UNESCO World Heritage Site.
When visiting the Bordeaux region, going to a vineyard and winery is a must. If you’re flexible and enjoy wine tastings, aligning your travel plans with the VinExpo Bordeaux is a requirement. Held every other year, the largest wine festival in the world occurs in mid-June and showcases not only wine from the Bordeaux region, but all over the world.
However, if your plans are not as flexible, there are several surefire hits for visitors to Bordeaux and the Port of the Moon area.
Some of Bordeaux’s most beautiful buildings are just as beautiful on the inside. Almost every cathedral in the city serves as a small museum for the region. Not only that, but Bordeaux does not lack in art museums, with classical art, Renaissance art, and contemporary art museum in the city center. But nothing beats hunkering down at a café along the Garonne and watching the river go by while enjoying some traditional, casual French fare.
Škocjan Caves, Slovenia
This impressive natural cave system is often revered as one of the most beautiful and scientifically crucial in the world, earning it a spot on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Located in southwestern Slovenia, near the town of Divača, the explored sections of the cave system span about 6,200 meters, with more still to be researched. Because of the sheer size of this cave system, there are dozens of natural wonders to delight visitors of all ages.
The caves have been mentioned in history as far back as the 2nd century BCE. And even before commonly recorded history, people knew about the caves because human remains, predating the ancient Grecian Empire, maybe even as old as 3,000 BCE, have been found. Not only that, but people were living in the caves as recently as the Middle Ages. However, the most exciting thing about the cave system is the Reka River and the part it plays in the formation of the caves.
While caves are known for having underground rivers, the Reka River has played an especially significant part in shaping the Škocjan Caves. Because of the countless years of erosion done by the Reka River, the Škocjan Caves are home to one of the world’s largest underground canyons, which visitors can walk across with the help of a steel bridge. Measuring 460 feet deep, this geologic masterpiece alone can attract visitors from all over the globe.
Now, that’s not the only captivating element of the caves. Additionally, the caves are home to many different bat and bird species, many of which are only found near cave systems. They tend to reside in some of the easily accessible antechambers, and near the valleys formed by previous cave collapses. Simply exploring these easy to reach areas can make for a fun afternoon of light hiking and exploration.
Whether you wander around in the various openings or get momentarily lost in the otherworldly depths, the Škojcan Caves are a remarkable site that you’ll remember for the rest of your life. And when you’re done exploring the caves, you can explore some of the small nearby villages of Slovenia, such as Divača and Rodik.
The larger towns of Kozina and Razdrto are not too far away either. Or if you want to stay local to the caves and get the full experience, you can camp at the Dujceva Homestead and enjoy spending time in natural Slovenia.
Old and New Towns of Edinburgh, United Kingdom
This Scottish time capsule of a city near the North Sea joins the UNESCO World Heritage List in its entirety. Edinburgh is a perfect example of the ancient melding with the modern.
Founded in 1125, this hilltop capital holds so many secrets and stories that the visitor can sense them as they walk down the Royal Mile or up to the Edinburgh Castle. Edinburgh is compact enough that you never need to get on public transportation, and honestly, walking around the city is the best way to fully experience why Edinburgh earns its spot on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
You can be walking on cobblestone streets one moment and on modern tarmac the next. There are contemporary looking brownstones mixed within ancient structures. With Edinburgh Castle sitting on top of one of the most massive hills in the area, the Old Town of Edinburgh will make you feel as though you have stepped back in time to a medieval fairytale while the New Town of Edinburgh will make you recognize the progress of humanity.
Declared as a city in 1889, Edinburgh has served as the capital of Scotland since the 15th century. Due to its importance, Edinburgh spent much of the Middle Ages as one of England’s targets of military and political attack resulting in numerous wars and political and social reformations.
It wasn’t until 1603 when the Scottish King James VI from the House of Stuart ascended the English throne and was able to unite Scotland and England. Although there were still some religious tensions, the two kingdoms lived together more peacefully.
Despite constant rebuilding and restructuring that Edinburgh had to do, it is considered a cultural center for Scotland. This position has continued into modernity. Every August, Edinburgh hosts the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, which is the world’s largest arts festival with 300 stages where theatre companies can showcase their works, musicians can perform for massive crowds, and comedians can get their start.
Throughout the year, locals and visitors alike can attend almost every museum and park in Edinburgh for free, typically only having to pay for special exhibits. It allows patrons to learn about the history of Edinburgh and Scotland and also begin to speculate what roles Edinburgh may play in the future.
There is so much to see and do in Edinburgh that you may be overwhelmed by what exactly you want to do. If you find yourself at this loss, turn to Arthur’s Seat. This massive hill located on the edge of town, where some Iron and Bronze Age artifacts have been excavated, provides a breathtaking view of the city.
Depending on your level of hiking experience, the hike up can take anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes. But once you’re at the top of Arthur’s Seat and take in the view, you can point out individual streets and areas of Edinburgh to explore next.
City of Valletta, Malta
This ancient harbor town has served as a Mediterranean melting pot for just about 2,000 years, earning the entire city of Valletta a spot on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1980. The capital of Malta, Valletta, has been named 2018’s European Capital of Culture. Valletta has earned these accolades because it is indeed a walking museum.
Over the course of its life, Valletta has been ruled and/or occupied by the Phoenicians, then the Greeks, then the Carthaginians, then the Romans, then the Byzantines, then the Ottomans, then the Order of the Knights of St. John, then the French, then the British Empire, and is now ruled by the Republic of Malta as of 1974. So, as a result, Valletta’s architecture and monuments are representative of the city’s varied history.
A very walkable city, there is a lot to see and do in Valletta. The mild climate creates a warm and inviting atmosphere that welcomes visitors to explore all that the city has to offer. If you’re available to go in February, the Malta Carnival happens around Lent, and the entire town turns into one massive party before the fasting before Easter begins. If your travel plans are not quite as flexible, there are still countless things to see and do in this harbor town.
To get a better understanding of the history of Valletta and Malta, visitors often go to one of two places: the National Museum of Fine Arts and the National Museum of Archaeology. At the National Museum of Fine Arts, visitors can gain a cultural understanding of Malta as they absorb the artwork produced by local artists. At the National Museum of Archaeology, patrons can obtain a historical knowledge of the region and learn even more about the different groups of peoples that have lived on these islands.
But if you only have a limited amount of time, walk around the city. You will see cathedrals built in the baroque style; palaces turned museums, and different forms of architecture all around you. Then work your way to the Barrakka Gardens at sunset to get one of the most glorious sunsetting of the Mediterranean you will ever see.
If you have the chance, be sure to visit some of the other towns in Malta. Sliema and Gzira lay just to the north across Marsamxett Harbour. You can take a ferry from Valletta to Sliema, and in about an hour, you’ll get to explore an entirely new city.
Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia
One of the largest national parks in Croatia, Plitvice Lakes National Park’s natural wonder and beauty, helped it earn its spot on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1979. The foundation of this park’s phenomenon is the connected chain of 16 incredibly colorful and stunning lakes. These 16 lakes provide the environment with the necessary hydration, and therefore vegetation, to sustain one of the most naturally diverse areas in Croatia.
Plitvice Lakes National Park is home to hundreds of different species of insects, fish, and mammals. The most impressive of these is the wolf and the European brown bear because both of these animals have been hurt and pushed back by urbanization. Plitvice Lakes serves as a representation of natural Croatia and acts as a miraculous escape from our busy lives.
Plitvice Lakes National Park has several different hiking trails, depending on what part of the park you are interested in. The lakes are divided into two sections, the Upper Lakes and the Lower Lakes. The Lower Lakes are in the northern part of the park. The trails around the Lower Lakes are the closest you can get to the water and appreciate the natural, untainted beauty of the lakes.
The trails around the Upper Lakes are a little bit more challenging to get to since they require hiking at an incline. However, once there, you will be able to see the beautiful waterfalls connected to the lake chain. It is impossible to see all of Plitvice in just one day. Luckily, the parks foundation has thought of that and provides visitors with the option to rent out a room at one of their several hotels or a campsite along one of the lakes.
Plitvice Lakes is located just east of the E71 motorway. There are several small Croatian towns and villages along the E71 that make for a picturesque drive, such as Otočac, Švica, Prozor, and Ličko Lešće. Many of these locales are built along the Gacka River and are home to ancient Roman ruins. If you still yearn to be surrounded by water, the Dalmatian coast is only about an hour and a half southwest of the park.
Cultural Landscape of Sintra, Portugal
Located just outside of Lisbon to the northwest on the coast lies the municipality of Sintra, known to the UNESCO World Heritage Site in Europe list as the Cultural Landscape of Sintra. UNESCO defines a cultural landscape as an area that was intentionally created or designed a certain way by humans, and Sintra and its included surrounding area is a beautiful example.
Added to the revered list in 1995, Sintra was joined to the list because of its immaculately kept historic architecture, most of it dating from the 19th century, and how it stunningly stands out from its natural location. Sintra’s reputation has spread far and wide and results in countless tourists visiting the colorful municipality every year.
The leading cause for the addition to the UNESCO list is Sintra’s architecture and how it is designed. Not only are the many historic buildings in excellent condition, but they are also made of some of the most dazzling colors and look more like a work of art rather than a hillside town. It makes the buildings pop out of the hills and feel like a jovial, exciting place.
The area of Sintra has been occupied since the Paleolithic age, but a settlement was officially established around 3500 BCE. The Romans took control of the area sometime during the 2nd century BCE, and today you can still find Roman relics and ruins around the city.
Then, for a short while after the fall of the Romans, a band of Germanic tribes occupied the entire Iberian peninsula until roughly 700 CE when the Moors took control. It wouldn’t be long until the natives of soon-to-be Portugal decided to take back their country, and in 1128, they succeeded. This diverse history is evident in the architecture.
While the entire surrounding area is often unofficially considered to be the UNESCO site by excited tourists, several buildings in particular officially stand out to UNESCO. These buildings include the Pena Palace, Quinta da Regaleira, Sintra National Palace, Monserrate Palace, Seteasis Palace, Castle of the Moors, and the Ramalhão Palace.
The Pena Palace, the masterpiece of Sintra, stands where the chapel of Our Lady of Pena stood throughout the medieval period. The chapel evolved into a monastery and remained so until it was damaged when the 1755 earthquake rocked the region, and the monastery remained in ruins.
And then, in 1842, King Ferdinand II sponsored the construction of this Romanesque palace. Pena Palace was completed in 1854 and rested on top of the hill overlooking all of Sintra. Nowadays, visitors can tour the mansion and surrounding grounds.
The original Palace of Sintra, built by the Moors in the 10th century, no longer stands, except for the chapel, which was built sometime in the 14th century. However, in 1755, the palace was damaged by the earthquake, and so later that century, Queen Maria I rebuilt the castle as best as she could.
Another favorite spot on the Cultural Landscape list is the Seteasis Palace. This neoclassic palace, built in 1787, is two stories tall with large corridors and with sprawling gardens, much like many French palaces. The grounds are immaculately kept, which is doubly important because now visitors to Sintra can stay at the castle and feel just like a royal.
While most people travel to Sintra as a day trip from Lisbon, there is still quite a bit to do in the Sintra area. If you continue just a little more northwest toward the coast, you’ll stumble upon the Parque Natural de Sintra-Cascais.
This nature park is not only a beautiful place to hike due to the Serra de Sintra mountain range but home to the medieval Castle of the Moors, which also falls under the UNESCO’s overarching umbrella of the Cultural Landscape of Sintra. From here, you can get a beautiful panoramic view of Sintra, the mountains, and the Atlantic Ocean.
Santiago de Compostela, Spain
This Old Town of this medieval Catholic pilgrimage site has earned itself a spot on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list. Located in northwestern Spain, Santiago de Compostela is believed to be the burial site of Saint James. So pilgrims would follow the accepted path the procession of Saint James took to lay his remains in Santiago de Compostela.
The city itself was established in 585 CE, although it had previously served as a Roman cemetery. Some time in the early 700s, the Islamic army raided the city during its conquest of Spain. Unfortunately, this was the first of many raids and attempted raids on Santiago de Compostela, later attacked by the Vikings, raided again by the Islamic army, and then plundered by the French. Nowadays, Santiago de Compostela is a peaceful town that basks in its history and perseverance.
The centerpiece of Santiago de Compostela is the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. Started in 1060 and finished in 1211, this is the believed resting place of Saint James, so it attracts thousands of visitors a year, paying their respects as well as hoping to learn a little bit of religious history. During the medieval pilgrimage route, the cathedral served as the end. And with its striking, intricate Romanesque and Gothic façade, it makes for the perfect destination.
And because of its central location, visitors can walk from the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela to just about any other significant site within Old Town. Several popular destinations within walking distances are the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela Museum, which is a Fine Art Museum, the Museum of Pilgrimage, and the Praza do Obradoiro, an outdoor pedestrian square surrounded by several buildings of different architectural structures.
If you want to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city, you can retire to some of the parks located within the less dense areas of the town. In the south, you can go to Alameda Park that is filled with tons of historical monuments and many botanical gardens.
In the north, you can go to Parque De Bonaval. From here, you can see the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela as you walk along the paths laid out around the park. Not only that, but you can visit one of the old cemeteries of the city and see some of the ruins and feel a little part of Santiago de Compostela’s history.
The city-state of Vatican City has many names, but everyone knows it to be the capital of Catholicism. Located within the city of Rome, Italy, this cornerstone of the Catholic faith earned its spot on the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Europe list because despite all of the political, social, and cultural upheavals, Europe, and the world, have faced. The Vatican continues to stand tall.
Despite being officially recognized as a separate entity in 1929, the Apostolic Palace in which the pope resides has stood and housed almost every pope since 1377. There is so much history within the buildings of the Vatican City that if the walls could talk, they would probably never be quiet again. Because of this, the Vatican City was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1984.
While most of the Vatican City is not open to visitors, there are several areas open to the public: St. Peter’s Basilica, the Tomb of the Popes, the Vatican Museum, and the Vatican Gardens. St. Peter’s Basilica is the large basilica within the Vatican, and one of the largest in the world.
The Renaissance-era building takes beauty to an otherworldly level. It is filled to the brim with artifacts and art, most renown being Michelangelo’s Pieta, you will see something new to attract your attention at every turn.
Just below the basilica is the Tomb of the Popes, where all of the previous popes are laid to rest. The popes are buried in this specific spot because it is believed that Saint Peter is buried here. If you buy a ticket well enough in advance, you will receive access to the archaeological site. Just next to the basilica is the Vatican Museum.
This museum is home to the most extensive collection of private art in the world. While some people power through the museum to try to sneak a picture of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, it is worth it to slow down and to try to take as much in as you can.
Lastly, the Vatican Gardens are considered some of the most beautiful in Italy. However, Vatican City limits the traffic through the Gardens, and so you must buy tickets in advance. But if you manage to get a ticket, you will get to contemplate life and religion in serenity.
Vatican City is located within Rome, and so it’s just a short walk to the Tiber River, which you can then follow throughout the city and see some more of Rome’s most historic and breathtaking sites. The closest of these sites to the Vatican is the Castel Sant’Angelo.
Over the years, the Castel has had many different uses, such as a mausoleum, a prison, and a home to some of the popes, but today it is a museum where visitors can view art from the Renaissance era.
Ancient City of Nessebar, Bulgaria
Located on the coast of the Black Sea, this ancient town serves as a resort town for Bulgarian locals and tourists alike.
In 1983, this little seaside escape was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Site list due to the thousands of years of history that you can see just as you walk around on your beach vacation. Originally founded as a Greek trading city in the 6th century BCE, it eventually fell to Rome in 71 BCE.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire took uphold of Nessebar until the formation of the First Bulgarian Empire in 812. Then the city kept changing hands over the next thousand years between the Ottoman and Bulgarian Empires. It wasn’t until 1885 when Nessebar finally joined Bulgaria for good.
Nessebar is a bit peculiarly laid out. The town itself seems to be divided in two. You have the newer section of the city on the mainland. And then there’s a bridge over the harbor that you can either walk or drive across to the cobblestone streets of the Ancient City of Nessebar, which was originally an island.
If you enjoy exploring medieval churches, then the Ancient City of Nessebar is the place for you. There are 40 churches nestled within Nessebar, representing almost every dominant early architectural style of Europe from the early basilicas to Byzantine to medieval. Or, you can do as the locals do and hide out at any one of the many beaches dotting the southeastern side of the island or the mainland.
If you’re looking to branch out a bit, just outside of Nessebar on the mainland is Aqua Paradise, Water Park. Rated one of the best waterparks in Bulgaria, this makes a great little day trip.
If you’re more of an outdoorsman, head north to Emona, Bulgaria, there, you’ll find Cape Emine, which is a breathtaking seaside cliff hiking experience. The hike up to the vista is not for those afraid of heights, but if that doesn’t bother you, then it is worth the trip.
Kraków’s historical Center, Poland
Once the center of Poland’s political sphere, Kraków’s historical Center, was one of the early inductees into the UNESCO World Heritage Site list in 1978. Throughout so much of European history, Poland has been invaded time and time again. Unfortunately, Kraków has been razed several times, but just like the Polish spirit, Kraków always rises better than before.
Although not all of the buildings of the Kraków historical Center are the originals due to war and natural disasters, the entire center is kept in the original design. Kraków was first mentioned during the 9th century, and the Old Town was the political center from 1038 to 1596. Although the political sphere was moved to another town, Old Town Kraków remained a bustling city throughout the ages, and it continues to do so today.
Visitors from all over the world flock to Kraków Old Town to explore the medieval and Renaissance design and architecture as well as immerse themselves in Polish culture. Visitors can choose to walk around the Old Town or take a carriage ride through this fairytale city.
While admiring the various styles of medieval, Renaissance and Baroque architecture, visitors can move to the Main Market Square to see one of Europe’s largest public square and also duck into Cloth Hall for some exquisite shopping on the first floor and an art museum on the second floor.
Regardless of whether you want to visit the art museum, do some shopping, or sit at one of the many cafés and do some people watching, Kraków’s Historic Center makes for a wonderful afternoon.
Just outside of the medieval city walls of Old Town lies the rest of Kraków, Poland. If you want to continue your memorable adventure, head over to Wawel Castle and Wawel Cathedral, at the castle, you can learn all about the Polish monarchy as well as see some exquisite architectural details. At the cathedral, you can learn about the coronation process as well as part of the religious history of Poland.
Another popular destination is the Old Synagogue of Kraków. During WWII, the Nazis occupied Kraków and continued with their reign of terror on the locals. The Old Synagogue has since turned into a museum to educate visitors about the plights of the Jewish population of Poland. No matter what you choose to explore, you are sure to learn much more than you could’ve imagined.
Medieval Town of Toruń, Poland
The oldest preserved medieval town in Poland, the town of Toruń, officially recognized in 1233, joined the ranks of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Europe in 1997. This cobblestoned-street fairytale town nestled along the banks of the Vistula River retains almost its complete original network of roads and building layouts.
Historians have often turned to Toruń to gain a better understanding of the ways of ancient daily life. Not only that, but if you’re an astronomy or mathematics buff, this quaint town is the birthplace and hometown of Nicolaus Copernicus.
Just walking around the city often mesmerizes visitors to Toruń. Between stopping into the local shops, bakeries, and restaurants, there are several key points worth checking out. Make your way over to the Old Town Market Place. There, you can see not only the medieval town hall but also the mighty Toruń Cathedral. This sturdy, dominant medieval Gothic structure towers above the neighboring buildings, drawing your attention to the heavens.
Visitors can go inside and see the religious artwork as well as learn about the history of Toruń. To investigate a little more history about this medieval town, look for the ruins of Toruń Castle. Built sometime during the 1200s, this castle only survived until a 1454 civilian rebellion. However, just by exploring the ruins, you get a feel for exactly how grand and imposing this castle once was.
The exploration doesn’t stop there. Just outside of the medieval city walls lies the rest of Toruń. If the bakeries of Old Town Toruń didn’t satisfy your sweet tooth, you can head over to the Muzeum Piernika, otherwise known as the Gingerbread Museum, and learn all about this mouthwatering delight.
If you’re looking for something a little more daring, you can see if the MotoArena is sporting a motorcycle or car race. Or maybe you want to learn more about the famed Copernicus. There are several museums and tours dedicated to just that. Regardless of what you’re searching for, chances are you can find what you desire just around the next corner in Toruń.
Thracian Tomb of Sveshtari, Bulgaria
Located in northeastern Bulgaria, just south of Sveshtari, this ancient tomb site from the 3rd century BCE wasn’t discovered until 1982. This small tomb built into a hill is Getic in origin, which is a band of Thracian tribes who lived in modern-day Bulgaria and the general Balkan area. Several elements of this tomb earned it its UNESCO World Heritage status in 1985, just three years after its discovery.
Firstly, it is immaculately preserved. It almost looks as though it were built yesterday. Ten female figures around the tomb were carved so that they protrude from the wall. You can still see all of the detail on these carvings as if they had been meticulously taken care of for thousands of years. Secondly, this has been the furthest discovered Thracian site from densely populated Thracian areas. This discovery has also led archaeologists to believe that this may be the referenced Getan city of Helis.
The tomb may or may not be part of a group of discoveries. In the surrounding area, several other Thracian tombs and artifacts have been found, but none anywhere near the same preservation level. It has also led archaeologists to believe that this may be part of the ancient city of Helis.
The Thracian Tomb is not the most accessible site to get to. You will need to drive to the location. Within the surrounding area, you can find roughly 140 additional archaeological sites to explore. If you’re done with the history lesson for the day, you can take the 45 minutes drive southwest to Razgrad, Bulgaria. You can stay in this quiet town and see the sites and get an off-the-beaten-path feel of Bulgaria away from all of the tourist traps.
Tokaj Wine Region of Hungary
Snuggled into the foothills of the Zemplén Mountains, this seemingly permanent fixture of the Hungarian countryside earned its UNESCO World Heritage Status in 2002. These thriving vineyards have dotted the Hungarian landscape since at least the 12th century. And thus, this entire portion of Hungary has been dedicated to growing grapes for the famed Tokaji aszú wine as well as several other varieties.
This wine-producing region is taken so seriously that it is 1757, the entire area was given only the second wine appellation to date, meaning that there were specific rules and regulations the whole region must follow to ensure a fruitful yield.
While there are bits and pieces of artifacts and information here and there to suggest that the valleys of the Tokaj region had been used to grow grapes for wine as early as the BCE, there is no official mention until the 12th century. Regardless of when viticulture in the area officially started, there is no doubt that the lifestyle has dramatically shaped the territory and culture, thus deeming the Tokaj Wine Region a cultural landscape in the eyes of UNESCO.
Whether you are driving around the wine region and dropping in on different wineries yourself or you jumped on with a wine tasting tour, you will be blown away by the view. You will see stunning vistas of the vineyard after vineyard, rolling hills, and maybe even the occasional pocket of Hungarian poppies. And just as the sun begins to set on this glorious agricultural outpost, the golden light bathes the vineyards in such beauty that you’ll want to start a vineyard yourself.
After your leisurely tour of the Tokaj Wine Region, make your way over to the largest nearby city of Nyíregyháza for a night on the town. You can head to the Main Square for some casual café eateries and people watching or make a reservation at one of the critically acclaimed restaurants that dot the city. And in the morning, you can spend your day leisurely strolling around the Nyíregyháza Zoo, known to be one of the best in Europe, and take in the Outdoor Museum, which encapsulates much of Hungarian culture in fun, more interactive way.
Palace of Westminster, United Kingdom
One of the most recognizable buildings in the world, once the political center of one of the most powerful empires in the history of the world, the Palace of Westminster was deemed a World Heritage Site in 1987.
Located in the City of Westminster within London, in the UK, Westminster Palace is the meeting place of the Houses of Parliament. Due to the inclusion of the church in the British government, the Westminster Abbey and St. Margaret’s Church are included with Westminster Palace, and they are parts of this UNESCO Site as well.
Each of these three buildings has different construction dates. The oldest of the three is the Gothic church of Westminster Abbey, built in 960 as a Benedictine monastery; however, it was made into a church in 1245 and then joined with the Church of England in 1560. Every monarch since 1066 has had their coronation in the majestic halls of Westminster Abbey. It is also typical for rulers and other distinguished citizens of Britain to be buried in Westminster Abbey.
The next oldest building is the Palace of Westminster, built in 1016. The building burned in 1834, and the reconstruction finished in 1870. This imposing Gothic building is where many decisions about the modern world were made, having once been the political center of the largest empire in history. Just by being near the building, you can feel the power it holds.
Lastly, St. Margaret’s Church was built sometime during the 12th century and offered locals an area to worship near the original Abbey. After its reconstruction in 1523, it officially became the parish church of the Palace of Westminster in 1614.
Nowadays, tourists can visit the church during the day or even attend a sermon. All three buildings are located near the same intersection in Westminster, London. All you have to do is look for Elizabeth’s Tower, otherwise somewhat incorrectly known as Big Ben, and you’ll find your way.
Once you’ve finished dodging through the crowds of tourists to see everything you want to view at the Palace of Westminster, then London is your oyster, which is quite apt if you managed to get yourself an Oyster Card for the public transportation. Just within walking distance of the Palace of Westminster, you’ll stumble upon Trafalgar Square to the north, a war monument dedicated to the Battle of Trafalgar from the Napoleonic Wars.
However, if you continue from Westminster Palace to the east, past the Churchill War Rooms and St. James Park, you’ll stumble upon Buckingham Palace.
If you’ve planned your trip to London in the summer, you can get on a tour of the palace, but if not, it’s still lovely to look at. If you want something away from the hustle and bustle, jump on the famed Underground and take it to the end of the Central Line at Richmond.
Another couple of miles away from the tube station is Richmond Park. There, you can get lost in nature while still keeping a view on the London skyline. No matter what your fancy, in London you will always find somewhere to go or something to do. Just like English writer Samuel Johnson said, “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.”
So the next time you visit Europe, be sure to visit some of these cultural heritage historic sites. These UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Europe are easily some of the most picturesque places in Europe, if not the world. So take a break from the hustle and bustle of the modern world and step back in time to these truly monumental locales and feel at one with humanity.
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