Top 10 UNESCO Sites You Must See Keyword: UNESCO sites you must see

As of September of 2023, the total number of UNESCO World Heritage sites is an astounding 1,199! And each year, more sites are added to the list. With that many sites, it’d be impossible to visit them all within one lifetime. But don’t fret – I’ve compiled a list of the top 10 sites that have been revered as the best and most-visited sites throughout the years. If you can’t see them all, at least you can see the best of the best!

Here are 10 of the most-visited, highly-ranked UNESCO sites to see throughout the world.

1. Galápagos Islands (Ecuador)

What better way to kick off this list than with the first-ever designated UNESCO World Heritage site? The Galápagos Islands in Ecuador were inducted as the first of their kind back in 1978. Of the four criteria listed to be considered a Natural World Heritage site, these islands meet all four. The Galápagos Islands take you back in time, showcasing an expansive collection of flora and fauna seen nowhere else in the world. There are several native species here that date back to prehistoric times. Want to feel like you’ve just stepped into Jurassic Park? This is the spot for you!

2. Angkor Wat (Cambodia)

Spanning over 400 sq km (roughly 155 sq mi), Angkor holds hundreds of temple ruins aged over 1,000 years old. One of the best activities to do here is to watch the sunrise through the ruins – a once-in-a-lifetime sight. When you visit Angkor Wat, you experience a serene atmosphere of stoic French colonial architecture surrounded by peaceful rivers. This is the ultimate destination for relaxation.

3. Machu Picchu (Peru)

Grab your hiking boots and a camera and get ready for the adventure of your life. This site dates back to the 15th and 16th centuries to the Inca people who built it. The mountainous surroundings mixed with the ruins which have become a part of the landscape are a wonder to behold. Trek the Andes Mountains and take in the views from 7,000 feet above sea level. Don’t be shy – you may even make a llama friend here!

4. Grand Canyon (US)

As to be expected, one of the greatest natural landscapes of the United States has made the list – the Grand Canyon. It took 5 million years of erosion by the Colorado River to form these wondrous valleys and canyons. Whether you take a helicopter to the base, hike around the rim, or take a walk on the Skywalk, there’s no wrong way to take in the beauty of the Grand Canyon.

5. Thingvellir National Park (Iceland)

Feeling on-edge? Why not take a break from everyday life and visit the edge of two tectonic plates? In Thingvellir National Park, you can hike the boundary of the North American and Eurasian plates, taking in the lava walls and Northern Lights along the way. This UNESCO site is conveniently located just a 40-minute drive from the main city of Reykjavík. Discover the heart and soul of Iceland at the Thingvellir National Park and enjoy fine dining and evening activities in the city all in one stay!

6. Kandy (Sri Lanka)

Sri Lanka will have you singing, “I want candy!” In Kandy, Sri Lanka, you’ll find a city from the 13th century and a landmark featured in the movie Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984). Despite the relation, there’s no doom and gloom here but rather a beautiful architectural feat laden with paintings, golden elephants, and the tooth of Buddha! There is no shortage of experiences to be had in Sri Lanka, from embarking on a spiritual journey in Kandy to uncovering the history of its people to relishing in the flavors of the local culture.

For more information on Sri Lanka, here’s a link to a blog all about it! [Link to the Sri Lanka bundle blog can be added here, or sentence can be edited/removed.]

7. Petra (Jordan)

Another archeological wonder, Petra, has been the backdrop of many films as well, such as Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), Aladdin (2019), and so many more. It’s a surreal sight to behold, as this rock-cut structure stands at almost 40 meters high (131 feet). Carved out of the rosy-red rock, the main structure of Al-Khazneh, or “the treasury,” is said to date back to the 1st century AD. Standing in front of this epic architectural wonder, you can see how this place is the epitome of what makes a UNESCO World Heritage site.