The world is filled with remarkable places including natural phenomenon, architecture forgotten by ancient civilizations, and places of archaeological importance which can help better under the evolution of our planet, as well as the life on it.
The cultural, historical, or natural significance of these beloved landmarks and destinations is obvious, which is why they have been given the status of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site. There are more than 1,000 sites listed as UNESCO sites, Road Affair reports, but there are some that are a lot more popular than others.
Among the most-visited locations in the world include The Taj Mahal, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, and Arizona’s Grand Canyon, all of which are well known, but there are also other, no less-fascinating destinations, that fewer people are familiar with. Everyone has their favorites, but a few that should be on traveler’s radars range from the Socotra Archipelago, that has one of the most unusual landscapes and trees that date back 20 million years, to Wadi Al-Hitan, or Whale Valley, the destination where ancient fossils of a suborder of whales can be found.
Below are 20 UNESCO World Heritage Sites that should be on every traveler's bucket list because of their outstanding universal value.
20 The Leshan Giant Buddha Is An Impressive 71-Meter Giant Sculpture
The Leshan Giant Buddha is exactly what the name suggests it is, a giant statue of Buddha. The stone sculpture is 71-meters tall and can be found in the east of Leshan City, in the Sichuan Province in China.
According to Travel China Guide, in 1996 the area of the statue was listed among the UNESCO World Heritage sites. The reason being that this statue is truly special and took over 90 years to carve. Construction began during the Tang Dynasty in 713, and only ended in the year 803.
19 The Wadden Sea Plays A Special Role In The Conservation Of Waterbirds
If you are traveling to Europe you may want to stop over at the Wadden Sea, a zone in the southeastern part of the North sea that covers areas of the Netherlands, Germany, and Denmark. What it is, according to UNESCO, it the largest “unbroken system of intertidal sand and mud flats in the world.”
The sea and wetland environment was added to the World Heritage List in 2009 because of its diversity. It's home to many species, including migratory birds, and according to the site, the area plays an important role in the conversation of African-Eurasian migratory waterbirds.
18 The Beauty That Is Giant's Causeway Formed Around 60 Million Years Ago
Northern Ireland’s Giant's Causeway is a breathtaking collection of basalt columns and is of extreme geological importance. Located on the coast of Antrim, Giant's Causeway was added to the World Heritage List in 1986, which was the same year that the visitor center opened, according to Giant’s Causeway Official Guide.
The location is a popular tourist attraction and for good reason. According to the UNESCO organization, the area is made up of 40,000 black basalt columns, which formed around 60 million years ago after a volcanic explosion.
17 Ilulissat Icefjord Is One Of The Few Places Ice Gets Carved Into The Sea
The Ilulissat Icefjord is a tidal fjord which can be found in Greenland and it’s a beautiful collection of icebergs, that according to Visit Greenland have been “calved from the Sermeq Kujalleq glacier one by one.”
This is one of the very few places where the ice gets carved into the sea. And according to UNESCO, this site has helped scientists better understand climate change and icecap glaciology, which is why it has been of interest for more than 250 years. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004.
16 Rock Islands Southern Lagoon Were Once Home To An Ancient Civilization
Quite possibly one of the most beautiful places in the world is the collection of 445 limestone islands that form the Rock Islands Southern Lagoon. The islands are almost mushroom shaped and are uninhabited by people, although the remnants of villages from the 17th and 18th century remain. It’s also a destination that is home to multiple bird species and marine life, including, according to UNESCO, 13 species of sharks, and dugongs (which WWF notes are cousins of the manatee). The site became a World Heritage Site in 2012.
15 The Socotra Archipelago Has Fascinating Trees That Are 20 Million Years Old
The Socotra Archipelago is made up of four islands and two rocky islets, and according to UNESCO, the reason this site was declared a World Heritage Site in 2008 is because it has a wide variety of plant and animal life. Interestingly, a large percentage of the plant, reptile and snail species that can be found here cannot be found anywhere else in the world.
It’s also a remarkably beautiful destination thanks to the unique landscape and fascinating trees, which, according to Metro, date back 20 million years.
14 Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine Contributed To The Economic Development Of Japan
You can find the Iwami Ginzan silver mine in the city of Oda in Japan. According to Japan Guide, the mine was discovered in the 16th century and was mined for 400 years, and UNESCO reports that the mines contributed to the economic development of Japan.
Around 50 years ago, the preservation of the site began. In 2007, it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and according to Japan Guide, the site can be divided into three areas which include mine shafts and ruins, as well as temples.
13 Rietveld Schröder House Is An Example Of The De Stijl Movement
In comparison to some of the natural sites that are a part of the World Heritage List, the Rietveld Schröder House may seem slightly underwhelming because what it is, is a house that was built in 1924.
The reason this building is of significance is that it was built by Dutch architect Gerrit Rietveld who was commissioned to design a house for socialite Truus Schröder-Schräder. And according to UNESCO, the building is an example of the De Stijl artists and architects in the Netherlands in the 1920s. If you love architecture, then this may be worth a visit!
12 The Stone Circles of Senegambia Are An Architectural Feat
The Gambia in central Senegal is home to a World Heritage Site, and a very interesting one at that; the Senegambian Stone Circles. The average stones are 2 meters high and weigh up to 7 tons, Ancient Origins reports, and they are carved out of laterite.
There are more than 1,000 of these stones spreading out over an impressive distance of 350 km in length, which is quite an architectural feat. Something which UNESCO realized in 2006 and assigned it the World Heritage status.
11 Honghe Hani Rice Terraces Is One Of The Most Intricate And Beautiful Farming Systems In The World
The Honghe Hani Rice Terraces in China are a beautiful system of Hani rice growing terraces, and according to UNESCO, this intricate system covers over 1,000,000 acres. Also, the terraces date back 1,200 years and were reportedly constructed to allow access to water for the farming slopes, from the forests.
The terraces were designated a World Heritage Site in 2013. It is home to 82 villages, and the farming system also has cattle, ducks, fish, and eels, which all contribute to the production of the rice.
10 Vredefort Dome Is The Oldest Crater Impact Site
Vredefort Dome is a geological marvel and the oldest impact crater on Earth. It is located around 90 minutes from Johannesburg in South Africa, Tripadvisor reports. And according to UNESCO, the impact crater dates back 2,023 million years.
Apart from being the oldest impact crater, it is also the largest (running for 190 km) and most deeply eroded. In 2005, the site was listed on the UNESCO World Heritage Site and is of geological importance as it helps us better understand the Earth and how the planet has evolved.
9 Be Prepared To See A Lot Of Flamingos At The Kenya Lake System In The Great Rift Valley
The Great Rift Valley comprises of three inter-linked relatively shallow lakes, and UNESCO notes that the area covers 32,034 hectares. The reason why this area is of significance is that it is the home to some of the most diverse bird species in the world, as well as 13 threatened species.
This biologically diverse area was awarded the title of World Heritage Site in 2011, and interestingly, it’s also home to 4 million Lesser Flamingos, who, for most of the year, spend their time in the three lakes.
8 The Fagus Factory Is One Of The Earliest Modernist Buildings
This is probably not the most visited World Heritage Site, but the Fagus Factory in Alfeld on the Leine in Germany is an important place. It is a shoe factory and a great (and one of the first) example of modern architecture and industrial design.
According to Germany Travel, the building was constructed in 1911 and designed by architects Adolf Meyer and Walter Gropius, who created something that was completely different from the designs of the time, evident by the glass panels and contemporary aesthetics.
7 The Struve Geodetic Arc Helped Determine The Shape And Size Of The Earth
The shape and size of the Earth has been something that philosophers have been contemplating since 4th Century B.C., but these answers became easier to answer in the 16th Century thanks to the invention of a measuring technique known as triangulation, UNESCO reports. The Struve Geodetic Arc (named after Friedrich Georg Wilhelm von Struve) is a series of triangulations that allowed for the first accurate calculation of the size and shape of the Earth.
The survey triangulations start in Hammerfest in Norway and run until the Black Sea, a distance of over 2,820 km.
6 Wadi Al-Hitan, Or Whale Valley, Is The Location Of Important Whale Fossils
There are many interesting places in this world that look as though they are from a Martian land, and the Wadi Al-Hitan, or Whale Valley, in Egypt, is one of these places. Declared a World Heritage Site in 2005, this area of desert contains fossils of a now extinct suborder of whales, and according to Atlas Obscura, it’s a destination of great importance because the fossils differ from that of the modern-day whales we know today because they had hind legs — suggesting that these creatures were once land mammals.
5 Rapa Nui National Park Is Home To These Mysterious Stone Statues
The Rapa Nui National Park can be found in Easter Island in Chile, and the reason this is a designated World Heritage Site is because it's representative of the Rapa Nui culture and serves as an important archeological site.
It is also a place to see the impressive, and very large, stone figures known as moai, which were carved by Polynesian settlers around 700 A.D., Green Global Travel reports. The publication notes that while 887 statues remain today, the reason for their construction remains a mystery.
4 Chan Chan Was Once The Largest City In The Americas
There are many reasons to travel to Peru besides Machu Picchu, and Chan Chan is one of those reasons. Established in a coastal desert, according to the Smithsonian Mag, this now the uninhabited city was once the biggest in the Americas and dates back to the Chimú civilization.
The publication reports that Chan Chan was the capital of the ancient civilization, who existed from A.D. 850 to around 1470, and during the city’s height of popularity, there were around 60,000 people living here.
Here you will find impressive temples, royal burial chambers, and broad plazas, which offer a glimpse into what life in this city would have been like at the time, Lonely Planet reports.
3 Nemrut Dag Reflects The Artistic Achievements Of The Hellenistic Period
Nemrut Dag in located on Eastern Taurus mountain range in southeast Turkey, and is yet another location with impressive architecture from ancient civilizations, this time the artistic achievements of the Hellenistic period.
According to UNESCO, the site was built as a temple-tomb and house of the gods commissioned by Hellenistic King Antiochus I of Commagene (69-34 B.C.). Despite the belief that the Nemrut Dag may contain the remains of King Antiochus, Atlas Obscura reports that archeologists have not been able to find evidence that this was, in fact, his burial chamber.
2 The Wudang Building Complex Are Ancient Buildings Set In A Scenic Landscape
The Wudang Building Complex is situated on the slopes of the Wudang mountains in the Hubei Province, China, but the scenic landscape is not the only reason why the ancient buildings were awarded the title of UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994. These buildings, according to UNESCO, are of great significance because they are an example of the artistic styles of the Yuan, Ming, and Qing dynasties.
According to Travel China Guide, construction of the complex first started in the Tang dynasty (618-907) and during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), several more structures were added.
1 Buffalo Jump Has A Lot Of History
In southwest Alberta, you can find the Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump, which according to UNESCO contains the marked trails of an aboriginal camp and the location of many American Bison (more commonly referred to as buffalo) skeletons.
This location is one of the best-preserved buffalo jumps in the world, Travel Albert reports. And according to Atlas Obscura, the site was used for so long that buffalo skeletons have been found 40 feet underground. It was the practice of the indigenous peoples of the North American to use their expert knowledge of the bison to drive them toward the end of the cliff.