visiting UNESCO World Heritage sites

What do Casa Batlló (a funky modernist house designed by Gaudí in the early 1900s) and the Pantheon (a Roman temple built in 126 AD) have in common?¹ They are both listed among UNESCO World Heritage sites.

The World Heritage List includes 890 properties forming part of the cultural and natural heritage which the World Heritage Committee considers as having outstanding universal value.

Having been provoked to investigate the question by a comment on my last post, I found myself going further down the rabbit hole to look carefully through the list. I observed that I have visited far more such sites than I had realized.

Those places listed were among the most memorable places–dramatic, intriguing, charming or downright awe-inspiring– that I have been to in my life. I would gladly return to any of them.

What’s more, many of the places that are on my mental list of places to visit before I die are on that list: the Taj Mahal, the Great Wall, the pyramids of Egypt, to name a few. Still other places I recognized from the travel tales and photos of my mother and grandmother–places I would love to visit as well.

All of these things have made me realize what an incredible resource this list is. I now have it in my head that in the years to come, I will expressly make efforts to visit more sites on the list. I’m going to consider this a grand checklist of wonders of the world.

Below I have listed the sites that I have been to so far. I count that I have visited 24 sites in 9 countries.

How about you? Have you been to any World Heritage sites? Are there places on the list that you long to visit?

UNESCO Word Heritage Sites I have visited²

United States

  • Mesa Verde National Park: This was one of our regular haunts of summer camping trips with my grandmother and sister.
  • Grand Canyon National Park: I went there on a separate camping trip with just my grandmother, when I was a teenager. (I can’t remember the year.)

Japan: I visited Japan in 2004. I went to a conference in Nara, and stayed a few days in Kyoto as well. (I want to go back.)

Heian Shrine in Kyoto.

The giant Buddha in Nara.

Brazil: I visited these sites in 1991, during my semester abroad as an undergrad.

United Kingdom

  • Tower of London: I know I went there when I was 9 years old, but have little memory. I also revisited the Tower in 2005 with John.
  • City of Bath: visited in 2005

At the Roman Baths in Bath.

France: I lived in France for 2 years, though they weren’t consecutive years. The first was in 1980, the second in 1988. Some of the sites here were visited during the first year, some the second. More recently, I visited Paris and Versailles in 2007.

A view of the Seine showing Notre Dame.


  • Völklingen Ironworks: John, Phoebe and I headed here as an excursion from Saarbrücken, during our stay there for a conference in 2007. It was an amazing place, and I would love to return there with more time to explore and photograph. (I posted some photos from that trip before.)

The Völklingen Ironworks as seen from the train station in Völklingen.


  • Swiss Alps Jungfrau-Aletsch*: I’m not sure whether or not to count this one. I visited Switzerland with my mother on our European trip of 1984, but I don’t remember exactly where we went. I do know we saw some Alps, though…

Italy: I have been to Italy two times. The first time was in 1984, on a trip around Europe by train with my mother. We visited Florence and Venice. The second time was in 1988, when I travelled with a high school friend. We went to Rome and Florence by bus (from France), and stopped in Pisa as well.

My trip to Spain was just this past September (2009). (I want to go back.)

Columns in the Park Güell in Barcelona.

Details from inside Alcázar in Sevilla.

¹ Aside from being 2 of Sally’s favorite buildings on earth, that is.

² Places marked by an asterisk are those where either I have not been to every monument within a listing, or where I am not certain whether the particular location I visited falls within a region listed.³

³ I haven’t been to the Historic Centre of Brugge, but I did just recently see the movie In Bruges, which makes me feel a bit like I’ve been there. (Or at least like I’d like to go there…)

images: These are photos I took on various trips since 2004. One of these days I hope to unearth and scan photos from my trips before the days of digital cameras…

23 thoughts on “visiting UNESCO World Heritage sites

    1. Yeah, that is one very cool name, Painted. It would be worth going there just to be able to say that you’d been there.

      As for getting delisted, I read about a couple of cases. (Did I mention this was a rabbit hole?) Here’s what I remember: In one case, a new bridge was built too close to a historic building, which was believed to mar the integrity of the site. In another case, a wildlife reserve property was greatly reduced in area so that the land could be used commercially. Or maybe they got in trouble for being too rowdy, and threw too many keggers.

  1. So, you realize that the one I considered different from the other two mentioned in my comment on the last post was the Pantheon, right??

    Okay, so I was going to go to bed, but then I read this post and realized I had to count my UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

    I’ve been to quite a few (about 30) in 15 different countries, mostly in Europe (and the majority in Italy). Like you, Alejna, I wasn’t 100% sure of some of them. I won’t go into great detail here, other than to say that I lived in Rome for 4 years, which gave me time to travel a lot in Italy and in Europe, so most of the ones I’m listing here were seen during that time (though not the ones in the U.S., of course, all of which I saw before finishing grad school and none of which I have been to since).

    Grand Canyon National Park (very briefly in winter)
    Yosemite National Park (every summer for several years in childhood)
    Hawaii Volcanoes (1991)

    Historic center of Vienna

    Historic Center of Brugge

    Kronborg Castle (possibly where Shakespeare thought Hamlet lived, since the place is at Helsingore)

    Paris–banks of Seine (etc.)
    Lyons* (wasn’t clear to me exactly what in Lyons was the site, but I did visit there for spring break of my sophomore year of college when my mother spent a few months doing research at a cancer institute there)

    Cologne Cathedral
    (no sites in Munich? Shame, that’s where I’ve spent most of the time I’ve spent in Germany)

    Archaeological Ensemble of the Bend of the Boyne

    ITALY (take a deep breath…)
    Historic Center of Rome, Vatican City, etc. (this hardly seems fair that it all only counts as one site since there is so much of it, but what can you do)
    Historic Center of Florence
    Piazza del Duomo, Pisa (I also went up the leaning tower when one still could!)
    Venice and its lagoon (most photogenic city on earth)
    San Gimignano
    Historic Center of Naples
    Historic Center of Siena
    Trulli of Alberobello (I even slept in one!)
    Archeological sites of Pompei, Herculaneum etc.
    Costiera Amalfitana (well, some of it)
    Historic Center of Urbino (I studied Italian in a small town near there and we visited Urbino)
    Villa Adriana (Tivoli)
    Villa d’Este (Tivoli)

    (Well, I was in the old town in Jerusalem… does that count? interestingly, this was not listed under Israel on the UNESCO list.)

    Stave church* (well, I didn’t see the one that’s actually on the list, I went to the one in Vik)
    a big, spectacular fjord* (but it’s not one of the two mentioned)

    Hieronymites Monastery in Lisbon* (I think I was there? not 100% sure. I should check my scrapbook.)

    (I went there on my first trip to Italy back in 1994.)

    Works of Gaudi (I saw at least 4 of them in Barcelona: Casa Batllo, which was my favorite; Park Guell; the cathedral that’s still being built; and Casa Mila.)
    Palau di Musica Catalana (also in Barcelona)

    Alps* (no idea if they were the specific ones that count)

    Giant’s Causeway (Northern Ireland)
    [I’ve also been to London many times, but don’t remember if I’ve been to any of the Heritage sites there.]


    And although I’ve been to South Africa, the places I saw do not seem to be on the list.

    I really want to see the Pyramids in Egypt. I’ll have to study the list to see where else I should try to go!

    1. “So, you realize that the one I considered different from the other two mentioned in my comment on the last post was the Pantheon, right??”

      Yup, it was just my way of deliberately misunderstanding you. And look where it led me!

      I’m glad you’ve shared your list here, too.

  2. I have a few:


    * L’Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site
    * Historic District of Old Québec
    * Gros Morne National Park
    * Rideau Canal


    * Palace and Park of Versailles
    * Cathedral of Notre-Dame, Former Abbey of Saint-Remi and Palace of Tau, Reims
    * Paris, Banks of the Seine
    * Historic Centre of Avignon: Papal Palace, Episcopal Ensemble and Avignon Bridge
    * Historic Site of Lyons


    * Cologne Cathedral
    * Upper Middle Rhine Valley

    Holy See

    * Historic Centre of Rome, the Properties of the Holy See in that City Enjoying Extraterritorial Rights and San Paolo Fuori le Mura * 11
    * Vatican City


    * Historic Centre of Florence
    * Piazza del Duomo, Pisa
    * Venice and its Lagoon


    * Defence Line of Amsterdam


    * Monastery of the Hieronymites and Tower of Belém in Lisbon
    * Historic Centre of Évora
    * Cultural Landscape of Sintra

    United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

    * Stonehenge, Avebury and Associated Sites
    * City of Bath
    * Westminster Palace, Westminster Abbey and Saint Margaret’s Church
    * Canterbury Cathedral, St Augustine’s Abbey, and St Martin’s Church
    * Tower of London
    * Old and New Towns of Edinburgh
    * Historic Town of St George and Related Fortifications, Bermuda
    * Dorset and East Devon Coast
    * Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape

    United States of America

    * Statue of Liberty

    There are also a few countries I’ve been to where I somehow managed not to see any of the UNESCO sites. I have more traveling to do, obviously!

    1. A very impressive list, Mary Lynn! Thanks for playing along.

      I’m jealous that you’ve been to Stonehenge. That’s another of the big ones on my “to do” list.

      What other countries have you been to where you missed the world heritage sites? Just curious.

    1. Kyla, I would heartily recommend traveling! I grew up in a traveling family, so it seems like the norm to me. But I do recognize that I’ve been very lucky, and also quite spoiled!

  3. I’ve been to Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump!!! It is a great name. I’ve also been to 6 other Canadian sites (didn’t have time to go through the entire list). Why just last week I was in Vieux Québec and last fall I made it to the Joggins fossil site. Lunenberg–check. Waterton–check. Dinosaur Provincial Park–check. Actually, that last one is utterly AMAZING. One of the most memorable experiences of my life.

  4. Oh, and of course I’ve been to the Rideau Canal (skated on it in fact) and the Rocky Mountain parks (on many, many occasions). Come visit me and I’ll take you to Joggins or Lunenberg or both.

    1. Okay, Mad. I’ll definitely have to figure out when to visit. Seeing you and adding to my world heritage checklist? That’s a fabulous trip if I ever heard of one.

  5. I wonder if things get designated in order to protect them, and if there are drawbacks to being designated, kind of like having a place designated a wilderness area.

    There’s a wilderness area near here, no wheeled or motorized vehicles allowed and no helicopters buzzing overhead, either. But helicopters are allowed in the Grand Canyon.

    Land use planning is very interesting.

    1. Good questions, Jennifer. It does sound like there are possibly some funding benefits available to sites. As for disadvantages, I don’t think UNESCO has much power, aside from being able to delist. Which I suppose may have PR and tourism consequences. It’s all quite fascinating.

  6. Hi Alejna —

    Couldn’t resist answering your queries… but in the form of a blog entry as my answers are on the long side! ;S

      1. Hi again Alejna —

        As an addendum: I love your photos – especially of the one of the Roman Baths at Bath and that of the Seine. :)

  7. Love these! So excited that you mentioned Chartres and Mont Saint-Michel. We loved the cathedral. We went with 2.5 yr first-born there and he “climbed” all the way to the top of Mont Saint-Michel with us. I’m still amazed by it.

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