One of our favourite things to do when traveling is to explore historical sites in the world. There are many people who make a point of visiting as many UNESCO world heritage sites as they can and use that goal as a theme to their travels. Ticking off these famous sites is a great way to choose where to go on your next vacation. So we thought we’d help you plan your travels around our favorite historical places in the world that we’ve seen.
Do these historic places live up to the hype? What is the experience like to visit them and are they worth seeing? If you are looking for historical places around the world, our list will help you decide if they are worth adding to your travel bucket list.
The Best Historical Sites in the World
1. Pyramids of Giza, Egypt
The Pyramids of Giza are a tough historical place to rate. If you go at the wrong time or take the wrong tour, it can be a miserable experience as you are shuffled around in a crowd dodging touts and tour buses. We have visited the Pyramids of Giza four times and thoroughly enjoyed our visits 3 of them. Once by camel, once on a private tour, once by bicycle, and once on a tour bus. Needless to say, the crowded tour bus was our first visit and least enjoyable. Read more: 10 Amazing Temples of Egypt – That We’ve Seen
The camel ride was an amazing way to see the Pyramids of Giza making us feel like Lawrence of Arabia as we explored the complex, the Sphinx, and the three temples of Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure. The Pyramids of Giza seem surreal and as you approach the Giza Plateau they don’t seem real looking more like a mirage in the desert. Make sure to see the light show at night. It might be a bit cheesy, but it is truly a unique experience. Read more: 20 Exciting Things to do in Egypt – Plus A Few Fun Facts
Dating back 5000 years the Pyramids of Giza are the only remaining structures from the ancient wonders of the world. When you see them with your own eyes, you truly become a believer that aliens may have existed. How were these massive monuments made by man? How did they stand the test of time? They truly are magical. This incredible site of Memphis and its Necropolis including the Pyramid Fields from Giza to Dahshur was inducted into the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1979.
2. Great Wall of China
The Great Wall of China is located outside of Beijing and we have visited it twice. Each time we’ve found it to be awe-inspiring. There are several different sections of the Great Wall to visit with the Badaling Great Wall and Mutianyu Great Wall being the most accessible. Each was a very different experience, but both were incredible to see. The Great Wall of China was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1987. Read more at The Great Wall of China – Mutianyu VS Badaling.
For us, The Great Wall of China lived up to the hype. A lot of people will say it doesn’t, but between our two visits to the Great Wall, we were impressed and excited. We visited the Badaling and Mutianyu Great Walls of China and each was a different experience. Badaling attracts local tourists and is very crowded with local visitors since it is the closest wall to Beijing. However, that is exactly what makes it so exciting. People are thrilled to see you and by visiting the section of the wall that the locals visit we felt less like a tourist and more like a part of the family. Mutianyu is a little farther out of the city of Beijing and there are far fewer tourists here. It is just as beautiful and impressive. Read more: 24 of the Best Things to do in Beijing, China
3. Petra, Jordan
We didn’t know what to expect before visiting Petra in Jordan other than Petra had been the setting for movies like Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Alladin, Transformers and The Mummy Returns. As we walked the 1.3 km along the Siq towards the grand square housing the treasury, we were enthralled by the high cliffs along the narrow path. It’s no wonder this complex remained hidden to the outside world for centuries. Seeing the facades of the Treasury and Monastery carved into the red sandstone is awe-inspiring. How did the ancient Nabataeans manage to create such a masterpiece two thousand years ago? Read more: Petra Jordan – Tips for Visiting and Things to See
Created in the 2nd century AD, Petra is located three hours from the capital city of Amman. We hired a driver and then spent the night in the city of Petra walking distance from the ancient city. Make sure you visit Petra at Night to walk the beautiful candle-lit path to the treasury for a Bedouin performance and then get there the next day early in the morning to beat the rush of tour busses. This caravan city was a major trading route between the Red Sea and the Dead Sea and was inducted into the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1985. Read more: Petra by Night in Photos
4. Tikal, Guatemala
Our visit to the ruins of Tikal in Guatemala was unlike any other. What enthralled us about Tikal were all the pyramids taken over by the jungle. Mounds of pyramids jutted out from the earth hinting that something wonderful was underneath. This jungle setting is what puts Tikal at the top of historical places in the world. Howler monkeys cry in the distance and spider monkeys play in the trees overhead. Leafcutter ants cut tracks through the jungle and you can climb its massive towers where you are treated to endless views of the rainforest. When visiting Central America, this ancient wonder should be put at the top of your list. Read more: Top 5 Places to Visit in Guatemala
This ancient historical site was one of the major sites of Mayan civilization and dates back to the 6th century BC. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979. Read more: 7 Wonders of the World – the New, The Natural, and the Ancient
5. Machu Picchu, Peru
Machu Picchu was named as one of the New 7 Wonders of the World and with good reason. How many ancient cities are located 2430 meters above sea level? This Lost City of the Incas sits high on a mountain in the Andes of Peru. Located 3 hours by train from the city of Cusco, it is not the ruins themselves that make Machu Pichu impressive, it is its setting. Terraced blocks of brick buildings plunge into the valley below. Read more: How to Plan a Trip to Machu Picchu
Trekking to Machu Picchu can be done in four days along the Inca Trail creating a spiritual journey you will never forget. Even though it is touristy, Peru has limited visitors, and hiking the trail is a solid challenge. With travel limitations, 2022 might be the time to hike to Machu Picchu and feel what it was once like before mass tourism. Read more Machu Picchu Hike: All You Need To Know To Be Perfectly Prepared
6. Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Angkor Wat is overrun with tourists, there is no doubt about it but there is the reason it is so popular. This ancient city in the jungles of Cambodia was once the most powerful city in Southeast Asia with the Khmer Empire dominating the land. What makes this historical place so impressive is the fact that it has been reclaimed by much of the jungle. Read more: Ultimate Guide to Visiting Angkor Wat Temples
Tree roots weave through the temples overtaking many of the structures. Make sure to spend a few days exploring Angkor Wat. We hired a private tuk-tuk leaving early in the morning staying one step ahead of the tour busses and crowds. By the afternoon, Angkor Wat is overrun with tourists, so head back to your guesthouse to relax and pick up where you left off the next morning.
7. Cappadocia, Turkey
The fairytale chimneys of Cappadocia are a dream. We had wanted to see this magical land since viewing photos of hundreds of hot air balloons above stone spires, it did not disappoint. Cappadocia’s top draw is taking a hot air balloon at sunrise over the vast valleys with names like Love Valley, Rose Valley, and Red Valley. Read more: Cappadocia Hot Air Balloon
Cappadocia is an ancient land created by a series of volcanic eruptions in the Central Anatolian region of Turkey. Throughout the ages stone spire formations scattered the valley where early peoples created cave dwellings into the sandstone cliffs. Today many of those caves have been turned into luxury hotels.
8. Chichen Itza, Mexico
Chichen Itza was the first historical place we ever visited. I remember working in the film industry and we booked an all-inclusive trip to Cancun. My boss told me that I must visit Chichen Itza. So I did! This UNESCO World Heritage Site blew my mind. We actually visited Chichen Itza years ago when you could still climb to the top of El Castillo. And that is where we became fascinated with the Mayan culture and ancient civilization. After visiting this ancient city, we made a point to see them all in the future. (and we are pretty close to achieving that goal!_ See our list of favorite 42 Amazing Ancient Ruins of the World
If you can rent or hire a car to visit before the tour buses arrive, we highly recommend it. This place gets busy. Chichen-Itza – Chichen Itza is a long drive from Cancun, so combine it with a full tour stopping at a Cenote, and the Colonial City of Valladolid. Chichen Itza was also named as one of the new 7 Wonders of the World. Read more: 7 Wonders of the World – the New, The Natural, and the Ancient
9. Colosseum, Italy
I am not going to lie, we were spoiled when we first visited the Colosseum of Rome. We stayed in a luxury apartment directly across from this ancient ruin looking at the Colosseum every morning from our bedroom window. It is an extraordinary sight to wake up to. The giant amphitheater (also known as the Flavian Amphitheatre) in the heart of Rome is the top tourist attraction in Rome. Read more: How to Visit Rome on a Budget in 2022
Dating back to 72 AD, The Colosseum was used for gladiators battling to their deaths. Much of Rome is a UNESCO Protected area as it is filled with monuments and museums including nearby Palentine Hill, the Roman Forum, The Pantheon, and the Spanish Steps. Read more: 23 of the Best Things to do in Rome
10. Acropolis, Greece
I will admit, our visit to the Parthenon in Athens Greece was a bit of a bust as Dave was suffering from diarrhea. (That’s the way travel goes sometimes). But we did manage to make our way through a long afternoon exploring the grounds. This monument standing proud over Athens for more than 2000 years is a tribute to ancient Greece. The complex offers beautiful views as you stand from the most recognizable structure, the Parthenon. Dedicated to the Goddess Athena is dates back to the mid 4th century BC. Temple of Nike, and the Odeon of Herodes Atticus theatre. Read more: 24 Amazing Things to do in Athens, Greece
11. Historical Site India – Taj Mahal
12. Historical Site China – Terracotta Warriors
The Terracotta Warriors in Xi’an China are mesmerizing. They have been meticulously rebuilt after only being rediscovered in the 20th century. The underground army was built 2200 years about by the first Emperor of a unified China, Emperor Qin Shi Huang of The Qin Dynasty. It took 38 years and 700,000 people to build this underground monument. The craftsmen who built this masterpiece were killed to keep the location a secret. It worked because nobody knew where the entrance to the tomb containing 8000 Terracotta Warriors and horses leading bronze chariots were buried until it was discovered by a farmer in 1974. Read more: Xian Terracotta Warriors – Facts – Are They Real and How Were They Made
13. Historical Site Myanmar – Bagan
Dave and I have seen a lot of pagodas and temples in Asia from Borobudur to Angkor Wat, but it was the historical city of Bagan that took our breath away. Located in Myanmar on the Irrawaddy River, Bagan is a vast complex of temples that was was built between the 11th and 13 centuries. At one time there were more than 10,000 temples and today and today 3500 still remain. Bagan barely made the UNESCO World Heritage list after Myanmar’s military junta restored many of the temples in a shoddy manner but once restrictions were lifted, it eventually made the list. Read more: The Incredible Temples of Bagan, Myanmar
14. Stonehenge, England
Stonehenge in England is one of the top places to celebrate the winter solstice. It has made a lot of news this week showcasing the glorious sunrise after the longest night of the year. The UNESCO historical site dates back 5000 years but nobody truly knows their purposes. Theories range from being a burial site, a place of worship and a place for religious ceremonies. I’ll stick to aliens.
15. Newgrange, Ireland
The jewel in the Crown of Ireland’s Ancient East is a massive passage tomb is more than just a tomb that is also one of the best places to celebrate the winter solstice. 200,000 tones of rock stacked 12.5 meters (41 feet) high. Dating back to 3200 BC it is older than both the Pyramids of Giza and Stonehenge. Yet it is not nearly as famous. We went inside to explore its mysterious inner chamber where archeologists have yet to uncover what exactly this was used for. This UNESCO World Heritage Site in Ireland is definitely worth visiting. Read more: Newgrange – Visit Ireland’s Ancient Passage Tomb
16. Historical Site Ethiopia – Lalibela, Ethiopia
While cycling through Ethiopia I asked a fellow cyclist what he thought of Lalibella and he said “It almost makes me believe in God.” This incredible historical site consists of 11 rock churches dug into the ground. The medieval structures are a pilgrimage site and Lalibela is the holiest city in Ethiopia. What Ethiopia is going through right now is devastating, but hopefully, there will be peace and we can all enjoy the beauty of this country again soon.
17. Historical Site Thailand – Ayuthaya
Dave and I visited Ayuthaya in 2000 so we are due to go back! This historic city existed between the 14th and 18th century and was the capital of Siam. The Burmese army destroyed it in 1767 where it remained in ruin but it was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1991. It is significant because during its time, it was one of the largest cities in the world. A wonderful way to visit Ayuthaya is to take a boat tour down the Chao Phraya River from Bangkok.
18. Historical Site in the USA – Statue of Liberty
The Statue of Liberty is still a shining star of the United States providing hope and freedom. Created by the French sculptor Bartholdi and Gustave Eiffel (of Eiffel Tower fame) the Statue of Liberty was gifted to the United States in 1884 to welcome immigrants. Visiting this symbol of freedom is one of the top things to do in New York City and we absolutely loved our three visits to it. (She never gets old). Located at the entrance to New York Harbor, you’ll be treated to beautiful views of Manhattan where you will take a walk through history. Make sure to visit Ellis Island which is part of your ticket to the Statue of Liberty. Read more: Tips for Visiting The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island
19. Historical Site – Easter Island
We haven’t been to Easter Island to see the mysterious Maori heads, but ever since Mark of Flying and Travel wrote about his experience at these Mysterious Statues in the Pacific Island we have had it at the top of our list. We just need to get ourselves down to the far reaches of South America to transfer to this South Pacific Island containing the Moai statues. Want to learn more: Read more here Easter Island – Mysterious Statues in the Pacific Island
20. Historical Area of Istanbul, Turkey
Straddling two continents divided by the Bosphorus peninsula, the old city of Istanbul has so much historical significance that the entire historical area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. From the Hagia Sophia, The Blue Mosque, Grand Baazar Topkapi Palace, the hippodrome of Constantine, the aqueduct of Valens, there is so much to explore. It was inducted into the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1985 and is not to be missed. Read more: Best Things to do in Istanbul Turkey / The Blue Mosque of Istanbul and tips for Entry
21. Rideau Canal, Canada
Many of Canada’s UNESCO Sites are natural historical places, but there are a few places like Old Quebec City and Lunenberg that are man-made. However, it s the Rideau Canal that had us completely fascinated. Having spent 3 weeks exploring it this summer, we learned that this feat of engineering is an Ontario hidden gem. Read more: Amazing Places to Visit on the Rideau Canal.
The 202 km long waterway is a network of 24 lock stations containing 47 historic locks from Ottawa to Kingston. Built in 1832 as an alternative to navigating the St. Lawrence River in case of war, the workers of the Rideau Canal faced many hardships cutting through the rugged Canadian terrain. War never happened and it was eventually deemed useless. But today it is blossoming as recreational waterway. Read about our experience at Amazing Rideau Canal Cruise – A Unique Cruise Holiday with Le Boat
22. Whalers Bay – Deception Island, Antarctica
We had the opportunity to visit a few historical sites in Antarctica. Port Lockroy is a scientific base that has been in operation since 1944 and it is from here you can send a post card from the 7th continent. However, it was the old whaling station on Deception Island that is etched in our memory. Whalers Bay has a dark past where whales were slaughtered to nearly to the point of extinction. Today, there are remnants of whale bones strewn along the shore, there are old boiling vats and some abandoned buildings reminded us of the destruction that the human race can put upon this earth. Read more: 11 of the Best Things to do in Antarctica
So, these are our favourite historical places in the world. We have been fortunate to have been to many more and will be adding to the list as we think of them. Or perhaps, we will do a part 2. So, let us know what your favourite historic site is in the world that we should add to the list. And tell us why in the comments below.