11 UNESCO World Heritage Sites That Should Make It To Your Bucket List

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The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) has, for the longest time, taken up the mammoth task of preserving places of utmost historical, religious, cultural and natural importance to mankind. It is a known fact that only the creme de la creme of these artificial structures and natural landscapes make it to the UNESCO World Heritage list. While there are as many as 1052 such sites around the globe with each being as important as the other, 11 (subjectively) stand out for a plethora of reasons and must form a vital part of your travel bucket list. It's time to start ticking them off!

The drawcard of Cambodia, Angkor Wat is a gorgeous mirror reflecting an inspiring and glorious past. Located in the Angkor Archaeological Park, this ancient temple site has five towers that rise like lotuses, going as high as 65 metres towards the sky. Originally a Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu, Angkor Wat is a wonderful example of classical Khmer architecture and has gradually morphed into a Buddhist shrine. Some 3 kilometres away from the city of Siem Reap, these prodigious ruins of the Khmer empire have rightfully been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Watching the complex at sunrise, with a perfectly pinky-blue sky acting like a canopy over its dark silhouette is like viewing the most beautiful painting in the world. The sublime image will stay with you forever.

Credits: mariusz kluzniak

Photo of Angkor Wat, Krong Siem Reap, Siem Reap Province, Cambodia by Sumedha Bharpilania

With the largest collection of coral reefs in the world, The Great Barrier Reef defines natural beauty in ways like no other. Home to around 900 islands with some 2500 individual reefs, this Australian delight has nonplussed many wanderers. The staggering number of corals, molluscs and fishes in a plethora of types and colours has been all the more intriguing. There is a reason why the whole of this diverse marine ecosystem has been classified a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of the seven natural wonders of the world. Prepare to be dumbfounded by its divine turquoise-azure waters, cosy up with dolphins and turtles, squint your eyes to watch a thousand birds fly past the orangey-blue sky and let the realisation that happiness really is tangible wash over your senses.

Credits: FarbenfroheWunderwelt

Photo of Great Barrier Reef, Queensland, Australia by Sumedha Bharpilania

The most important remnant of the Inca Empire, Machu Picchu is a lot like poetry in stone. Embraced by a tropical mountain forest from both sides with the Peruvian Andes and the Amazonian Basin acting like two colossal, intimidating guards, this UNESCO World Heritage site stands some 2500 meters above sea level. The landscape of this 15th century marvel is a wonderful blend of terraces, temples, ramps, palaces and walls and the many llamas circling the pathways amplify the exclusivity of the atmosphere. With the Urubamba River flowing swiftly below, the ruins of Machu Picchu are as dramatic as they are mysterious. Every step you take while trekking through its winding trails is a glorious discovery and every breath is interspersed with immense joy.

Credits: Geraint Rowland

Photo of Machu Picchu, Urubamba Province, Cusco, Peru by Sumedha Bharpilania

One of the most important archaeological sites in the world, Petra takes Hellenistic architecture to an entirely different level. Cradled in the arms of the Dead and the Red Sea and serving as an important junction where Arabia, Syria and Egypt meet, this Jordanian caravan-city seems rather incomplete and deserted, yet possesses so much character. With ruins of tombs and temples, diversion dams and gorges, colossal mountains and hidden passages, the Lost City of Petra is a spellbinding UNESCO World Heritage Site and also one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Its raw and crumbly reddish pink facade holds deep secrets which travellers have been trying to uncover for years and years. You could also perhaps jump on the bandwagon.

Credits: Seetheholyland.net

Photo of Petra, Petra District, Ma'an Governorate, Jordan by Sumedha Bharpilania

A cluster of some 120 miniature islands, Venice is easily the dreamiest city in the world, turning the most prosaic of people into passionate poets. A UNESCO World Heritage property, this Italian lagoon is one of the most popular destinations on earth with its many canals and gondolas, piazzas and glass sculptures. You might never know when a street ends into an expanse of water and when a masked stranger entices you into an unknown corner- Venezia is all about accidental but magical discoveries. With its marble palaces, towering cathedrals and well-heeled locals, Venice takes opulence to new extremes. The only heart-breaking truth is that the city is gradually being consumed by water and might just perish in a hundred years. Sign up for a rendezvous with this beauty before she bids adieu.

Credits: Moyan Brenn

Photo of Venice, Metropolitan City of Venice, Italy by Sumedha Bharpilania

An emblem of the majesty of the Greek civilisation, the Acropolis is one of the foremost architectural complexes in the world. A shining addition to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, it is essentially a citadel on a flat rock that rises some 500 metres above sea level, watching over the city of Athens like a guard. Home to important ancient structures like the Parthenon, the Erechtheum, the Temple of Athena Nike and the Propylaea, the Acropolis is easily the drawcard of tourism in Greece and is a reflection of its rich culture. History enthusiasts will not be able to keep calm while exploring this exalted sight and even the most seasoned of travellers will never want to leave.

Credits: Kristoffer Trolle

Photo of Acropolis of Athens, Athens, Kentrikos Tomeas Athinon, Greece by Sumedha Bharpilania

Covering a vast area of 9000 square kilometres and falling into as many as three American states, the Yellowstone National Park is a geothermal reserve like no other with hundreds of natural geysers. A protected area with diverse ecosystems and immense natural beauty, this UNESCO World Heritage Site belongs in an entirely different planet altogether. A mecca of sorts for environmental conservationists, Yellowstone was incidentally the first national park in the world and continues to overshadow all others. Loved by travellers for its hot springs and wild landscape, the park is also home to grizzly bears, mountain lions and wolves among other creatures and is therefore a peerless adventure. Nature is incredibly bounteous and Yellowstone is a major proof of that fact.

Credits: Albert de Bruijn

Photo of Yellowstone National Park, Teton County, WY, United States by Sumedha Bharpilania

Perhaps the most popular cluster of megaliths known to mankind, Stonehenge with its scientific architectural design and symmetry continues to bedazzle travellers from all corners of the world. Shrouded in mystery, these prehistoric monuments were built using sandstone and bluestone and throw light upon the eccentric ritual beliefs of the builders. The UNESCO World Heritage Site area includes, apart from the standing stones, settlements, boulevards, healing centres and burial grounds. Located some 15 kilometres away from Salisbury in England, you shouldn't miss this ancient sight for the world.

Credits: Neil Howard

Photo of Stonehenge, Amesbury, United Kingdom by Sumedha Bharpilania

The 12th Century Shinto Shrine of Itsukushima, located on the Miyajima Island in Japan is a rather unique architectural delight. A monumental amalgamation of manmade and natural elements, the shrine complex is a cluster of seventeen wooden structures built like a pier over water. With the Seto Inland Sea and the forests of Mount Misen acting like the most sublime background you will ever witness, this temple has been rightly deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site. While spirituality seems to be all-pervading, this Kiyomori Taira construction also plays host to cherry blossoms to embellish its scenic glamour. The colossal vermillion 'Floating Torii' stands as the most graceful gateway to the shrine and welcomes travellers looking for inner peace with open arms.

Credits: Joe deSousa

Photo of Itsukushima Shrine 厳島神社, Hatsukaichi, Hiroshima Prefecture, Japan by Sumedha Bharpilania

With the magnificent Charles Bridge, the graceful St. Vitus Cathedral, the indomitable Prague Castle and a plethora of churches with imposing spires, the Historic Centre of Prague is a UNESCO World Heritage Site like no other. Deeply entrenched in a culture so rich and history so fascinating, the Czech capital has been enticing travellers from all over the globe since the beginning of time. The architectural delights of both the Old and New Towns of the city have no parallel and we have Emperor Charles IV to thank for the same. With the meandering Vltava River adding to its glory, Prague is rightfully one of the most beautiful and romantic places in the world. Watching the sun go down while illuminating the medieval cityscape in the foreground is a lot like turning back the hands of time. It is happy, comforting and downright mesmerising.

Credits: Miroslav Petrasko

Photo of Prague, Czech Republic by Sumedha Bharpilania

The last capital of the Kingdom of Vijaynagar, an emblem of Hinduism, the site of Hampi is an architectural wonder like no other. This monumental site replete with its grand temple complexes, palaces, treasuries, bazaars, common residential areas and townships is the most important illustration of Dravidian architecture. Located near Hospet in Karnataka, Hampi's ruins collectively form the most important UNESCO World Heritage Site in India. With massive boulders dotting its many hills, the temple steps bearing fragments of the past and gigantic pillars of monuments telling tales from the days of yore, Hampi is a fabulous escape. Its fortifications hide stupendous secrets and visiting them is a discovery like no other.

Credits: Chris Bird

Photo of Hampi, Karnataka, India by Sumedha Bharpilania
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