The best UNESCO world heritage sites – and virtual tour alternatives
Retirement gives you the time and freedom for travel. The chance to tick some wonders of the world off your bucket list. And what better place to get inspiration than the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO)’s World Heritage Sites. These are irreplaceable landmarks or landscapes that have cultural, historical or scientific significance. They are described as having ‘outstanding universal value’ and 'belonging to all the peoples of the world’.
Chosen over the last 50 plus years, in August 2022, there were over 1,150 World Heritage Sites in 167 countries. But with such a huge global list, it’s ‘virtually’ impossible to tick them all off in person. To help narrow it down, we’ve selected seven of our favourite ‘must sees’, plus the virtual tour alternatives that you can enjoy from the comfort of home.
Our top seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites
1. The banks of the River Seine, Paris, France
This is the most visited UNESCO World Heritage Site and with good reason. Many of the incredible attractions in Paris are dotted in close proximity along the banks of the river Seine, including the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Cathedral Notre-Dame (due to reopen in 2024), the Petit Palais and many more fascinating historical buildings.
Virtual tour alternatives: Explore the world’s most popular museum, the Louvre, and appreciate artworks including the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo without the queues. Visit the Eiffel Tower online. And enjoy Notre-Dame in all its former glory, before it reopens.
2. The Taj Mahal, Agra, Utter Pradesh, India
From the Hill Forts of Rajasthan to the temples at Hampi, India has more than its fair share of incredible World Heritage Sites, but the Taj Mahal is the most famous of them all. Iconic and staggeringly beautiful, this white marble mausoleum is the ultimate monument to love. It was built by the Mughal Emperor, Shah Jahan, in memory of his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died during childbirth in 1631. He’d promised to build a monument as beautiful as she was and the result is breathtaking.
Virtual tour alternatives: Learn about the Taj Mahal’s epic history and explore the monument and gardens on this virtual tour.
3. Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, Northern Territory, Australia
The Great Barrier Reef or the Sydney Opera House, are contenders the most well-known of Australia’s World Heritage Sites, but the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park is the most dramatic. The astonishing rock formations, Uluru (also known as ‘Ayres Rock’) and the Kata Tjuta (also known as ‘Mount Olga’) are the main draws, but you’ll also find unique wildlife, including 178 species of birds, and a wealth of ancient culture and history. This unspoilt, sprawling landscape is protected by the Anangu Aboriginal people, but there are sensitively designed visitor centres, trails and public viewing areas.
Virtual tour alternatives: the Australian government has produced immersive ‘Story Spheres’ combining 360-degree visuals with audio clips to bring the park to life.
4. The pyramids of Giza, Egypt
Giza Necropolis on the banks of the Nile, is home to nine pyramids and the Great Sphinx, the largest monolith statue in the world. The Great Pyramid of Giza is the largest and oldest of the iconic tombs – and the only one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World to be still standing. It took around 20 years to create and was finished in 2560 BC. No one really knows how these incredible structures were built, but one theory is that it was a form of community service and around 20,000 Egyptians could have been involved.
Virtual tour alternatives: Google has created an interactive self-guided tour of this hugely significant archaeological site.
5. Machu Picchu, near Cusco, Peru
Machu Picchu or “Old Peak”/“Old Mountain” in the Quechua Indian language, is the site of a 15th century Inca Palace. It is the best-known remains of the ancient Inca Empire and is made up of over 150 buildings. It is testament to the Inca’s awe-inspiring building skills, scientific knowledge and ingenuity – for instance you’ll see the Intihuatana stone that marks the two annual equinoxes with impressive accuracy.
Virtual tour alternative: immerse yourself in the history and sights of Machu Picchu with this tour.
6. Angkor Wat, Angkor, Cambodia
The Angkor Wat temple complex is one of the most impressive UNESCO World Heritage sites in Cambodia and is the world’s largest religious monument. The main temple (also known as the ‘central structure’) was built in the 12th century and is unlike anything you will have ever seen before. Here you’ll discover looming towers and an archaic interior that features beautiful sculptures and intricate detailing built into stone walls.
This impressive structure is nestled in the heart of the Siem Reap Province in the Angkor Archaeological Park with regular tours and excursions available.
Virtual tour alternative: Angkor has been brought to life in a ‘ground-breaking collaboration’ between archaeologists, historians and digital specialists.
7. Florence, Tuscany, Italy
Pompeii, Rome, Venice…it’s perhaps unsurprising that Italy is the country with the most World Heritage Sites - boasting an impressive 58. These include the birthplace of the Renaissance, Florence, one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It is a joy to stroll around the cobblestone alleyways alongside the River Arno, view the Ponte Vecchio and admire the many glorious art galleries and museums. Perhaps the most famous is The Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze, home of Michelangelo’s David.
Virtual tour alternative: explore central Florence and its renown museums and art galleries from your living room.
McCarthy Stone homes are perfect for adventurers
If you’re inspired to see the world ‘in real life’, a home at a McCarthy Stone Retirement Living or Retirement Living PLUS development has many advantages for explorers. There’s the security of being able to ‘lock up and leave’ your property, knowing that there is a manager onsite to look after it; and the flexibility of our occupancy options, from buying outright to renting or part buy, part rent, which can help you to free up money to spend on travels. And, if you want to see World Heritage Sites closer to home - the UK has an impressive 33, from Stonehenge in Wiltshire to Edinburgh’s Old and New Town, in Scotland – then as a McCarthy Stone homeowner you can use the hotel-style guest suites in most of our developments, for great value holidays up and down the country. Find a property now.