One of our favorite things to do when traveling is to explore iconic historical places 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 for their travels. Ticking off these amazing historical 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 sites in the world that we’ve seen.
The Best Historical Places in the World
If you are a history buff, you are going to love exploring these iconic historical places. We have listed some of the most famous historical sites and some lesser-known historic sites. If you are looking to add a UNESCO World Heritage Site or two to your bucket list. You’ve come to the right spot. Our list will help you decide if they are worth adding to your travel list.
1. Colosseum, Italy
We were spoiled when we first visited the Colosseum of Rome staying in a luxury apartment looking directly at the Colosseum every morning from our bedroom window. It is an extraordinary sight to wake up to and people agree. The Colosseum is one of the most popular tourist destinations on Earth.
Not only is the Colosseum one of the most iconic historical places on earth, but it was also named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. The giant amphitheater (also known as the Flavian Amphitheatre) in the heart of Rome is the top tourist attraction in Rome and one of the most famous landmarks in the world.
Dating back to 72 AD, The Colosseum was used for gladiators battling to their deaths. Much of Rome is a protected area and UNESCO World Heritage Site as it is filled with monuments and museums including nearby Palentine Hill, the Roman Forum, The Pantheon, and the Spanish Steps.
Read more about Rome Travels
2. 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 it is a popular tourist destination overrun with people. If you choose the wrong tour, you are shuffled around in a crowd dodging touts and tour buses as you try to take a moment to savor the experience of seeing the Great Pyramid. However, the Pyramids of Giza are one of the most awe-inspiring places to visit.
We have visited the Pyramids of Giza four times by camel, bus, private tour and even by bicycle. The camel ride along the Giza Plateau was an amazing way to see the Pyramids of Giza making us feel like Lawrence of Arabia as we explored the complex.
3. Great Sphinx of Giza
The temple complex is made up of the Great Sphinx of Giza, and the three temples of Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure. The Great Sphinx stands proud in front Great Pyramid and it doesn’t seem real.
Dating back 5000 years the Pyramids of Giza are the only remaining structures from the seven wonders of the ancient 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 as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979.
Read more about Egypt Travels
4. Acropolis, Greece
Athens is one of the most popular tourist destinations on earth and we love that city. It is filled with magnificent architecture and wonderful ruins. I think it was during our third visit to Athens that we really fell in love with the Acropolis and the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of the ancient city.
Make sure to get a 6 Archaeological Sites Pass, for access to all the most famous historical sites in Athens and to learn of its ancient civilizations that resided within the temple complex.
The Parthenon is the most famous structure of the Acropolis and it offers beautiful views as you stand from the most recognizable structure dedicated to the Goddess Athena it dating back to the mid-4th century BC.
Take a stroll through human history at the ancient temple of Athena, Temple of Nike, the Odeon of Herodes Atticus Theatre, and much more. This incredible monument standing has stood proud over Athens for more than 2000 years and is a tribute to ancient Greece.
Read more about Greece Travels
5. Chichen Itza, Mexico
Chichen Itza was the first historical place we ever visited. Located in the Yucátan Peninsula, this must-see archaeological site was named one of the new Seven Wonders of the World. This UNESCO World Heritage Site blew my mind. We actually visited Chichen Itza years ago when you could still climb to the top of the ancient temple of El Castillo.
This is where we became fascinated with the Mayan culture and ancient civilization. After visiting this ancient city in the Yucátan Peninsula, we made a point to see them all in the future. (and we are pretty close to achieving that goal!)
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 is a long drive from Cancun, so combine it with a full tour stopping at a Cenote, and the Colonial City of Valladolid.
Read more about Mexico Travels
6. Great Wall of China
The Great Wall of China is located outside of Beijing and we have visited it twice and each time we’ve found it to be awe-inspiring.
Named as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, there are several different sections to visit with the Badaling Wall and Mutianyu 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 and dates back 3000 years offering a glimpse into the ancient world.
It actually consists of several different walls brought together after China’s warring states were unified under the rule of Emperor Qin. It was during the Qin Dynasty, more than 2000 years ago that the Great Wall was unified and constructed.
For us, The Great Wall of China lived up to the hype. 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.
Mutianyu is a little farther out from the city of Beijing and there are far fewer tourists here. It is just as beautiful and impressive. For over a thousand years, the wall served as protection from the nomadic tribes to the north. Later dynasties repaired and maintained the wall to keep their fortification intact.
Read more about China Travels
7. 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. But when we entered beautiful Petra, we immediately understood how it was listed as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.
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 from the outside world for centuries. And it was easy to imagine that the Holy Grail could have been hidden here (like Indiana Jones made us all believe)
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?
Created in the 2nd century AD, Petra is located three hours from the capital city of Amman. Bedouins had used this place since the 3rd century BC, but it lay hidden from outsiders until a mere 200 years ago. Surprisingly, the Ancient City of Petra was unknown to the Western world. It wasn’t until 1812 that it was “discovered” by Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt.
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 about Jordan Travels
8. Taj Mahal
Oftentimes we lament that The Taj Mahal was a bit of a letdown during our travels through India but upon reflection, I am so glad that we saw the most famous structue in India. It is one of the new Seven Wonders of the World after all.
The Taj Mahal in Agra, India is the most iconic monument in India. Built in the 17th century by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, the Taj Mahal is considered the ultimate love letter. He had it commissioned to honor his wife.
It took more than 20 years to build the Taj Mahal and he lived in sadness until his death. It fell to ruin over the years, but luckily, the British viceroy of India – Lord Curzon, put an end to looting and restored it to its former glory. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site as of 1983 and the Taj Mahal was named one of the new 7 Wonders of the World.
Read more about India Travels
9. Tikal, Guatemala
Our visit to the ruins of Tikal in Guatemala was unlike any other. What enthralled us about Tikal is that the pyramids have been taken over by the jungle. Mounds of pyramids jut out from the earth hinting that something wonderful was underneath in Tikal National Park. 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.
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. Located in northern Guatemala sits what many consider to be the “best Mayan Ruins in the world.”
The temples themselves are astounding with magnificent architecture dating back to 600 and 900 AD. The North Acropolis 1 is the highest and most impressive, while the Plaza of the Seven Temples is one of the largest plazas in Tikal dating back to
People are also allowed to climb almost all of the ruins and we highly recommend going up for sunrise to listen to the sounds of howler monkeys roaring in the mist. The views are spectacular from above the jungle canopy. You may even recognize the view from Star Wars: A New Hope where it was featured at the end of the original movie.
Read more about Guatemala
10. Machu Picchu, Peru
Machu Picchu was named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World and with good reason. Machu Picchu is both a cultural and natural UNESCO World Heritage Site. History buffs must visit this ancient Inca city, high in the Andes of Peru. Since its discovery of the Western World in 1911, growing numbers of tourists have visited the site each year and it can become very crowded.
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.
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.
How many ancient cities are located 2430 meters above sea level? The this Lost City of the Incas sits high on a mountain in the Andes of Peru.
Read more about Peru and Machu Picchu
11. Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Angkor Wat is an ancient city in the jungles of Cambodia. Located just outside the town of Siem Reap, it 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. Tree roots weave through the temples overtaking many of the structures. Make sure to spend a few days exploring the ancient city.
We hired a private tuk-tuk leaving early in the morning from our guest house in Siem Reap to watch the ancient temple of Angkor Wat. By the afternoon, Angkor Wat is overrun with tourists on group tours, so we head back to explore more of Siem Reap and the surrounding area. And then went back to Angkor Wat again the next day to pick up where we left off.
12. Cappadocia, Turkey
The fairytale chimneys of Cappadocia are a dream and one of the best known places in the world to take a hot air balloon ride. We had wanted to see from above at sunrise looking 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.
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 built between the 11th and 13 centuries. It truly is a must see historical site in Myanmar.
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 about Bagan and 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.
The stone circle is of great religious importance to those of the Druidic faith. It sits on the Salisbury Plain as it has since the Neolithic age 5,000 years ago. That was 500 years before the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt.
Theories range from being a burial site, a place of worship, and a place for religious ceremonies. I’ll stick to aliens.
Read more about UK Travel
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 about Ireland Travel
16. 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. Read more: 27 Best Places to Visit in Africa
17. Statue of Liberty
The Statue of Liberty is still a shining star of the United States providing hope and freedom. It is part of the National Register of Historic Places and probably the best known of all the historical places on this list.
It was gifted to the United States in 1884 to welcome immigrants and visiting this symbol of freedom is one of the top things to do in New York City. The Statue of Liberty was created by the French sculptor Bartholdi and Gustave Eiffel (of Eiffel Tower fame). Read more Fun Facts About New York
ocated 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 about New York Travel
18. Washington DC Monuments
Washington DC is filled with historic monuments representing the United States. From the White House to the Lincoln Memorial, this is definitely a town filled with historical places. One of our favorites was the Thomas Jefferson Memorial which was modeled after the Pantheon of Rome.
But there is a memorial for everyone from the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial and war memorials of the Vietnam and Korean Wars. Read more: 12 Must-See Washington DC Monuments and Memorials in Photos
19. 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, the Grand Baazar Topkapi Palace, the Hippodrome of Constantine, and 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.
20. 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.
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 a recreational waterway.
Read more about Canada’s Historical Places
21. Easter Island
Mark of Flying and Travel wrote about his experience at Rapa Nui National Park on Easter Island and it has been at the top of our list ever since. The Easter Island heads are filled with mystery and wonder. We were so close to Easter Island when we visited Santiago as there are direct flights twice weekly from there.
But, we learned that Easter Island needs to be booked well in advance these days. Visit are limited and they sell out quickly It’s okay though, next time. at these Mysterious Statues in the Pacific Island
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
22. Alhambra, Spain
One of the most recent and best historic sites we’ve visited is the amazing Alhambra in Granada, Spain. Alhambra is not only the biggest tourist destination in Granada, but it’s also one in the most popular tourist attractions in the entire country.
Alhambra is known as the crown jewel of Islamic Spain and it is easy to understand why. Standing proud overlooking Granada with beautiful views of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, it is easy to spend several hours enjoying the beauty of this massive complex. Read more at Things to do in Granada
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 and it remained in ruin but it was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1991.
It is a significant historic site 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. The Chao Phraya alone is must see historic place in Bangkok with canals and waterways leading through ancient parts of the city.
24. Terracotta Warriors
The Terracotta Warriors in Xi’an China are a mesmerizing archeological site. 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.
25. Forbidden City
Another one of China’s best historical places is the Forbidden City in Beijing. Built in the 1400s during the Ming Dynasty, the Forbidden City was a palace complext that housed the ruling Chinese Emperors and their households for 500 years. It has a whopping 980 buildings and over 8000 rooms.
Commoners were not allowed in the city and many of the Forbidden City’s inhabitants were not allowed to leave. This complex is filled with history making it one of the most intriguing historical places on our list.
Read more about China Travels
26. Whalers Bay – 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 postcard from the 7th continent. However, it was the old whaling station on Deception Island that is etched in our memory. Whalers Bay on Deception Island is one of the most remote places in the world.
It has a dark past where whales were slaughtered 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
27. Leaning Tower of Pisa
The final choice of our favorite historic place to visit is the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Construction of The Leaning Tower of Pisa began in 1173 and took nearly 200 years to complete. But the Pisa Tower was doomed from the start. Before they even finished construction it began to lean. For decades, engineers from around the world took a stab at fixing it to no avail. Read all about it here.
In 1989 the Tower of Pisa was finally closed to fix the problem once and for all. The Tower of Pisa is now saved and still leaning for generations to see for years to come. It is now safe and stable and just a short walk from the train station so it is easy to visit on a day trip from cities like Rome, Florence or Bologna.
So, these are our favorite historical places in the world plus a few of the most famous historical sites. 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 historical places are in the world that we should add to the list. And tell us why in the comments below.