14 Historical Destinations You Must See in Your Lifetime
Truth be told, we can’t resist the allure of a vacation spent relaxing on a beach, mojito in hand. But sometimes, you crave a little history with your hotel stay. With UNESCO’s inspiring list of more than 1000 World Heritage Sites as our guiding light, we’re rounding up the most stunning global destinations with historical and cultural importance for days—or should we say millennia? From remarkable ancient cities carved into red sandstone to the only man-made structure visible from space, these destinations will have your wanderlust reaching peak levels.
Home to magnificent remains dating from the 9th to 15th centuries, Angkor is one of the most important historical sites in Southeast Asia. The famed Angkor Wat temple, gorgeously ornate, is only one of many ancient structures and monuments of the 150-plus–square-mile region.
Dating back to the 5th century B.C., the Acropolis and its surrounding monuments are the greatest testaments to the grandness of ancient Greek civilization. Serving as sacred religious temples as well as symbols of art, civilization, and enlightened thought, these crumbling structures hold an undeniable aura of power and history.
Home to the distinctive species that inspired Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution and natural selection in the 19th century, this cluster of 19 islands in the Pacific Ocean is an ecological wonder.
Once considered one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the Pyramid Fields stretching from Giza to Dahshur in Egypt are still one of those unparalleled sights that we all would be lucky to behold in our lifetime. The capital of the Old Kingdom of Egypt, this region is dotted with tombs, monuments, and pyramids that will make you gasp with wonder.
Rock and cave dwellings and underground villages dating to the 4th century are built into the erosion-sculpted pillars and pinnacles of this strange volcanic landscape. Just a head turn away are Christian sanctuaries of the Byzantine art period, a juxtaposition of civilizations that makes Cappadocia truly unique.
The world’s largest military structure, the Great Wall has a history extending all the way back to the 3rd century B.C. Stretching more than 12,000 miles, it is the only man-made structure visible from the moon, and the vast wall reflects artistic, architectural, social, and political histories of ancient China.
These stone remnants of the last great—and vanished—Hindu Kingdom of Vijayanagar, Hampi, in the Bellary District, include thousands of historical vestiges (gateways, shrines, stables, and more) and fabulously detailed, still intact temples and palaces.
Appearing from dense clouds and mist nearly 8000 feet above sea level is the 15th-century sacred Inca site Machu Picchu. A stone city built into the mountain ridge at the meeting point of the Peruvian Andes and the Amazon basin, Machu Picchu is accessible by the grueling 26-mile Inca Trail.
One of the most densely concentrated historic cities in the world, Valletta, the capital city of Malta, was ruled by Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, and the Order of the Knights of St. John over the course of its history. Surrounded by water and well maintained over the years, the city itself remains a beautiful example of late Renaissance urban planning and boasts beautiful monuments, buildings, cathedrals, and more.
Surrounded by mountains and gorges and accessible by a dim, narrow passageway called the Siq, the awe-inspiring city of Petra seems to materialize out of nowhere—or certainly a portal from another land. Inhabited from prehistoric times, this city belonging to the Nabatean people was a major trade center. Carved masterfully into the red sandstone rock, the city includes tombs, tunnels, temples, and mines.
More commonly known as Easter Island, this supremely isolated Chilean island in the Valparaiso Region—home originally to the Rapa Nui culture of Polynesian origin—is famous for its huge stone figures, known as moai, dotting the landscape.
You know that meteorite that crashed into the planet and wiped out over 50% of life on Earth, including the dinosaurs? Yep—this fossil-rich coastal cliff in Denmark bears record of the ash cloud formed by that impact. Even more fascinating is the area's million-year-long fossil record, which charts the evolution and return of life after the event.
Considered the foremost treasure of Indo-Islamic architecture in the world, the Taj Mahal was built between 1631 and 1648 in memory of the emperor’s beloved wife. The most skilled craftsmen, builders, and artisans were assembled from all corners of the empire for the task of building the structure and its surrounding Mughal garden.
This famously lavish palace and its surrounding grounds and gardens served as the primary home to French royalty from 1661 through 1789, when Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette had to depart for Paris during the French Revolution. Inside the sprawling chateau are 700 dazzling rooms and halls, displaying in full flush the opulence of classical French art and architecture.