7 Little Known UNESCO World Heritage Sites You Should Visit

Crespi d’Adda, Italy

While I’m not obsessive about it, I do enjoy visiting UNESCO World Heritage Sites whenever possible. In case you’re not familiar with them, in 1972 the UN, through the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, began recognizing important sites around the world that they consider vital in order to maintain the cultural and natural heritage we have all inherited. We all know the big ones, but why I especially love visiting these sites is because most of them I wouldn’t know about if it weren’t for their UNESCO designation. I’ve discovered a lot of little known, off the beaten path sites that turned out to be fascinating, fun places to explore. There are more than 1,000 sites around the world and although I’ve only been to 100, I decided to go through my notes and share a few of the ones that although you may not know them, you should definitely add them to your must-visit list.

1. Crespi d’Adda, Italy

Located near Milan and Bergamo in Northern Italy, I was surprised by this small, planned city in nearly every way. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, industrialists around the world created what became known as ‘company towns.’ These small communities centered around a particular company gave workers everything they needed, from housing to stores and even cemeteries. Many of these towns were nothing but a way for the company owners to further control their workers, keeping them under their proverbial heels, but some became enlightened examples of proper labor management. Crespi d’Adda is one such enlightened community and instead of seeking to subjugate their employees, the town was created to provide them with a better quality of life. This small town is on the UNESCO list because it still exists mostly intact and looks like it did nearly a century ago. While the company has long since shuttered, people still call this town home and walking through the planned community it’s easy to imagine the well-ordered life that once existed here. Crespi d’Adda is easy to reach from Bergamo and if 20th century history is your thing, then this is a must visit site.

South Africa Overberg

2. Cape Floral Region Protected Area, South Africa

One of my favorite countries in the world, the beauty of South Africa is diverse and even opulent at times. The areas near Cape Town though have a secret, the rich floral region is amongst the most diverse in the world. From the scraggly fynbos to the yearly explosion of wildflowers, the ecology here is unlike anything else on the planet. A fact to consider, this area accounts for just 0.5% of the area of Africa but is home to nearly 20% of the continent’s flora. That’s an amazing level of diversity and makes exploring this region a beautiful experience. One of the best ways to get out amongst the fields is by taking a wildflower safari like the one offered at the Grootbos Resort in Hermanus. Expert naturalists take guests out in a safari truck to experience the natural side of the area for a once in a lifetime experience. Even if you’re like me and have a marginal interest in such things, the shocking beauty of the region simply can’t be denied.

3. Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, Canada

Canada does a great job in relating the stories and experiences of the continent’s original inhabitants, perhaps best seen at Head-Smashed-In-Buffalo-Jump. The name tells it all really, the cliffs at this site were used for thousands of years by the local tribes as a way to efficiently kill and then harvest entire herds of buffalo. In turn the meat and skins of the animals helped them survive, sometimes for years at a time. Because the site was used for more than 6,000 years, the site has revealed a lot of information about the area’s prehistory and even today there are still secrets waiting to be discovered. The visitor’s center is one of the best I’ve seen and the museum is a fascinating look at the local First Nations Peoples and what their lives were like before and after the arrival of European settlers.

brimstone kitts

4. Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park

Although it may be hard to tear yourself away from the near-perfect beaches, when you visit St. Kitts be sure to include a visit to the island’s UNESCO site, Brimstone. Built in the 17th and 18th centuries, Brimstone is one of the best preserved examples of British engineering in the Caribbean and is a testimony to the power and influence of the European powers in the Caribbean. Aside from its historical importance, visiting the old fort is a beautiful experience in its own right. St. Kitts is an almost impossibly lush island and from high atop Brimstone hill you can see huge swathes of the verdant green island, from the coasts to the mountains. Sitting atop the mighty fortress and admiring the views was my favorite experience on St. Kitts and it shouldn’t be missed if you find yourself on this otherwise tranquil island.

Trogir Croatia

5. Historic City of Trogir, Croatia

Croatia is no stranger to UNESCO sites, but while many folks visit their more popular ones, the small town of Trogir is sometimes overlooked. Not far from the coastal tourism powerhouse city of Split, Trogir is another Croatian town that seems to have forgotten which century it’s supposed to be in, the best kind of town in my opinion. A beautiful summer day, the medieval core of the town was buzzing with tourists the day I visited, there for the sights of course, but also some shopping and delicious food. I was reminded of Venice, not in style, but substance. It’s also impossibly old, which is why UNESCO decided to recognize it. People have called these same streets home since the Greeks; unlike many other cities, people have lived there continuously since the Hellenistic period. Think about how long that is for a moment and you too will be stunned by this beautiful, coastal retreat.

Switzerland

6. Rhaetian Railway in the Albula/Bernina Landscapes

Trust me, this is better than it sounds. Tucked away in the Alps bordering Switzerland and Italy is one of the most beautiful scenic train journeys in the world – the Bernina Express. Starting in Tirano, Italy and finishing in Chur, Switzerland, the journey takes passengers through some of the most jaw-droppingly gorgeous landscapes in the world. It wasn’t the beauty that piqued the interest of UNESCO though, it was the engineering involved with creating this industrial masterpiece. The two railways include 42 tunnels and 144 viaducts and bridges, impressive given the snowy, mountainous terrain the train journeys through. The train didn’t start out as a tourist experience though, it had real importance in linking small, isolated communities with the rest of the world. Thankfully, these villages are still isolated and their beauty has been well preserved through the decades.

Albi Cathedral

7. Episcopal City of Albi, France

Located in the heart of the incredibly green rolling hills of the Tarn region of France, Albi is an absolute treasure. I’m a history fan, and I loved learning more about the tragic history of the Cathars, which culminated in and around Albi more than eight hundred years ago. But on the lighter side, Albi was also the birthplace of Toulouse-Lautrec, the famed French artist of the 19th century. The Toulouse-Lautrec museum conveniently located in the heart of Albi has just been renovated and it is a masterpiece of modern design and museum management. I truly enjoyed roaming the galleries admiring the impressive display of Toulouse-Lautrec works. No matter what you decide to do in Albi, I know you’ll enjoy wandering its streets as much as I did.

What are some UNESCO World Heritage Sites you’ve visited that we may not know a lot about?

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By: Matt Long

Matt has a true passion for travel. As someone who has a bad case of the travel bug, Matt travels the world in order to share tips on where to go, what to see and how to experience the best the world has to offer. Also follow Matt on Twitter, Facebook and

12 Responses

  1. Dale

    The Bernina Express landscapes look outstanding. Reminds me of some of the views we saw in Switzerland (the end destination) last year. Would love to take that train.

    Reply
  2. Sabine

    Everyone indeed wants to visit the more famous Unesco sites. I like to visit them all one day, but one at a time 🙂
    I’ve seen a lot of them and even some of your list (Buffalo jump in Canada and Cape Floral region in South Africa). The others look every interesting as well. Thanks for sharing this post, interesting!

    Reply
  3. Jenna

    I love visiting UNESCO sites because each one is different and special. I visited a couple of lesser-known ones this summer–the sacred way in Congonhas and the entire historic town of Ouro Preto in Brazil. When I lived in the Czech Republic, one of my favorite day trips was to the small town of Kromeriz; its palace and formal gardens are a UNESCO site.

    Reply
  4. Lauren McShane

    Great list…especially Grootbos-it’s a tough place not to fall in love with 😉 Penang and Malacca in Malaysia are two UNESCO sites I’ve grown to love while living in Malaysia. So many beautiful buildings, temples and fortresses from yesteryear to marvel at.

    Reply
  5. Reni

    Great post and happy to see that the Rhaetian Railway in the Albula/Bernina made is mentioned on your list. Switzerland is our home country and it’s always wonderful to read about our home.

    Reply
  6. Kirstie

    Beautiful destinations! I’ve traveled a lot but haven’t been to any of these places, so these are getting added to my bucket list!

    Reply
  7. Merle Welch

    It’s wonderful to see Episcopal City of Albi, France listed in UNESCO world heritage sites. Albi is an absolute treasure and the works of Toulouse-Lautrec are a treat to our eyes.

    Reply
  8. Sophie @ Sophie's World

    Just discovered Skara Brae in the Orkneys this summer; it jumped straight to the top of the list of my fave UNESCO sites.

    Reply
  9. Marta Kulesza

    The Bernina express is something I would love to do as I love scenic train rides (or really any train rides for that matter). I have not heard of any of these sites apart from Trogir so I am glad to have learned something!

    Reply
  10. Ed

    I too haven’t visited any of these which is why the Unesco list is so fun because there are so many to find and enjoy. One of my favorites was Canaima National Park in Venezuela. Very few tourists get there despite the fact that it contains one we may all be relatively familiar with: Angel Falls (highest waterfall in the world). Amazing and other-worldly. If you ever get there, be sure to see it by small plane too; well worth it.

    Reply
  11. Claus Gurumeta

    Very fun. I haven’t been to any, but I always enjoy visiting UNESCO sites, as they never disappoint. It’s great too because the list is so long that there’s always a new place to discover!

    Reply
  12. Claire Herring

    A couple off the beaten track in my home area are Creswell Crags, prehistoric cave paintings and the Derwent Mills for industrial heritage lovers, although the landscape is pretty scenic too.

    Reply

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