Last year I wrote a post highlighting some of my favorite, but little known, UNESCO Sites. That post was so well received I thought I’d publish a Part II and highlight seven more spots around the planet that UNESCO has recognized even if many tourists don’t know about them. While I’m not compulsive about it, I enjoy visiting UNESCO World Heritage Sites when I travel. By keeping an eye on that massive list, I’ve discovered some out of the way and little known spots I would never have discovered on my own. I’ve been to about 130 of the more than 1,000 UNESCO Sites around the world, but of those 130 I’ve visited, here are some more that I think deserve a little tourism love.
Shark Bay, Western Australia
Located in the wilds of Western Australia, the Shark Bay UNESCO World Heritage region may seem remote, but it’s well worth the effort to visit this remarkable area. Located near the popular beach resort Monkey Mia, Shark Bay is a popular place to explore either on your own or on a Jeep Safari. The striking red sand meets the azure waters of the Indian Ocean in a contrast that will take your breath away, but that’s not why it’s on the UNESCO list. It’s there thanks to its incredible flora and fauna, but especially the stromatolites at Hamelin Bay. Stromatolites are the oldest life form on the planet and the only place on the earth accessible enough for people to visit these prehistoric creatures is in the Shark Bay region. Aside from the prehistoric beginnings to life on earth, it’s just a fun place to visit, spending a few days to explore as one of the few tourists around.
Dinosaur Provincial Park, Alberta Canada
Alberta is a remarkable part of the world that continues to surprise and amaze me, no matter how many times I visit. One such surprise happened when I discovered a provincial park in the southern part of the province that turned out to be an important UNESCO World Heritage Site – Dinosaur Provincial Park. Located about 48 kilometers from the nearest town, Brooks (population 13,000), and close to any number of small villages, Dinosaur Provincial Park is not a place one chances upon. This UNESCO World Heritage Site may not be an urban destination, but that is part of its charm. Calling the Canadian Badlands home, the Park includes nearly 20,000 acres of stunning badlands terrain and hiding just beneath the soil are those oh so famous dinosaur fossils. In addition to the gorgeous landscapes of the Canadian Badlands, the park is also on the UNESCO list because it’s the site of some of the most important fossil discoveries ever made from the Age of Reptiles.
Megalithic Temples of Malta
The Mediterranean island of Malta is today mostly known as a great place to enjoy some time in the warm sun. But the island also has an impressive history and it’s that history which drew me to Malta in the first place. The island nation’s history though extends much further back than most people realize, and it’s this ancient history that earned the megalithic temples a place on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Seven megalithic temples found both on Malta and Gozo are UNESCO World Heritage Sites and in my personal opinion they are not to be missed. More than 5,500 years old, the temples are some of the oldest surviving religious buildings in the world and just standing there in front of the entrance to these Bronze Age marvels is an experience almost like none other. My brain struggled to grapple with the crushing weight of history that this site has witnessed, from important ceremonies at the dawn of Western Civilization to events we will never fully comprehend. More than just an important historical site, the temple complex has a certain beauty in its own right. Looking around and gazing across the nearby valleys, you can immediately see why this spot was so important to our ancient cousins and you feel like the latest iteration in a remarkable chain of continuous reverence.
Fortress of Suomenlinna, Finland
When I finally had some free time to explore Helsinki, one of the first things I did was to actually leave the downtown, hop on a ferry and visit the nearby UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Fortress of Suomenlinna. Located a short 10-minute ferry ride from the heart of Helsinki, Suomenlinna is a massive sea fortress that was built on a group of islands back in the 19th century. Originally constructed by the Swedish, this community has been also controlled by the Russians and now the Finns. It’s on the UNESCO Sites list because it’s an especially interesting and rare example of European military architecture of the time and, as I discovered, it’s also a fun place to explore. Churches, old homes, museums and beautiful views are all part of the Suomenlinna experience, a fun and slightly quirky experience all visitors to Helsinki should make time for.
Bergpark Wilhelmshöhe, Germany
Located in the Hessian city of Kassel, the Bergpark Wilhelmshöhe is definitely not your average UNESCO World Heritage Site. Built in the 17th century by regional nobility, it’s essentially the biggest water fountain you’ll ever see. Descending a long hill, reservoirs and channels supply water to a complex system that supplies the site’s many grottoes, fountains and a 350-meter long Grand Cascade. Sadly, no water was running when I visited but I’m told it’s a spectacle to see in person. Plus it’s in Kassel, a fascinating city in its own right and home to the new Brothers Grimm Museum.
Rock Art of Alta
Located deep in the heart of Norway’s Arctic Circle, the small town of Alta is known for a lot of things, but not necessarily the site that put it on the UNESCO map. I was in Alta to see the Northern Lights, go sledding with huskies and a whole host of other wintertime activities. A pleasant bonus though was discovering the town’s not as famous but just as important rock art. The rock carvings in Alta go back as far as 4,200 BC and show a variety of scenes sharing the lives of ancient hunter-gatherers with us today. They were only discovered in the 1970s, but since then several of the sites have been converted into an open-air museum, preserving these prehistoric treasures for future generations. Sadly, I only got as far as the visitor’s center because during the winter the art is covered by snow. But during the summer months, thousands trek here to see the rock art and to explore the many hiking and biking trails around them.
Historic Town of St George and Related Fortifications, Bermuda
I added this UNESCO World Heritage Site not because the town itself is little known – thousands visit every year – but because most people don’t realize that it is a UNESCO recognized site. I love colonial history but the islands of both the North Atlantic and the Caribbean have an importance in this period of history that I sometimes forget. Founded in 1612, the Town of St. George is an amazing example of the earliest English urban settlement in the New World. As an American, I naturally always think of Virginia when I think of that time period, but Bermuda and St. George in particular played an important role in what is our shared history. It’s on the UNESCO Sites list not just because of this history, but because of the preserved look and feel of the town, a place that has an outstanding universal value to world history.
What are some other UNESCO Sites you’ve visited that we may not know a lot about?