Top 10 UNESCO World Heritage Sites
Chris’ personal picks from places in the world that he has visited.
There are currently 962 UNESCO World Heritage sites around the world in 157 countries and I certainly haven’t seen them all! However, I have seen many of them and these are some of the most memorable, both natural and historical.
Edinburgh, Scotland: The perfect mix of history and scenery, Edinburgh has been the Scottish capital since the 15th century. It has two distinct areas: the Old Town, dominated by a medieval fortress; and the 18th century neoclassical New Town. The way these two parts of the city meld into one glorious mix of magnificent buildings, is what gives the city its unique character.
Copan, Honduras: I had to choose one of the listed Mayan sites and this is my favourite. The place is magnificent. Pyramids, sweeping courtyards, imposing vistas and ceremonial ball courts emerge from the jungle. It was the capital city of a major Classic period kingdom from the 5th to 9th centuries AD and vibrant Images from these times leap out from the stones in the intricate carvings and hieroglyphics.
Pantanal, Brazil: In the centre of the South American continent, south of the Amazon basin and east of the Andes, lies an immense landlocked river delta where annual flood waters regularly and recede. This flood pulse has nurtured the greatest concentration of fauna in the Americas – greater than the Amazon. I stayed here on a remote fazenda or ranch beside the endless waters and just watched the wildlife in endless awe.
Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, Australia: Still better known as Ayers Rock, this starkly beautiful red monolith rises abruptly from the flat desert floor in the very centre of the Australian continent. The spectacular rock formations and surrounding sand plains provide rare habitats for an incredible variety of plants and animals. This land continues to hold powerful religious and cultural connections today for the Anangu aboriginal people and demands reverence from visitors too.
Robben Island, South Africa: This tiny island just offshore from Cape Town’s glittering lights is a world apart. It was used as a prison island for mostly political prisoners from the 17th to the 20th century and also as a leper colony and quarantine station. Out of this dark world, after 27 years of forced labour and imprisonment with 18 years on Robben Island, strode one of the most noble leaders of our generation: Nelson Mandela.
Taj Mahal, India: This has to be on the list. Quite simply the most beautiful building I have ever seen. I saw it first by moonlight one humid evening years ago and I can close my eyes and see it clearly any time. It’s the expression of love in stone, built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in the mid 1600’s in memory of his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal, after she died bearing their 14th child.
Lake Baikal, Russia: This is the most unique lake in the world, situated in Siberia just north of Mongolia. It’s the deepest – over 5,000 feet. The longest – over 1,000 kilometers. The oldest – around 25 million years. The most volume of fresh water – more than 20% of the world’s fresh water. The most unique flora and fauna – including fresh water seals. And its pristine beauty is breathtaking. I was there in spring when the ice break up added another dimension to the scene.
Acropolis, Athens, Greece: This is perhaps the most iconic expression of ancient civilizations’ architectural achievement. The Athenian Acropolis has existed in various forms since the third millennium BC. The Parthenon was built from 447 to 406 BC and this and the associated temple, grand entrance and Erechtheion have withstood the best efforts of many subsequent civilizations to destroy its imposing beauty.
Trinidad, Cuba: Step back centuries in time when you tread the cobbled streets of this colonial city. Founded in 1514, its greatest years were during the sugar boom of the 18th and 19th centuries when many fine palacios and homes were built. And then life and time itself moved on elsewhere, leaving this gorgeous city to dream of yesteryear and leaving us a treasure trove of history to wander around today.
Rideau Canal, Canada: A sentimental favourite for me – this is my ‘home’ site and the only one in Ontario. The Rideau Canal and associated fortifications were built after the War of 1812 as a defensive measure against the United States and it’s the only canal of this era to remain operational along its original line with all its locks and structures intact. Leisure boating, market towns, lakes, theatres and restaurants abound.