The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) is an international agency that holds the power of giving landmarks or areas the prestigious World Heritage Site status. To receive this status, the landmark or area must be deemed to have significant scientific, historical, natural or cultural value. There are hundreds of World Heritage Sites all over the world, but let’s take a look at twelve of the most incredible UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Europe.
1. Mont-Saint-Michel, France
Found in the Normandy region of France, Mont-Saint-Michel is a tidal island so becomes particularly breath taking at high tide when it appears to be floating on water. The island and its surrounding bay became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979 thanks to its unique aesthetic and importance as a Catholic site.
2. Schönbrunn Palace, Austria
Schönbrunn Palace has been an icon of Vienna, Austria since the Habsburg era. The palace that you see today was built during 1740 – 1750’s, and along with its pristine gardens, was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1996. Schönbrunn’s Gloriette building is equally as famous as the palace. Sitting atop a hill at the back of the land, it features a lovely café and rooftop with views looking back to the palace.
3. Cappadocia, Turkey
Cappadocia is truly a marvellous World Heritage Site, as it was the first natural site given UNESCO title status in 1985. Its unique rock formations, cave churches and houses carved into the rock face are often compared to what we imagine it would be like to be on the moon.
4. Budapest, Hungary
The capital city of Hungary has a storied history, with the city previously split in two halves – Buda and Pest. Instantly recognisable, Budapest’s iconic buildings that line the Danube River were given the honour of UNESCO World Heritage status in 1987. This includes the Buda Castle Quarter, Andrássy Avenue and the Banks of the Danube.
5. Cinque Terre, Italy
Italy has the highest number of World Heritage Sites in the world (with 58 so far) and Cinque Terre is just one of many! These five seaside villages are picture-perfect, built into the coast with their colourful buildings. Due to its scenic and cultural value, Cinque Terre was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. Its scenic hikes that link the villages are a bucket list item for many avid travellers.
6. Palau de la Música Catalana, Spain
The Palau de la Música Catalana is a revered concert hall, found in the heart of Barcelona and a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997. With its colourful detail and floral motifs, the structure is a wonderful example of the Catalan modernista style by architect Lluís Domènech I Montaner. This style of architecture favours curves over straight lines, something that is evident from both the interior and exterior.
7. Giant’s Causeway, Ireland
Thanks to volcanic activity that occurred some 50 – 60 million years ago, 40,000 polygonal basalt columns were formed to create the Giant’s Causeway as we know it today. It has inspired lore and legend with its spectacular, yet unusual, formation, and it comes as no surprise that it was inscribed as a World Heritage Site in 1986 by UNESCO.
8. Old City of Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina
The Old City of Mostar is most famous for Stari Most, its bridge which was considered an incredible architectural feat when built in 1566. It had the widest arch in the world and was how this town got its name – derived from the Slavic word, mostari, meaning ‘bridge keepers’. UNESCO recognised the Old Bridge Area as a World Heritage Site in 2005.
9. Grand-Place, Belgium
Registered on the World Heritage List of UNESCO in 1998, the Grand-Place of Brussels is one of the most beautiful squares in Europe. Step foot on its cobblestones and marvel at the grand guild house architecture that has seen through so much history. To this day, it is still a central gathering location for various events held throughout the year.
10. Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia
Plitvice Lakes National Park is a unique oasis, featuring azure waters that cascade over terraced waterfalls, through caves and canyons, and surrounded by lush forests. This unmissable National Park has held World Heritage Status since 1979 and attracts travellers from around the world to explore by boat or foot.
11. Bryggen, Norway
Norway is a country full of epic scenery and sights, so it comes as no surprise that the iconic Bryggen area of Bergen was named a World Heritage Site in 1979. Bryggen is made up of a series of historic, colourful buildings built in the Hanseatic style. These narrow buildings have survived multiple fires and reconstructions but continue to follow the traditional style of building and materials used.
12. Meteora, Greece
Translated along the lines of ‘suspended in midair’, Meteora’s name is certainly apt for its incredible feat and World Heritage status since 1988. Monasteries were built high atop limestone rock formations by Greek Orthodox monks, of which there are 24 today and 6 that are open to the public. While you do have to climb many stairs to reach them, the sheer wonder you’ll feel at the top is worth it.