From a young volcanic island off the coast of Iceland to some of the oldest vineyards on the Azores and unreal geological formations across the continent, Europe holds amazing natural heritage considered to be of outstanding and unique universal value. You don't have to travel far in Europe to admire the amazing formations and many of the UNESCO recognized sites are easy to access, so we put together our list of 10 Unique UNESCO World Heritage Sites in stunning nature that you should give some serious through for your next adventure holiday.
1. Giant's Causeway & Causeway Coast - Ireland
On the north coast of the County of Antrim, in Northern Ireland, the Causeway Coast extends for about 6 km between Causeway Head and Benbane Head.
This coast has an unparalleled display of volcanic and geological formations that can be traced back to about 50-60 million years ago. The most characteristic and unique feature of the area is the large number (40,000!) of basalt columns that were naturally formed due to a submarine volcanic eruption - though legends tell a different story involving several giant's that were once resident along the Antrim Coast. These columns and pillar-like structures form the Giant’s Causeway and Causeway Coast which in 1986 were inscribed into the natural UNESCO Heritage list for their global geological importance.
How to get there?
The Giant Causeway is on Ireland’s northeast coast, approximately a one-hour car ride from Belfast and a 2.5-hour drive from Dublin. From Belfast, you can follow along the beautiful Antrim Coast, taking you through old forests, small valleys, sleepy villages and along one of Ireland's most beautiful coastline. You will also find the iconic Dark Hedges featuring in the Game Thrones series on the way.
You can easily make it a day tour from Belfast and even Dublin if you don't mind the long day and journey. Alternatively make it an adventure in the local area and spend a few nights in the historic city of Derry, Bushmills or the seaside town of Portrush
2. Laurel forest - Madeira
Madeira's laurel forest is the largest remaining laurel forest in the world and listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1999 for its ecological importance.
The laurel forests of Madeira used to cover a large area of the island and much of Europe until the last glaciation. When the island was discovered and colonized in the 15th century, the forest was dramatically reduced but still occupies about 20% of the island - most on the northern coast.
The forest - also called “Laurisilva” - can be found between 300 and 1300m altitude in a humid subtropical climate. The extremely dense forest is home to hundred years old trees, covered by ferns and mosses, as well as many local species of plants. Often, the forest is covered by fog and mist, adding a mysterious atmosphere.
There are several places on the island of Madeira where to explore the laurel forests, probably the most known is the Fanal forest.
How to get there?
Various airline companies from Europe's main countries fly directly to the airport of Madeira in Funchal. Alternatively, you can fly to Lisbon and take a flight with the national airline of Portugal, TAP.
To reach the Fanal Forest on the northern coast, it is recommended to rent a car. From the capital Funchal, it is about an hour's drive.
3. Neolithic Orkney - Scotland
Orkney’s most famous archaeological treasures – Skara Brae, the Ring of Brodgar, the Standing Stones of Stenness, and the Maeshowe chambered tomb – form the keystones of the Heart of Neolithic Orkney. Each of the four sites is a masterpiece of Neolithic design and construction in Scotland in itself but together they form one of Western Europe’s richest surviving Neolithic landscapes.
These important domestic and ritual monuments were built some 5,000 years ago, by the prehistoric people of the Orkney Islands and give incredible insights into the society and beliefs of the people of that time.
The Heart of Neolithic Orkney got the UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 1999. Not only for being an outstanding example of architecture but mainly for the role these monuments play in learning more about the culture and beliefs of Orkney’s Neolithic society.
How to get there?
The Heart of Neolithic Orkney is located on the main island of Orkney, Mainland.
The ferry ride between Aberdeen and Mainland's town Kirkwall takes about 6-7 hours. You can reach Aberdeen by bus, train, or car. Alternatively, there is a short crossing of just 1 hour between Gills Bay on the north coast of Scotland and St Margaret's Hope in Orkney's South Ronaldsay island, which is half an hour by car from Kirkwall.