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10 UNESCO Heritage Sites across Europe for your inner culture geek

Europe is a continent of incredible beauty. It boasts intriguing landmarks with outstanding cultural and historical significance, of which some have been registered on the UNESCO World Heritage List. From mysterious ancient ruins and well-preserved towns to impressive temples and arenas from ancient civilizations.

So, If you’re planning your next holiday trip, why not consider adding these gems to your list?

1. Angra do Heroismo - The Azores

Angra do Heroismo is located on the island of Terceira, in the Azores. Possibly dating from 1450, it is the oldest town of this alluring Portuguese archipelago. The town played a major role as a port-of-call for ships sailing between Europe and America from the 15th century onwards. The bay of Angra flourished from that moment which was reflected in its urban landscape.

In January 1980, an earthquake hit Angra and damaged considerably the city's historic center. But it was rebuilt, preserving its centuries-old road networks, as well as its buildings using traditional materials and techniques.

Angra do Heroismo, Terceira,Azores, yacht harbour with historic buildings in the backgorund

In 1983, the city of Angra was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list for the important urban development around its bay and its contribution to the discovery of the New World. Walking around the old town is like traveling back in time. The historic center is enchanting and full of treasures to discover, including the fortresses, The Sé cathedral, and the Franciscan convent.

How to get there?

The quickest way to get to Terceira is by plane. The island has a small airport that connects the island with Lisbon in a little more than 2 hours. From the main island of the Azores, São Miguel, you can take a short flight to Terceira or get a ferry.

2. Urnes Stave Church - Norway

Urnes Stave chuch, Sohnfjord, Norway, black church surrounded by a cemetery  and mountains

Between the 11th and 14th century, about 1.200 Stave churches were built in Scandinavia. At that time, the Vikings were Christianized, and as sailors, ships played an important role in their beliefs. That's why they constructed their churches as “upside-down ships". Only 28 of these extraordinarily shaped churches remain one of which is the Urnes Stave Church, the oldest of Norway's stave churches. It was built around 1130 AD and brings together traces of Celtic art, Viking traditions, and Romanesque structures. It is the most distinctive and decorated of all Norwegian stave churches and has characteristic carvings on the north wall.

The church was included on UNESCO's World Heritage List in 1980 for its unique artistic design. It sits in a beautiful location in the majestic Lustrafjord.

How to get there?

You can reach Ornes - where the stave church is located - by ferry from Solvorn on the other side of the fjord. The journey takes around 20 minutes. From Bergen, Solvorn can be reached by car in about 5 hours, from Alesund it is about 5,5 hours.

3. The Valley of the Temples - Sicily

Spread around Sicily, the Greeks have left their marks, and for that reason, it possesses some of the best-preserved temples in Europe. The most impressive ones can be found in Syracuse, Selinunte, and Segesta. But The Valley of the Temples - not far from the historic centre of Agrigento - is undoubtedly the most important one!

In 1997, it was declared by UNESCO a World Heritage Site for being one of the largest and most remarkable testimonies of antiquity in the Mediterranean area.

Temple of Concordia, Valley of Temples, Agrigento, Sicily, ruin of a Greek temple

Founded in the 6th century BC by the Greeks from Rhodes and Crete, Akagras - which was the name of Agrigento - was a thriving Greek city. Its wealth is manifest in its amazing constructions, including eight imposing Doric temples. These masterpieces you can admire as you stroll through the valley surrounded by olive groves and the sea in the distance.

How to get there?

You can visit the Valley of the Temples as an organized day trip from Palermo or Catania or go on your own. From Palermo, it is a 2-2,5 hrs drive and from Catania, a 2 hrs drive. You can also make your way up to Agrigento and use this town as your home base. From Agrigento, there are public buses to the site.

Tip! Head after your visit to the Scala dei Turchi in Realmonte, close to the Valley of the Temples. It is famous for its white limestone cliffs that drop steeply into the turquoise waters below.

4. Bru na Boinne - Ireland

Sitting within the inland island known as the Bend of the Boyne, the archaeological site Brú na Bóinne consists of a large collection of Neolithic monuments of which three burial mounds: Newgrange, Knowth, and Dowth. Each holds its own unique story – but it's the combination of all three amid Ireland's countryside that makes this complex unique. The site dates back over 5,000 years - making it older than Stonehenge and the Egyptian Pyramids - and was rewarded in 1993 as UNESCO Heritage Site because of its artistic value and for being the largest collection of megalithic art in Europe.

Newgrange Passage Tomb, Bru Na Boinne, Boyne Vallye, Ireland, Neolithic tomb on a green hill

Access to the large (80m in diameter!) mound of Newgrange is through the Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre. In the centre, you’ll find state-of-the-art interpretive exhibitions where you can learn more about Neolithic culture and get guided tours of these extraordinary monuments.

How to get there?

From Dublin, it is an hour's drive (60 km) to Brú na Bóinne, or you can take organized day trip by bus (including entrance to the site) from Dublin.

5. Coimbra - Portugal

Book shelf in Coimbra university library, Coimbra, Portugal

Perched on a steep hill, this charming pocket-size city of Portugal is home to one of the oldest universities in operation in the world. Since Coimbra University buildings are spread through many areas of Coimbra’s old town, the whole city has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2013.

"A reward for being one of the most relevant educational institutions in Portugal and abroad"

A visit to the old university has to include its magnificent library, built in the early 18th century with over 200,000 volumes. Also the old Romanesque cathedral, historic monasteries, the colourful São Miguel Chapel, and the beautiful ceremonial rooms cannot be missed.

How to get there?

Coimbra is about halfway between Portugal's main cities, Porto in the north and Lisbon in the south. From Porto you need a 1,5 hr drive to reach Coimbra, from Lisbon it takes about 2 hours. From both cities, there are also train connections to Coimbra.

6. Þingvellir National Park - Iceland

Þingvellir National Park is situated 50 km to the east of Reykjavík. It is Iceland’s most historic site. In fact, the oldest existing parliament in the world first met here in AD930 and reunited here every year to enact laws. It also served as a gathering place for the Icelandic people. It was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2004.

Phingvellir National Park, Iceland, white houses on a small river on a green plain and mountains in the back

Apart from its cultural importance, Þingvellir National Park is also a fascinating natural site. The Mid-Atlantic Rift runs through Þingvellir and in the park you can clearly see the division between the North American and Eurasian plates which runs straight through Iceland. You can explore the site on foot and the Þingvellir Visitor Center has various exhibitions about its important past.

How to get there?

Þingvellir National Park is just 50 km east of Reykjavík and can be easily reached by car in less than an hour. There are also numerous tours departing from Reykjavik each day visiting Þingvellir National Park and the Golden Circle.

7. Syracuse and Pantalica - Sicily

Home of Archimedes and a crossroads of various ancient civilizations, Syracuse displays its grandeur and importance in history. As a matter of fact, many cultures have ruled or sought refuge in Syracuse, from the Greeks and the Romans to the Byzantines and Normans. Not only they have left their footprints on Sicily but influenced the development of a unique Mediterranean civilization as well.

For this the historic center of Syracuse and the rock necropolis of Pantalica entered the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2005.

The necropolis of Pantalica is situated in a deep gorge in the Iblei Mountains, northwest of Syracuse. It holds more than 5,000 tombs cut into the rock walls, most of them dating from the 13th to 7th centuries BC.

The historic center of Syracuse blends reminiscent of the Middle East, Baroque, and Sicilian flairs with a Greek theatre and temple, a Roman amphitheater, a Baroque cathedral, and the Tomb of Archimedes. It reveals the importance that Syracuse had for almost 3,000 years in the Mediterranean area.

How to get there?

Syracuse can be easily reached from the city of Catania on the east coast of Sicily by car or by bus. From Catania, there are various day trips to Syracuse and the Necropolis as well.

Ortigia, Syracuse, Sicily, Italy, ancient city island surrounded by water

8. Edinburgh's Old & New towns - Scotland

Scotland’s capital is one of Europe’s most beautiful cities with a unique character that comes from the striking contrast between the Old Town and the New Town.

In the 18th century, the Old Town was overcrowded and unhygienic. The city’s upper classes envisioned a new standard of living which led to the creation of the spacious New Town, in 1767.

Still today, the medieval Old Town has retained its distinctive pattern of narrow passageways and ancient buildings while the elegant New Town boasts the best-preserved examples of neo-classical architecture. For its architectural and historical importance and outstanding urban landscape, t

View on Edinburgh old town, Scotland, historic city

The Old and New Towns of Edinburgh gained UNESCO World Heritage status in 1995.

How to get there?

You can reach Edinburgh by car, train, or airplane. The Waverley railway station is located between the Old and New Towns, so you can reach both areas easily on foot! If you come by plane you can take a tram from Edinburgh Airport up to St. Andrew Square in the New Town. The ride takes 30 minutes.

9. Evora - Portugal

Dating from the Roman era, Portugal's ancient city Évora flourished when it became the seat of the Portuguese royals to serve as their residence, in the 15th century. This decision contributed to its development and cultural importance in the following centuries. It was indeed Évora's long history and exemplary urban centre that lead UNESCO to classify the city as a World Heritage site in 1986.

Town center of Evroa, Alentejo, Portugal, people sitting in a cafe in a  historic own

The best way to see the city is on foot, walking through its narrow medieval streets lined with low whitewashed houses. You will notice a sumptuous Manueline architectural style with lavish ornaments in windows, columns, and arcades and nautical motifs of anchors - remembering Portugal’s marine history.

A visit to Évora isn't complete without visiting the "Capela dos Ossos" chapel, whose interior walls are decorated with human skulls and bones...

How to get there?

Evora is located in the heart of Alentejo in Eastern Portugal. From Lisbon, you can reach Évora in a little 2-hour drive.

10. Bryggen - Norway

In 1979, Bryggen - the old wharf of Norway’s city Bergen - entered the UNESCO World Heritage list for its essential role in the Hanseatic League - a group of trader towns - around the 15th century. The Hansa established their offices in Bryggen and used the characteristic wooden buildings as warehouses.

Many of the houses of Bryggen have been destroyed in several fires, the last one dating back to 1955. But, they got rebuilt following old building techniques and using ancient wooden structures. When you visit the old Wharf today, you travel back in time. The wharf has preserved its heritage and the feel of a historical trading port. You will find artisan stores selling hand-made local crafts, the popular Fish Market, and excellent seafood restaurants. To finish your meal, be sure to try the sweet Norwegian delicacy “Skoleboller” (tender buns with pastry cream) at the local artisan bakery!

Old hanseatic quarter of Bryggen, BErgen, Norway, historic houses and alley

How to get there?

Bergen is 463 km away from Oslo, a seven-hour drive. There is also a direct train that runs daily from Oslo to Bergen. From Oslo-Gardermoen Airport and various locations from Europe, you can fly daily to Bergen as well.

Start planning your next trip to our wonderful destinations and check out our small adventures for some inspiration. Finally, get in touch with us to discuss your plans and to receive a personal and customized quote.


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