Golden beaches, scrumptious food and thrilling culture shocks are what we have all come to expect from a holiday, but by venturing away from the main tourist spots, travellers can experience some truly captivating sites of natural beauty.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has accredited World Heritage Sites dotted all over the globe, including some of the most popular destinations in Europe. With a little research, you can be relaxing on the beach one day and exploring ancient landmarks the next!
These landmarks are certified by the UN due to their historical value, with the organisation helping to preserve them for their outstanding value to humanity.
Sites range from the works of Antoni Gaudi in Barcelona to Rome’s Colosseum, showcasing a magnificent diversity of culture from all four corners of the world. Once you see the UNESCO logo, you can rest assured you are visiting an area of timeless significance.
The landmarks often provide a snapshot of a bygone era, inviting travellers to delve deeper into the history of some of the world’s most fascinating locations.
Sites are divided into cultural, natural and mixed properties, meaning tourists can take their pick from a stunning mix of man-made and organic landmarks. Whether you’re a history buff or a fan of the outdoors, there is sure to be a UNESCO accredited destination to suit you.
There are over 1,000 World Heritage Sites across the globe, meaning there’s a strong chance one will be accessible on your next holiday.
Here are four spellbinding UNESCO sites that are within reach of our destinations:
See a delightfully authentic side of Spain in Segovia Old Town
You already know about Spain’s glorious beaches and the thriving metropolises of Madrid and Barcelona, but there’s another authentic, historic and beautiful side to the country that should not be missed.
Segovia Old Town is the perfect representation of classic Spain, oozing with sophistication and artistry and home to a vast array of breathtaking monuments and architecture.
The area was divided into different sections in the 16th century, with Moors, Christians and Jewish people all living in individual communities and collaborating as part of the manufacturing boom that swept through the country.
There are several monuments dating back to this period, most notably the spectacular Roman Aqueduct. Constructed around 50 BC, it remains a truly impressive site, measuring 813m in length and comprised of two arcades and 128 pillars. The structure has gone on to become a key symbol for the city as a whole, making up part of its coat of arms.
The Alcazar is another fundamental part of the town’s history, with its immense size and ship-shaped design making it especially picturesque. Its magical looks were rumoured to be the inspiration for Disney’s classic Cinderella castle and it’s easy to see the resemblance.
The first ever reference to the building is from 1120 when it was used as a fortress, though works were later carried out by King Alfonso X (1258) and Francisco de Morar (1587).
Surrounded by the Eresma and Clamores rivers and sitting on top of a rocky hill, the scenery around the castle is truly majestic, offering spectacular views over the local area.
How to get to Segovia: Madrid is the closest destination to Segovia and there is a high-speed train available between the two, reducing the 56- mile journey to around 40 minutes.
Length of time to spend in Segovia: The Aqueduct and Alcazar can both take up 1-2 hours of your time, while there are other historic attractions including the Mint (the oldest industrial building in existence in Spain) and the 16th- century Segovia Cathedral. The minimum recommended stay is four hours, but there’s more than enough here to make a full day trip worthwhile.
Places to eat and drink nearby: Meson don Jimeno is one of the top restaurants in the area, serving up an array of Spanish and international dishes. For a relaxing drink, try Bar Socorro, where a range of local wines and drinks are offered.
Explore the sacred columns of the sky in Meteora
As a holy place of pilgrimage for Christians across the world, the gargantuan rock formations of Meteora in Greece make up one of the most extraordinary sites in the world.
These immense rocks stand at a height of 1200ft, with six historic monasteries dotted around them. These date back to the 14th and 16th centuries and were constructed by monks, who spent months and years moving the materials to the top of the rocks to build the wonderfully opulent monuments.
With six monasteries to explore (Great Meteoron, Varlaam, Roussanou, Holy Trinity, St Nikolas Anapafsas and St Stephen’s), there is an abundance of culture to look forward to, and it’s all contained in one of Greece’s most divine landscapes.
As walking up to them is quite a challenge, it’s not advisable to walk up all of them in one trip, but one you certainly can’t miss is the largest: the Great Meteoron. It was founded in the 1300s by Saint Athanasios and features breathtaking Greek Byzantine art and the main cathedral adorned with 16th- century frescoes.
A must-see area is the old refectory of the monks, where pieces of a 16th- century dining table is preserved along with the original kitchen used by the builders. After you have seen the glorious art on display, take some time to wander around the museum, where a selection of prestigious religious artefacts is kept.
Make sure you take the trip to the summit of the monastery for the spectacular view over the local area – the perfect spot for some Instagram-worthy photo opportunities.
St Stephen’s is the most accessible of the six as it can be reached via a small bridge, meaning travellers don’t need to take on dozens of steps!
Life began on the rock in the 12th century and its founders are Hosios Antonios and Hosios Philotheos. The monastery features separate 16th-century and 18th-century cathedrals – the former was damaged during WWII and the Greek Civil War, while the latter remains well preserved with holy relics from Saint Charalambos.
Once you have looked at the majestic artistry of St Stephen’s, take some time to marvel at the astounding view of the Pindos Mountain.
How to get to Meteora: Located around two-and-a-half hours away from Preveza Airport, Meteora can be reached by car and plenty of excursion providers offer packages.
Length of time to spend at Meteora: While it can still be appreciated in 3-4 hours, Meteora should be viewed as a full-day excursion due to its gargantuan size and isolated location. With amazing walking routes and views to enjoy along with the monasteries, you will find plenty to look forward to.
Places to eat and drink nearby: The nearby areas offer a selection of bars and restaurants, serving up delicious Greek food and drink, including Kalampaka’s classy Panellinio Restaurant and the charmingly quaint Vavitsas Tavern in Kastraki village.
Go 250,000 years back in time at Cilento and Vallo di Diano National Park
With a history that dates back 250,000 years, Cilento and the Vallo di Diano National Park have lived through the Neolithic, Bronze, Iron Age, Roman and Middle Age periods and present the perfect day trip for Naples holidaymakers.
Whether you are exploring the beautiful greenery or learning about the area’s many artefacts, this UNESCO Heritage Site offers a blissful mix of history and nature.
Made up of sanctuaries and settlements throughout a mountainous region close to the Tyrrhenian Sea, this site features monuments such as the ancient monastery Certosa di Padula.
The Certosa is the largest in Italy and was founded in 1306. With over 320 rooms to explore, the sheer scope of the culture here is tough to comprehend. The biggest attraction is the second-largest cloister in the world, which is surrounded by 84 columns and is measured at three acres, but this jaw-dropping spectacle is just the start of the treasures available.
Within the national park is the ancient city of Velia, where visitors can expect a selection of Roman monuments. These include the Porta Rosa viaduct, which dates back to the fourth century BC and is one of the first ever architectural structures discovered in the Mediterranean.
After you have admired the architecture within the park, take some time out to wander around the luscious greenery. There are roughly 1,800 different plant species across the park, covering a beautiful variety of environments ranging from Blue Flag beaches to gargantuan mountain areas and small creeks. Therefore, whether you’re a history buff or a fan of the great outdoors, this UNESCO Heritage Site is sure to please.
How to get to Cilento: Due to its serene and rural surroundings, it’s tough to reach by public transport, but it is just 72 miles away from Naples by car and the route guarantees views that will leave you speechless.
Length of time to spend in Cilento: As the Cilento National Park area stretches for 699 square miles, there’s no way you can see all of its delights in one day. Instead, work out which specific sites you want to visit ahead of your trip.
Places to eat and drink nearby: With around 200 villages dotted throughout the region, you’re sure to find some tasty food on your travels. L’Occhiano in Felitto serves up authentic Italian cuisine with a charming local atmosphere, while the deliciously varied menu at Lilo LiberoLocale in Sala Consilina is another option.
Live your own fairytale in the jaw-dropping surroundings of Sintra
Stories of palaces, castles and towering hilltops are usually only seen in fairy tales, but the opulent town of Sintra turns these fantasies into reality.
After bearing witness to centuries of Portuguese history and surviving the devastating earthquake of 1755, Sintra was transformed into an idyllic setting. The 1836 redevelopment of a damaged monastery into the Pena Palace (complete with the Pena Park gardens) by Ferdinand II set the tone for what would turn into the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park.
Built using Gothic, Egyptian, Renaissance and Moorish elements, the monument quickly became one of the most resplendent constructions in Europe and helped to inspire a new generation of architects.
The structure led to renewed interest in Sintra, with artists such as Vianna de Motta and Richard Strauss flocking to the region for inspiration.
Older structures such as the 9th- century Castle of the Moors soon saw more attention and the region continues to attract tourists from across the world. Ferdinand II also restored this castle, turning it into a focal point of the Pena Palace gardens and allowing it to be preserved by UNESCO today.
Another vital part of the principality’s cultural landscape is the Palace of Sintra. Portuguese royal families lived in the building between the 15-19th centuries. With a selection of Moorish features, the building’s design is a charming throwback to days gone by.
The coat of arms room in particular showcases a majestic assortment of art, including a domed ceiling complete with stags holding the coats of arms from 72 different Portuguese royal families. The level of detail on show is nothing short of mesmerising and provides a thought-provoking insight into the history of Portugal’s monarchy.
How to get to Sintra: Based just 15 miles away from Lisbon, Sintra is the day trip for your city break. With several departures available from Rossio train station throughout the day and return tickets available for just €4.30 (£3.70), transport is cheap and convenient.
Length of time to spend in Sintra: With 123 square miles of history to explore, spending only a few hours here would mean missing out on some of Sintra’s prestigious attractions. Make sure you visit for the full day to truly capitalise on this extraordinary destination.
Places to eat and drink nearby: Restaurants and bars in Sintra offer friendly local hospitality and delicious food. Restaurante Metamorphosis prides itself on a varied menu and excellent service, whereas Cantinho Lord Byron is the ideal place for a relaxing drink after a day of exploring. It’s named in tribute to the 19th-century romantic poet Lord Byron, who fell in love with Sintra’s beauty, comparing it to Eden in the poem Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage.