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Top 10 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Europe

If you’re not sure where you want to go next, you might want to consider planning a trip around a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are more than a thousand cross the globe. A mix of cities, buildings, monuments, mountains, forests and other natural wonders, all are well-worth visiting, but these, in particular, are places you’ll want to plan an entire vacation around in Europe.

Plitvice Lakes National Park waterfalls of Plitvice Lakes National Park,  Croatia
Credit: waterfalls of Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia by Bigstock.com

Plitvice Lakes National Park

Once a relatively unknown gem, after being splashed across the Internet in countless photos, the word about Plitvice Lakes National Park has definitely gotten out. One of the most beautiful national parks in Europe, its allure includes 16 cascading lakes in crystal-clear shades of emerald and turquoise. Flowing over the limestone and chalk for thousands of years, the water created barriers that resulted in natural dams which form magnificent waterfalls, rivers and caves. One of the most impressive natural landmarks in Croatia, visitors can stroll the wooden walkways and cross bridges for a close up look.

The Acropolis, Greece Acropolis amphitheater, Athens
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The Acropolis, Greece

One of the world’s most iconic UNESCO sites and top attraction in Athens, the Acropolis boasts many ancient ruins, including an amphitheater, a temple to the goddess Athena, and the Parthenon, the most famous of all. For the best experience arrive early in the morning, right when the gates open at 8 a.m., or late afternoon after the tour groups have departed. The new Acropolis Museum holds many artifacts that were uncovered here and is well-worth exploring as well.

Stonehenge, England Salisbury and Stonehenge, Wiltshire
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Stonehenge, England

Stonehenge is the most famous of any stone circle on Earth, and one of the most popular attractions in the United Kingdom. On the UNESCO World Heritage list since 1986, it dates back 5,000 years to the Neolithic and Bronze Age, made up of massive, 40-ton rocks that were somehow dragged for miles across the barren plain to Salisbury Hill. As a fence surrounds it, keeping the general public from getting to close, the best way to experience it is to join a Special Access Tour that will allow you to stand in the inner circle. Make sure to explore some of the fascinating nearby attractions too.

Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland Giant's Causeway, Northern Ireland
Credit: Giant's Causeway, Northern Ireland by Bigstock.com

Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland

One of Northern Ireland’s most popular tourist attractions, this UNESCO-listed site got its name from the 40,000 basalt columns that interlock to form what looks like Legos, or perhaps a walkway fit for a giant. Some say it came from an ancient roadway that once used by giants to cross between Ireland and Scotland. What you see today is the result of a volcanic eruption that occurred 50 or 60 million years ago, with the lava cooling to provide its current shape. There are other unique rock formations throughout the area along with scenic trails for taking in magical coastal views.

Mont-Saint-Michel, Normandy, France Le Mont Saint Michel, Normandy
Credit: Le Mont Saint Michel, Normandy by bigstock.com

Mont-Saint-Michel, Normandy, France

Set upon a rocky tidal island about two-thirds of a mile off the coast in Normandy, Mont-Saint-Michel is a Gothic-style abbey built between the 11th and 16th centuries. The site, which becomes separated from the mainland daily due to strong tides in the area that change quickly, was originally used hundreds of years before as a stronghold of Gall-Roman culture and power. Walk along the mudflats of the bay during low tide and you’ll be able to capture a fantastic photo of the abbey from afar, especially breathtaking at dusk. It is recommend to join a guided walk across the bay of the Mont-Saint-Michel to avoid the dangers of the tides and quicksands.

Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina Mostar, Bosnia
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Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina

The small historic village of Old Mostar is a photographer and nature lover’s dream. Developed in the 15th and 16th centuries as an Ottoman frontier town, and during the Austro-Hungarian period in the 19th and 20th centuries, its famous Stari Most bridge, from which young men on the cusp of manhood would traditionally dive, was completely destroyed in the 1990s conflict, but today it’s been returned to its former glory. The turquoise river, refined minarets and shiny white stone make it especially striking, although reminders of its brutal past can still be seen in the bullet hole-laden walls and bombed out buildings that are tucked among shops and cafés.

Alhambra Palace, Granada, Spain Alhambra Palace in Grenada, Spain
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Alhambra Palace, Granada, Spain

The Alhambra and residential district of Albaycín developed during Spain’s Moorish history. A palace, castle, fortress, summer retreat and enclosed town all in one enchanting place, they’re set atop two adjacent hills, forming the medieval part of Granada. The only preserved palatine city from the Islamic period, it’s considered one of the best examples of Nasrid art in both decorative and architectural aspects. As one of Spain’s most popular attractions, you’ll need to book well in advance to enjoy a fascinating day explore the tranquil courtyards and royal chambers, as well as its stunning Moorish and Renaissance palaces.

Diocletian's Palace, Split, Croatia Diocletian's Palace built for Roman Emperor Diocletian in the historic center of Split, Croatia in the 4th century
Credit: Diocletian's Palace built for Roman Emperor Diocletian in the historic center of Split, Croatia in the 4th century by Bigstock.com

Diocletian's Palace, Split, Croatia

Roman Emperor Diocletian decided to have his retirement residence built in what is now Split, back in the 4th-century AD. Today, Diocletian’s Palace is a maze-like complex that makes up nearly half of the city’s old town. The “Palace” resembles a large citadel and was used by the emperor personally and as a military garrison. Filled with Roman, Gothic and Renaissance architecture, wander the marble pathways to discover centuries-old buildings that have been converted into interesting shops, bustling markets, cafes, bars and elegant apartments that were made from the barracks where Diocletian’s soldiers once resided. At its heart is the Cathedral Sveti Duji,  once the site of the mausoleum for the Roman emperor himself. Climb to the top of its bell tower for a magnificent panorama of the palace, city and the sea beyond.

Cinque Terre, Italy Cinque Terre National Park, Italy
Credit: Cinque Terre National Park, Italy by Bigstock.com

Cinque Terre, Italy

Cinque Terre is made up of five especially picturesque fishing villages. A travel bucket list destination for many, they feature impeccably-preserved architecture and a network of spectacular coastal and mountain trails, but no roads. You’ll have to get around on foot, but that just makes for a more magical atmosphere. Walk the trails that link the small villages of Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso, and look forward to taking in some of the world’s most breathtaking views.

Thingvellir National Park, Iceland River running through volcanic landscape in Thingvellir National Park, Iceland
Credit: River running through volcanic landscape in Thingvellir National Park, Iceland by Bigstock.com

Thingvellir National Park, Iceland

When Viking settlers arrived in the 10th-century Thingvellir was the site they chose as the meeting place of Althingi, the world’s oldest parliament. Named a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 2004, today it’s a popular stop on the Golden Circle Route. Explore the scenic trails viewing gorgeous waterfalls, streams and pools, or even dive at Silfra between the Eurasian and North American plates.

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