Did you know over 1,100 UNESCO World Heritage Sites exist around the world? For the World Heritage List, sites must hold outstanding universal value to humanity and meet several criteria relating to their historical, cultural, scientific, or some other form of substance.
Virago Journeys chose these spectacular sites because they include travel to our favorite places that we craft unique small group itineraries for: Italy, Greece, and Croatia.
So, follow along as we share with you five spectacular UNESCO sites you need to add to your bucket list...
Try island hopping in Croatia…with more than 1,000 islands you’ll soon find your favorite! The islands abound with wineries, lavender fields, olive groves, caves, and even a restaurant in an abandoned city of stone houses. Stay on one or two islands and enjoy private boat trips to neighboring ones. Then indulge in a swim in the crystal-clear Adriatic Sea. And you must explore the mainland with its glorious ancient walled cities, National Parks, and many UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including the two breathtaking cultural sites below.
Old City of Dubrovnik, Croatia
Dubrovnik is one of the world’s most magnificent walled cities, perfectly preserved and encircled by massive stone walls built around the 11th century while the city itself dates to the 7th century when it was known as Ragusa. As recently as 1991, the city sustained damage from a civil war, but it has since been completely restored. Dubrovnik offers spectacular scenery and remarkable history. It is a city of many, many steps, and it takes about two hours to “walk the walls” that wrap around its historic center to enjoy the best views of the “Pearl of the Adriatic” and the surrounding lush green islands. And though the walls are its most alluring sight, Dubrovnik’s Baroque churches, monasteries, palaces, Renaissance fountains and facades are all intertwined with gleaming wide marble-paved squares, steep cobbled streets and houses—all still unchanged for centuries. A bonus to Dubrovnik’s allure is that it is still a lived-in city, vibrant and bustling with locals whose homes line the narrow streets and sunlit squares. Thus, in addition to visiting the varied historical sites, visitors can enjoy markets, bazaars, cafes, bars and restaurants and feel like a local.
Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia
Thousands of years of flowing waters created natural dams, known as tufa barriers, which then became beautiful lakes, caves, and spectacular waterfalls. Plitvice Lakes is Croatia's largest national park covering almost 116 square miles, set within a stunning landscape of forests and meadows in the lower elevations of the Dinarides in the central part of the country. This impressive park contains sixteen interconnecting lakes with waterfalls that dissect the upper and lower lakes, which vary in color from emerald to turquoise to deep blue. Take a stroll along the wooden pathway that meanders alongside the lakes and stunning waterfalls or cruise between the lakes for an opportunity to explore even further. Yes, you can take it as a day trip from a neighboring city, such as Zagreb or Split, but for the best experience stay overnight near the park and start your visit in the early morning hours. Find that picture-postcard view of Plitvice Lakes on a trail that runs along the western cliffs of the park in the lower lakes section. You’ll get delightful aerial views of the lakes and boardwalk trails as you make your way to the Veliki Slap, the Big Waterfall. And if you’ve started early, then visit both the lower and upper lakes, a sensory indulgence you’ll remember for years to come.
This spectacular country in the Mediterranean remains a popular tourist destination for its famous islands. The breathtaking islands of Mykonos and Santorini are a must see, but there is more to Greece than the popular islands. The mainland hosts less crowded, less touristy regions that offer an authentic Greek experience. Or explore off-the-beaten-path islands. Some are tranquil and romantic with stunning beaches while others offer magnificent hiking opportunities. No matter where you visit, you’ll fall in love with Greece, its people, its food, and the magic of the Mediterranean Sea.
The Acropolis, Greece
An enduring symbol of classical Greek thought and art, the Acropolis of Greece rests on a hill in Athens, visible from about anywhere in the city. Acropolis means high city, and an exceptional group of architects in mid-fifth century BC turned this rocky hill into a unique monument of thought and art. It is home to the Parthenon, a temple built for Athena, the city’s patron goddess, and still the most striking ancient Greek complex in existence today. While only one of the 18 UNESCO sites in Greece, the Acropolis ranks as the most visited and the most enduring. Imagine surviving for twenty-five centuries through wars, explosions, bombardments, fires, earthquakes, sackings, interventions, and alterations? To adapt to different uses and the civilizations, myths and religions that flourished in Greece through time? Stunning sites await your senses on a tour of this magnificent hill. Pay homage to the Temple of Athena Nike and take in the six larger-than-life maiden statues acting as columns that support the southern part of the Erechtheion. Be sure to visit on a Sunday to feast your eyes on the flag procession led by the Presidential Guard while a band plays the Greek national anthem.
More than sightseeing awaits you on a vacation in Italy, it’s a total immersion into the Italian way of life. One of their passions is food, and Italian families share their lives in the kitchen with recipes that pass down from generation to generation. Reasons abound on why this is the most desired travel destination in the world. Not only is the entire country filled with stunningly beautiful cities, rambling countryside, scenic lakes, glorious mountains, and bluer-than-blue coastal areas, but the warmth of the Italian people guarantees a most memorable experience. Italy possesses fifty-eight UNESCO World Heritage areas to feast your eyes on, more sites than any other country in the world. Be sure to see one or two on your next visit.
The Dolomites, Italy
One of the world’s most beautiful playgrounds, this mountain range in northeastern Italy is a nature lover’s paradise. This World Heritage site covers nine areas that feature some of the most beautiful mountain landscapes with vertical rock walls, sheer cliffs marked by steeples and pinnacles, and a high density of narrow, deep, and long valleys. This natural site also contains glacial landforms and karst systems, with 18 peaks that rise to above 10,000 feet and cover about 550 square miles of territory. This is a true treat for the senses and needs a few days to enjoy. Winter and spring are for the snow enthusiast, where skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, and ice skating abound. Summer is the perfect time to see the wildflowers in the valley, made for the outdoor adventurist with horseback riding, golfing, hiking and biking. A must-do is a half-day hike of the Tre Cime di Lavaredo. This easy, well-marked trail circumnavigates six miles with three distinctive mountain peaks that loom large along the entirety of the trail. And fall is ideal for the road-tripper, who enjoys mild weather and shorter days to capture amazing sunrises and sunsets over the glorious peaks.
The Trulli of Alberobello, Italy
Found in the southern regions of Puglia, Italy, these unique small huts characteristically feature whitewashed stone walls, conical roofs, and freestanding (mortarless) construction. Many trulli have symbols painted on their corbelled roofs, usually with religious or astrological connotations. Made from roughly worked limestone excavated on-site, these buildings date back to 1000 AD, continuing to reflect the local geology and its landscape setting. Currently, in Alberobello, over 1600 of these natural structures remain. And the fact that these trulli are still inhabited make them exceptional historical and cultural monuments. The circular shape of the building keeps inhabitants warm in the winter and cool in the summer, while its shaded interior and pointed roof allows for the perfect airflow. Ranked as one of the prettiest places in Italy, you only need a few hours to tour the city. The best times are early morning and evening, when the trulli are all lit up like magic. So, if you appreciate a leisurely stroll in a quaint town, reminiscent of a fairytale, then a visit to Alberobello is for you.
See a cultural site to add to your bucket list? Virago Journeys visits these spectacular sites each year, so join us on our next small group tour, like our signature Absolute Italy tour, and cross one or two of these world heritage sites off your bucket list.
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W. Anne Jones
A curious explorer, learning and growing. Join me as I travel the world one day at a time.