By V.L. Hendrickson
From natural wonders to architectural masterpieces, there are more than 1,000 spots on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) list. Talk about travel goals.
1. Cinque Terre
On the Ligurian coast, the five villages of Cinque Terre — hence the name — make up just one of Italy’s 51 World Heritage Sites, the most of any country. Start in Monterossa and walk to Vernazza (or all the way Riomaggiore) on a path through terraced vineyards and overlooking the water. On your way, stop at local restaurants for seafood and pasta with pesto; the basil sauce was created in the area. World Heritage site since 1997.
2. The Colosseum
The Colosseum, where up to 65,000 ancient Romans watched gladiators fight to the death, is one of the most recognizable monuments in the world. But all of Rome’s center is considered a heritage site, which includes ruins of antiquity like the Mausoleum of Augustus and the Pantheon. The Vatican has its own designation. World Heritage site since 1990.
3. Mausoleum of win shi huang
China is a close second for the largest number of UNESCO sites: 50. The more than 8,000 terracotta statues at the Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor (Qin Shi Huang) near Xi’an were discovered in 1974; the tomb has still not been completely excavated. Each statue of the emperor's armed retinue is unique, with its own features and weapons. World Heritage site since 1987.
4. Pyramids of Giza
The pyramids of Giza were one of the world’s seven wonders long before the United Nations was formed, and Memphis and its necropolis are even more impressive in modern times. Take a camel to see the area, with rides starting at $45. World Heritage site since 1979.
The prehistoric monuments at Stonehenge, England, and nearby Avebury, are some of the earliest known man-made monuments. The 6,500-acre site offers walking tours and has volunteers on site to answer questions, as well as exhibits and replicas of neolithic homes. World Heritage site since 1986.
6. Giant's causeway
The 40,000 black basalt columns that arise from sea at the Giant's Causeway once inspired images of, you guessed it, giants stepping over the water from Ireland to Scotland. These amazing formations were created by volcanic activity some 60 million years ago. Bonus: the Bushmills distillery is nearby. World Heritage site since 1986.
7. Loire valley
Speaking of drinking, France’s Loire Valley is also a heritage site. The central part of the valley, between Sully-sur-Loire and Chalonnes, is known for its vineyards as well as orchards and historic towns. There are all sorts of tours, from cycling the area to hopping from chateau to chateau to, of course, wine tastings. World Heritage site since 2000.
Who can resist the opulence of the Palace and Park of Versailles, home to French kings from the time of Louis XIV to Louis XVI. The Galerie des Glaces, or Hall of Mirrors, features 17 arcaded windows with mirrored arches to reflect the garden below. Only about 12 miles from Paris, the fancy French castle makes a perfect day trip. World Heritage site since 1979.
9. Shirakawa-go and gokayama
In the villages of Shirakaway-go and Gokayama the traditional “gassho-zukuri” thatched farm houses are the only ones of their kind in Japan. The people in this remote area thrived on the cultivation of silkworms and mulberry trees, and their homes reflect a deep connection to the mountainous landscape. World Heritage site since 1995.
10. Catedral metropolitana
Brasilia was built from scratch beginning in 1956, and is now a landmark of urban planning. Designed architect Oscar Niemeyer and planner Lucio Costa, Brazil’s capital city is full of inventive design, like that of the Catedral Metropolitana, shown here. It is the only city built in the 20th century to be designated a heritage site, and it’s definitely worth taking an architectural tour. World Heritage site since 1987.
11. taj mahal
The Taj Mahal is one of the world’s great monuments to love, built between 1632 and 1654, as a tomb for Mumtaz Mahal, wife of the emperor Shah Jehan. Skip the tour — the building and surrounding complex in Agra, India, speak for themselves — but know that the only way to beat the crowds is to arrive with the sun. World Heritage site since 1983.
13. taos pueblo
Taos Pueblo is a tribute to the Pueblo people of what is now New Mexico and Arizona. Established in the late-13th and early-14th centuries, the Church in the Pueblo de Taos, shown here, is just part of the settlements in the area. The Pueblo culture is still active, and Taos is also known for its artistic community as well as the northern New Mexican cuisine (think fresh red and green chile). World Heritage site since 1992.
14. glacier bay national park
Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska offers more than 3 million acres of rainforests, glaciers, wilderness and wildlife. Take a boat, plane or walk in this natural habitat. World Heritage site since 1979.