UNESCO sites: our top ten sites in Europe to visit

Visiting sites of historical and cultural influence has always appealed to us whilst on the road and most of them are under the banner of ‘UNESCO World Heritage site’. This means the site is a landmark or area which has been deemed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation as having something historical, cultural and scientific about the place and is protected by international treaties. We have traveled quite a lot around Europe and we would like to share with you are favourite ten UNESCO sites which are worth checking out (in no particular order).

UNESCO, Netherlands, Kinderdijk
Claire at the Kinderdijk

1 – Mill Network at Kinderdijk-Elshout, The Netherlands

One of Netherland’s main landmarks are the mills at the Kinderdijk, north of Rotterdam (and is an excellent day trip away when visiting Amsterdam ). The locals here constructed a lot of hydraulic works to drain the land for agriculture back in the Middles Ages. Here a lot of dykes, reservoirs, windmills and pumping stations can be found. Not only its a great place for photography but also for bike rides, walks and runs in the area.

UNESCO, Kinderdijk, Netherlands
Windmills at the Kinderdijk

2 – The Belfries of Belgium and France

In Belgium and the northern parts of France, the architecture is very Dutch based with the roofs etc (that’s our opinion). We also love the belfries in this part of Europe which we built between the 11th and 17th centuries. Not going into too much detail about what they are but its basically to do with power and wealth of the people in the town. Whilst in other countries like Germany and England built town halls, in this area they built Belfries. When UNESCO first listed the belfries into the list, only 32 belfries in Belgium were listed but since then another one from Belgium and twenty-three from the north of France are now in the list. In total, there are fifty-six belfries (we haven’t visited them all but we are trying).

We have visited between us: Belgium: Antwerpen (x2), Brugge (Bruges), Diksmuide, Gent, Veurne, Ypres. France: Amiens, Arras, Béthune, Boulogne-sur-mer, Calais, Dunkerque (Dunkirk), Gravelines, Lille.

Diksmuide, Belgium, Belfry, UNESCO
Belfry at Diksmuide

3 – Historic centre (Old Town) of Tallinn, Estonia

If there was going to be a whole city put in the list then it has to be Tallinn. We have been here numerous times and we love the cobbled streets, quirky shops, great food and drink. Plus it’s even better when this place is buried under inches of snow, then the whole area taken in from Toompea Hill looks like a wintry Christmas Card. The city has stood here since the 13th century and is a major port on the Baltic Sea (and also a good day trip for those living in Helsinki , Finland across the water, just a two hour ferry ride to grab the cheap drink!).

READ ALSO: Top Places to Visit in Tallinn

Tallinn, UNESCO, Estonia
Claire in beautiful Tallinn

4 – Palaces and Parks of Potsdam and Berlin , Germany

This is one of the first places we visited after we met and as we were exploring the German capital of Berlin, the palaces of Potsdam had to be visited. The area is huge and has about 150 buildings as well as a massive park to walk around. 

READ ALSO: The UNESCO Site of Sanssouci Park

UNESCO, Germany, Palace, Potsdam
Checking out the palaces at Potsdam

5 – Acropolis, Greece

Come on, the Greeks gave us a lot of things like Science and Maths and Greek-Style yoghurt but they also gave us the Acropolis. A lot of visitors head to this ancient citadel located on top of a hill above the city. The site has several building which have lots of historic and architectural significance. The heart of these being the Parthenon. Well, this building is truly impressive despite being damaged in a war many centuries ago by the Venetians, to whom fired a cannonball towards it and with pot luck, hit a lot of gunpowder which was stored here and kaa-boom! The Parthenon we see today is from this explosion. Since then it has became a church, a mosque, some dodgy dealings took place with some Ancient Greek statues and marbles taken to the British Museum in London , UK (sorry guys but I am one of many thousands of Brits who want to see these returned to Athens) and a major restoration project commenced. Walking around the place I did have to keep an eye on where I was walking due to all the marble stones. Even in the dry heat of the sun they still can be slippery. Still, a UNESCO site which is worth checking out.

READ ALSO: Exploring Athens Famous Ruins in One Day

UNESCO, Athens, Greece, Acropolis
The Acropolis of Greece in the background.

6 – Þingvellir National Park, Iceland

This National Park located east of Reykjavik (isn’t everything located east of the Icelandic capital), hosted the Althing, which was an open-air assembly which acted as the first parliament on the island (and one of the first parliaments in the world) was established in 930AD and last met in 1798 and a lot of laws were made and passed.

READ ALSO: Our Guide For First Time Visitors to Reykjavik

National Park, Iceland, UNESCO
Þingvellir National Park

7 – Historic Centre of Siena, Italy

Siena is a beautiful city and I preferred the beauty of this place over Florence . I fell in love with it straight away, with its narrow cobbled streets which wind around the hilltop. The heart of the old city is the Piazza del Campo, an amazing shell-shaped town square and in the heart is the Torre del Mangia (The Mangia Tower) which is the second tallest medieval tower in Italy after the Asinelli Tower in Bologna at 112m (367ft). I found the square to be an ideal spot to get a quick snack from nearby (like a slice of pizza), find a step opposite the tower and just admire the building, square, tower and watch people get on with everyday life.

READ ALSO: Why Florence Is An Ideal Base For a Short Break In Tuscany

UNESCO, Tuscany, Siena,
Cathedral in Siena

8 – Auschwitz Birkenau, Poland

Not everything in life (or this list) is happy and rosy. We also have to remember the bad things in the past so that history doesn’t repeat itself. So it’s every right to include Auschwitz-Birkenau, the German Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camp which were in use from 1940 to 1945. The camps have been left as they were when the Russians came in and freed the survivors before pushing onto Berlin to end the Second World War in Europe. The fortified walls, barbed wire, barracks, gas chambers, platforms, they are all still here. These camps were the largest in the Third Reich and 1.5 million people (mostly Jews) were starved, tortured and murdered in the camps.

READ ALSO: My Emotional Visit to Auschwitz

Auschwitz, UNESCO, Poland
Auschwitz

9 – City of Bath, UK

Bath (2h30 drive from London or a 2h train journey) is worth visiting because there is only one word to describe the city, ‘stunning’. There are not many places like this in the country and Bath has to be the most beautiful city in the land. It is not just the buildings but it is full of history and the city is known more famously for its Roman Baths. Still in very good condition, the views overlooking the outside pool with the statues of Roman gods overseeing the water with the Abbey in the background is truly a sight worth going for. The baths also has an amazing museum and lots of goodies found in the ground in the surrounding countryside.

READ ALSO: Top 10 Day Trips From London

Bath, Roman, UK, UNESCO
Danik at the Roman Baths in Bath

10 – Palace and Park of Fontainebleau, France

Located one hours train journey south of Paris is the Palace of Fontainebleau, which is located on the outskirts of the town of Fontainebleau and the forest. This palace (or castle) is one of the largest in France and served as a residence for French monarchs up until Napoleon III. Then the French Revolution came along and the castle didn’t suffer any damage (but all the furniture inside did get sold off). Later on Nazi Germany took over France and the castle, again, no damage.

READ ALSO: Top Castles to Check Out Whilst in Paris

UNESCO, castle, Fontainebleau, Paris
Claire outside Fontainebleau castle, France

Despite being really beautiful inside, taking in the tour of the grand halls, bedrooms of the former monarchs and looking at the mesmerising decor, for us it was the grounds which we were amazed at. The facade of the palace blends in well with all the grass, man-made canals and flowerbeds surrounding it plus the pond with the pavilion is well worth taking in. We spent nearly the whole day here and we were glad we did. A lot of walking is involved so good footwear is a must.

UNESCO, Fontainebleau, France, Paris
Fontainebleau castle, France

So that’s it, or is it? I am sure we will have another ten UNESCO post up soon as there are so many of them located in Europe and we love checking out the sites. Do you have a favourite in Europe or one you want to see on this list? We would love to see your views.

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20 Responses

  1. I was just in Berlin. I didn’t get to that UNESCO site. Next time!

  2. I love Bath of course – but I am a huge fan of visiting Unesco sights. I don’t think I could pick a favourite! I need to see some of the others you have on your list like Fontainebleu too

  3. That Mill Network would be #1 on my list too guys. How Dutch. Beautiful scenery and quite unlike anywhere on earth. Gotta love it and gotta love your rocking list.

  4. Darn it I have only been to 2 of your favorite top ten Unesco sites in Europe. I have explored the palaces in Berlin and roamed Þingvellir National Park in Iceland. Both were great but I really want to get back to explore the Windmills of the Netherlands and would love to see the Acropolis in Greece. So many places so many decisions on where to go next! I may never come back home at this rate!

  5. I think Tallinn in Estonia would make the top of my list. I am a medieval historian and it is a really fabulous example of medieval life. I love a little preserved culture like that

  6. I was excited to read your list since I love visiting UNESCO World Heritage sites. I haven’t visited Kinderdijk as I’ve only been to Amsterdam. I have visited Old Town Tallinn and thought it was gorgeous! I’ve been to Berlin, but missed the Parks of Potsdam because I ran out of time (only had one day there). The Acropolis in Greece is one of my favorites and I go to Thingvellir National Park next week, so excited!! Still need to make it to Siena (only been to Rome), Poland and the UK. I was just in France last month and on my free day, I was supposed to go to Belgium. Since my friend had already been to Belgium, she went to Fontainebleau. My day trip to Belgium got canceled and because of that I also missed going to Fontainebleau with her which I hate! This is a great list though for people like me who like to “bucket list”!

  7. I love visiting UNESCO World Heritage sites. The only one on your list I’ve visited is Bath. Looks like I need to get and see a few more!

  8. One of my travel regrets was not visiting Auschwitz Birkenau when I went to Ulm. Later in life, I went to the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC and, like you, realized how emotional these visits can be. You can hear the history but it never seems real until you see it in person. Very powerful place.

  9. Happy to say I have been to quite a few of these. However, I would really like to make it to Siena. It’s really beautiful and I love the architecture there.

  10. Would you believe I only made it to one of these? It’s Bath in the UK. I have to go back to see these other 9!

  11. Eventhough I have never visited one of the UNESCO sites in Europe, I would love to see all of these in the future! Thank you for sharing this list and giving me an idea 🙂

  12. I have only been to the Acropolis, but the others are on my bucket list. Bath in England is likely our next one to cross off the bucket list! Is it a fair question to ask which one has been your favorite? =)

  13. What a great roundup and reminder of how many places there are, just in Europe, that are simply jaw-droppingly awesome. Bath, Potsdam (Berlin), Acropolis … But the one that I have not been to yet that I most want to see are the windmills at the Mill Network in Kinderdijk-Elshout.

  14. All of these are superb. I had no idea that the windmills of Kinderdijk-Elshout were Unesco protected too. Siena is my favorite of these. Such a stunning historic centre.

  15. So many beautiful places. Being a nature person, Þingvellir National Park intrigues me the most. That, and the mills of Kinderdijk look realt cute.

  16. I’ve been to 8 of your top 10. There are so many UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Europe alone. One really gorgeous one I love because you can kayak under it is the Pont du Gard here in France. And the entire city of Bordeaux is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which is where I live. So Bordeaux is obviously a favorite of mine.

  17. Florence is one of my favorite cities so the few times I’ve been in the area I tend to stay put, next time I will pull myself away and check out Siena. I’ve been wanting to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau for a bit now and it keeps getting pushed back, need to make that happen!

  18. All of these places are truly deserving of the UNESCO World Heritage site. You were lucky to visit so many. I would personally love to visit Siena, Italy. I had visited the UK but missed visiting Bath. Perhaps next time. Thanks for sharing!

  19. There is something special about UNESCO Heritage sites. We have seen a few in many countries and just love the way they are absorbed in history. The story behind them makes them more mystical. Thanks for this guide of top 10 UNESCO sites in Europe and we would definitely want to cover a few when we visit Europe such as Þingvellir National Park, Iceland and Acropolis, Greece. We have been to the City of Bath and found it fantastic!

  20. This is a great list of places to visit. My dream trip to Europe would include these ten Unesco sites. I am curious which one of these is your favorite?

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