Top 10 UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITES WE VISIT ON TOUR

Jan 5, 2022 | Adventure Travel, Backpacking, India, Indonesia, Japan, Java & Bali, Philippines, Sri Lanka

The United Nations has formally acknowledged all of these landmarks, and for good reason: because of their outstanding cultural or physical significance. And, as you might expect, the UNESCO list on which they appear has a variety of bucket-list destinations. We love the entries (of course), but we thought we’d spotlight 10 that are really worth a look and you will visit on tour with us. So with that being said,enjoy our list of the top 10 UNESCO world heritage sites we visit on tour and start thinking about which ones you want to visit!

 

1. TAKAYAMA – Japan

Takayama’s Old Town is remarkable and one of Japan’s lesser-known gems. It has been maintained since the Edo Period (which began in 1603) and is the ideal site to experience a typical old school Japanese street. When you stroll through the streets here, it actually feels like you’ve stepped back in time!

The beauty around the town is stunning, and there are several activities to enjoy. The Onsen (Japanese hot springs), sake tasting, and, of course, the food are among the most popular attractions here. During our Japan tours, we visit this UNESCO site and take a tour of Takayama Old Town, where we may explore and taste sake at one of the brewers. This venue is quite amazing, and we would suggest it to any tourist considering a trip to Japan.

 

2. HIROSHIMA WAR MEMORIAL – Japan

During World War II, on August 6, 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb over the city of Hiroshima. It is believed that 70,000 people died on impact, with tens of thousands more dying from injuries and radiation poisoning in the weeks and months that followed. The city was destroyed, and the Japanese people suffered for decades as a result. On the other hand, Hiroshima is prospering today, with a population of over 1.1 million people, and the city is famed for fostering international peace.

The Hiroshima Peace memorial was named a UNESCO world heritage site in 1996. During our 14 day Japan tour we visit Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, where we are accompanied by a local guide who can fully educate us on the tragic events that occurred here. We see the Atomic Dome, view the peace bell, and finally pray by the everlasting flame. After that, we go to the museum to learn about Hiroshima’s painful history and how those events will live on in people’s memories for the rest of their lives.

view of the hiroshima atomic bomb dome

3. THE GOLDEN PAVILION – Japan

The Golden Pavilion (also known as Kinkakuji) is a Zen Buddhist temple in Kyoto’s northern suburbs. It is a part of the UNESCO Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto which was inscribed in 1994. It’s most notable for its upper two stories, which are fully coated in gold leaf, making it a popular tourist destination. You can’t walk inside the temple because it’s not available to the public, but the enormous pond in front provides a beautiful view. The view of Kinkakuji with the lake in front is breathtaking, and it makes for fantastic photography!

The Golden Pavilion is another popular attraction that can get crowded, so we recommend going before 9 a.m. or later in the evening before it closes. This temple is lovely, and if you can appreciate it with fewer people, all the better!

backside view of the golden pavilion in kyoto japan

4. NARA PARK – Japan

Nara Park is located within the city of Nara (sorry for the obvious!) and was founded in 1880, making it one of Japan’s oldest parks. The park is well-known for its lovely resident deer, who walk freely throughout the park grounds. There are around 1,400 deer here, and legend has claimed that they are associated with the gods. According to tradition, around 768 AD, a god led a white deer from Ibaraki Prefecture to Mt Mikasa in Nara. Deer were formerly regarded holy, and killing one was punishable by death.

The animals are now safeguarded and cherished by the locals as holy animals. Even better, you may buy special crackers called “shika senbei” to feed to the deer. Aside from the deer, there are lots of other things to see at Nara Park, including one of the world’s biggest wooden structures, Todaiji Temple, Nandaimon Gate, and Kasuga-taisha Shrine — all of which are parts of the UNESCO site listed in 1998.

todaiji temple is one of the largest wooden structures in the world

5. ITSUKUSHIMA – Japan

Miyajima Island, located roughly an hour from Hiroshima, is famous for its lovely trees and old temples. However, the Great Torii Gate, which is part of the Itsukushima temple, is undoubtedly its most notable feature. It was named a UNESCO Heritage site in 1996. It is a Shinto shrine that is supposed to be the boundary between the human and spirit worlds. This Torii gate is located in the middle of the sea and seems to float on the water during high tide.

The history museum, Mt. Misen, and the five-story pagoda are among prominent attractions on Miyajima Island. On the final full day of our  14-day Japan tour, we visit Miyajima Island and take in all of the breathtaking sites, including the Great Torii Gate at high tide and the Miyajima shrine. This island is stunning and should not be missed!

 itsukushima shrine appears to be floating on the water in japan

6. KIYOMIZU-DERA – Japan

Kiyomizu-dera is a well-known and respected temple in Japan. The temple, which is located in Kyoto, dates back to 798, while the current temple is a restoration from 1633. As far as reconstructions go, this one is rather old!

Some of the most popular activities at this temple include viewing the Hondo (the main hall), praying for love success at the Jishu-jinja shrine, and exploring the Tainai-meguri, which is located near the main entrance. You may even drink sacred water from the Otowa-no-taki waterfall, which is said to grant you health and life. Kiyomizu-dera literally translates to “clean water temple,” as it was built near the Otowa waterfall.

kiyomizu-dera temple in kyoto, japan

7. PUERTO PRINCESA UNDERGROUND RIVER – Philippines

The Puerto Princesa Underground River is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Palawan that draws thousands of tourists each year (pre-pandemic of course). The river starts in the sea and flows through the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park. However, because a portion of the river is tidal, the park’s opening is weather dependent. If there is significant rain or high waves, officials will most likely close the park.

The Puerto Princesa Underground River is the world’s longest navigable underground river and one of the new seven wonders of nature. Snakes, bats, and swallows are among the native wildlife found in this river system. You could even get to see them if you’re lucky!

During our 10 day Philippines tour, we will take you to this UNESCO listed Underground River, and explore the 5 miles worth of caves and river by boat.

a boat on the puerto princesa underground river

8. SIGIRIYA ROCK – Sri Lanka

Sigiriya Rock is one of the most famous tourist destinations in Sri Lanka, and it is a must-see. It is one of eight UNESCO World Heritage sites in Sri Lanka and was formerly the royal palace of King Kassapa, one of the country’s ancient kings. Sigiriya Rock, which towers above the beautiful green jungles below, is home to Sri Lanka’s oldest surviving castle and is nicknamed Lion Rock. This is due to the large lion statue that used to greet guests at the entrance. Unfortunately, the only thing that remains of the statue are the lion’s paws, which can be found at the base of Sigiriya rock.

This ancient fortress is quite a climb, so be prepared for a sweaty trek. It is over 1200 steps to the summit, and while it sounds exhausting (and it is), the views from the top are well worth it. Wearing lightweight clothing, comfortable shoes, and bringing lots of water are just a few of our best tips for making your journey a little smoother! Sunscreen is also recommended because the hot Sri Lankan sun will be shining down on you during your hike, especially after you reach the summit.

We leave early in the morning on our  12 day Sri Lanka tour, to walk up Sigiriya Rock. The views from the summit are breathtaking, so don’t forget to bring your camera. We will show you the ancient wall drawings and the sanskrit-marked mirror wall, making you feel as if you have gone back in time. Why don’t you join us on this fantastic adventure?

an aerial photo of sigiriya rock in sri lanka

9. DAMBULLA CAVES – Sri Lanka 

Dambulla Caves are located around 30 minutes from the famed Sigiriya Rock and about two hours from Kandy. This sacred site is the biggest cave complex in Sri Lanka, as well as the most preserved. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that comprises five separate caves, each with its own statue.

This Buddhist compound has been a pilgrimage destination for over 2,000 years and is officially known as the ‘Golden Temple of Dambulla.’ These caves have approximately 150 Buddha statues as well as various paintings to appreciate. The Maharaja Vihara Lena is the biggest cave (or the Cave of the Great Kings). This is due to the presence of sculptures of Nissankamalla and Valagambahu, two ancient Sri Lankan kings.

One thing we will suggest is to remember to bring your water bottle! There are a lot of steps to the summit, and with Sri Lanka’s humidity, you’ll feel it if you don’t stay hydrated. Make sure the monkeys don’t try to take it, since they are quite clever!

buddha statues within dambulla caves in sri lanka

10. GALLE FORT – Sri Lanka

Galle is Sri Lanka’s fourth biggest city, however one aspect of it separates it from Colombo and Negombo. As you go through the city, you will come upon the historic Dutch Quarter, known as Galle Fort, which is positioned directly on the shore. The Portuguese established this settlement in the 16th century, and it is the best preserved colonial town in Sri Lanka. Following that, in the 17th century, the fort was seized by the Dutch, who strengthened the region until it fell to the British. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the most famous tourist destinations in Sri Lanka.

You will feel as if you have stepped back in time when you enter Galle Fort from the city of Galle. The Galle clock tower, the Groote Kerk, and, of course, the famed Galle lighthouse are among the most popular destinations to visit. This lighthouse has gone viral on Instagram and is a favourite location for aspiring photographers. You should plan on spending a few hours exploring this charming town and taking in the sights. If you’re lucky, you could catch a glimpse of sea turtles swimming beneath the fort walls!

Galle fort is one of the best places to visit in Sri Lanka and is a must for your trip! During our Sri Lanka tour we will head to this amazing place and show you the best spots to explore.

 galle fort buildings and lighthouse in sri lanka

Honourable Mention: THE MAJESTIC TAJ MAHAL – India

We thought the Taj Mahal deserved a special spot on our list as it is not only a UNESCO world heritage site since 1982, but also it is one of the new seven wonders of the modern world. When most people think of India, the Taj Mahal is the first thing that comes to mind. Millions of people visit this location each year before the pandemic, and it’s obvious to see why once you see it for yourself.

The Taj Mahal is a mausoleum built in 1632 by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan. This famous landmark was commissioned in honour of his wife, who died during childbirth. Seeing this renowned monument light up at sunrise should be on your India bucket list since it is one of the loveliest sights you will ever experience!

During our  14 day India tour, In addition to touring the Taj Mahal, we will ride Tuk Tuks to the lovely Mehtab Bagh. This wonderful area, also known as the moonlight garden,allows you to admire the Taj Mahal away from the crowds. You’ll be able to witness this architectural marvel at sunset and capture some amazing photos!

sunrise at the taj mahal, India

If you want to check out these amazing UNESCO sites why not do it on one of our tours? We take care of all the planning for you, including an English speaking guide and your accommodation. So, if you’re feeling inspired for your next adventure, check out all of our tours here.

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