I started my World Heritage Sites project with 40 sites, back in mid 2012. With the addition of Ephesus by the committee just weeks ago, and my boat trip in Rhodes, I finally reached 80 sites! 81 sites in fact, with also the addition of Singapore Botanical Gardens. I thought I need to write a post to mark this arbitrary milestone.
I’m happy to double my number in 3 years. It’s weird to think the next milestone will be 120 sites – that seems like a huge number. Back then 40 sites already seemed like a big number. The total of Unesco World Heritage this year is 1031 sites though, and they add new ones every year, so that’s only a tiny chunk of the sites. Makes you realize how BIG the world is, and in a way it’s wonderful to think that your whole lifetime may not be enough to cover the world. And I’m okay with that. My purpose of traveling is never about just ticking the boxes. It’s to have a meaningful, worthwhile journey.
So talking about worthwhile, perhaps you’d be as curious as me, what are the most impressive World Heritage sites I’ve visited in the last 3 years? Note that these will be from the latest 40 sites I’ve visited – not those in my lifetime.
Alhambra, Granada, South Spain. It’s not just the whole palace complex, but since it’s located up the hill of Granada old town, the view was amazing, even the walk up was beautiful. It is so worth going. In fact I fell in love with the whole Andalucia region.
Ephesus is special, because I visited it before it was inscribed as World Heritage in July 2015, and I always thought it was only time before it’s included. I even remember the date I was here, because it was New Year of 2014. 1 January 2014. I started my new year in the Old City of Ephesus. I can’t even put it into words.
Yes, it is as beautiful as everyone says it is! And there isn’t just one village, there are FIVE. There’s walking trail from one village to another along the coast, with cliff on one side and breathtaking view of the sea on another. Love.
It’s hard for me to decide whether to pick Athens or Delphi in Greece (I try to just limit one site per country in this list). Both are impressive in their own ways. But I’m going to go with Athens, as it’s not just its Acropolis that stands out all mighty, there are a lot of gems in this city too. I have never, ever seen any capital city like Athens – it is really one of a kind.
As I mentioned I tried to pick just one site from each country, but I’m not immune to favoritism. I love some region or country more than the others. I could easily put Istanbul, Cappadocia, and Pamukkale in that list, or Toledo, Cordoba, and Seville, or Florence, Rome, and Verona.
Favorite World Heritage Towns
But enough about “Impressive”. Another thing I love about the World Heritage list is how I could find little towns that I wouldn’t have gone otherwise. They don’t have a single mighty site, but the whole town is usually unique and full of character. Some of my favorites:
I feel a bit bad calling Tallinn “town”. How can a capital of a country be a town? But the Old Town had that town feeling, and the whole historic center is a World Heritage site. I love love love Tallinn, with its cobbled stones and cute buildings. When you’re there, you’d wonder if time stopped in Tallinn centuries ago.
This small Turkish town stole my heart a bit. The inn that we stayed in felt like something that comes out of a video game – it’s old, wooden, and cozy. The village is walk-able and people were lovely. We only spent one night here, so it was short, but really really sweet.
This charming town in England is a definite favorite with its Georgian architecture – makes you feel you’re dropped right into 18th century England, in which Jane Austen’s characters live. I have been there several times now, each time discovering new things, and I can see myself going back again and again as long as I still live in London.
World Heritage Signs
Part of my hunt of these World Heritage sites, is the hunt of the UNESCO World Heritage sign. Which is surprisingly not always the easiest to find.
Sometimes I only saw it right at the last minute, from a window of a moving vehicle. Sometimes I couldn’t find it at all. Which brings me to my last point:
Things I Learned
There were occasions when the sites didn’t live up to their full potential purely because of the weather. But I think this is part of the experience of traveling. Sometimes you only have one day, which is the day you have to go, there’s no alternative day, and the weather is godawful. Sometimes you have only less than an hour to spend on a World Heritage site. There were a couple of times that I didn’t even manage to go in, because the site was closed on the day!
Considering the length of time (almost all, if not all of them are centuries old) that they’ve managed to survive, and the effort put into qualifying them as World Heritage sites, it could feel ungrateful or disrespectful to spend such little time on them. But I do what I can, and I don’t stress much about it. It’s the journey that matters. The Journey.
And it’s a worthwhile one that I will continue on 🙂