(Updated October 2021)
What to see in Europe, when there is so much to see and so little time to see it?
As you might know by now, I will travel far for interesting culture, and I also just started working at a World Heritage Site, so naturally I had to make a list. I’m a fan of the classics, because this means many people throughout history thought this was worth while. (This also goes for books!)
A World Heritage Site is a place or a monument named by UNESCO as important heritage – not only for the specific country – but for the whole world. It’s an important part of our shared history! So, it’s a useful guideline for top sights when travelling through Europe.
TOP 10 SITES & WHAT NOT TO MISS
1 ACROPLIS, GREECE
ON TOP OF THE WORLD
Yes, Acropolis is top of my list. Sometimes I forget how awesome it is, since I’ve been a couple of times. But it is. Awesome… And being a lover of ancient Greece ( I studied ancient philosophy, literature and art) – this is a must in Europe. It’s the symbol of the beginning of Europa as we know it and a focal point in western culture. (Even though even according to the Greek historian Herodotus, they got it all from Egypt!).
There are many visitors of course, but that’s the way it is. The new(er) Acropoplis Museum has a nice view of the ruins.
Afterwards, head for one of the islands and do as the locals on Crete!
DON’T MISS: Many or all hotels have a roof top terrace from where you can drink raki, while gazing at this unique monument.
2 DIOCLETIAN'S PALACE, CROATIA
FORGET POWER AND CHILLAX
The old palace complex of the Roman Emperor Diocletian holds a special place on the list, since you can actually live in it. We stayed inside the walls of the palace, which is now part of the old town in the city of Split. It’s built in 4th century and was a retirement home for the emperor after he willingly gave up the throne to the empire. It’s actually not only a palace, but a large area including both the palace as well as buildings for the military. Diocletian’s octagonal mausoleum was later reconstructed into a Christian church – one of the oldest in the world.
Read more in Live like an emperor in a Roman palace in Split.
DON’T MISS: Sit on the stairs in the small rectangular square behind the Saint Domnius Bell Tower and sip good Croatian wine. After you climbed the tower…
3 ALHAMBRA, SPAIN
POETRY AND ART IN HEAVEN ON EARTH
It was hard to choose between the Alhambra (as you know from GOT) and the lesser known Mesquita in Cordoba. The name Alhambra has its origins in an Arabic word meaning “red castle or vermilion”, perhaps due to the colour tone of the towers and walls. The Alhambra fortress and the magnificent gardens of the Generalife are the former rural residence of the Moorish rulers of Spain in the 13th and 14th centuries. The architecture and the exquisite carvings blew me away.
GOT location hunting? Find heaven on earth in enchanting Alhambra in Granada.
DON’T MISS: Cooling your hands in the Garden’s water-bannister on a hot day.
4 HISTORIC CENTER, ISTANBUL, TURKEY
A recent addition to the list (April 2019) is the historic areas of Istanbul. It knocked Thingvellir National Park of the list.
The historic area doesn’t only include some of the most beautiful building sin the world it’s also concentrated history. Constantinople, Byzantium and Istanbul all in one small area.
My favourite building is the Blue Mosque or Sultan Ahmed mosque from 1616. How can it be so elegant with all the different levels of buildings?
Discover how to Enjoy a Luxury Weekend in Istanbul on a Budget
DON’T MISS: Going inside even if the line is very long. If you forgot a scarf – buy one…
5 POMPEII RUINS, ITALY
THE ROMAN WAY
Alongside the smaller city Herculaneum and the lesser known Torre Annunziata, Pompeii is maybe the most famous ruins in the world.
A disastrous volcano eruption by Vesuvius in August 79 A.D. covered the large city with brimstones and ashes. Most residents were killed and the city buried. The horrible situation created a city frozen in time. Graffiti, theatre, wine jars, luxury villas, frescoes, tavernas and lovely gardens. It’s all there. How can history become more alive?
DON’T MISS: The erotic frescoes in the brothel – or the lupanar.
6 PREHISTORIC CAVES, FRANCE
Grotte de Font de Gaume is one of the caves in the region of Dordogne in France – Lascaux is he most famous one. But Font de Guame is one of the most incredible Palaeolithic sites with more than 200 images of bison, horses, mammoths and reindeer – many still have colours left.
You’re of course not allowed to photograph inside a prehistoric cave, so I borrowed a picture from the tourist site. Many caves are either restricting the number of visitors or closing so preserve the decorations, so do your homework.
DON’T MISS: THIS! Several caves are now closed, that use to be open.
7 HANSEATIC TOWN VISBY, SWEDEN
TRADE & WAR
The town of Visby lies on the Swedish island of Gotland. It’s mostly Swedish tourists who come here, but it’s fantastic.
There is a direct link to the Danes, since in 1361 the Danish King Valdemar attacked and killed almost the entire Swedish peasant-army here. But more importantly, it was part of the Hanseatic League, which made it very wealthy in the Middle Ages. Visby has the most well-preserved medieval city wall I have seen outside France.
DON’T MISS: Visiting the Gotland Museum to see the armour from the battle with the Danes.
8 FLORENCE, ITALY
ART, ART AND ARCHITECTURE
I loooove Italy: pizza, pasta, ice cream and wine! This is the second Italian UNESCO site, but that’s how it is. Italy is special! The entire city of Florence is museum! (And that’s also why this is not further up on the list. It’s also kind of a theater stage.)
But if you’re interested in the Renaissance you should come. If you’re not – you should be ashamed! Machiavellian ideas of power, Michelangelo and the Black Death are just a few of the topics, that will be thrown in your face – but beautifully done so…
DON’T MISS: It might be obvious, but climb the Campanile and see the view. And quench your thirst afterwards with a glass of overpriced prosecco.
9 BRUGES, BELGIUM
CHOCOLATE & MEDIEVAL GARGOYLES
Bruges or Brugge was actually a city, I thought we spent too much time in, but nevertheless it made an big impression. It’s actually not only the historic city centre that’s on the list, but also the bell fry. It was also a Hanseatic town and one of the 4 most important cities in Europe in 1200 along with London. This is a city of beer and chocolate, so that’s another great argument for going.
DON’T MISS: Going up in at least one bell fry for a panorama picture!
10 ROSKILDE CATEHDRAL, DENMARK
DEAD KINGS AND QUEENS
Since I work here I have to include it! But I also do think Roskilde Cathedral is a spectacular place. It is the official burial site of the Danish Royal Family, and it already includes about 39 tombs of Danish Kings and Queens. Our current queen will also be buried here. The church is from 1200, and since it has been rebuilt and chapels have been added by different kings, it reflects 800 years of European architectural styles in one monument.
DON’T MISS The clock where the dragon squeals every hour, when Saint George kills it.
(Fun fact: Saint George was an officer under Emperor Diocletian who build the palace that’s number 2 on this list and also sentenced to death by him)
A World Heritage site is a place or a monument named by UNESCO as important heritage – not only for the specific country – but for the whole world. It’s an important part of our shared history! There are 845 (for now) cultural World Heritage sites in the world named by UNESCO and more than a 1000 including the natural sites.
See the complete list of UNESCO sites here.
Other favourable mentions are the Hanseatic town of Lübeck in Germany, Bern in Switzerland, the old center and Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, the Spanish city of Toledo, Tower of London, and all of Italy.
There are 897 cultural UNESCO World Heritage Sites – see the list here. I’ve visited 145 sites. I think. There are so many in France and Italy, that I might have missed some.
And then there all the fantastic places I haven’t been – yet! So this is a list, I actually hope soon will be outdated…