For the past 43 years, UNESCO meets annually to evaluate the list of places that will be added to the organisation’s coveted list of World Heritage Sites. A place or structure can secure its place on the list if it has great natural, cultural or historical significance and it is no surprise that travellers fly in to explore the ‘planet’s most extraordinary places’. This year, UNESCO has selected over 29 such natural and cultural wonders, recognised for their value to humanity. From Babylon in Iraq to Jaipur city in Rajasthan, here are our top 10 picks of the newest UNESCO World Heritage sites across the globe.
1- VatnajOkull National Park, Iceland
Covering over 14 per cent of Iceland’s territory, about 14,141 sq. km of total area, Vatnajökull National Park is not only home to one of the largest glaciers in the world but also holds two active volcanoes. A popular place to explore ice caves, you can experience here the breath-taking vistas of Svartifoss, Dettifoss and Selfoss waterfalls, frozen rivers and herds of reindeer around Mt. Snæfell, which lends a magical quality to the entire region. This park also served as a filming location for the early seasons of Game of Thrones. The national park contains 10 central volcanoes, eight of which are subglacial. You can explore these geological wonders through cave tours, glacial hikes and jeep safari.
Best time to visit: May to September is the ideal time to visit Vatnajökull National Park, when the days are long and warm with dry weather making it great for hiking.
How to reach: The Park is only 4 hours’ drive from Reykjavík, the capital of Iceland. You can rent a car or a campervan. If you prefer public transport, take one of the twice-daily summer bus services, connecting Reykjavík and Skaftafell via the Ring Road and stop at the park.
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2- Jaipur City, India
Best time to visit: The ideal time to visit Jaipur is during the winter months from November to March, when the days are sunny but nights are cold. It is also the peak of tourist season in Jaipur.
How to reach: Take a 1-hour flight or 4-hour drive from New Delhi, the capital of India. Jaipur is well-connected with all big cities in India. Sanganer Airport serves the Pink City.
Read Also: Top 20 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in India
3- Archaeological Ruins of Liangzhu City, China
Dating back to 5,300 years, the Archaeological Ruins of Liangzhu City covering an area of 14.3 square kilometres in the northwest of in Hangzhou, was inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage list this year. It is considered as an important representation of early urban civilization based on rice cultivation in late Neolithic China. The heritage site includes four areas – the Yaoshan Site, the High-dam at the Mouth of the Valley, Low-dam on the Plain and the area of City Site. The city ruins with palace and altar remain, 11 early-stage dams and high-level cemetery sites showcases the contributions made by the Yangtze River Basin to the origins of Chinese civilisation. According to archaeological research, the Neolithic civilisation is believed to have lasted for about 1,000 years and got ended 4,300 years ago.
Best time to visit: The ideal time to visit Liangzhu City is during spring (March-May) & autumn (September-mid November), when the weather is mild and perfect for exploration and outdoor activities
How to reach: Take a 2-hour flight to Hangzhou from Beijing. From the downtown area in Hangzhou, you can take bus line 313 or line 348 to reach the park. You can also take a taxi which can cost you about CNY100. The park is open from 9:00 – 17:00 and the last entry is at 16:00.
4- Babylon, Iraq
Nearly 3,000 years ago, Babylon was one of the most important cities in the ancient world. It was ruled by Nebuchadnezzar, whom we know from the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in Christianity and Judaism. It was home to striking city walls gates, palaces and temples, of which ruins of some are still visible. Babylon is also associated with one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, the Hanging Gardens that has inspired artistic and religious culture universally. Today, the city isn’t in great condition with many of its ruins left unexcavated and damaged due to the conflict in the region but UNESCO World Heritage tag comes with a dose of hope and restoration aid so that further damage can be avoided.
Best time to visit: March to May (Spring) or September to October (Autumn) are the ideal months for visiting Babylon, away from the scorching heat and the winter chills.
How to reach: Located 85 km south of Baghdad, it takes about 3-4 hours approx. by road to reach Babylon. You can rent a car to reach this new UNESCO World Heritage site.
5- Bagan, Myanmar
Located on the banks of the Ayeyarwady River, Bagan is Myanmar’s answer to Cambodia’s Angkor Wat and is due to grow in popularity for tourists in 2020 and beyond. It was the capital of the ancient Burmese empire and features a stunning range of Buddhist art and architecture. With numerous 13th- and 15th-century Buddhist temples, monasteries, stupas and places of pilgrimage, it testifies to the once-powerful Bagan Empire. Visitors can get the best views at sunrise by taking a hot air balloon ride and witness hundreds of architectural treasures as far as the eye can reach.
Best time to visit: Bagan is hot most of the year and hence, the best time to visit is from November to February with mild weather and an average temperature of 30 C.
How to reach: Bagan is an 80-minute flight travel away from Yangon, the largest city in Myanmar. After reaching Nyaung U airport in Bagan, hop on a cab and you’ll reach Old Bagan in 10 minutes.
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6- Bom Jesus do Braga Sanctuary, Braga, Portugal
Located on the slopes of Mount Espinho, overlooking the town of Braga in the far north of Portugal, Bom Jesus do Braga Sanctuary is a Baroque-style Catholic Sacri Monti or sacred mountain, built over 600 years. It is home to one of the most iconic examples of 17th-century Baroque architecture with a series of chapels housing sculptures evoking the Passion of Christ, along with fountains, allegorical sculptures and formal gardens. Visitors need to climb up the 577 steps to reach the cathedral at the top that some pilgrims tend to complete on their knees. The church itself is beautiful and the zig-zagging steps known as the Via Crucis is the highlight of the entire property, recognised by UNESCO in 2019.
Best time to visit: August to September is the ideal time to visit Braga, when the weather is quite warm and pleasant.
How to reach: Take a 1-hour train journey from Porto or opt for shuttle buses operated by Getbus costing €8 to reach Bom Jesus do Braga Sanctuary.
7- Hills of Prosecco di Conegliano and Valdobbiadene, Italy
Located in north-eastern Italy, the Prosecco region of Italy is noteworthy for its winegrowing landscape, where grapes are grown for sparkling wine. It is characterised by ‘hogback’ hills, where Italians in the 17th century planted small plots of vines on the hills’ terraces, creating a checkerboard pattern over the terrain that has been shaped and adapted by man for centuries. Visitors can go on a scenic road trip to the Prosecco Road that is lined by over three dozen vineyards while tasting and drinking your way through the region.
Best time to visit: April to June is a wonderful time to visit the newly recognized UNESCO World Heritage site, when the weather is pleasant and not too hot.
How to reach: Take a 1-hour train ride from Venice. You can book a tasting tour with a guide to visit these renowned vineyards.
8- Mounded Tombs of Ancient Japan
Located on a plateau above the Osaka Plain, these are 49 ancient tombs, dating back from the 3rd to the 6th century. The mounds come in different shapes and sizes and are believed to be meant for members of the elite with the largest tomb in Japan named after Emperor Nintoku. With elaborate design forms of keyhole, scallop, square or circle, these are decorated with paving stones and clay figures. Out of a total of 160,000, these 49 kofuns have been selected in Japan that forms the richest material representation of the Kofun period (3rd to 6th century CE). It demonstrates the social class differences of that period with the evidence of a highly sophisticated funerary system.
Best time to visit: Autumn (October-November) and spring (March-May) are the two best times to visit Mounded Tombs of Ancient Japan in Osaka, when the weather is mild and pleasant for an outdoor exploration.
How to reach: Opt for a 2 hours 30 minutes train ride from Tokyo. Take the JR Hanwa line to Mozu station from where it is only10 minute walk away.
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9- Risco Caido and the Sacred Mountains of Gran Canaria, Spain
Located in the centre of Gran Canaria in the Canary Islands, the Risco Caido comprises cliffs, ravines and volcanic formations. It has been recognized for its pre-Hispanic cave dwellings, where those who lived on the island before the 15th century created granaries, cisterns and homes on the mountains themselves. The pre-Hispanic culture evolved in isolation, from the arrival of North African Berbers, until the first Spanish settlers in the 15th century. The highlights of the region are two sacred temples in mountain cavities where seasonal ceremonies were held by the inhabitants. These temples are thought to belong to the cult of star and Mother Earth.
Best time to visit: Spring (March to May) or autumn (September to November) are the best times to visit Risco Caido, when the weather is warm and comfortable.
How to reach: Take a direct flight to Las Palmas de Gran Canaria from the UK. The Risco Caido cave complex is not open to the public currently but you can walk up to Roque Bentayga and visit the fascinating on-site.
10- Plain of Jars, Laos
Located on a plateau called Xiengkhouang in central Laos, the Plain of Jars got its name from the tubular-shaped megalithic stone jars that were used for funerary practices during the Iron Age. With over 2,100, this property comprises large carved stone jars, shards, lids, tombstones and funerary objects dating from 500 BCE to 500 CE. These jars and related elements are the most prominent surviving evidence of the Iron Age civilization that created and used them until it disappeared around 500 CE.
Best time to visit: October to April is the ideal time for a visit, when the weather is warm and dry throughout.
How to reach: An 8-hour bus ride from the capital city, Luang Prabang will take you to this newly recognized UNESCO heritage site.
The world heritage sites of UNESCO are worth visiting as each is considered to be of immense cultural and natural importance. To be of “outstanding universal value to humanity”, as defined by UNESCO, each heritage site is unique and tells a thousand stories about its past. So which of these gems are top of your list to visit in 2020?