• WorldView
  • 6 Min Read
  • 12 Apr 2023

16 Fascinating UNESCO Sites to Put on Your Radar

With more than 1,000 UNESCO World Heritage Sites all over the world, each with remarkable cultural and natural importance, it can be daunting to decide which ones to check off your list next. Luckily, traveling with Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic takes the guesswork out of the planning, with custom itineraries designed to give you in-depth experiences at each site. Get Inspired By Photos, Videos, Webinars, Stories, And Exclusive Offers. Sign Up

Even better: our voyages offer travelers the opportunity to explore seldom-seen sites that deliver the adventure of a lifetime. Of course, we have itineraries that call on the most iconic UNESCO sites—places like Galápagos National Park, Glacier Bay National Park, Dubrovnik, and Angkor—but many routes take us off-the-beaten path to these uncommon but equally exciting destinations.

SGang Gwaay, Alaska

On our Remarkable Journey to Alaska, adventurers are granted special permission to explore the island of SGang Gwaay, including the Haida Heritage Site, in British Columbia. Take an in-depth tour of the islands, wildlife, and cultural sites alongside a Haida interpreter, and enjoy a memorable feast at the home of a local carver. In the village of SGang Gwaay (Ninstints), you'll see the ancient carved mortuary and memorial poles. Travelers also have the opportunity to kayak and take Zodiacs around the incredibly biodiverse islands in Gwaii Haanas.

See it on: A Remarkable Journey to Alaska, British Columbia & Haida Gwaii >

L'Anse Aux Meadows , Newfoundland

Travel through the fabled lands of Greenland and Newfoundland aboard the National Geographic Explorer, and you’ll discover not one, but two, iconic UNESCO sites. First, sail through Ilulissat Icefjord, a tongue of the Greenland ice cap that extends to the sea. Later, tour L’Anse Aux Meadows, the excavated remains of a complete 11th-century Viking settlement on the island of Newfoundland, Canada where you can walk among wood-framed peat-turf huts. This impressive site is the earliest evidence of Europeans in North America (500 years before Columbus arrived).

See it on: Fabled Lands of the North: Greenland to Newfoundland >

The Heart of Neolithic Orkney, Scotland

About nine miles off the north coast of Scotland, you’ll find a collection of remarkable monuments that make up this amazingly well-preserved UNESCO site on the Orkney Islands. The Heart of Neolithic Orkney consists of Maes Howe, a large chambered tomb; the Stones of Stenness and the Ring of Brodgar, two ceremonial stone circles; and a settlement known as Skara Brae. Providing an incredible peek into daily life on these islands 5,000 years ago, these four monuments are considered one of the most important Neolithic sites in Western Europe. 

See it on:
Legendary Northern Isles: Scotland, Faroes and Iceland >
Ancient Isles: England, Ireland and Scotland >
Exploring Scotland's Wild Isles: Shetlands, Orkneys, and Inner Hebrides >

City of Quito, Ecuador

Among the 12 sites inscribed in 1978 on the original UNESCO World Heritage list, Ecuador’s capital earned the number two slot, directly behind the Galápagos Islands. Founded in 1534 on the foundations of an Inca city set high in the Andes, Quito boasts the largest and best-preserved Spanish colonial city center in the Americas. On squares and checkerboard streets, the city’s monumental monasteries, dazzling churches, and stucco-covered homes preserve examples of skilled craftsmanship and thoughtful urban planning. The interior architecture and decorative elements of Quito’s religious structures showcase the Baroque school of Quito. Melding indigenous and European artistic traditions, this unique style combines Spanish, Italian, Moorish, Flemish and indigenous art.

See it on:
  Guests can arrive early or stay and linger in Quito with hotel and excursion options before or after Galápagos. Or add a post-voyage optional extension to Quito and Otavalo. 

Su Nuraxi di Barumini, Italy

The Mediterranean region is rich in ancient history—Romans, Carthaginians, Byzantines, and others have left behind temples and other remains of their great civilizations. Not as well known are the Med’s prehistoric sites, like Sardinia’s Su Nuraxi di Barumini, a showcase of Bronze Age defensive structures called nuraghi that are unique to this island off the west coast of the Italian peninsula. In the 2nd millennium B.C., inhabitants built a complex of circular defensive towers that was extended and reinforced in the 1st millennium. The site was inhabited by an enigmatic civilization for thousands of years, ending in the 3rd century, and exists today as the most intact example of this unique prehistoric architecture.

See it on:
Isles of Antiquity: Malta, Sardinia, and the Balearic Sea >
Corsica and Sardinia aboard Sea Cloud >

Speicherstadt, Germany

The world’s largest warehouse district can be found in the vibrant Hanseatic League capital city of Hamburg in Germany. Speicherstadt means “warehouse city” and this unique collection of tall neo-gothic brick buildings was constructed along the Elbe River between 1885 and 1927. Guests can walk the winding streets cut by canals and connected by bridges and see the impressive Elbphilharmonie Concert Hall. This port city’s inventive 15-block waterfront district, taken in conjunction with the adjacent Kontorhaus district—with its modernist office buildings that housed port-related businesses from the 1920s to the 1940s—demonstrate Hamburg’s role as an international trade powerhouse.


See it on: Coastal Powers of the North Sea: Medieval Capitals & Vibrant Cultures>

Surtsey, Iceland

Iceland's Westman Islands are among the youngest of the planet's archipelagos, formed by undersea volcanoes between 5,000 and 10,000 years ago. In 1963, the world witnessed on film the birth of its newest island, Surtsey. What makes this UNESCO site so unique is that it’s been protected from human interference since the time it came into existence, making it an ideal place for long-term scientific studies on how plants and animals colonize new land. While only qualified geologists and biologists from Iceland are allowed access onto the island, you'll take in spectacular views from all angles as our ship cruises around Surtsey's coastline.

See it on:

A Circumnavigation of Iceland >
Coastal Wonders of Norway, the Faroe Islands and Iceland >

Coiba Park and Special Zone of Marine Protection, Panama

Off the coast of Panama, this UNESCO site includes an archipelago and surrounding waters protected for a high incidence of endemism and biodiversity. Guests spend the day on remote Isla Coiba, accessible only by special permit. Enter a tropical moist forest on the lookout for endemic species like the Coiba Island agouti and the mantled howler monkey, as well as for threatened birds like the crested eagle and scarlet macaw. Snorkelers might encounter four varieties of sea turtle in a marine habitat that has recorded 760 fish species, 33 species of sharks, and 20 species of cetaceans. Containing a wide range of ecosystems and shielded from the cold winds and effects of El Niño, the park continues to count new species.

See it on: Costa Rica and the Panama Canal >

Gyeongju, South Korea

The crown jewel of Korea’s cultural heritage is Gyeongju, the ancient capital of the Silla kingdom. Packed with the ruins of temples, pagodas, and palaces dating back more than 1,000 years, the historic areas of the city include Bulguksa Temple, a masterpiece of Silla architecture originally built in A.D. 528. There are five areas with outstanding cultural treasures; the Mount Namsan Belt alone has 122 Buddhist temples, 53 stone statues, 64 pagodas, a fortress, and a pavilion. At the Gyeongju National Museum, guests can examine jewelry, weapons, and other priceless Silla artifacts. Choose to wander among towering royal burial mounds and see one of the world’s oldest surviving astronomical observatories, 7th-century Cheomseongdae.

See it on: Coastal Japan: Imperial Dynasties and Modern Culture >

iSimangaliso Wetland Park, South Africa

One of the most outstanding game reserves in South Africa, iSimangaliso Wetland Park protects 6,500 plant and animal species—including 11 species endemic to the park—in remarkably scenic coastal habitats. The 'Big Five' roam the various habitats, and guests explore the park’s vast Lake St. Lucia by boat in search of large groups of hippos, crocodiles, African fish eagles, and much more. Birders will also be thrilled to see an abundance of flamingos and large breeding colonies of pelicans, storks, herons, and terns. As the park borders the Indian Ocean, nesting turtles can be seen on its beaches, while dolphins, whales, and whale sharks are often spotted off shore.

See it on: Exploring East Africa and Madagascar: Wildlife and Wonders >

Bergen, Norway

Several of our voyages that call on Norway will bring you to the Hanseatic town of Bergen, where you can stroll through the very photogenic historic harbor district of Bryggen before embarking or disembarking the ship. Although the wooden structures have been ravaged by a number of fires, 62 buildings have been rebuilt using historic patterns and methods. Situtated on a beautiful fjord, these colorful wooden structures represent the important role that this town played in the Hanseatic League’s trading empire during the Middle Ages. 

See it on:
Norwegian Fjords and Scottish Isles >
Norway's Fjords and Arctic Svalbard >

Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System

Though it may be small, Belize is home to the largest coral reef in the northern hemisphere and one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world. Recently removed from UNESCO's endangered list, this incredible reef system offers endless sites to explore, including several hundred sand cays, mangrove forests, coastal lagoons, and estuaries. It also provides a rich habitat for threatened species, such as turtles, manatees, and the American marine crocodile. Aboard our ship, you'll have access to an array of expedition tools including kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, and snorkel gear to help you explore this spectacular region to the fullest.

See it on: Wild Belize Escape: Wildlife, Reefs and Rivers >

Pico Islands Vineyards, Portugal

A volcanic island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean is an unlikely spot to be known for viniculture dating back more than 600 years. In the shadow of the tallest mountain on the Atlantic Ridge, the moonscape terrain left by the lava flows on Pico Island in the Azores has been painstakingly converted to vineyards. Farmers, beginning in the 15th century, built stone walls around thousands of grape-growing fields to protect vines from wind and seawater. Today, wine producers continue using many traditional farming techniques and follow procedures to ensure sustainability. Guests will have the opportunity to walk among the lava stone corrals and taste these very special wines.

See it on:
Islands of the Azores: Fado Music and Fin Whales >

St. Kilda, Scotland

Situated off the west coast of Scotland, this tiny volcanic island offers visitors views of some of the highest cliffs in Europe, as well as rare and endangered birds, such as puffins and gannets. It was formed by the rim of an ancient volcano some 65-52 million years ago. Although it’s been uninhabited since 1930, the landscape of St. Kilda still offers evidence of more than 2,000 years of human occupation in extreme, storm-swept conditions, such as houses, large enclosures and drystone storage structures.

See it on: Ancient Isles: England, Ireland and Scotland >

Marae Taputapuātea, Raiatea, French Polynesia

For more than a millennium, Marae Taputapuatea has been the most sacred gathering site for a vast region called the “Polynesian Triangle,” which stretches from Hawaii to New Zealand. Chiefs, priests, and warriors traveled long distances from other island nations to meet here and to pay their respects. According to Polynesian beliefs, order in the universe could not occur until humans and gods could interact. When Maohi (native Polynesians) prayed at marae and presented offerings, these paved rectangular courtyards outlined by stone walls and containing altars called ahu, became conduits to their gods and ancestors. This pilgrimage site dedicated to the god of war, Oro, is recognized as the ancestral home of all Polynesians.


See it on: Polynesian Discovery: Exploring Tahiti, Bora Bora, and the Tuamotus >

Yakushima Island, Japan

At the tip of the main Japanese archipelago lies Yakushima, a mountainous island with an ancient temperate rainforest that UNESCO describes as “the last, best example of an ecosystem dominated by the Japanese cedar in a superb scenic setting.” Crystalline rivers and cascading falls flow through the verdant mountains where a number of the yakusugi cedars are more than 1,000 years old. There are nearly 2,000 species of plants on the island, and fauna include 16 mammal species such as the endemic Yaku sika deer and Yakushima macaque. The magical forest here also protects important populations of Japanese wood pigeons and Ryukyu green pigeons among its 150 bird species. Back on the coast, Nagatahama Beach is a vital nesting ground for migratory loggerhead turtles.

See it on:
Sailing the East China Sea: Japan, Okinawa and Taiwan >


Main photo: Warwick Lister-Kaye