The UNESCO Hunt: 82-91
It’s been a summer of European travel, and for that reason, it’s been a summer of UNESCO World Heritage Sites! If you’re interested in World Heritage Sites, there’s no better place than Europe, as it has the greatest concentration of sites.
This summer took me to new countries like Finland, new regions like Puglia, and new cities like Trogir, all of which have World Heritage Sites of their own.
I’m still pressing on to reach my goal of 101, and it’s definitely going to happen by the end of the year. Almost certainly while I’m in Sri Lanka this November. Sri Lanka is home to eight World Heritage Sites, four of which I’ll be visiting as part of TBC Asia (the first-ever conference of the Professional Travel Bloggers Association, of which I am a member), an
But for now, here are the most recent World Heritage Sites that I visited in Europe. These are some of my favorites.
82. Giant’s Causeway and Causeway Coast, Ireland
UNESCO’s take: “The Giant’s Causeway lies at the foot of the basalt cliffs along the sea coast on the edge of the Antrim plateau in Northern Ireland. It is made up of some 40,000 massive black basalt columns sticking out of the sea…Geological studies of these formations over the last 300 years have greatly contributed to the development of the earth sciences.”
My take: Incredible, gorgeous, visually spectacular, and so worth the trip, even in the pouring rain! The site is far more than just Giant’s Causeway — the coastline is craggy and dramatic and makes for beautiful photos. I wish I had had more time to explore the coast fully; not allotting enough time for the Causeway Coast was one of my bigger mistakes this summer.
Essential Info: Though Giant’s Causeway is a natural wonder, you must pay to visit: £8.50 ($14 USD) for adults and £4.25 ($7 USD) for children. To get there from Belfast, I took a train to the beach town of Portrush (you can also take it to Coleraine) and bought a ticket on the Ulsterbus, which drops you off right at the visitors’ center and has stops along the coastline, including the rope bridge. Double-check the times before you plan your trip.
83. The Cathedral of St. James in Šibenik, Croatia
UNESCO’s take: “The Cathedral of St James in Šibenik (1431-1535), on the Dalmatian coast, bears witness to the considerable exchanges in the field of monumental arts between Northern Italy, Dalmatia and Tuscany in the 15th and 16th centuries. The three architects who succeeded one another in the construction of the Cathedral…developed a structure built entirely from stone and using unique construction techniques for the vaulting and the dome of the Cathedral.”
My take: This church was built from stone — no mortar holds it together. That’s what makes this church so impressive. Unfortunately, I visited during restoration, and while I appreciated the architecture and construction, it’s not one of the prettier World Heritage-listed churches I’ve ever seen.
Essential Info: The cathedral is in the center of town and admission is 15 kuna ($2.50 USD). Šibenik is right between Zadar and Split, making it a convenient spot in between the two cities. Many thanks to the Croatian National Tourist Board for hosting me in Šibenik.
84. Historic City of Trogir, Croatia
UNESCO’s take: “Trogir is a remarkable example of urban continuity. The orthogonal street plan of this island settlement dates back to the Hellenistic period and it was embellished by successive rulers with many fine public and domestic buildings and fortifications. Its beautiful Romanesque churches are complemented by the outstanding Renaissance and Baroque buildings from the Venetian period.”
My take: My favorite part of visiting Trogir was actually checking out the yachts docked by the edge of the city walls! That aside, Trogir is a beautiful (albeit petite) little city and a wonderful place for a stroll and exploration (not to mention a good foil for the much larger Split). It’s amazing to know just how old these streets are, and you can tell how old they are by their smoothness.
Essential Info: Trogir is just outside Split. You can book transportation from Split by bus or boat; Trogir also happens to be very close to Split’s airport. It’s a tiny place — you don’t need to spend more than an afternoon here. Many thanks to the Croatian National Tourist Board for hosting me in Trogir.
85. Heritage of Mercury. Almadén and Idrija, Slovenia
UNESCO’s take: “The property includes the mining sites of Almadén (Spain), where mercury (quicksilver) has been extracted since antiquity, and Idrija (Slovenia), where mercury was first found in AD1490…The site in Idrija notably features mercury stores and infrastructure, as well as miners’ living quarters, and a miners’ theatre. The sites bear testimony to the intercontinental trade in mercury which generated important exchanges between Europe and America over the centuries. Together they represent the two largest mercury mines in the world, operational until recent times.”
My take: I didn’t know anything about these mines, especially that they were operating so recently, and it was a really interesting place to drop in for a short visit (and a respite from the hot Slovene weather!). The tour takes you through quite a few tunnels and you get a sense of what it was like to work here.
Essential Info: Visiting the mercury mine (Anthony’s Shaft) costs 9 EUR ($12 USD) for adults. It includes a tour of the mine and a short movie. Many thanks to the Slovenian Tourist Board for hosting me in Idrija.
86. Škocjan Caves, Slovenia
UNESCO’s take: “This exceptional system of limestone caves comprises collapsed dolines, some 6 km of underground passages with a total depth of more than 200 m, many waterfalls and one of the largest known underground chambers. The site, located in the Kras region (literally meaning Karst), is one of the most famous in the world for the study of karstic phenomena.”
My take: These are the most impressive caves I have ever seen. They are gargantuan. Enormous. Dark and cool and freaky and moist. It feels straight out of Journey to the Center of the Earth, especially the parts with bridges looming over enormous chasms. A very, very cool natural heritage site.
Essential Info: Guided tours of the Skocjan Caves start at 16 EUR ($21 USD) for adults. A longer tour following the river costs 21 EUR ($28 USD) for adults. Photography is ordinarily not permitted in the caves; I was allowed because I visited privately as press. Many thanks to the Slovenian Tourist Board for hosting me at the caves.
87. Fortress of Suomenlinna, Finland
UNESCO’s take: “Built in the second half of the 18th century by Sweden on a group of islands located at the entrance of Helsinki’s harbour, this fortress is an especially interesting example of European military architecture of the time.”
My take: Suomenlinna is far more than just a fortress — it’s an outdoorsy getaway for the incredibly outdoorsy Finns and visitors to Helsinki. I loved how the fortress was built into the landscape, a trait that I saw throughout Finland. It’s a perfect getaway from the city and a nice introduction to life on the archipelago.
Essential Info: Suomenlinna is an island. Waterbuses leave from Market Square in Helsinki, take 15 minutes each way, and cost 7 EUR ($9 USD) for a round-trip ticket.
88. Old Rauma, Finland
UNESCO’s take: “Situated on the Gulf of Botnia, Rauma is one of the oldest harbours in Finland. Built around a Franciscan monastery, where the mid-15th-century Holy Cross Church still stands, it is an outstanding example of an old Nordic city constructed in wood. Although ravaged by fire in the late 17th century, it has preserved its ancient vernacular architectural heritage.”
My take: Now THIS was a surprise! I absolutely loved Rauma! I’ve never seen an old wooden town that looked quite like this. As hard as the cobblestones were to walk on, I absolutely loved the wooden architecture, the bright colors, and the little quirks like porcelain dogs and handmade lace. I was lucky enough to have PERFECT light for photography there as well.
Essential Info: Rauma is about a four-hour bus ride from Helsinki; you can find buses departing both Helsinki and Helsinki Airport. Many thanks to Visit Rauma for hosting me in Rauma.
89. Bronze Age Burial Site of Samallahdenmäki, Finland
UNESCO’s take: “This Bronze Age burial site features more than 30 granite burial cairns, providing a unique insight into the funerary practices and social and religious structures of northern Europe more than three millennia ago.”
My take: Well, it’s an ancient burial site — it’s either an incredibly interesting archaeological site, or it’s just a pile of rocks. If you are into it, spring for a guide, because ours was wonderful (and dressed in traditional clothing!). If you’re not into that sort of thing, Samallahdenmäki is a wonderful place for a walk through the woods. It reminded me a lot of New Hampshire.
90. Castel del Monte, Italy
UNESCO’s take: “When the Emperor Frederick II built this castle near Bari in the 13th century, he imbued it with symbolic significance, as reflected in the location, the mathematical and astronomical precision of the layout and the perfectly regular shape. A unique piece of medieval military architecture, Castel del Monte is a successful blend of elements from classical antiquity, the Islamic Orient and north European Cistercian Gothic.”
My take: Now, this is a cool building! It’s worth a quick stop by if you’re driving through Puglia, but definitely don’t plan your day around it — you don’t need more than an hour. Go, take your photos, admire the unusual shapes, and move on to your next destination.
Essential Info: Castel del Monte is in the middle of the countryside. If you don’t have a car, you can take a bus from the train station in Andria from April through October. Admission is €5 ($7 USD) for adults, €2.50 ($3 USD) for age 18-25, and free for children and seniors. Admission includes parking and a shuttle from the parking lot to the castle. Many thanks to Puglia Tourism for hosting me in Puglia.
91. The Trulli of Alberbello, Italy
UNESCO’s take: “The trulli, limestone dwellings found in the southern region of Puglia, are remarkable examples of drywall (mortarless) construction, a prehistoric building technique still in use in this region. The trulli are made of roughly worked limestone boulders collected from neighbouring fields. Characteristically, they feature pyramidal, domed or conical roofs built up of corbelled limestone slabs.”
My take: Such a cool and beautiful town! It reminded me of Cappadocia (although Cappadocia is natural and the trull are most definitely manmade). I actually enjoyed the city center more than the very touristy “trulli land” because it felt more natural, like you’d walk around a random corner and suddenly there would be several trulli waiting.
Essential Info: The trull of Alberobello are free to visit. Downtown Alberobello is a short walk away and has a lot of cheap street parking. Many thanks to Puglia Tourism for hosting me in Puglia.
So — which ones were my favorites?
Old Rauma. I had no idea what to expect and this ended up being one of my favorite old towns in the world!
The trulli of Alberobello were really interesting, as well. I wish I had had more time there to photograph them properly.
And Giant’s Causeway was one of the big highlights of my trip to Ireland. Next time I’ll see far more of the Causeway Coast!
I’ve just visited Cologne Cathedral and the Palaces of Augustusburg and Falkenlust at Brühl on my trip to Cologne, which clocked in at numbers 92 and 93. Next up I have a few sites planned in the London area, a few in Norway in September, at least one in Greece in October, and then Sri Lanka will put me over the top in November.