The UNESCO Hunt: 92-101
Back in November, I achieved my long-held goal of visiting more than 100 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. I was thrilled to reach this milestone. Doing this challenge has made me feel like I’ve experienced so many of the world’s finest natural and cultural treasures.
That said, it’s been a while since I covered World Heritage Sites in depth on this site. Here is the latest batch of 10!
92. Cologne Cathedral, Germany
UNESCO’s take: “Begun in 1248, the construction of this Gothic masterpiece took place in several stages and was not completed until 1880. Over seven centuries, successive builders were inspired by the same faith and a spirit of absolute fidelity to the original plans. Apart from its exceptional intrinsic value and the artistic masterpieces it contains, Cologne Cathedral testifies to the enduring strength of European Christianity.”
My take: Think of every German stereotype, both good and bad, and apply it to architecture. Strong. Large. No-nonsense. Intimidating. A bit scary. Humorless. That’s Cologne Cathedral. It’s overwhelming to take in and it’s one of the most incredible churches I’ve ever seen. Climbing to the top was a challenge but worth it; I just wish it didn’t have so much graffiti up there!
Essential Info: Cologne Cathedral is free to visit, but it costs €3 ($3) to climb to the top of the south tower.
93. Palaces of Augustusburg and Falkenlust at Brühl, Germany
UNESCO’s take: “Set in an idyllic garden landscape, Augustusburg Castle (the sumptuous residence of the prince-archbishops of Cologne) and the Falkenlust hunting lodge (a small rural folly) are among the earliest examples of Rococo architecture in 18th-century Germany.”
My take: Rococo! One of my favorite words to say — and a style of art and architecture that I enjoy immensely. The palaces are beautiful and the grounds are a very nice place to wander on a warm day. (Just keep in mind that this part of Germany doesn’t have a lot of warm days to begin with…)
Essential Info: Brühl is located on the tram line between Cologne and Bonn. The gardens are free to visit. Admission to the palace is €7 ($8) or €8 ($9) with a guided tour. There are combination tickets available for other sites in Brühl.
94. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, United Kingdom
UNESCO’s take: “This historic landscape garden features elements that illustrate significant periods of the art of gardens from the 18th to the 20th centuries. The gardens house botanic collections (conserved plants, living plants and documents) that have been considerably enriched through the centuries. Since their creation in 1759, the gardens have made a significant and uninterrupted contribution to the study of plant diversity and economic botany.”
My take: Is there anything more lovely than an English garden on a sunny day? Well, there didn’t happen to be any sun when I visited, but I found the gardens to be a very nice (if expensive) way to spend an afternoon. I also loved visiting after reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things (wonderful book, by the way!), since parts of the book take place in the gardens in the 18th century.
Essential Info: Kew Gardens is a 30-minute ride on the tube (aka “nothing” to London commuters) from central London. Admission is £14 ($22) for adults, £2.50 ($4) for children.
95. Bryggen, Norway
UNESCO’s take: “Bryggen, the old wharf of Bergen, is a reminder of the town’s importance as part of the Hanseatic League’s trading empire from the 14th to the mid-16th century. Many fires, the last in 1955, have ravaged the characteristic wooden houses of Bryggen. Its rebuilding has traditionally followed old patterns and methods, thus leaving its main structure preserved, which is a relic of an ancient wooden urban structure once common in Northern Europe.”
My take: This is exactly what I love about Scandinavia — bright wooden buildings set against a waterfront, standing as they’ve stood for centuries. Great for photography! I loved the city of Bergen and the Bryggen was a big part of that. I also enjoyed having a high-end meal inside the Bryggen at To Kokker.
Essential Info: The Bryggen is free to visit. Just walk on down! Many thanks to Visit Norway for hosting me in Norway.
96. West Norwegian Fjords — Geirangerfjord and Nærøyfjord, Norway
UNESCO’s take: “The two fjords, among the world’s longest and deepest, are considered as archetypical fjord landscapes and among the most scenically outstanding anywhere. Their exceptional natural beauty is derived from their narrow and steep-sided crystalline rock walls that rise up to 1,400 m from the Norwegian Sea and extend 500 m below sea level.”
My take: There is only one word that can describe these fjords: awesome, in its original connotation. They are incredible and remind you of just what a small part of the world you are. I especially loved gaping at the houses set on top of cliffs. Could you imagine going to a cocktail party on the edge of a fjord?!
Essential Info: I cruised Geirangerfjord via a Norway in a Nutshell tour from Bergen, which I loved and highly recommend. The tour departs from several cities, though Bergen is the most convenient by far. It costs 1145 NOK ($144). Many thanks to Visit Norway for hosting me in Norway.
97. Ancient City of Sigiriya, Sri Lanka
UNESCO’s take: “The ruins of the capital built by the parricidal King Kassapa I (477–95) lie on the steep slopes and at the summit of a granite peak standing some 180m high (the ‘Lion’s Rock’, which dominates the jungle from all sides). A series of galleries and staircases emerging from the mouth of a gigantic lion constructed of bricks and plaster provide access to the site.”
My take: Climbing Sigiriya was one of my favorite activities in Sri Lanka. I’ve never seen a place like this anywhere else in the world and the views from the top were outstanding. In fact, I think this is where I first connected with Sri Lanka, feeling so close to the country and its culture.
Essential Info: Visiting Sigiriya costs $30 USD (4000 rupees). Wear good shoes and look out for the bees when climbing the rock itself. I visited Sri Lanka for TBCAsia, hosted by Cinnamon Hotels. Thanks also to Sri Lankan Airlines for flying me there from London
98. Ancient City of Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka
UNESCO’s take: “Polonnaruwa was the second capital of Sri Lanka after the destruction of Anuradhapura in 993. It comprises, besides the Brahmanic monuments built by the Cholas, the monumental ruins of the fabulous garden-city created by Parakramabahu I in the 12th century.”
My take: To be honest, I have a short attention span for ruins, but these were absolutely lovely. I also loved the stupas, which were actually new to me as well. I loved photographing these ruins and the stupas in the good evening light.
Essential Info: Visiting Polonnaruwa costs $25 USD (3300 rupees). It’s a big, spread-out site — if you’re not on an organized tour, I recommend renting a bike. I visited Sri Lanka for TBCAsia, hosted by Cinnamon Hotels. Thanks also to Sri Lankan Airlines for flying me there from London.
99. Golden Temple of Dambulla, Sri Lanka
UNESCO’s take: “A sacred pilgrimage site for 22 centuries, this cave monastery, with its five sanctuaries, is the largest, best-preserved cave-temple complex in Sri Lanka. The Buddhist mural paintings (covering an area of 2,100 m2 ) are of particular importance, as are the 157 statues.”
My take: We had a brief stop here and I didn’t get to go all the way into the caves, but I did explore the more accessible parts of the temple. I loved photographing the statues.
Essential Info: Visiting the Golden Temple costs $10 (1300 rupees). You could also do what I did and poke around the outside for free. I visited Sri Lanka for TBCAsia, hosted by Cinnamon Hotels. Thanks also to Sri Lankan Airlines for flying me there from London.
100. Sacred City of Kandy, Sri Lanka
UNESCO’s take: “This sacred Buddhist site, popularly known as the city of Senkadagalapura, was the last capital of the Sinhala kings whose patronage enabled the Dinahala culture to flourish for more than 2,500 years until the occupation of Sri Lanka by the British in 1815. It is also the site of the Temple of the Tooth Relic (the sacred tooth of the Buddha), which is a famous pilgrimage site.”
My take: Kandy was one place where I wish I had more time. You could tell how spiritually important of a destination it is. The Temple of the Tooth was the major site I saw, and though the tooth is hidden (it’s only on display one month out of the year), it was an eye-opening look into how Sri Lankan Buddhists worship.
Essential Info: Visiting the Temple of the Tooth costs 1000 rupees ($7 USD). You may want to wear white or light clothing to fit in with the locals. I visited Sri Lanka for TBCAsia, hosted by Cinnamon Hotels. Thanks also to Sri Lankan Airlines for flying me there from London.
101. Old Town of Galle and its Fortifications, Sri Lanka
UNESCO’s take: “Founded in the 16th century by the Portuguese, Galle reached the height of its development in the 18th century, before the arrival of the British. It is the best example of a fortified city built by Europeans in South and South-East Asia, showing the interaction between European architectural styles and South Asian traditions.”
My take: I loved Galle and it was my favorite place in Sri Lanka. I loved the combination of architectural styles and the colors, flowers, and old-fashioned cars throughout the town. Not only is it a World Heritage Site, it also performed a miracle — while much of Sri Lanka’s south coast was destroyed by the tsunami, Galle remained intact thanks to the fort.
Essential Info: Galle is free to wander! If you have limited time in Sri Lanka (five days or less), I think your time would be best spent exploring Galle and the South Coast. I visited Sri Lanka for TBCAsia, hosted by Cinnamon Hotels. Thanks also to Sri Lankan Airlines for flying me there from London.
So — which ones were my favorites?
Galle. Easily my favorite place in Sri Lanka.
Sigiriya. Climbing Sigiriya was probably my favorite thing that I did in Sri Lanka.
West Norwegian Fjords. Just as beautiful and startling as I imagined.
I’ve visited several World Heritage Sites in Central America since I hit 101 (Antigua! Leon Cathedral! Tikal!), and am about to add some new sites in my favorite region: the Balkans! One I will be visiting for sure is the city of Berat in central Albania, pictured above.