My New Goal: 101 UNESCO World Heritage Sites By 2014

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Dubrovnik from Above

A few months ago, I decided to tally up the UNESCO World Heritage Sites I’ve visited.  The total?  51. You can see the full list here.

A very respectable number, and one that I should be proud of.  But not as good as it could be, considering how much I travel.  I’ve never actively sought out UNESCO sites before; I’ve always just fallen into them by chance.

I need to visit more — for two reasons.  The first is that UNESCO sites are some of the greatest treasures the world has to offer.  And the second, less obvious reason is that visiting lots of sites can make a difference for me career-wise.  The unseen work of a full-time travel blogger is that I am constantly pitching myself to companies and publications.  The more countries and UNESCO sites I’ve been to, the more I can brand myself as a travel expert, and that plays directly into my future career opportunities.

So I’ve taken on an ambitious mission: I will visit 50 more UNESCO World Heritage Sites by the end of this year, bringing my total to 101.

Cappadocia from the Air

What are UNESCO World Heritage Sites?

UNESCO World Heritage Sites are special areas chosen by UNESCO’s World Heritage committee to be designated by their natural or cultural heritage.  Receiving World Heritage status can make an enormous difference for the countries hosting them, as they receive lots of funding and lots of visitors as a result.

There are currently 962 sites in total: 188 natural, 745 cultural, and 29 mixed.  Italy has the most (47), followed by Spain (44) and China (43).  You can see the full list here.

A lot of my friends are UNESCO aficionados — none more so than Gary of Everything Everywhere.  He’s currently on a road trip in Germany visiting all the German UNESCO sites he hasn’t yet seen.

Wadi Rum at Sunrise

My Favorite Sites So Far

In terms of natural sites, it’s hard to beat the majestic, colorful desert of Wadi Rum in Jordan.  Cappadocia in Turkey was also spectacular.

As for cultural, two immediately stand out: the Alhambra in Spain, for its architectural magnificence.  It’s one of the few monuments that nearly brought me to tears.  That and the Old Bridge area of Mostar, Bosnia.  After learning the history of Mostar and how the conflict reverberates to today, I don’t see how anybody couldn’t put it at the top of their list.

Lots of “historic centers” of cities that I have visited are on the list — Florence, Dubrovnik, Prague, Quebec City.  A few of my favorites: Evora, Portugal, and the Old and New Towns of Edinburgh.

Old Bridge, Mostar

How I Will Do It

I’ve scoped out the destinations where I will be traveling through the end of the year — and I think there’s a very good chance that I can increase my total count to 101.  Here’s where I’ll start:

I. England

I’m going to take advantage of living in London and seeing the UNESCO sites that I haven’t yet visited.  I think a few day trips to Canterbury (for Canterbury Cathedral and its other churches) and Oxford (for Blenhelm Palace) are in order.  I also haven’t seen a few sites within London: Maritime Greenwich and Kew Gardens (which I’ll put off until later this spring, when the flowers start blooming).

II. Benelux Sites

This May, I’ll be visiting the Benelux region — Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg — and I plan to see more sites there.  I’ve already seen La Grand Place of Brussels and the Historic Center of Brugge, but I definitely plan to add the Old Quarter of Luxembourg City, the 17th-century Canal Ring of Amsterdam, the Defence Line of Amsterdam, and hopefully I’ll have time to return to Brussels and add sites like Stoclet House and the Townhouses of Victor Horta.

III. Emilia-Romagna and Vicinity

I adore the region of Emilia-Romagna, Italy, and I plan to spend a few weeks there this year.  Emilia-Romagna is rich with UNESCO sites: the city of Ferrara, the early Christian sites of Ravenna, and the cathedral in Modena.  Sandwiched in is the tiny nation of San Marino.

If I extend my stay, I might check out the sites just outside Emilia-Romagna as well: the cities of Mantova (Mantua)Verona, and Urbino, and the Botanical Gardens of Padova (Padua).

IV. Malta

Dating a Malteser has its perks!  Malta is only 20 square miles, but it’s home to three UNESCO sites: the City of Valletta and two sets of temples: the Megalithic Temples of Gozo and the Hal Saflieni Hypogeum.

V. Beyond Europe

I’ve been cryptic about my plans for later in the year — you’ll find out soon.  I’ve been going over the list of prospective UNESCO sites and there are a LOT of them!

Which ones, exactly?

I very well may visit Historic Cairo.  And the Old City of Jerusalem and Its Walls.  And the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto.  And The Great Wall.

Intrigued yet?  😉

VI. The 2013 Wildcards

Every year, more sites are added to the list, so I could technically add a new one from my travels years ago.  Last year, The Cultural Landscape of Bali was a new entry that I had previously visited.


Keeping You Updated

I don’t plan on necessarily doing a new post for each site I visit, but I do plan on updating whenever I visit 10 new sites.  As always, my UNESCO page will be updated as well.  I just added my first: Museumsinsel, the Museum Island of Berlin!

What do you think?  Is this plan too ambitious?  Can I make it to 101 by the end of the year?  Share your thoughts!

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35 thoughts on “My New Goal: 101 UNESCO World Heritage Sites By 2014”

    1. That is an insane trip, Amy! And it’s probably the only way you can get to some of the UNESCO sites, like that island off the coast of Iceland that only scientists visit.

  1. This is very cool! I added up the Sites I’ve visited a few weeks ago and am at 52, pretty much the same as you. I can’t imagine doubling that number in only nine months! Good luck!!

  2. What a cool goal! Should be exciting, and I think it makes a lot more sense to try visiting 101 UNESCO sites than say, 101 countries, just for the sake of passport stamps. Good luck!

  3. I have been to 20 UNESCO sites in my life, and none of them has been disappointing, I should set a goal for this year as well, I have a few in Bulgaria, Italy and London that seem compatible with my itinerary…

  4. 50 sites in a year sounds very exciting. It is amazing though how you can be so close to so many when you travel, particularly around Europe. It will be interesting to see which is your favourite at the end of the year.

  5. In the Netherlands I recommend mudflat hiking, it’s an amazing experience if the weather is nice, and the wadden sea (which contains the mud flats) is also a unesco world heritage site.

  6. This is a brilliant idea! I love the concept of working through lists – I was thinking of trying to visit all the rail destinations on the Blackfriars Wall, but when I started planning it I realised it’s really heavily slanted towards business centres in Switzerland in Germany – which is fine, but a little dull. 🙂

    UNESCO sites will be much more fun!

  7. 50 is easy if you stay in Europe.

    FYI, there are actually THREE world heritage sites in Brugge. Many people overlook the serial sites. In addition to Brugge itself, it is also one of the locations for Belfries of Belgium and France as well as having one of the Flemish Béguinages.

    I didn’t know that until after I had visited Brugge, so I don’t have those other two listed.

    Likewise, if you are in Israel, you can visit sites in Tel Aviv and do a day trip to Acre and Haifa. You can also do a day trip from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. If you are a bit more determined, you can also head to some more remote sites in the desert, including Masada.

    I’ve found that many UNESCO sites is just a matter of knowing where they are and being determined to visit them.

    I’m writing this in the village of Wies, Germany which is about a 15 min drive from Neushwanstein Castle. The castle gets millions of visitors each year, but few non-Germans even know about Wies. Getting here from there is really easy, but no one does it.

    1. Interesting, Gary. I visited Bruges nearly seven years ago to celebrate my college education — was fascinated by the blood church, but had no idea bout the Beguinages!

      Israel I think will be an easier one as well. Masada is also included on a lot of day trips from Jerusalem.

  8. I’ve never made it an intention to visit UNESCO sites, more just happened upon them accidentally!

    I’ll certainly be following your adventures as you seek out 101 by 2014. It will be great to see what your favourites are and which you think are the most awe inspiring and important.

    As for me? Well I am going to have a wee look at the list right now, to see what my own number is!

  9. Very cool! I just tallied mine up, I’ve been to 72 heritage sites. 🙂 Definitely surprising to see which sites have been designated heritage sites and which haven’t. Europe is really heavily represented! Good luck with your goal, it’s totally doable!

  10. That’s a fun goal! I’m curious how many I’ve been to now–I’m going to have to take a look at the list! It’s always fun to visit the UNESCO sites, I’ve yet to be disappointed in one.

  11. Did you know that Burma hasn’t been able to settle with UNESCO (or vice versa), and none of the stunning monuments and places are on the list? But that doesn’t mean they are worth any less.
    And now I see you actually haven’t added Komodo though technically we set foot on the island :-/

    1. I did notice that, Betti, and I’m not surprised. Bagan at the very least! But with so many changes taking place in Burma right now, perhaps we’ll hear from UNESCO.

      Oh yeah, and I’m not counting Komodo. 😉

  12. (My tally comes to 43, but I visited many in Europe as a teenager, unaware of the whole unesco thing, surprised now they are on the list. But your list is much, much more spectacular!)

  13. Kate, this sounds like such a great project/goal! I’ve also always enjoyed UNESCO heritage sites, but like you, have never actively visited them. However, the ones that I have been too have been spectacular. I’m looking forward to staying updated with your progress, especially knowing that you’ll complete your goal!

  14. Awesome goal, Kate! I think you can totally make it happen.

    I think I’ve only been to about 30 UNESCO sites so far on my travels… I have a lot left to see!

  15. Nice list to want to tick off:)
    I think it’s a great thing to want to do, provided you can arrange your travels around them the way you want to. You seme to be able to do that:-)
    I mean: I wouldn’t just do them to ‘have done them’.

  16. Kate, this is a great goal! I have absolutely NO idea how many I’ve visited, and it’s not something that I actively look for, but you’ve got my brain whirring. As for an extra fifty or so by the end of the year – doable, but you’re going to be one busy lady!

  17. Wow! That’s a big goal. Although, we added four UNESCO last week (bringing our total to over 60), so it is certainly possible. Good luck!

  18. What a great idea! I’m inspired to start keeping track of my own UNESCO World Heritage Sites. I’m at 38 right now and I completely agree with you that the Alhambra is one of the most amazing places in the world 🙂

  19. The question is, if you haven’t been visiting these sites what exactly have you been doing? Getting pissed in bars?

  20. Good luck! I’ve thought about something similar. During my first RTW, we tried using the 1000 places to see before you die, but abandoned it pretty quickly for a variety of reasons. With UNESCO you know at least that the sites have been vetted a but before inclusion. I am curious to see your result!

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