With over 1000 UNESCO World Heritage sites around the world you’ll never run out of places to visit. But deciding where to visit can be a challenge.
UNESCO World Heritage status applies to a range of sites- all having some historic value. Sites range from ancient and abandoned, to still in use today and often include natural areas as well.
The purpose of the article is to inform you about some of the UNESCO World Heritage towns that are still living, breathing towns.
Visiting one of these UNESCO towns allows you to explore the historic past as well as eating, drinking, shopping and sleeping in many of the traditional buildings. The UNESCO designation preserves the distinctive architecture and culture, while allowing for modern development. And much of this development is around tourism.
We have found all the ancient towns on this list to be delightful. Worthy of traveling to and spending some time. For our fellow foodies and culture buffs, we think you will enjoy the 7 UNESCO World Heritage towns in this list.
UNESCO World Heritage Towns- Latin America
Antigua, Guatemala- Central America
Once the capital of the Kingdom of Guatemala, Antigua was largely abandoned in 1773, due natural disasters from earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. This left large portions of the architecture intact.
Today it is a thriving town, very friendly and welcoming to tourists. We were amazed by the variety of cuisines available in Antigua. The coffee is some of the best in the world and they even have their own microbrewery!
With loads of museums and options to learn about Mayan culture you won’t be bored. Many of the locals still wear traditional dress and the shops are full of great, local handicrafts. And if you want nature, opportunities to hike volcanoes and visit hot springs are nearby. We explored Antigua and Guatemala in detail as one of our featured destinations. Look for our upcoming post with great historic hotels in Antigua.
Colonia de Sacramento, Uruguay- South America
Once a Portuguese colony, Colonia de Sacramento in Uruguay is easy to reach from Buenos Aires via the ferry or from Montevideo on the bus.
Great photos wait around every corner in Colonia. Many historic buildings now house great food and drink options. Near one of Uruguay’s best wine regions, plenty of opportunities to try the local wine or visit the wineries exist. One of Uruguay’s best-kept secrets is Tannat, a full bodied red wine perfect with a Uruguayan steak.
And if you head to Colonia, we suggest you visit Montevideo. Eating and drinking your way around Montevideo is highly recommended. The Uruguay people welcome tourists and it is an affordable destination. If you travel up the coast from Montevideo long, beautiful beaches await.
UNESCO World Heritage Towns in Europe
Frantic during the day as the town overflows with visitors on day trips. But once they all leave, the town becomes a different place, peaceful and relaxing.
Tall church spires dominate the skyline and canals wind through the city creating a serene ambiance.
And it is Belgium, so Bruges offers great food, including beer, chocolate and waffles. Definitely try staying overnight if you can work it into your schedule.
Venice & It’s Lagoon, Italy
Receiving the most visitors of any place in Italy, Venice can be busy. But it is also an amazing place. Walking or using the vaporetto (water taxis) provides access to all the sites.
A living, breathing museum, Venice was and still is a city of amazing wealth. A visit affords the opportunity to learn the Venetian history and culture as well as see the stunning architecture first hand.
Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Not as busy as some of the other towns on this list, Mostar is a historic town of about 100,000 people in what is today Bosnia Herzegovina. The town’s best known landmark, and namesake is the Stari Most or Old Bridge, which crosses the Neretva River.
Developed during the 16th Century by the Ottomans, the old town has a distinctive Turkish feel. The Old Bazaar is full of great shops, bars and restaurants. Mostar is a great place to relax and enjoy a leisurely couple of days.
It can be extremely hot here in the summer so time your visit and activities accordingly.
UNESCO World Heritage Towns in Asia
Hoi An, Vietnam
One of our favorites stops on our travels through Vietnam. As an important trading port for centuries, food found here is unlike any in Vietnam.
For a food lover, you will be in heaven in Hoi An! And there are plenty of great restaurants, cooking schools, food tours and bars in around town. Look further than the historic old town and head to the beach for great seafood.
The relaxed vibe means you will never want to leave. And did I mention it is a shopper’s paradise? Bring photos and you can have anything you want made here- clothes, suits, jewelry, shoes to name just a few.
And the best part? You can get everywhere on a bike.
Luang Prabang, Laos
Something about this town sucks you in and you don’t want to leave. Located on the banks of the Mekong River, Luang Prabang seems timeless.
Monks in bright saffron robes provide great picture opportunities. Getting up at sunrise to see the morning alms procession provides an opportunity to see the locals provide daily sustenance for the monks.
Cooking classes, restaurants and local bars provide a range of opportunities to explore the local Lao cuisine. If you venture across the river, there are a number of great restaurants and views of the town.
The night markets and local shops provide plenty of opportunities to purchase local handicrafts. Some of the silk weaving is top quality
Grab a bicycle and head out of town to explore the rice fields, caves and waterfalls. And for an opportunity to really relax come or go on the slow boat journey on the Mekong River to/from Thailand.
Join The Discussion
If you enjoyed this post you might also like our list of Bucketlist Destinations that do actually live up to the hype.
Please leave a comment if you have other UNESCO World Heritage Towns that you think are worth traveling to see- we are always looking for great places to explore. (No URL is required to leave a comment.)
And please, we enjoyed all of these wonderful destinations so are happy to answer any questions you might have about them in the comment area below. Or send us an email.