We all travel for different reasons. Whether it is to see cool sights, eat new foods, make new friends, or be transformed by the journey itself.
In recent years, there has been a surge of interest in traveling to UNESCO World Heritage Sites. I know my UNESCO World Heritage Bucket List is quite long!
These places, both natural and cultural, have left an indelible imprint on our world. They are places of such universally outstanding value that they deserve protection.
But there is another group of places that are often overlooked: UNESCO World Heritage Cities. And here are the best UNESCO cities that you should make sure to visit!
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What is a UNESCO World Heritage City?
World Heritage Cities are as significant as they sound!
These towns and cities all have UNESCO World Heritage Sites. But they also have other important natural and cultural institutions beyond the scope of the UNESCO site.
The complete list of World Heritage Cities reads like a list of the world’s top travel destinations, and includes some of my favorite places in the world like Philadelphia and Amsterdam!
In other words: the UNESCO World Heritage Cities are the best of the best. Destinations of such incredible beauty and outstanding cultural value will be transformative travel experiences.
For your next trip, consider packing your bag and your camera and heading to these amazing World Heritage Cities!
The Best UNESCO World Heritage Cities
Here we go!
Amsterdam (The Netherlands)
Here is a city that seems to come alive from history books. So, there is no wonder that the city is home to some of the best art museums and galleries in the world.
As the city of Van Gogh, it makes sense that it has the largest collection of his work. Amsterdam is an amazing city with lively local markets, biking tracks, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site – the 17th Century Canal Ring.
However, Amsterdam is much more than this – it’s the city where you find Anne Frank’s House, as well as a city that celebrates art, music, food, and the good life.
Amsterdam is also known for its tulips, beer, and delicious stroopwafel.
Truthfully, there are a million cool things to do in Amsterdam. If you visit this World Heritage City, you will know why it is one of the most loved cities on earth.
It’s not enough to see Marrakesh, you have to experience it with all of your senses. It is loud, filled with the smells of delicious foods, and is incredibly beautiful.
It’s an enchanting city that has an eternal appeal. Also known as the Red City because of the reddish-brown walls that protect the old Medina, Marrakesh is a wonder that is hard to ignore.
History, culture, and tradition blend to give a unique character to this Moroccan city. Come to Marrakesh to witness its diverse landscape.
The food is so delicious that it would linger on your tongue for years. Go for a mountain bike ride or camel ride for a dose of adventure.
There is the world heritage site of Medina – the center of Moroccan culture and history.
However, Marrakesh is the sum of all these and more. Experiencing it for yourself is a feeling that you would cherish forever.
Every American is proud of this city as it is the Birthplace of America. It was also the first capital.
As a city of firsts, it is only fitting that Philadelphia is the first city in the United States to be declared a world heritage city. It is an honor it rightly deserves.
Philly, as it is lovingly called by locals, tells the American story and in a uniquely American way.
Yes, the city is home to the most famous building in America, Independence Hall, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. But the city has a cultural depth not seen in other American cities.
There are lots of things to see and do in Philly. Start by taking on “America’s most historic square mile” and get drenched in history.
The Old City section of Philadelphia is renowned for its numerous pre-Revolutionary War buildings, like the Betsy Ross House and Elfreth’s Alley, the oldest street in America.
But there are also museums, murals, and parks, and gardens to explore.
Check out the towering City Hall or take your kids to the Franklin Institute. If you get hungry, grab one of the city’s famous cheesesteaks.
Whether you visit for a day, a weekend, or a week, your itinerary will be packed.
If Japanese culture intrigues you, visit Kyoto.
The city is the cultural anchor of Japan and a marvelous place to experience famous Japanese cultures like geisha and maiko.
It is home to world heritage sites like the Kiyomizu-dera temple and Kinkaku-ji temple or more popularly known as the Golden Pavilion.
However, Kyoto packs more surprises that only an inquisitive traveler can discover.
The colorful shrines of Kyoto are worth visiting. So are the gorgeous gardens that dot the city. Don’t forget to check out the zen gardens where you can experience peace and tranquillity.
You can experience the authentic Japanese lifestyle at the ryokan and machiya.
Lastly, go on a gastronomical trip with Japanese delicacies. In a nutshell, experience everything Japanese in a beautiful and historic city like Kyoto – a true heritage city.
Also known as “Venice of the North”, Bruges features on nearly every traveler’s bucket list. Time seems to be frozen in place in a splendidly preserved Belgian city.
Declared as a world heritage city, Bruges has a 14th-century Town Hall that escaped destruction during the World Wars, a medieval marketplace, silent waterways, and Flemish art.
The Belfry of Bruges has long been declared a UNESCO Heritage Site, but the city has umpteen number of attractions to catch your fancy.
Don’t miss its step-gabled facades, beer, cobbled streets, and medieval buildings that are steeped in history.
Bruges is one of the most romantic cities in the world, with hidden treasure at every nook and corner.
With a compact city center, you can see everything in Bruges in a day.
While most travelers come as day-trippers, the city becomes magical in the evening when most of the tourists leave town.
And if you happen to visit during the winter, the Bruges Christmas market is one of the best in Europe.
It’s magical, it’s mystical, and it’s everything you look for in a historical city. Cuzco or Cusco captivates its visitors with its ruins, architecture, views, and food.
While it is most famous for providing an easy gateway to the ruins of Incan citadel Machu Pichu, the city itself is beloved by travelers for its charming character.
Deeply rooted in history itself, Cuzco is famous for its ruins. The temple of the sun is its most noted landmark.
The ruins of Sacsayhuaman are equally alluring and offer commanding views looking down on the city below.
And the Plaza de Armas is the finest example of both Incan and colonial architecture.
Llamas and alpacas are common on the streets of Cuzco. They weave their way in and out of traffic.
Along the sidewalks, traditionally dressed women sell food they prepared in their home kitchens. Look for the long lines of the woman selling banana-leaf tamales.
Indulge in local dishes like alpaca burger and cuy. Cuzco makes an indelible mark on the minds of its visitors with its sights, sounds, and magic.
Jerusalem (Israel / Palestine / UNESCO World Heritage Sites Overseen by Jordan)
Perhaps it is the most popular heritage city because this is the holy city that gave birth to three major religions. No other place blends history, tradition, religion, and modernism like Jerusalem.
Jerusalem is home to more than 220 historical monuments that will enthrall you.
The Old City and its Walls have long been declared as World Heritage Sites, but the appeal of Jerusalem doesn’t end here.
Jerusalem is a paradise for foodies. Gorge on hummus, shawarma, and baklava as you stroll through its dark alleys and cobbled streets.
Nearby, take a dip into the Dead Sea and visit the ruined fortress of Masada for incredible views of the Jordanian mountains.
Jerusalem stirs the soul and moves the heart. It’s a feeling that would transform your life.
Located in the Austrian Alps, Salzburg is both historic and scenic. This town will forever be known for two things: Mozart and the von Trapps.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born here and lived here. Much of the town’s tourist industry revolves around the greatness of his music.
Mozart concerts can be found on most days throughout the city in music halls and churches.
Perhaps more popular these days, Salzburg lays claim to the von Trapp family.
This is the land of the Sound of Music and the city is awash in merchandise and paraphernalia for this famous family. But the movie was also filmed here. And for good reason, this is one of the most picturesque cities in Europe.
Towering above the banks of the river, the Hohensalzburg fortress offers imposing views of the picturesque city below. And the city is very, very picturesque.
UNESCO singled out Salzburg for recognition both because of the well-preserved old town, but also because this city was an important city in the Middle Ages.
Here, the influences from Italy and Germany came together. And you can see what influence throughout town: in the Baroque architecture, the food and even in the way the people dress.
If there is any city that is at the same time spiritual and chaotic, historic and vibrant, haphazard and peaceful, it is Kathmandu.
The capital of Nepal and also its largest city is a wonder in itself. The streets are a chaos of people, animals, and motorbikes all running in different directions.
And yet, amid the chaos, there is harmony. Visitors need to see its heritage sites like Durbar Square, as well as the Buddhist temples of Pashupatinath, Swayambhunath, and Boudhanath.
Other attractions that make Kathmandu an incredible city are its nearby wildlife sanctuaries, as well as its proximity to adventure sports.
Whether you like river rafting, motorbike riding, hiking, trekking, or mountaineering, you’ll find Kathmandu an exciting destination on your journey.
Kathmandu has a warm and positive vibe that steals hearts and installs a great longing to return. Its rich culture and colorful festivals attract tourists.
You may spend your time checking out the architectural relics, visiting the temples, or simply gazing at the mighty peaks.
And while you’re there, don’t forget to drink the chai tea made with yak milk or sample the delicious momo dumplings.
San Miguel de Allende (Mexico)
It may not be the most popular tourist spot in Mexico, but San Miguel de Allende is beloved by tourists who visit. This is a place to feel with all of your senses.
Being a melting pot of Spaniards, Amerindians, and Creoles, San Miguel stands apart in its historic appeal. This has also earned it the tag of a heritage site.
You can see the best of Mexican baroque and Spanish architecture here. Souvenir hunters will go on shopping sprees in San Miguel.
The handicraft market is a great draw, and so are the art galleries, modern boutiques, and furniture shops.
Food takes on a different meaning here with a plethora of street food joints and gourmet restaurants.
San Miguel offers beautiful night views of the city and the adjoining landscapes from its numerous rooftop bars and cafes.
The city also has a vibrant art scene that attracts visitors.
And the Day of the Dead celebration in San Miguel is one of the best in all of Mexico.
Which of these UNESCO cities would you like to visit?
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