The world we call home is full of wonders. Some captivating places have been shaped by nature: the Grand Canyon, Arches National Park, and Mount Everest, to name a few. But equally awe-inspiring is the remnants of ancient civilizations that have stood against the test of time. From colossal architectural marvels to sacred sanctuaries, these best historic sites in the world remind us what we, as humans, are capable of. They inspire us to embark on a journey through time and immerse ourselves in the richness of human history.
When we visit historical places such as these, ranging from the deserts of Egypt and the hilltops of Athens all the way to the jungles of Guatemala, it allows us to connect with our shared heritage. We get to appreciate the achievements of those who came before us and reflect upon the profound human spirit that transcends time. While their original purposes may have faded into antiquity, their grandeur and significance remain undiminished.
You do not have to be a history buff to appreciate the ingenuity and artistry of humanity while exploring these historical attractions. If you have the wanderlust and the means of travel, I urge you to go and explore these magnificent remnants of history! I promise you won’t regret it.
Curious where to start? Let this list of the best historic sites in the world be your guide!
Finding flight deals to visit the best historic sites in the world
Unfortunately, most of us are not lucky enough to have the Great Wall of China or the Taj Mahal in our backyards. This means you’ll need to do some traveling to experience these ancient marvels. Fortunately, there are resources available to help you find affordable flights to these places!
My favorite way to score cheap airfare is with Scott’s Cheap Flights (now called Going). I’ve used this service for years to get the best deals on domestic and international flights. I save hundreds of dollars every time I book a round-trip flight. And the best part? It’s 100% free!
Simply sign up, select your home airport, then receive free email alerts about cheap flight deals. They also send out alerts regarding mistake fares and other monumental savings.
The free tier is a great way to save money on occasional flights. However, if you travel often or like to fly first-class, I recommend looking into the premium or elite memberships. The Premium tier only costs $49/year, and you’re the first to know about exclusive deals and incredible savings on economy seats. With Elite, you have full control over the deals you receive and can save money on business and first class tickets. Flying first class is a great way to travel the world and explore its many ancient wonders!
What to consider when choosing the best historical attractions to visit
There are many great places with history throughout the world, so how do you choose the top destinations? You know, the best of the best, la crème de la crème… With countless destinations boasting historical significance, choosing where to venture first can be overwhelming. However, among these remarkable places, some historic sites truly stand out. They are timeless treasures deserving of every traveler’s attention. These are the best historic sites in the world due to their historical importance and the profound experiences they offer to those fortunate enough to visit.
The best of anything is highly subjective, and the best historic sites in the world are no exception. Many factors go into generating a list such as this, including personal preference. As a world traveler with an appreciation for history, I can assure you that I put a lot of thought into making this list. In fact, I have even traveled to some of these locations myself!
When creating this list, I looked at everything from accessibility and location to historical significance and visitor experience. If you’re going to travel thousands of miles to visit a destination, of course, you want to enjoy every minute of your journey!
Below is what I consider the best historical sites in the world. These are places that should be on every world traveler’s bucket list.
13 of the world’s best historic sites
Are you ready to start planning your vacation through history? While we can’t get you a time machine (yet), I can assure you this is the next best thing. From ancient structures in the heart of Rome to hidden temples in the jungle, you can’t go wrong with a visit to any of these historical sites.
And now, without further ado, let’s look at some amazing historical places!
In 79 AD, Mount Vesuvius erupted. Gray clouds covered the hills, and walls kept tumbling down in the much-loved city of Pompeii. This ancient city, located near Naples in the Campania region of Italy, succumbed to a catastrophic mix of volcanic ash, pumice, and toxic gasses. The city and its inhabitants were all buried under several meters of debris. The weight was so much to bear that even buildings collapsed.
Despite the massive ancient disaster, today, Pompeii remains frozen in time. What sets Pompeii apart as one of the best historic sites in the world is its state of preservation. The city lay buried and untouched for almost 1,700 years. Those layers of ash and pumice actually safeguarded its streets, buildings, and even the everyday objects used by its citizens. As excavations unearthed this archaeological gem, an entire city emerged!
Pompeii offers a unique window into the daily lives, customs, and culture of ancient Rome. You can walk through the remains and see the preserved ancient architecture, graffiti, and public baths. Pompeii is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of Italy’s most popular tourist attractions. So, if you find yourself anywhere near the Italian Republic, Pompeii is definitely a must-see historical destination!
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2. The Great Wall of China
When discussing ancient marvels, we must include The Great Wall of China. This architectural masterpiece stretches over 13,000 miles, spanning rugged terrains and stretching east to west. This historical attraction, originally constructed as a formidable defense system, is one of the greatest engineering achievements in history. And while it never effectively prevented invaders, it remains a significant destination for anyone traveling through China.
Visitors from around the world flock to visit the Great Wall. Portions north of Beijing and near tourist centers have been preserved and renovated. They are the most popular sections to visit. The Badaling and Mutianyu sections have been restored and are easily accessible to most visitors. For hikers, the Simatai and Jiankou are popular, as they remain more “wild.”
Visiting the Great Wall is a great way to connect with China’s ancient history and appreciate the remarkable feat of labor it took to complete its construction. If you’re traveling through Asia, you need to see this piece of history!
3. The Colosseum
When in Rome, do as the Romans do – unless it involves hand-to-hand gladiator combat. Because if you were to visit the Colosseum in Rome, Italy, back when it was completed in 80 AD, that’s likely what you would have witnessed. As well as animal hunts, executions, battle reenactments, and dramas. This iconic amphitheater was the largest in the Roman Empire and could hold between 50,000 and 80,000 people (more than Gillette Stadium).
Nearly two centuries later, the Colosseum remains a powerhouse, rising majestically in the heart of Rome, commanding attention with its colossal presence. When you tour what is widely regarded as one of the best historic sites in the world, you can almost hear the echoes of cheering spectators reverberating through the grandstands. You may even think to yourself, “Are you not entertained?” Because you will be.
You don’t have to be a history buff or a wannabe architect to appreciate its dramatic past, intricate details, and ancient artisan craftsmanship. When you’re done, be sure to stop by Li Rioni for some of the best pizzas in the area. The best part about visiting these places rich in history is you still get the benefits of modern food. Salute!
4. Tikal, Guatemala
Nestled deep within the lush jungles of Guatemala is Tikal, an ancient city just waiting for you to take a tour. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is the largest and best-preserved ruins of the ancient Mayan civilization.
If you fancy yourself a Lara Croft or Indiana Jones, you can venture through the ancient ruins, decoding the secrets of the Mayan civilization. Tikal’s towering temples, like Temple I and Temple IV, give you a bird’s-eye view of the surrounding landscape, allowing you to imagine the vibrant city that once thrived below. You can explore this hidden treasure alone or take a day-long guided tour of Tikal National Park. Whichever you decide, there is plenty to discover here!
When you visit Tikal, you will find more than just the remains of impressive architecture. You will also encounter a living ecosystem teeming with wildlife. Monkeys swing from tree to tree, colorful toucans flaunt their vibrant plumage, and jaguars stealthily roam the forest floor. It’s nature’s own blockbuster, with Tikal as its enchanting backdrop.
Tikal is more than a destination! It’s a cinematic experience where history and nature converge to create an unforgettable spectacle. Get ready to embark on a real-life adventure and let Tikal unveil its secrets, one tantalizing discovery at a time.
There’s something about large rocks that interest people. Not just any rocks, though. Specifically, the rocks at Stonehenge. Normally, people wouldn’t flock to the English countryside to look at a strange rock formation, but this prehistoric monument has puzzled and intrigued people for centuries. It’s a real head-scratcher, this historic site.
What makes this enigmatic rock formation so intriguing is the question of how they got there to begin with. These stones are massive – we’re talking 25 tons. Each. And there are thirteen. They’re also not local rocks; the bluestones that make up some of Stonehenge are from Wales, over 150 miles from its present location.
So, how did anyone move such massive stones 3,000 years ago? That is up for much debate. Some say aliens were involved. Others believe it was the work of ancient civilizations with a knack for engineering. While we may never know, one thing’s certain: Stonehenge is a sight to behold.
Unfortunately, Stonehenge is now fenced off, so you can’t go into the Circle of Stones anymore. However, even though you can only walk around the historical attraction, it’s still worth a trip! Whether you’re interested in ancient craftsmanship, ancient aliens, or simply like solstices and ancient rituals, it’s worth the visit.
It’s no secret that Greece is home to some of the best historic sites in the world. One of the most iconic is the Parthenon. This iconic temple, dedicated to the goddess Athena, sits atop the Acropolis, a 5th-century BCE citadel overlooking Athens. Despite its age, the Parthenon remains a symbol of classical beauty and timeless grandeur.
The Parthenon has served as a city treasury, a Christian church dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and, after the Ottoman conquest, a mosque. Today, people revere it for its imposing presence, architectural prowess, and panoramic view of Athens and nearby historic ruins.
The Parthenon was adorned with intricate sculptures and vibrant colors in its heyday. The temple once housed a colossal statue of Athena, her majestic form dominating the interior. Though the statue is long gone, its legacy lives on in the spirit of the Parthenon.
Ready to transport yourself back to Ancient Greece? You don’t even need a time machine. The Parthenon is located in the center of Athens and is easy to visit via public transportation.
7. Taj Mahal
When it comes to the most ornate places in history, it’s hard to top the Taj Mahal. Built in the 1600s, this majestic monument in Agra, India, stands as a testament to eternal love and architectural excellence. Emperor Shah Jahan commissioned the mausoleum to honor his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal. Today, it remains a masterful showcasing of Mughal architecture and entices visitors from across the globe.
What attracts many visitors to this historical site is its sheer beauty and elegance. The perfectly symmetrical architecture features a 240-foot-tall central dome and an exterior inlaid with semiprecious stones. Inside the grand entrance, the mausoleum is just as enchanting, with meticulously manicured gardens, reflecting pools, and delicate marble carvings.
Taj Mahal became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983 and is one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. Its influence on art, literature, and countless Bollywood films has made it an iconic symbol of India. If you are a romantic at heart and wish to be surrounded by gestures of eternal love, book your journey to India today!
8. Machu Picchu
How does a trip to the Peruvian Andes sound? If you’re ready to journey into the clouds, you need to make the trip to Machu Picchu! This ancient Incan city perched high in the mountains of Peru is like a real-life treasure hunt for history buffs and adventure seekers.
Picture yourself hiking along misty trails, surrounded by breathtaking mountain vistas. And then, bam! Suddenly, you stumble upon the majestic ruins of Machu Picchu. It’s like stumbling upon a hidden civilization in a game of hide-and-seek. Take plenty of pictures, but watch out for the llamas! They love to photobomb tourists.
The Incas built these stone marvels back in the 15th century. Somehow, they remained hidden from the world until their rediscovery in 1911. Makes you wonder what other kind of ancient historical goodies could still be hiding.
Machu Picchu was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983 and in 2007 was named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. Because the site has become so popular, they have somewhat limited the number of tourists allowed to visit. By doing so, the hope is that it can last for hundreds of more years. With that being said, I would not sleep on a visit to Machu Picchu!
Now, if you really want to feel like Indiana Jones on your next adventure, you need to plan a trip to Petra. This ancient city in the deserts of Jordan was made famous by the 1989 film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. When Jones enters the temple in search of the holy grail, he is, in fact, at Petra (the Treasury, to be specific).
Wandering through the ancient city streets is like being transported through time and space. The Monastery is a colossal structure standing proudly atop a mountain. If you make it to the top, you are rewarded with panoramic views of the surrounding desert. It’s a real-life “top of the world” moment that’ll leave you breathless (and not just because of the hike!).
Nabateans built the ancient city in the country’s southwestern desert in 400 BCE. At its zenith, it was a bustling commerce center. The historic site wasn’t “discovered” by the Western world until 1812. Now, this famous historical site is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.
10. Mesa Verde
When looking at the best historical sites in the world, it’s easy to assume that all of them are tucked far away into the jungle or desert or, at the very least, require a passport to get there. Fortunately, that isn’t always the case. If you’re in the US and want to visit some amazing historical sites that are a little closer to home, you’re in luck! Simply add Mesa Verde to your travel bucket list.
Mesa Verde, tucked away in the canyons of southwestern Colorado, is an archaeological gold mine that takes you deep into the lives of the ancient Pueblo people. This national park is like stepping into a time capsule, preserving the incredible cliff dwellings and rich history of a bygone era. These stone structures, built over 700 years ago, offer a fascinating glimpse into the lives of the Puebloans.
At Mesa Verde, you can explore the various dwellings, from the sprawling Cliff Palace to the well-preserved Balcony House. As you wander through the rooms, you can almost imagine the voices of the past echoing through the corridors, telling stories of daily life and community. It’s also a great spot to visit for outdoor enthusiasts. The park boasts miles of scenic trails, leading you through the rugged terrain and revealing stunning vistas along the way.
11. The Pyramids at Giza
I couldn’t complete this list without mentioning the Pyramids at Giza – we’ve been learning about these marvels of human engineering since elementary school. But as an adult, they are even more fascinating. And the best part? You can marvel at this famous historic place very easily with a trip to Egypt!
These towering structures, rising from the desert sands just outside Cairo, Egypt, are over 3,000 years old. And much like with Stonehedge, they are a bit of an enigma. We still don’t know for certain how the ancient Eqyptians were able to construct them with such precision. The Pyramids truly are a testament to the ingenuity and engineering prowess of the ancient Egyptians.
And we must not forget about the Sphinx standing guard near the pyramids. This half-lion, half-human monument holds its secrets close, fueling speculation and wonder. It’s existence adds an extra layer of mystery to the Giza experience.
The most popular option for visiting this amazing historic site is via a guided tour. If you’re flying into Cairo, you’ll find so many options to suit your itinerary, including half-day and full-day tours. Just remember: take nothing but photos and leave nothing but footprints, or else potentially face the wrath of the Pharoah’s Curse!
12. Angkor Wat
Dreaming of a holiday in Cambodia? Add one of the best historic sites in the world to your travel itinerary: Angkor Wat. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is a true gem of Cambodia. This ancient temple complex is encapsulated by grandeur and intricate beauty, elevating your South Asian vacation to a whole new level.
Nestled amidst the lush jungles near Siem Reap, Angkor Wat is the largest religious monument in the world. As you approach its massive entrance, you can’t help but be in awe of the intricate stone carvings that adorn its walls, depicting scenes from Hindu mythology and Khmer history.
Buying a multi-day pass is the best way to visit this breathtaking temple. I also recommend arriving early and staying late. Not only will this help you avoid the crows, but also get some spectacular views. At sunrise and sunset, the temple’s reflection in the surrounding moat creates a breathtaking vista. It’s as if Angkor Wat emerges from a dream, bathed in golden hues and casting a spell of wonder on all who witness it.
Venture deeper into the complex and discover other popular temples like Bayon and Ta Prohm. The temples are about a 20-minute drive from Siem Reap, making them fairly easy to access.
13. Chichén Itzá
Ready to explore one of the best historic sites in the world? Then head down to Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula and check out the ancient Mayan city of Chichén Itzá. Meaning “at the mouth of the well of Itzá,” Chichén Itzá was one of the most important city-states in pre-Hispanic America. Today, it is one of Mexico’s most visited archaeological sites.
As you step foot into this archaeological marvel, you’ll be greeted by the imposing El Castillo, also known as the Temple of Kukulcan. Its towering pyramid structure stands as a testament to Mayan ingenuity and astronomical knowledge, with each side featuring 91 steps, totaling 365 steps for the solar year.
Continue exploring this expansive site, and you’ll discover a multitude of architectural wonders, from the intricate carvings on the walls of the Temple of the Warriors to the sacred cenote known as the Great Ball Court. These structures’ intricate details and meticulous craftsmanship offer a glimpse into the advanced civilization that once thrived here.
As one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, Chichén Itzá should be on every history buff’s travel bucket list! It’s one of those places of history that will leave you awe-inspired!
Frequently asked questions (FAQs) about the best historic sites in the world
Do you still have questions about the best historical places in the world? Well, you’ve come to the right place! Before planning your global journey exploring amazing places with history, here are answers to some of the most common questions.
What is the most famous historical site?
While the most famous historical site is subjective and can vary widely depending on personal interests and cultural perspectives, the Great Wall of China is one of the most universally recognized and renowned historical sites. Spanning over 13,000 miles, the Great Wall is an architectural marvel and a symbol of China’s rich history. Its cultural significance, grand scale, and stunning landscapes have made it an iconic and widely recognized symbol worldwide. The Great Wall of China attracts millions of visitors each year, further solidifying its status as one of the most famous historical sites in the world.
In addition to the Great Wall of China, other famous historic sites include Pompeii, the Roman Colosseum, Stonehenge, the Taj Mahal, Machu Picchu, the Parthenon and Acropolis, and the Pyramids at Giza.
What city has the most history?
Many cities across the globe are bursting with rich history. But you may be wondering which city has the most history. While the answer can be quite subjective, these cities without a double stand among the top contenders for cities with the most history:
- Rome, Italy: Rome is often called the “Eternal City” due to its extensive history spanning over 2,500 years. It was the center of the ancient Roman Empire and played a crucial role in shaping Western civilization. Rome has many iconic landmarks like the Colosseum, Roman Forum, and the Vatican City.
- Athens, Greece: Athens is widely regarded as the birthplace of democracy and the cradle of Western civilization. It boasts a history that stretches back over 3,000 years, with notable sites such as the Acropolis, Parthenon, and ancient Agora.
- Cairo, Egypt: Cairo is home to the ancient Egyptian civilization, with famous landmarks such as the Great Pyramids of Giza, the Sphinx, and the Egyptian Museum. The city’s history dates back thousands of years, encompassing the Pharaonic, Roman, Islamic, and modern periods.
What makes a historic site worth visiting?
There are many reasons to visit historical sites. For one, they can “transport” us back in time ad provide us with a connection to the past. Learning about these places in a textbook or photos on a website is one thing. It’s another thing entirely to experience these places in person.
These sites hold immense cultural, historical, and architectural significance, offering a window into previous generations’ lives, achievements, and struggles. By exploring these places, we can better understand our collective human history and appreciate the accomplishments and challenges that have shaped our present world.
When looking at the best historic sites in the world and the ones worth visiting, you really need to consider what you value in a place. Are you trying to connect with your ancestors? Or learn about a new culture? Are you interested in architecture and design? Are you hoping to be inspired to write a historical novel? Ultimately, any place with history is worth visiting as long as you derive some benefit from it.
Is it expensive to visit the best historic sites in the world?
The cost of visiting the best historic sites in the world can vary depending on location, accessibility, and specific site policies. Some sites have entrance fees or require the purchase of tickets, while others offer free or discounted admission. When planning the cost of visiting the best historical sites, you must also consider the cost of transportation, accommodation, and other travel expenses.
Fortunately, there are some things you can do to help mitigate travel costs. To make your visit more cost-effective, consider planning in advance and researching options for accommodations, transportation, and dining. Look for package deals or combination tickets that offer discounts for visiting multiple sites. I recommend exploring nearby local markets or eateries for more affordable dining options than tourist-oriented establishments.
To save on airfare, I also recommend signing up for deal alert websites like Scott’s Cheap Flights (now called Going). If there’s a specific location you’ve wanted to visit, you can get travel alerts directly to your inbox. Airfare is often one of the biggest expenses when traveling to historical places across the world. These savings can help your overall budget.
What is the oldest historical site in the world you can visit?
Looking to get a taste of some truly ancient history? One of the oldest historical sites in the world that you can visit is Göbekli Tepe, located in modern-day Turkey. Dating back over 11,000 years, Göbekli Tepe is considered one of the oldest known monumental structures constructed by humans. It predates Stonehenge and the Great Pyramids of Egypt by several millennia.
Göbekli Tepe is an archaeological site featuring a series of large, circular stone enclosures with intricate carvings and pillars. The site was likely a ceremonial or religious center, showcasing the early development of complex social and cultural practices. It provides valuable insights into the lives and beliefs of hunter-gatherer societies during the Neolithic period.
Visiting Göbekli Tepe offers a unique opportunity to witness the traces of our ancient past and understand the early stages of human cultural and societal development. It allows us to contemplate the ingenuity and complexity of our ancestors, who created monumental structures long before the advent of settled agriculture or writing systems.
Where in the world has the most history?
If you’re a history buff fascinated by ancient civilizations, there’s one place that stands out as a treasure trove of historical wonders: Egypt. Nestled along the banks of the Nile River, this country is a living museum that takes you on an awe-inspiring journey through time.
From the pyramids of Giza, including the iconic Great Pyramid of Khufu, to the temples of Luxor and Karnak, Egypt’s ancient monuments leave you breathless with their sheer size and architectural brilliance. Wander through the Valley of the Kings, where pharaohs were laid to rest in elaborate tombs adorned with intricate paintings and hieroglyphics. Uncover the secrets of the enigmatic Sphinx, gazing stoically at the horizon for thousands of years.
But Egypt’s rich history doesn’t end with the pharaohs. The country is also home to Islamic treasures like Cairo’s stunning medieval citadel and the awe-inspiring mosques of Old Cairo. Explore the remnants of ancient Alexandria, once a center of learning and a vibrant cosmopolitan hub. And let’s not forget the mesmerizing temples of Abu Simbel, relocated to save them from the rising waters of the Nile.
Beyond its iconic landmarks, Egypt’s history permeates every corner of the country. Sail along the Nile on a traditional felucca boat, passing by charming villages and fertile fields that have sustained civilizations for millennia. Immerse yourself in bustling bazaars, where traders have bartered and sold their wares for centuries.
Egypt’s history is alive and palpable with its pharaohs, conquerors, scholars, and traders who left their mark on this ancient land. So, if you’re seeking a destination that immerses you in the most incredible historical wonders, Egypt is the ultimate time-traveler’s dream.
What city in America has the most history?
For cities steeped in history, there’s one that stands out as an enduring symbol of America’s past: Boston. Nestled in the heart of New England, this city offers a blend of colonial charm, revolutionary spirit, and cultural significance. As a Bostonian, I may be biased – but I think most would agree that this is the case.
Wander through the cobblestone streets of Boston’s historic districts and you can feel the echoes of the American Revolution. Walk the Freedom Trail, a 2.5-mile red-brick path that winds through the city, connecting 16 significant historical sites. From the Massachusetts State House to the Old North Church, where Paul Revere’s famous midnight ride began, each step immerses you in the stories that shaped a nation.
Explore the hallowed grounds of Harvard University, the oldest institution of higher education in the United States. Visit the historic waterfront district of Charlestown and climb aboard the USS Constitution, the world’s oldest warship still afloat.
But Boston’s rich history extends beyond the revolutionary era. Discover the vibrant neighborhoods that reflect the city’s immigrant heritage, from the Italian-American enclave of the North End to the Irish-American stronghold of South Boston. Indulge in seafood at the Quincy Market or catch a game at Fenway Park, one of the oldest baseball stadiums in the country.
Boston is a city where history comes alive. It’s where the spirit of the past intertwines seamlessly with the energy of the present. From its iconic landmarks to its vibrant neighborhoods and cultural institutions, it’s a destination that offers a journey through America’s storied past. So, if you’re a history enthusiast seeking the tales of yesteryear, Boston will leave an indelible mark on your travel experience.