Table of Contents
- 1. The Pyramids of Giza – Egypt
- 2. The Great Wall of China
- 3. Taj Mahal – India
- 4. Angkor Wat – Cambodia
- 5. Stonehenge – England
- 6. Petra – Jordan
- 7. Machu Picchu – Peru
- 8. Acropolis – Greece
- 9. Auschwitz – Poland
- 10. The Leaning Tower of Pisa – Italy
- 11. The Moai – Easter Island
- 12. Old Bagan – Myanmar
- 13. The Colosseum – Italy
- 14. Borobudur – Indonesia
- 15. Terracotta Army – China
- 16. The Statue of Liberty – USA
- 17. Sagrada Família – Spain
- 18. Ancient Nara – Japan
- 19. Meteora – Greece
- 20. Hội An – Vietnam
Our ever-changing world has fortunately preserved many of the structures and cities of old, where we can all learn the history of our civilizations and glimpse at how things used to be hundreds or thousands of years ago. Even though there are hundreds of places worth visiting, we’ll look at the top 20 historical landmarks that any travel enthusiast should add to their list.
1. The Pyramids of Giza – Egypt
The pyramid complex in Egypt includes the pyramids of Khufu, Menkaure, and Khafre and the Sphinx. Built 4500 years ago on the Plateau of Giza in Cairo, it’s one of the most ancient locations you can visit, serving as tombs of the late pharaohs. One of the oldest tourist attractions in this world, it can be visited on the outside on foot or camelback, or inside, as the interior of the pyramids can be visited for a fee. There are quite a few hotels and restaurants with a beautiful view of the pyramids, which might not be a bad idea to book for a unique experience.
2. The Great Wall of China
This 2300 years old wall was built as a defensive fortification against nomadic attackers. It took 2000 years for various dynasties to complete the 13.000 miles wall, which can be seen from space. Over 10 million people visit this historical site each year. Some sections of the wall are more popular than others, the most crowded ones being the sections in Beijing and Juyongguan. One of the most exciting things you can do on the wall is to sleep in a watchtower.
3. Taj Mahal – India
Located in Agra, Taj Mahal is a 390 years old mausoleum that took around 22 years to build. Despite its gigantic proportions, there are only two people buried here: Emperor Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal, his wife. After his wife died in childbirth, in his grief, the Emperor commissioned this marvelous piece of architecture in her memory.
Visiting the inside of Taj Mahai is quite costly (around $17) and it’s best done at sunrise to avoid crowds and heat, which can be crippling in the area.
4. Angkor Wat – Cambodia
Resembling the fictional city of Old Valyria, because it probably was the inspiration for the City of Dragons, Angkor Wat is close to 1000 years old. This historical place in Cambodia is actually a Hindu- Buddhist temple complex. To reach this historical site you first must travel to Siem Reap, and from there you can join a tour to Angkor Wat where a guide costs up to $25, depending on their reputation, and the entrance fee is $37.
5. Stonehenge – England
Probably the oldest historical site on our list, Stonehenge is a must-see place if you visit Europe. It’s dated at around 5000 years old and there are various controversies and conspiracies surrounding it. It’s agreed that it started as a burial site which was later used by Celtic druids for ceremonies. Today, visitors cannot get too close to Stonehedge, except for a very limited number outside the normal visiting hours, which is why they need to be booked in advance. This experience costs $63 and lasts for an hour with a guide.
6. Petra – Jordan
This ancient archeological city in Jordan is around 2500 years old and is one of the coolest places to visit if you’re into ancient cities. There are many historical places to visit in this location, so a day wouldn’t be enough. The breathtaking canyons, temples, tombs, and other ancient edifices will make you feel like you’re walking through a dream. Some must-see places include: the royal tombs, the monastery, the treasury, the Street of Facades, and the high place of sacrifice.
One thing you shouldn’t miss is Petra at sunrise and sunset when the whole ancient city is gleaming, so consider staying for one night at one of the hotels or guest houses in the vicinity.
7. Machu Picchu – Peru
The most visited place in Peru is a location in the Andes Mountains with incredible scenery that you will not easily forget. Built around 1450 by the Inca civilization, it served as the personal estate of Emperor Pachacuti, which has a ceremonial center and even an observatory. There are over 150 well-preserved buildings that tourists can visit and hikers will get to explore the famous Inca Trail, which takes around 4 days for the whole experience. You can hire a guide at the entrance, which has become mandatory starting with 2019.
READ MORE ABOUT PERU: Best Places to Visit in Peru
8. Acropolis – Greece
This fortress in Athens was built 2500 years ago and it still stands in excellent condition. The Pantheon at the base of the Acropolis was built 700 years later. Even though it was first built for defense, it was later turned into a temple. A statue of Athena of enormous proportions used to preside over the cliff, and historians believe it was later taken to Constantinople where it was destroyed. The authorities have been working on restoring this historical spot for decades, but it can still be visited. A ticket for the area costs around 25 dollars, can be used for up to a week and it’s valid for all the surrounding tourist attractions as well.
READ MORE ABOUT GREECE: Discover The Great Hellen Republic
9. Auschwitz – Poland
A historical location with heavy emotional energy that should be visited by everyone at least once in their lives. This was the largest Nazi concentration camp and the one where some of the greatest horrors of history took place. The Holocaust ended up being automatically connected to Auschwitz in the collective mentality because of the 1 million lives that were lost here for various reasons, each one ghastly. You don’t need to pay to visit it unless you want a guide to teach you about its history. Some buildings were preserved exactly as they were found, and visitors now have access to them as well. There is also a museum where you can learn about everything that happened here. Until you get to visit it in person, you can always take a virtual tour.
10. The Leaning Tower of Pisa – Italy
We’ve all seen the photographs of people making sure they don’t let the tower fall over, but not all of them know why the tower is leaning. The answer is “soft soil”. When the tower started being built in the 12th century, it was discovered that it was leaning after only three stories were built, after its architect didn’t realize he was building it in a foundation of soft clay. For the past 20 years, however, the Italian government had taken measures to strengthen the tower, and their actions have caused it to slowly strengthen by itself. So take a trip to Italy to take the must-have photo with it before it becomes as straight as any other tower.
11. The Moai – Easter Island
Rapa Nui Island, commonly known as Easter Island is a famous historical destination for the 900 statues called Moai scattered across it. They were made of volcanic tuff and scientists can’t date them precisely, but they agree they are at least 500 years old. The largest Moai statue is around 70 ft tall and even though they now look like they have just been carved in stone, in the beginning they were painted in different colors, had stones for eyes, and some of them even had carved hats. It is believed they represent the ancestors of the people who built them, and they were once guarding the villages on the island.
12. Old Bagan – Myanmar
The ancient city of Bagan (known as Pagan in the past) is the most popular travel destination in Myanmar. It preserves over 5000 temples and pagodas over an area of 25 square miles. You need a few days to visit the ruins and see the sunrise and sunset. A popular activity here is taking a ride in a hot air balloon to see the ancient city from above. The nearby Minnanthu Village is a great place where you can learn about the local culture and unique crafts. If you want to visit the whole place by yourself, a great way to do it is by renting a bike or an electrical bike.
13. The Colosseum – Italy
Built in the time of the Roman Empire, this 2000-year-old structure is the most visited historical site in Rome. Here is where the famous gladiator fights used to take place and its massive proportions allowed for 87.000 spectators to watch the fights. But the epic battles were not the only events happening here. Drama plays, sea battle simulations, and public executions where the ones sentenced to death had to face wild animals, were also common events. Today the Colosseum is the symbol of Rome and it cannot be missed while strolling through the city.
14. Borobudur – Indonesia
One of the best preserved Buddhist temples in the world is also one of the coolest places to visit if you travel to Indonesia. Located near Yogyakarta on Java Island, it was built over 1000 years ago and today it still is the peaceful retreat that it was meant to be originally. After being abandoned and remaining hidden for centuries, it was found in the 19th century in excellent condition, but with some features having to be restored before being open for the public. I recommend hiring a guide to learn about the rich history of this ancient place and about the symbolism and significance of the monuments.
READ MORE ABOUT SOUTHEAST ASIA: How Developed is Southeast Asia?
15. Terracotta Army – China
The 8000 terracotta soldiers guard the tomb of Emperor Qin Shi Huang, and they were crafted over 2200 years ago. All of them have unique facial expressions, are incredibly detailed, and paint a great picture of the ancient Chinese armies. The whole arrangement includes not just soldiers, but horses and chariots as well. Today visitors can take a short trip from the city of Xi’an, and they have the option to hire a guide or be part of a private tour in order to learn more about the history of this site.
16. The Statue of Liberty – USA
Located in New York Harbor, this very popular historical place in the United States has become a part of the popular culture and one of the symbols of NYC. It was gifted by France to the people of the US almost 150 years ago, as a commemoration of the alliance between the two countries.
This historical landmark has over 4 million visitors yearly.
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17. Sagrada Família – Spain
The large church in Barcelona started being built almost 140 years ago, but even thought it’s still not finished, it became one of the most important historical sites of Spain. It’s an architectural masterpiece designed by Antoni Gaudí. Fortunately, there is an app to guide you through all the important historical details about this edifice as well as other works of Gaudi while you’re visiting Barcelona. Below Sagrada Família there’s also a museum dedicated to Gaudi.
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18. Ancient Nara – Japan
Old Nara, the old capital of Japan from the 8th century, it’s considered to be the “birthplace of Japan” and it’s full of historical sites, monuments and temples that reflect the old life of Japan. Located in the new city of Nara, it’s delimited and composed by 78 historical structures, including the Nara Palace, various Shinto shrines, Buddhist shrines, houses and other establishments, surrounded by the Kasugayama Primeval Forest. You can learn a lot about the old ways here, as locals still practice traditional crafts and you can reward yourself with the Japanese cuisine passed from generation to generation.
19. Meteora – Greece
Aside from being a historical monument, Meteora also has important significance for the people of Orthodox religion. What’s left of it today is a complex of six monasteries built on very tall rock pillars near the town of Kalabaka. The natural formations are around 60 million years old, but historians are not sure when the monasteries were built on top of them, the earliest mention dating from the 12th century. The location is not easily accessible, tourists having to hike through the forest to get to them. You will definitely need a map for it though.
20. Hội An – Vietnam
This ancient city in Vietnam is over 2000 years old and used to be the main port of the Cham Kingdom. Unfortunately, tourism has greatly impacted the culture and tradition of this city. The whole area is full of historical sites, but the most popular ones are the Japanese Bridge, the Traditional Theatre, the Quan Cong Temple, Phung Hung House. The nearby Tra Que Village is a great place to get a feel of traditional local life.