Historic places to visit in the world: The 20 best destinations
Everybody has heard about the 7 Wonders of the World. They’re some of the most famous historic places in the world. But what about the historic sites that you haven’t heard about?
When we’re travelling, a lot of us like to have a checklist. Whether it’s the number of countries that we’ve visited, things we’ve ticked off on our bucket list, or how many historic sites we’ve been to.
Visiting beautiful historic places around the world should be about more than ticking them off. They’re portals into what life used to be like hundreds, even thousands, of years ago. Historic sites are interactive and visual ways to learn about ancient civilisations.
That’s why it’s important to not only visit the most popular historic sites in the world. There are so many equally incredible places, with stories to tell, that haven’t received the limelight yet.
That’s what this guide is here to do. Sure, you’ll see some of the classic historical sites, but hopefully ones that you’ve never heard of too! Maybe it will spark an adventure that you didn’t know you wanted?
Here are 20 of the most beautiful historic places on earth:
1. Tikal, Guatemala
Often overshadowed by the famous Chichen Itza in Mexico (mentioned below on number 17), Tikal makes Chichen Itza look small. Climb one of the Mayan pyramids and see for yourself!
With over 3,000 structures scattered throughout the jungle, you can only begin to imagine how powerful and impressive this historic city had once been. 100,000 people are said to have lived here.
The creation of Tikal began at the hands of the Mayans around 900 BC, with construction continuing until the 8th century AD. Not long after completion, the entire Tikal complex was abandoned. With no confirmed answer as to why, the downfall of this city still remains a mystery.
2. Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Angkor Wat is the largest religious monument in the world, covering a mind-boggling 400 km2!
Originally built as a Hindu temple, Angkor Wat became a Buddhist temple by the end of the 12th century. It's home to numerous temples, hydraulic structures such as reservoirs and canals, as well as complex communication routes. All of this indicates that an exceptional civilisation used to live here.
You can easily spend your whole day wandering around Angkor Wat in Cambodia.
3. Bagan, Myanmar
Bagan comes in at a close second behind Angkor Wat for extraordinary Buddhist monuments.
Before Bagan was overrun in 1287, there were more than 13,000 temples, pagodas and other religious structures scattered across the tree-covered plain in Myanmar. Today, around 2,200 remain!
Top tip: Take a sunrise hot air balloon ride over Bagan. The views are breathtaking!
Take your time to volunteer in Myanmar!
4. Machu Picchu, Peru
Machu Picchu truly is as amazing as everyone says it is. The fact that 75% of what you see is still original, made by the Incas, is beyond impressive.
Made up of around 200 structures, the city follows a rigorous plan that reflects the Incas' genius in agriculture, astronomy and religion. Some of which is still a mystery to us!
Situated 2,400 metres above sea level, nestled amongst the Andes Mountains, the setting for this Wonder of the World only adds to the magic.
Due to its location, after being abandoned in the 16th century, Machu Picchu was not discovered by the outside world until 1911.
Machu Picchu is only one part of Peru's magic and among our choice of Top 10 best experiences around the world. It's inevitably a country that you're going to want to spend more time in. To extend your time, you can apply for a volunteering position.
5. The Colosseum, Italy
The Colosseum was the largest amphitheatre in the Roman empire — one reason why it made it onto the 7 Wonders of the World list! It was also built almost 2,000 years ago — that’s also pretty impressive!
Alongside that, the Colosseum was the centre of civilisation in Rome. 50,000 people could gather there to watch gladiator fights, executions, exotic animals and more!
Despite two-thirds of the original Colosseum in Italy having been destroyed, it’s still one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world.
6. Ephesus, Turkey
Ephesus or ‘Efes’ was the second most important city in the Roman Empire, after Rome. Founded in the 10th century BC, it was a prosperous city full of extravagantly decorated buildings that can still be seen today.
The star of the show is the Library of Celsus which used to house 12,000 scrolls. If that’s not impressive enough for you, Ephesus’ open air amphitheatre could sit 25,000 people and is believed to be one of the largest in the ancient world.
And not to forget, you’ll find one of the 7 Wonders of the World at this beautiful historic place — the Temple of Artemis. Unfortunately, now only a few columns of this magnificent structure remain.
Top tip: You can pay for an audio guide at the entrance OR you can download the free Rick Steves podcast on your phone. He does an incredible job!
Also, check some volunteering positions in Turkey so you can stay longer and enjoy every single part there.
7. Pyramids of Giza, Egypt
The Pyramids of Giza in Egypt still remain a mystery to us. How did humans (or aliens if we’re including conspiracy theories) manage to build these massive constructions 4,500 years ago?
It’s estimated that the 2.3 million stone blocks each weigh an average of 2.5 to 15 tons. Why was so much effort put in to build three pyramids?
Well, Egypt's pharaohs expected to become gods in the afterlife. For this they needed temples for the gods and pyramid-style tombs for themselves.
6. Ancient Bosra, Syria
Unfortunately Syria’s turbulent history has mainly hidden its beautiful historic sites from the rest of the world. One being Ancient Bosra.
This ancient city is said to date back to the 14th century BC. At its peak, Bosra became the capital of the Roman province of Arabia and was home to around 80,000 inhabitants.
And if you think the Colosseum in Rome is impressive, the 2nd century AD Roman theatre in Bosra is just as magnificent, if not better, due to how well-preserved it is.
Also part of Bosra, Al-Omari Mosque is said to be the 3rd oldest surviving mosque in the world.
8. Great Wall of China, China
Stretching just over 21,000km and over 2,300 years old, the Great Wall of China is one of the greatest historic sites in the world.
The wall was built as a way to defend North China from nomads and later to also protect the Silk Road.
Now it is one of the 7 Wonders of the World.
9. Borobudur, Indonesia
Located on the island of Java, Borobudur is the world’s largest Buddhist temple. In the 8th and 9th century, 1.6 millions blocks of volcanic rock were used to build the 9-platform high monument.
Size aside, the details of the temple are breathtaking. Situated around the temple, you’ll find 504 Buddha in meditative pose and 72 openwork stupas that also contain a statue of the Buddha.
Borobudur was actually lost to the world until 1815, after being buried under volcanic ash. In the 1970’s, efforts were made by the Indonesian Government and UNESCO to restore Borobudur to its former glory.
Not sure which island in Indonesia to visit after Java? You can use Worldpackers to find an incredible volunteering opportunity, and let that be your decider.
10. Petra, Jordan
Carved into red-rock cliffs, hidden amongst gorges and mountains, you’ll find Petra. Once a major trading city and cross-road between Arabia, Egypt and Syria-Phoenicia, it’s now a human masterpiece that we get to enjoy in Jordan.
Built in the 3rd century BC, the city is home to the famous Treasury (what most pictures are of), royal tombs, Roman ruins, monastery, stables and so much more.
11. Taj Mahal, India
Standing proudly on the banks of the River Yamuna in India is another Wonder of the World - the Taj Mahal. It's an impressive mausoleum made of white marble, geometric patterns and precious stones.
The Taj Mahal was built in Agra between 1631 and 1648, by order of the Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan, in memory of his favourite wife. He set the standards for all husbands right then and there!
Walking through the gardens, gazing at your reflection in the ponds and admiring the grandeur of the Taj Mahal is unforgettable.
To make the most of your time in India, check out these amazing volunteering opportunities.
12. The Alhambra, Spain
The Alhambra sits on a plateau overlooking the Spanish city of Granada. Without a doubt, it's one of Spain's most beautiful historic places.
Construction originally began at the hands of the Moors in the late 800 AD. Since then, it was passed (or taken) between various hands who added to the grand piece of art that Alhambra is today.
For this reason Alhambra is not a single palace, but an entire complex combining both mediaeval Moorish architecture and Renaissance. The traditional Islamic details, such as the walls covered in geometric patterns, painted tiles and Arabic inscriptions can keep you fixated all day long.
Search for our volunteer opportunies in Spain and you'll find something that totally suits you.
13. Hagia Sophia, Turkey
Your eyes instantly grow wide as you enter the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul for the first time. The sheer size, as well as its great architectural beauty, leave you awestruck.
One of Istanbul's most precious historic sites, the Hagia Sophia was also important for the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires.
Its purpose has been turbulent! Originally a Christian church built in the 6th century, it later became a mosque in 1453, then a museum in 1935 and was recently reclassified as a mosque in 2020. Who knows what it will be next?
Top tip: The Hagia Sophia can get very busy during the day. To fully appreciate it as a place of worship, visit at night. Around 10/11pm, the mosque is practically empty and very peaceful.
15. The Forbidden City, China
Once a forbidden place for people like you and I, the Forbidden City is the world’s largest imperial palace. It took 14 years to build, and over 1 million people.
The Forbidden City was completed in 1420 on the orders of the emperor of the Ming Dynasty. It’s a fascinating display of the essence and culmination of traditional Chinese architecture.
Fun fact: There are no trees in the Outer Court of the Forbidden City as the emperors thought they would overshadow the power and beauty of the atmosphere.
16. Easter Island, Chile
Whilst the journey to get to Easter Island isn’t the easiest. Getting to hunt for the 900 moai statues scattered around Chile's Rapa Nui National Park is quite an adventure.
These stone blocks, carved into human figures, stand on average 4 metres tall and weigh 14 tons. And the best part, we’re not quite sure why the Rapa Nui people undertook such a task!
The rest of Chile is an incredible place to experience and explore. Check out these amazing volunteering positions throughout Chile.
17. Chichen Itza, Mexico
Chichen Itza in Mexico welcomes over 2.5 million visitors each year, all wanting to see one of the New 7 Wonders of the World.
Estimates put this Maya city as being over 1,500 years old. Yet what makes Chichen Itza so remarkable is how well-preserved the city was after centuries. This is thanks to the excellent materials and building techniques of the Maya.
Whilst El Castillo, the main pyramid, is what everyone recognises, The Temple of the Warriors, the Observatory and the Mayan Ball Game all showcase the intelligence and sophistication of the Maya-Toltec civilisation.
Top tip: Try to visit Chichen Itza on an equinox. During this time, the afternoon sun creates the illusion of a snake creeping down the northern staircase on El Castillo.
Take a look on our volunteer positions in Mexico and make the most out of your trip!
18. The Alamo, United States
More than 2.5 million people visit The Alamo in Texas every year, making it an important historic site of the state.
The Alamo represents the spot where a small group of Texans volunteers (believed to be around 183 men) fought for independence from Mexico. There was said to be around 1,600 men on the Mexican side.
Obviously, the numbers didn’t look great, but the Texans fought valiantly for 13 days before finally being overwhelmed by the Mexican forces.
For Texans, The Alamo became a symbol of heroic resistance after this battle in 1836.
The US isn't the cheapest of countries to travel. A great way to keep to your budget is to volunteer. There are over 300 unforgettable volunteering experiences on Worldpackers in the US.
19. Timbuktu, Mali
You may have heard the word ‘Timbuktu’ being used to describe a very long journey. Well, it’s actually a very important city perched on the edge of the Sahara desert in Mali.
Timbuktu was a centre of Islamic scholarship between the 13th and 16th century. Around 100,000 people used to live in the mud and timber city containing three mosques and sixteen mausoleums.
Sadly, due to human neglect and challenges from nature, we’re not sure how much longer Timbuktu will be around. If it’s somewhere you’d like to visit, you better move it up your list.
20. Saint Basil’s Cathedral, Russia
Saint Basil’s Cathedral is one of the most recognisable historic sites in Russia. Its 9 colourful and intricately designed domes overlook the Red Square in Moscow.
It was built between 1555 and 1561 by Ivan the Terrible to celebrate the defeat of the Kazan. Legend has it that Ivan the Terrible blinded the cathedral's builder after it was finished so that another structure of its beauty could never be built again.
What is the most beautiful place in history?
After reading this list of historic places to visit in the world, you've probably realised that our planet is full incredible places telling remarkable stories of human civilisation.
Deciding which historical place is the most beautiful or 'the best' is subjective. Everyone connects differently with every place. Take the time to discover them for yourself, and explore some off the more off-the-beaten-track historic sites. You might be surprised at what stories they have to tell you!
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