Call me biased, but I happen to think that Europe is the most exciting and beautiful continent on the planet. That’s right, I said it. From the mysterious rock formations of Stonehenge to the Historic Centre of Rome and the Lavaux Wine Route in Switzerland, we’re extremely lucky as Europeans to have a host of highlights sitting on our doorstep ready for exploration.
Amongst these treasures, there are over 400 UNESCO World Heritage Sites known to offer an unparalleled experience to add to our bucket lists. To help you navigate through so many options, we’ve narrowed down 10 World Heritage Sites in Europe you cannot afford to miss.
1. Venice, Italy
Tucked away in Italy’s northeastern corner, Venice is the gem of the Veneto region. Made up of 118 picturesque islands connected by canals and bridges, the Venetian Lagoon is an architectural masterpiece renowned for its beauty.
Our favourite time to visit has to be during Carnevale, but if you’re looking to enjoy the summer sunshine in this spectacular city, make sure to take a day trip to explore the islands of Murano and Burano.
2. Mont St Michel, France
An island commune in Normandy, France, with a grand population of 44, Mont St Michel is arguably Europe’s most breathtaking World Heritage Site.
Perched on a rocky islet at the mouth of the Couesnon River near Avranches, the landmark floats like a mirage on the horizon, ready to welcome all visitors. Make sure you’ve got your camera at the ready. You don’t want to miss capturing the sunsets here.
3. Cinque Terre, Italy
Translating as Five Lands, the five fishing villages of Cinque Terre are set amid the dramatic scenery of the Ligurian coast and have been celebrated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997.
The rugged Italian Riviera region is uniquely identifiable for its steep candy coloured terraced towns chiselled into the hillside. It’s famous for its numerous treks, but regardless of whichever route you decide to hike, remember that first, “you should take a selfie.”
4. Geirangerfjord, Norway
If not for the Northern Lights, the second reason you have to visit Norway is to visit its amazing fjords. UNESCO has included three of them on its World Heritage List — but if you’re limited for time, make sure to visit Geirangerfjord.
Known for its pristine beauty and magnificent waterfalls, the deep blue fairytale fjord is enveloped by majestic, snow-covered mountain peaks, wild waterfalls and lush, green vegetation.
5. Park Güell, Spain
Located on Carmel Hill in Barcelona, Spain, Park Güell is one of Gaudí’s most inspiring visions. The public park is filled with amazing stone structures, stunning mosaic monuments, and fascinating buildings.
Amongst all the sculptures not to miss in the park, make sure to visit the colourful, tiled dragon fountain close to the entrance. In addition, Park Güell also has a small house in the park in which Gaudí lived in at one stage. Today, this has been converted into a museum and contains interesting furniture also designed by the Spanish artist.
6. Jungfrau Region, Switzerland
Named after a grand triple-peaked glacial summit presiding over the Bernese Alps — the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau — the Jungfrau region is one of Switzerland’s most spectacular sights. The site provides an outstanding view of the High Alps, including the largest glacier in Eurasia, and features a wide diversity of natural beauty, from misty mountains to crisp rivers.
The Jungfrau scenic railway is regarded as Europe’s most scenic and is a must-do when you’re in the area. Taking approximately 2 hours and 20 minutes from Interlaken, the journey offers panoramic views of Germany’s Black Forest in one direction and the Italian Alps in the other.
7. Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland
At the heart of one of Europe’s most magnificent coastlines, Giant’s Causeway is a unique rock formation situated along the sea coast on the edge of Northern Ireland’s County Antrim.
For millions of years, the interlocking basalt columns have stood as a natural barrier against the ferocity of Atlantic storms. While science claims the wonder is the result of an ancient volcanic eruption, we’re more fond of the creation myth that claims that it was built by the giant Finn McCool in order to protect Ireland against the Scottish titan Benandonner. The rock forms a path for Finn to follow and teach Benandonner a lesson. Magic.
Climb the Shepherd’s Steps and hike along the cliff-top trail to get a bird’s-eye view of the beautiful causeway coast.
8. St Petersburg, Russia
The former capital of imperial Russia not only has a high significance in Russian history, but also happens to be the most beautiful city in the entire country. Named as one of the Venices of the North (along with Amsterdam) thanks to its numerous canals, bridges, and outstanding architectural beauty, other sites that illustrate its beauty are the Winter Palace and the Hermitage.
As the gateway to Europe, the city of Tsars is home to high art, sophistication, wild nightlife, and rich cultural traditions.
9. Lake Bled, Slovenia
Lake Bled is undoubtedly one of most romantic lakes in the world, and is a good enough reason to visit Slovenia. Carpeted by alpine mountains, the most beautiful view of the Julian Alps is from the castle towering over the lake on a cliff.
Traditional wooden boats called pletnas take tourists to the remote island situated in the middle of the lake, where they eagerly climb 99 stone steps to reach the Assumption of Mary Church to listen to the church bell and ring it themselves. The ritual, according to legend, will make your wishes come true.
10. Plitvice Lakes, Croatia
Croatia has quickly become Europe’s underdog hotspot. Amongst the many reasons for that is Plitvice Lakes National Park. If you’ve never heard of it, Google Image search it now and get ready to fall in love.
One of the oldest national parks in Southeast Europe and the largest in Croatia, it is situated at the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina and connects Croatian inland with the Adriatic coastline.
Within the boundaries of this heavily forested area, limestone and chalk flowing over crystalline waters have created natural dams, which in turn have created a series of beautiful tumbling lakes, caves and cascading waterfalls. Just be warned, swimming is not permitted in any of the lakes, so no dipping, folks.
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What’s your favourite UNESCO World Heritage Site in Europe? Let us know in the comments. And remember: if you need student accommodation in Europe, you’ll find the student home you’re looking for on Uniplaces.