Guide to UNESCO Heritage Sites

"Known for their historical and cultural importance, these sites are great parts of any travel experience."

May 2017 • Jules Verne

Guide to UNESCO Heritage Sites

A vast temple, an ancient city, a thriving rainforest – these can all be UNESCO World Heritage sites. Known for their historical and cultural importance, these sites are great parts of any travel experience. Many of our tours and cruises include visits to or stays in UNESCO World Heritage sites. Here’s a quick run-through of what they are.

What is UNESCO?

A specialised branch of the UN, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) is tasked with defending the peace through intellectual means. In the organisation’s constitution, it states that “Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed”.

UNESCO works on projects across 195 countries that aim to promote peace and security through international collaboration. The protection of UNESCO World Heritage sites is one of the best known projects.

What is a UNESCO World Heritage site?

UNESCO designates places as World Heritage sites if they’re considered to be outstanding examples of human coexistence with the land as well as human interactions, cultural coexistence, spirituality and creative expression. Initially, the list was heavily weighted towards Christian sites and architecture, but there has been a concerted effort to ensure that the sites represent the entire gamut of human experience. As a result, the list of World Heritage sites is becoming more fascinating and diverse.

UNESCO World Heritage sites are split into two categories: cultural sites and natural sites. (Some sites straddle both designations, such as Machu Picchu.) There is also a separate list of sites that are in imminent danger. These sites qualify for extra financial assistance, as well as urgent intervention, to ensure that they are preserved for the generations to come. Some of these are in war-torn countries, while others, such as the Sumatran Rainforests in Indonesia, are threatened by changing ecological forces.

How many UNESCO World Heritage sites are there?

As of July 2016, there were1,052 designated UNESCO World Heritage sites across the world. There are 814 cultural sites and 203 natural sites, as well as 35 mixed properties. These sites are in 165 countries, from Australia and Mexico to Jordan and Madagascar.

How does a site gain UNESCO protection?

To gain UNESCO protection, a site needs to be recommended by a member state, and must meet one of the selection criteria. There are 10 points of selection –  six criteria for cultural sites and four for natural sites. These criteria include demonstrating a tradition or culture that disappeared, or representing ongoing geographical or ecological changes.

Which country has the most UNESCO World Heritage sites?

China and Italy top the charts, with both countries counting over 50 inside their borders. Spain, France and Germany have over 40 each. With countries like India increasing their number of sites each year, the lead of the top countries is quickly closing.

Which Heritage sites can I visit with Jules Verne?

You will visit spellbinding sites on any Jules Verne tour you choose, and many of our cultural tours feature excursions to UNESCO World Heritage sites. Visit Indochina and see the Angkor Wat in Cambodia, or Ha Long Bay in Vietnam.  Or stay in Europe and see the many outstanding cultural sites in Rome on our In the Company of Angels tour. Whatever you choose, you’ll discover the world’s heritage up close with expert guides.