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Most beautiful UNESCO World Heritage sites

The Independent logo The Independent 5/05/2019 Christian Page
a view of a city with a mountain in the background © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited

Unesco World Heritage status is given to the most culturally and historically significant places across the globe.

Here are 10 of the world’s most beautiful sites.

Taj Mahal, India

a large white building with Taj Mahal in the background: The 400-year-old structure is considered one of the best examples of architecture today (Getty) © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited The 400-year-old structure is considered one of the best examples of architecture today (Getty)

Started in 1632 by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan as a tomb for his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, the Taj Mahal is considered one of the world’s foremost examples of Muslim art and architecture. The scale of the tomb is so large and the attention to detail so precise, that the higher inscriptions are slightly larger than those below in order for them to appear the same size when viewed from below.

Great Barrier Reef, Australia

The Great Barrier Reef from above (Getty) © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited The Great Barrier Reef from above (Getty)

Stretching for 1,430mi, the Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest coral reef system. Made up of 2,900 individual reefs, it covers 133,000sq mi and is home to over 1,500 fish species and 5,000 species of mollusc. It was made a Unesco World Heritage site in 1981 and is now even more accessible after Google launched its Underwater Street View feature in 2014.

Stonehenge, UK

a group of people in a field with Stonehenge in the background: Stonehenge is one of the UK’s most popular tourist attractions (AFP/Getty Images) © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited Stonehenge is one of the UK’s most popular tourist attractions (AFP/Getty Images)

Thought to be between 4,000 and 5,000 years old, Stonehenge attracts more than 1.5 million visitors a year. How it was made is still up for debate: theories as to how the 25tn stones were transported to the area from a quarry, thought to be 25mi away, range from supernatural intervention to using sleighs greased with animal fat. Whatever the truth, it’s by far the most accessible World Heritage site on this list for Brits – it’s just off the A303 outside Amesbury.

The Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia

a garden with water in the background with Plitvice Lakes National Park in the background: This national park includes 16 lakes (Kelly Cheng Travel Photography/Getty Images) © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited This national park includes 16 lakes (Kelly Cheng Travel Photography/Getty Images)

The Plitvice Lakes National Park covers 300sq km of Croatian woodland and conceals 16 turquoise lakes, connected over 8km by a series of waterfalls. With more than 1 million annual visitors, the lakes are one of Croatia’s most famous natural monuments.

Angkor Wat, Cambodia

One of the largest religious monuments in the world, the Angkor Wat temple complex in northern Cambodia is an important Buddhist site of worship and an icon for the country itself – it even appears on the country's flag. Rediscovered by French explorer Henri Mouhot in the mid-19th-century, Angkor Wat is best seen at sunrise... just beware of the crowd.

Pirin National Park, Bulgaria

a view of a rocky mountain: Pirin National Park is home to 70 glacial lakes (Getty Images) © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited Pirin National Park is home to 70 glacial lakes (Getty Images)

Bulgaria’s Pirin National Park is home to 70 glacial lakes formed during the last ice age and forests of ancient trees, the oldest of which is thought to be 1,350 years old. Covering an area of 105sq mi, the park’s unique location has enabled it to become an ecological refuge and is home to nearly three dozen endemic species found nowhere else on earth. The park also includes Bansko, Bulgaria’s largest ski resort, which offers some of Europe’s cheapest skiing, within its borders.

Le Mont-Saint-Michel, France

a group of people in a field: A couple rides past Le Mont-Saint-Michel (Getty) © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited A couple rides past Le Mont-Saint-Michel (Getty)

Built on an island 1km from mainland Normandy, the community of Mont-Saint-Michel in northwestern France was only accessible at low tide until a bridge was built in 1879. Still home to 50 residents, the island and its unique location was the inspiration for the depiction of the heavily fortified town of Minas Tirith in the film Lord of the Rings: Return of the King.

Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, Australia

a large green field with trees in the background with Uluru in the background: Uluru has spiritual significance (Getty Images) © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited Uluru has spiritual significance (Getty Images)

Uluru National Park is home to the ancient natural monolith Uluru, also known as Ayer’s Rock, which looms out of the desert in Australia’s northern territory. Revered by the local Aṉangu Aboriginal people for its spiritual significance, Uluru has been the subject of controversy in Australia over whether climbing to its summit should be prohibited. Due to these and other considerations, including the safety of visitors and erosion of the monument, climbing Uluru will be banned from October 2019.

Old Havana, Cuba

a large building with a clock on the side of a road: Havana is known for its colourful architecture and classic cars (iStock) © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited Havana is known for its colourful architecture and classic cars (iStock)

Founded by Spanish colonists in 1519, the historic centre of Havana served as a key stop for Spanish ships on route from South America to Spain. Still home to around 100,000 residents, Old Havana is one of the best preserved examples of Spanish colonial architecture in the Americas.

Rocky Mountain Parks, Canada

a close up of a mountain: Banff is part of the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks site (kavram/iStock) © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited Banff is part of the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks site (kavram/iStock)

The Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks consist of Banff, Jasper, Kootenay and Yoho national parks and Mount Robson, Mount Assiniboine and Hamber provincial parks. Together, the seven parks of the Canadian Rockies cover some of the most stunning scenery in Canada and contain fossils that are over 540 million years old. Plus, they're great for winter sports.

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