UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Europe
While there might be seven wonders of the world, any traveller knows that every country has a wealth of delights waiting to be explored. The shorthand way of finding out what’s top of the sightseeing list is by checking the UNESCO World Heritage Sites, which tells you the areas of cultural, historical and natural significance.
The honour of being on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s list is given to anything that’s “of outstanding universal value”, and it’s broad enough to incorporate ruins, buildings, areas of natural beauty and even whole cities.
Given its long and eventful history, it’s no surprise that Europe holds many of these wonders – and here’s the Flexicover team's favourite five.
Bryggen, Bergen, Norway
The Hanseatic wharf area of Bryggen is worth inclusion if only because of the local determination to preserve the buildings in their historical style. The wooden chocolate box houses that line the waters have repeatedly been destroyed by fire since they were first built in the 14th century. Yet each time they’ve been ruined, the last fire being in 1955, the locals haven’t succumbed to modern interpretations – instead, they’ve stuck faithfully to the original plans. Take a boat trip out to see the wharf’s façade from the water, or stay on shore and wander around its cute alleyways, with its many artisan shops, plus the fish market and Bergenhus Fortress further inland. It’s a perfect weekend trip and best of all Norwegian flies direct to Bergen from the UK from £93 return.
Rhine Valley, Germany
If you’re looking for the perfect place to take that special someone then it might be a surprise to learn that Germany is just as romantic as its French and Italian neighbours. And no better is this seen than the Rhine Valley, a picture-perfect expanse rising from the river to offer views of rolling hills, castles and vineyard slopes as far as the eye can see. It’s such a natural wonder that the Upper Middle Rhine Valley - from Rüdesheim to Koblenz (with buses direct to Frankfurt Hahn Airport) – is preserved as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Once a main route between southern and northern Europe, local barons built fine castles by the river banks to extort tolls from merchant ships and many remain, now attractions to those who come to reconnect with nature.
Rila Monastery, Bulgaria
Named after St John of Rila who founded it in the 10th century, around 60 monks still live in this monastic complex, tucked away within a valley in the mountains. But these monks are now outnumbered: a major draw in southern Europe, it attracts a constant stream of tourists, who ensure the pleasant and peaceful environment remains. In quiet awe, visitors enjoy the mass of detailed frescos and the architecture that’s typical of the Bulgarian Renaissance. The complex also houses a culturally-critical library with 250 manuscript books from the 11th to 19th century and 9,000 old-printed books, plus the Rafail's Cross, an intricately whittled cross that’s another attraction of the grounds. It’s certainly worth the two-hour drive from Sofia Airport.
Skellig Michael, Ireland
Featuring distinctive patterns of jagged rocks that makes it instantly recognisable, this island, three hours and a boat ride away from Shannon Airport, dates back to the 7th century when it was used as a peaceful escape for persecuted Christian monks. The monastic complex was built on its steep and remote slopes, suggesting hardiness amongst its members, who resided there until the 13th century. Since it became a UNESCO site in 1996, it’s seen a growing number of tourists visit its rocky shores and climb the 618 steps to the ruins. But nothing has aided its popularity as much as a starring role in Star Wars The Force Awakens and the soon to be released The Last Jedi.
Old City of Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina
The quaint city of Mostar must have just missed out on a place in Game of Thrones: its old stone architecture and untouched surrounds gives it the feel if not of a different world, then of a different era. Pride of place goes to the Old Bridge on the banks of the Neretva River, built in the 16th century and a marvel of the Ottoman Empire. But there’s more to do in the area than walk around the city’s cobbled streets: enjoy a scenic hike through its forested mountains, wade in natural swimming pools formed from gushing waterfalls, or admire the historical ruins that act as another reminder of its long history. For such a culturally rich area that’s only a couple of hours away from Split Airport, it’s barely touched by tourism – but don’t expect that to last.
Wherever you plan to head to this year it’s good to know that Flexicover Travel Insurance is committed to providing you with the highest level of cover to ensure you are safe and secure 24 hours a day when away.