6 Unique UNESCO Sites You Didn't Know Existed

13 January 2015

We sat down to think about some unique and fascinating places to take a stroll. And on the list we came up with, every single one was a World Heritage site. Those UNESCO folk sure know what they're doing.

Iceland's hot springs and glaciers

Iceland is a rugged-bearded-man's playground of steaming hot springs, ancient glaciers and towering volcanoes. Think Viggo Mortensen, with his Lord of the Rings beard and stern attitude, in a big furry coat. But regular people can visit too, even without a beard.

The place names in Iceland are pretty indecipherable (pronounce Eyjafjallajökull, anyone?) but the gist of your visit to Iceland is this – you can learn about Iceland's first parliament in Þingvellir National Park, walk on glaciers between icy sculptures and deep crevasses, soak in mountain hot springs with steam rising around you, and hike around deep blue mountain lakes. Beard optional (but it would look cool in the photos).


Mexico's lost city

If you fancy getting your Indiana Jones on, there's nothing like a lost city to do the trick. The ancient site of Palenque in Mexico was a flourishing Mayan city studded with monuments, temples and palaces – until it was abandoned in the 8th century and left to mercies of the jungle.

Take your time to explore the 15 square kilometre site properly. Follow the walking trails away from the main buildings and head into the jungle, surrounded by birdlife and howler monkeys. You'll find a clear aqua waterfall (take your togs) and remote ruins still buried under moss and vines. It's hard to imagine losing a city this big. Those Mayans sure must have been careless.


Namibia's red dunes

The name 'dead-end marsh' probably doesn't inspire a lot of travellers. Best not to translate – the local name, Sossusvlei, is a whole lot more evocative. The Sossusvlei in Namibia is a desert area of salt and clay pans surrounded by towering dunes – some of the highest dunes on earth, in fact.

Get up early to make the most of your visit. Dune 45 is a perfect starting point – its distinctive dark red sand rises straight up out of the plain, creating a spectacular steep dune for a sunrise ascent. You should also head over to Deadvlei, a clay pan which used to be home to acacia trees – now, the stark black remains of the trees strike a mighty pose against the red of the dunes. No instagram filter required.


Croatia's Plitvice Lakes (and Dubrovnik walls)

We put Plitvice Lakes on this list for the sheer beauty of their clear aquamarine waters. Wooden walking tracks wind around and between the lakes, making this a great place to wander. To complete the whole walking circuit takes around four hours – but allow plenty of extra time for gaping with an open mouth, exclaiming about the water colour, and wishing you were allowed to take a swim.

We couldn't resist sneaking Dubrovnik's city walls onto the list too – granted, it's over 400 kilometres away from Plitvice, but hey, same country. Near enough. The walls run for nearly two kilometres encircling the old city – it's a world-class stroll.


Timbuktu's ancient mosques

Timbuktu is actually a real place. Not just a made-up place for the saying 'from here to Timbuktu'. It is a hectic long way from anywhere (and it has a pretty great name to bandy about). But it's also rather amazing. It's in the middle of Mali, West Africa and is home to three stunning mosques built of earth, straw and wood.

Wandering amongst this unique architecture, you'll be reminded of maybe a dalek from Doctor Who, or a futuristic sci-fi movie – like those bits of Star Wars set in the desert. (Or maybe you have better points of reference than us and you'll nod sagely and mutter about Sudano-Sahelian architecture.)


Cappadocia's fairy chimneys

Weird rock towers, like giant sandcastles with knobbly tops, dot the desert landscape of Cappadocia region in Turkey. Troglodyte houses are carved into fairy chimneys, and monasteries, nunneries and churches are carved out of caves and underground. It's like the Flintstones moved house and turned religious.

For an up-close perspective on this surreal landscape, we suggest you try the four-kilometre Pigeon Valley hike – a spectacular winding track that will take you through tunnels and past caves. When you're done exploring, knock back a few glasses of the local Anatolian vino, then tuck yourself into bed in one of Cappadocia's cave hotels.

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