world heritage

Off track world heritage cities - and why you should go there!

9 December 2016

Off track world heritage cities - and why you should go there!

Anything singled out by UNESCO as a World Heritage site is going to be special. It's got something unique – something of significance that needs to be protected.

So when a whole city is listed as a World Heritage site, you know it's going to be a great city to visit. It's going to be oozing history, charm and unique local character.

We've picked out seven of our favourite World-Heritage-listed cities to take a peek at what makes them so special.

Medina of Fez

Where is it?

Fez, Morocco

What is it?

The Medina of Fez, locally known as Fes El Bali, is the oldest, walled area of the city of Fez in Morocco. The walls enclose a maze of old buildings, narrow alleys and marketplaces. It is thought to be the largest pedestrian-only zone in any city of the world.

Why is the Medina of Fez a World Heritage site?

The city holds the remnants of different dynasties and historic periods dating from 789 AD. The royal palace, army barracks and residential buildings are all part of one of the biggest and best-preserved historic Arab-Muslim towns in the world.

What we love about the Medina of Fez

It is a joy to get lost in the confusing alleys of the medina, walking alongside donkeys transporting goods and past shops filled with bags of spices or colourful ceramics. Another highlight is the tannery – it is a huge courtyard area of pits filled with the rich colours of leather dyes. A word of warning though – it's mighty smelly.


Stone Town of Zanzibar

Where is it?

Zanzibar, Tanzania

What is it?

A palm-fringed archipelago in the Indian Ocean, Zanzibar is pretty close to paradise. Stone Town is the old part of Zanzibar City, the main town on the islands, and it has a long history as an important trading port.

Why is Stone Town a World Heritage site?

Stone Town is a well-preserved Swahili trading town with buildings that show influences from the many cultures that crossed paths here, from Africa, the Arab region, Europe and India.

What we love about Stone Town

The cohesive jumble of architecture makes Stone Town a fascinating place to wander – you'll jostle with donkeys and motorbikes as you explore the narrow alleys. Along the waterfront, the House of Wonders not only has the best name ever, it's also a grand old palace-turned-museum which combines an astounding array of architectural influences.


Historic Split and Diocletian's Palace

Where is it?

Split, Croatia

What is it?

The city of Split, on Croatia's beautiful Dalmatian Coast, is built around the former Palace of Diocletian. It was a massive Roman fortress and palace complex.

Why is Diocletian's Palace a World Heritage site?

UNESCO has listed not just the palace buildings but the old city in and around the palace. There's the fourth century palace – which is one of the world's most complete remains of a Roman palace – as well as a cathedral from the Middle Ages, twelfth century Romanesque churches and fifteenth century Gothic palaces.

What we love about Diocletian's Palace

The palace isn't just somewhere you visit when you're in Split – it pretty much IS the old city of Split. The old buildings of the palace complex are now used for shops, restaurants, apartments and bars. It's also worth heading down into the substructures – you can feel the history in these haunting rooms that form the foundations of the city.


Sacred City of Kandy

Where is it?

Kandy, Sri Lanka

What is it?

The Sacred City of Kandy is the old part of the city of Kandy in the central highlands of Sri Lanka. The medieval city was built next to the important Buddhist pilgrimage site of the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic.

Why is the Sacred City of Kandy a World Heritage site?

The Sacred City was the last capital of the Sinhala kings, built for the royal family when Kandy became Sri Lanka's capital in 1470. The World Heritage listing includes the city and the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic which is one of the most important sites in the world for Buddhist people.

What we love about the Sacred City of Kandy

Visiting the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, you can watch daily rituals being performed and see the many pilgrims who have come to bring offerings and to spend time in the presence of the tooth of Buddha. There is a calmness in the air and you get a real sense of the spiritual significance of this place.

Historic Centre of Arequipa

Where is it?

Arequipa, Peru

What is it?

The city of Arequipa is nestled in the Andes at the foot of El Misti Volcano. It is sometimes called 'the White City' because its buildings were built from white volcanic sillar rock quarried from the local volcanos.

Why is Arequipa a World Heritage site?

The historic centre of Arequipa is recognised for its unique combination of European and native building techniques. The colonial designers and local masons worked together to create a city that would withstand the frequent earthquakes – Arequipa features robust walls, solid archways and open courtyards.

What we love about Arequipa

It's a gorgeous city. At the heart of the old town is the vast Plaza des Armas, a grand open city square surrounded by white colonial-style buildings, with the ornate Basilica Cathedral at the head of the square. The nearby Monasterio of Santa Catalina is a huge monastery complex with austere vaulted rooms painted in rich,warm colours – it's well worth exploring too.

Alhambra, Generalife and Albayzin

Where is it?

Granada, Spain

What is it?

Perched on two hills overlooking the new part of Granada is the medieval part of the city – Alhambra and Albayzin. Alhambra is a large fortress-palace complex set next to the gardens of the Generalife and Albayzin is the residential part of the old town. The Alhambra is one of Spain's most-visited sites.

Why is the Alhambra a World Heritage site?

The Alhambra is a unique example of Moorish influence in southern Spain and Albayzin holds well-preserved examples of Moorish domestic architecture.

What we love about the Alhambra

Well, the name is brilliant. Alhambra. So Spanish. But also, everything. It's vast and sprawling and yet so full of delicate detail. The intricate carvings, decorative vaulted ceilings, columns, tile work, courtyards, reflecting pools – it is a work of art and the massive garden setting is an integral part of the design. The whole place is alive with layers of history.


Malacca and George Town

Where is it?

Straights of Malacca, Malaysia

What is it?

Not one World-Heritage-listed city, but two – Malacca and George Town are two old trading towns on the coast of Malaysia.

Why are Malacca and George Town a World Heritage site?

They are historic towns that preserve the history of over 500 years of trading and cultural exchange between the East and the West. The architectural and cultural townscapes are well preserved and unique.

What we love about Malacca and George Town

It might be an overused phrase, but 'melting pot' is what we're talking about here – Dutch, Portuguese, British, Indian and Chinese influences can all be found to varying degrees in these unique towns.  The Dutch colonial buildings in Dutch Square in Malacca have all been painted a striking red colour and the Christ Church, topped with a bell, is a standout.