25 Lesser Known UNESCO World Heritage Sites

While being listed on the record of UNESCO Heritage Site for a place is certainly an important consideration for discerning travelers and excursionists, it just so happens that the sites under the limelight usually are the ones are that are frequently visited. As a matter of fact, there are about 1,000 sites that are scheduled under heritage site list, located far and wide both in both discernible and inconspicuous parts of the world and which are usually associated with remarkable histories and legendary stories of their own. But unfortunately being lesser known they regularly escape the itineraries of travelers. Nevertheless, these little known places are some of the most exotic and fascinating places that hides a lot of charm and secrets for the delight of the tourist. Here we mention 25 such lesser known UNESCO world heritage sites which are incredible in their own right and must and should be included in any traveler’s checklist while they trot the globe searching for exquisite, thrilling and adventurous.

Samarkand, Uzbekistan


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Samarqand was and is still an important city in Uzbekistan, also being it’s third largest. Dated to be around 5th century BC, the city is one of the oldest in the world and remained a seat of power for long for numerous Central Asian Kingdoms. Samarqand held prominence due to its location, being situated on the antiquated Silk Route and formed an important center of China’s trade with the west. The site is redolent with beautiful monuments and landmarks such as Bibi Khanym Mosque, Gur-e-Amir, and Shah-i-Zinda etc., reminiscent of a lost glory. Straddling besides these are the tokens of modernity in the form of various buildings, parks, squares and avenues. Still being inhabited, the city is bucking up to changing times but nevertheless still remains a majestic and magnificent place to visit.

Amphitheatre of El Jem, Tunisia

El Djem, Tunisia, North Africa

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A spectacular structure, located at the center of Tunisia is the Amphitheater of El Jem, bearing a stunning example of exquisite Roman culture and their architecture. The complex, a 3rd century edifice, designed for holding grand events and shows, could hold an assembly of 35,000 spectators and is also one of its kind in Northern Africa. Its striking resemblance to the Roman Colosseum is visibly obvious and makes it one of much frequented site for tourists descending on to the country.

Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky, United States

Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky

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This astounding cave system is the largest in the world and extends breathtakingly to over three countries. Part of its magic lies in the fact that about 365 miles of caves have already been explored and mapped and still more caves are being discovered which makes it pretty unusual and mysterious. The caves were formed by dissolution of limestone by water and contain numerous exotic underground lakes and other unique geological formations in addition to a number of exclusive animal species that have adopted to the existing natural conditions, making it astonishingly beautiful. Mammoth caves are open throughout the year, though summers are mostly favored by the tourists. At other times it remains relatively less crowded.

[Browse through our USA tour packages to plan your trip.]

Chan-Chan, Peru

Chan-Chan, Peru

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Chan-Chan, located in the South American country of Peru is yet another lesser known UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the world. This site was the capital of Chimu people, whose kingdom reached its highest point in 15th century before being conquered by the Incas. The most notable thing about this 1986 designated lesser known UNESCO World heritage site is the close and well-planned layout and division of the city, which is done in nine citadels and contain structures such as temples, burial grounds, palaces and other public places like storehouses and reservoirs. The main complex is spread in a vast six square kilometer area and is punctuated by carefully outlined industrial, agricultural and water management system. Touring the site nearly takes 3-4 hours and it’s advisable to move to groups and hire a guide. There is also a small museum that contain a small collection of pottery and other artefacts from the city that are of some interest to the travelers.

Mount Emei, China

Mount Emei, China

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This impressive site is located in the Sichuan Province of China. The most striking feature of this spot, however, is the giant, 233 feet tall statue of Buddha which is the tallest statue of its kind from the ancient world. Carved out from the cliff itself, it is situated at the confluence of three rivers which makes it look even more surreal and amazing. Mt. Emei is also China’s well known, summer tourist spot and due to its cool, pleasant weather, salubrious climate, is pretty popular. Besides, the site has a strong influence of Buddhist culture and there are numerous temples that abound the area.

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Borobudur Temple, Java, Indonesia

Borobudur Temple

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Borobudur is one of the most important sites of Buddhism and the single most visited tourist spot in Indonesia. Located at about 40 km north-west of Yogyakarta, the complex has a majestic charm and combined with the breathtaking views of the surrounding countryside like that of Mount Merapi, makes it an outstanding destination. Borobudur Temple was built around 8th and 9th century BC during the rule of Syailendra Dynasty. The architecture of the temple is such that it is made to signify the concept of Universe in Buddhism. The temple, however, is actually a part of a wider compound that include other two smaller temples called the Mendut Temple and Pawon Temple as well. It was used as a worshiping site during the 10th to 15th century and since its re-discovery in the 19th century, it has become an important site for tourists’ excursions.

[Browse through our Indonesia tour packages to plan your trip.]

Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka: Lesser Known UNESCO World Heritage Sites


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Polonnaruwa was an important city of the Polonnaruwa kingdom, whose rulers ruled from the plains of Sri Lanka, about 1000 years ago. Being the center of a thriving trade of the empire, the city was buzzed with traders and businessmen and ordinary citizens who used to pray in its numerous temples. Its legacy in the form of various buildings and structures is pretty much intact today and give a glimpse of a glorious era of architecture. There are hundreds of ancient structures at the archeological park which is like a treasure for any historical buff. Besides its proximity to a number of elephant-filled national parks brings it fairly under the gambit of a tourist’s trail.

[Read top reasons to travel to Sri Lanka.]

Wadi Al-Hitan, Egypt

Wadi Al-Hitan

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This extraordinary site contain remarkable and amazing body of fossils that point to the evolution of whales, crocodiles, sea snakes, sea turtles and other such animals. Spread in an expansive area, these relics accords a stunning support to the theory that these sea-borne animals once habituated on land before the natural course of evolution made them either amphibians or water based. The amazing concentration of so much specimen at one place lets archeologists to create the environmental and ecological history of the place. The site was inscribed into UNESCO World Heritage list in the year 2005 and attracts considerable number of visitors every year.

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Machu Picchu, Peru


Inca Trail

Located in one of the most spectacular setting, Machu Picchu is an amazing and breathtaking urban center of the famous Inca Empire at its zenith. The compound is an assembly of temples, homes, palaces and plazas, however, its function and purpose of construction is still unknown. Located at the stunning height of 7000 feet, it was deemed as The Lost City before it was rediscovered in 1911 and was turned into an important tourist spot. Tourist foot-fall is nearly 2500 every day and although it can visited throughout the year, the months between June and March are the busiest.

Ha Long Bay

Vietnam: Warm Weather Destinations in January

A Natural Wonder

This spectacular natural landscape made up of around 2,000 or more islands or islets in the Gulf of Tonkin is an amazing marvel to witness. There is a local legend associated with the site which says that the islands were created by a great dragon that descended from the sea from the mountains and as it charged towards the coast, its beating tail struck the landmass and created valleys and crevices. Although it’s open for tourists all-round the year, winters here are particularly chilling. Besides, alongside sightseeing there are other activities for tourists to revel in, such as kayaking, swimming, climbing and trekking though the largely uninhabited archipelagos.

Dazu Rock Carvings


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An exceptional landmark of amazing sculptures and carvings, these are structures depicting different Chinese religious traditions and dates back from 9th to 13th century. Most of the carvings are outstanding for their aesthetic appeal and exhibit both secular and religious heritage and happenings of daily life in China. There are in total of some 50,000 statues in the complex and represent art and wisdom influenced by Buddhist, Confucian and Taoist religious faiths.

[Plan tour trip with our China tour packages.]

Begpark Wilhemshohe

Kasseler Wasserspiele

A system of complex waterway systems spread in a broad 2.5 kilometer landscapes and descending down from a long hill is a popular tourist destination in the town of Kassel, Germany. Punctuating the structure is a giant statue of Hercules from the where the water descends, being passed through a number of water wheeled powered channels like fountains, basins, waterfalls and grottoes. These beautiful network of water displays were originally laid down by Landgrave Carl of Hesse-Kassel in the year 1689. The absolute enchanting architecture of the site along with the vast expanse of the park is stunning proof of delicate aesthetics of Baroque and Roman.

[Explore the best of Germany with this tour package.]

Tsingy De Bemaraha Strict Nature Reserve, Madagascar


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Located close to the western coast of Madagascar, this vast and astonishing region, spread in 666 square kilometer of territory was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1990. The site has a unique geography in the sense that the stones that shapes its features rise up to a height of 70 meters and are very acute, razor sharp at the top. At heights lower than this, there is vegetation in the form of forests, mangrove swamp as well extremely rare and exotic species of animals’ population like those of wild birds and lemur. Tsingy is one most fabulous natural landscape of the Great Island and even of the world and is one of the very popular adventure destinations.

Fortress of Soumenlinna, Finland


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Giving a beautiful instance of imperial military architecture of the olden days, this fort was built by Sweden in the second half of the 18th century on a group of islands located at the entrance of Helsinki harbor. It was originally constructed by the Swedes to protect Helsinki from any attack from the sea. Today, it stands as an important historical icon for the country and is a great place to take summer afternoon guided walks. The place has some museums, the most attractive of all being the Soumenlinna Museum, which draws maximum number of tourists.

Mountain Railways of India

Nilgiri Mountain Railways

Nilgiri Mountain Railways

These may be called pleasure trips through the dreamy locations analogous to some fantasy of Bollywood film, but in reality these tiny toy trains are some of the world’s remaining heritage that beckons to an old world charm of British Rule in India. Journeying through some of most exotic hill towns of the country, these trains- Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, Nilgiri Mountain Railway and Kalka Shimla Railway- leading in its own characteristic movement takes past through stunning picturesque landscapes, deep, lush green vales, fanciful small towns and old nineteenth century tunnels. Visiting these hill stations through these trains make the trip much more enjoyable and memorable and hence this experience is something that one must not miss to undertake.

[Browse through our hill station tour packages to plan your trip to India.]

Okavango Delta


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Okavango Delta is a unique tract of land in the sense that the rivers associated with the delta empties themselves not in the sea but into an open land where it usually floods the vast savannah. Most of the water that the surface receive is transpired into the atmosphere through plants while the rest is evaporated. An exclusive characteristic of the site is that the usual flooding of the Okavango River happens during the dry season. Resultantly, the native plants and animals have adapted their biological clock according to the seasons and climate. Thus, the region of the Okavango Delta is a stunning proof of a harmonious balance between hydrological and biological processes. The Delta also provides shelter to some of the most endangered species of animals such as Cheetah, African Wild Dog, Black Rhinoceros, African Wild Lion etc.

Hattusa: Lesser Known UNESCO World Heritage Sites


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The Hittites lived and flourished over a vast area, the capital of which was the Hattusa, characterized by a close urban organization, the number of buildings such as fortifications, temples and royal residences as well as splendid ornamentation like that of the Lion’s Gate and the Royal Gate. The Hitties civilization is believed to be one of the four greatest civilizations of the ancient world, the other three being Mesopotamia, Egypt and Assyria. The city of Hattusa enjoyed considerable prestige in Anatolia and Northern Syria in the 2nd millennium B.C.

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Joggins Fossil Cliffs

Joggins Fossil Cliffs

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The fossils are world’s most comprehensive record of primitive life turned into fossil. According to dating records, Joggins was covered with dense tropical swamps and massive amount of organic matter that got buried beneath the surface and overtime was converted into coal. The region is extended into an immense 15 kilometer of coastal cliffs and give a stunning glimpse of the fine details of life that existed millions of years ago. Joggins was officially inducted into UNESCO World Heritage List on 7th July, 2008. There is a steady inflow of tourists here. Facilities around the site include a restaurant, wheel chair accessibility as also limited duration Internet access.

Heart of Neolithic Orkney

Heart of Neolithic Orkney

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Located in Scotland, this group of Neolithic monuments is Europe’s most thorough village of Neolithic age. It essentially consists of a large chambered tomb, two ceremonial stone circles together with a settlement. The site has been found to be about 5,000 years old and gives a misty representation of prehistoric life on this remote island. It also includes in its complex, Skara Brae, a well preserved and accessible prehistoric site which is a domestic settlement and contain stone walls, stone furnishings such as beds and a passageway. Moreover, there is Maeshowe, which is a marvelous instance of the architectural genius of the Neolithic age. Besides there is Stones of Stenness and The Ring of Brodgar which are worth seeing as well.

The Bronze Age Burial Site of Sammallahdenmäki


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Believed to have been constructed about 3,000 years ago, this expansive space contains 30 cairns, manufactured from granite. The representations on the tomb shows a culture of Sun worship, which was pretty common amongst the Scandinavians and was associated to their practice of agriculture for which Sun plays an important part. Besides, the site also contains a couple of more structures- one is oval and the other is rectangular for which the historians and archeologists have not been able to find a definitive answer.

Australian Convict Sites

Australian Convict Sites

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These notorious grounds are a stark reminder of the historical antecedents of the Australian Land. During the colonial times and long before it was constituted into a country, Australia used to be the prisoner site for the convicts of the Great Britain. It is believed that more than half a million men, women and children were transported to Australia, in the twenty years between the years 1787 and 1868. The facility is actually spread over eleven penal sites from Fremantle to New South Wales. Although not the best of the places for convicts, these have now been converted into tourism spots that reveal the early events through the Australian History has passed.

[Also read top things to do in Australia.]

Historic Mosque City of Bagherat, Bangladesh

Mosque City of Bagherat

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Built under the command of Turkish General Ulugh Khan in the mid-1400s, this Islamic community is comprised of dwellings, tombs, bridges, roads and some 360 mosques – all rendered from sunbaked bricks, mortar and lime. Despite the rudimentary materials, the structures are indicative of expert building techniques with respect to spatial planning and arrangement. A vast and astounding complex made up of a number of tombs, dwellings, roads, bridges and about 360 mosques was built by Ulugh Khan in the mid-15th century. The buildings are all constructed from sunbaked bricks, lime and mortar and even though shows the relative lack of sufficient material still exhibits considerable technical skills and architectural understanding.



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Lying in the expanse of 10 square kilometers in the dead of the Kalahari Desert, Tsodilo is an awesome and largest concentration of rock art in the world. Being called the “Louvre of the Desert”, there are over 4,500 paintings that furnishes an ample record of sequential account of human activities and evolution of the environment over the period of a hundred thousand years. The site is now revered as a place of worship by the local communities who believe the place is frequented by their ancestral spirits.

Joya de Cerén Archaeological Site, El Salvador

Joya de Cerén Archaeological Site

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Joya de Ceren Archeological Site was once upon a time a flourishing agricultural settlement when at the turn of the 7th century it was buried under about 20 feet of volcanic ash when a close at hand volcano erupted and the city had to be abandoned. However, it was resettled again in 400 AD, but due to another volcanic eruption, it was again deserted. It is believed that the villagers were able to evacuate the city just in time and there were no casualties. But remarkably, the city has been found to be well-preserved. A number of items depicting occupancy such as utensils, personal items, furniture, garden and kitchen items, even half left food have been found. Today, it is a famous tourist spot where a number of tourist descend to see the astonishing sight. Joya de Ceren was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1993.

L’Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site

L’Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site

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Located at just the corner of Newfoundland’s Great Northern Peninsula, this archaeological site is believed to be the first European Settlement in North America. Before the Scandinavians lived here, it was the home of the native population that dated back to 5,000 years. There are many Viking artefacts like spin yarns, axes, pottery or the Viking Knarr Snorri replica that are display on here as also houses, which are covered with peat roofs, which are still standing here. A visit to the site takes you back in time where the mysterious intermingles with reality and cast a spell upon you. Many other discoveries and findings are still taking place here which is very exciting for the travelers. The site was inscribed as World Heritage Site by UNESCO in the year 1978.

Mayank Chawla

Born in New Delhi, India, Mayank grew up admiring, perceiving and then embracing the vastly complex, colorful and paradoxical nature of the Indian Society, which further led him to accommodate and appreciate the tremendous diversity of world. This admiration brought him to travel writing to share his thoughts and personal experiences with readers and travel enthusiasts at large to make them enjoy the wonderful beauty of the world as he sees it. Mayank also reviews books and can be reached through his website at http://www.themayankchawla.com/.

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