I am feeling a little fatigue of World Heritage Sites (WHS). On my last trip to Italy I bypassed several easy to reach WHS; I did end visiting eight, but I didn’t go out of my way to visit any of them. As I have written before, World Heritage Site has become a politicized tool for nation-states to boost prestige and tourist money. Many places with questionable universal value can be found on the list while countless world class destinations are left out. Each country is eventually to have at least a site inscribed, leading to inscriptions like the Singapore Botanic Gardens, which according to UNESCO is unique because “the site demonstrates the evolution of a British tropical colonial botanic garden that has become a modern world-class scientific institution used for both conservation and education.” How exactly does a colonial botanic garden projects outstanding universal value?
My tally of WHS since 2002, the year I started to develop interest in traveling, now stands at 102. While hardly awe-inspiring, it is not nothing either. I recognize there is a primitive appeal in collecting things — see the short-lived phenomenon Pokémon Go — some of which I might not have visited if not for their WHS status. Seeing I will probably add to my collection, albeit without bypassing more worthwhile alternatives, I want to gain a better understanding of what I have seen thus far.
I have divided my list into nine categories: Archeological site, Nature, Large urban centre, Small urban centre, Landscape, Royal residence, Religious, Fortification and Secular. There is a separate write-up for each. A site can fall into multiple categories and I will assign the one I believe to be the most relevant.
A score out of 10 regarding if a site justifies the effort for a visit is assigned below.
10 — My favourite destinations. These places are truly one-of-a-kind. 6 sites.
Angkor; Ancient Thebes; Grand Canyon; Petra; Machu Picchu; Yellowstone
9 — Immensely enjoyable. The only knock is I feel like I have seen somewhat similar but obviously inferior sites elsewhere. 7 sites.
Kyoto; Piedmont; Plitvice Lakes; Prague; Rome; Volcanoes National Park; Wadi Rum
8 — Highlights of past travels. I planned my days around these sites and they didn’t disappoint. 11 sites.
Amsterdam; Huangshan; Itsukushima Shrine; Luang Prabang; Museumsinsel; Ollantaytambo (Qhapaq Ñan); Pyramids; Siena; Uluru-Kata Tjuta; Vatican; Venice
7 — These world-renowned sites are negatively impacted by factors such as crowd, price, pollution, poor management and crime. Remain worthwhile destinations. 6 sites.
Dubrovnik; Florence; Great Barrier Reef; Mutianyu Great Wall; Paris; Salzburg
6 — Mostly less-famous sites I am glad to detour for a visit. Several are as famous as Category 7’s but the negative factors are even more pronounced. 13 sites.
Arequipa; Assisi; Costiera Amalfitana; Forbidden City; Gardens of Suzhou; Pompeii; Pont du Gard; Ravenna; Rhine Valley; Versailles; Vicenza; Wartburg; Weimar
5 — This is the beginning of neutral territory. Fine places I would have no issue skipping if I have limited amount of time. 14 sites.
Avignon; Cinque Terre; Danxia Shan; Fontainebleau; Fujian Tulou; Glacier Bay National Park; Himeji-jo; Hiroshima Peace Memorial; Horyu-ji; Kutna Hora; Hwaseong; Jægersborg Dyrehave (Par Force hunting landscape); Maritime Greenwich; Potala Palace
4 — Places where I came away feeling a little underwhelmed. 13 sites.
Arles; Ayutthaya; Bauhaus in Dessau; Cairo; Chichen Itza; Daintree National Park; Fraser Island; Hongcun; Olympic National Park; Potsdam; San Gimignano; Summer Palace; Temple of Heaven
3 — World icons. Many have become overhyped and a hassle to visit. 16 sites.
Český Krumlov; Changdeokgung; Cologne Cathedral; Cusco; Macau; Nara; Nazca Lines; Orange Roman Theatre; Pisa; Statue of Liberty; Tower of London; Val d’Orcia; Verona; West Lake in Hangzhou; Westminster; Yangshuo (South China Karst)
2 — I couldn’t recall much about these places the moment I got home. 10 sites.
Boboli Gardens (Medici Gardens); Cathedral of St James in Šibenik; Drottningholm Palace; George Town (Penang); Gulangyu; Kaiping Diaolou; Pienza; Ryukyu Sites; Split; Umm ar-Rasas
1 — I can’t grasp what outstanding universal values do these sites offer. 6 sites.
Georgium Garden (Dessau-Wörlitz); Jongmyo; National Museum of Western Arts (Tokyo); Shichahai (Grand Canal); Skogskyrkogården; Trogir