UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) was founded in 1945 with the goal of promoting world peace and security through international cooperation in education, arts, sciences, and culture. Its headquarters are located in Paris, France, with dozens of regional offices around the world.

UNESCO supports many projects and has lots of meetings and conferences, but the initiative likely the most familiar to travelers is the designation of World Heritage Sites. The World Heritage program designates sites that reflect the importance of preserving the cultural and natural heritage of the world.

As of July 2021, there are 1,154 UNESCO World Heritage Sites (897 cultural, 218 natural, and 39 mixed properties), spanning 167 countries. With 58, Italy has the most on the list.

Every year, new sites are considered for listing. The process starts with countries creating a Tentative List of sites, then moving to nomination status, and eventually to a vote on whether to include them on the full list. It’s a long and arduous process, requiring extensive documentation and review, and often takes many years. Every year, a dozen or so sites are awarded World Heritage status.

I’ve asked some friends for their favorite UNESCO World Heritage sites and compiled this round-up as a way to showcase them. This list will be updated from time to time.

Read on to learn why so many travelers enjoy visiting UNESCO sites.

Favorite UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Pin to your favorite travel Pinterest board and plan a trip to a UNESCO World Heritage site.