Get the three-day pass—Or the full-day pass, or whichever will give you the most time at the site. Trust us, you’re going to want it. If a UNESCO World Heritage complex offers a three-day pass, it’s because there is more than a week’s worth of things to see. Besides, these aren’t the kind of experiences you’ll want to rush through.
Do your homework—History class flashbacks aside, you’ll be glad you studied up on these places before visiting. There’s a big difference between just looking at a block of sandstone and actually seeing it for the giant statue it is and knowing how long it took to build, how many people worked on it, and the legend behind it. UNESCO sites are some of the world’s most treasured experiences, and you’ll want to know why that is.
Hire an official guide—Maybe lots of reading isn’t your style. That’s fine, but if so, definitely hire an official guide to fill you in as you go. The stories are crucial to the World Heritage experience—they bring the walls to life. Even if you have studied up, further enrich your experience by hiring a guide who can give you the interesting particulars: How that is the chair the king used to sit on, or how this particular design tells the story of a couple of star-crossed lovers.
Get lost—Yes, you should get a guide, but you should also take the time to get lost. Give yourself a guide-free period during your stay so you can have the freedom to interact with your surroundings more personally. Finding yourself in spots that just feel like no one has ever been there before will make you feel like you’re discovering these amazing things for yourself.
Dress appropriately—Many UNESCO sites have religious affiliations and, depending on the country you’re visiting, may have dress codes in place. Also, most World Heritage Sites are outside, so you need to be prepared for local weather conditions. A good rule of thumb is to keep an eye out for what locals are wearing. From long-sleeved, lightweight clothing in the scorching heat to parkas and galoshes when you didn’t expect rain, the locals probably know what they’re doing.
Wear sunscreen—See #5... there’s nothing worse than a peeling sunburn on day two.
Time your trip—Visiting a UNESCO Heritage Site won’t always take the whole day, so the time you go can make a huge difference. Consider the kind of experience you’re looking for. Getting to Angkor Wat before the crowds gives you that peaceful feeling of stepping into a timeless place. On the other hand, stand at the top of the Sun Temple in the afternoon, when hundreds or thousands of other tourists are scuttling around, and you just might get a clearer picture of what this place looked like way back when. And for the record, getting up for sunrise is always worth it.
Time your trip (part 2)—Time of year can be just as important as time of day. A quick check to see if your visit can coincide with any sort of religious or cultural festival is always a good idea. If you’re planning on visiting Hoi An during the spring time, for example, try and time your visit to see the lantern festival. It may be busier around those times of year (and if you absolutely hate crowds, this is another reason to look up festivals and holidays), but during a celebration, the more the merrier!
Bundle strategically—UNESCO World Heritage Sites that are located near each other, like many of those in Rome, may have package admission deals. Going for the bundled ticket gives you an opportunity to see the world-famous spots, and also to explore the smaller, lesser-known, and more intimate sites nearby.
Don’t forget the camera—Or the batteries!