Spiritual UNESCO Sites
Collected by Maggie Fuller, AFAR Staff
One of the best ways to connect with a culture is to learn about its religion and to experience the holiness of its most respected temples, churches, shrines, mosques, or natural sites. Even though UNESCO sites tend to draw many tourists, the crowds always seem to fade away during sunrise at Angkor Wat or in the reverent hush of the Hagia Sophia.
Krong Siem Reap, Cambodia
Crowds may swarm upon it daily from sunrise onwards, but exposure hasn’t dulled the impact of the largest religious monument in the world. Commissioned by King Suryavarman II in the 12th century as the centerpiece of the mighty Khmer empire,...
Jl. Badrawati, Kw. Candi Borobudur, Borobudur, Magelang, Jawa Tengah, Indonesia
It's no wonder that Borobudur, a Mahayana Buddhist Temple located in central Java, Indonesia, is a UNESCO World Heritage site. When you walk up and see the grounds, the unbelievably intricate carvings, and all the Buddha statues perched along the...
Sultan Ahmet Mahallesi, Ayasofya Meydanı, 34122 Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey
Walk into Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya) and look up to the heavens to see why so many conquerors and their respective religions claimed this basilica turned mosque turned museum as their own. Visitors will swoon over the Byzantine gilded mosaics,...
Japan, 〒739-0588 Hiroshima-ken, Hatsukaichi-shi, Miyajimachō, 廿日市市宮島町１−１
Itsukushima Shrine, popularly known as Miyajima, is a beautiful Shinto shrine built over water near Hiroshima. When the tide is low, you can walk all the way to the large torii (Japanese gate) built directly into the seabed. When the tide is high,...
Kalabaka 422 00, Greece
Meteora means "suspended in air" in Greek. The town of Meteora, about a 5-hour drive north of Athens in Thessaly, Greece, is home to a UNESCO World Heritage site: six Greek Orthodox monasteries built on enormous rock pinnacles that rise up to...
55800 San Juan Teotihuacán, State of Mexico, Mexico
While it's not in Mexico City proper, the sacred pre-Hispanic city of Teotihuacan is close enough–about 30 miles– for an easy day trip if you're interested in architecture, archaeology, and indigenous history. The site's primary...
City Center Inside Seven Olives Hotel | Next To The reception, Lalibela 1260, Ethiopia
There are 11 churches in total at the UNESCO World Heritage site of Lalibela. Built in the 12th century by King Lalibela, these churches were and are a sacred pilgrimage site for Orthodox Christians in Ethiopia. Because these churches are still...
Bodhgaya, Bihar 824231, India
This small sculpture sits at the Mahabodhi Temple in Bodh Gaya, India—a popular place for both Buddhists and Hindus because the site is said to be where Siddhartha Gautama attained enlightenment. Today the Mahabodhi Temple's grounds are filled...
Piazza San Pietro, 00120 Città del Vaticano, Vatican City
One of my most memorable stops in Rome was of course the Piazza San Pietro and with it, the Basilica, and Vatican City. This huge square was laid in 1657 and holds the 400,000 worshippers and visitors who crowd this vast area in times of...
Al Haram, Medina 42311, Saudi Arabia
A steady stream of pilgrims files past deserted merchant stalls. Sleek Mercedes and muscular Fords are forced to pull to the curb, unable to penetrate the accretion of foot traffic surging toward the end of the road. There, like Disneyland on...
Petermann NT 0872, Australia
Praza do Obradoiro, s/n, 15704 Santiago de Compostela, A Coruña, Spain
The Camino de Santiago de Compostela is a journey; a test of will and fortitude; and most of all, a uniquely personal experience. Taking some time out of your life to walk along these historic and sacred trails will leave you exhilarated and...
68 Fukakusa Yabunouchichō, Fushimi-ku, Kyōto-shi, Kyōto-fu 612-0882, Japan
Fushimi Inari Taisha on Inariyama mountain is dedicated to the Shinto gods of rice and sake, but Inari is also the god of merchants and that brings a lot of businesspeople to worship here. Everyone else stops by to see the thousands...
Jerusalem is considered one of the most spiritual cities in the world and sacred to all religions for its significant monuments, mostly centered in the Old City. Tour the four quarters in the Old City. Walk through Via Dolorosa till you reach the...