Top Ten Historical Sites in the World

By Nomadic Matt | Published June 24th, 2008

The world is filled with amazing things to see – both natural and man-made. There are so many great historical sites built by ancient civilizations it is sometimes hard to just narrow it down to a few. Think of all the historical wonders lists out there and how different they are sometimes. Everyone has their own list, including me. Below are the sites I find best, think give a great look at human history and civilization, and think every traveler should try to visit at some point. These are places so great that flocks of people fly from all corners of the world to see them each year. Yes you might have to put up with crowds but the story these ruins tell is part of our humanities story and that is why I love them the best:

Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu
Located in southern Peru, this fascinating city lies on top of a mountain that’s only accessible by train or 4-day trek. It was an important cultural center for the Inca civilization, but was abandoned when the Spanish came. It is famously referred to as the “Lost City of the Incas.” The location was made a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1983. It was also named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in 2007. Concerns over growing numbers of tourists have led to limitations on how many people can enter the site, though only by a fraction of what is necessary. Hopefully they will limit it even more so this site lasts for hundreds of years more.

Read more about hiking the Inca trail.

Tikal
Tikal, Guatemala
This Mayan city-state is one of the largest and best-preserved ruins of the civilization, and was a dominant force in the Mayan world. Located in Guatemala, this place lets you experience your inner-Indy early in the morning or late at night when the tourists go home and it’s just you and the jungle. It was very serene and one of the best travel memories I have. I particularly enjoyed seeing the sunrise from atop the temples. It’s a wonderful place to explore, deserves at least two days, and is easily accessible from neighboring Belize. (Random trivia: The city at the end of Star Wars: A New Hope? Tikal!)

The Pyramids at Giza
The Pyramids at Giza
Over 3,000 years old, and we still don’t have a good idea as to how they were built or how the Egyptians got them so precise. The Pyramids align to the stars and the solstices and contain vast chambers we still haven’t opened. I mean what do those little chambers where people can’t even crawl through mean? How did they even build them?! Aliens? They are truly a marvel of human engineering that was fit for kings. The largest one, called the Great Pyramid, was built by the Pharaoh Khufu and has limited access to it. You will also find the Sphinx in this area, another historical site that baffles researchers with its mysteries and is the subject of many conspiracy theories. Due to the Egypt revolution in 2011, tourism is drastically down though the revolution is over. If you ever wanted a time to have the pyramids to yourself, now is the time to visit.

Angkor Wat
Angkor wat, cambodia
This ancient city in Cambodia was the center of the Khmer empire that once ruled most of Southeast Asia. This empire went extinct, but not before building amazing temples and buildings that were reclaimed by the jungle for hundreds of years. Though Angkor Wat is packed with tourists, it’s still breathtaking to see. And the temple regions to the north and south see far fewer tourists than the main temple group. (Though admittedly, some of them are simply piles of stone rubble now.) The best time to visit is early in the morning before the tour groups arrive and stay late. The most popular temples are Angkor Wat, Bayon, Ta Phrom, and Angkor Thom and they always have crowds. In order to really experience the temples, you’ll need to purchase the three- or five-day pass.

See more photos of Angkor Wat.

Petra
The ruins of Petra Jordan
Carved into a canyon in Arabah, Jordan, Petra was made famous by the third Indiana Jones film when he went to find the Holy Grail. Since then, everyone goes to look for it. It was “discovered” in 1812 by a Swiss explorer who followed some local tribesmen there. Prior to that, it had been forgotten to the Western world. Though its founding is not known, it appears this place had settlers as early as the 6th century B.C. Under Roman rule, the site declined rapidly and was abandoned by the late 4th century. In 1985, Petra became a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was recently named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. It is now one of the coolest and biggest attractions in the world.

Stonehenge
stonehenge in salisbury england
Located near Salisbury, England, this megalithic structure is over 3,000 years old, and its stones come all the way from Wales. Scholars still are not sure how the builders got the stones from Wales, and have tried to replicate the feat with dismal results. Stonehenge is now fenced off, and you can no longer go into the circle. Visitors can only walk around the attraction. But it’s worth visiting for the mystery behind it and the really good audio tour.

Colosseum/Forum
roman colosseum
The Colosseum and the Forum are right next to each other in Rome, so I included them together. Remnants of a civilization that once controlled the “known” world, these sites are breathtaking not only for their beauty but also for their history and age. You’re standing in the spot Caesar walked and gazing into the arena where gladiators battled to the death. The Colosseum has slowly crumbled throughout the ages and much of it is restricted now, especially the floor and basement where everything was organized. The Forum is great to walk around (and it’s free!!), though a ticket is required for Palatine Hill. I would definitely get a guided tour because the information presented by the authorities doesn’t go into much depth.

Check out my walking tour of Rome on how best to see all the sites in Rome.

Parthenon
Parthenon in Athens, Greece
Though currently getting a face-lift (and seemingly has been forever), the Parthenon is still amazing and breathtaking. The ancient temple to Athena stands as a symbol of the power of Athens and a testament to Greek civilization. Moreover, it provides a great view of Athens and nearby ruins. The surrounding ruins, temples, and buildings are equally as wondrous. Built in the 5th century B.C., the temple used to house the treasury. Over the centuries, much of it and the surrounding structures have been destroyed by war and thieves. Luckily, the structure still stands… at least for now. Note that there is scaffolding along the right side of the structure and considering it has been there for over 5 years, I doubt it is going anywhere anytime soon. They do things slowly in Greece.

Easter Island
the heads of easter isl
Located out in the Pacific Ocean and a special territory of Chile, Easter Island holds Moai statues that are the only thing left of a culture that once lived here. These gigantic and amazingly carved heads are just another reminder that primitive people are not really all that primitive. The stones that attract visitors to this island are made out of volcanic ash. Many still remain in the quarry, left by the settlers as diminishing resources on the island left their tribes doomed to war that finally killed them off.

Taj Mahal
Machu Picchu
Built in the 1600s, this building is a testament to undying love. Located in Agra, India, this white marble tomb built for Emperor Shah Jahan’s deceased wife is a must-see for everyone. In 1983, it was named a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Taj sees between two and four million tourists annually. There have been recent restrictions on tourism in an effort to help protect the site. However, the greatest threat to the site is the air pollution that is destroying the white marble the building is constructed of. It too was named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.

The world has many amazing historical sites and even if you don’t make it to these, there are plenty more out there worth seeing. The more you know about the past, the more you can understand why people act the way they do in the present.

Looking for more place to travel? Check out my in depth planning guides to over 50 countries in the world and go somewhere great today.

comments 55 Comments

The 1st two – awesome. I think the next one I visit might be Easter Island. But I heard the hotels on the island are pretty pricey.

Pyramids would be awesome as well.

prasanna lakmal

whould you like to visit in sri lanka

great list – Been to six of these (not bragging) because I need a loan for the other four -any takers…pls?

Sad to say that I have been to only three out of the ten on your list. I gotta work harder! Haha!

Tikal is incredible. The best place I’ve ever been, definitely. I’d recommend it to anyone.

I actually found Stonehenge a disappointment though.

Hey Matt, change of plans…I’ll be in Paris in July! Let me know when you’re stopping by and we can maybe meet up for a glass of wine or something.

I had a friend do the Macchu Picchu trek, she said it was amazing, they originally had trained for Kilimanjaro but her mom got sick beforehand.

I’m jealous of your travels. I’m new to your blog so I’ll have to check it all out!

NomadicMatt

@geoff: Tikal was one of the best places I’ve been. I liked it better than Angkor wat. …it was more like a historical ruin than a tourist attraction. I liked how you late at night or in the morning and was just you and ruins. Peaceful.

@ erika: Welcome!!! I’m glad to have new readers!

@quick: i’ve been to 5. Which 6 did you go too? maybe we can make the whole ten together!!

not even to any one of them…i almost visited taj mahal while i was in mumbai but i learned it’s too far and pricey :(

angkor wat in on my list nearest to my place. i think 10 is a very short list considering the modern world is bigger than the ancient one.

i live my life by lists and love all the ones you share on your blog! you’ve picked some great rec.s for this list! i definitely want to see Macchu Picchu!

Russ

This is a great list of interesting sites to consider.
Petra would be pretty amazing!

Your first was my first and it was amazing. I think my next one would be Easter Island… I am a sucker for Archaeological points of interest!! I am headed into Equador… I dont think there is much there. Adios mi amigo!

Anthony

I’ve only been to one of these and was slightly dissapointed with the Colesseum. It looks so tiny compared to when you see it on tv/pictures.

The city of Pompei was interesting though.

I’d kill (not really) to see Petra and Macchu Pichu, especially after Indy 3 and Diarios de Motocicleta.

NomadicMatt

@Anthony: When I first saw the Colosseum, I felt the same way but as a circled around it and it just got bigger, the more I liked it.

@Domina: I’m jealous!!! I bet the trek there was AMAZING!

I’ve been to 4: Petra, Pathenon, Colosseum and Taj Mahal (this, twice). Feel like checking out the rest sooner than later.

Nice post that made me feel there’s so much more to see.

Oh btw, one of the top historical places that I’d recommend is the Khajuraho Group of Temples. The temples are simply awesome. Am gonna write a post on them shortly.

Thank you for your visit to my blog and leaving your kind comments.

awesome list and sadly, have never been to any inc the taj- am planning to rectify that this year

Hans

We “me and family” made a trip to Petra in Jordan in April 2007. it was a piece of art and fabulous.
We flew from Berlin to Amman- Jordan. We traveled at modern buses with a guide/driver.
Our route was Amman, Jerash, Ajloun , Petra , Dead Sea.
On the way we experienced architectural, archaeological, historical and cultural places: noble mosques, interesting museums, ancient castle, unique ruins, stone paths, the lowest point on earth with mineral salty water at Dead sea. Also we went to see how nomads live in their tents.
Before our trip we got a lot of warnings and surprising comments on Jordanians’ hostility toward Westerners. Anyhow in every city, town and village we felt ourselves very welcome and every person was polite and hospitable to us.
Our guide was the best possible guide. His knowledge of Jordan, the past and the present is enormous and his driving style is convincing,
A trip with him was like a trip with a friend not with a formal guide. From my experience, http://libertytourism.com/Programs.html is one of the best tours at Jordan where all you may need and ask on one place.
Hans Herrman

Fantastic list. I have seen six of these places and would love to visit the other four. Two others that I am keen to see that would be close to making the list (though difficult to know which ones I’d remove) are The Great Wakl and the Terracotta Warriors both in China.

I agree with these but probably would leave out Stonehenge and replace with one of the amazing places in the Middle East such as Persepolis in Iran, or Jerash in Syria or Baalbek in Lebanon. How about the amazing ancient ruins of Mexico …my fave being Palenque in the south.

Ive been to all on your list except Stonehenge, Parthenon, and Easter Island.

Hi Matt, thanks for the great pages!

Just a couple of points on Stonehenge that readers may like to know. It is possible to get inside the Stone Circle, but you need to arrange it with English Heritage (the body that looks after the site). You can do that by simply typing ‘Stonehenge special access’ into Google and you will get to the current PDF form to apply. Note however that access times are limited, both by time of year – and only early morning or evening (after ‘normal’ opening hours). Another way is to book with a specialist tour operator who can do the whole thing for you, again they can be found on the web.

The second point is that the large iconic stones of Stonehenge came from not too far away; these are hard sandstones – locally known as ‘sarsens’. It was the much smaller igneous rocks (that you hardly notice until you get inside the circle), that came from Wales. Readers may like to look out for a recent book called ‘Solving Stonehenge’ for more and new information on the site. If you are making a journey from somewhere half way across the world I think it’s well worth both arranging to get inside the Circle, and reading up on the stones.

chanelle

hya i think it is a good adea

Steve Walsh

I had the oportunity to visit Machu Picchu and it was unbelievable, this place is magic and the pictures you see in magazines or internet don´t reflect the beauty of this place.You are so lucky because of this experience and I recommend to everybody to go to Machu Picchu go, you won´t regret it. Also, I want you recommend to use a travel agency, for me was very good and give me the oportunity to know and learn of this place in a nice way. If you want a recommendation Turperu is the best, they have a web if you want more information: http://www.turperu.com.pe …bye

i lioke all histrical places and love you all

thebluebeaast98

i thought that the stonehenge was a little more exciting than that, but ok.

MATT

The cool thing about two of these that I’ve seen (Petra and Giza) is that they are basically only a day apart! It is easy to see both in a weekend even. Cheers. (btw, liked Petra alot more than Giza, it was a ripoff in an otherwise fantastic cheap country)

lee

These are amazing, sadly i haven’t been to any of these but then again i’m only 18!! I doubt all of these will get visited by me. I live in England so could easily go to stonehenge. I have personally always wanted to go to the Collosseum, as i am astonished by History, and have an attraction to Italy, (Venice,Florence etc). Machu Piccu and the Pyramids/Sphinx WILL be visited by me, i will make sure!!

Khan AbdulGhaffar koyeak

hello !
To all of you , i want to say you that thanks for your finding this kind of place in the world , these are really excelent and amazing place i want among the teen on ly five ,but thes five are really amazing to me and to my friends really we choiced among the teen five…..take care……….cantinue this kind of amazing thing in the world ..

Brendan

Taj Mahal is by far the best

Bella

what about Palmyra in Syria?

I think it shoud be in the list.

amit

these all amazing places in the world,i like history but its not around my work,but it’s the part of all civilization of the world.

rajesh agarwal

this is all cities very loving and greatful

ashmit agarwal

i think this world is very beautiful

Rick

I’ve been to 2 of these, but if you are going to visit stonehenge you should make a quick trip to nearby Avebury stone circles in Wiltshire. A huge henge with a real feeling to it.

Tigran

It is very bad.. Here aren’t any information about Yerevan… it is oldest city.

Amin

would you please add some other places to your list!?
for example persepolis in Iran which is a magnificent ancient place, dates back to 518 BC. can be added to this list!Also some other places in China!

tahmah

thats sooo helpful 4 my geography assignment thankss

margarette

I really want to go to any of those places… Hope…. like to see them by myself.

Rob

I’d agree with the majority of this list, except for Stonehenge.

junaid sahmi

hi there

i am a studying journalist
its my hobby rather passion to research on national geographic monuments and geography

i love to watch movies documentries of nat geo tv

this site i have visited is really owesome to find good places at one page

NomadicMatt

Thanks!

khizar khan

I really want to go to any of those places… Hope…. like to see them by myself.

Md Imtiyaz

I’m studying in engineering college in MP. I really want to go to any of those historical places, specially “The Taj Mahal”. Hope my dream comes true.

Tuhin

Shatt Gomvuge mosque and Sompur Bihar Temple in Bangladesh also be the heritage site of the world.

This is a great list of interesting sites to consider.
Petra would be pretty amazing! I’ve only been to one of these and was slightly dissapointed with the Colesseum.The city of Pompei was interesting though.

Dereje Abebe from Ethiopia

I realy become so happy with these historical place. If things are going with my wish,i have a plan to vist one among the ten historical pleace. There are also lots of historical places in Ethiopia, which are so unique and every body of the world should come and vist them among them; Lalibela, Axum,Gonder etc. Please come and vist the land of tommorow, country which has its own clander, a land of 13 monthes of sunshine etc

aman

Taj Mahal is stand for show how much love having people of our country

gurumani

i will hope to see the above all in my life end.

Natalie

I visited Stonehenge in 2010, and was able to go inside the stones and touch them. It is not true that you cannot go inside. You just have to pay like 16 euro or something to the English Heritage people and you get an hour in there with only a few other people. I think it deserves to be on the list. I felt wonder and power there.

Jaylord

I’d done 5 of 10 great places and it is very wonderful places.

mahdi

what about Persepolis – Iran ?

NomadicMatt

I haven’t been there.

cheshta

last three are amazing

khobair

I wish I could visit these places!

riyas

Life is too short to look back and cry. Keep Going. Be be a Traveller not a Tourist!!!