UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Europe
When you look out over the Kernavė Archaeological Site, you will only see a handful of hills, which once held forts. But this pretty area in the valley of the River Neris shows proof of human settlements for some 10 millennia, which is so unique that it became an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004. There are simple wooden staircases to the top of the overgrown hills and a few information signs, but that’s all. The site is very understated with no entrance fee and hardly any road signs to reveal the direction to the site. For more indepth information visit the next door archaeological museum, which displays lots of artefacts from the site, like pottery, Iron Age tools, and silver jewellery.
While Tallinn has a pretty Nordic feel and Riga is a worn mix of Soviet blandness and ancient elegance, Vilnius has a more central European atmosphere. Less Soviet concrete and more enchanting plazas with grand churches connected with a maze of cobbled, narrow alleys, which of course is UNESCO enlisted. However, Vilnius does have its fair share of quirky sights, like the Frank Zappa monument (the man never went to Lithuania) and Užupis, an artist enclave with their own silly declaration of independence. The amount of local pubs and bars will make any beer drinking and potato/meat eating visitor happy and the locals - whereof a large portion are gorgeous women - are friendly. So there isn't that much to dislike about Vilnius.
The prehistoric megalithic temples at Hagar Qim and Mnajdra is Malta's Stonehenge, just older. They date back to about 3200 BC, predating both the Pyramids and Stonehenge, making them the oldest freestanding stone structures in the world. The huge slaps of rocks, which make up the temple complexes, stand tall on a ridge which breaks off into the Mediterranean Sea. Large tents have been erected over the temples to protect then from weather erosion. Surprisingly, little is known about these temples and the civilization who built them, but there are several others megalithic temples on Malta and Gozo: The Ġgantija Temples (Gozo), Tarxien Temples (Malta), Ta' Hagrat temples (Malta), and Skorba Temples. All of them are, of course, UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
With a whopping population of 6,098, the UNESCO listed capital of Malta can hardly be called a metropolis. But the city of Valletta most definitely proves that "good things come in small packages". Dating back some 500 years or so, the historic city has been (and continues to be) heavily restored. But both planning and execution of the refurbishments have been well done. While the main street can seem a little Disney-fied, the beauty of the endless side alleyways and magnificent churches are mesmerizing. Being the transport hub for the island's comprehensive bus network, the village-capital is unavoidable. Which is most certainly for the best as it is arguably the highlight of the island.
Ohrid is beautiful old city right on the shore of Lake Ohrid. It's so rich in history that it's a UNESCO World Heritage site. The old part of town is deadly charming with old houses, winding streets and exquisite churches, where St. John at Kaneo is probably the most famous one. The church was built in the 3rd century and have a magnificent location high on a cape overlooking the lake. In summer time the city transforms itself into holiday zone for mostly local tourists and partygoers. North Macedonia isn't packed with mind-blowing sights, so Ohrid will for sure be the highlight of any trip to North Macedonia.
Boasting one of Norway's 7 UNESCO listed sites, the port city of Bergen is unquestionably the most popular destination in the country. Bryggen, the city's old wharf, is a pleasure to wander around, even if you might need to jostle with the hordes of tourists that show up in the busy summer season. The town is no one-hit wonder in terms of attractions. With a variety of forts, parks and a cool hike (or funicular ride) to an outlook over the city, Bergen has enough to occupy travellers for a few days. But the true life of Bergen is found in the outdoor cafes, pubs and restaurants that overspill into the walkways, almost forcing passersby to sit down, relax and enjoy the people watching.
Geirangerfjord is one of two Norwegian fjords to enjoy UNESCO World Heritage status, and it is one of Norway’s most visited tourist attractions - and for good reason. It’s really that beautiful. The best way to see the whole fjord is by catching the hour-long ferry that travels from one end of this 15 km stretch to the other. Steep mountains line it on all sides, and waterfalls – some of them with drops of more than 1,000 m – are everywhere, particularly in spring and early summer as the snow begins to melt. Some of the area’s early inhabitants clearly did not want to feel crowded, judging by the isolated farms that dot the sides of the fjord – reachable only by boat and long, steep climb. There are lots of hikes around Geiranger, located at the head of the fjord, but the most rewarding trips are hikes combined with kayak or boat excursions. And a fjord swim is a must – but you’d be wise to choose a sunny day, as the temperature rarely climbs above very cold!
Røros is a delightful old copper-mining town, with a UNESCO-protected historical district consisting of turf-roofed wooden miners’ cottages. But even the newer parts of town are quaint. Surrounded by mountains that remain snow-clad until early summer, Røros is small enough to walk around. There is also an 18th century church, a museum and several galleries worthy of a visit, and cafes line the main street. While it lacks a water-front setting, it certainly gives Bergen a run for its money in terms of pure aesthetics, and is not nearly as overrun by visitors. It is also possible to go on a cold, damp, subterranean tour of the old copper-mine, some distance out of town. And if all else fails, Røros is a good place for people watching, as its inhabitants seem to enjoy dressing up in traditional folk outfits for the slightest reason!
Sognefjord is not only the longest and deepest (an unbelievable 1300m in some parts) of Norway’s fjords, it is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful and varied. In some places its sides are steep and unforgiving, in others gentle, dotted with farms and cherry blossoms. There are countless little villages and towns along Sognefjord and its many branches, each cuter than the next. There is no end to what you can do here, from hikes in the many nearby mountains and boat trips on the water to scenic bike rides or drives along the paths and roads. Sognefjord also includes one of Norway’s two UNESCO-protected fjords, Nærøyfjord, which is often proclaimed to be Norway’s most beautiful. Boat trips are ideal, since they allow you to see places very difficult to access by land, such as waterfalls, farms and Viking graves. Nærøyfjord and its sister, Aurlandsfjord, are probably the most picturesque parts of Sognefjord.
Auschwitz concentration camps consisted of three main camps, where two are kept as museums today. A grim memorial of the horrendous crimes against humanity committed by the Nazis. We will not get into the sickening details here, but rather point out some (maybe surprising) observations: Auschwitz I, the first concentration camp and what became the base, was set up in some already existing military barracks in the town of Oświęcim. The camp lied, and still lies, within the town with residential and industrial areas bordering the barb-wired camps. Later, the second camp, Auschwitz II-Birkenau, was added on the other side of the railway as an extermination camp. It was here where the gassing took place. The sheer size of Birkenau is hard to grasp. When standing in front at the infamous railway gate, the camp just extends for hundreds of metres, but what you actually see is just a fraction of the whole complex as it extends into the woods at the back, where the gas chambers were located. The third camp, Auschwitz III-Monowitz, was a labour camp with factories several kilometres away from Auschwitz I and II. There is no museum at Monowitz, though some of the factory buildings and walls still stand today.