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Cityscape of Budapest with Parliament Building and Danube © phant, AdobeStock

Europe's most popular UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Planning a trip can be a challenging task for history enthusiasts or culture enthusiasts due to the abundance of cities that boast UNESCO World Heritage Sites. As of now, there are more than 1,100 UNESCO World Heritage Sites globally, and a significant portion of them, precisely 503, can be found in Europe.

Ranking of the most popular UNESCO World Heritage Sites

To simplify the search for the ideal destination, the online travel agency loveholidays has announced the ranking of Europe's most popular UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The ranking took into account the highest ratings on TripAdvisor and the number of Twitter posts about each site within the last six months. These factors were then used to assign a total score of up to 100 to each World Heritage Site and rank them accordingly.

In the ranking, the city of Budapest in Hungary (including the banks of the Danube, the Buda Castle District, and Andrássy Avenue) takes the top spot as Europe's most popular UNESCO site with a total score of 53.75. Coming in second place is the German Hanseatic city of Lübeck (51.5), followed by the famous Tower of London in the United Kingdom (50.82) in third place.

VERMISCHTES Europe Top World Heritage Sites

The graphic provides an overview of the top 20 cities and their attractions. A comprehensive overview can be found on the loveholidays website. In this ranking, in addition to the locations and attractions, the best times to visit are also indicated.

Budapest’s historical city

Budapest, the capital of Hungary, boasts some of the most stunning attractions in Europe, including the magnificent Buda Castle. The charming Andrássy Avenue and the picturesque Danube Riverbanks are perfect for leisurely walks, lined with numerous delightful cafés and shops. With an impressive total score of 53.8, Budapest's attractions have received over 4,000 outstanding reviews and garnered 124,763 positive mentions on Twitter, a clear testament to its immense popularity.

Exploring the Danube Riverbanks and strolling along Andrássy Avenue can be enjoyed at any time of the day, offering countless opportunities for capturing breathtaking photos. The Buda Castle is open from 10 am to 6 pm, while the surrounding neighborhood remains accessible around the clock.

The Hanseatic city of Lübeck

The name "Hansestadt" (Hanseatic city), which many cities along the northern coast of Germany bear, derives from the medieval merchant and city alliance known as the Hanseatic League. Hence the name of the Hanseatic City of Lübeck.

As a former leading city of the Hanseatic League, which dominated the Baltic Sea trading region from the 13th to the 15th century, Lübeck offers an impressive history. Medieval church towers, narrow cobblestone streets, and the imposing city gates of Holstentor and Burgtor invite visitors to take a leisurely stroll. All attractions can be visited throughout the day, allowing for a thorough exploration of Lübeck at a relaxed pace.

The tower of London

One of the most famous landmarks in Britain is the Tower of London, whose foundations were laid as early as 1066, making it one of the oldest buildings in London. The construction began a few months after the victory of William the Conqueror in the Battle of Hastings.

In the 957 years since its construction, the Tower has housed some of England's most famous prisoners, including Anne Boleyn and Sir Walter Raleigh. At the same time, it served as a royal residence, armory, and menagerie. It's no wonder that this British landmark has received over 45,000 positive reviews. Those who wish to visit the Tower of London should opt for an early morning visit on a weekday. Wednesday morning at 9 o'clock is the best time for a peaceful sightseeing tour.

The Works of Antoni Gaudí

Antoni Gaudí, one of Spain's most famous architects, has created some architectural masterpieces. These include Casa Vicens and the Bishop's Palace of Astorga, which is one of only three Gaudí buildings outside Catalonia.

VERMISCHTES Barcelona TheWorldPhotoTour 169Park Güell in Barcelona, Spain; © Elsworth Frobisher,

The construction of many of Gaudí's most famous works began as early as the 1880s, some just five years after his graduation. Almost all of them are located in and around Barcelona, offering the perfect opportunity to spend a few days in the city and admire the many architectural wonders. Gaudí's works have received over 41,000 top ratings, giving them an overall score of 45.9 in the rankings.

Alhambra - The Citadel on the Sabikah Hill in Granada

Alhambra, perhaps the most famous cultural heritage site in Andalusia, offers a unique blend of early Christian and Muslim history. Serving as both a palace and a fortress, the Alhambra was home to numerous emirs of the Muslim state of Al-Andalus before the Reconquista. With nearly 35,000 positive mentions on social media, it is considered one of Spain's most renowned landmarks.

VERMISCHTES The World Photo Tour Granada 257Alhambra in Granada, Spanien; © Elsworth Frobisher,

It is a place full of impressive medieval, Moorish, and Spanish Renaissance architecture. This can also be seen in the nearby Generalife gardens and Albayzín. The opening hours vary, and it is recommended to allow ample time to explore the surroundings and immerse oneself in the culture.

Schönbrunn Palace and Its Gardens

When thinking of European rulers, the French Bourbons or the Tudors might come to mind, but for the people of Central Europe, there is perhaps no more famous dynasty than the Habsburgs. The Schönbrunn Palace and its gardens have served as the summer residence for the Habsburgs since the late 13th century and have had a lasting cultural and historical impact on Europe. This site has received over 28,000 positive reviews on TripAdvisor.

The Viennese cultural landmark is a true treasure trove of architectural masterpieces, with over 1,441 rooms and expansive gardens that invite strolling. If you wish to avoid crowds, according to Google's visiting hours, a visit on a Tuesday morning at 9 o'clock is ideal.

The Acropolis of Athens

The Acropolis, where democracy was born, lies in the heart of Athens. This citadel houses several historical sites built by the ancient Greeks. If you want to see as many historical structures as possible in one place, a visit to the Acropolis of Athens is a must.

VERMISCHTES TheWorldPhotoTour Greece Athens 30Temple of Athena Polias, Acropolis, Athens, Greece; © Elsworth Frobisher,

The Acropolis has undergone extensive restoration in recent years, and although some work is still underway, the passage of time has not diminished the grandeur of the Acropolis. Built in the 5th century BC by the famous Athenian politician and general Pericles, the complex houses the Parthenon and the Theatre of Dionysus, which continued to be built into Roman times. According to previous visitors, the best time to visit is on Thursdays at 7pm or Sundays at 8.30am. This is also the ideal time to take a photo of the sunrise or sunset.

The Grand Place in Brussels

Although the name "Grand Place" may not sound very exciting, the actual square in Brussels is incredibly captivating. The square is adorned with beautiful baroque guildhouses and the impressive City Hall of Brussels. Despite the long duration of its construction, which started in the 11th century and finished in the 17th century, the Grand Place showcases a remarkable blend of architectural styles spanning several centuries. The square has also undergone renovations in the 19th century, which have contributed to its well-preserved and almost flawless appearance that visitors can still admire today.

To avoid being crowded by others on the Grand Place, most previous visitors recommend arriving early on a weekday. This way, you can experience the market at its finest, just like the 25,000 people who have already rated it with 5 stars.

Pompeii and Herculaneum in the South of Italy

Ancient Rome has left behind several important sites for historical research and archaeology, but few are as famous as the twin cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum, which were destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. While this tragedy should not be forgotten, it has left behind a true wonder - a time capsule that allows us to look back into life in 1st-century Rome.

Visitors can admire the remarkably preserved remains of the cities, as well as tools and clothing from the time period. There are even graffiti on the walls that contain many vulgar Latin expressions. As with other cultural heritage sites mentioned earlier, it is recommended to visit on a weekday in the early morning hours.

The Cologne Cathedral

The tenth UNESCO World Heritage Site on the list is the Cologne Cathedral. The construction of the city's Archbishop's seat began in 1248 but was only completed in 1880. Standing at 157 meters, the Cologne Cathedral is not only the tallest twin-spired church in the world but also the second tallest church in Europe and the third tallest of its kind worldwide! It is a classic example of Gothic architecture and the most visited cultural monument in Germany.

With over 16,000 positive reviews, the Cologne Cathedral is a must-visit for visitors. The cathedral can be visited at any time of the day, and visitors can take their time to explore the structure.

How a historic site can qualify as an UNESCO World Heritage Site

To qualify as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a site must have universal value and meet at least one of the following criteria:

  • Represent a masterpiece of human creative genius.
  • Exhibit an important interchange of human values, over a span of time or within a cultural area of the world, on developments in architecture or technology, monumental arts, town-planning, or landscape design.
  • Bear a unique or exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or has disappeared.
  • Be an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural or technological ensemble, or landscape which illustrates a significant stage in human history.
  • Be an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement, land use, or sea use which is representative of a culture, or human interaction with the environment especially when it has become vulnerable under the impact of irreversible change.
  • Be directly or tangibly associated with events or living traditions, with ideas, or with beliefs, with artistic and literary works of outstanding universal significance.
  • Contain superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance.
  • Be outstanding examples representing major stages of Earth's history, including the record of life, significant ongoing geological processes in the development of landforms, or significant geomorphic or physiographic features.
  • Be outstanding examples representing significant ongoing ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of terrestrial, freshwater, coastal, and marine ecosystems and communities of plants and animals.
  • Contain the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity.

These criteria ensure that a site has outstanding universal value and deserves recognition as a World Heritage Site.

This article is from the 2/2023 issue of the magazine "Life Abroad".

The magazine is published four times a year free of charge with many informative articles on foreign topics.

It is published by the BDAE, the expert for protection abroad.