1. Tikal National Park, Guatemala
Temple I, Tikal
Probably the single best travel experience I’ve had. Vast temples, surrounded by thick jungle full of roaring howler monkeys (and shy panthers), hours and hours away from the nearest civilisation. Worth every bit of the struggle it was to get there.
2. Greater Blue Mountains, NSW, Australia
The Three Sisters, Blue Mountains
The day we arrived was not very promising: we walked down the hill from the station to the viewing point over the whole valley…and the fog was so thick we couldn’t see a single thing. Luckily the next day it cleared up, and the walk down to the valley floor was sensational. I want to go back and do a multi-day trek now, it’s the most incredible landscape.
3. Alhambra, Generalife and Albayzín, Granada, Spain
The Alhmabra is the most beautiful building I’ve ever seen, and I think I’d struggle to find any finer. On my visit, the atmosphere was incredibly sombre – it was the day after 9/11, and it felt like everyone was wandering around in near silence unable to comprehend how people could have used the religion that inspired such beauty to justify something so utterly evil.
4. Town of Luang Prabang, Laos
Sunset over the Mekong from Phu Si hill
Crumbling French colonial buildings, beautiful Buddhist temples, and a perfect location on a peninsular sandwiched between the Mekong and one of its tributaries. Tourism has taken over – and I hope we don’t end up ruining it. It seems that the UNESCO listing it helping though – two hotel building projects have just fallen through after UNESCO warned the government that the listing was in danger if they proceeded.
5. Wat Phou and Associated Ancient Settlements within the Champasak Cultural Landscape, Laos
Wat Phou, Champasak
From the same period as the mighty Angkor Wat, this is like a mini version, perched on a hill looking out towards the Mekong. Probably not as impressive as its more famous contemporary, but it does mean it’s a hell of a lot quieter.
6. Historic Fortified City of Carcassone, France
I’m a sucker for a medieval walled city, especially when it’s perched on top of a hill flaunting its beauty to villages for miles around. And for £35 return on Ryanair, it was an obscenely cheap visit too.
7. Historic Centre of Mexico City & Xochimilco, Mexico
Trajineras in Xochimilco
This is here for Xochimilco in particular – it’s such a contrast to the rest of the city, and is a great day out from the city. Xochimilco was built by a pre-hispanic tribe, who drained the lake for agriculture. The canals formed as part of this process are still there today, and you can travel round them on a trajinera (colourful punt).
8. Works of Antoni Gaudi
Quite magical and definitely unique – each of Gaudi’s Barcelona buildings stands out by a mile. I’m not overly keen on the work they’re doing on the Sagrada Famila though – I think they should have left it as it was when he died.
9. Canterbury Cathedral, St Augustine’s Abbey & St Martin’s Church, Canterbury, UK
The only one of these I’ve lived in – for 5 years I woke up every morning with a view over St Augustine’s abbey, and with the Cathedral outside my front door. I pretty much took it for granted back then; having visited lots more cathedrals since then I realise quite how lucky I was.
10. Cultural Landscape of Sintra, Portugal
Pena Palace, Sintra
The train from Lisbon to Sintra is an absolute bargain – as far as I remember it’s less than €2, and the contrast is huge. The Palace is beautiful, with views out towards the Ocean and the beach resort of Estoril, while the Moorish castle is great fun, because you can clamber over and all around the walls.
And the most disappointing? None. I’ve loved every one I’ve been too. That’s not to say it’s a perfect system – there are plenty of equally cool places that haven’t been listed – but that doesn’t mean that it’s not worthwhile. And if listing helps to protect them, then surely that’s a good thing.
UPDATE: You can now see the full list of the 87 sites that I have now visited (many of which are new since writing this list) over at this page