20 Fascinating But Little-Known UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Published January 16, 2015
Updated February 5, 2018

The United Nations is known for many things—namely for its aid and humanitarian efforts—but less so for the work it does in preserving cultural heritage. UNESCO, which stands for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, does just that.

UNESCO has several responsibilities under its belt, but it has become most famous for its task of designating World Heritage Sites. These are places (both natural and manmade) that have been deemed to be culturally significant as part of our human heritage. It contains the Great Pyramid of Giza, the Taj Mahal and dozens of other obvious monuments and places we are all familiar with. However, there are over 1,000 heritage sites across the world and some of them are sure to surprise you.

Tsingy de Bemaraha Strict Nature Reserve

Unknown World Heritage Sites Tsingy
This one is found in Madagascar's Melaky region. It is known for its exotic animals like lemurs and wild birds, but also for the incredibly sharp, needle-shaped limestone formations known as tsingy, which make traversing this terrain incredibly difficult. Source: Most Beautiful Places In The World

Amphitheatre of El Jem

Unknown World Heritage Sites Eljem
Found in Tunisia, this amphitheatre dates all the way back to the 3rd century. With a capacity of 35,000 people, it is the largest such amphitheatre in North Africa and is very reminiscent of the Roman Colosseum. Source: Tunisia Panoramas

Chan Chan

Unknown World Heritage Sites Chan
Located in the Peruvian region of La Libertad, this is an ancient, pre-Columbian city that was once home to the Chimu people. The city was built sometime around 850 AD and lasted for over 600 years until the Chimu were conquered by the Incas in 1470 AD. Source: Paradise In The World

Mammoth Cave National Park

Unknown World Heritage Sites Mammoth
Located in Kentucky, this national park contains the longest cave system in the world, the appropriately-named Mammoth Cave. The size of the park (almost 53,000 acres) is so huge that it actually extends over three counties. Source: Wikimedia Commons


Unknown World Heritage Sites Polonnaruwa
This ancient Sri Lankan city is over 1,000 years old and was once one of the main cities of the Polonnaru kingdom. Nowadays it has transformed into a popular tourist attraction, as many of its constructions are still in great shape and a new Polonnaruwa town was built next to the old one. Source: Flash Pack At Forty

Borobudur Temple

Unknown World Heritage Sites Borobudur
This ancient Buddhist temple found in central Java, Indonesia was built sometime during the 8th or 9th century. Although the Borobudur temple proper is the biggest and best known, it is actually part of a compound that includes two smaller temples, Mendut and Pawon. Source: Towns Of USA

Ha Long Bay

Unknown World Heritage Sites Halong
Located in Vietnam in the Golf of Tonkin, this bay includes over 1,600 small islands and islets, some of them nothing more than giant limestone pillars. Because of this, many of these islands are uninhabited which gives the bay a pristine, “pure” feel that would drive many of the 19th century’s romantic poets wild. Source: Best Posts


Unknown World Heritage Sites Samarkand
Located in Uzbekistan, Samarkand is one of the oldest still-inhabited cities in the world. It was settled sometime around the 5th century BC and even now remains the third-largest city in the country. Samarkand gained prominence when China started trading with the West due to its position on the Silk Road, and eventually became known as the Crossroads of Culture. Source: Wikimedia Commons


Unknown World Heritage Sites Bosra
Another ancient city, Bosra is located in Syria. During Roman times, Bosra was the capital of the province of Arabia and, given its proximity to the route toward Mecca, became a very sophisticated city. It has numerous Christian and Muslim artifacts, as well as Roman constructions such as an ancient amphitheatre. Source: 4Gress


Unknown World Heritage Sites Baalbek
An ancient city in Lebanon, Baalbek is primarily known for its ancient temple. During Roman times, the city was known as Heliopolis and was a religious sanctuary with three temples dedicated to Jupiter, Venus and Bacchus. Source: Wikipedia


Unknown World Heritage Sites Hattusa
Found in Turkey near modern day Bogazkale, these are the ruins of the ancient city of Hattusa. It was once the capital of one of the greatest empires of the Bronze Age, the Hittites. Source: Gepeskonyv

Dazu Rock Carvings

Unknown World Heritage Sites Dazu
Found in China in 75 different sites, the Dazu Rock Carvings contain over 50,000 statues dating as far back as 700 AD. Many of them are in great condition and depict a multitude of religious beliefs, ranging from Buddhism to Taoism. Source: Panoramio

Mount Emei

Unknown World Heritage Sites Emei
Also located in China, Mount Emei is found in the Sichuan province. By far, its most prominent feature is the Leshan Giant Buddha, a 233-foot tall statue carved into a cliff face, which makes it the tallest ancient statue in the world. Source: Flyerizer


Unknown World Heritage Sites Surtsey
Located off the coast of Iceland, Surtsey is the newest site on this list by far. The small island is only 50 years old, and “came to be” following a volcanic eruption. The eruption started 436 feet below sea level but went on for years until forming the above-sea level island seen above. Source: Volcano Cafe


Unknown World Heritage Sites Suo Menlinna
Now part of the Finnish capital of Helsinki, Suomenlinna is a sea fortress built over six different islands. It was built about 250 years ago to protect against the expansion of Russia. Source: Blogspot

Joggins Fossil Cliffs

Unknown World Heritage Sites Joggins
Joggins is a small community in Canada known for its ancient fossil cliffs. These fossils date to over 300 million years ago, and reveal the world’s most complete fossil record of life in the “Coal Age”. Source: Joggins Fossil Cliffs

Bergpark Wilhelmshöhe

Unknown World Heritage Sites Hercules
Located in Germnay, Bergpark Wilhelmshöhe is the largest hillside park in Europe. Its centerpiece is a giant temple with a pyramid on top of it, featuring a statue of Hercules on top of the pyramid. Fittingly enough, the park has been described as "possibly the most grandiose combination of landscape and architecture that the Baroque dared anywhere". Source: Panoramio

Heart Of Neolithic Orkney

Unknown World Heritage Sites Skara
Found in Scotland, this refers to a group of Neolithic monuments that constitute Europe’s most complete Neolithic village. It includes Skara Brae, a well-preserved stone settlement built over 5,000 years ago. Source: People's Church

Curonian Spit

Unknown World Heritage Sites Spit
Located in Russia and Lithuania, the Curonian Spit is a thin, 60-mile long sand spit that separates the Baltic Sea and the Curonian Lagoon. It was formed 5,000 years ago and has been inhabited by humans since prehistoric times. Source: Wikipedia


Unknown World Heritage Sites Oplontis
When Mount Vesuvius erupted, Pompeii wasn’t the only city to be destroyed. Oplontis was also among the casualties and its ruins are now located in the middle of the modern town of Torre Annunziata. Source: Wordpress

For the most beautiful UNESCO World Heritage Sites, be sure to check out the video below:

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Established in 2010, All That's Interesting brings together a dedicated staff of digital publishing veterans and subject-level experts in history, true crime, and science. From the lesser-known byways of human history to the uncharted corners of the world, we seek out stories that bring our past, present, and future to life. Privately-owned since its founding, All That's Interesting maintains a commitment to unbiased reporting while taking great care in fact-checking and research to ensure that we meet the highest standards of accuracy.
Savannah Cox
Savannah Cox holds a Master's in International Affairs from The New School as well as a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, and now serves as an Assistant Professor at the University of Sheffield. Her work as a writer has also appeared on DNAinfo.