10 Must-See UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Europe

View of buildings, churches and temples with ancient structure on top of a hill in background.

Do you have a heart for history, the arts, architecture and more? Looking for things to experience while you’re in port during longer stays or overnights? Exploring UNESCO World Heritage Sites is a great way to immerse yourself in the destinations you cruise to with Holland America Line.

Here are just a few of the must-see UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Europe:

Athens (Greece): The Acropolis

Anyone who enjoyed studying Greek history likely came across images of this UNESCO World Heritage Site. Of course, it’s nothing like seeing it in person. Fortification walls have framed the Acropolis for more than 3,000 years with the first wall being built during the 13th century BC. The hill on which it resides is also where philosophy, democracy and art took center stage. Overlooking the city of Athens, you’ll discover several ancient buildings of great significance to civilization.

Barcelona (Spain): Works of Antoni Gaudí

If you have a heart for architecture, you’ll love the Works of Antoni Gaudí in Barcelona and surrounding areas. Comprised of seven properties, Gaudí’s designs are known for being brilliant contributions to architecture in the 19th and 20th centuries. You’ll discover designs of sculptures, gardens and decor. The Works of Antoni Gaudí include Casa Batlló, Casa Mila, Casa Vicens, Gaudí’s work on the Nativity façade, Palacio Güell, Parque Güell and the Crypt of La Sagrada Familia and Crypt in Colonia Güell.

Copenhagen (Denmark): Kronborg Castle

Calling all Shakespeare fans! If you’re exploring Copenhagen, you’ll want to check out Kronborg Castle. Serving as the setting for Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Kronborg Castle takes you back to the Renaissance. It’s also where 1.8 million ships passed by and paid a toll when traveling the Sound to the Baltic Sea between 1429 and 1857.

View of castle and green landscape on waterfront with cloudy sky.
Explore Denmark’s Kronborg Castle, the setting of Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

Edinburgh (Scotland): The Forth Bridge

Open to the public beginning in 1890, the Forth Bridge once had the longest span of 541 meters. Serving as a railway bridge across one of Scotland’s rivers, it was a significant achievement in bridge design when trains were the primary method of land travel.

Istanbul (Turkey): Historic Areas of Istanbul

You’ll discover many sites in the Historic Areas of Istanbul, from breathtaking mosques like Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, to museums with incredible artwork. Recognized for the distinctive skyline that was built over centuries, sites also include Topkapi Palace, a large museum that previously served as the administrative center of the Ottoman Empire for 400 years.

Stockholm (Sweden): Drottningholm Palace

Home to the royal family, Drottningholm Palace is the most-preserved royal palace in Sweden. It also has the best-preserved theater in Europe from the 18th century, using the original stage equipment to this day.

Cruise ship sailing toward tall red brick bridge with blue sky above.
Marvel at Scotland’s Forth Bridge.

Lisbon (Portugal): Royal Building of Mafra 

Looking for a site that strategically and beautifully combines multiple areas into one? Nearly 20 miles from Lisbon, the Royal Building of Mafra includes a palace, basilica, convent and the Cerco Garden and Hunting Park. The property was something King João V envisioned to represent his monarchy and the Portuguese Empire.

Reykjavik (Iceland): Þingvellir National Park

This UNESCO Heritage Site in Iceland is unique for many reasons. It’s where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet and slowly drift apart (19 millimeters per year). Visitors can snorkel here while floating over the rift. In addition to its camping ground and hiking trails, it holds a lot of history. Bordered by Iceland’s largest natural lake, general assemblies were hosted here to inform the country’s national identity and political future for more than 800 years.

View from bow of gondola sailing toward bridge on narrow waterway surrounded by buildings.
Soak up the sights of Venice by gondola.

Trieste (Venice): Venice and Its Lagoon

Established in the fifth century with 118 little islands separated by open water and canals, Venice was recognized for playing a significant role in the maritime world. With one architectural masterpiece after another, the entire city and its lagoon is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Places to visit include the Basilica of San Marco and Ca’ d’Oro, with the latter best seen from a gondola along the Grand Canal.

Valletta (Malta): The City of Valleta

The capital of Malta is one of the most historic areas in the world with 320 monuments alone. Located between two harbors in the Mediterranean, its monuments capture artistic, civil and religious aspects of those who founded it. Some of the magnificent sites to see include St. John’s Co-Cathedral, the Palace of the Grand Master, the Manoel Theatre and more. The beautiful Manoel, built in 1731, opened for performances just 10 months later.

Are you ready to immerse yourself in historical sites throughout Europe? Learn more about the many destinations you can visit on Europe cruises with Holland America Line.


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