10 New UNESCO World Heritage Sites to Add to Your 2018 Bucket List

10 New UNESCO World Heritage Sites to Add to Your 2018 Bucket List

Each year, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee considers a new assortment of sites to add to its list of the world’s most incredible places. These sites are carefully selected based on a strict set of criteria determining their cultural or natural significance and “outstanding universal value” to humanity.

In 2017, the UNESCO committee added 26 new sites to its list, including 10 in MIR’s destinations.

From an ancient caravan city in dazzling Iran to the soaring, dramatic peaks of Western China, these fascinating places span the breadth of the world’s geography, diversity, and history.

Learn more about the 26 new UNESCO World Heritage Sites inscribed in 2017.


2017 New UNESCO Sites

Yazd, Iran

The Amir Chakhmaq Complex is a former madrassah
Photo credit: Ann Schneider

Historic City of Yazd (Iran)

Stretching between two deserts in the middle of Iran, ancient Yazd has a quiet history most notable for its reputation along the caravan routes as a silk weaving center. Founded in the 5th century AD, its isolated location and desert climate proved to be the city’s greatest assets, concealing it from the waves of invaders that destroyed other more favorably situated cities. Marco Polo once passed through here on his journey east, calling the city “good and noble.”

Yazd means “to feast and worship” and many people here maintain the Zoroastrian traditions that this word expresses. Zoroastrians fleeing Arab invaders found safe haven in Yazd, as did artists and poets escaping the Mongols. Combined, they made Yazd a city of tolerance and beauty.

Yazd is renowned for its textiles, in particular termeh, a type of silk brocade that has been produced here for centuries.

Travel Suggestions

Discover the beautiful city of Yazd on one of our many small group tours and rail journeys by private train that travel in and around Iran.

Small Group Tours:

Rail Journeys by Private Train:

You can also travel on either of our private independent travel itineraries, Essential Iran or Essential Iran Enhanced, or design a hand-crafted custom private journey to Iran customized to your interests, pace and dates.

Gelati Monastery, Kutaisi, Georgia. Photo: Paul Schwartz

Dozens of brilliantly colored frescoes adorn the interior of Gelati Monastery
Photo credit: Paul Schwartz

Gelati Monastery (Georgia)

Georgia’s most famous king, David the Builder, founded Gelati Monastery in 1106 near the city of Kutaisi and his son completed it in 1130. The monastery housed Georgia’s first academy and was the burial place of the Georgian rulers.

The well-preserved ensemble’s stone churches and secular buildings are decorated with lovely frescoes, mosaics, and enamel and metalwork, representing the flowering of art and architecture in Georgia’s “Golden Age.” 

Travel Suggestions

See gorgeous Gelati Monastery on one of these MIR small group tours

MIR’s Essential Georgia & Armenia private independent itinerary also includes a visit to Gelati Monastery. Or you can design a hand-crafted custom private journey to Georgia customized to your interests, pace and dates.

Aphrodisias, Turkey. Photo: Republic of Turkey Ministry of Culture and Tourism

Ruins of the ancient Greek city of Aphrodisias, founded in the 2nd century BC
Photo credit: Republic of Turkey Ministry of Culture and Tourism

Aphrodisias (Turkey)

Located near (and beneath) the village of Geyre in Turkey, the remains of Aphrodisias are among some of the best preserved ancient Greek ruins in the Anatolian region. Named after its patron goddess, Aphrodite, the city thrived from the 2nd century BC to the 7th century AD, and its distinguished art school became renowned for producing some of the finest sculptors of the ancient world.

Much of Aphrodisias was destroyed during an earthquake in the 7th century, but several of its most important civic structures can be seen today, including a theater, an agora, two bath complexes, and several temples, including the city’s centerpiece, the Temple of Aphrodite. Ancient stonemasons used high quality marble cut from a nearby quarry to build this temple at the center of Aphrodisias, and to sculpt richly detailed statuary and sarcophagi.

Travel Suggestions

You can admire the ancient ruins of Aphrodisias on a custom private journey to Turkey, hand-crafted to fit your interests, pace and dates.

Old Town, Kotor, Montenegro. Photo: Michel Behar

An aerial view of Kotor’s Old Town reveals its well-planned city structure and defensive works
Photo credit: Michel Behar

Venetian Works of Defense (Croatia, Montenegro)

During the height of the Italian Renaissance, major advances were made in the manufacturing of gunpowder artillery and pyrotechnics. Exploiting such new technologies, the Republic of Venice, which for centuries dominated trade on the Mediterranean, began incorporating large-scale cannons in its defensive works between the 15th and 17th centuries in an effort to protect its wealthy coastal seaports from competing world powers.

As a result, Venetian architecture and military fortifications transitioned from the traditional medieval round tower and curtain wall to an angular bastioned style specifically built for long-range attacks. Other European powers later borrowed from Venetian bastion designs when building their own military forts.

The Venetian Works of Defense includes the bastions and fortifications of Zadar and Sibenik in Croatia, as well as the lovely coastal port city of Kotor in Montenegro.

Travel Suggestions

Marvel at the military fortifications of Kotor on MIR’s small group tour Balkan Odyssey: Crossroads of Cultures, or on our Essential Balkans private independent travel itinerary. You can also pay a visit to all three UNESCO-listed cities — Zadar, Sibenik, and Kotor — on a custom private journey to the Balkans, hand-crafted to fit your interests, pace and dates.

Carpathians, Romania

Trees begin to turn in the Carpathians

Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians (Albania, Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Ukraine)

The Carpathians form a backwards “C” of mountains across the middle of Romania, stretching into Ukraine, Croatia, Slovakia, and several other countries in Eastern and Central Europe. While they are not high, they are wide, lush, and forested. Streams run through the valleys, little villages dot the hillsides, and wildflowers carpet the meadows in this lush region. They offer great hiking opportunities and mountain meadows where shepherds guard their flocks.

Hike the Carpathian Mountains through Romania

Hiking the Carpathian Mountains through Romania

In addition to its large populations of brown bears, wolves, chamois, and lynxes, the Carpathians also provide habitat for over a third of all European plant species, including vast forests of ancient beech trees.

Since the Ice Age, these trees have managed to grow and thrive all across the Carpathians, and have even spread into the Alps and Pyrenees. The resilient forests are a testament to the beech tree’s tolerance for different climates and geographical conditions.

Travel Suggestions

MIR’s Bulgaria & Romania: Frescoes & Fortresses small group tour travels on a scenic overland route through the wild Carpathian forests. You can also wind your way through the Carpathians on a custom private journey to Central and Eastern Europe or the Balkans, hand-crafted to fit your interests, pace and dates.

Mongolian landscape. Photo: Kelly Tissier

Shared between Mongolia and Siberia, the Daurian landscape encompasses
grasslands, forests, wetlands, and lakes
Photo credit: Kelly Tissier

Landscapes of Dauria (Mongolia, Russia)

Dauria is a massive nature preserve shared between eastern Mongolia and the Siberian hinterlands of Russia. Covering over 20 million acres of grasslands, forests, wetlands, and lakes, this diverse landscape hosts an incredible range of rare plant and animal species, including the White-naped crane, the Mongolian gazelle, and the Daurian hedgehog, as well as some 3 million birds during their annual migrations.

Travel Suggestions

Experience the bold landscapes of Dauria on a custom private journey to Mongolia or the Russian Far East, handcrafted to fit your interests, pace and dates.

Kulangsu (China)

A quick ferry ride from the city of Xiamen in southeast China, Kulangsu (Gulangyu) Island is a pedestrian-only enclave dotted with gracious 19th century colonial buildings, chic cafés, and lush gardens. The island’s history is closely intertwined with Xiamen’s.

Xiamen, known as the treaty port of Amoy during the Qing dynasty, was one of China’s first and most important Sino-European trading centers. Thousands of merchants, missionaries, and foreign consulates were drawn to this influential port city after the first Opium War of the 19th century, and chose to build their homes on Kulangsu due to both its close proximity to the Xiamen harbor and its scenic subtropical beauty.

The resulting commercial and cross-cultural exchanges on Kulangsu contributed to a new architectural movement called the Amoy Deco style, which melded elements of traditional southern Chinese style with classic Western colonial architecture. Today, Kulangsu contains more than 600 heritage-status buildings that exemplify this unique style.

Travel Suggestions

You can kick back and relax in Kulangsu on a custom private journey to China, handcrafted to fit your interests, pace and dates.

Qinghai Hoh Xil, China. Russ & Ellen Cmolik

Qinghai Hoh Xil is the largest and highest plateau in the world
Photo credit: Russ & Ellen Cmolik

Qinghai Hoh Xil (China)

Set at almost 15,000 feet above sea level in China’s arid, mountainous northwest, Qinghai Hoh Xil is the largest and highest plateau in the world. It is often referred to as the world’s “Third Pole,” given its year-round sub-zero temperatures, which can occasionally reach -45°C.

Despite its harsh climate, Qinghai Hoh Xil’s isolated location has created a unique ecosystem of native plant and animal species tolerant of constantly fluctuating weather and geomorphological patterns. The plateau is home to more than 200 animal species, including wild donkey and yak, brown bear, and plateau pika, and also encompasses the entire migratory route of the endemic – and endangered – Tibetan antelope.

Here, sweeping, snow-capped mountain vistas offer a dramatic backdrop against vast stretches of flat and beautifully barren terrain, making this a fantastically scenic spot for both nature and wildlife photographers.

Travel Suggestions

The China’s Silk Road & Tibet: Route of Monks & Merchants small group tour includes a scenic ride on the spectacular high-altitude Tibet Railway, which passes through part of the Qinghai Hoh Xil Plateau. You can also design a custom private journey to Western China or Tibet, hand-crafted to fit your interests, pace and dates.

Tarnowskie Gory Lead-Silver-Zinc Mine. Photo: Historic Silver Mine, Tarnowskie Gory

Remnants of silver mining trolleys in Poland’s historic Tarnowskie Gory Lead-Silver-Zinc Mine
Photo credit: Historic Silver Mine, Tarnowskie Gory

Tarnowskie Gory Lead-Silver-Zinc Mine (Poland)

Centered in the heart of Silesia in southern Poland, the massive Tarnowskie Gory Lead-Silver-Zinc Mine is one of the largest and best preserved remnants of the country’s rich mining industry. With much of its existing infrastructure dating back to the mid-17th century, the mine comprises over 5,000 feet of underground shafts, chambers, and passageways, and was one of the first in Europe to incorporate steam-powered technology.

Tarnowskie Gory Lead-Silver-Zinc Mine. Photo: Historic Silver Mine, Tarnowskie Gory

One of the two underground boat harbors used to transport miners in the Tarnowskie Gory Lead-Silver-Zinc Mine
Photo credit: Historic Silver Mine, Tarnowskie Gory

Workers originally discovered that the underground extraction zones were prone to flooding, so an ingenious steam water pumping station was developed to drain water from the mines to supply towns and industries throughout the region. This 19th century pumping station is still functional today, and highlights the significant impact that Tarnowskie Gory and Poland made on global lead, silver, and zinc production.

Travel Suggestions

Take a tour of Tarnowskie Gory’s fascinating Lead-Silver-Zinc Mine on a custom private journey to Poland, hand-crafted to your interests, pace and dates. You can also add a visit to the mine on an Essential Poland private independent itinerary.

Assumption Cathedral & Monastery of Sviyazhsk, Russia. Photo: Arsen Laypanov

Founded in 1555, the Assumption Cathedral & Monastery of Sviyazhsk were constructed by the same architects who built St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow
Photo credit: Arsen Laypanov

Assumption Cathedral & Monastery of Sviyazhsk (Russia)

Sviyazhsk is a small island situated at the confluence of the Volga and Sviyaga Rivers near Kazan in Western Russia. Ivan the Terrible had spotted this swath of high ground and in 1552 shipped an entire wooden fortress, prefabricated in Uglich, to the spot. His armies assembled it in a month before the Kazan khan had time to prepare for the inevitable assault.

Today many of the original buildings on the island have been restored and renovated, including its entire ensemble of civic monuments, residences and churches, most notably its 16th century Assumption Cathedral & Monastery. One of the oldest churches in Russia, the cathedral’s stunning interior contains well-preserved and rare examples of Eastern Orthodox mural paintings, including one of St. Christopher with the head of a horse.

Travel Suggestions

See the stunning Assumption Cathedral & Monastery of Sviyazhsk on a custom private journey to Western Russia, handcrafted to fit your interests, pace and dates.


See UNESCO World Heritage Sites with MIR

MIR is celebrating over 30 years of remarkable journeys to destinations at the crossroads of Europe and Asia. Clients rave about our on-the-ground support and stellar Tour Managers, and our full service, dedication, commitment to quality, and destination expertise have twice earned us a place on National Geographic Adventure’s list of “Best Adventure Travel Companies on Earth.”

More than 30 years of travel expertise means that the specialists at MIR know how to get there, what to do while you’re there, and how to enhance your trip in each of our destinations.

Wondering which destination or itinerary is right for you? In addition to browsing the pages of our free catalog, you can narrow down your choices online using our Trip Finder and the Destination Map. Or chat with our Private Journeys department to have a trip handcrafted to your interests, pace and budget.

Contact MIR today at info@mircorp.com or 1-800-424-7289.

(Top photo: The morning sun lights up Yazd’s soaring Friday Mosque. Photo credit: Ann Schneider.)

PUBLISHED: October 11, 2017

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