As of November 2020, there are 1,121 UNESCO World Heritage Sites around the world. Out of all the countries in the world, Italy and China have the most UNESCO world heritage sites. Both have 55. There are 48 UNESCO sites in Spain, putting the country in third place. When I asked some other travel writers what place they thought of places listed in UNESCO, Spain, I had several responses. Here are their favorite places they think you should not miss.
Archaeological Ensemble of Tárraco
Tárraco, now known as Tarragona, was a significant mercantile and administrative city in Roman Spain. Throughout the city were several impressive buildings representing the grandeur of this once Roman provincial capital. This is not just a UNESCO World Heritage Site; several areas and elements are included within the city and surrounding area.
- the Amphitheatre,
- the Berà Arch,
- the Centcelles villa and mausoleum,
- the Circus,
- the Colony forum,
- the Early Christian cemetery,
- the Els Munts villa
- the Hydraulic conduits from Tárraco to Les Ferreres aqueduct,
- the Imperial cult enclosure,
- the Mèdol quarry,
- the Roman theatre,
- the Roman walls,
- the square with a representation of the provincial forum,
- the Tower of the Scipios,
- the Visigoth basilica and Romanesque church.
The World Heritage Center (WHC) states, “Although many of the remains are fragmentary, many continue to be preserved beneath more recent buildings and can present a vivid picture of the grandeur of this Roman provincial city.“
Archaeological excavations have uncovered the port zone structures, the area with the colony forum, the baths, the Roman theatre, the Amphitheater, the Circus, and the upper part of the city cult area the local forum. These elements reveal the foundation, periods of construction, and the splendor and decline of the city. Together they illustrate the magnitude of the whole urban fabric.
You can reach Tarragona from Barcelona in a little over an hour on the train. Tarragona to Valencia is approximately two and a half hours via the train. It is a city and area worth visiting.
Dalt Vila, Ibiza
Dalt Vila is part of the UNESCO World Heritage site of Ibiza old town since 1999. The structure was initially made to protect Ibiza from impending pirate attacks. The name ‘Dalt Vila’ means ‘Upper Town’ and comprises ancient churches, a castle, and 16th Century walls perched on a mountain overlooking the sea.
Visitors can climb up to the top of Dalt Vila free of charge and be rewarded with panoramic views of Ibiza town (Eivissa), the resort of Playa d’en Bossa, Ibiza port, Talamanca, and the nearby island of Formentera. You’ll also have the chance to view the 14th-century Cathedral of Santa Maria Las Nieves. If you’re visiting Ibiza with kids, they’ll love seeing the old fort and playing make-believe.
Today, Dalt Vila hosts many world-famous events, including the International Music Summit, where top DJs from all over the world come and celebrate music at the start of the Ibiza party season. In May, there’s a Medieval Festival where Dalt Vila is transformed into its former self. Many people dress up in ancient costumes, and there are lots of local crafts and food available accompanied with fantastic views.
Below Dalt Vila is Ibiza Old Town, which is also part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. You’ll find many traditional Spanish restaurants, high-end club shops such as Pacha, and local craft shops all along the winding cobbled streets that form Ibiza’s old town.
Casa Batlló, Barcelona
By Veronika Primm from Travel Geekery. Follow Veronika on Instagram.
Casa Batlló in Barcelona belongs to one of many masterpieces of Antoni Gaudí, the genius designer and architect behind the famous Sagrada Familia.
The house of Casa Batlló is located on the busy Passeig de Gràcia in Barcelona’s city center, in a neat row of houses. It’s 1904-1906 remodel of a house that was built there in the late 19th century.
It sticks out significantly from all the houses around since the façade is truly extraordinary. The bottom part’s bone-like structure is why the place is sometimes referred to as the House of Bones. The further up you move your graze, the façade becomes more floral and is then topped off with a dragon-like roof.
The interior is equally mesmerizing. Everything was thought out to the last detail – even window handles. There are no straight lines inside, and Gaudí’s genius is apparent everywhere you look.
Right in the center, you cannot overlook the light well, which brought plenty of daylight to the previous dark structure. White tiles and those of all blue shades, coupled with distorting glass panes, refer to a breezy maritime style of the interior.
A large terrace can be found on the rooftop, where you can admire another of Gaudí’s typical features – mosaics of broken ceramic tiles on the chimneys. The works of Antoni Gaudi became UNESCO World Heritage listed in 1984 and 2005.
Read our City Guide To Barcelona
Granada’s Albayzin is an area of the city with a heavy Muslim influence and was added to the list of World Heritage Sites in 1994. The hilly suburb sits over the city of Granada, with epic views of the Alhambra.
The Albayzin had a significant Muslim population in Medieval times, giving the area a Moorish influence that can still be seen and felt to this day. Walking around these streets is an experience in itself – they have a completely different atmosphere to streets everywhere else in the city. Many historic houses have since been converted into tapas bars, restaurants, and hotels, where you can sit and admire the view!
There are, however, plenty of points of interest in the area. The Church of San Nicolas has perhaps the best view in Granada, where you can see the majestic Alhambra and the Sierra Nevada mountains. The Church of San Salvador is famed for its Moorish-styled architecture, despite being built over the local mosque.
Also, be sure to check out the ancient Arab baths – some of the oldest baths in the country! There are plenty of Arab-style baths with Hammams in the city if you fancy a spa experience yourself after exploring the Albayzin.
With three World Heritage Sites, Granada is one of the best places to visit in Spain in winter or summer!
Alhambra of Granada
By Chrysoula Manika from Travel Passionate. Follow Chrysoula on Instagram.
Alhambra of Granada is an epic palace, fortress, and ancient settlement that was the jewel in the crown of the ruling Nasrid emir Mohammed ben Al-Ahmar, Emirate of Granada, during the mid-13th century. This intricate palace and castle complex feature a range of architectural styles, from the original Islamic detailing and design to the later additions of Renaissance architecture instructed by Ferdinand and Isabella and Charles I & V.
One of Spain’s most visited and loved attractions, The Alhambra of Granada is a must-see for everyone traveling to Andalucia. Your trip to this spectacular UNESCO World Heritage Site will take you through The Alcazaba fortress, the Vermilion Towers (Torres Bermejas), the Generalife Gardens, the Charles V Palace, and the pièce de resistance, the Nasrid Palace. From Islamic calligraphy on the walls and intricately-designed archways to exquisitely-manicured gardens and pristine courtyards, you’re sure to fall in love with the Alhambra again and again.
Not only are the citadel structures themselves absolutely astounding, but the views across the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the city of Granada, and the surrounding Andalusian countryside make it all the more worthwhile too!
You’ll want to allow yourself 3-4 hours to fully explore, so it’s best to set aside a whole morning for the visit.
Old Town of Segovia and its Aqueduct
By Chrysoula Manika from Historic European Castles. Follow Chrysoula on Facebook.
While the Alcázar of Segovia is one of the region’s major attractions, it’s worth mentioning that the Old Town of Segovia and its Aqueduct are also a UNESCO World Heritage Site in their own right. This historic city features architecture from multiple centuries and faiths to form an impressive cultural community. The monuments and landmarks include designs by the Moors, Christians, Jews, and the Roman Empire, who constructed the Aqueduct here circa 50 BC.
Considering its age, the Roman Aqueduct of Segovia is surprisingly well preserved, with the two tiers of arches and 221 towering pillars still standing proud on the edge of the town. It got on the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list in 1985.
Other sites within this well-preserved town that are well worth visiting include the Iglesia de San Andres, the Gothic Cathedral of Segovia, and the Plaza Mayor, in which stands the Town Hall, Teatro Juan Bravo (and his statue), and the Church of San Miguel.
As the town itself is relatively compact, the best bits of Segovia can easily be visited in a day.
Top tip: if you visit on a Thursday, you should be able to catch the local morning market where you can pick up food, crafts, and souvenirs.
Torcal de Antequera
By Joanna from The World in My Pocket. Follow Joanna on Instagram.
Torcal de Antequera is another one of the World Heritage Sites Spain has. It is one of the unique natural monuments in Spain, enlisted on the Unesco heritage list in 2016, alongside the Pena de los Enamorados, in Antequera.
The Torcal de Antequera formed over 150 million years when this entire Iberian Peninsula was part of the ocean’s seabed. As the waters retreated, slowly, the limestone took its first breath of air with the pass of times. The rain and the wind have continuously contoured the karst formations into the shapes we can see today. Considering that the Torcal of Antequera is 1,200 meters high, it has gone through some significant transformations throughout history.
The Torcal has been inhabited by humankind since the Megalithic era when the prehistoric man found shelter in the caves around the karst formations. Today, you can see the prehistoric paintings in the caves by taking a guided hike in the Torcal de Antequera.
There are several trails that you can choose to walk on to explore the Torcal de Antequera. Most of them don’t require a guide and are easily accessible, even for children. However, if you are interested in learning more about how the rocks formed and see fossils and prehistoric paintings, join one of the daily hikes organized by the visitor’s office.
You may also be interested in our City Guide To Cadiz.
Teide National Park
As we started our ascent towards the top of the highest mountain in Spain, little did we know we will fall in love at every step along the way. The Teide National Park is one of the most picturesque destinations in Tenerife, a place that will charm not only those passionate about nature.
The drive to the top of the volcano, high at 3,718 m, will take you literally through the clouds, but also through various nature settings: from coniferous woods to rock formations that will make you feel like you have left Earth and landed on Mars.
Teide is the third highest volcano in the world, located in a unique setting. The unusual atmospheric conditions make it a perfect destination for photography lovers, that will manage to capture stunning pictures of the sky and clouds, but also volcanic structures that change while you drive along the National Park.
Come prepared to hike through one of the many tracks inside the park, or join the passionate bikers that head to Tenerife, especially for a drive on the winding roads leading to the clouds. If you are less sporty, you can enjoy a coffee and lunch at one of the few restaurants with views of the volcano.
Alcazar of Seville
By Or from My Path in the World. Follow Or on Instagram.
The complex of the Alcazar of Seville has to be one of the most impressive UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Spain and one of the most visited attractions in the region of Andalusia. Dating back to the beginning of the Spanish Reconquista in the 13th century, the Alcazar is a royal palace built on a 10th-century Moorish castle. In fact, the current Spanish royal family still uses specific rooms in it when in Seville.
The Alcazar is an architectural masterpiece. On the one hand, you can admire the Gothic Palace, which was commissioned by King Alfonso X, and on the other, you can explore the gorgeous Mudejar Palace that was built for Pedro I, the king of Castille and Leon in the 14th century. You’ll also see plenty of Renaissance and Romanesque design elements, and all combined, make the palace beautiful and unique.
One more thing that makes this UNESCO site so special is the gardens. There are over ten different gardens in the complex, all absolutely breathtaking and extremely picturesque. Although they’re all worth visiting, don’t miss the Jardín del Príncipe (The Prince’s Garden) and the Jardín de los Poetas (The Poets’ Garden).
It’s recommended to combine a visit to the Alcazar with a visit to Seville’s other two significant UNESCO sites – the Cathedral and the Giralda. Game of Throne fans will also be pleased to know that a part of the fifth season was shot in Seville, including inside the Alcazar.
Menorca Biosphere Reserve
By Nadine Maffre from Le Long Weekend. Follow Le Long Weekend on Facebook.
The entire island of Menorca was declared a Biosphere Reserve in 1993, a move to protect its unique flora and fauna ever since. Because of this, it has one of the most well-preserved natural environments in the Mediterranean. This dedication from the local population of working with, instead of against, the natural environment enhances its appeal. Nowhere will you find more stunning untouched beaches, rugged and wild forests, ancient pathways, and diverse natural beauty. Within the reserve, a Natural Park, five Natural Reserves, a Marine Reserve, and 19 Natural Areas of Special Interest are also protected areas. One of the best ways to discover the island and its natural attractions is to walk the Cami de Cavalls. This ancient trail spans the circumference of the island, taking both coastal and island paths, and is a truly unique and memorable experience. It also takes in critical natural areas such as the Albufera Natural Park at Es Grau water marsh, where you’ll witness several species of birds. While the entire loop would take many days to complete, you can also choose to tackle one or a few of its 20 ‘stages’ for a taster. Alternatively, biking is particularly enjoyable on the fairly-flat island, and driving is convenient for those less mobile or short on time.
Park Güell, Barcelona
Park Güell was originally a private project built as a residential area for wealthy families to enjoy and created to resemble Britain’s parks. Entrepreneur Eusebi Güell commissioned Gaudi to build Park Güell after he had completed several other projects for him, including Güell’s home La Rambla Street, a winery, the Colònia Güell church. Neither Eusebi Güell nor Antonio Gaudi would have realized that Park Güell would become one of Gaudi’s famous works and a World Heritage site, along with a collection of Gaudi’s other creations.
Today, it is a public park with gardens, pedestrian paths, viaducts, staircases, roads, and unique structures designed by Gaudi on Barcelona’s Carmel Hill. Highlights include The Greek Theater (or Plaça de la Natura), created for outdoor entertaining, the Dragon Staircase, and The Hypostyle Hall. The latter has 86 Doric-order-inspired fluted columns. There’s a stone wall decorated with colorful ceramic tiles in a pattern with the instantly recognizable Gaudi touch. The Gaudí House Museum is a small museum that showcases Gaudi’s furniture, including the desk where Gaudi drafted Sagrada Familia, bedroom, and a death mask.
La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona
Located in the heart of lively Barcelona, La Sagrada Familia is one of the most famous landmarks in Spain. The Basilica is known as one of the best works of Antonio Gaudi, and although the construction of La Sagrada Familia started in 1882, it’s still incomplete to this day.
Together with six other Antonio Gaudi buildings, a part of La Sagrada Familia was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984.
Although the construction is still not finished, the Basilica is open to visitors. To avoid overcrowding, the number of tickets is limited to each time slot with fixed entry times. Since it’s one of the most famous sights in Barcelona, it’s recommended to buy your tickets well in advance as they sell out very quickly!
Once you make it inside the Basilica, you can stay as long as you like. There is a lot to see inside La Sagrada Familia, so allow yourself at least 2 hours to properly explore the Basilica. It’s a real masterpiece inside and outside!
For the most beautiful views, you can climb up to one of the four towers. The stairway is quite steep, but it’s worth it for the view! Another must-visit place is the Gaudi Museum, which is located in the basement of the Basilica.
Old Town of Santiago de Compostela
Written by Alya & Campbell Louw from Stingy Nomads. Follow Stingy Nomads on YouTube.
Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Northern Spain, is one of the most significant places in the Christian culture. The main city attraction, the Cathedral of Santiago, is one of the three churches in the world built over the tomb of an Apostle of Jesus. For the last ten centuries, Santiago de Compostela has been one of the main pilgrimage centers in the world. Thousands of people worldwide arrive at the Cathedral of Santiago every year after completing the pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago (the Way of St.James).
The city’s history dates back to the Middle Ages. It was founded in the 9th century, soon after discovering what’s believed to be the tomb of Apostle St.James. The construction of the current Cathedral in 1122 significantly increased the interest in the place. Thousands of pilgrims from all over Europe on foot or horses started coming to Santiago in commemoration of St.James.
The Cathedral is not the only remarkable building in Santiago. Walking through Old Town, you can see the City Hall, Colegiata, Seminario Menor, Abbey of San Martin Pinario, University of Santiago de Compostela, and other stunning buildings and monuments. In 1985, Santiago de Compostela (Old Town) was proclaimed a UNESCO World Heritage site for its remarkable cultural and historical meaning.
By Becki Rendell from Meet Me In Departures. Follow Becki on Facebook.
When people think of UNESCO, Cordoba should be the first city they think of. One of the most iconic UNESCO Heritage-listed sites in Spain is the historical center of Cordoba. This includes everything from the ancient cobbled streets of the Jewish Quarter, the Roman Bridge, Alcazar, and the stunning Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba. Historically the city has been ruled by the Romans, the Moors, and then the Christians. The city has also had a sizeable Jewish population, which also left its mark in terms of design and architecture. It’s a beautiful city that combines all these different elements of religion and creation.
Whether you visit for a single day or an extended visit, you’ll find no shortage of things to add to your Cordoba itinerary. If you happen to be staying in May, you’ll coincide your trip with a festival called Los Patios de Córdoba. Cordoba is renowned for its stunning flowered patios at all times of the year. However, if you visit during the festival, you’ll find an abundance of decorative floral sights everywhere you look.
If you only have limited time in Cordoba, then two UNESCO sites you need to visit are Alcazar of the Christian Monarchs (Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos) Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba. Purchase tickets online in advance as it can get busy during peak season.
If you have a little longer in Cordoba, then just outside the city is another beautiful UNESCO site call Medina Azahara. You’ll either have to hire a car or take a taxi for the 8km ride out of the city to see this as there is no public transport.
Check out our City Guide To San Sebastian
Palau de la Música Catalana and Hospital de Sant Pau, Barcelona
By Baia Dzagnidze from Red Fedora Diary. Follow Baia on Instagram.
Barcelona is known for its breathtaking architectural gems scattered all across the city. Whether you are visiting Spain in winter or summer, exploring these buildings should be on the list of any traveler.
Palau de la Música Catalana and Hospital de Sant Pau in Barcelona are no exception when it comes to intricate and meticulous design. Enlisted together under UNESCO World Heritage Sites, both were created by world-famous art nouveau architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner.
Palau de la Música Catalana is one of the most magnificent concert halls to visit. Constructed in the first decade of the 20th century for Catalonia’s choral society, every room of the concert hall is mesmerizing. To understand how Montaner built it, take a guided tour that tells every detail of the construction and the idea behind it. The tour takes you to the main concert hall and the balcony, making it a much better option than taking a self-guided tour.
The former Hospital de Sant Pau is another magnificent building located in the El Guinardo neighborhood. Built between 1901-30, it features the signature design of the Montaner, very similar to the Palau de la Música Catalana, and functioned as a hospital until 2009. Now, it’s a museum complex encompassing 26 buildings showcasing the history of the hospital and how the patient rooms looked.
Even though it was constructed in the 20th century, the hospital’s origin dates back to the start of the 15th century when six smaller institutions merged into one.
In 2003, a new hospital was constructed next to it, and Sant Pau Hospital stopped working as a clinic.
Routes of Santiago de Compostela
The Routes of Santiago de Compostela are a unique UNESCO world heritage site in Spain. The trail system is one of only two UNESCO World Heritage pilgrimage sites in the world. The Routes of Santiago de Compostela are composed of the Camino Frances (the French way) and the Northern Spain traditional pilgrimage routes. The four Christian pilgrimage trails all join at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia. For eleven thousand years, pilgrims have journeyed to Santiago de Compostela to visit the apostle’s shrine, Saint James the Greater. The Camino de Santiago (French Way), starting in the Pyrenees, is also known as the Way of Saint James and covers 738 km. The UNESCO site includes cathedrals, churches, hospitals, hostels, monasteries, and bridges that have been built to support the pilgrimages.
People of all social classes come from all over the world to follow the Routes of Santiago de Compostela. Many are on a personal spiritual journey as well as the physical hike. The age-old cultural exchange that spread communication across northern Spain is still evident in the conversations among the people walking the trail.
A typical day for a contemporary pilgrim begins early by packing their humble belongings for the day’s hike. The hiking trail winds through pasturelands and ancient villages on mostly pavement. The only constant is the ubiquitous yellow scallop shell trail markings. By late afternoon, walkers find a bunk in an Albergue to sleep for the night. A simple 3-course pilgrim meal is served at most Albergues or a nearby restaurant for the budget hiker. For pilgrims with more money to spend, more lavish accommodations and restaurants can be found along the routes.
Seville Cathedral, Spain
During a visit to Seville, a top place to visit is the majestic Cathedral. As one of the world’s largest Gothic churches, it immediately impresses from afar and is sure to leave you speechless when you get close and discover the elaborate details in every corner.
The building enraptures not only for the beauty and grandeur of its construction but also for its interesting history. Initially, on the site, a sizeable Muslim mosque was built in the late 12th century, which was converted a short time later in 1248, after the Spanish returned in conquest, for Christian use. After a couple of centuries, the building was demolished, and construction began of the current Cathedral we know today.
A complete visit takes a couple of hours, depending on individual interest. Be sure to admire the elaborate doors, the magnificent altar, the countless chapels, the monument-tomb to Christopher Columbus, and the Patio de los Naranjas (orange garden).
The Cathedral also leads to the Giralda (originally born as a minaret), which is a bell tower for the Cathedral despite being independent. The top has a beautiful view of the city and is not too hard to climb since there are no stairs, but rather 34 ramps built originally to allow reaching the top on horseback.
Read about our City Guide To Valencia
If you would like, you can get a complete UNESCO World Heritage Site list on their website. The website also includes its UNESCO World Heritage sites map to know exactly where each site is located.
Is there a page that has the UNESCO World Heritage listing for all countries?
Yes, you can find all of them on the WHC website.
What was the 1st UNESCO World Heritage Site?
It is hard to say precisely which place was first on the list. In 1979, the very first year of the list, the following areas became listed:
- Aachen Cathedral (Germany)
- City of Quito (Ecuador)
- Galápagos Islands (Ecuador)
- Historic Centre of Kraków (Poland)
- Island of Gorée (Senegal)
- L’Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site (Canada)
- Mesa Verde National Park (United States of America)
- Nahanni National Park (Canada)
- Rock-Hewn Churches, Lalibela (Ethiopia)
- Simien National Park (Ethiopia)
- Wieliczka and Bochnia Royal Salt Mines (Poland)
- Yellowstone National Park (United States of America)
Where can I find a complete list, UNESCO World Heritage Sites?
You can find all of them on the WHC website.
Is there a map of UNESCO World Heritage Sites?
Yes, the WHC website has a map of all the locations across all countries.
Are there specific World Heritage Cities Spain has that are the best to visit?
Cordoba has 4 UNESCO world heritage sites. However, there are also other cities like Tarragona, which have several places listed as one.
How many Spain Historical Sites Can I visit?
There are 48 UNESCO sites; however, there are thousands of other historical sites throughout the country.
Of all the UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Spain has how many?
Spain has 48. It is third in the world after Italy and China, which both have 55.
What is the UNESCO World Heritage Site Criteria?
To be deemed a World Heritage site, the location must be of Outstanding Universal Value, demonstrating international significance; it must “transcend national boundaries and be of common importance for present and future generations of all humanity.”
What does the UNESCO World Heritage Site logo look like?
According to the WHC website, the logo was “designed by Belgian artist Michel Olyff; it was adopted as the official emblem of the World Heritage Convention in 1978. While the central square symbolizes the results of human skill and inspiration, the circle celebrates the gifts of nature. The emblem is round, like the world, a symbol of global protection for the heritage of all humankind”.
What is the UNESCO World Heritage Site meaning?
“United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. World Heritage Sites are designated by UNESCO for having cultural, historical, scientific or other forms of significance”.
How many World Heritage Sites are there?
There are 1,121 World Heritage Sites. Of them, 213 are natural, 869 are cultural, and 39 are mixed properties.