It turns out that you don't have to be Indiana Jones or Nicolas Cage in National Treasure to explore a piece of history. In fact, there are tons of amazing historical sites that you can (and should!) go see today, tomorrow, or sometime very soon. Each monument or landmark holds a piece of history and its preservation is a gift that we shouldn't take for granted.
If you are curious about glimpsing the past, then you're in luck, because we've compiled a list of 15 historical places that you need to visit in your lifetime—hopefully sooner rather than later.
The Pyramids at Giza - Outside Cairo, Egypt
You already know what and where these are, right? While we may still not know exactly how they were built, this pyramid complex, made up of three large and three smaller pyramids, as well as the sculpture of the Great Sphinx, have sat at the center of human imagination for centuries. Learn more about Egypt's mysterious history by reading The Pyramids by Miroslav Verner below!
Stonehenge - Salisbury, England
While you can no longer enter inside the stone circle at Stonehenge, you can still get pretty close to one of the world's most famous megalithic structures, located near Salisbury, England. Located in the midst of a large series of prehistoric earthworks, including hundreds of burial mounds, the precise origin and function of Stonehenge remains hotly debated to this day. While you’re up north in England, consider also checking out the henge at Avebury. This massive circle is over 1,000 feet in diameter. In many ways, it’s even more impressive than Stonehenge.
Petra - Jordan
Perhaps best known as the entrance to the resting place of the Holy Grail in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Petra actually has a somewhat uncertain history, having been carved into the side of a canyon in present-day Jordan. Also called the Rose City, it remains remarkably well-preserved centuries after its initial construction. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and has been named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.
Machu Picchu - Peru
Made famous by countless beautiful photographs, the ruined Incan city of Machu Picchu is located in a relatively inhospitable location: the top of a mountain accessible only by train or a four-day hike. Despite this, it is such a popular tourist destination that limitations have recently been placed on how many people can visit at a time, in order to help preserve the incredible ruins.
Angkor Wat - Cambodia
The largest religious monument in the world, the sprawling temple complex of Angkor Wat covers more than 400 acres and was once the heart of the massive capital city of the Khmer Empire. Today, the temple complex is crowded with people once again, though this time it is tour groups coming to explore the splendor of this incredible historic site.
Chichen Itza - Yucatan, Mexico
Having been restored substantially in recent years, the ruins of the Mayan city of Chichen Itza are the second-most visited archaeological site in Mexico. Chichen Itza translates to "at the mouth of the well of Itza," referencing the Itza people who were the dominant lineage in the region. Itza may also refer to the natural sinkholes or cenotes that are nearby, including the famous Cenote Sagrado, also known as the "Well of Sacrifice," where archaeologists believe that the Maya sacrificed people and objects to the rain god Chaac.
Delphi - Mount Parnassus, Greece
Greece and Italy have so many famous ruins that it can be hard to choose from among them. While the go-to locations for most modern day adventurers are places like the Parthenon in Greece or the Colosseum in Rome, Delphi is sometimes forgotten, even though it housed the most famed oracle of the ancient world. Ancient Grecians considered Delphi the center of the world. Just a short hike above the main Delphi temple ruins is the Corycian cave, a place sacred to the Corycian Nymphs as well as the Muses and even Pan.
Hagia Sophia - Istanbul, Turkey
Odds are you've seen it in a movie somewhere, but that's nothing compared to standing before the Hagia Sophia. Originally constructed as a Greek Orthodox basilica, this magnificent structure in modern-day Turkey later became a mosque in the Ottoman Empire and is now a museum, though there have been recent calls to convert it back into a mosque. Hagia Sophia is the quintessential example of Byzantine architecture.
Neuschwanstein Castle - Schwangau, Germany
When you try to picture a fairytale castle, chances are what appears in your mind is something similar to Neuschwanstein Castle. That's not by accident, as the castle actually served as the inspiration for Disneyland's famous Sleeping Beauty Castle. Originally built by King Ludwig II, the castle was first opened to the public just seven weeks after his death in 1886. The picturesque structure is perched on the top of a tall hill in Bavaria, Germany.
Tikal - Guatemala
Like many of the destinations on this list, this Mayan ruin in Guatemala has featured prominently in film, perhaps most notably standing in for part of a Rebel base in Star Wars: A New Hope. It’s also one of the best-preserved Mayan ruins that can be visited by the public.
Wat Phra Si Sanphet - Ayuttaya, Thailand
Once the grandest temple in what was then Thailand's capital city of Ayutthaya, Wat Phra Si Sanphet was largely destroyed by the Burmese in 1767. Today, three distinct Chedis that were part of the original temple structure can still be seen, their bell-shaped design giving the ruin an unmistakable profile. The Chedis were places of prayer and meditation, built atop the burial places of kings. Other foundations and smaller Chedis around the area are also intact.
Colosseum - Rome, Italy
Despite being inactive since the sixth century, the Colosseum continues to be a beacon for spectators from around the world who admire the glorious and impressive monument.
Also known as the Flavian Amphitheater, the Colosseum was built between 70 and 72 CE. After the turbulent reign of Nero, Flavian emperors attempted to restore Senate authority and promote public welfare. Vespasian, founder of the Flavian dynasty, decided to build a new amphitheater on top of where Nero’s Golden House once stood. In 80 CE, the Colosseum was completed—measuring 620 by 513 feet and easily becoming the largest amphitheater in the Roman world. Vespasian’s son, Titus, launched a celebration that included 100 days of games.
For about two centuries, the Colosseum was a public hotspot for gladiatorial fights and other large events. By the 20th century, some two-thirds of the original Colosseum had been destroyed due to weather, natural disasters, neglect, and vandalism. Thankfully, since the late 20th century, a number of restoration efforts have begun, and the Colosseum has regained its status as one of Rome’s major attractions—it receives about seven million annual visitors.
Taj Mahal - Agra, India
The Taj Mahal is considered one of the New7Wonders of the World—and with good reason. There is no denying the beauty of the massive mausoleum/symbol of love.
After the death of his favorite wife, Shah Jahan commissioned this elaborate tomb in her memory. Supposedly, Mumtaz Mahal, on her deathbed, begged her husband to build her the most beautiful tomb ever. The emperor certainly came through–although it took some 20 years to be fully completed.
The Taj Mahal cost the emperor over 30 million rupees (around 800 million modern dollars) and needed over 20,000 workers to complete. Today, both Mumtaz Mahal and her beloved Shah Jahan lay inside the extravagant tomb, which is surrounded by a 300 square meter garden.
Great Wall of China - Beijing, China
One of the world’s most famous landmarks took about a millennia to build, and now it’s one of the world’s most breathtaking views. The Great Wall of China is considered the largest construction project ever undertaken–to this day. The collection of fortifications were made from a series of materials like stone, brick, tamped earth, wood, and more. As early as the seventh century BC, several walls that would become sections of the Great Wall had already been built. They would eventually be joined by Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China.
Later on the Ming dynasty built the most well-known section of the walls, which stretches 5,000 miles. The main purpose of the wall was defense against the nomadic Mongols, who, despite their small population, posed a serious military threat. The wall stands today as a marvel of engineering and triumph of human ingenuity. For more on the Great Wall of China, check out The Great Wall by Julia Lovell below.
These are just a few of the incredible historical sites that tourists and explorers can still visit today. If you have the itch of wanderlust, a thirst for adventure, or simply want to learn more about the fascinating history of human civilization, visit any of these sites or many more around the world.
Featured photo: Wikimedia Commons