10 group travel ideas: World Heritage Sites

Date Posted: 19/03/2013

Taj Mahal, India

Pictured: The Taj Mahal in India, where groups can take a self-guided or expert led tour.

With nearly 1,000 UNESCO World Heritage Sites across the globe, there’s plenty of choice for group travel organisers looking to book an adventure to a destination which guarantees beautiful scenery, cultural significance and historical insight.

Look no further than our ten of the best UNESCO sites, which boast a fantastic experience for a group trip or holiday. 

1. Taj Mahal, India

The Taj Mahal in India became one of the UNESCO sites in 1983. Construction of the Taj began in 1631 and it took 22 years for 22,000 craftsmen to complete the complex. It was never intended as a palace for the living, but as a mausoleum for Mumtaz Mahal, the wife of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan.

A mosque also sits on the site, as does a museum and many tourists will go in the cooler months of October, November and February to get the most out of their visit. Grounds are open weekdays, except for Friday, and traffic is not allowed near the complex so group travel organisers can arrange to walk or catch an electric bus to the site.

Handheld audio guides and maps are available for visitors preferring a self-guided tour at the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort. Be aware that for security reasons you’re only allowed to carry five items around per person inside the Taj Mahal (e.g. water, cameras and mobile phones.)

2. Historic Centre of St Petersburg, Russia

St Petersburg is Russia's second-largest city after Moscow, and home to numerous canals and more than 400 bridges. The unchanged 18th and 19th century architecture of the city makes it an attractive holiday destination, and varying Baroque and neoclassical styles can be seen all over the city.

St Petersburg has an abundance of museums, 2,000 libraries, more than 80 theatres, 45 galleries and exhibition halls, and 62 cinemas. Don’t miss out on city highlights, including Peter and Paul’s Fortress, (the first building in St Petersburg), and Winter Palace which is a part of the Hermitage Museum where you can opt for a guided tour which can be tailored to specific interests.

The Basilica of St Peter in St. Petersburg in Russia

Pictured: Explore the historic site of the Vatican City in Rome.

3. Carcassonne, France

Carcassonne is a fortified French town in the south of France and was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1997.

It is divided into two parts, the fortified La Cite at Carcassonne and the more expansive lower city, known as the Bastide Saint Louis. Carcassonne is a restored mediaeval walled city on a hill by the Aude river, and the fairy-tale collection of drawbridges, towers and atmospheric cobbled streets is reputedly the inspiration for Walt Disney’s The Sleeping Beauty.

One of the highlights of Carcassonne is the Château Comtal, which is the stronghold of the upper town dating from the 12th century with 31 towers. There are guided group tours of the château which take in sections of the walls and the amphitheatre.

4. Drottningholm Theatre, Palace and Chinese Pavilion, Sweden

Drottningholm Theatre, Palace and Chinese Pavilion offers visitors a castle, perfectly preserved theatre (built in 1766), Chinese pavilion and gardens, and is a great example of an 18th century north European royal residence inspired by the Palace of Versailles.

The palace is the private residence of the Swedish royal family, and stands as a popular tourist attraction to groups holidaying in Europe. The Drottningholm Palace Theatre has a growing international reputation as a summer opera festival theatre. The Chinese pavilion makes up the trio of royal attractions and offers groups what is reportedly one of Europe’s best examples of rococo furnishings with chinoiserie, painting a picture of relations between Asia and Europe 300 years ago. Tour with a guide or on your own.

5. Vatican City, Italy

Situated in Rome, Vatican City is a popular destination for tourists, religious or otherwise. Standing as a landlocked city-state, Vatican City is also the smallest independent state in the world by both area and population.

The Great Wall of China

Pictured: The Great Wall of China is an iconic tourist stop for visitors.

Highlights of a group trip to the city include the Basilica of St. Peter, Saint Peter's Square, the Sistine Chapel, and the Raphael Rooms. You can also opt to visit the Vatican Museums which house 22 separate collections ranging from Etruscan and Egyptian art to maps and modern religious art, offering you an experience not to be missed. 

6. The Great Wall of China

Renowned for its appearances on television and in films, the Great Wall of China is an iconic tourist stop for visitors. Built along an east-to-west line across the historical northern borders of China, the wall was intended to protect the Chinese empire against intrusions from enemies.

It has been around in various forms for more than 2,000 years and stretches from Shangaiguan on the Yellow Sea, to the Gobi Desert, around 4,100 miles away. Walking groups may be interested in climbing the 1,000 steps at Badaling (90 minutes from Beijing), on the way to a watchtower 800-metres above sea level. Badaling itself is a hive of tourist activity where you can buy everything from Chinese jackets to miniature terracotta warriors.

Other notable features of the wall include the West Pass of Jiayuguan, the Pass of Shanhaiguan near the eastern edges of the Great Wall, plus see part of the wall which appears to be silver, 25 kilometres west of the Liao Tian Ling.

7. Komodo National Park, Indonesia

The Komodo National Park is made up of three larger islands; Komodo, Padar and Rinca, and 26 smaller ones. The national park was founded in 1980 and later declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site to protect the Komodo dragons that live there.

Komodo National Park is of interest to scientists; the volcanic islands are inhabited by around 5,700 of the world’s largest lizards which don’t exist anywhere else on the globe. A group holiday to the archipelago can explore the islands, and partake in scuba diving which is popular due to the park’s high marine biodiversity.

Greater Blue Mountains, Australia

Pictured: Tour the Greater Blue Mountains in Australia on foot, bicycle or even on a segaway.

8. Grand Canyon National Park, USA

Grand Canyon National Park is the United States' 15tholdest national park. Named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979, the park is located in Arizona and close to Las Vegas.

The park's central feature is the Grand Canyon, which is a gorge of the Colorado river. The Grand Canyon Village is located at the north end of the park, and is a full-service community, offering fuel, food and souvenirs, and access to trails and guided tours and talks for walking groups.

Accommodation is available along the south rim at two locations for those looking for an extended stay, and daring visitors may be interested in experiencing a private canyon flyovers by helicopters or small airplanes.

9. Angkor Archaeological Park, Cambodia

For group travel organisers looking for an adventure further afield, why not head to Cambodia and visit Angkor Archaeological Park?

Angkor is reportedly one of the most important archaeological sites in south-east Asia, and contains the magnificent remains of the different capitals of the Khmer Empire, from the 9th to the 15th century.

Highlights include the famous Temple of Angkor Wat and, the Bayon Temple at Angkor Thom where you can see sculptural decorations. Groups can opt for guided tours which visit two or three of the more popular temples, or you can hire cars, motorbikes, tuk-tuks and bicycles to take your own off-road tour to see more hidden treasures of the park. Helicopter flights are also available.

10. Greater Blue Mountains, Australia

The Greater Blue Mountains is an area in Australia densely populated by oil bearing Eucalyptus trees which produces a blue haze, hence the name, and was added to the World Heritage List in 2000.

More than 400 different kinds of animals live within the rugged gorges and tablelands of the Blue Mountains. These include threatened or rare species of conservation significance, such as the spotted-tailed quoll, the koala, the yellow-bellied glider, as well as rare reptiles including the green and golden bell frog and the Blue Mountains water skink.

You will find a multitude of activities to enjoy while exploring the area, from segway tours to cycle trails and guided tours, and the Featherdale Wildlife Park is not to be missed as visitors can have an encounter with a koala or a kangaroo.

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