23 breathtaking UNESCO World Heritage destinations in the U.S. and why you should visit them

Most likely, you have been to a UNESCO World Heritage site in the United States without knowing it. Remember that Griswoldian summer vacation to the Grand Canyon? The high school field trip to Independence Hall in Philadelphia? The college tour of the University of Virginia? Congratulations! That’s three in your pocket. But don’t stop now. You can collect all 23, intentionally or accidentally.

For more than 40 years, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and its nearly 200 member states have been preserving, protecting and promoting the most valuable heritage places in the world. At last count, the organization has crowned 1,073 sites in more than 170 countries. Of those, 832 are cultural, 206 are natural and 35 are a mix of both categories.

The chosen ones vary tremendously: The Whale Sanctuary of El Vizcaino in Mexico; the Villages with Fortified Churches in Transylvania; and the Engelsberg Ironworks in Sweden were all part of the class of 1993, for instance. But the diverse sites also meet the convention’s strict criterion of possessing outstanding universal value.

“It’s a beautiful thing — the shared heritage of the world,” said Mechtild Rössler, the Paris-based director of the Division for Heritage and the UNESCO World Heritage Center. “We are transmitting these sites for future generations.”

They’re all breathtaking…


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