Top 20 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Asia

The massive continent mixed with diverse people, cultures, and massive landscapes boasts of some of the earliest civilizations. Asia has a number of great historical places that are culturally highly significant and recognized by UNESCO. From the Great Wall of China to the Angkor in Cambodia and everything in between – these are the Top 20 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Asia among the rest of them.

1. Temple of Heaven, China

Dating back to the 14th century constructed during the Ming Empire The 3 tired circular building of The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests is situated at the north end of the compound on a tri-level plinth of marble stones. Supported by four dragon pillars, this wooden structure resembles the styles of royal ancient palace from the inside. “temple of heaven” Is situated in the South Eastern parts of the city of Beijing. This UNESCO World Heritage site in Asia is one of the finals pieces of ancient architecture artistry.

It is constructed across sprawling 2.76 Square kilometers and has three name structures constructed in a philosophical order. the three main structures are listed here:

  • Hall of Prayer
  • Imperial Vault of Heaven
  • Circular Mound Altar

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2. Great Wall of China

This collection of massive walls and structures that have the name Great Wall of China are as old as the fifth century and were maintained and redone through the sixteenth century. This UNESCO World Heritage Site took centuries to construct and was done so in order to protect against invasions from barbarians. Now most of it is ruined and some has disappeared it was accredited in the year 1978 by UNESCO. This massive groups of structures is disputed even today if it can be seen from space or not, but it still remains a famous tourist attraction in the world.

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3. Golden Temple of Dambulla, Sri Lanka

This UNESCO World Heritage Site in Sri Lanka comprises of 157 statues of Buddha and various intricate paintings on the interiors. It showcases the artistry and talent of the earlier days as in the Dabbulla Temple there are 5 caves and some dating back to 1st century BC or even to prehistoric times as it is believed. King Valagamba of Anuradhapuram, is traditionally believed to have made these caves into temples as to thank the Gods as he was in exile for 15 years. Prehistorically, it is also believed, that they were the burial place as skeletons as old as 2700 years are said to be found there. There are intricate paintings and art work inside the caves. The top of the temple offers panoramic views and give spiritual sense as much as the golden insides of the UNESCO World Heritage Site in Asia.

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4. Mount Fuji, Japan

The famous Mount Fuji situated South west of Tokyo, Japan is not only the highest mountain in the country but is famous also for the active volcanic conditions. This snow capped mountain is shaped like a cone is seen from the capital city with clear climate. Mount Fuji along with Mount Haku and Mount Tate form the traditionally 3 Sacred Mountains in Japan. Standing at 10,990 feet, this mountain peak is also seen in wood block prints, and historic traditional Japanese art work. The UNESCO World Heritage Site erupted only 300 years ago and is of great “scientific importance, cultural and educational value of global significance.”

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5. Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

This is one of the most amazing places that is rich and abundant in nature in fullest life. Ha Long Bay is a picturesque region of Vietnamese people that is popular with thousands of tourists each year. The biodiversity in the ecosystem with innumerable living creatures – various species of flora and fauna also represents the great history and culture of the country. Situated in West of Gulf of Tonkin in the South East bay of Bai Tu Long and south Western bay of Ha Long with formations of rock, stone and caves. The Ha Long island Bay has limestone islands and Shale islands with geological age of 250 – 280 million years. There are over 1500 small and big islands in this natural wonder which is one of the top UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Asia.

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6. Angkor Watt, Cambodia

This “City of Temples” known as Angkor Wat is one of the top tourist attractions in Cambodia. This vast collection of religious structures is one of the biggest group of temples in the world. It was accredited as UNESCO World Heritage Site in the year 1992 under ‘Culture’. Situated in the province of Siem Reap, Angkor, it spreads across a whopping 162 hectares. It is said that this massive temple complex or region was originally a Hindu Temple that was changed into a Buddhist Temple post the twelfth century. This Angkor Wat in Cambodia is famed as one of the finest architectural style during the Khmer Empire.

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7. Kathmandu Valley, Nepal

The Kathmandu Valley in Nepal is home to a whopping seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites in and around the famous place that are accredited upon their cultural value. Here are the seven of them:

7.1. Kathmandu Durbar Square

Situated in Kathmandu Central, it is a famous tourist place with specific timings. This ancient palace has a number of Chowks, temples including a nine storey tower, museums, and statues including a massive Hanuman structure inside and Narsimha sculpture at the entrance. These statues and other stone inscriptions in 15 languages belong to seventeenth century are found here. It served many Kings and dynasties and there are various ceremonies that still take place here.

7.2. Bhaktapur Durbar Square

This Durbar Square lies on the valley’s eastern side and is regarded as keeper of ancient customs and culture of Nepal without Western influence. It is popularly called Bhadgaon and Khwopa and attracts many tourists due to attractive art and talented craftsmanship. There are also hotels for such tourists. There are several monuments each representing various religious, cultures, customs and medieval times. Some include Malla Palace with 55 windows, Statue of King Bhupatindra, Lion Gate and Golden Gate, and Nyatapola Temple.

7.3. Patan Durbar Square

This is spread across 459 hectares by the River Bagmati, south east of Kathmandu Valley and surrounded by 4 Stupas of third century BC constructed by Emperor Ashoka. Also known as Lalitpur, the sub metro city has 22 wards and the finest art and crafts of traditional heritage can be found here. There are many attractions mostly temples including the Hiranya Varna Mahavihar or Golden Temple.

7.4. Swayambhunath

Swayambhunath is one of the holiest places for Buddhists that offers a panoramic view of the complete Kathmandu Valley. It was believed to be first an island and later made into a Stupa with constructions by King Manadeva in 460 and later was renovated in fourteenth century due to getting distorted by Mughal invasions. In the seventeenth century King Pratap Malla also added a staircase to the Stupa and made it more enhanced. Now it is brick and clay with copper gilt as pinnacle and eyes of Buddha adorn the four sides of the spire base.

7.5. Pashupatinath

Pashupatinath is one of the most sacred place for Hindus and strictly permits only Hindus. on the scenic banks of River Bagmati, only 5 kilometers east of city of Kathmandu the Shiva Temple is famous for 4 silver doors and two tiered rooftop.

7.6. Boudhanath

Dating back to the fifty century this city which is situated 8 kilometers east of Kathmandu was founded by King Man Dev. It is a very important place for Tibetan Buddhism and is surrounded by several gompas. This place is famous for housing one of the biggest Stupa in the world that is uniquely constructed on a step octagonal base with alcoves present with Buddha and his teachings.

7.7. Changu Narayan

This temple is situated 15 kilometers distance from Kathmandu near Changu and is dedicated to Lord Vishnu, also called Narayan. Hence the temple is named Changunarayan. The ancient history of Nepal with great architecture and sculptures of 10 incarnations of Vishnu is found here. The place offers picturesque views as the River Manohara flows through the lush plantations.

8. Hiroshima Peace Memorial, Japan

This sturdy structure stands as a great symbol after the horrific destruction caused by the first atomic bomb in Hiroshima back on August 6, 1945. This is also known as Genbaku Dome meaning ‘Atomic Bomb’ Dome and is in the condition ever since the explosion. It spreads across 0.40 ha in Hiroshima urban center and the buffer zone consisting of 42.7 ha is spread around the ruins of the building including the Peace Memorial Park. These skeletal remains are what were left from the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotional Hall (Hiroshima ken Sangyo Shoreikan) built in 1914 after the powerful destroying force of the atomic bomb.

More than the architectural value it is a symbolic structure of the horror and destructive power of weapon made by a humankind. On the other hand, it also reminds mankind to strive for global peace. Now, one of the greatest UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Asia, the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park is a prayer place for the victims of the atomic bomb and for world peace.

9. Kumbhalgarh Fort in Rajasthan, India

Nestled amidst the scenic Aravallis the mighty Kumbhalgarh Fort is known to be the place where the mighty ruler Maharana Pratap was born. It stands at a height of 360 feet and the wall runs for nearly 38 kilometers making it only next to the Great Wall of China. This mighty defense fort with giant gateways has fought many battles. It has also Hindu and Jain temples and also a famous tank for water called Lakhola Tank. There is also another stepped in tank where Army troops would take drinking water from. This tank was later built by Emperor Akbar in the 1500s. There are several visitors to this fort city in Rajasthan and is presently one of the top UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Asia.

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10. Prambanan Temple in Java, Indonesia

Situated close to the famous Buddhist temple called Borobudur Temple in Java, Indonesia, the ancient structure of beauty adds to the heritage of Indonesia. Prambanan temples date back to as early as the ninth century AD with the highest measuring a whopping forty seven meters in height. From the ancient ruins of various other structures there are three that rise above the rest – the Shiva temple, and the other two temples that are smaller in size, one for Lord Brahma, and Vishnu.

After centuries, CA Lons once again found the ancient temple ruins in the year 1733. The Prambanan temples were then taken care of. In 1991 the Prambanan temple was a recognized UNESCO World Heritage Site. Now, it is a culture seekers architectural wonder and a beautiful Hindu temple in Indonesia.

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11. Taj Mahal at Agra, India

Constructed in white marble during the 1600 this most famous mausoleum by the famous Mughal emperor Shah Jehan (1627 – 1658). The Taj Mahal or Crown Palace has earned several titles as the best tomb ever built, Seven Wonders of the World, 7 Wonders in India, a World Heritage Building (1983) and the most visited monument in the world annually. In the year 1983 this marble marvel was accredited with the title UNESCO World Heritage Building.

Inspiration of Taj Mahal

This marble monument is symbolic to the love of the emperor to his dearest wife Mumtaz Mahal who died during child birth of their fourteenth child. He decided to build this monument for her and get buried beside her. The last days of the emperor were spend in a prison in Agra Fort from where he got a good view of the Taj Mahal and he spend his last days admiring his great construction. Tagore correctly described the Taj as “a teardrop on the face of eternity”.

Architecture of Taj Mahal

A then renowned architect lead the construction with masons and talented workers from various parts of the world including Italy, France, Turkey, parts of Asia and even Armenia. The construction of this white marble monument took over 2 decades to complete and includes 30 types of expensive precious and semi-precious stones, ornamental calligraphy on the resting place and the exterior of Taj done mainly with black marble outward slanting pillars so if they ever fall, they will fall outwards.

12. Potala Palace, Tibet

This is one of the finest examples and an epitome of Tibetan Buddhism. This winter residence of His Holiness The Dalai Lama from the 7th century was one of the most important traditional buildings from where administration of the country took place. The Winter Palace is made up of amazing structures that are ancillary complexes with the White Palace and Red Palace seen in the Lhasa Valley central point of Red Mountain. This is one of the highest places built at a height of 3700 meters.

12.1 Jokhang Temple

The Monastery that also built at the same time is an exquisite Buddhist spiritual complex place. The three rich ornamental structures showcase the originality and integration while it is nestled within a captivating backdrop. This is what makes the three collectively one of the top UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Asia.

12.2 Norbulingka

The summer home of the Dalai Lama formerly, is another exquisite structure symbolizing the ancient Tibetan art and architecture. The former summer house of His Holiness the Dalai Lama is called Norbulingka and this was built in the eighteenth century. It gives a panoramic view of the plateau landscape ahead and helps the visitor to see the city of Lhasa.

There is also a place like a treasure house where you can see the authentic traditional Tibetan art and also learn of the history of the place. In addition to the UNESCO World Heritage Site title this Potala Palace has also earned a Guinness Book of World Records title as the highest palace. It is also the top place to visit in the nation and is popular as ‘worlds most beautiful architectural structure’.

13. Groups of Monuments at Hampi, India

The Hampi Group of monuments popularly known as the temple town is situated in the South Western State of Karnataka, India on the scenic banks of the River Tungabadra. This mysterious town has structures and ruins including temples around the village that was once an ancient capital city of the Vijayanagar Empire.

The innumerable stone carvings depict the ancient culture through the stone – cut carvings of elephant chariot, historical stone chariot and the famous site Virupaksha Temple. There is also a massive statue of Ganesh and ‘Musical Pillars Temple’ in the city that was second largest city during the medieval times. This city is spread across 26 square kilometers depicting the life people with initial settlements traced to the first century AD and by the mid 1500, Hampi became one of the richest cities of the world during that time.

The structures and historic ruins is collectively UNESCO world heritage site – Hampi Group of Monuments. Some monuments and sculptures are preserved over time and others have fallen in parts, in the famous heritage tourist site in India. The town is popularly known by three other names and is most famous for the three places here – Vittala Temple, Hampi Bazaar, & Virupaksha Temple.

14. Borobudur Temple, Indonesia

These ancient temple complex grounds in Indonesia is one of the biggest and greatest Buddhist monuments that date back to the eighth / ninth century AD at the time of Syailendra Empire. Situated in the center of the Java islands in the southern part of Java, Indonesia, the UNESCO World Heritage Site accredited in the 1970s consists of a pyramidal base that has 5 concentric square terraces, three circular platforms in the conical shape, and the top monumental Stupa at the top of the three tier construction.

There are over 70 statues of Buddha within the stupas across the circular platforms. The three tiered monumental structure is significant of the three sphere of forms. The Borobudur Temple Compounds in Indonesia is accredited with one of the criterion as “outstanding example of art and architecture of Indonesia between 8th and late 9th century that exerted considerable influence on an architectural revival between the mid-thirteenth and early sixteenth centuries.”

15. Vat Phou, Laos

A picturesque quaint town lying on the banks of the River Mekong makes the surroundings around the Vat Phu a splendid sight. It has a bunch of colonial French buildings and is 10 kilometers from Wat Phou, Laos, the UNESCO World Heritage Site. The temple complex situated on the sacred hillside Phou Kao dates back to the fifth century AD and has ever stood strong. It is said that the fresh water springs from the hilltop of the rock is something that has contributed to preserving of this Shiva temple from prior to the Angkorian times of Khmer rule.

At the ground level of the temple complex are two palatial structures on either side of a stoned walkway like stairs upward leading up to the temple. There are deep rock carvings on stone that showcases the talented craftsmanship. There are more natural huge stones that are directly carved and also an active shrine adding to the attractions of this temple.

16. Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto, Japan

Kyoto is a beautiful city in the world that has the largest number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites globally. These architectural structures and temples are excellent symbols of tradition and culture. Formerly the imperial capital of Japan this place has exquisite complexes, shrines and temples.

This is the extensive list of the 17 Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto, Japan:

16.1. Kiyomizu-Dera Temple

This is a huge sized temple that helps to see over the South Higashiyama district of Kyoto. It is a great visiting site for all ages and all types of travelers as it offers picturesque scenery around.

16.2. Kinkaku-Ji Temple

This temple also called golden pavilion is another amazing UNESCO World Heritage Site in Kyoto and is visited by thousands of tourists making this a crowded place today. So, try visiting in non peak season.

16.3. Ginkaku-ji Temple

Once again, this is another overcrowded place because the beauty of this place attracts thousands of people each year. It has resplendent gardens and scenery around and is best for those seeking peace. It is popularly called Silver Pavilion.

16.4. Ryoan-Ji Temple

This amazing natural beauty attracts crowds especially due to the popular “Zen Garden” that has around fifteen astounding rocks that are spread over massive area of white gravel on this UNESCO World Heritage Site.

16.5. Tenryu-Ji Temple

Situated in the Arashiyama district in the backdrop of the scenic Arashiyama mountains this temple is a great attraction especially for those who would like a peaceful nature walk.

16.6. To-ji Temple

This ancient Buddhist temple has a visible pagoda and pinnacle and is situated southward from Kyoto station. It is also popular for the flea market that is held every month. There are also fine images of Buddhism inside.

16.7. Saiho-Ji Temple

Visitors have a certain procedure to enter or visit this mystical lush garden known as ‘Moss’ garden due to the immense moss over the place. It is also famously called Koke- Dera.

16.8. Nijo-Jo Castle

This place is famous for the sprawling landscape and extensive complex structures here that includes ancillary complexes and the ruins of Honmaru Palace. The Samurai Castle shows the immense power of the rulers who controlled the country for many centuries.

16.9. Nishi Hongan-ji Temple

A finely carved gate of wood marks the entrance with massive outstanding halls. The pure land Buddhist temple is of walking distance from Kyoto station.

16.10. Ninna-ji Temple

The temple is situated amidst massive grounds northwest of the city and is best visited along with Kinkaku-ji Temple and Ryoan-ji temple close by.

16.11. Shimogamo Jinja Shrine

Situated at walking distance from the Kyoto Gosho this huge shrine complex is lined by trees that make their way to the Tadasu No Mori forests close by.

16.12. Enryaku-ji Temple

To reach this temple situated on a high mountain Mt Hiei, northeast of Kyoto, you have to do a it of hiking. It gives an excellent view and is situated at the top at a great height.

16.13. Byodo-in Temple

This is situated almost outside the city in the suburbs of Uji, southeast of Kyoto. It takes time to absorb the beauty of the picturesque place.

16.14. Daugi-ji Benten Do Temple

Situated in the quaint water and lush landscape in suburbs of Diago, east of Kyoto, this is another huge temple that is easily reachable. It is again out of city limits over the other side of Higashiyama mountains.

16.15. Kamigamo Jinja Shrine

This place situated to the northwest of Kyoto will pull the history buffs as there is a long history behind this Shinto Shrine.

16.16. Ujigami Jinja Shrine

The small shrine is situated southeast of the city in the suburbs of Uji. It is accredited as UNESCO World Heritage Site mainly due to the history of Japanese and the role this shrine has taken. This is again a great stop for history buffs for Japanese history and Shinto.

16.17. Kozan-ji Temple

Situated in the picturesque mountain village of Takao surrounded by tall crytomeria or Sugi trees, it is close to the Saimyo-ji and Jingo-ji temples and contains amazing artwork that has great historic significance.

With this we are at the end of the 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites structures of ancient Kyoto.

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