The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage List shows a shared global commitment to preserve the world’s most important natural and cultural sites. These 1,121 sites — and how they are cared for — represent human legacies, current lives and what is passed on to future generations.
UNESCO World Heritage Sites range from iconic national parks to historically significant structures, all with something special to share with visitors. Groups will love these five itinerary-worthy sites.
Statue of Liberty
New York City
The Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World, as it is formally known, is a masterpiece of colossal statuary.
Dedicated in 1886, the statue stands on Liberty Island at the entrance to New York Harbor.
The statue was presented by France to affirm the historical alliance between the two nations. It was financed by international subscription in recognition of the establishment of the principles of freedom and democracy by the United States of America’s Declaration of Independence, which the statue holds in her left hand. “The Statue also soon became and has endured as a symbol of the migration of people from many countries into the United States in the late 19th and the early 20th centuries,” according to UNESCO. “She endures as a highly potent symbol — inspiring contemplation, debate and protest — of ideals such as liberty, peace, human rights, abolition of slavery, democracy and opportunity.”
Liberty Island and the Statue of Liberty Museum have partially reopened. The statue’s 3,600-pound original torch is the centerpiece of the museum, which celebrates the Statue of Liberty’s history, influence and legacy in the world. A replica of the original torch was installed onto the statue in 1985.
Statue Cruises is the only authorized official provider of tickets and tours of the Statue of Liberty National Monument and Ellis Island.
The 20th-Century Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright
Arizona, California, Illinois, Pennsylvania, New York and Wisconsin
This UNESCO World Heritage Site includes eight buildings designed by the American architect from 1905 to 1959. These buildings illustrate a full range of ways in which Wright’s unique approach to architectural design fused form with spirit to influence the course of architecture in North America and beyond.
“The qualities of what is known as ‘Organic Architecture’ developed by Wright, including the open plan, the blurring between exterior and interior, the new uses of materials and technologies and the explicit responses to the suburban and natural settings of the various buildings, have been acknowledged as pivotal in the development of modern architectural design in the 20th century,” reads a UNESCO summary.
On the list: Unity Temple, Oak Park, Illinois; Frederick C. Robie House, Chicago, Illinois; Taliesin, Spring Green, Wisconsin; Hollyhock House, Los Angeles, California; Fallingwater, Mill Run, Pennsylvania; Herbert and Katherine Jacobs House, Madison, Wisconsin; Taliesin West, Scottsdale, Arizona; and Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York City.
“This UNESCO World Heritage inscription places Frank Lloyd Wright’s career achievement in architecture on the international stage of modernism,” said Celeste Adams, president and CEO of the Chicago-based Frank Lloyd Wright Trust. “We are honored to share his great cultural heritage here in the Chicago area with a growing international audience.”
Monticello and the University of Virginia
Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, served as the third president of the United States. He was also a talented architect of neoclassical buildings. Jefferson designed Monticello, his plantation home, and his ideal “academical village,” which is still the heart of the University of Virginia.
According to UNESCO, Jefferson’s use of an architectural vocabulary based upon classical antiquity symbolizes both the aspirations of the new American republic as the inheritor of European tradition and the cultural experimentation that could be expected as the country matured.
“The Charlottesville area’s UNESCO World Heritage sites of Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello and the University of Virginia are a huge draw for visitors,” said Brantley Ussery, director of marketing and public relations for Charlottesville Albemarle Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Groups should plan on spending three to four hours on the grounds of Monticello, which will include a guided house tour, time to walk the gardens and explore the visitor center. The University of Virginia’s centerpiece is the Rotunda, but visitors should also allot time to walk The Lawn and the newly-unveiled Memorial to Enslaved Laborers for a more complete story of the university’s history.”
Mammoth Cave, Kentucky
A park on two levels, Mammoth Cave is home to the longest known cave system in the world at 412 miles.
“The park offers guided tours year-round as well as ranger-led surface talks, walks and campfire programs during the spring, summer and fall,” said Molly Schroer, public information officer at the Mammoth Cave. “These guided experiences are a great way to learn about the park and ask questions from the park experts!”
In addition to its extensive cave system, Mammoth Cave earned its title as a UNESCO site due to its natural evolutionary and human history, and rich wildlife.
Schroer says there are a number of commercial operators who provide group experiences at the park, including canoe and kayak rentals or even horseback riding. These outfitters include Cave Country Canoe, Green River Canoeing and Adventures of Mammoth Cave.
Cave tours led by park officials range in difficulty and subject matter.
The Historic Tour and the Frozen Niagara Tour are well-loved experiences, allowing visitors to see the difference between the large trunk passages.
On the Broadway Tour — an easier excursion — groups will hike to the cave’s famous entrance and pass by notable sites like the Rotunda and the Tuberculosis Huts. Schroer suggests groups book visits in advance, especially during the busy seasons of spring, summer and fall.
Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park
Alberta, Canada; and West Glacier, Montana
In 1932, Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta was combined with Glacier National Park in Montana to create the world’s first International Peace Park. Together, the two make up one UNESCO site home to majestic mountains, pristine lakes, and abundant flora and fauna.
Located in Alberta’s southwest corner, Waterton is best explored with a guided excursion. Tamarack Outdoor Adventures boasts experienced local guides who will discuss the history of the park through guided hikes, interpretive walks and outdoor education services.
Other companies offering experiences in Waterton include Dark Sky Guides and Waterton Shoreline Cruises.
“Waterton is known for its legendary hiking but what makes it special is the people,” said Shameer Suleman, vice president of marketing at Waterton Tourism. “Waterton is a community built on generations of locally owned and operated business with an abundance of heart and passion.”
Explore Glacier National Park and nearby Blackfeet Reservation with Glacier Sun Tours. Choose from half-day, full-day or custom tour options — all led by local Blackfeet guides.
Looking for adrenaline pumping adventures? Glacier Guides and Montana Rafts offers whitewater rafting in the park, with private groups options.
Whether on a boat tour floating down Lake McDonald in Glacier or on a guided horseback riding trip with Alpine Stables in Waterton Lakes, adventurers will see wildflowers, white peaks, and a few of the hundreds of species of animals that call the UNESCO site home.
While the combination of the two parks makes one UNESCO site, groups will still need their passports to explore both in one trip.