Bath, England, is among the great spa towns of Europe that were added to the 2021 UNESCO World Heritage List.

Photo by Shutterstock

The recent announcement of 33 newly inscribed UNESCO World Heritage sites is larger than usual because it covers two years, 2020 and 2021. (The committee that selects the sites did not meet in 2020 because of the pandemic.) They join a list of more than 1,000 natural and cultural sites around the globe. Culture, especially modern—rather than nature—rules in these choices.

Recognition by UNESCO means the landmark is of “outstanding universal value.” It also means the site can obtain funds and advice from UNESCO to help maintain it. Both types of aid may be necessary because the new status frequently means an increase in tourist visits, sometimes too many, especially when a site has the dubious distinction of being “Instagrammable.”

While the pandemic continues to make some of these sites off limits, here is a sampling of places you may want to include in your future travel plans.

Church of Atlántida, Uruguay

Completed in 1960, the modernist Church of Atlántida features undulating walls and a roof of double-curved vaults.

Photo by Javier Villasuso/CPCN, Getty Foundation via UNESCO

Uruguay may not be top of mind for many travelers, but modern architecture fans will be keen to visit this remarkable building. Innovative engineer Eladio Dieste used humble bricks in a surprisingly sophisticated way. Completed in 1960, the church features undulating walls and a roof of double-curved vaults. The cylindrical bell tower has openwork masonry; an oculus lights the underground baptistery. The church is a striking example of what imagination can do with a very modest budget.

More on Uruguay: This Small Uruguayan Town Is the Next Marfa

The Great Spa Towns of Europe

Vichy, France, is among several towns in Europe that were developed around natural mineral water springs.

Photo by Shutterstock

This designation encompasses 11 towns in 7 countries, so you’re sure to find several worth exploring the next time you’re in Europe. They include the City of Bath (U.K.), Vichy in France, three spa towns each in Czechia and Germany, and the eponymous Spa in Belgium, long known for its healing thermal waters. All of them feature natural mineral water springs and served as prototypes of today’s luxe international wellness resorts.

More on natural spas: 11 of the World’s Dreamiest, Steamiest Hot Springs

Sítio Roberto Burle Marx, Brazil

Just outside of Rio de Janeiro is a fantastical world of landscape architecture design.

Photo by Oscar Liberal/Iphan/SRBM via UNESCO

Landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx developed this garden over four decades, starting in 1949, at his home. It includes some 3,500 species of tropical plants in dramatic, colorful arrangements. An on-site museum displays Burle Marx’s arts and crafts collection. U.S. landscape designer Richard Hartlage sums up his work as “a painter working in landscape.” The 100-acre garden is about a 90-minute drive west of Rio de Janeiro.

More on Rio de Janeiro: Embracing the Unknown in Rio de Janeiro

Mathildenhöhe, Darmstadt, Germany

At Mathildenhöhe, you’ll find a chapel, wedding tower, pergola, fountain, and artists’ studios and houses.

Photo by Shutterstock

This artists’ colony launched at the end of the 19th century began as a center for innovation in art and architecture. More than a dozen remaining experimental buildings and gardens include a chapel, wedding tower, pergola, fountain, and artists’ studios and houses, which were displayed during international exhibits in the years leading up to World War I. One former house/studio is now the Artists’ Colony Museum, which shows work by the 23 residents active here from 1899 to 1914. A must-see for aficionados of art nouveau, the Vienna Secession, and the arts and crafts movement, the property is a short drive from Frankfurt.

Plan a trip with AFAR’s Germany travel guide

Trans-Iranian Railway

The Trans-Iranian Railway crosses two mountain ranges to connect the Caspian Sea with the Persian Gulf.

Photo by Hossein Javadi via UNESCO

You’ve no doubt heard of the Trans-Siberian Railway. Although not a UNESCO World Heritage site, it is a good way to visit many such sites in Russia. Iran’s trans-national railway is shorter and more recent—and it runs north to south, not east to west—but represents an impressive engineering feat. Crossing two mountain ranges to connect the Caspian Sea with the Persian Gulf required the building of hundreds of bridges and tunnels between 1927 and 1938. Horseshoe curves and 11 spiral tunnels were constructed to handle the many steep inclines.

More on Iran: 15 Photos That Show What It’s Really Like to Live in Iran

Here is the complete 2021 list of UNESCO’s newly designated World Heritage sites, by region:


Sudanese Style Mosques in Northern Ivory Coast Ivindo National Park, Gabon


Quanzhou: Emporium of the World in Song-Yuan China Jomon Prehistoric Sites in Northern Japan Amami-Oshima Island, Tokunoshima Island, Northern part of Okinawa Island, and Iriomote Island, Japan Getbol, Korean Tidal Flats, South Korea Kaeng Krachan Forest Complex, Thailand Dholavira: a Harappan City, India Kakatiya Rudreshwara (Ramappa) Temple, Telangana, India


Colonies of Benevolence, Belgium/Netherlands Cordouan Lighthouse, France Nice, Winter Resort Town of the Riviera, France Mathildenhöhe Darmstadt, Germany Frontiers of the Roman Empire—The Lower German Lines, Germany/the Netherlands ShUM Sites of Speyer, Worms and Mainz, Germany The Porticoes of Bologna, Italy The Works of Jože Plečnik in Ljubljana—Human Centered Urban Design, Slovenia The Slate Landscape of Northwest Wales, United Kingdom Petroglyphs of Lake Onega and the White Sea, Russia Padua’s Fourteenth-Century Fresco Cycles, Italy Paseo del Prado and Buen Retiro, a landscape of Arts and Sciences, Spain Roșia Montană Mining Landscape, Romania The Great Spa Towns of Europe, Austria, Belgium, Czechia, France, Germany, Italy, United Kingdom Colchic Rainforests and Wetlands, Georgia

Middle East

As-Salt—the Place of Tolerance and Urban Hospitality, Jordan Trans-Iranian Railway, Iran Cultural Landscape of Hawraman/Uramanat, Iran Ḥimā Cultural Area, Saudia Arabia Arslantepe Mound, Turkey

South America

Settlement and Artificial Mummification of the Chinchorro Culture in the Arica and Parinacota Region, Chile Sítio Roberto Burle Marx, Brazil Chankillo Archaeoastronomical Complex, Peru The Work of Engineer Eladio Dieste: Church of Atlántida, Uruguay

>> Next: 10 Extra-Special UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Pat Tompkins Pat Tompkins has written for AFAR about books, art, UNESCO World Heritage sites, and other topics.