When it comes to a continent as beautiful and diverse as Europe, deciding which landmarks to add to your itinerary can be a daunting task. It always helps to do some research before you set out with a backpack and Eurail pass, and luckily, some of that research has already been done for you by UNESCO.
This United Nations agency chooses towns, national parks, and architectural wonders around the world that are invaluable to humanity, and they have designated more than 400 heritage sites in Europe alone. We recommend you start with these 20 beautiful destinations, from Bavarian churches to Arctic fjords and everything in between.
Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia
What it is: A forest reserve in central Croatia known for its terraced lakes, waterfalls, caves, and limestone canyons—and under threat from selfie-taking tourists.
Red Square of Moscow, Russia
What it is: A city square that sits directly east of the Kremlin (official residence of the President of Russia). It features such beautiful buildings as St. Basil’s Basilica and State Historical Museum.
What it is: A remarkably intact settlement of 45 buildings in Ružomberok (in central Slovakia), with records dating back to the late 13th century. The town reflects the traditional features of a central European village, complete with log cabins, stables with haylofts, and wooden bell tower.
Rila Monastery, Bulgaria
What it is: The largest and most famous Eastern Orthodox monastery in Bulgaria, founded in the 10th century and rebuild in the mid-1800s.
What it is: A Gothic-style abbey built between the 11th and 16th centuries, perched on an islet exposed to dramatic tides in northwestern Normandy.
Monastery of Alcobaça, Portugal
What it is: A Roman Catholic church located north of Lisbon in the town of Alcobaça, founded in the 12th century by King Alfonso I. It represents the arrival of early Gothic style in Portugal.
Budapest (Banks of the Danube, the Buda Castle Quarter, and Andrássy Avenue), Hungary
What it is: The central stretch of the city illustrates great periods of Hungarian history via stunning architecture, including such masterpieces as the Parliament (pictured), Opera House, the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, and the Market Hall.
Churches of Peace in Jawor and Świdnica, Poland
What it is: Constructed within one year after the Peace of Westphalia (treaties ending the Thirty Years’ War in 1648), these churches—the largest timber-framed religious buildings in Europe—were built by Lutherans in the Roman Catholic parts of Silesia, Poland.
Urnes Stave Church, Norway
What it is: An outstanding example of traditional Scandinavian wooden architecture, standing in the beautiful county of Sogn og Fjordane in western Norway.
Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland
What it is: A studded coast made up of about 40,000 polygonal basalt columns, the result of ancient volcanic activity.
Pont du Gard (Roman Aqueduct), France
What it is: An ancient Roman aqueduct that crosses the Gardon River in southern France. It carries water 31 miles to Nîmes and stand 160 feet high on three levels, making it a technical—as well as artistic—masterpiece.
Pilgrimage Church of Wies, Germany
What it is: A Bavarian Rococo church preserved in a beautiful Alpine valley, about 50 miles southwest of Munich.
West Norwegian Fjords, Norway
What it is: Situated in southwestern Norway, Geirangerfjord and Nærøyfjord (pictured) are among the world’s longest and deepest fjords. Their beautiful landscapes feature numerous waterfalls, glacial lakes, and forests.
Vatican City, Holy See
What it is: One of the most sacred places in Christendom, ruled by the Pope. The Vatican City houses many artistic and architectural masterpieces like St. Peter’s Basilica, the Sistine Chapel, and the Vatican Museums.
Millenary Benedictine Abbey of Pannonhalma, Hungary
What it is: A monastic community and one of the oldest historical monuments in Hungary, founded in 996.
Pirin National Park, Bulgaria
What it is: A 154-square-mile national park in the Pirin Mountains in southwest Bulgaria, covered by alpine meadows, glacial lakes, coniferous forests, and two designated ski areas.
La Grand-Place, Brussels, Belgium
What it is: The central square of Brussels, with homogeneous, architecturally opulent buildings dating from the late 17th century.
Old City of Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina
What it is: A historic city in southern Bosnia and Herzegovina situated on the Neretva River. The town is well-known for its Old Bridge, built in the 16th century and considered as one of the greatest architectural achievements in the Ottoman-controlled Balkans.
Ilulissat Icefjord, Denmark
What it is: A fjord in western Greenland, 155 miles north of the Arctic Circle. It includes Sermeq Kujalleq, one of the most active glaciers in the world.
Palau de la Música Catalana, Barcelona, Spain
What it is: A famous music hall, and one of the finest examples of Catalan modernista style—think rich details, floral motifs, and curved lines—by art nouveau architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner (along with the city’s Hospital de Sant Pau).