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Touring and exploring

Top tips for visiting UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Luke Phillips April 19, 2018

If you're hoping to take in a World Heritage Site on your next trip, here are 10 tips that you should remember for some of the top attractions worldwide....

1. The Taj Mahal

There are no structured opening times for the Taj Mahal so the more unsociable the hour the better your appreciation will be. On a busy day as many as 70,000 visitors will pass through this site. Study this picture however and you will see there are moments when you can capture the mausoleum without the crowds.

The Taj Mahal

We suggest getting there as early as possible to watch the sunrise glinting on the minarets and domes. The winter months may be cooler for visiting the Taj Mahal, but smog is more prevalent at this time of year. Having said that, caught in the right light, even these challenging conditions can make for memorable photos. Get to know the camera app on your smartphone and you could get some amazing shots.

2. Petra

Pack a hearty snack to take with you unless you want to pay a lot of money for refreshments onsite. It sounds obvious, but it’s worth remembering to dress appropriately and cover your legs and arms to avoid getting burned. Not only is this a Muslim country, it’s also an extremely hot environment. Get there as early as possible and you will have Petra to yourself; at least for a little while.

Petra by night

Visit on Monday, Wednesday or Thursday and take the Petra by Night Tour; it’s a moving experience by candlelight, plus you’ll see the site both at night and day.

3. Easter Island

When you visit Ahu Tongariki, the famed row of Moai statues bordering the sea, make sure you position yourself away from the statues to capture them from the distance, rather than up close.

They’re actually set on a raised bank, so unless you’ve carried a set of step ladders from home, it’s impossible to capture the breaking surf behind them. Also, the island is mostly flat, so hire a bicycle. It’s a great way to get around and also inexpensive, too.

4. Angkor Wat

It gets very humid here so dress appropriately. Also, swat up on as much as possible so you know all the stories of the different temples before you go. It will make your experience so much better when you understand what you’re seeing.

Visit during the low season between November–March. It’s less crowded, but the temples are no less enigmatic and mysterious. The wet season June–October will offer fewer crowds too, plus the temples are garlanded in lush greenery. What’s more, it doesn’t rain continually during the rainy season, mostly at night and the early morning.

5. Mount Fuji

Travel by Bullet Train from Tokyo to Osaka and you’ll have a fine view without breaking your journey. Go during the colder seasons and the view of the summit is less obscured by cloud. Climb to the summit here during July and August.

Mt Fuji

But it can still get very chilly at the top so be prepared. If you are intending to climb to the summit, drink lots of water to stave off altitude sickness. The toilets can get very busy here too, so be warned.

6. The Forbidden City

There’s not much shade to be had on a hot day so dress appropriately or you’ll soon tire from walking this gigantic site. Take a hat and a fan. Bring your own food and drinks too. This an extremely large site with only a few designated outlets, which can be expensive.

If you intend to purchase a ticket when you arrive, go early in the morning. The ticket system limits entrance to 80,000 visitors every day, but these can sell fast. Try not to follow the crowds along the central route through the Forbidden City as most visitors do. Of course, it’s an impressive sight, but turning right just inside the gates will take you by quieter, shadier paths to lesser known fascinating museums and exhibitions. 

7. Christ the Redeemer

Check the weather on the day you intend to visit and prepare to be flexible with your plans. Look up from the city below. If the view looks cloudy from the city, obscuring your view of the statue, postpone your visit. Wait until the clouds clear before making the ascent.

Don’t visit during peak season unless you’re particularly determined. The queues to the train will try the patience of a saint. If you have to visit during this time, leave later in the afternoon to avoid the crowds. Take the train rather than travel by road. The views are better. On the train sit on the right side of the carriage going up and the left side travelling down for the finest views.

8. Statue of Liberty

Statue of Liberty

Hop on a Staten Island ferry from the subway at South Ferry – it’s a free ferry ride and unless you want the detailed tour, you get better pictures because you’re viewing it from a distance. Go during June, surprisingly the crowds are thinner, the ferry queues are shorter, and (you guessed it) the weather’s nicer. If you’re not great with boats, view the Statue of Liberty from Battery Park on Lower Manhattan.

9. The Great Wall of China

Five million people visit the wall every year so pick your times accordingly. Visit either in spring (May) or the autumn (September–October) for an opportunity of experiencing the attraction without the crowds.

Dress accordingly. It may be cooler when the sun sets. Make sure you wear your most comfortable walking shoes, too. There are many steep parts to the wall. If you can, try to head for Mutianyu in the Huairou County. The wall here is located 70 miles from Beijing, but it’s also set in tree-clad mountains here and is one of the best-preserved sections.

10. Kyoto

If you really want to spot a geisha, then they usually pass by on the way to various ceremonies at 6pm at Hanamikoji Street in Gion. Plus, the Gion district is much more attractive and authentic setting in the evening.

The best time to visit Arashiyama Bamboo Groves for those iconic sights of this magical place is during the morning at about 8am. Visit during spring (March–May) or autumn (October–November). There are hundreds of temples and shrines in Kyoto, so choose the one you want to see most and then use the rest of your time to wander. Kyoto is beautiful and is not a place you should rush through at any cost.

If you would like more information on which country to visit at what time of year, then head over to our inspiration pages and start planning your World Heritage trip of a lifetime.