Expat Club & UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Since the foundation in 2013, Expat Club visited countless destinations in Brussels, Belgium and other (surrounding) countries, either by bus, train, flight or (overnight) ferry. In fact, the flags on our destinations map keep keeps on increasing month after month, including farther places. Whether near or far, we think that all the places we visit are totally worth it. Some destinations, however, are extra special because they have been named an official UNESCO World Heritage Site. And the best thing is that a few of them are literally just a few minutes walking from our office at Avenue Louise!

UNESCO is the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. It seeks to build peace through international cooperation in Education, the Sciences and Culture. UNESCO’s programmes contribute to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals defined in Agenda 2030, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2015. The UNESCO headquarters are based in Paris.

For the public UNESCO is especially known for the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Surely you can mention a few of them from the top of your head, such as the Pyramids of Gizeh in Egypt, Machu Picchu in Peru, the Great Wall of China, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, or the Borobudur Temple in Indonesia. But did you know there are already 1121 World Heritage Sites as of 2020?

Some of the most famous UNESCO World Heritage Sites | © V_E , saiko3p, zhao jiankang – Shutterstock

At Expat Club we love visiting World Heritage Sites. Since 2013 we have visited 49. We do intend to visit more of them in the future and we would love it if you join us these trips. Would it not be cool to walk over the legendary Chinese Wall, see the Pyramids with your own eyes, or go snorkelling in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef? Okay, let’s stop dreaming for a moment. Let’s first get a better understanding of what a World Heritage Site actually is.

What makes the concept of World Heritage exceptional is its universal application. World Heritage sites belong to all the peoples of the world, irrespective of the territory on which they are located.

To be included on the World Heritage List, sites must be of outstanding universal value and meet at least one out of ten selection criteria (…). The criteria are regularly revised by the Committee to reflect the evolution of the World Heritage concept itself. Until the end of 2004, World Heritage sites were selected on the basis of six cultural and four natural criteria (source: https://whc.unesco.org/en/criteria/).

The ten UNESCO criteria:

(i) to represent a masterpiece of human creative genius;

(ii) to exhibit an important interchange of human values, over a span of time or within a cultural area of the world, on developments in architecture or technology, monumental arts, town-planning or landscape design;

(iii) to bear a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or which has disappeared;

(iv) to be an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates (a) significant stage(s) in human history;

(v) to be an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement, land-use, or sea-use which is representative of a culture (or cultures), or human interaction with the environment especially when it has become vulnerable under the impact of irreversible change;

(vi) to be directly or tangibly associated with events or living traditions, with ideas, or with beliefs, with artistic and literary works of outstanding universal significance. (The Committee considers that this criterion should preferably be used in conjunction with other criteria);

(vii) to contain superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance;

(viii) to be outstanding examples representing major stages of earth's history, including the record of life, significant on-going geological processes in the development of landforms, or significant geomorphic or physiographic features;

(ix) to be outstanding examples representing significant on-going ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of terrestrial, fresh water, coastal and marine ecosystems and communities of plants and animals;

(x) to contain the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity, including those containing threatened species of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation.

Expat Club visits to UNESCO World Heritage Sites
For the following list of UNESCO sites we visited, we decided to integrally copy the official UNESCO description for every site, simply because they perfectly communicate the essence of why the UN-body decided over the World Heritage status. Behind every destination title you can also find a link that takes you to the official UNESCO website. There you can learn more about these special places, see maps and pictures and read much background information.

Let’s start in our own expat country of residence, Belgium. At the moment of writing (February 2020) there were 13 World Heritage Site in Belgium, with another 16 sites on the tentative list. So far Expat Club visit 8 sites, but we intend to see them all in the next few years. Surely you have visited one of them, right here in Brussels!

Beguinage Bruges UNESCO
1. Flemish Béguinages (or Vlaams Begijnhoven, link) – “The Béguines were women who dedicated their lives to God without retiring from the world. In the 13th century they founded the béguinages , enclosed communities designed to meet their spiritual and material needs. The Flemish béguinages are architectural ensembles composed of houses, churches, ancillary buildings and green spaces, with a layout of either urban or rural origin and built in styles specific to the Flemish cultural region. They are a fascinating reminder of the tradition of the Béguines that developed in north-western Europe in the Middle Ages.” There is also one in Brussels, namely in the commune of Anderlecht, but it is rather small with just 8 houses and unfortunately is not a World Heritage Site like the one in Bruges and 12 other ones in Flanders. | © Eleni Mavrandoni – Shutterstock


Bruges Historic Center UNESCO
2. Historic Centre of Brugge (link) – “Brugge is an outstanding example of a medieval historic settlement, which has maintained its historic fabric as this has evolved over the centuries, and where original Gothic constructions form part of the town’s identity. As one of the commercial and cultural capitals of Europe, Brugge developed cultural links to different parts of the world. It is closely associated with the school of Flemish Primitive painting.The historic canal city of Bruges in West Flanders was once considered the world’s most important commercial city. Often referred to the “Venice of the North” (just like Amsterdam and Hamburg), it’s entire city center is a World Heritage Site. | © Catarina Belova – Shutterstock


3. Major Town Houses of the Architect Victor Horta (Brussels, link) – “The four major town houses – Hôtel Tassel, Hôtel Solvay, Hôtel van Eetvelde, and Maison & Atelier Horta – located in Brussels and designed by the architect Victor Horta, one of the earliest initiators of Art Nouveau, are some of the most remarkable pioneering works of architecture of the end of the 19th century. The stylistic revolution represented by these works is characterised by their open plan, the diffusion of light, and the brilliant joining of the curved lines of decoration with the structure of the building.” Brussels is Horta and Horta is Brussels. The Belgian architect Victor Horta (1861 – 1947) has left an incredible inheritance to the city. His Art Nouveau style can be seen in many stunning buildings throughout the city, such as the Hôtel Tassel, Hôtel van Eetvelde, the Maison & Atelier Horta (lower picture) and the Hôtel Solvay (upper picture). | © Nina Alizada & Santi Rodriguez – Shutterstock


Sonian Forest Brussels UNESCO
4. Ancient and Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and Other Regions of Europe (link) – “This transboundary property stretches over 12 countries. Since the end of the last Ice Age, European Beech spread from a few isolated refuge areas in the Alps, Carpathians, Dinarides, Mediterranean and Pyrenees over a short period of a few thousand years in a process that is still ongoing. The successful expansion across a whole continent is related to the tree’s adaptability and tolerance of different climatic, geographical and physical conditions.” At Expat Club we organised countless Sunday walks through this incredibly diverse forest and we recommend that you discover its variety as well. | © jessicahyde – Shutterstock


Stoclet Palace Brussels UNESCO
5. Stoclet House (link) – “When banker and art collector Adolphe Stoclet commissioned this house from one of the leading architects of the Vienna Secession movement, Josef Hoffmann, in 1905, he imposed neither aesthetic nor financial restrictions on the project. The house and garden were completed in 1911 and their austere geometry marked a turning point in Art Nouveau, foreshadowing Art Deco and the Modern Movement in architecture. Stoclet House is one of the most accomplished and homogenous buildings of the Vienna Secession, and features works by Koloman Moser and Gustav Klimt, embodying the aspiration of creating a ‘total work of art’ (Gesamtkunstwerk). Bearing testimony to artistic renewal in European architecture, the house retains a high level of integrity, both externally and internally as it retains most of its original fixtures and furnishings.” Unfortunately Expat Club has not yet been able to visit this gem from inside (not yet!), but with our organised walks we often saw it from outside from Avenue Tervuren. | © Takashi Images – Shutterstock


Belfries Flanders Northern France UNESCo
6. Belfries of Belgium and France (link) – “Twenty-three belfries in the north of France and the belfry of Gembloux in Belgium were inscribed in 2005, as an extension to the 32 Belgian belfries inscribed in 1999 as Belfries of Flanders and Wallonia. Built between the 11th and 17th centuries, they showcase the Roman, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque styles of architecture. They are highly significant tokens of the winning of civil liberties. While Italian, German and English towns mainly opted to build town halls, in part of north-western Europe, greater emphasis was placed on building belfries. Compared with the keep (symbol of the seigneurs) and the bell-tower (symbol of the Church), the belfry, the third tower in the urban landscape, symbolizes the power of the aldermen. Over the centuries, they came to represent the influence and wealth of the towns.” Expat Club visited several places in both countries, such as this one as part of the Clothes Hall in Ypres that currently houses the In Flanders Fields Museum. | © Nina Alizada – Shutterstock


Brussels Grand Place UNESCO
7. La Grand Place, Brussels (link) – “La Grand-Place in Brussels is a remarkably homogeneous body of public and private buildings, dating mainly from the late 17th century. The architecture provides a vivid illustration of the level of social and cultural life of the period in this important political and commercial centre.” In it’s early days, Expat Club organised many social gatherings in La Chaloupe d’Or and the Roi d’Espagne. Surely we’ll go back there in the future. | © S-F – Shutterstock.


Strepy-Bracquegnies UNESCO
8. The Four Lifts on the Canal du Centre and their Environs, La Louvière and Le Roeulx (link) – “The four hydraulic boat-lifts on this short stretch of the historic Canal du Centre are industrial monuments of the highest quality. Together with the canal itself and its associated structures, they constitute a remarkably well-preserved and complete example of a late-19th-century industrial landscape. Of the eight hydraulic boat-lifts built at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, the only ones in the world which still exist in their original working condition are these four lifts on the Canal du Centre.” | © By Kartouchken – Shutterstock


Bois Cazier UNESCO
9. Major Mining Sites of Wallonia (link) – “The four sites of the property form a strip 170 km long by 3–15 km wide, crossing Belgium from east to west, consisting of the best-preserved 19th- and 20th-century coal-mining sites of the country. It features examples of the utopian architecture from the early periods of the industrial era in Europe within a highly integrated, industrial and urban ensemble, notably the Grand-Hornu colliery and workers’ city designed by Bruno Renard in the first half of the 19th century. Bois-du-Luc includes numerous buildings erected from 1838 to 1909 and one of Europe’s oldest collieries dating back to the late 17th century. While Wallonia had hundreds of collieries, most have lost their infrastructure, while the four components of the listed site retain a high measure of integrity.” With Expat Club we visited several times the Blegny mine and also paid a visit to Bois du Cazier. | © CRM – Shutterstock



The Netherlands
Although roughly 1,5 times larger than Belgium, The Netherlands only has “ten” UNESCO World Heritage Sites with 8 more on the tentative list. So far we visited 5 of them, but we hope to add at least 3 more in 2020, namely the Wadden Sea and the Woude Gemaal (Steam Pumping Station) in the North, and the Beemster Polder (oldest in Holland, 1609-1612) not far from Amsterdam.


Amsterdamse Stelling UNESCO
10. Defence Line of Amsterdam (link) – “Defence Line of Amsterdam
Extending 135 km around the city of Amsterdam, this defence line (built between 1883 and 1920) is the only example of a fortification based on the principle of controlling the waters. Since the 16th century, the people of the Netherlands have used their expert knowledge of hydraulic engineering for defence purposes. The centre of the country was protected by a network of 45 armed forts, acting in concert with temporary flooding from polders and an intricate system of canals and locks.” Expat Club often travelled to Amsterdam and the fishing villages North of the city, and therefore drove many times past a few forts and through the flood area.| © Kwazel (own work), via Wikimedia Commons & Dafinchi – Shutterstock


11. Seventeenth-Century Canal Ring Area of Amsterdam inside the Singelgracht (link) – “The historic urban ensemble of the canal district of Amsterdam was a project for a new ‘port city’ built at the end of the 16th and beginning of the 17th centuries. It comprises a network of canals to the west and south of the historic old town and the medieval port that encircled the old town and was accompanied by the repositioning inland of the city’s fortified boundaries, the Singelgracht. This was a long-term programme that involved extending the city by draining the swampland, using a system of canals in concentric arcs and filling in the intermediate spaces. These spaces allowed the development of a homogeneous urban ensemble including gabled houses and numerous monuments. This urban extension was the largest and most homogeneous of its time. It was a model of large-scale town planning, and served as a reference throughout the world until the 19th century.” | © S.Borisov – Shutterstock


12. Schokland and Surroundings (link) – “Schokland was a peninsula that by the 15th century had become an island. Occupied and then abandoned as the sea encroached, it had to be evacuated in 1859. But following the draining of the Zuider Zee, it has, since the 1940s, formed part of the land reclaimed from the sea. Schokland has vestiges of human habitation going back to prehistoric times. It symbolizes the heroic, age-old struggle of the people of the Netherlands against the encroachment of the waters.” Expat Club drives through Schokland on its trip to Giethoorn and Urk. | © jstuij – Shutterstock


13. Van Nellefabriek (link) – “Van Nellefabriek was designed and built in the 1920s on the banks of a canal in the Spaanse Polder industrial zone north-west of Rotterdam. The site is one of the icons of 20th-century industrial architecture, comprising a complex of factories, with façades consisting essentially of steel and glass, making large-scale use of the curtain wall principle. It was conceived as an ‘ideal factory’, open to the outside world, whose interior working spaces evolved according to need, and in which daylight was used to provide pleasant working conditions. It embodies the new kind of factory that became a symbol of the modernist and functionalist culture of the inter-war period and bears witness to the long commercial and industrial history of the Netherlands in the field of importation and processing of food products from tropical countries, and their industrial processing for marketing in Europe.” Expat Club drove by on several occasions. |  © TTStock – Shutterstock


14. Mill Network at Kinderdijk-Elshout (link) – “The outstanding contribution made by the people of the Netherlands to the technology of handling water is admirably demonstrated by the installations in the Kinderdijk-Elshout area. Construction of hydraulic works for the drainage of land for agriculture and settlement began in the Middle Ages and have continued uninterruptedly to the present day. The site illustrates all the typical features associated with this technology – dykes, reservoirs, pumping stations, administrative buildings and a series of beautifully preserved windmills.” Did you know that Kinderdijk was Expat Club’s very first destination? | © Nikolay Antonov – Shutterstock



Probably we travelled most often to France on all our Expat Club trips. And not without reason, because as you know God created France, the most beautiful country in the world with so much good in it, and ended up feeling guilty about it. He had to do something to make it fair. And so, he created … some amazing UNESCO sites too! Without kidding, the amazing diverse scenery is complemented with beautiful cities, great culture, delicious food and drinks, and not less than 45 cultural and natural sites. Expat Club so far has ticked off a dozen from its bucket list, and most definitely we will discover even more when we discover more of La Douce France.

Amiens Cathedral UNESCO
15. Amiens Cathedral (link) – “Amiens Cathedral, in the heart of Picardy, is one of the largest ‘classic’ Gothic churches of the 13th century. It is notable for the coherence of its plan, the beauty of its three-tier interior elevation and the particularly fine display of sculptures on the principal facade and in the south transept.” Expat Club stopped here twice on the way back to Brussels from Normandy. | © karamysh-2 – Shutterstock


Mont Saint-Michel UNESCO
16. Mont-Saint-Michel and its Bay (link) – “Perched on a rocky islet in the midst of vast sandbanks exposed to powerful tides between Normandy and Brittany stand the ‘Wonder of the West’, a Gothic-style Benedictine abbey dedicated to the archangel St Michael, and the village that grew up in the shadow of its great walls. Built between the 11th and 16th centuries, the abbey is a technical and artistic tour de force, having had to adapt to the problems posed by this unique natural site.”  Expat Club visited this incredible must-see destination many times in the past, and we keep putting it on the calendar every year. | © Plotnikov – Shutterstock


17. Palace and Park of Versailles (link) – The Palace of Versailles was the principal residence of the French kings from the time of Louis XIV to Louis XVI. Embellished by several generations of architects, sculptors, decorators and landscape architects, it provided Europe with a model of the ideal royal residence for over a century. | © ThomasLENNE – Shutterstock


Strasbourg Centre UNESCO
18. Strasbourg, Grande-Île and Neustadt (link) – The initial property, inscribed in 1988 on the World Heritage List, was formed by the Grande-Île, the historic centre of Strasbourg, structured around the cathedral. The extension concerns the Neustadt, new town, designed and built under the German administration (1871-1918). The Neustadt draws the inspiration for its urban layout partially from the Haussmannian model, while adopting an architectural idiom of Germanic inspiration. This dual influence has enabled the creation of an urban space that is specific to Strasbourg, where the perspectives created around the cathedral open to a unified landscape around the rivers and canals. | © Leonid Andronov – Shutterstock


Reims Cathedral Saint-Rémi Tau Palace UNESCO
19. Cathedral of Notre-Dame, Former Abbey of Saint-Rémi and Palace of Tau, Reims (link) – “The outstanding handling of new architectural techniques in the 13th century, and the harmonious marriage of sculptural decoration with architecture, has made Notre-Dame in Reims one of the masterpieces of Gothic art. The former abbey still has its beautiful 9th-century nave, in which lie the remains of Archbishop St Rémi (440–533), who instituted the Holy Anointing of the kings of France. The former archiepiscopal palace known as the Tau Palace, which played an important role in religious ceremonies, was almost entirely rebuilt in the 17th century.”  We visit the Champagne region several times per year, it is one of our most popular trips and a visit to the Cathedral and the Saint-Rémi Basilic is always included | © jorisvo & Luciano Mortula – LGM – Shutterstock


Paris Seine UNESCO
20. Paris, Banks of the Seine (link) – “From the Louvre to the Eiffel Tower, from the Place de la Concorde to the Grand and Petit Palais, the evolution of Paris and its history can be seen from the River Seine. The Cathedral of Notre-Dame and the Sainte Chapelle are architectural masterpieces while Haussmann’s wide squares and boulevards influenced late 19th- and 20th-century town planning the world over.” | © Pascale Gueret


Calais Belfry UNESCO
21. Belfries of Belgium and France (link) – “Twenty-three belfries in the north of France and the belfry of Gembloux in Belgium were inscribed in 2005, as an extension to the 32 Belgian belfries inscribed in 1999 as Belfries of Flanders and Wallonia. Built between the 11th and 17th centuries, they showcase the Roman, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque styles of architecture. They are highly significant tokens of the winning of civil liberties. While Italian, German and English towns mainly opted to build town halls, in part of north-western Europe, greater emphasis was placed on building belfries. Compared with the keep (symbol of the seigneurs) and the bell-tower (symbol of the Church), the belfry, the third tower in the urban landscape, symbolizes the power of the aldermen. Over the centuries, they came to represent the influence and wealth of the towns.” | © Meiqianbao – Shutterstock
22. The Loire Valley between Sully-sur-Loire and Chalonnes (link) – The Loire Valley is an outstanding cultural landscape of great beauty, containing historic towns and villages, great architectural monuments (the châteaux), and cultivated lands formed by many centuries of interaction between their population and the physical environment, primarily the river Loire itself. | © Gaspar Janos – Shutterstock

23. Le Havre, the City Rebuilt by Auguste Perret (link) – The city of Le Havre, on the English Channel in Normandy, was severely bombed during the Second World War. The destroyed area was rebuilt according to the plan of a team headed by Auguste Perret, from 1945 to 1964. The site forms the administrative, commercial and cultural centre of Le Havre. Le Havre is exceptional among many reconstructed cities for its unity and integrity. It combines a reflection of the earlier pattern of the town and its extant historic structures with the new ideas of town planning and construction technology. It is an outstanding post-war example of urban planning and architecture based on the unity of methodology and the use of prefabrication, the systematic utilization of a modular grid, and the innovative exploitation of the potential of concrete. | © Picturereflex & Franck Legros – Shutterstock


Arras Citadel Vauban UNESCO
24. Fortifications of Vauban (link) – “Fortifications of Vauban consists of 12 groups of fortified buildings and sites along the western, northern and eastern borders of France. They represent the finest examples of the work of Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban (1633-1707), a military engineer of King Louis XIV. The serial property includes towns built from scratch by Vauban, citadels, urban bastion walls and bastion towers. There are also mountain forts, sea forts, a mountain battery and two mountain communication structures. This property is inscribed as bearing witness to the peak of classic fortifications, typical of western military architecture. Vauban also played a major role in the history of fortification in Europe and on other continents until the mid-19th century.” | © Pecold – Shutterstock


25. Nord-Pas de Calais Mining Basin (link) – “Remarkable as a landscape shaped over three centuries of coal extraction from the 1700s to the 1900s, the site consists of 109 separate components over 120,000 ha. It features mining pits (the oldest of which dates from 1850) and lift infrastructure, slag heaps (some of which cover 90 ha and exceed 140 m in height), coal transport infrastructure, railway stations, workers’ estates and mining villages including social habitat, schools, religious buildings, health and community facilities, company premises, owners and managers’ houses, town halls and more. The site bears testimony to the quest to create model workers’ cities from the mid 19th century to the 1960s and further illustrates a significant period in the history of industrial Europe. It documents the living conditions of workers and the solidarity to which it gave rise.” | © By Takashi Images – Shutterstock


Champagne Hills UNESCO
26. Champagne Hillsides, Houses and Cellars (link) – “The property encompasses sites where the method of producing sparkling wines was developed on the principle of secondary fermentation in the bottle since the early 17th century to its early industrialization in the 19th century. The property is made up of three distinct ensembles: the historic vineyards of Hautvillers, Aÿ and Mareuil-sur-Aÿ, Saint-Nicaise Hill in Reims, and the Avenue de Champagne and Fort Chabrol in Epernay. These three components – the supply basin formed by the historic hillsides, the production sites (with their underground cellars) and the sales and distribution centres (the Champagne Houses) – illustrate the entire champagne production process. The property bears clear testimony to the development of a very specialized artisan activity that has become an agro-industrial enterprise.” | © By FreeProd33 – Shutterstock


You think going South will give you access to many UNESCO sites? Think again, if you travel East you will find even one more site in Germany. Indeed, our neighbours have 46 sites on their soil. So far we have seen just 6, although to be fair Trier alone has 9 sites that are all combined in one certification: the Amphiteatre, the Moselle Bridge, the Barbara Baths, the Igel Column, Porta Nigra, Imperial Baths, Aula Palatina (Basilica), Cathedral and Church of Our Lady (Liebrauenkirche). It’s our favourite destination in Germany, especially since the Christmas markets are also lovely.


Aachen Cathedral UNESCO
27. Aachen Cathedral (link) – “Construction of this palatine chapel, with its octagonal basilica and cupola, began c. 790–800 under the Emperor Charlemagne. Originally inspired by the churches of the Eastern part of the Holy Roman Empire, it was splendidly enlarged in the Middle Ages.” © Dan Race – Shutterstock


Würzburg Residence UNESCO
28. Würzburg Residence with the Court Gardens and Residence Square (link) – “This magnificent Baroque palace – one of the largest and most beautiful in Germany and surrounded by wonderful gardens – was created under the patronage of the prince-bishops Lothar Franz and Friedrich Carl von Schönborn. It was built and decorated in the 18th century by an international team of architects, painters (including Tiepolo), sculptors and stucco-workers, led by Balthasar Neumann.” Expat Club visits Würzburg as its first destination on its iconic Bavarian Castles trip in May. | © Pairath Tawin – Shutterstock
Potsdam Berlin UNESCO
29. Palaces and Parks of Potsdam and Berlin (link) – With 500 ha of parks and 150 buildings constructed between 1730 and 1916, Potsdam’s complex of palaces and parks forms an artistic whole, whose eclectic nature reinforces its sense of uniqueness. It extends into the district of Berlin-Zehlendorf, with the palaces and parks lining the banks of the River Havel and Lake Glienicke. Voltaire stayed at the Sans-Souci Palace, built under Frederick II between 1745 and 1747. | © Joaquin Ossorio Castillo – Shutterstock


Museuminsel Berlin UNESCO
30. Museumsinsel (Museum Island), Berlin (link) – “The museum as a social phenomenon owes its origins to the Age of Enlightenment in the 18th century. The five museums on the Museumsinsel in Berlin, built between 1824 and 1930, are the realization of a visionary project and show the evolution of approaches to museum design over the course of the 20th century. Each museum was designed so as to establish an organic connection with the art it houses. The importance of the museum’s collections – which trace the development of civilizations throughout the ages – is enhanced by the urban and architectural quality of the buildings.” | © By Pavel Jiranek – Shutterstock


Trier UNESCO City

Trier UNESCO sites
31. Roman Monuments, Cathedral of St Peter and Church of Our Lady in Trier (link) – “Trier, which stands on the Moselle River, was a Roman colony from the 1st century AD and then a great trading centre beginning in the next century. It became one of the capitals of the Tetrarchy at the end of the 3rd century, when it was known as the ‘second Rome’. The number and quality of the surviving monuments are an outstanding testimony to Roman civilization.” We are really lucky that Trier is at a driving distance from Brussels, because being such a small city with 9 UNESCO monuments is just exceptional. | © Petair, Matyas Rehak, Ruslan Kalnitsky – Shutterstock


Dom Cologne UNESCO
32. Cologne Cathedral (link) – “Begun in 1248, the construction of this Gothic masterpiece took place in several stages and was not completed until 1880. Over seven centuries, successive builders were inspired by the same faith and a spirit of absolute fidelity to the original plans. Apart from its exceptional intrinsic value and the artistic masterpieces it contains, Cologne Cathedral testifies to the enduring strength of European Christianity.” | © Borisb17 – Shutterstock


Even in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean we bumped into a magnificent UNESCO World Heritage Site on our November trips in 2018 and 2019. Admitted, this is not a cultural site, but it’s super spectacular. The Thingvellir / Pingvellir or Þingvellir National Park is one of the country’s most special places that you simply must see when in Iceland. We will return to Iceland in the next years, and hopefully we will have the chance to also visit the other 2 destinations.

Þingvellir National Park UNESCO
33. Þingvellir National Park (link) – “Þingvellir (Thingvellir) is the National Park where the Althing, an open-air assembly representing the whole of Iceland, was established in 930 and continued to meet until 1798. Over two weeks a year, the assembly set laws – seen as a covenant between free men – and settled disputes. The Althing has deep historical and symbolic associations for the people of Iceland. The property includes the Þingvellir National Park and the remains of the Althing itself: fragments of around 50 booths built from turf and stone. Remains from the 10th century are thought to be buried underground. The site also includes remains of agricultural use from the 18th and 19th centuries. The park shows evidence of the way the landscape was husbanded over 1,000 years.” | © Olga Gavrilova – Shutterstock


On our two trips to Austria, we saw 3 UNESCO sites. That’s a 150% score, not bad! In May 2018 we travelled to the South of Germany to see the beautiful Bavarian castles. On one afternoon we made a little d-tour to Salzburg, a splendid city known for Mozart’s birthplace and the Sound of Music. However, also it’s entire historic city center has a UNESCO World Heritage status. The same goes for Austria’s capital Vienna, although not only its centre enjoys this prestigious label, but also the famous “Sissi” Schönbrunn Palace and Gardens.

Salzburg UNESCO
34. Historic Centre of the City of Salzburg (link) – “Salzburg has managed to preserve an extraordinarily rich urban fabric, developed over the period from the Middle Ages to the 19th century when it was a city-state ruled by a prince-archbishop. Its Flamboyant Gothic art attracted many craftsmen and artists before the city became even better known through the work of the Italian architects Vincenzo Scamozzi and Santini Solari, to whom the centre of Salzburg owes much of its Baroque appearance. This meeting-point of northern and southern Europe perhaps sparked the genius of Salzburg’s most famous son, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, whose name has been associated with the city ever since.” | © By canadastock – Shutterstock


35. Palace and Gardens of Schönbrunn (link) – From the 18th century to 1918, Schönbrunn was the residence of the Habsburg emperors. It was designed by the architects Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach and Nicolaus Pacassi and is full of outstanding examples of decorative art. Together with its gardens, the site of the world’s first zoo in 1752, it is a remarkable Baroque ensemble and a perfect example of Gesamtkunstwerk. | © saiko3p – Shutterstock


36. Historic Centre of Vienna (link) – “Vienna developed from early Celtic and Roman settlements into a Medieval and Baroque city, the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It played an essential role as a leading European music centre, from the great age of Viennese Classicism through the early part of the 20th century. The historic centre of Vienna is rich in architectural ensembles, including Baroque castles and gardens, as well as the late-19th-century Ringstrasse lined with grand buildings, monuments and parks.” | © Tatiana Popova shutterstock


The only reason why we have not visited so many of the 55 Italian UNESCO sites is that we so far only went to Venice. Not bad as a first destination, because Venice is just an insanely beautiful city, but needless to say that there is much more to discover. For instance, what to think about Rome?

37. Venice and its Lagoon (link) – “Founded in the 5th century and spread over 118 small islands, Venice became a major maritime power in the 10th century. The whole city is an extraordinary architectural masterpiece in which even the smallest building contains works by some of the world’s greatest artists such as Giorgione, Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese and others.” | © André – Fotolia.com


Our small neighbouring country may indeed be very small, but its UNESCO casemates are world-famous and very much worth a visit… which we do of course! Every year at the end of the summer we travel to Luxembourg to discover this lovely tiny capital. It’s a highly recommended tour.
38. City of Luxembourg: its Old Quarters and Fortifications (link) – “Because of its strategic position, Luxembourg was, from the 16th century until 1867, when its walls were dismantled, one of Europe’s greatest fortified sites. It was repeatedly reinforced as it passed from one great European power to another: the Holy Roman Emperors, the House of Burgundy, the Habsburgs, the French and Spanish kings, and finally the Prussians. Until their partial demolition, the fortifications were a fine example of military architecture spanning several centuries.” | © Reinhard-Tiburzy – Shutterstock


Expat Club has so organised several trips to Krakow in Southern Poland. One could go there for a fantastic cultural and shopping trip, because it’s one of Europe’s most beautiful cities, and carries the UNESCO stat. However, with Expat Club we go there with another intention, namely to learn about the darkest period of the city and region. This is the city of Oskar Schindler’s factory, in which he employed many jews who he later saved from the concentration camps. Krakow is only a one hour drive from the Auschwitz and Birkenau complexes, where over 1 million people died. Both camps have the UNESCO status as they are a “symbol of humanity’s cruelty to its fellow human beings in the 20th century.” This deeply impressive trip finishes coincidentally with another UNESCO destination, the Wieliczka salt mines.

39. Historic Centre of Krakow (link) – “The Historic Centre of Kraków, the former capital of Poland, is situated at the foot of the Royal Wawel Castle. The 13th-century merchants’ town has Europe’s largest market square and numerous historical houses, palaces and churches with their magnificent interiors. Further evidence of the town’s fascinating history is provided by the remnants of the 14th-century fortifications and the medieval site of Kazimierz with its ancient synagogues in the southern part of town, Jagellonian University and the Gothic cathedral where the kings of Poland were buried.” | © TTstudio – Shutterstock


40. Auschwitz Birkenau – German Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camp (link) – “The fortified walls, barbed wire, platforms, barracks, gallows, gas chambers and cremation ovens show the conditions within which the Nazi genocide took place in the former concentration and extermination camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest in the Third Reich. According to historical investigations, 1.5 million people, among them a great number of Jews, were systematically starved, tortured and murdered in this camp, the symbol of humanity’s cruelty to its fellow human beings in the 20th century.”  These 2 destinations require 2 pictures. At Expat Club we travel once per year to Krakow to visit the Schindler factory, the former concentration camp Plaszow and Krakow center, before spending one full day at Auschwitz and Birkenau for an exceptionally long guided tour of 8 hours. We firmly believe everybody must visit this destination once, and therefore we also put it at number 1 on our must-see list (read here). We deeply hope you will also take the decision to go there, alone, with your family or friends, with Expat Club or another organisation. | © Mor65_Mauro Piccardi – Shutterstock (lower picture)
Wieliczka Salt Mines UNESCO
41. Wieliczka and Bochnia Royal Salt Mines (link) – “The deposit of rock salt in Wieliczka and Bochnia has been mined since the 13th century. This major industrial undertaking has royal status and is the oldest of its type in Europe. The site is a serial property consisting of Wieliczka and Bochnia salt mines and Wieliczka Saltworks Castle. The Wieliczka and Bochnia Royal Salt Mines illustrate the historic stages of the development of mining techniques in Europe from the 13th to the 20th centuries: both mines have hundreds of kilometers of galleries with works of art, underground chapels and statues sculpted in the salt, making a fascinating pilgrimage into the past. The mines were administratively and technically run by Wieliczka Saltworks Castle, which dates from the medieval period and has been rebuilt several times in the course of its history.” | © Alfredo Garcia Saz – Shutterstock


If you would join our summer trip to Switzerland, you would be able to add 4 UNESCO sites to your list, out of a total of a dozen scattered over this Alpine land. If you’d ask us at Expat Club, we would be putting the entire country as one big natural UNESCO World Heritage Site, so beautiful. We would even give an extra accolade to the country’s superb infrastructure and cleanliness.

St Gall Abbey UNESCO
42. Abbey of St Gall (link) – “The Convent of St Gall, a perfect example of a great Carolingian monastery, was, from the 8th century to its secularization in 1805, one of the most important in Europe. Its library is one of the richest and oldest in the world and contains precious manuscripts such as the earliest-known architectural plan drawn on parchment. From 1755 to 1768, the conventual area was rebuilt in Baroque style. The cathedral and the library are the main features of this remarkable architectural complex, reflecting 12 centuries of continuous activity.”  | © Ruslan Kalnitsky -Shutterstock (upper picture), © Stiftsbibliothek St. Gallen (own work), via Wikimedia Commons


43. Old City of Berne (link) – “Founded in the 12th century on a hill site surrounded by the Aare River, Berne developed over the centuries in line with a an exceptionally coherent planning concept. The buildings in the Old City, dating from a variety of periods, include 15th-century arcades and 16th-century fountains. Most of the medieval town was restored in the 18th century but it has retained its original character.” | © RossHelen -Shutterstock


44. Swiss Alps Jungfrau-Aletsch (link) – “The extension of the natural World Heritage property of Jungfrau – Aletsch – Bietschhorn (first inscribed in 2001), expands the site to the east and west, bringing its surface area up to 82,400 ha., up from 53,900. The site provides an outstanding example of the formation of the High Alps, including the most glaciated part of the mountain range and the largest glacier in Eurasia. It features a wide diversity of ecosystems, including successional stages due particularly to the retreat of glaciers resulting from climate change. The site is of outstanding universal value both for its beauty and for the wealth of information it contains about the formation of mountains and glaciers, as well as ongoing climate change. It is also invaluable in terms of the ecological and biological processes it illustrates, notably through plan succession. Its impressive landscape has played an important role in European art, literature, mountaineering and alpine tourism.” | © Walkingmap -Shutterstock


45.  Lavaux, Vineyard Terraces (link) – “The Lavaux Vineyard Terraces, stretching for about 30 km along the south-facing northern shores of Lake Geneva from the Chateau de Chillon to the eastern outskirts of Lausanne in the Vaud region, cover the lower slopes of the mountainside between the villages and the lake. Although there is some evidence that vines were grown in the area in Roman times, the present vine terraces can be traced back to the 11th century, when Benedictine and Cistercian monasteries controlled the area. It is an outstanding example of a centuries-long interaction between people and their environment, developed to optimize local resources so as to produce a highly valued wine that has always been important to the economy.” | ©  By Frank Cornelissen – Shutterstock


United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland
The UNESCO sites can be found all over the country, and some come from far away places, at least in some sort of way. One of the world’s most famous borders is clearly delineated. Hadrian’s Wall marks the frontiers of the Roman Empire. If you would zoom in on this map, you can see a clear line from the East to the West filled with UNESCO sites. Quite remarkable, but unfortunately we still have to discover this as Expat Club, just like over 2 dozen of other sites in the UK. Maybe in one of the next few years! For the rest we of course visited London and Canterbury, both excellent places to go World Heritage Site shopping.

46. Tower of London (link) – “The massive White Tower is a typical example of Norman military architecture, whose influence was felt throughout the kingdom. It was built on the Thames by William the Conqueror to protect London and assert his power. The Tower of London – an imposing fortress with many layers of history, which has become one of the symbols of royalty – was built around the White Tower.” . | © Alexander Chaikin – Shutterstock


47. Palace of Westminster and Westminster Abbey including Saint Margaret’s Church (link) – “Westminster Palace, rebuilt from the year 1840 on the site of important medieval remains, is a fine example of neo-Gothic architecture. The site – which also comprises the small medieval Church of Saint Margaret, built in Perpendicular Gothic style, and Westminster Abbey, where all the sovereigns since the 11th century have been crowned – is of great historic and symbolic significance.” | © Mistervlad, cowardlion – Shutterstock


48. Canterbury Cathedral, St Augustine’s Abbey, and St Martin’s Church (link) – “Canterbury, in Kent, has been the seat of the spiritual head of the Church of England for nearly five centuries. Canterbury’s other important monuments are the modest Church of St Martin, the oldest church in England; the ruins of the Abbey of St Augustine, a reminder of the saint’s evangelizing role in the Heptarchy from 597; and Christ Church Cathedral, a breathtaking mixture of Romanesque and Perpendicular Gothic, where Archbishop Thomas Becket was murdered in 1170.” | © A G Baxter, Premier Photo, Valery Egorov – Shutterstock


This Eastern European country is home to 7 World Heritage Sites, including one that is closely connected to Brussels. Also in Ukraine you can namely find “Ancient and Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and Other Regions of Europe”, just like the Sonian Forest in the South side of our city. Our final destination for a trip to Ukraine in 2019 (and also 2020) is Chernobyl, the location of the world’s worst nuclear disaster in 1986. We can’t sit on the chair of UNESCO, but even here we could imagine the application of some of the criteria for a status, although it would be an anti-example. But for sure an actual Site will be visited during our trip to Kiev, one that goes back a entire millennium in time.


49. Kyiv: Saint-Sophia Cathedral and Related Monastic Buildings, Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra | (link) – “Designed to rival Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, Kyiv’s Saint-Sophia Cathedral symbolizes the ‘new Constantinople’, capital of the Christian principality of Kyiv, which was created in the 11th century in a region evangelized after the baptism of St Vladimir in 988. The spiritual and intellectual influence of Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra contributed to the spread of Orthodox thought and the Orthodox faith in the Russian world from the 17th to the 19th century.” | © JaySi – Shutterstock


And finally, at the time of first publishing this article, Finland’s fascinating Suomenlinna sea fortress near Helsinki was indeed also our last visited new UNESCO World Heritage Site. Although it was 23 December when we landed after a short ferry ride and a bit chilly outside, it was without a doubt totally worth the visit. Hopefully we will have the chance to visit one of the other 6 Finnish sites in the Expat Club future.

Suomenlinna UNESCO Helsinki
50. Fortress of Suomenlinna (link) –  “Built in the second half of the 18th century by Sweden on a group of islands located at the entrance of Helsinki’s harbour, this fortress is an especially interesting example of European military architecture of the time.” | © Anders E. Skansberg – Shutterstock


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