United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation or UNESCO as its more commonly known, is an agency that forms part of the United Nations with the aim of promoting buildings, complexes, manmade and natural environments and other destinations of educational, scientific, cultural and historical importance.
Founded in 1945, just after the war, the agency represents 193 member states. Its core goal is to advance peace, sustainable development and human rights by facilitating collaboration between nations.
We will be covering 454 of Europe's UNESCO sites over four blogs; sorted into northern, southern, western and central/eastern Europe starting with the northern states. We hope to inspire more people to visit more UNESCO sites when travelling.
Name of UNESCO site (type, year added to list)
Location(s) [link to image credit] [link to UNESCO page]
There are seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Denmark (mainland).
Culturally and historically important carved stones dating back to the 10th century, erected by King Gorm the Old in memory of his wife, and King Gorm's son, Harald Bluetooth, in memory of his parents. The stones are often associated with the founding of Denmark. The stones are housed in glass casing to protect them from weathering and damage, keeping them at a controlled temperature.
Considered the most important church in Denmark, it is the official royal burial church of the Danish Royal Family. Construction began in the year 1200, and is the oldest surviving example of gothic architecture in the country although later alterations and extensions mean the building is a mix of different styles including Dutch Renaissance, Neoclassicism, Byzantine Revival and Modernist.
Perhaps better known as Elsinore, immortalised in Shakespeare's Hamlet, Kronborg Castle is one of the most important Renaissance castles in Northern Europe. It was constructed by King Eric Vll in the 1420s, radically transformed in the late 1500s, destroyed by a fire in 1658 and used as an army base from 1785 to 1923, after which it was renovated and opened to the public.
At first glimpse, the rocky cliff looks unremarkable but this white chalk cliff face was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List due to its geological importance. It is one of the best exposed Cretaceous-Paleogene boundaries in the world - in simple terms, these cliffs show the end of one historical period and mark the beginning of another through fossilised remains.
Consisting of wetlands and tidal flats stretching along the coast of the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark, home to birds and other coastal species. Although the area is high in biodiversity, it also one of the most human-altered habitats on the planet.
Christiansfeld, a Moravian Church Settlement (cultural, 2015)
Christiansfeld [Christiansfeld - Wikipedia] [Christiansfeld, a Moravian Church Settlement - UNESCO]
Located in southern Denmark sits Christiansfeld, a small community of just over 3,000 (2021 population). The settlement was founded in 1773 by the Moravian Church - one of the oldest denominations of Protestant Christianity, and listed as a UNESCO site in 2015 for its excellent town planning and architecture.
The par force hunting landscape in North Zealand (cultural, 2015)
Store Dyrehave, Gribskov, Jægersborg Dyrehave/Jægersborg Hegn [Par force hunting landscape in North Zealand - Wikipedia] [Par force hunting landscape in North Zealand - UNESCO]
This listing consists of a collection of hunting grounds north of Copenhagen, used by the nobility of the medieval ages. The landscape includes forests and Baroque buildings within the hunting grounds which were used during 17th and 18th centuries.
Par force (meaning "by strength", and thereunder par force de chiens translating to "by force of dogs") was a form of hunting, often considered to be the noblest form of deer hunting.
There are two UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Estonia (mainland).
In the centre of Estonia's capital Tallinn sits the historic old town, with its Germanic charm, cobbled streets and local markets. Archeological finds date this part of the city back around 5,000 years, when the country was known as Revala. In the time since, the country has falling between the hands of Denmark, Sweden, Russia and Germany before becoming the Republic of Estonia in 1991.
Stretching over 2,820km, across ten countries from Norway to the Black Sea, the Struve Geodetic Arc is a chain of survey triangulations which yielded the first accurate measurement of a meridian arc.
The Struve Geodetic Arc passes through many of the countries mentioned below, so rather than repeating ourselves, we're adding a note here.
Finland Enontekiö, Ylitornio, Tornio, Korpilahti, Lapinjärvi, Pyhtää [Struve Geodetic Arc - Wikipedia] [Struve Geodetic Arc - UNESCO]
Latvia Ērgļi Municipality, Jēkabpils [Struve Geodetic Arc - Wikipedia] [Struve Geodetic Arc - UNESCO]
Lithuania Panemunėlis, Nemenčinė, Nemėžis [Struve Geodetic Arc - Wikipedia] [Struve Geodetic Arc - UNESCO]
Norway Finnmark [Struve Geodetic Arc - Wikipedia] [Struve Geodetic Arc - UNESCO]
Sweden Norrbotten [Struve Geodetic Arc - Wikipedia] [Struve Geodetic Arc - UNESCO]
There are six UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Finland (mainland). The Struve Geodetic Arc passes through Finland - see note above.
Nestled in the centre of Rauma, a town in the south west of Finland with a population of 39,000, lies the old town centre; a network of medieval cobbled streets lined with 600 or so pastel-painted wooden houses, the oldest dating from the 18th century.
Although much of the complex was destroyed in fires in the 1600s, the original layouts remain, and all were rebuilt. Residential buildings were built along the main streets, while factories, mills and other ancillary buildings are situated in narrow side streets.
Wooden churches were common in northern Europe and the Baltic states during the medieval period and often demonstrated influences from different styles including Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque. Petäjävesi Old Church was build between 1763 and 1765, with the bell tower added in 1821 and still has an active communion although it did fall out of favour in 1879 when a new church was built. Sitting abandoned for many years, it wasn't until the 1920s that renovations begun, bringing the church back to its former glory and eventually leading to its inclusion in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Verla wood mill is a excellently preserved 19th century wood-processing mill village, typically laid out with the mill owner's residence, surrounding park and factory buildings located on the western bank of the Kymi River, and the workers houses on the eastern bank.
The residential buildings are made from wood, while the factory buildings were built using red brick in Gothic style.
Bronze Age Burial Site of Sammallahdenmäki (cultural, 1999)
Rauma [Sammallahdenmäki - Wikipedia] [Bronze Age Burial Site of Sammallahdenmäki - UNESCO]
Dating back more than 3,000 years, this initially unimpressive site is one of the most complete and most important Bronze Age burial sites on the Scandinavian Peninsula.
The Kvarken Archipelago is a collection of small, mostly uninhabited islands in the narrowest part of the Gulf of Bothnia - the body of water that lies between Finland and Sweden. It sits between the Bothnia Sea to the south and Bothnia Bay to the north.
It was added to the UNESCO register for its outstanding demonstration of isostatic uplift, and the influence of glacial retreat on the evolution of landforms and topography which is due to the area being under the Fennoscandian Ice Sheet around 10,000 years ago.
There are two UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Latvia (mainland). The Struve Geodetic Arc passes through Latvia - see note above.
The centre, known as Vecrīga, is known for its medieval churches, cathedrals and ornate building facades. The centre was originally walled but only reconstructed sections remain. The Riga City Canal was formed when the walls were torn down, with water filling the ditches where the walls once stood.
There are four UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Lithuania (mainland). The Struve Geodetic Arc passes through Lithuania - see note above.
Vilnius holds the title of oldest city in Lithuania, oldest surviving medieval city in Northern Europe and largest Baroque old town in Eastern/Central Europe. Its architecture is a mix of European styles, from Gothic and Baroque to Renaissance and Neoclassical. UNESCO added it to its list in recognition of its universal value and originality.
The spit is split in half; its southern section lies within the Kaliningrad Oblast, Russia (an autonomous enclave that is separated from Russia and is situated between Poland to the south and Lithuania to the north and east) and its northern section is part of southwestern Lithuania, therefore the UNESCOs status is shared between the two countries.
In the late 19th century, the spit became a popular spot for expressionist artists who made Nida their home and took inspiration from the landscape. It is now mostly a tourist resort.
Namely an archaeological site with finds showing human settlement dating back 10 millennia. Artefacts found include fortifications, burial sites and even the foundations of a city.
There are eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Norway (mainland). The Struve Geodetic Arc passes through Norway - see note above.
Built in the 12th and 13th centuries, Urnes Stave Church is classed as an outstanding example of traditional Scandinavian wooden architecture. It is one of the oldest stave churches in Norway but has been out of ordinary use since the late 1800s.
Located in the historic city centre of Bergen, on the wharfside of the central harbour. The city of Bergen is thought to have been founded sometime around 1070AD and Bryggen appeared shortly after but none of the buildings are original due to many fires destroying the largely wooden structures. The current buildings date back to the 1700s when they were most likely used as storehouses to store locally caught fish and cereals from Europe.
A settlement was established here in the 17th century after the discovery of copper, and the land was exploited for the next 330 years until 1977 when copper prices fell dramatically leading to mining activities becoming unviable. For a short time in the late 1600s, silver was also mined, bringing huge prosperity to the area, although most of the profit went to King Frederick lV of Denmark aiding him in the construction of the Palace of Solbjerg.
You can find these rock paintings in the Alta Fjord, close to the Arctic Circle and they look pretty good for their age! Dating back to 4200BC, they provide scientists and historians with precise information on the environment and human activities during that period. The site is Norway's only prehistoric site and is now an open-air museum.
The archipelago is made up of around 6,500 small islands in the Norwegian Sea and was added to the UNESCO register for its long, traditional and frugal way of life in inhospitable conditions. The islands have been inhabited since the Stone Age and humans have relied on fishing and the harvesting of the down (feathers) of eider ducks.
West Norwegian Fjords – Geirangerfjord and Nærøyfjord (natural, 2005)
Møre og Romsdal and Sogn og Fjordane [Geirangerfjord - Wikipedia] [West Norwegian Fjords – Geirangerfjord and Nærøyfjord - UNESCO]
The West Norwegian Fjords are the most visited tourist sites in Norway, and they hold the titles of longest and deepest fjords, and the most scenically outstanding in the world.
Rjukan–Notodden Industrial Heritage Site (cultural, 2015)
Telemark [Rjukan-Notodden Industrial Heritage Site - Wikipedia] [Rjukan-Notodden Industrial Heritage Site - UNESCO]
Located in a dramatic landscape of mountains, waterfalls and river valleys, the site comprises hydroelectric power plants, transmission lines, factories, transport systems and towns. The Vemork Hydroelectric Power Station opened in 1911 and at the time it was the largest power plant in the world with a capacity of 108MW. It later became the world's first plant to mass-produce heavy water.
There are 15 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Sweden (mainland). The Struve Geodetic Arc passes through Sweden - see note above.
Drottningholm is the private residence of the Swedish Royal Family, built on the island of Lovön, just outside of Stockholm. Construction started in the 16th century with the palace serving as the main summer residence of the monarchy throughout the 18th century. From 1818 the palace was left abandoned in favour of more modern royal palaces as reigning King Charles XlV John of Sweden regarded the building as a symbol of the old dynasty. When Oscar l of Sweden became king, he began renovating and modernising Drottningholm, drawing criticism for not restoring the palace to its original state. It was, however, restored to its former glory in 1907 and the monarchy returned to palace shortly after. It is a major tourist attraction and open to the public.
Once a bustling Viking trading centre, Birka and Hovgården flourished for more than 200 years, handling shipments from across Scandinavia, central and eastern Europe and the Orient. Much archaeological work has been done, leading to its UNESCO classification in 1993.
Iron production has been present at this site since at least the 13th century, with local people traditionally mining the ore and producing the iron using primitive techniques. The complex was modernised in the 16th century and production ramped up in the following decades. It was added to UNESCO in 1993, with UNESCO representatives remarking "Sweden's production of superior grades of iron made it a leader in this field in the 17th and 18th centuries. This site is the best-preserved and most complete example of this type of Swedish ironworks".
Scrawled on over 600 panels, and featuring thousands of carvings, the Tanum petroglyphs are distinctive in that there are such a high concentration of them. The carvings were first discovered in 1627 and date back to the Scandinavian Bronze and Iron Ages. Many of the glyphs depict boats, wagons or carts, or humans with a bow, spear or axe.
Skogskyrkogården is a cemetery located in southern Stockholm, designed by Gunnar Asplund and Sigurd Lewerentz as part of an international competition in 1915 for the design of a new cemetery. Its design is that of Nordic Classicism and Functionalism - serving its purpose and solely its purpose. The architects designed the entire complex from the layout to the light fixtures in the chapel. Notable interments include Swedish football legend Lennart Skoglund and Swedish-born American Hollywood actress Greta Garbo.
A former Viking site on the island of Gotland, Visby was the main centre of the Hanseatic League in the Baltic from the 12th to the 14th century. The Hanseatic League was an influential medieval commercial and defensive confederation of merchant guilds and market towns in central and northern Europe. Visby is often regarded as the best-preserved medieval city in Scandinavia.
Gammelstad is a typical example of a church village, once common throughout Scandinavia. Around 420 small wooden houses huddle around the central church and would've housed worshippers on Sundays and religious days who had travelled to the church from surrounding towns and villages, and who couldn't easily return home the same day.
The Laponian Area is a large mountainous wildlife area in the Lapland Province of northern Sweden. It is home to the Saami people and is the largest area in the world (and one of the last) with an ancestral way of life based on the seasonal movement of livestock.
Karlskrona is the largest naval base in Sweden, with two of Sweden's three warfare flotillas moored there. It is an outstanding example of a late-17th-century European planned naval city with the original plan and many of the buildings surviving.
Agricultural Landscape of Southern Öland (cultural, 2000) ★
Kalmar [Agricultural Landscape of Southern Öland - Wikipedia] [Agricultural Landscape of Southern Öland - UNESCO]
The Agricultural Landscape of Southern Öland covers more than 56,000 hectares (140,000 acres), much of it dominated by a vast limestone plateau. Human beings have lived here for some five thousand years and adapted their way of life to the physical constraints of the island. As a consequence, the landscape is unique, with abundant evidence of continuous human settlement from prehistoric times to the present day.
The High Coast is the Swedish part of the High Coast / Kvarken Archipelago UNESCO World Heritage Site shared between Sweden and Finland. The landscape here has largely been shaped by the combined processes of glaciation, glacial retreat and the emergence of new land from the sea.
Mining Area of the Great Copper Mountain in Falun (cultural, 2001)
Dalarna [Falun Mine - Wikipedia] [Mining Area of the Great Copper Mountain in Falun - UNESCO]
The Falun Mine operated for a millennium from the 10th century to 1992. During its operational years, it providing Europe with as much as two thirds of its copper, with much of its profits during its peak helping fund Sweden's war efforts in the 17th century. In 1881 gold was discovered leading to a short-lived gold rush.
Built between 1922 and 1924, Grimeton was an early longwave transatlantic wireless telegraphy station. In its early years it was primarily used to transmit telegram traffic via Morse code to North America, and was Sweden's only telecommunication link with the rest of the world during the Second World War. Although not still in operation, all its equipment still works and it is the only surviving example of a major transmitting station based on pre-electronic technology.
The farmhouses of Hälsingland are an example of a traditional Swedish construction technique in the old farming society in Hälsingland. From the exterior the buildings are pretty but rather unremarkable, but on closer inspection once can observe elegantly profiled joinery work around windows and beautifully decorated doorways, mainly representing the construction style of the 19th century. Inside the walls are painted elaborately by painters, including known and unknown itinerant artists.
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Next in the series is UNESCO: Southern Europe.