Every year on April 18, the UN celebrates World Heritage Day, also known as the International Day for Monuments and Sites, to promote awareness of the diversity of cultural heritage, the vulnerability of sites and monuments and the efforts required for their protection and conservation.
There are more than 1,157 listed Unesco World Heritage sites around the world, spanning some of the most dazzling cultural and natural gems on earth. From national parks to historic monuments, the sites represent some of the world’s most visited or coveted attractions.
In many locations, hotels cluster near these famed landmarks, but only a few can claim paramount position. The National takes a look at some of the best hotels in the world offering prime access to sites that have been recognised by the Unesco World Heritage organisation.
Marasca at Khao Yai, Thailand
About an hour from Bangkok, Khao Yai National Park is part of one of Thailand’s most prominent Unesco World Heritage sites. Home to natural wonders and brimming with wildlife, including globally threatened species, it’s part of the Dong Phayayen-Khao Yai Forest Complex, which was added to the World Heritage List in 2005.
Travellers staying at Marasca have unrivalled access to the Unesco site and Thailand’s first official national park. This back-to-nature boutique property offers tented accommodation, each of which comes with a private plunge pool and firepit while farm-to-table produce is served in the resort’s treehouse-style restaurant.
Framed by mountains, this hideaway is the place to reconnect with nature with walking trails through wildflower meadows, treks to lava-rock-strewn valleys, stargazing sessions and elephant spotting safaris.
Royal Palm Galapagos, Curio Collection Hotel by Hilton, Ecuador
As the first site to be inscribed on the Unesco World Heritage List in 1978, the Galapagos Islands, which is located about 965km from the coast of Ecuador, boasts some of the world’s most distinctive island ecosystems.
With amazing natural beauty, unique wildlife and several endangered species, the destination brims with breathtaking panoramas and unspoilt vegetation. It is made up of 127 islands, and one of the most prominent is Santa Cruz, where travellers can stay at the Royal Palm Galapagos, Curio Collection Hotel by Hilton.
The boutique hotel opened in 2021 and is nestled in the Miconia Highland Forests. It has 21 villas and rooms spread across a secluded 160-hectare estate. Directly adjacent to Galapagos National Park, a Unesco World Heritage Site, it is a tranquil sanctuary that promises once-in-a-lifetime wildlife encounters.
An infinity pool, fire pits and open fireplaces ensure travellers stay in comfort and the hotel offers immersive experiences that get guests closer to nature in what is perhaps one of the world’s most intriguing destinations.
Amangalla, Galle, Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka’s 17th-century Galle Fort is a Unesco World Heritage site that dates back to 1588 and boasts massive bastions, cobbled streets and a buzzing multiethnic community.
Travellers staying at Amangalla can enjoy views of The Galle Fort and the harbour on one side, and the hotel’s manicured gardens and swimming pool on the other. This luxury hideaway hotel has been welcoming guests for more than 150 years.
Reflecting Galle Fort’s rich colonial legacy, it offers rooms that retain their original wooden floors, lofty high ceilings and traditional sash windows. Guests have the chance to explore Galle Fort with a local guide, plus visit the cricket fields, the Sudharmalaya Temple, Meeran Jumma Mosque and the town’s famed lighthouse. Aman can also organise a trip to another of Sri Lanka's Unesco World Heritage Sites, with a helicopter tour to Sigiriya, an ancient rock fortress and palace atop a giant rock.
La Sultana Marrakech, Morocco
Morocco has nine Unesco World Heritage sites and one of the most popular with tourists is the Medina in Marrakesh. The original walled city was inscribed into the list in 1985 and is known for its well-preserved collection of monuments. Tucked away at the heart of the Kasbah, La Sultana Marrakech is one of the best places to stay for unrivalled access to the site.
With patios sculpted by master craftsmen, manicured gardens and rooftop views of the city, the hotel is within the perimeter of the Medina and close to the historic sites such as the Royal Palace, the Saadian Tombs and Bahia Palace.
The boutique hotel has 28 rooms and suites, each with a curated collection of artworks. The hotel also boasts lush gardens, a heated pool, roof terrace, luxury spa and outdoor space where traditional cooking classes are held.
Travellers keen to delve further into Morocco’s dizzying culinary scene might want to try the hotel’s Flavour of Marrakesh package — a four-night escape that includes cooking classes, street-food style lunch, market shopping and a dining tour of the city.
Banyan Tree Al Ula, Saudi Arabia
With its unique landscape, millions of palm trees and a history that dates back 200,000 years, AlUla in Saudi Arabia's north-west is also home to Hegra Archaeological Site, Saudi Arabia’s first Unesco-inscribed world heritage site.
Added to the list in 2005, it features well-preserved monumental tombs with decorated facades and dozens of inscriptions of the pre-Nabataean period. Visitors will soon be able to stay right behind the listed landmark as a new boutique hotel is being constructed beside the Hijaz Railway buildings, but until that happens, Banyan Tree AlUla is the best pick.
This eco-centric hideaway in the Asher Valley spans 300 hectares and comprises luxury tents inspired by the Bedouin tribe who roamed this land thousands of years ago. The resort has four types of accommodation — from a one-bedroom tent to a three-bedroom tent that comes with its own terrace and private pool — and there’s a strong focus on wellness with Banyan Tree’s spa, where guests can enjoy massages inside secluded caves or sound baths under the stars with views of the valley.
It’s a unique escape surrounded by craggy rocks, desert landscapes and striking rock formations, with guests able to try the resort’s self-guided walking trail with rock art dating back some 8,000 years. The Unesco World Heritage site is also nearby and excursions are easily organised.
Q92 Noto Hotel, Italy
As the country with the most Unesco-listed heritage sites in the world, it’s no wonder that Italy makes this list. One of the most intriguing sites in the European country is in south-eastern Sicily at the Late Baroque Towns of the Val di Noto.
In 1963, eight towns on the island were rebuilt after the earthquake that took place the same year. These are noted for representing a considerable collective undertaking and showcasing a high level of architectural and artistic achievement, and are the starting point for a trip to the Sicilian Baroque.
For a stay at the heart of the Baroque capital, guests can check into Q92 Noto Hotel, along the famous Corso Vittorio Emanuele. With amazing views of Noto Cathedral, this boutique hotel combines Italian and exquisite Sicilian design and rooms come with beautiful balconies that offer views of Noto’s most prominent annual event — the famous Infiorata di Noto, a colourful extravaganza held to celebrate spring every year.
Airelles Chateau de Versailles, Le Grand Controle, France
One of the most popular attractions in the world’s most-visited countries, France’s estate of Versailles was one of the first sites to be listed as a Unesco World Heritage site in 1979.
Travellers who want to experience palace life first-hand can stay at Le Grand Controle in the Chateau de Versailles. Built by Jules Hardouin-Mansart, Louis XIV’s favourite architect, Le Grand Controle is the only hotel at the palace.
With only 11 rooms and two Signature Suites, it offers a boutique-sized stay with charming 18th-century style decor and period furniture and fabrics. Enjoy dedicated butler service, wake up to unrivalled views of the Chateau de Versailles and feast on Michelin-starred meals by Alain Ducasse. Guests also get exclusive access to the park, can enjoy a golf buggy tour of the verdant gardens and indulge in a Marie-Antoinette style afternoon tea.
Palmera Camp, Wadi Rum, Jordan
There’s something otherworldly about Jordan’s Wadi Rum. Vast desert landscapes filled with narrow gorges, towering cliffs, natural arches and hidden caves, the mesmerising site spreads more than 74,000 hectares in the south of the country, close to the border with Saudi Arabia.
Filled with petroglyphs, inscriptions and archaeological remains, there’s no shortage of places to stay, and the recently opened Wadi Rum Palmera camp in the Wadi Rum Protected Area is worth considering. Travellers stay in luxury tents with beautifully draped beds, majlis seating areas and private bathrooms.
Each bubble tent offers open views to the night sky and the camp comes alive every evening as its bathed in starlight. There’s also a swimming pool, a number of nearby hiking trails and communal dining where meals are cooked in the traditional zarb way, deep in the ground for hours on end.
The Ritz-Carlton Nikko, Japan
Japan boasts more than 20 Unesco-listed World Heritage sites and the shrines and temples of Nikko, as well as their stunning natural surroundings, are one of the most fascinating. Inscribed on Unesco's list in 1999, the site is located in Tochigi Prefecture, in the northern part of Japan’s Kanto region. For centuries, it has been a sacred site known for its architectural and decorative masterpieces that are closely associated with the history of the Tokugawa Shoguns.
The Ritz-Carlton Nikko opened in the Unesco World Heritage site in 2020. Set along Lake Chuzenji and Mount Nantai, the hotel has 94 rooms and suites with private balconies and views of the surrounding area. Guests staying at the resort can easily access the Unesco World Heritage designated area and there’s a plethora of activities on offer, from cycling through protected wetlands to strolling through centuries-old sanctuaries and meditating under the Kegon waterfalls.
New Lanark Mill Hotel, Scotland
Nestled in the Clyde Valley in southern Scotland, close to the rushing Falls of Clyde and less than an hour from both Edinburgh and Glasgow is New Lanark World Heritage Site, a restored 18th-century cotton mill village.
Step back in time with a visit to this carefully preserved village where visitors can see first-hand what life was like at this working cotton mill town, which was at one time thought to be the largest industrial facility in the world. The Unesco site boasts one hotel, the New Lanark Mill Hotel — a four-star property with a luxury spa and heated indoor swimming pool where traditional Scottish meals are served at Mill One Restaurant. Rooms come with views of the River Clyde and the restored village.
Surrounded by native woodlands, it’s the perfect base for walking and trekking trails, and unique wildlife spotting opportunities at the nearby waterfalls. The hotel’s riverside cottages can also be reserved for those seeking a more private retreat in the Scottish countryside.