UNESCO Adds 33 New Sites to Its 2021 World Heritage List

The latest additions—from Europe’s great spa towns to a nearly 100-year-old railway in Iran—are definitely worthy of a detour or even planning your next trip around.

The recent announcement of 33 newly inscribed UNESCO World Heritage sites is larger than usual because it covers two years, 2020 and 2021. (The committee that selects the sites did not meet in 2020 because of the pandemic.) They join a list of more than 1,000 natural and cultural sites around the globe. Culture, especially modern—rather than nature—rules in these choices.

Recognition by UNESCO means the landmark is of “outstanding universal value.” It also means the site can obtain funds and advice from UNESCO to help maintain it. Both types of aid may be necessary because the new status frequently means an increase in tourist visits, sometimes too many, especially when a site has the dubious distinction of being “Instagrammable.”

While the pandemic continues to make some of these sites off limits, here is a sampling of places you may want to include in your future travel plans.

Church of Atlántida, Uruguay

Photo by Javier Villasuso/CPCN, Getty Foundation via UNESCO.
Completed in 1960, the modernist Church of Atlántida features undulating walls and a roof of double-curved vaults.

Uruguay may not be top of mind for many travelers, but modern architecture fans will be keen to visit this remarkable building. Innovative engineer Eladio Dieste used humble bricks in a surprisingly sophisticated way. Completed in 1960, the church features undulating walls and a roof of double-curved vaults. The cylindrical bell tower has openwork masonry; an oculus lights the underground baptistery. The church is a striking example of what imagination can do with a very modest budget.

More on Uruguay: This Small Uruguayan Town Is the Next Marfa

The Great Spa Towns of Europe

Photo by Shutterstock. 
Vichy, France, is among several towns in Europe that were developed around natural mineral water springs.

This designation encompasses 11 towns in 7 countries, so you’re sure to find several worth exploring the next time you’re in Europe. They include the City of Bath (U.K.), Vichy in France, three spa towns each in Czechia and Germany, and the eponymous Spa in Belgium, long known for its healing thermal waters. All of them feature natural mineral water springs and served as prototypes of today’s luxe international wellness resorts.

More on natural spas: 11 of the World’s Dreamiest, Steamiest Hot Springs

Sítio Roberto Burle Marx, Brazil

Photo by Oscar Liberal/Iphan/SRBM via UNESCO
Just outside of Rio de Janeiro is a fantastical world of landscape architecture design.

Landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx developed this garden over four decades, starting in 1949, at his home. It includes some 3,500 species of tropical plants in dramatic, colorful arrangements. An on-site museum displays Burle Marx’s arts and crafts collection. U.S. landscape designer Richard Hartlage sums up his work as “a painter working in landscape.” The 100-acre garden is about a 90-minute drive west of Rio de Janeiro.

More on Rio de Janeiro: Embracing the Unknown in Rio de Janeiro

Mathildenhöhe, Darmstadt, Germany

Photo by Shutterstock
At Mathildenhöhe, you'll find a chapel, wedding tower, pergola, fountain, and artists’ studios and houses.

This artists’ colony launched at the end of the 19th century began as a center for innovation in art and architecture. More than a dozen remaining experimental buildings and gardens include a chapel, wedding tower, pergola, fountain, and artists’ studios and houses, which were displayed during international exhibits in the years leading up to World War I. One former house/studio is now the Artists’ Colony Museum, which shows work by the 23 residents active here from 1899 to 1914. A must-see for aficionados of art nouveau, the Vienna Secession, and the arts and crafts movement, the property is a short drive from Frankfurt.

Plan a trip with AFAR’s Germany travel guide

Trans-Iranian Railway

Photo by Hossein Javadi via UNESCO
The Trans-Iranian Railway crosses two mountain ranges to connect the Caspian Sea with the Persian Gulf.

You’ve no doubt heard of the Trans-Siberian Railway. Although not a UNESCO World Heritage site, it is a good way to visit many such sites in Russia. Iran’s trans-national railway is shorter and more recent—and it runs north to south, not east to west—but represents an impressive engineering feat. Crossing two mountain ranges to connect the Caspian Sea with the Persian Gulf required the building of hundreds of bridges and tunnels between 1927 and 1938. Horseshoe curves and 11 spiral tunnels were constructed to handle the many steep inclines.

More on Iran: 15 Photos That Show What It’s Really Like to Live in Iran


Here is a complete list of UNESCO’s newly designated World Heritage sites, by region:


  • Sudanese Style Mosques in Northern Ivory Coast
  • Ivindo National Park, Gabon


  • Quanzhou: Emporium of the World in Song-Yuan China
  • Jomon Prehistoric Sites in Northern Japan
  • Amami-Oshima Island, Tokunoshima Island, Northern part of Okinawa Island, and Iriomote Island, Japan
  • Getbol, Korean Tidal Flats, South Korea
  • Kaeng Krachan Forest Complex, Thailand
  • Dholavira: a Harappan City, India
  • Kakatiya Rudreshwara (Ramappa) Temple, Telangana, India


  • Colonies of Benevolence, Belgium/Netherlands
  • Cordouan Lighthouse, France
  • Nice, Winter Resort Town of the Riviera, France
  • Mathildenhöhe Darmstadt, Germany
  • Frontiers of the Roman Empire—The Lower German Lines, Germany/the Netherlands
  • ShUM Sites of Speyer, Worms and Mainz, Germany
  • The Porticoes of Bologna, Italy
  • The Works of Jože Plečnik in Ljubljana—Human Centered Urban Design, Slovenia
  • The Slate Landscape of Northwest Wales, United Kingdom
  • Petroglyphs of Lake Onega and the White Sea, Russia
  • Padua’s Fourteenth-Century Fresco Cycles, Italy
  • Paseo del Prado and Buen Retiro, a landscape of Arts and Sciences, Spain
  • Roșia Montană Mining Landscape, Romania
  • The Great Spa Towns of Europe, Austria, Belgium, Czechia, France, Germany, Italy, United Kingdom
  • Colchic Rainforests and Wetlands, Georgia

Middle East

  • As-Salt—the Place of Tolerance and Urban Hospitality, Jordan
  • Trans-Iranian Railway, Iran
  • Cultural Landscape of Hawraman/Uramanat, Iran
  • Ḥimā Cultural Area, Saudia Arabia
  • Arslantepe Mound, Turkey

South America

  • Settlement and Artificial Mummification of the Chinchorro Culture in the Arica and Parinacota Region, Chile
  • Sítio Roberto Burle Marx, Brazil
  • Chankillo Archaeoastronomical Complex, Peru
  • The Work of Engineer Eladio Dieste: Church of Atlántida, Uruguay

Published by AFAR.com