UNESCO Sites on the Atlantic Coast
You’ll find the UNESCO World Heritage sites of the Atlantic Coast Region as dramatic as the tempestuous ocean that sweeps the shores of Iceland, the British Isles, France, Portugal, and Spain.
New: Discover the UNESCO sites of the Atlantic Coast with our interactive map!
The Prehistoric Sites and Decorated Caves of the Vézère Valley in France are world-famous and listed with UNESCO for good reason: discovered only in 1940 – by some young boys looking for their dog! - this cave complex had been untouched for thousands of years, and thus revealed to our modern eyes the full color, detail and beauty of our prehistoric art. These paintings, some of the oldest paintings we know of, date back to 15,000 B.C.. Deer, horses, and bison just about just about leap off the walls, giving the distinct impression that beauty and art were not at all lost on these ancient people. The Lascaux cave has been replicated in order to protect the original one from damage caused by even the most cautious visits, but there are other Paleolithic sites and caves in the valley to visit as well.
If you’re mesmerized by the mystery of ancient northern cultures, you must visit the Archaeological Ensemble of the Bend of the Boyne when you travel to Ireland. Located on a bend of the Boyne River, not far from Dublin, this is the largest and most important collection of Stone Age megalithic art that you can find in Europe. The ruins predate the pyramids and yet demonstrate a sophisticated understanding of astronomy. The site has constructions used for social, religious, and burial purposes, many with the beautiful swirls, whorls, and geometric designs typical of megalithic art. Of the three largest passage tombs, the one at Newgrange is especially noted for its orientation, which on the summer and winter solstices allows the chamber to fill with sunlight.
Variety is the spice of life
The Cultural Landscape of Sintra on the Atlantic coast of Portugal is a fairytale of European Romantic architecture. This town is of World Heritage value because it was one of the first and most influential expressions of European Romantic architecture, inspiring many other cities to emulate the style. Here is an eclectic combination of much that came before: Egyptian, Moorish, Renaissance and Gothic styles, ensconced in lush and more naturalistic landscaping than had been popular before. The entire city is cited, including an Iron Age burial site and the fantastic medieval National Palace, an especially intriguing royal residence.
Built to last
The Tower of Hercules; the name alone makes you want to visit. When you consider that it was the Romans who built this lighthouse on the northwest coast of Spain in the first century AD and that it is the oldest functioning lighthouse anywhere, you can understand why it’s a World Heritage site. A cornerstone still shows Latin inscriptions that name the able architect who built the tower. It features in the coat of arms of Coruna, the city established nearby according to local legend: When Hercules subdued the awful giant Geryon and buried his head, he decreed that a city should be built on the site. It may not be entirely true, but it’s a great story!
Inventive and determined
In northeastern Wales is Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, cited by UNESCO because it is, in their own words, “ a work of creative genius”. Synthesizing techniques that were very new in the early 19th century, Thomas Telfod designed a lockless canal and aqueduct that cover a distance 18 km. The construction defied the difficulties of the landscape and combined cast and wrought iron in such a way as to produce long, elegant arches that are very easy on the eye. The aqueduct could easily accommodate both a narrow boat and, on a protected walkway, pedestrian traffic. Enjoy viewing the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct from above and below, so you can enjoy the fantastic views from its 126 foot height above the River Dee.
Birthplace of a nation
Thingvellir National Park in Iceland is essential to Icelandic history: this is where Iceland became a nation. In the 10th century settlers needed to establish a general assembly so that no single family had too much power. The land was taken away from a convicted murderer and has served the public ever since, as a governmental and social hub. The Althing, or parliament, stayed in this location until the 18th century, when it moved to Reykjavik. You can see turf and stone remains of the Althing, examples of 18-19th century farming techniques, and enjoy the unparalleled natural beauty of this national park.