Five UNESCO World Heritage Sites to visit on a 2023 cruise

Ocean cruises are the perfect way to explore some of the world’s most outstanding ancient, cultural and natural wonders. Here are five of the best UNESCO-listed destinations to reach by water.

The Sassi di Matera in southern Italy is believed to have been the site of human settlement since the Palaeolithic period (10th millennium BC), making it one of the oldest continuously inhabited settlements in history. 

Photograph by Getty Images
By Jeannine Williamson
Published 9 Dec 2022, 15:00 GMT

For lovers of history and culture, a seafaring voyage offers the chance to take in numerous extraordinary sights in one trip — from world-famous destinations to lesser-known UNESCO-listed spots, many of which you’ve likely never considered visiting by sea. On a cruise, not only will you benefit from dedicated experts sharing in-depth information to bring each place to life, but you’ll enjoy stress-free travel on carefully curated itineraries. So, whether you want to explore off-the-beaten track biospheres, vibrant coastal cities or ancient towns where time seems to stand still, here are five UNESCO sites to consider for a 2023 cruise.

1. Sassi di Matera, Italy

Perched perilously on the edge of a ravine, Matera is the most spectacular and intact troglodyte (cave dwelling) settlement in the Mediterranean. Spread over some 2,500 acres, it’s believed to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited settlements in history, with locals living in the cave city as recently as the 1960s. Famous for its sassi — the warren of stone houses, churches and workshops carved out of the soft limestone — the town, which is about an hour’s drive from the port of Bari, featured in the last James Bond film, No Time to Die.

Next stop: As well as admiring the Sassi di Matera, you can take in the waterways of Venice, the ‘Eternal City’ of Rome and the glamour of Saint Tropez on an itinerary from Venice to Monte Carlo. 

2. Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay

Step back in time and stroll narrow cobbled streets past quaint pastel-coloured houses in this walled city, established by the Portuguese in 1680. An excursion from the port of Montevideo takes a full day, but the drive through lush countryside to one of Uruguay’s oldest towns is well worth it. Surrounded by water on three sides, Colonia del Sacramento’s UNESCO-listed historic quarter serves up a striking fusion of Portuguese and Spanish architecture and is dominated by a 19th-century lighthouse (climb the 118 winding stairs to the top for sweeping panoramic views). 

Next stop: A cruise in this part of the world also allows you to experience a steamy tango in Buenos Aires and take a cable car to the summit of Rio de Janeiro’s landmark Sugarloaf Mountain. Some itineraries also include options to add a multi-day stay before or after your trip in order to truly make the most of these destinations.

Located on the southwestern tip of Uruguay, Colonia del Sacramento teems with Portuguese and Spanish influences.

Located on the southwestern tip of Uruguay, Colonia del Sacramento teems with Portuguese and Spanish influences.

Photograph by Getty Images

3. Old Town, Lunenburg, Canada

From the port of Shelburne, it’s just a 90-minute drive along the Nova Scotia shoreline to the picturesque town of Lunenburg. Settled by the British in 1753, it was their first and only colonial settlement in the region outside Halifax. An introductory walking tour leaves plenty of free time to wander along the town’s waterfront streets, all smartly lined with colourful wooden buildings. Browse the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic and learn about the sleek Canadian racing schooner Bluenose, which was undefeated for 17 years. Then, head to a cafe to sample local specialities Solomon Gundy — marinated herrings with sour cream — and peppery Lunenburg sausage.

Next stop: Cruises stopping at Shelburne also visit destinations including New York and Montreal, with bookings in autumn coinciding with spectacular displays of seasonal foliage.

Colourful buildings line the water in the port town of Lunenburg, one of just two urban ...

Colourful buildings line the water in the port town of Lunenburg, one of just two urban communities in North America to receive UNESCO Heritage Site status.

Photograph by Getty Images

4. Macizo de Anaga Biosphere Reserve, Tenerife, Spain

The wild and unspoiled Anaga Mountains are less than an hour from the bustling seafront city of Santa Cruz de Tenerife. Carved out by a volcanic eruption millions of years ago, this region of jagged peaks and emerald-green forests is part of the UNESCO-designated Macizo de Anaga Biosphere Reserve. Renowned for both its rugged natural beauty and the rich diversity of its flora and fauna, it’s a haven for walkers and wildlife enthusiasts alike. After exploring the reserve’s vistas and valleys, a shore tour here will likely stop at Taganana, one of Tenerife’s oldest villages, where visitors can enjoy local wine, goat’s cheese and bread.

Next stop: Choose an itinerary that combines a stop in Santa Cruz with others in Granada, Tangier and Lisbon, the seafaring capital of Portugal.

A cruise itinerary taking in the island of Tenerife offers travellers an opportunity to explore the ...

A cruise itinerary taking in the island of Tenerife offers travellers an opportunity to explore the striking volcanic landscapes of the Macizo de Anaga Biosphere Reserve.

Photograph by Getty Images

5. Hanseatic city of Lübeck, Germany

Head southeast from the port of Kiel in northern Germany to explore the striking UNESCO-listed city of Lübeck. Founded in the 12th century, Lübeck was the former capital and ‘Queen City’ of the Hanseatic League, a medieval alliance of nearly 200 key Northern European trading settlements. Although the city’s influence has somewhat dwindled since the League’s demise in the 17th century, it remains a key gateway for marine trade, particularly with nearby Nordic countries. The Old Town is home to about 1,800 listed buildings, including the dramatic Holsten Gate, whose twin towers are often viewed as a symbol of the city. Head to the European Hansemuseum for an introduction to the city’s fascinating history, before strolling down to the picture-postcard waterfront, where red roofs and medieval church spires are reflected in the glassy sea.

Next stop: You can take a convenient cruise from Southampton to visit Lübeck, calling in at the Scandi-cool cities of Copenhagen and Stockholm, as well as Estonia’s Tallinn — one of the world’s best preserved medieval cities — along the way.

The Hanseatic city of Lübeck is the second-largest city on Germany's Baltic coast and provides a ...

The Hanseatic city of Lübeck is the second-largest city on Germany's Baltic coast and provides a fascinating glimpse into the area's rich maritime trading history.

Photograph by Getty Images

Plan your trip

Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ itineraries visit legendary and lesser-known UNESCO World Heritage Sites worldwide, including all those listed above, with in-depth shore excursions and expert onboard lecturers highlighting the very best of every port of call. Regent’s award-winning fleet of small, luxurious boutique ships will number six when the 750-passenger Seven Seas Grandeur launches in 2023. Regent's ships aim to offer unrivalled space at sea, with high staff-to-passenger ratios, delicious cuisine, great entertainment and unlimited shore excursions in every port of call — all included in the fare.

For more information and to order your free brochure, visit

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