There are plenty of mesmerizing ancient ruins in the world today. They take on all forms, from temples and palaces to entire cities; these ancient landmarks dot the globe.
Ruins offer a glimpse into ancient societies’ architectural, cultural, and historical aspects and are important for us to see when traveling. From the Egyptian Pyramids to the Greek Acropolis, ancient ruins are found worldwide.
Historians, researchers, and archaeologists have studied these ruins for years, but even tourists can visit many of these sites and be absolutely mind-blown. Here are just a few of the most amazing ancient ruins and landmarks in the world.
The Most Famous Ancient Ruins in the World
1. Montezuma Castle National Monument, Arizona
It’s much like a modern high-rise apartment you see in urban centers except it’s built into the side of some cliffs and it’s over 600 years old. I’m talking about the fascinating cliff dwellings of Montezuma Castle National Monument which protects Montezuma Castle in Cape Verde, Arizona.
These dwellings were constructed by the ancient indigenous Sinagua people, and are among one of the most amazing places to see in the American Southwest. We can see the endurance of these people who lived in such an unforgiving environment just by how well they are built and well-preserved they are today.
2. Chichén Itzá, Mexico
Located in Mexico, Chichen Itza is an ancient Mayan City that goes back almost 1,000 years. The site is a perfect example of traditional Mayan building techniques and on site, you’ll see many buildings that are still intact including the step pyramid of El Castillo and the El Caracol Observatory. Stone carvings and ancient artworks can be seen throughout the site.
3. Sigiriya, Sri Lanka
At its peak, Sigiriya in Sri Lanka was a bustling place. Today, this ancient fortress built into the side of a cliff draws visitors from all over who come to see the fascinating ruins.
Sigiriya is one of the best places to visit in Sri Lanka. However, the climb to the top of the fortress is not an easy feat but if you manage to do it, you’ll be rewarded with incredible views.
4. Stonehenge, England
Of all the ancient ruins on Earth, none are as recognized as England’s Stonehenge. Believed to have been constructed as far back as 3100 BC, it’s still a mystery as to why this elaborate monument was created.
Some believe it’s astronomical in nature while others point to dark magic. Whatever the reason, the giant stones in a circular formation are quite the site. Nearby there are burial mounds and other structures that are peculiarly arranged to line up with the sun, moon, and stars.
5. Wat Ratchaburana, Thailand
When it comes to Buddhist temples in Ayutthaya, none come close to the splendor of Wat Ratchaburana, in particular its elaborate prang. The temple was built in 1424 for King Borommarachathirat II. In the mid-1900s, the crypt was looted and priceless gold artifacts were taken.
The remaining ones can be seen at the Chao Sam Phraya National Museum. If high places aren’t an issue for you, climb up inside the prang and see the crypt and its ancient murals.
6. The Pyramids of Giza, Egypt
The Pyramids of Giza are on almost everyone’s bucket list of places to see, and in Egypt they’re the most popular attraction. You don’t have to travel far from bustling Cairo to reach these incredible feats of architecture.
Once there, you’ll stand in awe before these giant structures that were somehow built by hand over 3,000 years ago. Inside the pyramids are ancient burial chambers meant to pay homage to departed pharaohs and ensure that everything they needed was readily available for them in the next life. Each pyramid also has a palace and several temples.
7. Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
In Colorado, there’s an amazing site with ancient ruins that go back 900 years. The cliff dwellings that were built over 8,000 feet above the ground in Mesa Verde National Park are remnants of the Pueblo Indian people.
A tour of the ruins reveals fascinating sights including the Cliff Palace with more than 150 rooms and the Long House. You’ll need to climb a few ladders to see the best stuff but it’s worth it!
8. Hadrian’s Wall, England
Hadrian’s Wall has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987, but it’s been around for about 1,900 years! Located in the Cumbria region of England, a large portion of this fortification is still intact.
The wall itself crosses 73 miles and is set against the wild and scenic countryside. The area also features many other fascinating sites including Chesters Roman Fort, Housesteads Roman Fort, and Birdsoswalk Roman Fort.
9. Volubilis, Morocco
Volubilis in Morocco is an incredible site but what you see is not the entire Roman City as it’s only been partially excavated to date! It was built in the 3rd century BC but was later abandoned in the 11th century AD.
Today, you can see well-preserved remains of Volubulis including marble columns, a temple, statues, and various structures adorned with frescoes and mosaics.
10. Cobá, Mexico
The elaborate, ancient Mayan city of Coba on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula was once home to more than 50,000 people. Today, the ruins of this former city are a top attraction in the country.
As you explore the ruins, you’ll see a series of pyramids, the tallest of which is 138 feet tall. You’ll also see stone causeways and stone slabs depicting everyday life as it was as far back as 600 AD.
11. Bagan, Myanmar
In its heyday leading up to the 13th century, Bagan had over 10,000 Buddhist monasteries, temples, and pagodas. Today, more than 2,000 still stand and you can see them and many other incredible sites at one of Burma’s top attractions.
This ancient city is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site dedicated to preserving the city and the history surrounding it.
12. Moai of Easter Island, Chile
You’re likely familiar with the Moai of Easter Island but do you know anything about these giant and very old statues that are found all over the remote island? The island is worth a visit for these statues alone.
They were carved by the local Rapa Nui people starting around 1250 AD but with each one weighing about 80 tons, no one really knows how the statues came to be where they are today. They are mysterious, they are fascinating and they are beautifully set against the sparkling blue Pacific.
13. Tiwanaku, Bolivia
Founded around 110 AD, Tiwanaku is one of Bolivia’s most important pre-Incan sites. This ancient city has many incredible features including the Akaspana Pyramid, Gate of the Sun, and Kalasasaya Temple. What can be seen today covers 2.5 square miles.
A visit to the ruins isn’t complete without a visit to the Museo del Sitio de Tiwanaku which showcases artifacts that were uncovered from the site.
14. Cappadocia, Turkey
You may know Cappadocia as that place where people go hot air ballooning in Turkey but it’s also known for being the site of an ancient city that was once the Hittite Empire. It is thought that these ruins date as far back as the 6th century BC and that combination of very old architecture and the striking natural beauty of the region make it a top attraction for anyone interested in history.
The temples and dwellings are carved right into the rock and feature unique fairy chimneys. Some of these cave dwellings have been revitalized into modern cave hotels that visitors can stay in.
15. Petra, Jordan
Constructed around 300 BC, Petra today is one of the most visited ancient ruins in the world, but centuries ago, it was the capital of the Nabatean Kingdom.
Located in the southwestern desert region of Jordan, Petra is also known as the Rose City due to the color of the sandstone rock into which many of its structures are built. Tombs and temples, including the prominent Al Khazneh, are some of the amazing sites to be seen at Petra.
16. Pompeii, Italy
There are world-famous ancient ruins, the most visited ruins, and the most fascinating ruins but when it comes to the most romanticized, that would have to be the ancient ruins of Pompeii in Italy. This city was famously destroyed in 79 AD when nearby Mount Vesuvius erupted and left the Roman city buried in a thick layer of ash.
When rediscovered many centuries later, the remnants of Pompeii were so incredibly preserved that even the people who lived there were frozen at the moment they died. You can even see streets as they once were and homes with ancient graffiti scrawled on the walls!
17. Mycenae, Greece
Greece has its fair share of famous ancient ruins and one must-see is the Greek site of Mycenae. This ancient city thrived between 1600 and 1100 BC. Famously tied to Homer’s Iliad and the Odyssey, you can just imagine the history and culture that’s tied to the site.
The first thing you’ll see as you enter is the Lion Gate which is the entrance to the ancient city. As you explore it, you’ll also see the Treasury of Atreus and the Cyclopean Walls. Be sure to check out the Archaeological Museum which features exhibits with items that were excavated from the site.
18. Ellora, India
Ellora in Maharashtra, India is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an incredible archeological site featuring caves and rock shrines representing Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism.
The site dates back to somewhere between the 5th and 13th centuries AD and is mostly known for the 34 cave temples that are cut into the Charanandri Hills. One of those caves, The Kailasa Temple, is said to be among the most beautiful temples on earth.
19. Ephesus, Turkey
Constructed in the 10th century by Ionian Greek settlers, Ephesus, which is located in Turkey, was an ancient coastal city.
The remains of this once-thriving commercial center can still be seen including what’s left of the storied Temple of Artemis and the Temple of Hadrian. As you stroll down the old paved roads, you’ll pass by ancient baths, squares, and ruins that represent centuries of history across empires, cultures, and religions.
20. Palmyra, Syria
If very old ancient ruins interest you then Palmyra is your kind of place. At close to 4,000 years old, this historical site in Syria was an important cultural center in the ancient world and much of it still stands and is in pretty good shape considering its age!
The Temple of Ba’al, the Roman Theater, the Hypogeum of 3 Brothers, The Tetrapylon, and The Arab Castle are just some of the attractions you’ll find as you wander this beautiful place.
21. Heart of Neolithic Orkney, Scotland
The Orkney Islands have many ancient ruins from the last 5,000 years but it’s the Heart of Neolithic Orkney site on the main island that gets the most attention.
This site features four monuments known as the Stones of Stenness, Maeshowe, Skara Brae, and the Ring of Brodgar. These well-preserved ruins have some fascinating features including ancient Viking graffiti on the Maeshowe Stones and more than two dozen megaliths in the Brodgar Stone Circle.
22. The Colosseum, Italy
When in Rome…don’t miss the Colosseum, one of the most famous landmarks in the world! As the biggest amphitheater on earth, pictures just don’t do it justice. You have to actually be there to imagine what it must have been like to hear 50,000 people cheer as gladiators fought to live…or die.
It’s almost 2,000 years old so it’s hard to imagine such a large structure being built by hand so long ago but there it stands as a reminder that a mighty empire once ruled the land, one so mighty that its greatest architectural accomplishment still stands. Be sure to check out the maze of rooms and tunnels underneath it.
23. Aksum, Ethiopia
Aksum was thriving at a time when the Roman Empire was at its peak and it continued to thrive for around a thousand years. Located in Ethiopia, this once important trading center is now a treasure trove of fascinating ruins and artifacts.
Some of those ruins include a palace, several royal tombs, and stately obelisks, one of which stands over 60 feet. Artifacts include stone tablets with writings in various languages.
24. Tulum, Mexico
Set against the jaw-dropping coastal scenery of Tulum, the ruins of the same name lie just above some of the most coastline in Mexico. This contrast of history and beauty makes the ruins at Tulum a top place to visit on the Riviera Maya.
This ancient Mayan city is beautifully-preserved and as you walk along the designated path you’ll see stately structures including El Castillo, the Temple of the Frescoes, and the Temple of the Descending God. At the bottom of the 39-foot cliffs that border the site, you’ll find a stunning sandy beach where you can go for a refreshing dip after you finish exploring.
25. Tikal, Guatemala
Located in the jungle of Guatemala is a spectacular ancient Mayan site that is more than 2,000 years old. It’s a known Guatemala fact that this site, known as Tikal, was a thriving city for more than a thousand years and, at times, had up to 90,000 residents.
The main attraction at the site is the dozens of large temples shaped like stepped pyramids. If you don’t mind a steep climb, head to the top of one of those pyramids to get some stunning views of the area.
26. Ta Prohm, Cambodia
You might recognize Ta Prohm from the movie Tomb Raider but to get a true feel for the place, you have to visit it!
Situated in Cambodia, this ancient temple dating back to the 12th century is incredibly preserved with several galleries with towers and gopuras. A unique feature of this site is the giant tree roots that have started to take over.
27. The Great Wall of China, China
The Great Wall of China is more than just an ancient wall; it’s a fortification, it’s incredible architecture and it’s one of the most famous ancient ruins of all time although many sections of it are in such great shape you wouldn’t consider them in ruins!
Construction of the wall began in the 3rd century BC and continued into the 17th century AD and traverses harsh terrain surrounded by spectacular scenery for over 12,000 miles. The main section of the wall is where you can see watch towers, shelters, forts, and horse tracks.
28. Machu Picchu, Peru
Machu Picchu in Peru is the most famous ancient ruins in South America and perhaps even one of the most famous in the world! The site attracts people interested in a combination of adventure, scenery, history, and incredible ruins.
Dating back to the 1400s, the site is of Inca origin and is thought to have been the grand estate of the emperor Pachacuti. At almost 8,000 feet above sea level, the trek to the site is just part of the experience. Once there, you’ll see ancient terraces, walls, and more than 100 other structures and the backdrop is the stunning mountain scenery that’s all around.
29. Jerash, Jordan
Situated in Jordan, The ancient city of Jerash is thought to be around 6,500 years old but the ruins of this once-thriving urban sprawl were only unearthed in the early 1800s.
Besides a number of fountains, walls, plazas, and temples, you’ll also see the South Theater, the Oval Plaza, the Temple of Artemis, and the Colonnaded Street.
30. Roman Baths, England
The Roman Baths are one of England’s most visited sites and one of the most famous ancient ruins in the world. They’ve been around since about 65 AD and served as an elaborate bathing and socializing compound.
Despite their age, they’re very well-preserved. The site features the Grand Pump Room, the Roman temple, ancient change rooms, the baths themselves, and a museum showcasing various artifacts. Astonishingly, more than a million liters of spring water continue to fill the baths every day but don’t bet on being able to take a dip because the baths are for your viewing pleasure only!
31. Baalbek, Lebanon
Located just a two-hour drive away from the capital of Beirut, the awe-inspiring remnants of Baalbek captivate the imagination. Although the origins of this sacred place remain shrouded in mystery, it is widely speculated that it was initially constructed by the Phoenicians some four millennia in the past, only to be subsequently claimed by the Greeks, Romans, and eventually the Arabs.
What truly distinguishes this marvel is its colossal magnitude. As you stand amidst its towering stone walls and mighty columns, an overwhelming sense of fear and awe envelops your being.
32. El Jem, Tunisia
Already visited the Colesseum and discouraged by the crowds? It’s best to head to the small town of El Jem in Tunisia. There you will find a large amphitheater that rivals Rome, although not many people have heard of this one!
The amphitheater, called the Amphitheatre of Thysdrus, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, built in the 3rd century AD and could accommodate up to 35,000 spectators. The elliptical structure is well-preserved and rivals the Colosseum in Rome. It has a museum showcasing Roman artifacts, and you can even walk under the structure unlike in Rome.
When we visited El Jem we were two of just ten people exploring the site!
33. Luxur Temple, Egypt
A visit to Luxor Temple is an essential experience when exploring Egypt. This ancient marvel, dating back to 1400 BC, proudly resides in the present-day city of Luxor and once stood as a paramount center of religious devotion in the land.
Over the course of numerous reigns, including those of King Tutankhamun, Ramses II, and Amenhotep III, the temple was constructed, leaving behind remnants that have been partially restored.
Among these are the awe-inspiring ruins, featuring a remarkable complex of nearly 30 pillars standing at a height of 20 feet, adorned with intricate carvings.
34. Meteora, Greece
Among the multitude of extraordinary wonders that Greece offers, the Monasteries of Meteora stand out as one of the most remarkable and distinctive. Nestled amidst breathtaking natural pillars, these six monasteries (originally twenty-four) command lofty heights and evoke a sense of awe that is almost surreal. Witnessing their existence firsthand ranks among the top experiences to be had in Greece.
As a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, this enchanting locale seamlessly combines history and nature. The mountaintop monasteries are hailed as a testament to the boundless creativity of humankind, showcasing an unrivaled marvel.
Entry to the Monastery costs a mere €3 per person, while organized day trips from Athens typically amount to around €60. Considering the popularity of this destination, it is advisable to book a tour in advance. Opting for a guided tour offers the added advantage of knowledgeable insights while exploring this captivating Greek attraction.
35. Valley of the Temples, Sicily
Archeological sites are in no short supply in Sicily, but if you only have time to visit one, make it The Valley of the Temples in Agrigento. At this site, you’ll see eight ancient temples that date as far back as 2,500 years.
As you walk around the area, you’ll notice that two of these temples are very well-preserved so you can really see the detail in the Greek architecture and artwork that adorn them.
36. Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Waking up before sunrise and making your way to the Angkor Wat Temple Complex may feel like a bit of a task, but once you witness its legendary silhouette, it will all be worth it.
This highly distinguished religious monument is the largest in the world and South-East Asia’s most significant archeological site.
Once you step inside, the complex will greet you with temples upon temples. Nearly 70 of them some dating as far back as the 9th century.
37. Temple of Karnak, Egypt
Karnak Temple stands out as one of the primary attractions in Egypt. What makes this temple truly remarkable is that it transcends the notion of a single structure and encompasses an entire complex comprising of temples, chapels, pillars, and various other edifices, each bearing the marks of time’s passage. Conveniently located near Luxor, it presents an excellent opportunity for those in the city, or on a Nile River Cruise.
Although construction on the temple commenced around 2055 BC, significant elements from relatively more recent times, specifically the 11th century AD, have endured. The temple grounds span a vast area and even encompass an open-air museum. Among the four sections constituting the complex, the largest one, known as the Precinct of Amun-Re, remains accessible to travelers.
38. Göbekli Tepe, Turkey
Perhaps not the most exciting of these ancient ruins to visit, but certain the most interesting, Göbekli Tepe stands as the most ancient and consequential site ever unearthed by humans, surpassed in age solely by a stone wall found in Greece. Its age becomes even more astounding when considering the intricate nature of the site.
Uncovering its secrets has been a continuous endeavor for the past 30 years, with experts predicting that excavations could persist for decades to come.
39. Great Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe
Great Zimbabwe refers to the remnants of an ancient city situated near present-day Masvingo, Zimbabwe. Inhabited since approximately 1100 C.E., but the city was eventually abandoned during the 15th century. It served as the capital of the Kingdom of Zimbabwe, a prosperous Shona (Bantu) trading empire. The name “Zimbabwe” itself translates to “stone houses” in the Shona language.
Great Zimbabwe played a vital role within an extensive and affluent global trading network. Archaeologists have uncovered Chinese and Persian pottery, along with Arab coins, within its ruins.
The influential figures of the Zimbabwe Empire held control over the trade routes traversing the East African coast, facilitating commerce throughout the region.
40. Lalibela, Ethiopia
Situated in the Amhara region of northern Ethiopia, Lalibela is a town renowned for its extraordinary rock-hewn churches that trace back to the 12th and 13th centuries!
These architectural marvels serve as sacred pilgrimage destinations for Coptic Christians. Carved meticulously out of solid rock, these subterranean monoliths feature notable structures like the colossal Bete Medhane Alem and the cross-shaped Bete Giyorgis. Connected by tunnels and trenches, these churches exhibit intricate bas-reliefs and vibrant frescoes within their interiors.
Ancient Ruins FAQ
Where are the oldest ruins in the world?
Göbekli Tepe in south-east Turkey is thought to be among some of the oldest ancient ruins in the world. Discovered in 1963 it is said to be 12,000 years old.
What are the biggest ruins in the world?
Some of the largest and most notable ruins in the world include Angkor Wat, Machu Picchu, and Chichen Itza.
What country has the most ruins?
Several countries around the world are known for their abundance of historical ruins, but who has the most probably depends on who you ask. Italy, Greece, Mexico, and Egypt are all known for their abundance of ancient ruins and ancient landmarks.
What is the most famous archaeological site?
This of course is a subjective question. All the ancient ruins on this list are pretty famous, with Machu Picchu, The Pyramids, and The Great Wall being among the most well known around the world.
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