11 Best Ancient Ruins To Explore Around The World

Colosseum arena photography

There’s something profoundly captivating about stepping into the remnants of ancient civilizations—wandering through the ruins, you’re transported to a time that once was, touching the very stones and pathways that have withstood the test of millennia. From the enigmatic stone circles of Stonehenge to the majestic temples of Angkor Wat, the world is dotted with these timeless monuments, silent yet eloquent narrators of our shared human history. Our list of the 11 best ancient ruins to explore around the world offers a unique journey back in time, inviting you to unravel the mysteries and marvel at the ingenuity of ancient peoples. Whether it’s walking through the ghostly streets of Pompeii, under the shadow of Vesuvius, or standing in awe at the base of the great pyramids of Giza, each site tells a story of human endeavor, artistic mastery, and the relentless march of time.

1. Machu Picchu, Peru

Nestled high in the Andes Mountains, Machu Picchu is a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the most famous ancient ruins in the world. Explore the mysterious Inca citadel and marvel at the intricate stone masonry that has stood the test of time. The site offers breathtaking panoramic views of the surrounding mountain ranges and is a popular destination for hikers and history enthusiasts alike. Be sure to visit the Sun Temple and the Room of the Three Windows to witness the architectural beauty and historical significance of this incredible site.

2. Petra, Jordan

Carved into rose-red cliffs, the ancient city of Petra is a remarkable archaeological site that dates back to the 6th century BC. Wander through the narrow canyon of the Siq to reach the iconic Treasury building, one of the most photographed monuments in the world. The intricate carvings and rock-cut architecture of Petra are a testament to the advanced engineering skills of its ancient inhabitants. Don’t miss the opportunity to explore the Royal Tombs and the Monastery, which offer further insights into the city’s rich history and cultural heritage.

3. Angkor Wat, Cambodia

The largest religious monument in the world, Angkor Wat is a stunning example of Khmer architecture and a symbol of Cambodia. Discover the intricate carvings and bas-reliefs that adorn the temples, reflecting the rich history and culture of the region. The sunrise at Angkor Wat is a must-see spectacle, casting a magical glow over the ancient structures and creating a surreal atmosphere. Take your time to explore the various temple complexes within the Angkor Archaeological Park, such as Bayon and Ta Prohm, to immerse yourself in the grandeur of this ancient civilization.

4. Colosseum, Italy

A symbol of ancient Rome, the Colosseum is an iconic amphitheater that once hosted gladiatorial contests and other spectacles. Step back in time as you explore the ruins of this ancient entertainment venue and imagine the grand events that took place within its walls. The Colosseum’s intricate system of underground tunnels and chambers provides a glimpse into the logistics of hosting large-scale events in ancient times. Don’t forget to visit the nearby Roman Forum and Palatine Hill to complete your exploration of Rome’s rich historical heritage.

5. Stonehenge, United Kingdom

A prehistoric monument shrouded in mystery, Stonehenge continues to capture the imagination of visitors from around the world. Marvel at the massive standing stones and ponder the significance of this ancient ceremonial site. Join a guided tour or visit during one of the solstices to witness the alignment of the stones with the sun, adding an extra layer of intrigue to this enigmatic monument. Take a stroll around the surrounding landscape to appreciate the Neolithic burial mounds and other archaeological features that complement the monument.

6. Tikal, Guatemala

Deep in the jungles of Guatemala, Tikal is a complex of Mayan ruins that boasts impressive pyramids, temples, and palaces. Climb to the top of Temple IV for panoramic views of the surrounding rainforest canopy and immerse yourself in the ancient Mayan civilization. The wildlife-rich surroundings of Tikal add to the mystique of the site, with howler monkeys and tropical birds providing a soundtrack to your exploration. Take a guided tour to gain deeper insights into the history and significance of each structure within this ancient city.

7. Chichen Itza, Mexico

One of the New Seven Wonders of the World, Chichen Itza is a sprawling archaeological site that showcases the architectural prowess of the ancient Maya. Admire the iconic El Castillo pyramid and marvel at the astronomical precision of the site’s buildings. Visit during the spring or fall equinox to witness the famous shadow serpent slither down the pyramid’s steps, a testament to the advanced astronomical knowledge of the Mayan civilization. Be sure to explore the Great Ball Court and the Temple of the Warriors to gain a comprehensive understanding of the diverse structures that make up this ancient city.

8. Acropolis of Athens, Greece

Dominating the skyline of Athens, the Acropolis is a citadel that houses several ancient buildings, including the iconic Parthenon temple. Explore the architectural wonders of classical Greece and soak in panoramic views of the modern city below. Visit the Acropolis Museum to see a collection of artifacts and artworks that provide context to the structures on the hill. Don’t miss the Odeon of Herodes Atticus and the Erechtheion, which offer further insight into the cultural and artistic achievements of ancient Athens.

9. Pompeii, Italy

Frozen in time by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD, Pompeii is a remarkably well-preserved Roman city that offers a glimpse into daily life during the ancient Roman Empire. Wander through the streets, houses, and public buildings of this archaeological treasure. Join a guided tour to learn about the social structure and daily routines of Pompeii’s inhabitants, as well as the art and architecture that characterized this thriving city. Explore the Villa of the Mysteries to see vibrant frescoes that shed light on ancient Roman beliefs and rituals.

10. Great Wall of China

Spanning thousands of miles across northern China, the Great Wall is an ancient fortification that served as a defensive barrier against invasions. Hike along the wall’s rugged terrain and marvel at the engineering feat that has endured for centuries. Visit less crowded sections of the wall, such as Jinshanling or Jiankou, to experience the wall in its raw, unrenovated state and appreciate the craftsmanship that went into its construction. Engage with local guides to hear stories about the wall’s history and significance in Chinese culture.

11. The Pyramids of Giza, Egypt

The last surviving wonder of the ancient world, the Pyramids of Giza are a testament to the ingenuity and skill of the ancient Egyptians. Gaze in awe at the massive structures and ponder the mysteries surrounding their construction and purpose. Explore the interior of the Great Pyramid of Khufu to see the burial chamber and learn about the pyramid’s architectural design. Take a camel ride around the site to appreciate the scale of the pyramids and the Sphinx, soaking in the desert landscape that has served as a backdrop to these iconic monuments for millennia.

Betsy Wilson

A true science nerd and pediatric nursing specialist, Betsy is passionate about all things pregnancy and baby-related. She contributes her expertise to the Scientific Origin.