The world is full of incredible ancient places, some are known by millions and global icons, others are obscure, hidden and forgotten by all except the most geeky history buff. For the cultural traveller there is so much to explore that you'll have to put the effort in to discover everything. But for those who take on that journey, the rewards can be mind-blowing.
So what's on your bucket list? Is it the Vatican, the Berlin Wall or the Taj Mahal? Perhaps you want to go further back in time to see the Great Wall of China, the Colosseum or Machu Picchu or maybe you want to wander around Paris, London or Rome and see what you can find?
Of course if you search for the top ten churches, castles, Roman sites or Civil War battlefields you'll get dozens of answers but first, take a look at our list. It promises a bagful of cultural coolness from Europe, the Americas, the Far East and Africa. Time to get exploring.
Mesa Verde or 'green table' in Montezuma County, southwestern Colorado was once home to Pueblo Indians, Native Americans who lived there for over 700 years. The 52,000 acre national park contains over 4,000 stunning archaeological treasures including 600 beautifully preserved cliff dwellings dating back almost 1,500 years.
A US National Park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Mesa Verde National Park was created to protect and preserve some of the world's finest examples of cliff dwellings and they have to be seen to be believed!
Completed in 1886, Neuschwanstein Castle is a fairy-tale castle built in the Romanesque Revival style as a retreat and homage to composer Richard Wagner by notorious King Ludwig II of Bavaria who wanted to live somewhere designed 'in the authentic style of the old German knights.'
Ludwig paid for the castle from his personal fortune and it was the inspiration for Disney's Sleeping Beauty Castle! Over 1.3m visitors come to Neuschwanstein every year, including upwards of 6,000 a day in the summer months and in an ironic twist of fate, it wasn't completed until seven weeks after the king died.
Aphrodisias, a Hellenic and Roman city in modern-day Turkey, prospered under Roman rule from the 1st to the 5th century AD and many of the structures you can see today were constructed as the city fell under the personal protection of Emperor Augustus, including one of the best preserved ancient stadiums in the world with a capacity of 30,000.
The city fell into ruin after a series of catastrophic earthquakes and was abandoned for good in the 12th century but visitors to Aphrodisias can see the Odeon, the Baths of Hadrian and the 8,000-seater ancient theatre which was adapted for Roman gladiatorial combat. Look closely and you'll see over 2,000 Roman inscriptions and a museum full to the brim of beautiful Aphrodisian art.
Ephesus is one of the world's best destinations for lovers of Ancient Roman and Greek history with some of the best preserved ruins in the entire Mediterranean region. The city has a tumultuous past since it was founded around 1,000 BC by Androklos, an Athenian prince. It was attacked by the Cimmerians; conquered by Cyrus the Great; it was a strategic location in the Greco-Persian wars and was liberated by Alexander the Great.
Visitors can walk through the ancient city's streets and see the ruins of the Library of Celsus, the Temple of Hadrian and the classical theatre where it's said that St. Paul preached to the Pagans as well as seeing the lone column representing the magnificent Temple of Artemis, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
The Hagia Sophia, known as 'ayasofya' in Turkish is a world-famous Byzantine church converted in to a mosque in 1453 when Constantinople (now Istanbul) fell to the Muslim Ottoman Turks. The original church, of which there is very little evidence, was constructed in the 4th century AD but the building we see today was built a century later by Byzantine Emperor Justinian.
Come to Hagia Sophia and you'll see the four towering minarets and the magnificent dome housing stunning mosaics, chapels and altars, taking influences from Christian and Muslim architecture. Hagia Sophia really is one of the world's best tourist sites and is a 'must see' on any trip to Turkey.
Beaumaris Castle on the Isle of Anglesey is one of the most perfectly striking castles in the world. Built by King Edward I in 1295 to solidify his conquest of Wales, it was left incomplete but nevertheless played an important strategic role. Captured in 1403 by Owain Glyn Dwron, Prince of Wales, it was retaken by the English two years later and King Charles I used Beaumaris Castle as a military base during the English Civil War.
A concentric structure with walls within walls, the castle has been described as Britain's 'most perfect example of symmetrical concentric planning' and has been praised by UNESCO for its 'unique artistic achievement' and if you are venturing into Wales, Beaumaris Castle should be at the top of your 'to do' list!
The birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill and the principal residence of the Dukes of Marlborough, Blenheim Palace is a monumentally lavish country home in Oxfordshire and is the only non-royal, non-episcopal house to hold the title of palace. Built between 1704 and around 1722, the Baroque house is surrounded by 2,000 acres of magnificent Capability Brown-designed gardens.
Visitors marvel at the house itself but inside, the Blenheim Tapestry and ceiling paintings by world-renowned French decorative painter Louis Laguerre are stunning. Blenheim Palace is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the architectural masterpiece was designed by celebrated architects John Vanbrugh and Nicholas Hawksmoor.
Forty miles south of Stuttgart in the foothills of the Swabian Alps, Hohenzollern Castle is a magnificent 19th century castle with medieval remains. The last of three castles on the site, the first was built in the 11th century but completely destroyed in 1423. The second built soon after fell into disrepair and the current castle was built by King Frederick William IV of Prussia in the English Gothic Revival style.
Not only is the castle a hugely impressive fortress, visitors can visit the museum with its fascinating collection of Prussian artefacts including a uniform worn by Frederick the Great himself.
Dougga (or Thugga) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and 'the best-preserved Roman small town in North Africa.' Established in the 5th century BC and incorporated into the Roman Empire in 46 BC, it has been inhabited at various periods in its history by the Numidians, Punics, ancient Greeks and Romans.
The 70 acre site has a series of stunning ruins including a 3,500 seat theatre, an amphitheatre, temples of Juno Caelestis and Saturn, public baths and the remains of a market and is one of the most visited tourist sites in Tunisia for very good reason.
Named for 12th century Christian King Lalibela of Ethiopia, the site is world-famous for its 11 churches that have been intricately excavated and carved out of the rock rather than constructed with stone. The king's wish was to create a 'new Jerusalem' for those who couldn't get to Israel and one of the churches - Beta Maryam - has a covered pillar on which the secrets of the construction were written which only the priests are allowed to read.
The churches contain Robert Langdon-esque symbology including crosses, swastikas (a thousand years before they became a symbol of the Nazi regime) and stars of David and are one of the most stunning sites to see in all of Africa.
Built between 1883 and 1907 on the spot where Emperor Alexander II was assassinated in March 1881 (hence the name), the Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood is a breath-taking building on the banks of the Griboyedov Canal in St. Petersburg. Famed the world over for its colourful onion-like domes, it's a stark departure from St. Petersburg's Baroque and neoclassical architecture but remains a spectacular building.
The inside is as dramatically ornate as the outside and is densely adorned with 7,000m2 of vividly bright, detailed mosaics by Russia's most famous artists. It was closed in the 1930s when the Bolsheviks went on an anti-religion rampage and it reopened in 1997 after almost 30 years of renovation, returning it to its former, magnificent glory.
One of the world's most famous tourist sites, the Terracotta Army is part of the mausoleum of the First Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang and was discovered quite by accident as recently as 1974 by farmers digging a well. The collection of around 7,000 life-sized terracotta soldiers, infantry, carts and horses, each of which is individually detailed, is one of the world's most impressive sights.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site covering almost 200,000 square metres, the job of the soldiers was to protect the Emperor in the afterlife. No trip to China is complete without seeing the Terracotta Army.
Alhambra is a series of royal palaces, baths, shops and buildings surrounded by a 2,000 metre long fortified wall and was originally built in 1238 by Moorish emir Muhammad Ibn al Ahmar, founder of the Nasrid dynasty in what is now Grenada in southwestern Spain. It was expanded over the next 200 years and was passed down the generations until 1492 when it was conquered by the Christians.
Visitors to the UNESCO World Heritage Site can tour the palaces, including the Palacio Nazaries and the Palace of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor. Alhambra is one of Spain's most visited tourist sites due to its stunning mix of Islamic and Christian architecture and Moorish poets of the day described it as 'a pearl set in emeralds' alluding to the colour of the buildings and the surrounding woods.
Meteora is second only to Mount Athos as Greece's most important complex of Greek Orthodox monasteries. Meteora, literally, 'middle of the sky' is believed to have been originally inhabited by monks in the 11th century but the monasteries on the site today all date from the fourteenth to the sixteenth centuries.
The six monasteries are built on natural sandstone rock pillars on the edge of the Plain of Thessaly in central Greece and are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The largest monastery, the Holy Monastery of Great Meteoron houses the museum and any cultural trip to Greece must include a trip to Meteora.
Originally called Poseidonia in honour of the Greek god of the sea, Paestum is a Greco-Roman site south of Naples in Italy that houses the magnificent remains of three ancient Greek temples. After the city was captured after the Pyrrhic Wars by the Romans in 273 BC it became a thriving Roman settlement.
The Temples of Hera, Neptune and Ceres are amongst the best-preserved Greek temples in the world and visitors can also see impressive defensive walls, a Roman forum and ancient tombs as well as an early Christian church. For history fans, Paestum is a 'must see' location on any tour of southern Italy.