We’ve seen a lot of amazing ruins of the world during our 18 years of traveling. These are our first-hand accounts of ancient cities and ruins that we have seen and explored with our own eyes.
As I go through all that there is yet to see I find that we have barely scratched the surface.
We have yet to see Easter Island, and we may never see any of the great structures of Afghanistan or Iraq. But in the meantime, enjoy our list of ancient ruins that we have visited all around the world.
Ancient Ruins of the World
Table of Contents
Table of Contents: Skip Directly to the Ancient Ruins links below that you Want to Visit
- Asia – Bagan, Hampi, Angkor Wat, Sigiriya, Great Wall, Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Ayutthaya
- Middle East – Petra, Jerash, Cappadocia, Saadian Tombs
- Africa – Giza, Valley of the Kings, Red Pyramid, Luxor
- South/Central America – Machu Picchu, Ollantaytambo, Tikal
- Europe – Newgrange, Poulnabrone Dolmen, Clava Cairns, Skellig Michael, Dún Aengus, Carreg Cannen, Greenland
- Rome and Greece – These are so important for ancient cities, they get their own. Colosseum, Forum, Pantheon, Meteora, Messina, Acropolis,
- North America – Chitzen Itza, Tulum, Tonina, Gila Cliff Dwellings
- Bonus from our Contributors – Gila, Easter Island
Asia Ancient Ruins
Enjoy our list of the best ruins we’ve visited in Asia.
Bagan – Myanmar
The days were hot when we explored the Temples of Bagan in Myanmar. We hired a horse cart for one day and a bicycle for the next. One thing we remember was that our horse cart driver was expecting a child any day now. It was a happy time.
Located in Myanmar (Burma) we took a ferry from Mandalay on the Irrawaddy River to the ruins. This Buddhist complex was built in 1057 and covers 16 square miles. Time stands still in most of Burma and this feeling is even heightened in Bagan. Farmers ride by on their ox carts, very few many locals pray at the temples and monks walk the street in the morning searching for alms.
Like most other ruins, the highlight is walking to the top of the highest temple; Thatbyinnyu Pahto to overlook the complex. But one of the most extraordinary temples is Ananda Pahto. Inside stands 4 giant Buddhas and two sacred Buddha footprints.
Visiting Bagan made a believer out of me! It is a spiritual sight that gives off a feeling of calm and peace.
Hampi – India
We didn’t even know Hampi existed before going to India.
But we were told about it while studying Yoga in Goa. We hopped on a train to see this city in the boulders where people still live among the ruins.
Even today people sell their wares in the bazaar and worship at the temples.
Angkor Wat – Cambodia
It’s the mother of all the ruins of the world. Angkor Wat was introduced to the masses in Lora Croft’s Tomb Raider.
This ancient Khmer Temple is being overrun with tourists these days.
When we were there, one could still outrun tour buses by taking a tuk-tuk to remote corners of the complex.
Located in Cambodia this majestic complex consists of hundreds of temples covering 500 acres of land.
The Main Temple of Angkor Wat is well preserved and a breathtaking sight. Its five main towers jut into the air as high as 66 meters (215 ft) from its 1.6 km (1 mile) long base.
At sunset on Bakheng Hill, you can overlook the entire land and complex. See our Ultimate Guide to Visiting Angkor Wat
But it wasn’t quite as special when you were jockeying for a position and trying to see over the other hundreds of tourists heads. Never the less it is well worth a visit.
Sigiriya – Sri Lanka
It took us four visits to Sri Lanka before visiting its most famous site. Sigiriya is an impressive site with ruins leading up to and standing upon a giant rock in the middle of the jungle.
This ancient rock fortress dates back to 475 BC. That’s impressive enough, but it is the 600 metre (660 ft) high natural stone column that it stands upon that is truly impressive.
We climbed it, took a scenic flight over it and then hiked up Pidurangala to view it at sunset. It may have taken us years to see it, but when we finally did, we saw it all!
Polonnaruwa – Sri Lanka
The ancient city of Polonnaruwa is Sri Lanka’s second oldest kingdom dating back to 1070. It is a World Heritage Site and people still inhabit the land all around it.
It’s in great shape with many monuments still standing. It’s not as large as many of the other ruins we visited around Asia, but it is a fascinating walk through time.
Anuradhapura Sri Lanka
What I love about visiting Sri Lanka is how modern civilization lives in harmony with its ancient past. Anuradhapura is the capital fo the North Central Province, but also the capital of the ancient cities of Sri Lanka.
Its ruins are well- preserved and a good way to learn about ancient Sri Lanka civilization.
Great Wall of China
We didn’t expect to be impressed by the Great Wall, we even went to the site expecting to be disappointed. I’m glad that we allowed ourselves to change our minds. The Great Wall was one of the best ruins of the world we have ever visited.
The MuTianYu Great Wall section is practically deserted and you can walk along the 2.5 km section enjoying the countryside and imagining the great battles that took place between the Chinese Empire and the Mighty Mongols.
We also visited the Badaling Great Wall on another visit that is located closer to Beijing. It is more crowded but no less impressive.
The Terracotta Warriors are an army that lay undiscovered for 2200 years! Emperor Qin made slaves and artists build a monument to him that would be buried with him the day he died.
Everyone that built or knew about the warriors was killed or forced to commit suicide. Because of this secrecy, the Warriors weren’t discovered until 1974 by a local farmer. It’s an interesting visit and quite striking to see the 8000 warriors standing in rows.
Xi’an – China
When visiting China, it’s not hard to find an ancient city wherever you go. It seems that most date back centuries. The city of Xi’an dates back 3000 years and is the oldest city in the country.
The Xi’an City Wall is the most well-preserved wall in the country and you can ride a bicycle or walk around the entire 13.7 km (8.5 miles) wall!
Ayutthaya – Thailand
We visited Ayutthaya on our first visit to Thailand in 2000! Can you believe that was 20 years ago. But then again, can you believe that the ancient city of Ayutthaya was founded in 1350.
It was destroyed by the Burmese in the 18th century and is now an archeological ruin that is easily visited on a day trip from Bangkok.
I honestly don’t remember a lot about visiting Ayuthaya, but like most people that visit Thailand for the first time, it was at the top of our list.
note: this is the only photo we didn’t have from our travels as in 2000 we didn’t own a digital camera!
Ancient Ruins the Middle East
When picturing ancient ruins, the Middle East naturally comes to mind. With grand temples like the Pyramids of Egypt, lost cities and civilizations that date back to the dawn of time, you can never leave the Middle East of an Ancient itinerary.
Petra – Jordan
Having the chance to visit Petra was a dream come true. We had heard about this ancient city but never thought that we’d get there.
To have a guide from the Jordan Tourism Board and a Petra official long for our walk through the ruins allowed for us to experience a Petra that many others don’t get to see. It is by far one of our favourite ruins of the world.
One of the most well preserved Roman Ruins in the world can be found in the Middle East. The hand of Rome reached far and nothing shows that more than the impressive Jerash Ruins
Who knew that the small country of Jordan has some of the most important and impressive Roman ruins of the world?
Cappadocia – Turkey
When visiting Turkey you cannot miss going to Cappadocia. These premiere ancient ruins in Turkey are set in the middle of the most beautiful and unique landscape you will ever encounter.
Caves and churches have been carved into the landscape with complete underground cities to explore. Be sure to take a hot air balloon ride over the landscape. It is the number one thing to do in Cappadocia to really take in the views.
Saadian Tombs – Marrakech
The Saadian Tombs of Marrackech weren’t discovered until 1917. They are famous for their well-preserved mosaics.
The tomb houses the Sultan Ahmed Al Mansour Ed Dahbi and his family and dates back to 1557. It is located near the Kasbah Mosque dating back to 1100.
Ancient Ruins of Africa
We have a lot more ruins to visit in Africa but we have witnessed the big ones that everyone should see, So what are they? Take a look below.
Pyramids of Giza, Egypt
Whoever thought we’d ever get the chance to see the pyramids of Giza? It’s the most famous of all the ruins of the world. The Pyramids of Giza don’t disappoint. Driving through Cairo, you can see the pyramids from almost everywhere.
The most incredible way to see them is to hire a camel and guide, just be sure to hire a reputable guide (unlike us) we now us Get Your Guide and book in advance. (it has easy cancellation policies and last minute bookings.)
Red Pyramid – Egypt
Plus, you can easily enter the chamber of the pyramid, there aren’t the crowds of the Pyramids of Giza and it’s the fourth largest pyramid in Egypt.
If you travel to Egypt, be sure to put the Red Pyramid on your list.
Valley of the Kings – Egypt
A trip to the Valley of the Kings is a must when visiting Egypt. We nearly skipped it when in Luxor because we didn’t feel like organizing transportation, but I am so glad we did!
It is a massive complex where every king of the Pharaohs was laid to rest. If you are curious about King Tut, his tomb is here! All of the tombs are empty, but paintings and carvings are still on the walls of the chambers and the architecture is astounding.
Luxor Temple – Egypt
We actually found some Wifi at a McDonalds and did our work while looking over the ancient templeIt’s an ancient city in a modern city! How cool is that?
Ancient Ruins of Rome and Greece
Rome and Greece are so famous for their old ruins and ancient cities, we had to give them their own section. These countries house the famous ruins that we all think of like the Acropolis and Pantheon.
Let’s start with Rome.
Colosseum – Rome
It took us a while to finally see Rome and wow, what a city. Ancient ruins are intertwined throughout the entire metropolis. One minute you are sipping an espresso in a cafe and the next you are walking by a piece of architecture thousands of years old.
It’s modern chic mixed with ancient tradition. The most impressive monument is the Colosseum.
We had the privilege of staying in an apartment right across the street and looked out our window each day at one of the most amazing ruins of the world from above. It was spectacular
Roman Forum – Rome
All I could think of was the Musical A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum when I looked upon the Ancient Ruins.
But then I quickly forgot everything I was thinking because it simply took my breath away.
I love how the city of Rome built around their history instead of mowing it down like so many cities here in Canada. The ruins and archeological sites are what make a visit to Rome so special.
There is always something being unearthed!
The Pantheon (not to be mistaken with the Greek Parthenon) was around 126 AD during the rule of It was completed by the emperor Hadrian.
It is the most well-preserved Roman ruin and its architecture has been copied around the world.
The most impressive part of the Pantheon is the dome is to this date the largest in the world!
It is busy and crowded but if you go early in the morning or later at night, you will see fewer people.
Meteora – Greece
The Meteora monasteries of Greece will take your breath away.
Carved by wind and rain over thousands of years, Meteora’s landscape is unique with massive stone spires reaching to the sky.
Monasteries dating back to the 9th century were built atop these formations giving monks a safe haven. They used to have to use a rope and pully to get into the monasteries.
Today there are bridges and walkways built for you to explore.
Messine – Greece
Unlike visiting the heavily crowded Acropolis of Athens, we had Messene all to ourselves.
Dating back to the 8th and 9th century BC, the region of Messenia is as ancient as it gets.
Messene itself was founded in 369 BC and still stands proudly at the base of Mount Ithome.
Dating back to the 13th century, it isn’t as old as some places in Greece, but it was one of our favourite spots to visit.
Located on the sea, this was the site of an epic battle in 1827 where the Greeks regained control of their region defeating Turks and Egyptian fleet with the help of the British, French and Russian fleet.
You cannot miss going to the Acropolis when visiting Athens.
The Acropolis dates back to the 5th century BC and is a massive complex overlooking Athens.
The Parthenon is the famous site on the ruins, but we were excited to see the forum where we watched Yanni, Live at the Acropolis in the 1990s. (seriously, we watched it on TV live and then we ordered the CD!)
We visited during a very crowded day and it was nice to see up close, but we were more impressed with it lit up at night when looking at it from a rooftop patio from afar.
South and Central American Ruins
In the land of the Incas, you’ll find plenty of historical sites.
Enjoy our picks for the top ancient ruins of South America.
Machu Picchu – Peru
Nestled high in the Andes Mountains of Peru, at 2500 meters Machu Picchu is certainly the most extraordinary location on the planet.
How did the Incas build this incredible complex so high on the side of a cliff? 200 buildings, terraced high on the side of the mountain surrounded by jungle, vegetation and clear blue skies make for a spectacular sight.
Built in the 1400’s Machu Picchu is remarkably well-preserved.
Arriving early in the morning, it is shrouded in cloud, but as the sun rises and burns off the fog, a majestic vision unfolds.
We should have hired a guide for our journey throughout the complex and because we went to Peru on a whim, we didn’t have time to book a trek on the Inca trail. You have to book a year in advance if you are going in high season.
Ollantaytambo – Peru
It was the centre of control of the Incas residing in the Sacred Valley of Peru. People still reside in and around Ollantaytambo making it a unique ancient ruin that is still inhabited.
Tikal in Guatemala may be one of the greatest ruins of the world, but it’s the wildlife and setting that make it stand out above the rest. Howler monkeys roar in the distance and we sit mesmerized by its splendour. Content to “Just Be”.
Arriving early in the morning, we set high on the top of a temple overlooking the jungle and complex. If we stopped long enough and stood silently still, we could spy spider monkeys, toucans and parrots play above as leaf-cutter ants cut narrow paths into the jungle floor.
Mounts of pointed hills covered in grass lay unexcavated, waiting for archeologists to unearth another part of the ancient city. Something that caught our eye? Looking down.
We watched leaf cutter ants work for 3o minutes as they hustled back and forth along the distinct trail that they carved on the jungle floor. It was mesmerizing.
Ancient Europe Ruins
Europe has a very long history. We were surprised to find that a lot of the ruins we visited were older than the pyramids! There are still many more to see, but I think we’ve checked off a good chunk of ancient ruins in Europe.
Newgrange – Ireland
Newgrange in Bru Na Boine Ireland dates back to 3,200 BC, it’s officially older than Stonehenge and the Egyptian pyramids!
It’s fascinating traveling through Ireland to see ruins and tombs that are ancient. I used to think they were only in places like Egypt and Rome. Newgrange is so perfectly intact, it’s hard to believe it could last so long, but then again, it is made up of 200,000 tons of rocks!
Considered a passage tomb archeologists haven’t completely figured out what it was used for.
We went during the warmer summer months, but it was cool and comfortable inside. If you are adverse to tight spaces, be prepared, the passage tomb is narrow leading to a small chamber in the centre of the tomb.
Newgrange’s entrance was built so that it aligns with the rising sun during Winter Solstice and if you want to visit at this time of year, book way ahead.
Read all about our experience here: Newgrange – A Visit to Ireland’s Passage Tomb
Poulnabrone Dolmen is Ireland’s oldest megalithic monument dating back to the Neolithic period, most likely between 4200 and 2900 BC. Like Bru na Boine, it is a portal tomb made up of massive stones.
Although much smaller and less impressive a building, the setting is awe-inspiring. It stands in the centre of the barren but beautiful landscape of the Burren National Park.
The limestone landscape of crisscrossing cracks is a magnificent site creating one of the most unique terrains we’ve ever seen.
Clava Cairns – Scotland
Clava Cairns are burial grounds outside Inverness Scotland dating back 4000 years! When we travelled around Scotland and Ireland, we realized that their history goes way beyond that of the Romans and Greeks.
Why do so many people focus solely on the pyramids and Greek ruins of the world?
Walking through the complex, we had it all to ourselves and we explored the fascinating stone structures.
There is little information at the site save for a few signs at the small wooded parking lot.
But excavations proved that the site was continuously used for more than a thousand years after its original construction.
Skellig Michael – Ireland
When we first heard about the beehive caves of Ireland we couldn’t wait to see them. Little did we know that they were so difficult to get to. Located on an island off the West Coast, Skellig Michael is a secluded spot where monks make a home in the 6th century.
I cannot imagine how difficult life was as it sits high above a cliff and life would be hard. But it was difficult to be invaded too. There is a short window to visit due to weather and it must be an ideal day to land. There were people waiting 3 days to finally get out on the water.
We only had one day to visit, so the luck of the Irish was with us as when we arrived it was calm and sunny.
Dun Aengus- Ireland
Inishmore is the largest of the three Aran islands of Ireland. A visit here is worth it to witness the incredible Dún Aengus, an incredible prehistoric fort standing atop a 100-meter high sea cliff.
Hardly anyone visits this ancient ruin and yet it is one of the oldest and most fascinating on earth!
Carreg Cennen Castle – Wales
You’ll find amazing castles to visit in Wales. We were told that if there is one castle to visit the Carreg Cennen Castle is the one. They were right when telling us that we can often be the only person there. We had it all to ourselves.
Hvalsey Church – Greenland
We had the chance to visit Hvalsy Church while on an Arctic Expedition in Greenland.
It’s very remote but fascinating to visit. The Vikings were a hearty bunch that made it to Greenland, they actually made it as far as Canada to Newfoundland!
North America Archaeological Ruins
North America has ancient cities? Well, Mexico is a part of the continent and it is filled with Mayan Ruins. We haven’t scratched the surface of seeing them all, but we have travelled to a few of the best ancient cities of Mexico.
Tonina – Mexico
Deep in the south of Mexico, you will find the quiet ruins of Tonina in Chiapas.
The complex itself is 2 square km but only a small portion of it has been excavated. Why did we love this so much? There was nobody around to stop us from exploring it to the fullest.
The most exciting moment was walking through the 50-metre passageway.
It’s pitch black and claustrophobic. You need to run your hand along the walk to find your way, but watch out for spiders!
Chichen Itza – Mexico
Chichen Itza is probably the most visited by tourists from Canada and the US, but it was one of our favorites.
It was the first ancient ruin we ever visited making it the most memorable.
Located in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico about 3 hours from Cancun, we had our most in-depth tour of any temple that we have ever gone to.
We were amazed at how connected to the stars the Mayans were.
The entire complex was built for the heavens it seemed. We couldn’t believe how everything lined up perfectly with other Mayan Ruins.
Tulum – Mexico
Tulum is another early ruin we visited in our travels. It isn’t one of our favourite ruins, especially after visiting Tikal and Chitzen Itza, but the setting cannot be denied as extraordinary!
Located on the coast, it was an important transportation route for the Mayans.
Bonus Ruins from Our Contributors
We often accept guest posts from people to write about places we have yet to visit. We are only two people and can’t see it all. These are some ruins that our contributors to The Planet D have been and we have yet to see !
Gila Cliff Dwellings – USA
For thousands of years, different groups of nomadic people sought cover in the caves above the Gila River as a temporary shelter. It was the people of Mogollon culture that made it a permanent home in the late 1200s.
Mark of Fly and Travel shares his experience exploring the mystery of the mysterious heads on the remote Easter Island.
Rapa Nui is a remote island in the Southern Pacific located off the Coast of South America. It is probably one of the least visited ancient ruins in this post. We have yet to visit, but I am so glad we have information thanks to Mark on our website telling you all about it.