Best for History and Cultrure

There isn’t a country in the world that doesn’t have a fascinating story to tell; but it’s also true that in some places it’s particularly easy to uncover parts of the local history which will appeal to your interests. Here are five countries where it is the historical and cultural attractions which are the main draw for international visitors.

India’s most famous symbol, the Taj Mahal, is even more beautiful with your own eyes than in any film or picture; that is, once you’ve battled through the army of touts at the entrance. The Golden Temple in Amritsar, the holiest site for Sikhs, offers a much calmer, more welcoming and refreshingly hassle-free experience. For the ultimate immersion in Indian culture, nothing can match a dawn boat trip on the Ganges in Varanasi, to see the burning cremation ghats.

If your interest lies in 20th-century history, the vast Cu Chi Tunnel network is bound to appeal. Used as shelters, military HQs and supply channels less than 50 years ago, the tunnels are now a popular tourist attraction. Vietnam’s history goes back much further, far beyond the French colonial buildings of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Head to Hue, the former imperial capital, or visit Hoi An, an important commercial city since the 1300s and still home to a maze of narrow alleys with traditional artisan workshops.

Angkor Wat is high on the list for most visitors to South East Asia, and rightly so; you need at least three days to see the major temples, with ruins spread over 30 kms apart. In the capital Phnom Penh, the lavish Silver Pagoda in the Royal Palace complex is the stand-out highlight. Meanwhile the horrors of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge years are easy to access (but impossible to comprehend) at the Killing Fields site at Choeng Ek, and at the Tuol Sleng Museum in the city centre.  

Sri Lanka
You cannot fail to marvel at the men who built the 5th-century palace on the top of the rock at Sigiriya; the 200 metre climb is hard enough carrying nothing more than a bottle of water, although the views across the old royal grounds and surrounding countryside reward what is a very sweaty workout. The nearby caves at Dambulla are home to an impressive cave temple system, while the ruins of the ancient capitals of Polonnaruwa and Anuradhapura still contain an impressive collection of temple buildings and giant Buddha statues.

The Pyramids of Giza remain one of the world’s most instantly recognisable sights. Along with the Sphinx and the priceless collection of mummies and sarcophagi in the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities in nearby Cairo, these offer an unforgettable introduction to Egypt’s ancient treasures for the first-time visitor. Further up the Nile meanwhile, a river cruise provides access to the Valley of the Kings at Luxor, the sprawling Karnak Temple complex, and the Philae Temple at Aswan.