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World Heritage Sites

Written by
Fiona McKendrickUniversity of Oxford
Visitors at the Giant's Causeway, County Antrim
Discover the hexagonal columns at the Giant's Causeway | © National Trust Images/Ben Selway

World Heritage Sites are regarded as being worthy of preservation due to their universal value to humanity, for both present and future generations, and are listed by UNESCO. There are currently 33 recognised sites in the UK and we look after places at nine UNESCO World Heritage sites.

What is a World Heritage Site?

A World Heritage Site is a cultural or natural landmark that has been recognized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Each site is held in collective trust, 'belonging to all the peoples of the world, irrespective of the territory on which they are located' and is legally protected by international treaty.

A site must possess ‘outstanding universal value’ and meet at least one of the ten cultural and natural criteria. These include: diversity of human values, development of urban or settlement form, reference to history or living traditions (cultural), or superlative natural phenomena, exemplifying geological, biological and ecological processes, or in-situ preservation of biodiversity (natural).

World Heritage Sites in our care

Avebury, Wiltshire
Avebury is one of the most important megalithic monuments in Europe and is one of England's most spiritual places. The great stone circle at the heart of the site encompasses part of the village of Avebury. The surrounding landscape is rich in evidence of the people who inhabited this area for thousands of years.Find out more about Avebury
Bath Assembly Rooms, Somerset
Designed by John Wood the Younger in 1769, at a time when Bath and its spa were becoming fashionable among polite society, the Assembly Rooms were both a meeting place and a venue for public functions. Bombed in 1942, they were subsequently restored and are now home to the Bath Fashion Museum.Find out more about the Bath Assembly Rooms
East Pool Mine, Cornwall
At the very heart of the Cornish Mining World Heritage Site sit these two great beam engines, originally powered by high-pressure steam boilers introduced by local hero Richard Trevithick. Preserved in their towering engine houses, they are a reminder of Cornwall's days as a world-famous centre of industry, engineering and innovation.Find out more about East Pool Mine
Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Water Garden, Yorkshire
This World Heritage site comprises the spectacular ruin of a 12th-century Cistercian abbey and monastic watermill, an Elizabethan mansion and one of the best surviving examples of a Georgian water garden. Elegant ornamental lakes, canals, temples and cascades provide a succession of dramatic, eye-catching vistas.More about Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Water Garden
Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland
Legend has it, these stone blocks were part of a bridge the giant Finn McCool built to cross the sea to Scotland.Find out more about Giant’s Causeway
Countryside autumn view at Hadrian's Wall and Housesteads Fort, Northumberland
Hadrian's Wall and Housesteads Fort | © National Trust Images/John Millar
Hadrian's Wall and Housesteads Fort, Northumberland
Hadrian's Wall is part of a frontier known as the 'Roman Limes' which originally stretched more than 5,000 km from the Atlantic coast of northern Britain through Europe to the Black Sea. The National Trust owns a six-mile stretch of this magnificent feat of military engineering which includes Housesteads Fort, the best preserved of 13 outposts along the wall.More about Hadrian’s Wall and Housesteads Fort
Jurassic Coast, Dorset
England's only natural World Heritage site, running from Exmouth in East Devon to Studland in Dorset, the coastline depicts 185 million years of the earth's history. Its fossils and geological features have drawn admirers and scientists for over 300 years. The National Trust protects one third of this 95-mile coastline which remains accessible and beautiful.Find out more about the Jurassic Coast
The Lake District, Cumbria
The National Trust cares for a significant amount of land and places in the National Park, which became a World Heritage Site in 2017. It's a landscape that has influenced writers such as Beatrix Potter and William Wordsworth.Find out more about the Lake District
Levant Mine and Beam engine view towards Pendeen Watch, near St Just, Cornwall
Discover Cornwall's mining heritage at Levant Mine | © National Trust Images/Sue Brackenbury
Levant Mine and Beam Engine, Cornwall
Cornwall's engine houses are dramatic reminders of the time when the county was a powerhouse of tin, copper and china clay mining. Learn about Cornwall's industrial heritage and discover the great beam engines.Find out more about Levant Mine
Sun illuminates the castle at Penrhyn Castle and Garden, with Snowdonia's peaks in the distance at Gwynedd, Wales
Penrhyn Castle with Snowdonia's snowy peaks in the distance | © National Trust Images/Chris Lacey
Slate Landscape, Wales
The Slate Landscape of Northwest Wales, which runs through Gwynedd, became a UNESCO World Heritage site at the 44th session of the World Heritage Committee. We look after Penrhyn Castle in Gwynedd, which is a neo-Norman castle.Find out more about the history of slate at Penrhyn
Stonehenge Landscape, Wiltshire
The Trust cares for all the land surrounding probably the most famous megalithic site in the world. This mysterious and sacred place is surrounded by a landscape full of huge prehistoric monuments such as the Avenue, Kings Barrow Ridge and the Cursus.Find out more about Stonehenge

This article contains information written by Fiona McKendrick from the University of Oxford. Fiona specialises in museum studies, heritage outreach and public engagement. She enjoys using web platforms, digital media and technology to forge new connections between my research, the institutions that conserve historical sites and landscapes and the people that experience them.

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