What World Wonders Look Like on Google Earth
Traveling the world has never been easier.
Thanks to the World Wonders Project, a collaboration between Google Earth, UNESCO, the World Monuments Fund and Getty Images, you can walk through the elaborate grounds of Versailles and take in the majesty of Stonehenge without ever getting out of your pajamas. (Want to dive deeper? There are accompanying videos and other educational materials as well.)
Here, we share more about these wonders of the ancient and modern world, while offering a bird’s-eye view of their spectacular features via the tech wizardry of Google Earth.
Banks of the Seine on Google Earth
Take a virtual saunter along the banks of the River Seine, which flows through Paris. Look closely, and you'll catch some of the famous landmarks visible from this point, including the base of the Eiffel Tower directly across the water.
Visiting the Banks of the Seine
Exploring the banks of the River Seine is like taking a walk through “the different layers of the history of Paris,” according to UNESCO, which deemed this spot a World Heritage Site in 1991.
The banks are home to nearly all of Paris' famous landmarks — not only the Eiffel Tower, but also the Louvre, the Cathedral of Notre-Dame, the Grand Palais of the Champs Elysées and many others.
In addition, the city’s large squares and avenues inspired the layout and design of cities all over the world. (And for very good reason, we say.)
Versailles on Google Earth
Even from your computer or phone screen, the Palace and Park of Versailles are stunningly beautiful. From the intricately designed paths and hedges in the gardens to the detailed fountains, pools and water features, the grounds alone are worth a visit.
And then there’s the palace itself, which served as the home for several French kings, including Louis XIV, who fell in love with Versaille and decided to expand upon the small chateau that existed on the site where the palace now stands.
“The King, who could see great things for the chateau and the forests around it, took on the role of architect himself, and built a masterpiece with which he would forever be associated,” according to the palace’s website. This Google Earth vantage point offers a compelling look at said masterpiece.
Today, the 2,300-room palace is open to visitors. It serves as a history museum, with more than 6,000 paintings and 3,000 sculptures within its walls. Visitors are also free to roam the stunning grounds.
Stonehenge on Google Earth
Zoom in on the grassy fields two miles west of Amesbury and you’ll see something that looks a bit out of place: A ring of tall stones, some capped with other horizontal stones.
Experts believe this prehistoric monument in Wiltshire, England, dates back at least 5,000 years, with several phases of construction in the intervening years. The monument is an impressive display of engineering and design that likely required the manpower of hundreds of people.
There are generally two types of stones here: sarsen stones, which are the larger stones within the monument (averaging about 25 tons apiece), and bluestones, which are smaller and have a blueish tinge when wet or broken (these weigh two to five tons each).
“Stonehenge is the most architecturally sophisticated prehistoric stone circle in the world,” according to UNESCO, which deemed it a World Heritage Site in 1986.
Unfortunately, the site is so impressive that it's often swarmed with visitors, meaning you'll need to buy tickets in advance for a timed visit. Still, it's an easy day trip from London, and worth the effort to see.
Itsukushima Shinto Shrine on Google Earth
One of the first things you’ll notice about the circa-13th-century Itsukushima Shinto Shrine is its reddish-orange torii gate, which appears to be floating in the water when the tide is high. The effect is the result of the shrine being built on stilts.
Behind the shrine, you'll see some of the 17 buildings that comprise the 1,065-acre property, all highlighting traditional Japanese Shinto architecture. This style of construction is unique because it incorporates the natural surroundings into the design — it’s as if the sea and the mountains are actually part of the shrine.
The shrine reflects the values of Shintoism, a religion that informs Japanese spiritual life and “centers on polytheistic nature worship,” according to UNESCO, which named it a World Heritage Site in 1996.
There's no bad time to see this stunning shrine in person. But to really immerse yourself in the local culture, plan your trip for when a festival is taking place. The Kiyomori Festival in spring features a lively parade showcasing local music and traditions, and the summertime Water Fireworks Display wows.
Pompei on Google Earth
Remember studying the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in school? For a refresher, it was a devastating volcanic eruption in the year AD 79 that covered the town of Pompei with volcanic ash and lava (it also engulfed the nearby town of Herculaneum).
Over time, archaeological experts have been excavating and preserving these towns so that modern-day visitors can study and appreciate the historic architecture and artifacts.
Our virtual tour of Pompei includes a bird's-eye view of one of these artifacts, the town's amphitheater, which was built in 70 BC and could hold up to 20,000 spectators in its prime. The amphitheater was first excavated in 1748 — more than 270 years ago — and then again from 1813-1814.
Pompei is today broken down into nine regions that you can explore at your leisure or with a guided tour. Sites include a forum, municipal buildings and residential homes.
The ancient city became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997.
Historic Center of Florence on Google Earth
Undoubtedly, what most catches the eye when looking at Florence from above is the grand domed structure on the left. That's the Santa Maria del Fiore, the famed cathedral built in the Italian Gothic style in the 13th century. It is, of course, even more impressive in real life.
Visiting the Historic Center of Florence
The Santa Maria is just one spectacular fixture of many in Florence's city center, which became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982.
Highlighting some of Florence’s artistic and cultural prowess over the last 700 years, the center also boasts the Basilica of San Lorenzo, where you’ll find works by Donatello and Michelangelo.
Hiroshima Peace Memorial on Google Earth
This world wonder has a solemn backstory. Genabku Dome, now the Hiroshima Peace Memorial, was all that was left standing in this area of Hiroshima, Japan, after the first nuclear bomb exploded in August 1945.
When you wander through the memorial on Google Earth, you’ll notice that there are bricks and debris everywhere. That’s because the dome has been preserved to look exactly as it did after the bomb went off — to remind people of the horrors of that day. According to estimates, some 66,000 people died and 69,000 were injured in the Hiroshima bombing.
Visiting the Hiroshima Peace Memorial
UNESCO has said of this memorial deemed a World Heritage Site in 1996, “Not only is it a stark and powerful symbol of the most destructive force ever created by humankind; it also expresses the hope for world peace and the ultimate elimination of all nuclear weapons."
This mission is carried out at a museum where you can learn about the bombing through movies and displays.
Shark Bay on Google Earth
Shark Bay is a swath of wilderness and ocean on the western edge of Australia that covers about 5.4 million acres. This Google Earth view does its part to help capture the scope.
And see those black dots that look like rocks, scattered across the white-sand shore? Those are stromatolites, one of the planet’s oldest lifeforms, which form when algae harden into domes. They’re like “living fossils,” says UNESCO, which deemed Shark Bay a World Heritage Site in 1991.
Visiting Shark Bay
Shark Bay, which is actually made up of two bays, two peninsulas and an island in the Indian Ocean, is home to a unique collection of plants and animals, including at least five species of endangered mammals. This makes it an excellent place for wildlife enthusiasts to explore.
The area is also recognized for its large dugong population (they’re relatives of manatees) and massive sea-grass meadows, where the highest number of seagrass species have ever been recorded in one area.
Segovia on Google Earth
It's easy to appreciate the star attraction of this Spanish town — its towering aqueduct — when looking at it from above.
The 8.5-mile-long engineering marvel features two rows of arches stacked on top of one another. It's believed to have been built in the 1st century A.D. to bring water from the Frio River to the city, and remains one of the best-preserved Roman aqueducts in all of Europe.
In addition to the aqueduct, Segovia has much to recommend it.
The city’s historic center, which became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985, showcases architectural remnants from the Middle Ages, the early Renaissance period and even Roman times. Standout structures include 15th- and 16th-century palaces, Romanesque churches, a 16th-century Gothic cathedral and the Alcazar, a fortress that later became a palace, which dates back to the 11th century.
This is a place where you can truly step back in time — way back.
Mill Network at Kinderdijk-Elshout on Google Earth
What would a shot of the Netherlands be without a collection of picturesque windmills?
In the South Holland province, the Mill Network features 19 of the windmills the region is known for. But look closely, and you'll see other parts of the area's truly remarkable water system, including draining mills, pumping stations and discharge sluices.
When UNESCO named this a World Heritage Site in 1997, it sang its praises: "The landscape is striking in its juxtaposition of its horizontal features, represented by the canals, the dikes and the fields, with the vertical rhythms of the mill system," officials stated. "There is no drainage network of this kind or of comparable antiquity anywhere else in the Netherlands or in the world.”
Hands down, the Dutch are experts when it comes to water management — some of this technology dates as far back as the Middle Ages.
Visiting Mill Network at Kinderdijk-Elshout
The best way to explore this collection of windmills? On a bike, of course (this is the Netherlands, after all). Rent a two-wheeler at a local shop and go for a spin along the canal.
Summer is a particularly scenic time to visit.
Scott's Hut on Google Earth
The snowy, barren landscape surrounding Scott’s Hut is more striking than the structure itself. This makes sense, as the unusual attraction is located in the heart of desolate Antarctica.
But though the hut is small, it's significant — it’s a remnant of the “Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration,” a period in the late 1800s and early 1900s when groups of men explored Antarctica, then the only continent that humans had never reached.
These expedition parties built pre-fabricated wooden cabins to live and conduct research in during their travels, including Scott’s Hut, constructed in January 1911. It served as the base for Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s final (and successful) expedition to reach the geographic South Pole.
Visiting Scott’s Hut
The hut is today frozen in time, pun intended. Inside, you’ll find canned food on the shelves and a copy of the London Illustrated News, as well as tools and scientific equipment used by the explorers.
Obviously, this one’s hard to visit, but not to worry. Thanks to Google Earth, you don’t have to leave the comfort of your warm home to see the hut — you can “go” inside and look around.
Nijo Castle on Google Earth
This ornate castle dates back to 1601, when Japanese leader Tokugawa Ieyasu ordered its construction. It was his home when he visited Kyoto and was otherwise protected by samurai guards.
As seen here, the entire castle grounds are surrounded by an outer moat, while an inner moat protects the Honmaru-goten Palace and Gardens.
Visiting Nijo Castle
Today, the castle is undergoing massive renovations and is part of a broader UNESCO World Heritage Site that encompasses historic monuments of ancient Kyoto.
One fun tidbit: The floors in the castle are super creaky. Turns out the samurai installed squeaky floors on purpose, to serve as an alarm system of sorts. These “nightingale floors” make a unique chirping sound that would make it nearly impossible for intruders to enter silently.
The site includes a handful of gardens as well, including a cherry tree grove that’s absolutely breathtaking in the spring.
Cuenca on Google Earth
Located about two hours east of Madrid in Spain, this medieval city is perhaps best known for its “casas colgadas,” hanging houses that were built into the cliffs overlooking the Huecar River. These homes look particularly striking when viewed from above on Google Earth.
While the hanging houses are undoubtedly impressive, there’s so much more to do and see here. “The hanging houses will bring you here, but wandering around this beautiful and historic town will keep you entertained for the day,” one traveler wrote after visiting the city.
The town, which is home to Spain’s first Gothic cathedral, was built by the Moors, then conquered by Castillians in the 12th century. It’s perched atop a hill, and its architecture blends in with the surrounding landscape. Nearby, you’ll find the “ciudad encantada,” which translates to “the enchanted city,” an interesting geological site with rock formations.
Old Town Lunenburg on Google Earth
When you visit the historic Nova Scotian town of Lunenburg, whether in real life or on your web browser, you’re basically stepping back in time to 1753, when British colonists designed and laid out its rectangular grid pattern.
The town, which was named in honor of King George II, Duke of Brunschweig-Lunenburg, once served as an important wooden shipbuilding location. These days, you can spot more modern seafaring vessels in its waters.
Visiting Old Town Lunenburg
When visiting Lunenburg, you can stay in several charming bed and breakfasts, some that are more than 200 years old. In fact, roughly 70 percent of the buildings and homes here are original to the town, dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries.
One of the more common architectural styles here is the so-called “Lunenburg bump,” a five-sided dormer that protrudes from buildings.