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Angkor temple tree

10 of the world’s most amazing ancient ruins

by Emiel Van Den Boomen

Most amazing ancient ruins

I was going through our travel archives and found out we actually visited a lot of archeological sites: ancient cities, monuments and temples. Mysterious and impressive, I always love to visit these ancient ruins.

Some of the ruins we visited were nothing more than a pile of old stones….at least according to our kids. But of course we respectfully regarded every piece of stone as a historically essential artefact… at least that’s how we tried to explain the importance of old stones to our kids.

Most amazing ancient ruinsI got the idea to create a list of the 10 of the world’s most amazing ancient ruins that we have visited. I decided to rank the sites based on one single criteria only: how much force was needed to drag me away from that place!

At the end I love to know about your favorite ancient ruin, so let’s go!

Bagan, Myanmar

My Ode to Bagan was the only way for me to express how I felt about this place. The plains full of temples and pagoda’s. Us and the kids riding our bikes from one temple to the other, passing cow herds and trucks full of Buddhist monks. The sunset that created a magnificent and unrivalled silhouette. This place is awesome.

Most amazing ancient ruins

There are now around 2,200 temple ruins to be found in Bagan. Just for you to imagine: this used to be over 10,000 during the prosperous years (between 11th and 13th century) but the area suffered a lot from earthquakes (with the biggest one in 1975 destroying many temples).

More pictures of Bagan can be found in my article ‘Ode to Bagan‘. Interested to travel to Myanmar? Read about our Myanmar itinerary.

Angkor, Cambodia

Second on the list: Angkor (with our favorite temple ruin Ta Phrom). This one was on my bucket list for years and years when I finally visited in 2013. We spent almost a week in nearby town of Siem Reap and had the time of our life. You have to buy a visitor pass for one or more days, but I wish we bought ourselves an unlimited pass for life!

Most amazing ancient ruins

I have many posts about Angkor for you on this blog. If you travel to Siem Reap you might be interested to visit more of rural Cambodia, Battambang is a great option.

Machu Picchu

Who doesn’t know this 15th century Inca site in Peru, discovered in 1911 by Bingham. This one is from the list probably the one hardest to get to. But once you are up there and the clouds disappear you are left with jaw-dropping beauty. Picture below is from 2000 where Peru was actually our honeymoon destination!

Most amazing ancient ruins

Traveling to Peru to visit Machu Picchu? I have also listed some hidden gems in Peru that you don’t want to miss out on.

Ayutthaya, Thailand

Just an hour north of Bangkok this place is not to be missed when you travel to Thailand. Don’t only go for a day, but spend at least one night (or more if you travel slow). Sunset behind the Wat Phra Si Sampet is beautiful. Rent some bikes and go your own way. Discover ruins less visited by tourists and also do ask a tuk tuk driver to take you to places a bit further out of town.

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If you are in Bangkok and loved Ayutthaya, why not consider a visit to the laid-back temple town of Phetchaburi?

Sukhothai, Thailand

Another one in our favorite country of Thailand but further up north compared to Ayutthaya: Sukhothai. Well laid out and very relaxed to wander around in, this park full of ancient ruins is really worth the stop. Again, rent some bikes and wander around. Try to imagine how big and impactful these temples were long time ago…

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If you visit Sukhothai you are most probably on your way to Chiang Mai. Read my Letter to Chiang Mai…really, I wrote this place a letter!

Karnak temple Luxor, Egypt

Egypt… tourism suffering a lot from all that happened in the past years. We have been in Egypt only once, early 2000s (hence the analog quality of the images…). At that time we visited Luxor where the Karnak temple with its massive pillars left us speechless. The Egyptian hieroglyphs, the statues of the Gods and the idea that all this used to be one single temple….
We will for sure be back to see more of this wonderful country: Cairo, the pyramids and also the South with the famous Abu Simbel temple.

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Khajuraho, India

Also known as the Kamasutra temples, these temples are actually quite well preserved. We visited these temples in 1998 I believe it was. I described them earlier as spaceships that landed centuries ago. From a distance their shape is already spectacular, but once you get closer your attention is move to something else: the uncensored erotic sculptures… That’s why they call them the Kamasutra temples. Out of this world…

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Khajuraho is just one of many awesome places to visit in India. I believe we have only scratched the surface resulting in this India collection of travel stories (including Jaipur and Delhi).

Colosseum in Rome, Italy

Don’t think we don’t have any ancient ruins in Europe, of course we have! Most famous one is for sure the Colosseum in Rome, the largest amphitheater in the world. When visiting Rome the Colosseum of course is a must on your itinerary.

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Ephesus, Turkey

The ancient Greek city of Ephesus in Turkey, discoverd at the end of the 1800s. This was actually the first ancient ruin that me and my wife visited, I think it was back in 1994…

Most amazing ancient ruinsEphesus as far as I can remember was great, although it was quite busy with long lines of visitors. Because it was such a long time ago, Ephesus only made it to no. 9 on this list. Have you visited Ephesus recently? Do you think it should be higher on the list? Please leave a comment, because I really want to know.

Roman Forum, Rome

We visited Rome which in it’s grandeur is one big open-air museum. The Roman Forum is quite an important part of Romain history, being the center of the Roman empire from around 500BC to 400AD. However, the site did not really excite us. Sorry, but no. 10 it is for the Roman Forum.

Most amazing ancient ruinsNow I want to know which Ancient Ruin you like the most? Have you visited them?
On my bucket list there are two more places that I am so eager to visit: Cappadocia (Turkey), the Maya ruins (Mexico) and Petra (Jordan). UPDATE 2023: meantime we have visited both Maya Ruins and Petra in Jordan, click the links to view the pictures!

Why not share Ancient Ruins of the World on Pinterest?

Most amazing ancient ruins

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A Reflection of Humanities Core – Empire and Its Ruins in the 21st Century June 8, 2019 - 08:19

[…] 10 of the world’s most amazing ancient ruins […]

Nandy January 10, 2019 - 09:14

“Live life with no excuses, travel with no regret” – Oscar Wilde
Visit Myanmar with us!

Jame December 28, 2018 - 07:42

Yes, Bagan is the hidden treasure for travelers for its ancient thousands of pagodas and many more. Check the website. 7days travel tour company is the top ten myanmar travel agency and they can arrange the best tour packages for you including Bagan tour and many others.

Bama May 1, 2016 - 11:59

When I was little I, too, was not interested in ancient ruins. Growing up reading tales from the ancient world and watching documentaries about the world’s impressive ancient sites did help me grow a passion towards ancient ruins, temples, and societies. We can learn a lot by visiting them.

Emiel van den Boomen May 5, 2016 - 19:20

So true. I can understand kids not being interested in what history has to offer. They are looking forward into the future, not backward. It’s up to the parents to at least show them the tangible parts of our world’s history. Later on the pieces of the puzzle will fit for our kids.

Marlys Alfiler-Schuermann April 20, 2016 - 21:40

That is indeed a lot of ruins that you’ve visited! It’s kind of interesting seeing these places and imagine how the people there conducted their everyday lives. I certainly enjoyed the visit to the Roman ruins because I happened to have just watched Mary Beard’s documentary on it.

Emiel van den Boomen April 21, 2016 - 09:17

Indeed it is Marlys! 🙂 I think it’s essential that local institutions and governments do their utmost to protect these sites. Destruction can happen fast if thousands of people step on the same stone day after day. And not talking about extreme weather conditions. Hope they last for a long, long time!


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