The Most Amazing Ancient Cities in the World

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In terms of historical sites, nothing quite beats exploring lost, abandoned and ruined ancient cities. Among the most popular of these historic cities to visit are Pompeii, Chichen Itza and Angkor Wat. Other popular sites tend to include Machu Picchu, Teotihuacan and Carthage.

From the remains of the ancient city of Babylon to lost Roman metropolises, Mayan centres and Egyptian mega-towns, the ancient cities of the world are as varied as they are numerous.

Our ancient cities guide will help you plan your very own ancient city tour and explore the world’s best ancient places. So whether you’re seeking ancient cities in Europe, South America or anywhere across the globe, our ancient city guide will help you get exploring.

What are the most popular ancient cities to visit?

1. Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat is an enormous 12th century temple complex in Cambodia and the best preserved of its kind. Incredibly grand and ornately decorated, Angkor Wat’s sand-coloured buildings rise up to form five towers, representing the home of the Hindu deities. Friezes and sculptures are found throughout, depicting both day-to-day life from the time it was built and religious events.

Today Angkor Wat is one of Cambodia’s most popular tourist sites. There is an incredible amount to see and it’s a good (although relatively expensive) idea to get a licensed tour guide. Angkor Wat has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1992.

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2. Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu is an extraordinary ancient stone city along the Inca Trail in Peru and forms one of the most famous historical sites in the world. Believed to have been constructed by the Inca Yupanqui people sometime during the mid-fifteenth century, the ruins of Machu Picchu sit high atop a granite mountain. Some of the most impressive structures include the semi-circular Temple of the Sun, the Temple of the Three Windows, the mausoleum and the upper cemetery.

Machu Picchu’s agricultural section, with its terraces and granaries, is also an important aspect of the site demonstrating the advanced agricultural methods employed by the Inca people. The main Machu Picchu city is surrounded by other sites forming the Inca Trail and some of which take some serious hiking, but are well worth it. It’s also a good idea to stop at the Museo de Sitio Manuel Chávez Ballón at the base of the mountain.

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3. Ephesus

Ephesus is a treasure trove for enthusiasts of Ancient Roman and Greek history, allowing them to walk through its streets and view its magnificent houses, community buildings, temples and stadiums. Some of the most impressive sites include the Library of Celsus, the ruins of which stand two storeys high, the Temple of Hadrian which was built in 118 AD, the classical theatre where it is believed Saint Paul preached to the Pagans and the Cave of the Seven Sleepers, so called because legend has it that the Romans locked seven Christian boys there in 250 AD, who only awoke in the 5th century.

A trip to Ephesus usually takes at least half a day - some tours include other local sites such as Priene and Miletus - but history enthusiasts will probably want to enjoy this site for a whole day. There is also a great Ephesus Museum displaying artifacts found in the old city.

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4. Abu Simbel

Abu Simbel is an archaeological site in Egypt housing a series of incredible Ancient Egyptian monuments, especially a number of rock temples. The most famous sites at Abu Simbel are the two Temples of Ramesses II. The site was rediscovered in 1813. One of the most startling sights at Abu Simbel is the main hall of the Great Temple. This was also cut into the sandstone and along the hand hewn length are two rows of Osirid statues of Ramses, each one 30 feet high. Incredibly, the temples at Abu Simbel were once located elsewhere, but were moved – with the help of UNESCO – to their current location in order to protect them from flooding. The place they once stood is now under water.

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5. Teotihuacan

Teotihuacan was a holy Mesoamerican city built in around 400 BC in what is now Mexico and forms one of the country’s oldest archeological sites. Characterised by looming stepped pyramids, indeed one of the most impressive aspects of Teotihuacan is the sheer size of these monuments, including the Pyramid of the Sun, which measures 225 by 222 metres at its base, rising 75 metres high. Incredibly well-preserved, despite a fire which tore through Teotihuacan in the 7th century, Teotihuacan is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

Visitors to Teotihuacan can manouver their way through the city via its original streets, such as Avenue of the Dead, which divided the city into quarters, although take note that the site is absolutely enormous. Today, Teotihuacan is one of the most popular tourist sites in Mexico and includes numerous museums, including the Museo del Sitio, just south of the Pyramid of the Sun where visitors can see various artefacts from the site.

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6. Jerash

Jerash is one of the world’s best preserved ancient Roman sites. Today, tourists flock to see Jerash’s extensive and impressive ruins, including the Temple of Artemis and the Forum with its large ionic columns. Jerash’s original main street, the Cardo, runs through the centre of the site and, with its visible chariot marks and underground drainage system, is fascinating in its own right. Other must-see aspects of Jerash include its still-functioning 3,000 seat South Theatre built between 90-92AD during the reign of Emperor Domitian, its second century AD North Theatre and its Nymphaeum fountain. Visitors can also see many of the artefacts found during the excavation of this site at the Jerash Archeological Museum.

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7. Monte Alban

Monte Alban in Mexico is an impressive ancient site created by an incredible feat which involved carving a flat space out of a mountain rising to an elevation of over 1,600 feet above the valley below it. The site is characterised by over 2,200 terraces as well as numerous pyramid structures, large staircases, ornate palaces, elaborate tombs and even a ball court known as Juego de Pelota, mostly arranged on its “Grand Plaza”. The ball court is very well-preserved, made up of two facing stepped platforms with the playing field in the centre. The ball games played were ritualistic and often ended in the death of the losers. Today, Monte Alban is a popular tourist destination and a UNESCO World Heritage site. It has a small on-site museum showing some of the finds from excavations of Monte Alban.

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8. Pergamum

Pergamum is a famous archaeological site in Turkey which developed under the Attalid dynasty following the death of Alexander the Great. The historic ruins of Pergamum are split into three main areas. In the Acropolis, one can find sites such as its library, gymnasium, very steep theatre and arsenal as well as the Roman Temple of Trajan. This was also once the site of the incredible Altar of Pergamum, now controversially located in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin. Now only its base remains at Pergamum. The other two areas of Pergamum are its lower city and its stunning health centre or Asclepion, where a variety of treatments were offered, such as mud baths. Pergamum has a small archaeological museum, with some of the finds excavated from the site.

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9. Carthage

Carthage was one of the most powerful cities of the ancient world and spawned the powerful Carthaginian Empire which dominated much of the western Mediterranean. The ruins of this famed city can be found on the outskirts of modern day Tunis.

The best way to begin exploring these ruins is probably by visiting Byrsa Hill and the Carthage Museum. The museum hosts a collection of Carthaginian and Roman artefacts including marble sarcophagi and a model of Punic Carthage. Other key points of interest include the impressive Antonine Baths, the Roman Amphitheater, Roman villas and reconstructed Roman theatre of Carthage. Among the best preserved Punic remains are the Magon Quarter, Punic Port and unnerving Sanctuary of Tophet.

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10. Chichen Itza

Stunningly well-preserved and imposingly beautiful, Chichen Itza is one of Mexico’s most impressive historical sites. A UNESCO World Heritage site based in the forests of the Yucatan Peninsula, Chichen Itza is actually made up of two cities built by two peoples, the Mayas and the Toltecs.

The site is made up of several surviving buildings including a circular observatory known as El Caracol, the Warriors’ Temple and El Castillo. Accounts vary as to the date of the first settlement at Chichen Itza, placing it between the 6th and 9th century AD when the Mayas built the original city including “The Building of the Nuns” and a church.

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Full list of ancient cities you can visit today

Beyond this top ancient cities list, there are many similar places to visit, including Montezuma Castle, Mesa Verde National Park and Saqqara to name but a few. We’re constantly expanding this list of historic cities and you can view the current selection below.


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Cerro Patapo

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Chan Chan

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Derinkuyu Underground City

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Dura Europos

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Ek Balam

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El Brujo

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El Tajin

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Glanum is an extensive archaeological site of a former Roman settlement near Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. Read More


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Great Zimbabwe

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Herculaneum was an ancient Roman town fossilized following the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD. Read More


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Histria was occupied by the Greeks, Romans and Byzantines and is thought to be the oldest settlement in Romania. Read More


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Kamiros was an ancient city on the island of Rhodes, the ruins of which include an acropolis. Read More

Karnak Temple

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Kaymaklı Underground City

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Luxor Temple

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Mesa Verde National Park

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Petra is a famous UNESCO-listed ancient Nabataean city which later formed part of the Roman Empire. Read More

Piramide de Cuicuilco

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Pollentia is an Ancient Roman site in Alcudia in Majorca. Read More


Pompeii was an ancient Roman city whose incredibly well-preserved ruins now form a popular UNESCO World Heritage site. Read More


Priene is a quiet, picturesque ancient Greek city in Turkey which boasts some amazing historical remains without the crowds of the nearby sites. Read More

Qatna Archaeological Park

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Quirigua Archaeological Park

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A picturesque ancient city on Libya’s coast, Sabratha contains some excellent Roman ruins. Read More


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Sayil in Mexico houses the ruins of a small Maya settlement built in the Puuc style. Read More


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St Albans

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Stobi in Macedonia was an ancient settlement of Paeonia before becoming a Roman city. Read More

Syracuse Archaeological Site

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Taos Pueblo

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Tchogha Zanbil

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Templo Mayor

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Tharros, in Sardinia, was founded by the Phoenicians and contains mostly Roman ruins. Read More


Thebes was an ancient Mycenaean and Greek city eventually destroyed by Alexander the Great. Read More


Tikal in Guatemala was a major Maya site of great ceremonial importance. Its well-preserved ruins are listed by UNESCO. Read More


The ruins of Timgad are the extremely well-preserved remains of an Ancient Roman military encampment in Algeria. Read More


Tiwanaku in Bolivia was the capital of a powerful pre-Inca civilisation and is a UNESCO listed site. Read More


Troy is a world-renowned archaeological site, inhabited since the 4th millennium BC and believed to the have been the location of the famous Trojan War. Read More


Tulum is a cliff-top Maya site in Mexico’s Quintana Roo region with some interesting and quite well preserved ruins. Read More


Uxmal was a Maya city in Yucatan, Mexico and is today a UNESCO World Heritage site. Read More

Valley of the Kings

The Valley of the Kings is a major royal Ancient Egyptian burial site in Luxor and part of a UNESCO World Heritage site. Read More

Velia Archaeological Site

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Verulamium was a Roman settlement near modern day St Albans in England. Read More


Site of a Roman legion camp includes ruins of amphitheater and aqueduct Read More


Volubilis near Meknes in Morocco was an ancient Roman city developed in the first century BC. Read More


Winaywayna is an Inca site in Peru near Machu Picchu. Read More

Wroxeter Roman City

Wroxeter Roman City houses the remains of what was once Roman Britain’s fourth largest city. Read More

Xanten Archaeological Park

Xanten Archaeological Park houses the remains of the former Roman settlement of Colonia Ulpia Traiana. Read More


Xcaret houses the ruins of a Maya city which reached its peak in the 15th and 16th centuries. Read More


Xlapak is a small archaeological site in Mexico’s Yucatan region. Read More


Xochicalco is an important pre-Columbian site in Mexico and a World Heritage site. Read More


Yagul was a fortified Zapotec settlement in Oaxaca in Mexico. Read More


Hidden away far from the husstle and busstle of the main tourist track is the archeaological site of Yaxchilan, containing the ruins of this once-powerful Maya city. Read More


Yaxha is an impressive ancient Maya site in Guatemala’s Peten region. Read More

Our list of ancient cities is growing all the time, but we may not cover them all. So, if you know of other ancient cities, you can always add them to Trip Historic now by contacting us today.