12 Amazing Ruins You Have To Visit In Your Lifetime

In March I rode our new BMW bike down from Bucharest to Antalya, about 1600 km, 1000 miles. One of the stops on the way was in Ephesus, which is not the name of the city, but the names of the ancient ruins. Those ruins are at the top of my Best Ruins list as I reflected upon others I have visited. In the past four years I have been to 26 countries and collectively I’m at 39 over my lifetime. Most of those countries are in Europe where so much history took place. Between Greece, Italy, Croatia and now Turkey, I have lost count of how many ruins I have been through. Add in Asia, South America, and Mexico and the numbers grow. And we still have Egypt, Jordan, and Israel on the list, hopefully in 2023.

When it comes to picking the “best” ruins, it almost sounds like an oxymoron. Are the BEST ruins the ones in the best condition NOW, after renovation, and make it welcoming and inviting? Or are the best the ones in the most “natural” condition that reflect the way it looked initially?

I don’t know. My list is personal and biased of course, and if you have been to any one of them, I welcome your thoughts! And if you have any other recommendations, please let me know.Many listicles like this have the top five, top seven, the top 10, etc, so rather than focus on the numbers, I went back and went from less impressive to most impressive, but regardless they are ALL amazing! I’ll not go into all the details for each of these, but share the highlights.

My List Of Ruins:

  • Ephesus, Selcuk, Turkey: Of all the ruins I have been to, the Library of Celsus in Ephesus was the only one that has two entire floors and it was magnificent. This town of Ephesus was founded in 10th century BC, which is mind blowing to ponder; we’re talking 12,000 years ago. The city has been restored to what it once was, with beautiful marble streets, coliseums and stadiums, and many fully restored buildings and statues.
  • The Acropolis and Parthenon, Greece: Anyone who recalls their history classes in junior high is familiar with the Acropolis, which is the hill that holds the Parthenon along with two other significant temples: Erechteion and the Temple of Nike. They are all magnificent and to be in Athens is a humbling experience.
  • Angkor Wat, Cambodia: It’s the largest religious monument in the world at 402 acres, 163 hectares. It is a sprawling complex that requires long walks or hiring a guide to ride from one ruin to the other in a tuk-tuk, a three-wheeled motorcycle with a carriage. Angkor is swarming with monkeys, so that adds to the mystique of the complex and the better physical condition you are in, the better, since you can climb many of these. Also, the tree growth throughout is unique and is actually part of the structures.
  • The Valley of the Temples, Sicily: The valley is not really a valley, but sits on a rise outside the city of Agrigento in the south of Sicily. I had never heard of the Valley until we stayed in Sicily for six weeks, and it required an overnight trip from our room in Siracusa. Worth it, every minute. These temples have been built and rebuilt several times and are considered a shining example of Grecian architecture, though they are in Italy.
  • Aspendos, Turkey: This site has the best stadium renovation I have ever been in. It looks like it could have held a play or musical event last weekend, and it may have: they use it today for outside entertainment, and it can hold 7,000 people. Along with the theater you can wander around the several hundred acres and explore entry gates, houses, and cathedrals, many of them in great condition.
  • Machu Picchu, Peru: it’s the Big One, the one everyone aspires to, and is probably on more “bucket lists” than any others listed here. And it is magnificent. Set high on top of the Andes mountains at 2430 meters, almost 8000 feet, it can take your breath away in more ways than one! Machu Picchu takes effort to get there and it is known for both the construction techniques which used no mortar or concrete, as well as the unknown astrological purpose behind the construction.
  • Hadrian’s Villa, Villa Gregoriana, Villa d’Este, Italy: I called Tivoli, Italy, the “City of the Three Temples,” and some are older than the city of Rome, which is a 45-minute train ride away. All three of these are different and unique. Gregoriana is more of a natural temple that is folded inside of a breathtaking valley, with waterfalls and lush greenery. Hadrian’s Villa is more similar to other “ruins” in that there are buildings, walls, and statues in varying condition, and they are all part of this several hundred-acre complex. Villa d’Este is the newest of the three, built in the 16th century, these Renaissance villas take you back through time and the many hundreds of fountains are all gravity fed with no pumps.
  • Side, Turkey: Yes, Turkey has a lot of ruins, and this is one of my top three. It is almost like a Hollywood movie set, in that it is fully restored, and you could almost imagine a “Universal City” billboard on the lot. It is set apart from the rest of the “real” city and ends at the beach, where the Temple of Apollo is the main draw and is inspiring.
  • Termessos, Turkey: another one I never heard of until we lived in Antalya, about 30 minutes away. This city was built 1000 meters up in the mountains and required some effort to visit, but worth it. It is covered with ruins that have NOT been restored, which truly takes you back thousands of years.  This city has a wonderful amphitheater that is rustic and natural and with views that go forever. This city is also renown in that Alexander the Great was unable to conquer it.
  • The Coliseum, Italy: Yes, THE Coliseum. Sure everyone who ever went to school or watched a Roman movie knows the Coliseum. It was built to hold brutal and spectacular events from lion fights to chariot races, and at one time had a water feature for ship fights. It is in downtown Rome, five minutes from the Forum and countless other relics of the past. The Coliseum is amazing and many would put it at their number ones—until they see what else is out there.
  • Perge, Turkey: as you can see, Turkey is abundant in ruins, and this one is just a 20-minute metro ride from Antalya, so easy to get to. Hundreds of acres that took us by surprise since we had little knowledge beforehand.
  • Myra, Turkey: Almost done with Turkey—for now, but this ruin in the city of Demre is quite small, but the necropolis built inside the mountain is so eye catching it made the list.

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About The Author
Norm Bour
Norm Bour
Norm Bour is one of our regular contributors and since 2019 has been a Traveling Nomad after leaving the US permanently with his girlfriend (now wife) at ages 64 and 66. They have been to 26 countries since then, from Asia to Europe to South America and hunkered down in Mexico for 15 months during COVID. Norm has written several books since then, and he and his wife, Kathleen, are writing a relationship book which shares much of their journey on the road. “My Way or The Highway (of Love)” will be available later this year. Meanwhile, Norm and Kat are in Turkey, where they obtained a two-year residency, and are using Turkey as their base for traveling. They are currently on a four-month motorcycle journey from southern Turkey to Greece, and will be organizing a safari in Feb, 2023. Contact Norm at [email protected].
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