UNESCO Sites in the North Sea
Sail the North Sea and go ashore in the British Isles, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, and Holland to search out fascinating UNESCO World Heritage sites from cities to sand dunes.
New: Discover the UNESCO sites of the North Sea with our interactive map!
Location, location, location: Kronborg Castle in Denmark, overlooking the narrow Sund, commands the only access to the Baltic Sea, and thus the Danes controlled sea traffic and tax-collecting opportunities for a long time. World Heritage cites the Renaissance castle for its importance to northern European history and to the Danish people in particular. Reinforced to a state of practical impregnability in the late 1600’s, it was in use by the military until the 19th century and is still intact. Its most poetic role, however, is as Elsinore, Hamlet’s castle. Imagine attending a performance of Shakespeare’s famous tragedy here! Watch out, though – Olger the Dane, a legendary Danish hero, is reputed to be napping at the castle until he needs to rise and protect Denmark. Don’t wake him up.
UNESCO lists 55 Belfries of Belgium and France, built from the 11th to 17th centuries, as symbols of the emergence of the merchant class.
The bustling medieval textile trade fueled the construction of the towers, which provided safekeeping for important civic records and merchants’ inventory and made clear to all the community’s affluence. Gradually they became the clock towers people have used for centuries to stay on schedule. Look for these World Heritage belfries as you travel through Belgium and northern France; whether they’re Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance or Baroque, they grace the landscape with towrering stone monuments to trade.
A sea haven
Off the coast of Germany and Holland is an absolutely enormous tidal wetland area called the Wadden Sea. It better be big: some 12 million birds per year overwinter here and around 10,000 animal and plant species call it home. This natural World Heritage site includes the Dutch Wadden Sea Conservation Area and the German Wadden Sea National Parks of Lower Saxony and Schleswig-Holstein. There are all kinds of habitats: dunes, beaches, salt marshes, estuaries, sandy shoals, tidal channels, mussel beds and more. You may see seals or porpoises, and certainly graceful beach grasses and masses of birds.
A capital city
The Old and New Towns of Edinburgh in Scotland beautifully combine a twisty, medieval, castle-topped city with an orderly, gracious Georgian one to produce a pleasing and intriguing capital city. Both sections are superb examples of the city planning of their respective eras. The New Town was designed by a 22-year old architect, who despite his youth, dare we “say hit the nail on the head” when decided to build his city on a grid pattern. This capital city has the highest density in the world of listed historic buildings: 4500. Edinburgh is a World Heritage city because of the impact it had on the direction city planning. To all who revel in its many festivals and friendly atmosphere, it’s a world of fun!A wharf
Travel back to Hanseatic times when you tour Bryggen, the old city wharf in Bergen, Norway. The wooden warehouses are on the World Heritage list because they are the last of their kind, dating from the mid 14th – 16th centuries when this was one of four Hanseatic main offices managing a bustling maritime trade. Despite - or perhaps because of, so many fires over the years, and the need to rebuild, the time-tested traditional building methods have always been employed and thus preserved, so we can still walk through what was once a common kind of building throughout northern Europe. Take a look at the galleries and have a bite at one of the cafes that now fill the waterfront.
Do you fancy a Harry Potter moment? You might just have one at Durham Castle and Cathedral, one of the best examples of Norman architecture in England, near the North Sea coast. Originally an 11th-12th century Benedictine monastery with a few pre-Gothic touches, the complex has also served as a fortress, the prince-bishops’ residence, and now as a college of Durham University. When you schedule your visit to see the UNESCO listed cathedral, you might happen by the 13th century dining hall where 21st –century students dine today! No sorcery classes going, but there’s definitely magic in the vaulted ceilings and lovely carved plants and animals from the Norman era.