The 25 Most Amazing Ancient Ruins of the World


Mysteries of the Ancients

Ancient ruins offer a fascinating glimpse into cultures and civilizations of the past. As centuries pass, human-made structures eventually succumb to the elements and are reclaimed by nature. What’s left are haunting relics that allow our imaginations to wander and wonder “what once was.”

From the deserts of Egypt to the jungles of Cambodia, these ancient ruins across the globe will simply take your breath away. Their grandeur and mystique continue to draw travelers from far and wide.

Let’s explore the 25 most amazing ancient ruins around the world that you simply must see in your lifetime.

1. Machu Picchu, Peru

Perched high atop a mountain ridge in the Andes of Peru lies the magnificent Machu Picchu, an Incan citadel dating back to the mid-1400s. This ancient wonder wasn’t revealed to most of the world until 1911 when American historian Hiram Bingham brought it to the public eye.

Built with incredible precision, the structures at Machu Picchu blend flawlessly into the natural landscape. Giant walls, terraces, and ramps seem to emerge from the very rock. Intricately fitted stonework connected the buildings, allowing easy passage between structures.

Perhaps the most iconic part of Machu Picchu is the Sun Temple, an astronomical observatory and sacred site. When you visit, be sure to wake up early and hike up to the Sun Gate. From here, you’ll witness a truly jaw-dropping sunrise over the ancient city.

2. Petra, Jordan

Carved directly into vibrant rose-colored sandstone cliffs is the ancient city of Petra, located in southern Jordan. Dating back 2,000 years, Petra once thrived as the capital of the Nabataean empire. This was a major trade hub along important caravan routes.

One glimpse of the elaborate temple facades and you’ll understand why Petra is described as “a rose-red city half as old as time.” The most iconic structure is the Treasury, featured in several Hollywood films. You’ve never seen a building quite like this before – an ornate Hellenistic facade carved into imposing cliffs.

Petra can only be accessed on foot through a narrow gorge called the Siq. At the end, you’re greeted by a stunning view of the Treasury. Wander through ancient theaters, tombs, temples, and colonnaded streets for an unforgettable experience.

3. The Parthenon, Athens

No visit to Athens is complete without a stop at the Parthenon, the crowning glory of classical Greece. Perched high atop the Acropolis, this ancient temple was dedicated to the goddess Athena. Constructed between 447-432 BC, the imposing marble structure is considered the highest expression of Greek architecture.

Designed by Phidias, the Parthenon represents a tremendous architectural and artistic achievement. The proportions, style, and detailing set the standard for classical beauty and harmony for centuries to come. Meticulous mathematic principles were applied to achieve aesthetic perfection.

While much of the Parthenon was damaged over centuries by war, looting, and pollution, the ruins still carry an incredible aura. You can feel the historical significance surrounding this icon of Western civilization.

4. The Colosseum, Rome

In the heart of Rome stands the majestic Colosseum, the largest Roman amphitheater ever constructed. Built in 70-80 AD, this engineering marvel could seat up to 50,000 spectators for gladiator fights, mock naval battles, and other public spectacles.

Standing four stories tall and stretching 620 feet long and 513 feet wide, the Colosseum dominates the landscape even today. The design was so advanced that the stadium could be flooded for staged aquatic battles. An underground labyrinth housed fighters, animals and stage sets.

Although two-thirds of this massive structure has been destroyed over time, what remains of the Colosseum still thrills visitors. The oval arena, Entry archways and high walls give you a feel for the incredible scale. It’s not hard to imagine the roaring crowds who once gathered for bloody contests and entertainment.

5. Chichen Itza, Mexico

Deep in the jungles of Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula lies Chichen Itza, one of the most spectacular cities of the ancient Mayan world. While many Mayan sites have been discovered across Central America, Chichen Itza stands out for its extraordinary architecture and ornate detailing.

The star attractions at Chichen Itza are El Castillo, a 98-foot pyramid, and The Great Ball Court, where contests using a solid rubber ball were held. Pilgrims once traveled from afar just to swim in the Sacred Cenote, an underground natural sinkhole.

But perhaps the most astounding structure at Chichen Itza is the Temple of Kukulkan. On the Spring and Fall equinoxes, a shadow serpent appears to slither down the temple steps as the feathered serpent god Kukulkan. This amazing effect draws thousands today just as it did for the Mayans centuries ago.

6. The Ruins of Pompeii, Italy

The ancient Roman city of Pompeii was completely buried after nearby Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD. Ash rained down for three days, covering everything under 30 feet of material. Centuries later, excavations revealed the city remarkably intact, including buildings, art, and even human remains.

Wandering the ruins of Pompeii is like stepping into a time capsule back to antiquity. Narrow lanes lined by homes, taverns, temples, and amphitheaters give you a sense of Roman life in the 1st century. Many buildings retain paintings, mosaics, pottery, and graffiti that offer clues into residents’ lives.

Even more chilling are the body casts of victims made from cavity holes found in the ash. These grim figures will leave an impact as you explore the remains of this city frozen in time 2,000 years ago.

7. Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Rising from the jungles of northwest Cambodia is the magnificent Angkor Wat, one of the world’s largest religious monuments. Built in the early 12th century, this enormous Hindu temple was originally dedicated to the god Vishnu. The complex layout represents the cosmic Mount Meru, home of the gods.

Spanning over 400 acres, Angkor Wat boasts an intricate system of walls, moats, bridges, gateways and towers. The most iconic feature is the Quincunx of Towers – five sandstone behemoths that symbolize the peaks of Meru. Every inch of the temple is covered in exquisite carvings of gods and goddesses, scenes from Hindu mythology and poetic inscriptions.

Equally impressive are the extensive city ruins of Angkor, located just north of the main temple. This ancient Khmer empire once flourished but was abandoned and reclaimed by the jungle. Angkor Wat stands as the last remaining masterpiece, surrounded today by scattered bricks and broken Buddha statues.

8. The Acropolis of Athens, Greece

Towering over the city of Athens is the Acropolis, an ancient citadel comprised of stunning temples and architectural marvels. At the foot is the Dionysus Theater, which once sat 17,000 spectators for dramatic performances. From here, climbs up the Great Stairway towards the awe-inspiring Parthenon.

Nearby lies the Erechtheion, famed for its Porch of Maidens – caryatids (pillars carved in female form) that supported the entrance. On the southern slope thrives the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, an intimate theater with exceptional acoustics still in use today.

A walk through the Acropolis provides an unparalleled glimpse into ancient Greek architecture. The structures exhibit astonishing precision along with elaborate details that were considered cutting-edge in 400 BC. Two millennia later, modern builders still look to these ancient monuments for inspiration.

9. The Pyramids of Giza, Egypt

You simply can’t compile a list of ancient ruins without including the iconic Pyramids of Giza in Egypt. Dating back 4,500 years, the Great Pyramid is the oldest of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and the only one that remains largely intact.

The immense scale of the pyramids is astonishing – over two million blocks averaging 2.5 tons each. The Great Pyramid stood 481 feet high when completed, the tallest manmade structure for thousands of years. Oriented to highlight astronomical significance, these massive tombs are an unbelievable feat of engineering and construction.

Equally intriguing is the Sphinx of Giza, the mythical creature with the head of a pharaoh and the body of a lion. Carved from a single limestone, this massive statue guards the pyramid entrance along with many temples and tombs.

A visit to the Giza plateau, just outside modern Cairo, offers a surreal glimpse into the incredible achievements of ancient Egypt.

10. Abu Simbel, Egypt

Along Egypt’s border with Sudan sits the Abu Simbel temples, built under Pharaoh Ramses II in the 13th century BC. These enormous rock structures were carved into a cliffside and contain colossal statues of Ramses and his wife, Nefertari.

The larger main temple is dedicated to Re-Horakhte, Ra and Amun, important Egyptian sun gods. Twice a year, the first rays of sunrise penetrate the sanctuary and illuminate the statues within – an incredible astronomical alignment.

In the 1960s, rising waters from the Aswan Dam threatened to submerge Abu Simbel. In a remarkable international effort, the entire complex was dismantled and moved above the flood line. This unbelievable feat of engineering saved Abu Simbel for future generations.

11. Teotihuacan, Mexico

Just outside Mexico City stand the mysterious ruins of Teotihuacan, once the largest city in the pre-Columbian Americas. During its peak between 100-600 AD, Teotihuacan was home to over 125,000 people and exerted powerful cultural influence across Mesoamerica.

Even today, the scale and architectural sophistication of Teotihuacan is simply jaw-dropping. Perfectly aligned multi-family residences, wide avenues, and enormous pyramids reveal impressive urban planning and engineering. The iconic Pyramid of the Sun measures a colossal 730 feet across and was once the largest building on the continent.

Yet despite its size and importance, relatively little is known about Teotihuacan and the people who built it. No ancient records or writing exists. The identity, language and way of life remains largely mysterious. This only adds to the site’s allure, offering endless discoveries as excavations continue.

12. Tikal, Guatemala

Deep in the rainforests of Guatemala lie the ruins of Tikal, one of the most powerful and influential cities of the ancient Mayan civilization. Occupied between 700 BC to 900 AD, Tikal was the cultural, military, and economic center of the Mayan world during its peak.

Sprawling across six square miles, Tikal contains over 4,000 structures that have been uncovered and restored. Towering limestone temples, palaces, shrines and pyramids poke above the jungle canopy. Mountaintop lookouts and ballcourts hint at everyday life centuries ago. Howler monkeys swing through the very same trees the Mayans revered.

Equally impressive is the abundance of art, hieroglyphs and statues at Tikal. A towering complex called Temple IV offers panoramic views from its 230-foot perch. As you explore this lost city, it’s easy to see how Tikal became a dominant Mayan capital for centuries.

13. Mesa Verde National Park, USA

Carved right into the sandstone cliffs of southwest Colorado is Mesa Verde National Park, home to over 600 ancient Puebloan cliff dwellings. Starting in the 6th century, native tribes constructed elaborate stone villages high into the sheltered alcoves along canyon walls.

The most famous site is Cliff Palace, a 150-room structure containing underground ceremonial rooms and stone towers. Balcony House clings to a jagged cliff edge, accessible only by steep cliffs. Larger sites like Long House and Spruce Tree House offer guided tours that wind through intricate stone rooms and kivas.

By the late 13th century, the indigenous tribes had abandoned their cliffside homes for unknown reasons. The remote and arid location preserved these dwellings for centuries before excavations began in the 1880s. Today you can marvel at the ingenuity of those who carved entire civilizations into canyon cliffs.

14. Stonehenge, England

On the plains of Salisbury stands the iconic Stonehenge, an architectural mystery that still eludes historians and archeologists today. Erected between 3000-2000 BC, this ring of massive standing stones was carefully positioned according to astronomical alignments.

While the meaning and purpose remains unknown, it’s clear Stonehenge was a sacred ceremonial site for ancient Britons. The Heel Stone aligned perfectly with the midsummer sunrise when looking down the Avenue. Two types of stones were used – huge Sarsen stones that weigh 25 tons each, and smaller Bluestones brought from over 150 miles away.

Equally puzzling is how ancient peoples moved these massive stones and placed them in precise formations using only ropes, log rollers and manpower. It’s no wonder Stonehenge has captured our imaginations for centuries. The mysteries endure, leaving you awestruck at the accomplishments of prehistoric architects.

15. Borobudur Temple, Indonesia

The magnificent Borobudur Temple on the island of Java is the world’s biggest Buddhist monument. Built around 800 AD by the Saliendra dynasty, this incredible temple took 75 years and two million volcanic stone blocks to complete.

Shaped like a giant Mandala, Borobudur comprises nine platforms stacked on top of each other. These terraces form a pyramid topped by 72 bell-shaped stupas and Buddha statues. As you ascend through 2,672 bas-relief panels and 504 Buddha figures, you gain enlightenment.

Abandoned in the 14th century after a mountain eruption, Borobudur lay hidden in ash for centuries. The site was rediscovered in 1814, buried under layers of vegetation. After meticulous restoration, Borobudur opened as an Indonesian national monument and UNESCO World Heritage Site. Today over one million people marvel at this architectural wonder annually.

16. The Lost City (Ciudad Perdida), Colombia

Deep in the steamy jungles of Sierra Nevada lies Ciudad Perdida, an ancient city containing at least 169 terraces and 175 stone steps that once housed up to 8,000 people. Founded sometime around 800 AD, the city was mysteriously abandoned 600 to 700 years later.

Ciudad Perdida was forgotten for centuries until its rediscovery in 1972 by tomb raiders. The site lays untouched by the Spanish during colonization. Today the Lost City has been meticulously cleared and excavated, revealing ancient homes, terraces, and ceremonial areas.

The highlight is climbing 1,200 stone steps to the ruins atop a 2,900 foot peak. While less visited than Machu Picchu, the journey offers a true hidden gem and genuine off the beaten path travel adventure. You’ll feel like the first explorers to set eyes on this lost city reclaimed by the jungle.

17. Sigiriya, Sri Lanka

Rising high above the jungle in central Sri Lanka is the breathtaking ancient city of Sigiriya – famous for its steep cliffs and dramatic rock formations. Built around 500 AD, this site contains intricate pleasure gardens, galleries, and mirror wall all concealed behind massive 15 meter-high walls stretching 170 meters wide.

The ruins surround a giant granite slab rising over 600 feet above the landscape. This sheer cliff face contains some of the most difficult and technical rock climbing routes in the world. At one time, the rock summit housed a sprawling complex of buildings and pools used as a fortified palace for King Kasyapa.

Today Sigiriya displays some of the most futuristic city planning and landscape architecture of the early first millennium world. The fusion of man-made structures and natural countryside creates an experience unmatched across the globe. Don’t miss a chance to marvel at this unique UNESCO World Heritage Site.

18. The Alamo, USA

The historic Alamo Mission in San Antonio, Texas preserves the ruins of a pivotal 1836 battle site for Texan independence from Mexico. Originally built in 1744 as Mission San Antonio de Valero, the Alamo served as a fortress compound in the 19th century.

In February 1836, Mexican troops under President General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna besieged the Alamo for thirteen days. Nearly 200 Texian defenders barricaded themselves inside the compound against thousands of Mexican soldiers. Led by names like Davy Crockett and James Bowie, the Texian rebels fought gallantly and killed at least 600 Mexicans before finally being annihilated.

Although a military defeat, “Remember the Alamo” became a legendary rallying cry spurring the decisive Battle of San Jacinto. Visitors today can tour the Alamo grounds and imagines the bloody siege that spawned Texan liberty. Located right in downtown San Antonio, the Alamo allows us to remember the sacrifices made for freedom.


Carved right into towering limestone cliffs in central Arizona are the 600-year-old cliff dwellings of Montezuma Castle National Monument. Compared to massive sites like Chaco Canyon or Mesa Verde, this is a smaller yet incredibly impressive Puebloan cliff dwelling.

Montezuma Castle contains 20 rooms situated 100 feet above ground, enclosed by arc-shaped niches carved into the exposed rock. Ladders and handholds linked upper and lower levels together. Signs of ash pits, irrigation canals, and farming plots reveal how native Sinagua peoples once thrived here.

This ancient apartment-style settlement was mysteriously abandoned around 1400 AD, along with most Puebloan cliff communities. The name “Montezuma Castle” has nothing to do with the Aztec ruler, but stems from early European explorers searching for “lost cities” like Tenochtitlan. Nonetheless, this remarkably intact cliff dwelling offers a stunning look into ancient indigenous life in the southwest.

20. Palenque, Mexico

Deep in the jungles of southern Mexico lies the ancient Mayan city of Palenque, featuring some of the most intricate and beautiful ruins in all of Latin America. This medium-sized city rose to prominence between 500-700 AD and contains remarkable examples of advanced architecture and sculptural mastery.

The iconic El Palacio sanctuary built for King Pacal the Great contains a four-story tower and intricately carved panels detailing Palenque’s history. The Temple of Inscriptions housed one of the greatest archaeological discoveries – King Pacal’s intact tomb complete with jade masks and jewels. Hieroglyphic staircases tell epic stories tied to Mayan mythology and the afterlife.

Elsewhere around Palenque lay sprawling plazas, ball courts, aqueducts and living quarters where common people once resided. The Palace and Temple of the Cross Complex showcases exquisite bas-reliefs recounting royal bloodlines. Palenque’s remote jungle setting and sophisticated artistry make it one of Mexico’s premier Mayan sites to explore.

21. The Roman Forum, Italy

Travel back in time 2,000 years as you stroll through the Roman Forum, once the vibrant center of daily life in ancient Rome. Located between Capitoline and Palatine Hills, this public plaza served as the political, religious and commercial nucleus of the world’s first great city.

Today an evocative collection of ruins transports you to the days of the Roman Republic and Empire. The Curia stands where the Senate passed laws. Triumphal arches celebrated military victories. The massive Basilica was a public meeting hall. Three intact columns remain of the towering Temple of Castor and Pollux.

But the Forum’s history spans far more than the rise and fall of Rome. Layers upon layers exist here, with structures built atop previous ones dating back centuries. Walking these labyrinthine alleys you’ll glimpse the evolution of Western civilization before your eyes.

22. Caracol, Belize

Deep in the dense jungles of western Belize, the ancient Mayan city of Caracol once thrived as one of the most important political and cultural centers in the Mayan world. At its peak around 650 AD, over 150,000 people lived in and around the city.

Sprawling over 168 square kilometers, Caracol contains an incredible 35,000 ancient structures that have been laser-mapped and numbered. Walk along 140 kilometers of reconstructed causeways that linked vital trade routes. The heart of Caracol contains colossal palaces, pyramids, plazas and ballcourts that provide an amazing glimpse into everyday Mayan life.

However, what makes Caracol special are the intricately carved stelae telling the detailed history of the city kings and conquests. Over 10,000 pieces of pottery and other artifacts help reconstruct the story of this powerful pre-Columbian city, once forgotten and reclaimed by the Belizean jungle.

23. The Acropolis of Athens, Greece

Towering over the city of Athens is the Acropolis, an ancient citadel comprised of stunning temples and architectural marvels. At the foot is the Dionysus Theater, which once sat 17,000 spectators for dramatic performances. From here, climbs up the Great Stairway towards the awe-inspiring Parthenon.

Nearby lies the Erechtheion, famed for its Porch of Maidens – caryatids (pillars carved in female form) that supported the entrance. On the southern slope thrives the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, an intimate theater with exceptional acoustics still in use today.

A walk through the Acropolis provides an unparalleled glimpse into ancient Greek architecture. The structures exhibit astonishing precision along with elaborate details that were considered cutting-edge in 400 BC. Two millennia later, modern builders still look to these ancient monuments for inspiration.

24. Hampi, India

Scattered across the banks of the Tungabhadra River in India lies the ancient city of Hampi, the former capital of the Vijayanagara empire. From the 14th-16th centuries, Hampi was a prosperous Hindu kingdom until its destruction by the Deccan sultanates.

Today the ruins contain over 1,600 surviving remains that make up a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Giant temples carved from granite boulders line the rugged landscape. Delicate columns, carved reliefs, and statuary lie among hills and blue-green banana plantations.

The site is home to the iconic Virupaksha Temple, one of the oldest still-functioning Hindu temples. Nearby enormous sites like Vitthala Temple exemplify the power and wealth once held here. No visit is complete without seeing the iconic stone chariot or climbing to Hanuman Temple hilltop.

Hampi offers perhaps India’s most magnificent spectacle of ancient ruins in a setting that combines both architecture wonder and natural beauty.

25. Babylon, Iraq

The legendary city of Babylon in modern day Iraq served as the capital of the ancient Mesopotamian Babylonian kingdom between 1770-1750 BC. Under rulers like Hammurabi and Nebuchadnezzar, Babylon grew into one of greatest cities of antiquity.

While swallowed by the desert and diminished by time, Babylon still inspires imaginations of biblical times long past. Situated along the Euphrates River about 50 miles south of Baghdad lies remnants of the ancient metropolis, including portions of the outer walls and the ruins of the Ziggurat Etemenanki – the inspirations for the Tower of Babel.

Walking through Babylon offers an unrivaled glimpse into the heritage of the ancient world and life in Mesopotamia. The Ishtar Gate with its bright blue-glazed bricks inlaid with images of dragons and bulls offers one of the finest sights from antiquity in the Middle East. While buried treasure undoubtedly still remains hidden in the desert sands, Babylon remains one of the world’s most mythical ruins.

Discover the Mysteries of Ancient Civilizations

Our ancestors were clearly ahead of their times. These incredible ancient ruins offer proof of highly advanced engineering methods, sophisticated artistry, and complex histories that continue to confound modern archeologists.

What secrets do these structures still hold? The mysteries help fuel further explorations at these ancient sites. More exciting discoveries are being unearthed every year as experts unlock clues about past civilizations.

Visiting these locations in person lets you form a personal connection with cultures and peoples from antiquity. Standing in the shadows of their monumental accomplishments puts our modern lives into deeper perspective. You may leave with more awe than answers.

Hopefully this global list inspires you get out and explore some of these breathtaking ruins yourself. Whether halfway across the globe or right in your backyard, ancient sites offer windows into our collective human heritage. Each ruin offers its own unique time capsule just waiting to be discovered.

Which of these amazing ancient ruins tops your must-visit list? Let us know in the comments!

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