The Most Impressive Ancient Ruins in the World

Time to book a trip to see one or all of these iconic sights! For this list, we're looking at the world's foremost ancient cities and monuments that you can visit. Our countdown includes Easter Island, Chile, Pompeii, Italy, Great Pyramids of Giza, Egypt, and more!

Top 10 Ancient Ruins to Visit

Welcome to WatchMojo and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the top 10 ancient ruins to visit.

For this list, we’re looking at the world’s foremost ancient cities and monuments that you can visit.

Let us know which one you want to see the most in the comments below.

#10: Easter Island, Chile

Called Rapa Nui by its indigenous people, this island is famous for its large number of distinct statues. The statues are called “moai”, but many simply call them “Easter Island heads”. The statues are hundreds of years old and are a cornerstone of Rapa Nui culture, and the oldest among them was carved over 700 years ago. The moai are representations of important figures in Polynesian history, like the tribe’s leaders, and can be extremely tall; one of them is even over thirty feet. The Rapa Nui people still live on the island, and the statues are sacred.

#9: Tikal, Guatemala

Now at the heart of a national park, Tikal is one of the world’s most important and largest Mayan ruins. The Maya weren’t one, unified kingdom; the civilization was made up of rival city-states – with Calakmul being Tikal’s sworn enemy for centuries. The city was occupied from at least the fourth century BCE, and may have been home to hundreds of thousands of people, making it a truly remarkable metropolitan hub. After almost a millennium, however, Tikal was abandoned in mysterious circumstances. It looks as though the city simply grew too large – much like the Roman Empire – and collapsed. You can now go see this astonishing city in person.

#8: Pompeii, Italy

The eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 CE is one of the most destructive and deadliest volcanic eruptions on record. It ravaged the Bay of Naples, destroying not only Pompeii but multiple other thriving Roman towns, too. Despite the eruption being well documented, the ruins of Pompeii were not unearthed until the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Pompeii is famous for its plaster-cast bodies, which depict people in their final few moments as Vesuvius’s fast-moving ash cloud swallowed them up. Today, you can visit the ruins, but you have to be careful not to damage anything and not all of the settlement is open to guests.

#7: Chichen Itza, Mexico

Another Mayan ruin, Chichen Itza is located in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. The ruins are more recent than Tikal, with early occupations dating back to the sixth century and ending in the thirteenth. The site boasts the tallest Mesoamerican pyramid on record, in the form of the Temple of Kukulkan, which is close to 100 feet tall. Chichen Itza was ultimately abandoned during the Spanish Conquest in the 1500s, though the city had already been in decline before that. Also on the site are other stunning monuments, like the vast Temple of the Warriors and even an ancient observatory. It’s an incredible place to visit for anyone interested in the history of the Americas.

#6: Angkor Wat, Cambodia

This stunning temple complex was once the capital city of the Khmer Empire, which was based primarily in modern Cambodia, but also stretched out into parts of Vietnam, Myanmar, and China. It was established around 900 years ago and stood as the society’s center until it was besieged and invaded in the early 15th century. In the modern era, Angkor Wat has become a premier tourist destination for anybody visiting Southeast Asia. It’s full of many Hindu and Buddhist monuments and at its peak was home to an enormous population of two million. For a while, Angkor Wat was the biggest city in the world, and it’s just as impressive today.

#5: Petra, Jordan

Though Petra is in the middle of a desert, the ancient Nabataeans who built it never lacked for water. Their talent for collecting and storing rainwater meant that this city was able to flourish despite its isolated and hostile location, and it was home to around 20,000 people until ultimately falling to the Romans and being abandoned. It’s an elaborate locale, famous on film for its ornate treasury building that many will recognize as the location of the Holy Grail in “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”. It’s amazing that Petra has stood in Jordan for so long, and still looks so beautiful. It’s an engineering marvel, and very easy for tourists to reach today.

#4: Great Wall of China

Built primarily along China’s northern border to protect the country from Mongolian invasions, the Great Wall was largely constructed during the Warring States period of Chinese history – but it took around two thousand years to build the entire structure as it stands today. There are multiple walls, all built in different periods, generally for protection but also for commerce — China has long been a trade hub since it was a major part of the Silk Road. Thousands of miles of the Wall still stand, with the most accessible parts located close to Beijing. It’s visible from space, but few things compare to seeing and walking along the wall in person – though walking the entire distance would take approximately a year and a half.

#3: The Acropolis, Greece

Towering above Athens you’ll find the Acropolis, a large complex of various buildings and temples, with the most well-known being the huge, ancient Parthenon. The Parthenon was built around 2500 years ago, and is a monument to the power of classical Greece, the birthplace of Western civilization. But also in the Acropolis is the Temple of Athena Nike, and the Acropolis’s historic entrance, a large, sculpted gate called the Propylaea. It’s still the defining feature of Athens’ skyline and one of the foremost Greek ruins in the world. The site is also home to a large museum displaying many more relics and works of art from antiquity.

#2: Roman Colosseum, Italy

The Roman Empire spread across much of Europe, western Asia, and Northern Africa at its height, meaning huge sections of the Eurasian landmass are home to impressive Roman ruins. But none is more famous than the great Colosseum in Rome itself, which has remained the city’s largest landmark for thousands of years. The Colosseum most famously hosted gladiatorial combat, but was also used for executions and other public events. Today, you definitely (and thankfully) won’t see anybody get executed there, but the Colosseum is open to visitors, and is one of the most visited ruins anywhere on the planet. It still has many things to teach us about the ancient world.

#1: Great Pyramids of Giza, Egypt

Built 5000 years ago, the Great Pyramids were the largest man-made structures in the world for millennia; the Pyramid of Khufu was only dethroned after the construction of England’s Lincoln Cathedral in the 11th century. The Pyramids are widely recognized as enormous tombs dedicated to the Pharaohs who ordered their construction, and were once far taller than they are now. They also used to shine brilliantly white after being coated in limestone, but this has been long-lost since their construction was finished. Soon, the Giza Pyramid Complex, which also hosts the Great Sphinx, will be home to the Grand Egyptian Museum, teaching visitors more than ever before about these awe-inspiring ruins.