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Top 10 archaeological destinations in the world

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Ancient Egypt, China, Peru – this guide to the top 10 archaeological destinations in the world will show you where to book a hotel to take a walk through history.

Egyptian pyramids at Giza

They may have become encroached by Cairo’s urban sprawl, but the Great Pyramid and its crouching guardian the battered Sphinx still have the power to astound. Take a tour and stay on till dusk to see Egypt’s ancient monuments bathed in colour during the sound and light show.

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Khmer temple at Angkor Wat

Cambodia’s 12th-century Angkor Wat temple is an awe-inspiring mix of massive scale and delicate details. Platformed galleries lined with bas-relief sculptures of dancers and warriors lead to the 12th-century Hindu temple’s inner sanctum of five spires. Visit at sunrise or sunset to see them reflected in the temple’s moat.

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Incan majesty at Machu Picchu

The mountain-top “lost city of the Incas” in Peru was hidden for centuries by jungle and clouds, and its history remains shrouded in mystery. The 15th-century collection of terraces, gardens and temples is best visited at dawn from hotels in Aguas Calientes, a shuttle bus ride from the ruins.

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Ruined Roman city in Pompeii

With its ancient streets lined with well-preserved houses, shops and temples, Pompeii is one of the most popular archaeological destinations in the world. Frescoes and mosaics surround the tranquil gardens of Roman villas, and poignant plaster casts underscore the tragedy of Vesuvius’ eruption in AD79.

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Khajuraho sculptures in Madhya Pradesh

The 1,000-year-old Hindu temples of Khajuraho are known more for their amorous sculptural details than their spires and gardens. Astounding visitors with their detail and erotic frankness, the temples’ friezes of passionately entwined couples celebrate the sanctity of life. Hire an audio guide to learn the symbolism behind the sculptures’ gymnastic poses and unorthodox couplings.

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China’s terracotta army in Xian

The forbidding clay army of Qin Shi Huang, China’s first emperor, guards the ruler in death in Shaanxi province. Four pits have been discovered, but the breathtaking sight of more than 1,000 individually detailed warriors standing four abreast in battle formation makes Pit 1 the highlight.

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Stone circle in Wiltshire

A mysterious circle of massive boulders, Stonehenge has stood in windswept isolation on England’s Wiltshire plain for 5,000 years, attracting romantics, Druids and history-lovers alike. Visit the Neolithic site at sunrise or sunset to see the stones at their most dramatic.

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Rock-hewn architecture at Petra

A narrow canyon winds through the cliffs at Petra to reveal a desert gorge, with Corinthian columns and triangular pediments carved into Jordan’s rose-red rock. Built by the Nabataeans in 300BC, the exquisite palaces, temples and tombs are best seen at night on a candlelit tour. 

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Mayan mystery at Chichen Itza

Four stairways climb to the summit of El Castillo, the majestic pyramid dominating the Mayan site of Chichen Itza on Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula. Temples, courts and platforms make up the 1,500-year-old site, whose geometric shapes are illuminated at night during the sound and light show. 

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Roman ruins at Ephesus

Turkey’s most famous Roman site is Ephesus, near the town of Selcuk in Anatolia. Follow the Roman main street to the city’s excavated theatres, baths, temples and a remarkably well-preserved two-storey library, or let yourself be sidetracked by steps leading to houses with their frescoes and mosaics intact.

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