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12 ancient cities you need to experience in this lifetime

These historical cities have stories hidden away in every corner.

It is easy forget about where we came from when we’re so busy living in the present. Skyscanner brings you a list of 12 ancient cities that each tell a story of a time gone by and that were once upon a time, beacons of knowledge, culture, commerce and tradition. So next time you plan your vacation, instead of heading to a luxury beachside resort, maybe think about spending some time at one of these places. You might just be surprised when you return with a renewed sense of wonder and inspiration.

1. Machu Picchu, Peru

Machu Picchu, built by the Incas, stands 2,430 metres above sea level. This ancient “lost city” with its giant walls and terraces is something to behold. Located in a valley on the eastern slopes of the Andes, it encompasses the upper Amazon basin with its rich diversity of flora and fauna. The best way to get here is to fly into Lima or Cusco and take the train (PeruRail) to Aguas Calientes, the town located at the base of Machu Picchu. Prepare to spend at least two days here, so you don’t feel rushed. If you have the time, hike the Inca trail. It spans a distance of 24 miles, covering mountain passes and valleys and offering unparalleled views of snowy peaks of the Andes, winding rivers, majestic ruins and local villages. It can be strenuous and takes several days but if you’re up for the challenge, it is an unforgettable experience.

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2. Salzburg, Austria

Salzburg, an important city-state of the Roman Empire, today represents a melting pot of Roman and German influences. You can see this most in its Baroque architecture, which is still intact in the Altstadt or old town. Visit the Salzburger Dom, the city’s most splendid cathedral built in 1628. Head to St. Peter’s abbey founded in 696, in the oldest quarter of Salzburg and catch the stunning views of the city from the Salzburg castle and fortress. Don’t forget to get some shopping done at the trendy Getreidegasse Street. The city’s Roman heritage is seen clearly in the beautiful squares located at the centre of the town. One such square is host to the Mozart memorial built in the mid 19th century. If all this history is a bit too much for you, how about some good ol’ fashion Hollywood magic? Find out more about the original Von Trapp family of the Sound of Music. Visit their family home along the Salzach River. You can do a guided tour (and maybe slide down the bannister when no one’s looking!). Finally drink some traditional, Monk-brewn beer in the Mullner Brau beer garden. You earned it!

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3. Thebes, Egypt

Thebes offers a glimpse into ancient Egypt at the height of its glorious history. The capital of Egypt during the 11th and 18th dynasties, Thebes, is the sight of the valley of Kings temple at Luxor and the valley of Queens temple at Karnak. Thebes is also home to the famous tomb of Tutankhamen. The best way to explore this ancient city is to fly into Luxor on the east bank of the river Nile or take the relatively inexpensive train into Luxor from Cairo. However if you have the time and the money, a cruise along the river Nile is a lovely way to take in the sights.

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4. Potosi, Bolivia

You don’t have to be “worth a Potosi” anymore to travel to this historic mining town. Silver mining made Potosi the wealthiest city in the Americas at one time. Visit it today to see its exquisite churches and cathedrals, grand museums, historic architecture and scenic natural beauty. Go to the Casa Nacional de la Moneda to learn more about its minting history. Tour the San Francisco of Potosi Convent and Temple and take in breath-taking views of the city. Other must sees include the Laguna Colorada, the shallow reddish salt lake, frequented by flamingos. If you feel a bit daring, go on a mining tour of the famed Cerro Rico Mountain. Make sure you use a reputed tour company, which provides a safe and enjoyable experience of what is one of the largest silver mines in the world. A word of caution, it helps to know a bit of Spanish to get around. So get right on it, si?

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5. Baku, Azerbaijan

The old city in Azerbaijan’s capital has been given UNESCO world heritage status, and for good reason. The old city is a walled fortress and be prepared to spend a day or two exploring this historical site. Visit the palace of the Shirvan Shahs. Made of sandstone, the palace was where Azerbaijan’s ruling dynasty lived during the 15th century. Another place of interest is the Maiden’s tower or Qiz Qalasi. Find out about the many delightful tales associated with this stone tower, whose purpose is still somewhat of a mystery. While in Baku, you must visit the Ateshgah Fire Temple and the famed carpet museum. Also try the local Azeri cuisine, especially if you like your meat and cheese.

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6. Ping Yao, China

Ping Yao, located southwest of Beijing, is a traditional Han Chinese city founded in the 14th century. One can trace the evolution of Chinese architectural styles over centuries in what was once considered the financial center of China. This ancient walled city is best seen on foot, so plan on spending a lot of time wandering and getting lost. It’s all part of its charm. Of particular interest is the Rishengchang Exchange House, which is essentially a bank that was started so that traders and merchants could deal in large amounts of silver coins without fear of theft. Visit the temple of the City God and the County Government office to learn more about the beliefs and workings of the dynasties that ruled China. Ping Yao is one of the few places in China that still retains its character and history. Be sure to make it a part of your Chinese holiday.

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7. Petra, Jordan

Petra, an ancient city carved into sandstone rock and surrounded by lofty mountains, was the capital of the Nabatean Empire and an important city in the trade route between China, India, Egypt and the rest of the Arabian world. This unique archaeological site, with a remarkable water management system enabled a thriving city to grow in an arid and dry region. Visit Petra and tour its extensive temples and cultural buildings. Admire its ingenious network of cisterns and reservoirs for water harvesting and conservation. The best way to experience the city is by hiking through it. You can also hitch a ride on a camel, horse or donkey. No shame in getting a little help from a four-legged friend. Employing a guide can be very useful in learning more about this historical wonder.

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8. Jerusalem, Israel

Christian, Jewish and Muslim pilgrims flock to this ancient city, but even if you’re a plain ol’ tourist, there is a lot to see and experience. Visit the old city and walk in the footsteps of Kings and prophets. It can be a humbling and thought-provoking experience even for the most cynical amongst you. The church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Jewish Quarter, Damascus Gate and the Al Aqsa mosque and Dome of the rock located on the temple mount, are just some of the must see sites located here. Be sure to visit the bustling Mahane Yehuda market to buy your share of spices, cheese, fruits and teas. They even have homemade Jewish pastries. Go for the cake, if you’re a plebeian with no sense of history.

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9. Hampi, India

The ancient city of Hampi was the capital of the Vijayanagara Empire from the 14th to the 16th century. It was strategically chosen for its ideal location on the banks of the river Tungabandhra and surrounded by hills on three sides. The well –preserved ruins of this city, located near the town of Hospet in Karnataka, tell the tale of magnificent temples such as the Virupaksha temple, palaces such as Lotus Mahal, ancient water management systems, markets and monuments. It is ideal to explore the place on foot or on a bicycle and plan on spending at least 3 days here to make the most of your trip. Hike up the Matanga hill to enjoy picturesque views of Hampi. There are plenty of interesting places worth seeing nearby, so make sure to visit the Anegundi village and climb the Anjanadri hill, considered to be the birthplace of Hanuman.

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10. Venice, Italy

The city of Venice is listed in the UNESCO’s world heritage list. It more than earns its place on this list because of its magnificent architecture, containing masterpieces by some of the greatest artists that ever lived. Venice consists of a lagoon with 118 islands, brought together in a network of bridges and canals. Often called the “most beautiful city built by man”, this one’s a gem not to be missed. Getting around is easy because of the absence of cars. Venice is the world’s only pedestrian city, so be sure to pack your most comfortable walking shoes to explore all of it. Visit the basilicas and museums, Doge’s palace, the bell tower and enjoy some gelato as you take a ride of one of Venice’s waterbuses or Vaporettos. Gondola rides are considered overpriced and touristy, so avoid unless you’ve seen one too many romantic movies and cannot stay away.

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11. Matera, Italy

Another ancient Italian city makes the list. This one is located in southern Italy at its heel. Matera contains evidence of a rock cut troglodyte or cave dweller settlement dating back to the Palaeolithic era. At the centre of the town, called “Sassi”, one can find ruins of underground dwellings containing cisterns and tombs from the Bronze age, that speak of an advanced civilization. Rupestrian churches carved from soft rock, monasteries, and the Tramontano castles are other sites of interests besides the Sassi. Visit this hauntingly beautiful place to be inspired by the many marvels of mankind. Maybe we’re not such a bad lot after all.

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12. Angkor, Cambodia

Angkor located in the Siem Reap province of Cambodia, is an ancient city, which held great importance in the Khmer empire from the 9th to 14th centuries. Today, it stands in testimony to an advanced civilization, as seen through its religious and cultural monuments, ingenuous hydraulic structures and communication system. Visit and be awed by the temples of Angkor Wat, Preah Khan, Ta Promh and the Bayon. Hinduism and Buddhism are obvious influences in the art and architecture and a tour guide from the area to help you learn and appreciate Cambodian culture and history, is well worth the price. This magnificent blend of religion and architecture definitely warrants a place on your bucket list.

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So there you have it. 12 ancient cities that are well worth your time and money. To make it easier for you to plan this historical trip, download our mobile apps to find the best deals on flights and hotels. Bon voyage!