Our 10 Favourite Ruins and Ancient Sites in Photos

By - April 27, 2012 (Updated: November 19, 2014)

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series 10 Favourite Photos.
The Poulnabrone Dolmen in the Burren, Ireland

The Poulnabrone Dolmen in the Burren, Ireland

For the third in our series of favourite photos posts, we wanted to take a look at some of the ruins and ancient sites we’ve visited, in Europe.

We still get a kick out of the age of so many of the sites we’ve visited in Europe. Many of them are thousands of years older than our country. I love being surrounded by historic places I read about while growing up. Andrew secretly loves the ability to climb on ruins that would be closed to the public, if they were in Canada. Both of us enjoy the opportunity to walk in the footsteps of thousands of people before us and imagine how these ruins would have looked during their heydays.

The following sites come from a variety of time periods. I’m not trying to stick to the dictionary definition of ancient here. There’s only one Belgian site on the list, but that’s only because a few of our other favourites have already appeared on Our 10 Favourite Religious Buildings in Photos post.

So, without further ado, here are our 10 favourite ruins and ancient sites in photos.

1. Pont du Gard – Roman Aqueduct, France

Pont du Gard - Roman aqueduct, France

Pont du Gard – Roman aqueduct, France

Built in the 1st century, the Pont du Gard was actually one of the first ancient sites we visited when we first moved to Europe. We’ve been to see this Roman aqueduct three times and it never ceases to amaze us. Standing on the bridge, above the first row of arches, you can only marvel at the sheer size of the construction (48.8 m or 160 ft high to be exact). The stone blocks that make up the aqueduct are huge and, to this day, it is a wonder of engineering. Pieces of the 50km long aqueduct are scattered throughout the countryside but this section is the most intact and spectacular. It was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list in 1985.

2.  Pottu Codinu Burial Ground – Sardinia, Italy

Pottu Codinu subterranean burial ground - Sardinia, Italy

Pottu Codinu subterranean burial ground – Sardinia, Italy

With the wealth of nuraghi and other megalithic structures scattered about the Italian island of Sardinia, it’s hard to pick just one ancient site. I settled on Pottu Codinu for a couple of reasons. The first is because it was the oldest site we visited, dating from 3500 BC. The second is because we happened upon it completely randomly while exploring some of Sardinia’s back roads. The third is because, well, they reminded us of Hobbit houses. Even the Sardinians refer to them as domus de janas (homes of the fairies). Read more about our visit to Pottu Codinu and Sardinia.

3. The Poulnabrone Dolmen, the Burren, Ireland

The Poulnabrone Dolmen in the Burren, Ireland

The Poulnabrone Dolmen in the Burren, Ireland

Ireland is another country littered with interesting ancient sites. One of the most striking is the Poulnabrone Dolmen. This tomb dates back to the Neolithic period and consists of large flat slabs of stone that create a 9m burial chamber. One of the reasons it is so striking, is its location. The Burren is a barren rocky area covering about 250km2 of County Clare, Ireland. There is very little vegetation and the tallest thing you can see over the landscape is the Poulnabrone Dolmen.

4. Montaigle Castle Ruins, Falaën, Belgium

Montaigle Castle Ruins, Falaën, Belgium

Montaigle Castle Ruins, Falaën, Belgium

Our Belgian entry, Montaigle Castle, falls under the ruin category.  There is not much left of the original structure but it still makes for an interesting visit. Perched on a rock, overlooking Falaën, Montaigle still looks impressive from below. If you’d like to know more, Andrew, our resident castle expert, has written a great post on the history of Montaigle Castle Ruins.

5. Theatre of Dionysus, Athens, Greece

Theatre of Dionysus, Athens, Greece

Theatre of Dionysus, Athens, Greece

You can’t walk too far in central Athens without tripping over something ancient and we visited many incredible locations around the city. Although the Parthenon is spectacular, my favourite part of our visit to the Acropolis, was sitting in the Theatre of Dionysus. I studied Greek drama in university and was always blown away by stories of the perfect acoustics and magnitude of the productions. The details remaining in the theatre of Dionysus were amazing; from the checkerboard floor to the carved front row seats reserved for the gods.

6. Tarxien Temples, Malta

Tarxien Temples, Malta

Tarxien Temples, Malta

Malta is yet another country filled with ancient temples and ruins. One of our favourite sites is the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Tarxien Temples. This Megalithic temple consists of three structures made of huge slabs of stone. For me, the most interesting part was the decoration around the site. Many of the slabs are carved with animal figures or geometric patterns. This photo shows the famous “fat lady” statue, thought to represent the Mother Goddess and used as a fertility charm.

7. The Medieval Walls of Daroca, Spain

Medieval Walls of Daroca, Spain

Medieval Walls of Daroca, Spain

We discovered Daroca, Spain completely by chance, on a road trip while my parents were visiting Europe. We were happily making our way across central Spain, when we came upon this little city. I may have yelled “Stop the car!” a little too suddenly for Andrew’s taste, but he complied nonetheless. I had to photograph this stunning hilltop fortress. While I was doing so, I noticed that many of the houses are carved directly out of the rock itself. There are over 4 kms of wall here, including several decidedly non-ruined parts such as the Puerta Baja. You can read more about our Spanish road trip here.

8. Dunluce Castle, Northern Ireland

Dunluce Castle Ruins, Northern Ireland

Dunluce Castle Ruins, Northern Ireland

Nothing says Northern Ireland like a moody Medieval castle, crumbling on the side of a cliff, overlooking a blustery ocean. That’s exactly what we got when we visited Dunluce Castle. It’s located in County Antrim, not too far from the famous Giant’s Causeway and is well worth a visit. The castle has been featured in movies, on album covers and has even been the subject of a popular song.  I visited Northern Ireland in 2006 and I’ve been itching to return to this lovely part of the country ever since.

9. Les Baux-de-Provence, France

Les Baux-de-Provence, France

Les Baux-de-Provence, France

Les Baux-de-Provence, in the south of France, is one ancient site that has it all. It is actually still a working, and lived in village, although a very touristy one during the summer months. The buildings cling to the hillside and are topped by the ruins of a once spectacular castle, The Château des Baux. You can pick up an audio guide and wander through the ruins. If you clamber to the top of the rather perilous stairs, you have a view over the Alpilles Mountains and olive groves as far as the eye can see. It is truly breath-taking.

10. Quin Abbey, County Clare, Ireland

Quin Abbey, County Clare, Ireland

Quin Abbey, County Clare, Ireland

Quin Abbey is definitely a site that lends itself well to Black and White photography. We wandered through this beautiful ruin last spring on our road-trip around Ireland. The abbey has a turbulent history. It was ruined and restored repeatedly from its construction in the early 1400s to 1820 with the death of the last Friar. The abbey’s graveyard is still in use and the site is maintained by a caretaker although it is free to enter and explore the ruin.

I hope you enjoyed our favourite ancient sites and ruins. Have you been to any of these sites? Do you know any great ones we need to visit? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Alison Cornford-Matheson is a Canadian freelance writer and travel photographer and the founder of She is the author of The Foodie Guide to Brussels: Local Tips for Restaurants, Shops, Hotels, and Activities. Alison landed in Belgium in 2005 and, over the years, has become passionate about slow and sustainable travel, in Europe and beyond. She loves to discover hidden gems - be they museums, shops, restaurants, castles, gardens or landscapes, and share them through her words and photos. She has visited 45 countries and is currently slow travelling through North America in an RV, with her husband, Andrew, and two well-travelled cats. You can also follow her work on Google+
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  1. Comment by Angela

    Angela April 27, 2012 at 13:11

    Beautiful pictures, visiting such ancient ruins feels like reconnecting with our past, doesn’t it? It’s one of my most favorite activities.

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison May 2, 2012 at 18:24

      Thanks Angela! Mine too 🙂

  2. Comment by Eva

    Eva April 27, 2012 at 14:19

    You might want to consider visiting these graves (called ‘hunebedden’ in Dutch: dolmen, passage graves) in the province of Drenthe, the northern part of the Netherlands. They are even older than the ruins you visited in Sardinia (5000 bC). Close to Belgium!

    This website is in English

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison May 2, 2012 at 18:24

      Thanks for the tip Eva! We will add that to our list of places to visit 🙂

  3. Comment by Megan

    Megan April 27, 2012 at 14:38

    Gorgeous, Al!

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison May 2, 2012 at 18:23

      Thanks Megan!

  4. Comment by Sarah @ Green Global Travel

    Sarah @ Green Global Travel May 26, 2012 at 04:00

    Beautiful photos! Wouldn’t mind seeing some of those in person!

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison May 27, 2012 at 13:01

      Thanks Sarah! We’ve enjoyed visiting each and every one!

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