World's oldest tourist attractions: From Jericho, Palestine to Burrup Peninsula, Australia

At 828 metres, Burj Khalifa in Dubai is the world's tallest building. An achievement worthy of celebration, certainly, and worth seeing, but it has only held the title for 19 years. How much more impressive is the Great Pyramid of Giza? It might only rise a modest 146 metres from the Egyptian desert, but was the world's tallest structure for a whopping 3860 years or so. It also has a brooding presence and aura of tantalising mystery that will never be achieved by a modern skyscraper.

New things have yet to stand the test of time. They probably never will. Food bloggers rave about the latest restaurant opening, yet most restaurants survive less than five years. Instagrammers coo about new luxury hotels that become yesterday's feed by the time they check out.

There's much to admire about really old things. For a start, many are the prototypes of everything that came after: not just trendy but truly original. Some are tried and tested, like the world's oldest hotels and restaurants – although such titles are hotly disputed and definitions debated.

Many are simply magical, so encrusted with history that they almost defy the imagination. You can't visit 6000-year-old Maltese temples or Orkney farmsteads without your neck prickling and your sense of wonderment provoked at the lives of our ancient ancestors. Go old, and you're sure to find true marvels.

THE BUILDING

Cairn of Barnenez, France

F5ERXN Barnenez. Cairn de Barnenez, Kernelehen peninsular,Brittany,France. Oct 2015.
The Cairn of Barnenez is a Neolithic monument. Image shot 10/2015. Exact date unknown. sunsep8cover
So What’s Old? World’s Oldest Attractions
In a world of passing tourism trends and social-media enthusiasms, it’s good to know that some things endure. Brian Johnston admires a few of the world’s oldest attractions.
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THE ORIGINS Nobody knows exactly which of the world's structures is oldest, but this megalithic monument, which dates to around 4500BC, is generally considered the oldest surviving enclosed, man-made structure with an entrance door. Could anything be less Twitter-worthy, yet more remarkable?

THE EXPERIENCE This is no humble hut but a 72-metre long, eight-metre high mound of 11 chambers created from 13,000 tons of granite and slate. Barnenez site is especially notable for its art, with engraved symbols depicting repeated geometric shapes, axes, bows and perhaps snakes. An exhibition centre explains the background.

TELL ME MORE The cairn is near Morlaix on Brittany's English Channel coast. This Finistere region has a rocky, wind-whipped but scenic coastline similar to Cornwall in the UK. Parc Naturel d'Armorique (pnr-armorique.fr) has invigorating landscapes and the 14th-century walled port of Ville Close is also lovely. See barnenez.fr

THE CITY

Jericho, Palestine

C5M2KA Umayyad palace Khirbat al-mafjar (750s), Jericho, Israel sunsep8cover
So What’s Old? World’s Oldest Attractions
In a world of passing tourism trends and social-media enthusiasms, it’s good to know that some things endure. Brian Johnston admires a few of the world’s oldest attractions.
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THE ORIGINS With Damascus in Syria off-limits, it's a toss-up between Jericho and Byblos in Lebanon for the world's oldest inhabited city. Jericho has traces of human habitation from 9000BC, while fortifications from 6800BC make it the earliest walled city. Forget those recently hipster neighbourhoods: according to archaeologists, Jericho boasts 20 layers of successive settlements.

THE EXPERIENCE The chief sight in this oasis town of orange orchards and banana plantations is Hisham's Palace, which features superb eighth century mosaics depicting a gazelle hunt. Sixth century St George's Monastery, clinging to a cliff face, has a still-active Eastern Orthodox community.

TELL ME MORE Take the cable car (jericho-cablecar.com) up the Mount of Temptation, where Jesus was said to be tempted by the devil, for superb views over the West Bank and Jordan. Nearby Jerusalem also ranks as one of the world's oldest cities. See travelpalestine.ps

THE RESTAURANT

St Peter Stiftskulinarium, Salzburg, Austria

D1ET87 Cemetery of St Peter's Abbey in winter, Salzburg, Austria sunsep8cover
So What’s Old? World’s Oldest Attractions
In a world of passing tourism trends and social-media enthusiasms, it’s good to know that some things endure. Brian Johnston admires a few of the world’s oldest attractions.
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THE ORIGINS You could argue endlessly about how a restaurant is defined and which is oldest. Only in the 18th century was the word "restaurant" used to designate a public eating place. Still, this venerable Salzburg institution was first mentioned in AD803. No passing fad, then.

THE EXPERIENCE The restaurant, lodged in the walls of St Peter's Abbey, was once the guesthouse of Benedictine monks. No gruel these days though, but instead upmarket, contemporary Austrian cuisine. Try boiled-beef dish Tafelspitz and local souffle dessert Nockerl. The candlelit Mozart Concert Dinner in ornate baroque rooms is a delight.

TELL ME MORE Salzburg was an independent bishopric until 1816 and has a splendid baroque old town topped by mighty Hohensalzburg fortress (salzburg-burgen.at). It has many associations with Mozart (mozarteum.at) and a lively classical-music scene. See stpeter.at

THE UNIVERSITY TOWN

Bologna, Italy

D31R0C Aerial view of Piazza Maggiore and Basilica San Petrino from top of Asinelli tower, Bologna, Italy sunsep8cover
So What’s Old? World’s Oldest Attractions
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THE ORIGINS Although predated by other types of educational institution such as Morocco's Al-Qarawiyyin and China's Yuelu Academy, the word "university" was created for Bologna University's founding in 1088. Its official charter was granted in 1158.

THE EXPERIENCE Palazzo dell'Archiginnasio is flamboyant with the family crests of former students and has a wood-carved 1637 Anatomical Theatre, although statues depicting skinless humans might put you off your pasta. Museo di Palazzo Poggi (museopalazzopoggi.unibo.it), the best of the university's free museums, covers botany, palaeontology and optics.

TELL ME MORE Piazza Maggiore anchors the red-brick, colonnaded old town and sits adjacent to the bar-crammed university district, which proves that youthful neighbourhoods can nonetheless be old. Bologna is also the food capital of Italy and is dense with gourmet shops and restaurants. See bolognawelcome.com

THE INDIGENOUS SITE

Burrup Peninsula, Australia

Aboriginal rock petroglyph in Deep Gorge, Australia sunsep8cover
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THE ORIGINS

Australia has been inhabited for at least 65,000 years, and some suggest much longer. You won't see physical human structures at our most ancient settlements, such as Lake Mungo in NSW, but Western Australia's Burrup Peninsula has likely the continent's oldest rock art, dating back 50,000 years.

THE EXPERIENCE

Murujuga National Park (parks.dpaw.wa.gov.au) protects some 10,000 paintings and engravings, forming the most highly concentrated area of rock art in Australia and largest collection in the world. They depict creatures such as turtles, emus and Tasmanian tigers (prior to their extinction on the mainland), as well as animal tracks and abstract symbols.

TELL ME MORE

The 2500-kilometre Warlu Way follows the path of the warlu (Dreamtime sea serpent) across the Pilbara and Kimberley. You'll pass many Aboriginal talu ceremonial sites, each linked to a different mythical being. See australiasnorthwest.com

THE HOTEL

Nishiyama Onsen Keiunkan, Japan

THE ORIGINS How annoying for 1301-year-old Hoshi Ryokan in Komatsu that it's pipped to the post by Nishiyama in Hayakawa, which is 13 years older. It was founded in 705 and has been operated by 52 generations of the same family since in the ultimate thumbs up.

THE EXPERIENCE This is a beautiful traditional ryokan and hot-spring resort fed by water from the Akaishi Mountains. Expect minimalist decor, sliding doors and tatami mats, and tranquil views over the valley. Evening kaiseki dinners are elaborate multi-course meals, elegantly presented. There are six hot-spring baths.

TELL ME MORE The ryokan is in the mountainous central region of Japan's main island, most notable for Mount Fuji and its five surrounding lakes. Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park has beautiful gorges and vineyards around Katsunuma offer cellar-door visits. See keiunkan.co.jp

THE GARDEN

Tiger Hill, China

FCM2FH tiger hill Huqiu, Suzhou, Jiangsu Province, China. sunsep8cover
So What’s Old? World’s Oldest Attractions
In a world of passing tourism trends and social-media enthusiasms, it’s good to know that some things endure. Brian Johnston admires a few of the world’s oldest attractions.
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THE ORIGINS The ancient Babylonians, Hittites and Egyptians had gardens whose outlines can be traced among ruins, but Tiger Hill in Suzhou might be the earliest surviving landscaped garden, created around the mausoleum of Suzhou founder He Lu, who died in 496BC.

THE EXPERIENCE Tiger Hill remains a popular, pagoda-dotted scenic spot, but Suzhou has dozens of traditional gardens, several World Heritage listed, spanning a millennium of styles. The smallest, the 1140 Master of the Nets Garden, is considered close to classical perfection.

TELL ME MORE Suzhou, also noted for its canal setting, was once the world's wealthiest city, with Suzhou Museum (szmuseum.com) providing a fabulous collection of porcelain, jade and statuary. Nearby Taihu Lake scenic spot is a source for the weathered rocks that grace Chinese gardens. See traveltosuzhou.com

THE SPA TOWN

Aidipsos, Greece

EKJKNT Ruins of a tower on Nisiotissa islet, Municipality of Istiaia - Edipsos North Evia (Euboea) island, Greece. sunsep8cover
So What’s Old? World’s Oldest Attractions
In a world of passing tourism trends and social-media enthusiasms, it’s good to know that some things endure. Brian Johnston admires a few of the world’s oldest attractions.
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THE ORIGINS Archaeological remains suggest paleolithic people knew about Aidipsos's hot springs 20,000 years ago. Aristotle – the ultimate influencer – lauded their healing powers. The town, favoured by Roman emperors, reached its zenith in the second century and was revived as a spa retreat in 1887.

THE EXPERIENCE There are 80 hot springs around Aidipsos, supplying various hydrotherapy centres and mud baths, and turning pockets of seawater warm. Archaeological sites include the Cave of Sylla. The town is a delight of neoclassical mansions, lush gardens and cafes.

TELL ME MORE Aidipsos is on Euboia (or Evia), Greece's largest island after Crete but largely overlooked by foreign tourists, leaving its archaeological sites, beaches and fishing villages uncrowded. Stop by the ruins of Ancient Eretria and the Roman quarry at Karystos, still scattered with huge marble columns. See visitgreece.gr

THE MUSEUM

Capitoline Museums, Rome, Italy

H45KJ0 Italy, Rome, Capitol square, Capitoline Museums, passers-by, blur, evening mood, sunsep8cover
So What’s Old? World’s Oldest Attractions
In a world of passing tourism trends and social-media enthusiasms, it’s good to know that some things endure. Brian Johnston admires a few of the world’s oldest attractions.
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THE ORIGINS The earliest museum reference dates to Mesopotamia in 530BC, but the oldest public art collection was begun in 1471 when Pope Sixtus IV donated his ancient bronzes to Rome.

THE EXPERIENCE The museums overlook Piazza del Campidoglio on Capitoline Hill (designed by Michelangelo) and cover medieval and Renaissance art, coins and jewellery. They're best for ancient Roman statues and bronzes, most famously an equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius and another of a boy removing a thorn from his foot.

TELL ME MORE The Eternal City has no end of old things. Among highlights are the Roman Forum and Colosseum (parcocolosseo.it), the monument-scattered Borghese Gardens and Galleria Borghese (galleriaborghese.it), and St Peter's Basilica and the Vatican Museums (mv.vatican.va), founded in 1506 as the world's second-oldest museum. See museicapitolini.org

THE CHURCH

Church of the Nativity, Palestine

R6FMBY A Silver Star Marks The Traditional Site Of The Birth Of Jesus In A Grotto Underneath Bethlehem'S Church Of The Nativity, Palestine sunsep8cover
So What’s Old? World’s Oldest Attractions
In a world of passing tourism trends and social-media enthusiasms, it’s good to know that some things endure. Brian Johnston admires a few of the world’s oldest attractions.
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THE ORIGINS Several church ruins predate it, but the Nativity is the oldest continuously-used Christian place of worship, believed to occupy the place where Jesus was born in Bethlehem. First built in 330, it has remained basically unchanged since the sixth century.

THE EXPERIENCE Duck through a tiny door into the dark, rather bare interior, which has a mostly Greek Orthodox style. The red-and-white nave columns and some mosaic flooring survive from the original fourth-century structure. Believers pray at the Grotto of the Nativity and adjacent Chapel of the Manger.

TELL ME MORE Bethlehem has grottoes, tombs and churches with biblical associations. Outside town, Mar Saba Monastery hangs off a desert cliff and houses a fifth-century saint's bones. Herodium (herodium.org) is the spectacular hilltop palace and fortress of King Herod. See visitpalestine.ps

THE SEASIDE RESORT

Scarborough, UK

BBJX32 View over the Keep and North Bay from inside the Castle, Scarborough, East Coast, North Yorkshire, England. Image shot 06/2009. Exact date unknown. sunsep8cover
So What’s Old? World’s Oldest Attractions
In a world of passing tourism trends and social-media enthusiasms, it’s good to know that some things endure. Brian Johnston admires a few of the world’s oldest attractions.
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THE ORIGINS Although ancient Romans had Mediterranean getaways, sea swimming only emerged in the early 18th century as a form of spa treatment. Scarborough became a spa destination in the 1660s, and by 1735 rolling bathing machines were hauling visitors across the sand and into the water, making Scarborough the prototype of the beach getaway that fuels contemporary travel.

THE EXPERIENCE Yorkshire beaches are chilly, but the town of Victorian-era houses and garden walks is attractively set between headlands, one topped by Norman castle ruins. The fossil-filled Rotunda Museum (rotundamuseum.org.uk) has a pleasingly Victorian atmosphere.

TELL ME MORE Don't miss nearby Howard Castle (castlehoward.co.uk), a sumptuous pile filled with art and surrounded by landscaped gardens. The cliff-top ruins of Whitby Abbey (english-heritage.org.uk) are the epitome of Gothic romance, and have an excellent visitor centre. See discoveryorkshirecoast.com

FIVE MORE AGED EXPERIENCES

ROLLERCOASTER

TX82ED English: The World's Oldest Wooden Roller Coaster, Leap-The-Dips, at Lakemont Park. Francais : Leap The Dips , montagnes russes a Lakemont Park; 17 June 2007 (date photo taken) 19 August 2007 (original upload date); Transferred from en.wikipedia (Original text : Amateur Photograph); Bhakta Dano. Original uploader was Oldano at en.wikipedia;  sunsep8cover
So What’s Old? World’s Oldest Attractions
In a world of passing tourism trends and social-media enthusiasms, it’s good to know that some things endure. Brian Johnston admires a few of the world’s oldest attractions.
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The first roller-coaster was unveiled at Coney Island in 1884. The oldest still operating (and a National Historic Landmark) is Leap-the-Dips in Lakemont Park in Pennsylvania, built in 1902. It has no lap bars or seatbelts, but don't worry – carriages travel at just 16 km/h. See lakemontparkfun.com

SHOPPING CENTRE

The earliest example might be Trajan's Market in Rome, built around AD100. If you discount covered bazaars, the oldest still operating "mall" is probably The Rows, a 13th-century row of shops under covered, half-timbered galleries in Chester, England. See visitcheshire.com

NIGHTCLUB

The first modern nightclub is generally considered to be Webster Hall in New York's East Village. The club opened in 1886 and in the early 19th century was nicknamed the Devil's Playhouse for its risque events. It remains a nightclub and concert venue, and reopened this year after extensive renovations. See websterhall.com

SKYSCRAPER

B5EG92 Backs of mud brick houses and toilets, Shibam, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Wadi Hadramaut, Yemen, Middle East sunsep8cover
So What’s Old? World’s Oldest Attractions
In a world of passing tourism trends and social-media enthusiasms, it’s good to know that some things endure. Brian Johnston admires a few of the world’s oldest attractions.
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Travellers are currently not advised to visit Yemen but, for the record, the town of Shibam boasts 500 mud-brick towers of between five and 11 storeys. Designed for defence, they originated in the 16th century and are rare surviving examples of early multi-floor dwellings. See yementourism.com

PUB

Sean's Bar on the banks of the Shannon River in Athlone might be the world's oldest drinking establishment. Although it claims only to be the oldest in Ireland, parts of its wicker-and-wattle walls and excavated tavern tokens date it to around AD900, with other contenders have yet to establish older credentials. See seansbar.ie

FAKING IT

The rebuilding of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris has been making headlines, but it's far from the only old monument to be renewed.

REIMS CATHEDRAL

The 13th-century cathedral (and other Notre Dame) in which French kings were crowned, burned down during World War I. You wouldn't know it though, with the interior displaying flamboyant gothic design. See reims-tourism.com

FORD'S THEATRE

The famous Washington DC playhouse in which president Lincoln was assassinated in 1865 was closed the next year, used for various purposes and entirely gutted. It was remodelled back to its original appearance using crime-scene photos. See fords.org

MANDALAY PALACE

The last residence of Burmese royalty dates from the mid-19th century but was largely destroyed during World War II. Most of what you see today is a 1990s reconstruction that uses modern materials. See myanmar.travel

BRAN CASTLE

Although this Romanian landmark is medieval, it was extensively renovated in the early 20th century. Despite associations with Dracula, it has no connection with Vlad the Impaler or novelist Bram Stoker. See bran-castle.com

NAGOYA CASTLE

One of Japan's largest castles suffered wartime bombing and is undergoing an ambitious rebuilding project to be completed by 2022. The beautifully replicated shogun's reception halls and palace reopened last year. See nagoya-info.jp

JULIET'S BALCONY

The chief attraction of Verona doesn't date to Shakespearean times, when balconies had yet to be invented. Battle the Instagrammers for a glimpse of the 18th-century building if you must. See turismoverona.eu

CATHERINE PALACE

This opulent, baroque-era palace outside St Petersburg was gutted by war. Its fully restored glory culminates in the famous Amber Room, destroyed by Nazis but meticulously reconstructed in 2003. See visit-petersburg.ru

FERHAT PASHA MOSQUE

This superb example of 16th-century Ottoman architecture in Banja Luka in Bosnia was demolished by Serb forces in 1993 but reopened in 2016, displaying its original historical elegance. See bhtourism.ba

FRANKFURT OLD TOWN

Almost every German old town is a reconstruction after World War II bombing, but Frankfurt's is the newest, with the latest "old" quarter between town hall and cathedral unveiled in 2018. See frankfurt-tourismus.de

SUMMER PALACE

This Qing Dynasty complex of palaces and landscaped gardens outside Beijing originates in the mid-18th century but was greatly damaged by Western troops in 1900 and later restored. See summerpalace-china.com

IF YOU MUST HAVE THE NEW

ROUTE OF PARKS, CHILE

Surely this recently opened hiking route is one of the world's best long-distance trails. Running for 2800 kilometres through stunning Patagonian scenery, it links 17 national parks between Puerto Montt and Cape Horn. See rutadelosparques.org

GEODE OF PULPI, SPAIN

This cave in Andalusia covered in giant gypsum crystals, some up to two metres long, opened to the public in August. The geode's size and clarity and transparency of its crystals are almost unique. See andalucia.com

STATUE OF LIBERTY MUSEUM, USA

Opened in May, this $US100-million project at the foot of the famous statue covers its history and prominence in pop culture and displays its original torch. The rooftop terrace has terrific views to Manhattan. See nps.gov/stli

WONDERLAND EURASIA, TURKEY

This whopping 1.3 million square metre theme park, which opened earlier this year, boasts more than 2000 attractions including 17 roller-coasters, one of the world's largest fountains and a 70-metre animatronic Tyrannosaurus rex. See wonderlandeurasia.com

WEST BUND, CHINA

Shanghai's new arts district has emerged over the last few years with several museums. The latest is West Bund Art Museum, designed by star architect David Chipperfield and curated by the Pompidou Centre in Paris. See westbund.com

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