Architecture

Top 20 Architectural Cities to Visit

The most popular architectural cities offer some of the world’s most brilliant architecture. Visitors can see iconic buildings and structures built centuries ago that have withstood the test of time. The top 20 architectural cities were ranked by the Visited travel app, which has over 1.75 million users. With Visited, you can mark off places you’ve been and find destinations to add to your bucket list. You can also get your personalized travel map and optimize your travel plans.

1. Paris

Paris is the number one architectural destination for Visited travelers. The City of Lights offers a rich array of buildings and monuments, ranging from medieval to avant-garde. Tourists can see the Romanesque style of architecture at sites like the Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés. Notre Dame Cathedral showcases elegant Gothic architecture with gargoyles, flying buttresses, and stained glass windows. The Louvre Palace displays Renaissance architecture (blended with the original medieval style). Napoleon commissioned the early 19th-century Arc de Triomphe, inspired by Roman monuments. The symbol of Paris, the Eiffel Tower, has elements of modern architecture.

2. Rome

Rome was not built in a day, as the saying goes. Rome was officially formed on April 21, 753 B.C., by Romulus. Romoulus built a wall around Rome to protect the new settlement he ruled over for 38 years. Since then, Rome has become a center of culture and power, with architectural splendor reflecting its rich history. The Romans were innovative engineers and architects who created building techniques and tools such as concrete and the arch. These demonstrations of brilliance can be seen in beautiful structure buildings like the Colosseum, Pantheon, and Roman Forum. Landmarks like the Santa Costanza display Byzantine art and late-ancient architecture. St. Peter’s Basilica and the Trevi Fountain reflect majestic Baroque-style architecture. The Sistine Chapel is renowned for its breathtaking Renaissance frescoes, especially Michelangelo’s iconic works on the ceiling and altar wall.

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3. Barcelona

Barcelona, Spain, is a must-see stand-alone city in Spain with incredible architecture and Roman roots. The Gothic Quarter is a neighborhood with medieval charm, dating back over 2,000 years. The area includes the remains of a Roman wall, the Roman Temple of Augustus, and the Royal Artistic Circle. Medieval marvels include Gothic churches like the Cathedral of Barcelona and Santa Maria del Mar, known for their soaring arches, stained glass windows, and intricate carvings. Barcelona’s three must-see architectural gems include Sagrada Familia, Park Güell, and Casa Batlló.

4. New York

New York City is the most popular architectural hub in the U.S. Known as the Big Apple, the melting pot of styles in New York’s buildings dates back to the Dutch settlers. Visitors can still see some of the remains of the 17th-century Dutch structures in Lower Manhattan. The 19th and early 20th centuries saw the rise of the skyscraper, forever changing the city’s skyline. Architectural styles like Neoclassical, Gothic Revival, and Art Deco are shown in the first styles of skyscrapers. The Empire State Building and Chrysler Building illustrate a classic Art Deco style. Saint Patrick’s Cathedral has a Gothic Revival style. The mid-20th century brought an international and modern style focused on simplicity and functionality. Buildings like the Seagram Building and the Lever House showcase this style. New York City continues to push architectural boundaries with popular skyscrapers like the Freedom Tower and the High Line, the public park built on a historic freight rail line. 

5. Florence

Florence, Italy, is the birthplace of Renaissance architecture from the 14th to 16th centuries. Grand piazzas and civic buildings were created to reflect Renaissance ideals beginning in the mid-14th century. In addition to Renaissance architecture, visitors can see other elegant styles of buildings in picturesque Florence. Styles vary, with Romanesque basilicas like San Miniato al Monte, medieval fortifications like the Palazzo Vecchio, and Baroque flourishes in churches like Santa Maria Novella. Many historic buildings blend architectural styles, such as Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, which has Gothic and Renaissance details. 

6. Prague

Prague is known as “The City of a Thousand Spires.” The city is located in the heart of Europe, making it a crossroads of cultures and artistic movements throughout history. This is reflected in its architectural landscape, which showcases a great blend of styles. The Romanesque style can be seen in Prague Castle, which has Romanesque elements dating back to the 9th century. The Gothic style abounds in the Old Town Hall and the Schwarzenberg Palace. The early 20th century saw the rise of Art Nouveau, which is on display in the Municipal House. The Charles Bridge, a must-see landmark in Prague, blends Renaissance and Gothic elements.

7. Milan

Milan, Italy, has a diverse architectural landscape that blends history with cutting-edge design. Tourists can see the city’s historic Roman roots in the remnants of the city walls and the layout of the central core. Milan’s medieval period saw the construction of Castello Sforzesco, a massive fortress now housing museums and the magnificent Duomo. The Renaissance focused on buildings like Santa Maria delle Grazie church, which has Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper,” and the grand Pinacoteca di Brera art gallery. Milan’s reputation as a fashion powerhouse also influences its architecture, apparent in the Messina Court shopping complex and the Vertical Forest skyscrapers. The two must-see structures in Milan are the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II and the Pinacoteca di Brera.

8. Vienna

Vienna, Austria’s capital, has a dazzling architectural heritage, earning it the nickname “The City of Dreams.” The city of Vienna’s architectural displays showcase a fascinating mix of styles. St. Stephen’s Cathedral is a Gothic masterpiece. Baroque architecture dominates the Schönbrunn Palace and the Ringstrasse, which includes the Parliament building and the Burgtheater. Vienna’s historic center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The must-see architectural places in Vienna are the Hofburg Palace, St. Stephen’s Cathedral, the Secession Building, and the Danube Tower.

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9. Berlin

Berlin, Germany, is a city that was reborn through architecture. Berlin’s layers of history are etched in its architecture, with each era leaving its mark. The 18th and early 19th centuries brought Prussian classicism to majestic structures like the Brandenburg Gate, a symbol of German reunification. The late 19th century ushered in Grand Gründerzeit, elegant boulevards lined with ornate apartment buildings, stucco decorations, and wrought-iron balconies. The city also includes Modernist masterpieces such as the Gropius House and the Mies van der Rohe. The divided city and its reunification are on display with structures like the Berlin Wall, a powerful symbol now transformed into an open-air gallery. The Reichstag building, the seat of the German Parliament, features a modern glass dome and embodies Berlin’s reunification.

10. Budapest

Budapest, Hungary, has a rich architectural heritage, earning it the nickname “The Pearl of the Danube.” The Danube River divides Budapest into two historic districts, Buda on the hilly west bank and Pest on the flat east bank. This influenced architectural development. Buda showcases a blend of medieval and Baroque styles with the Buda Castle. Pest is known for its grand boulevards lined with 19th-century Neoclassical buildings like the Hungarian Parliament Building and the Hungarian State Opera House. The Széchenyi Chain Bridge is a must-see structure in Budapest that connects both sides of the city.

11. Madrid

Madrid, Spain’s colorful capital, has a blend of building styles that highlight its varied history. In the 16th century, the Habsburg style became popular in Madrid. This style is characterized by refined elegance and functionality, evident in buildings like the Plaza Mayor and the Royal Palace of Madrid. The Baroque style arose around the 17th and 18th centuries and is known for its grandeur and ornamentation. The Baroque style shines in the Buen Retiro Palace, which is surrounded by beautiful gardens. Neoclassical architecture emphasizes symmetry and classical forms, showcased in Puerta de Alcalá (Alcalá Gate) and the National Library. The Prado Museum and Buen Retiro Park are two must-see spots for architecture lovers in Madrid. 

12. Athens

Athens is a city steeped in history that dates back centuries to ancient Greek times. The start of ancient glory was with the Athenian architecture at the Acropolis, a hilltop citadel topped with iconic structures like the Parthenon, then the Erechtheion and Temple of Athena Nike. Roman and Byzantine influences can be found in the Hadrian Arch, the Winds Tower, and the Church of the Holy Apostles. The Ottoman Era left its mark with the Fethiye Mosque and distinctive Ottoman houses in the Plaka neighborhood. 19th-century Athens embraced Neoclassical architecture in buildings like the Academy of Athens, the National Library, and the University of Athens.

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13. San Francisco

San Francisco is a California city along the Pacific coast of the U.S. The city had to rebuild due to the 1906 earthquake and fires that devastated San Francisco. This rebuild shapes the city’s current architectural landscape. After the 1906 earthquake, San Francisco witnessed a boom in Victorian architecture. An example of Victorian splendor is the Winchester Mystery House, a local mansion. Art Deco style came to the city between the 1920s and the 1930s, which is highlighted in the Coit Tower. The iconic Bay Bridge channels elements of Art Deco style. Transamerica Pyramid and the Transamerica East embody modern architectural styles with simplicity and open floor plans. The Palace of Fine Arts is a beautiful Beaux-Arts structure built for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition.

14. Istanbul

Istanbul has always been a vibrant crossing between East and West, blending different cultures and styles. The “City of the World’s Desire” has influences from the Byzantine Empire, the Roman Empire, and the Ottoman Empire. The Hagia Sophia displays brilliant Byzantine and Ottoman architecture. Topkapı Palace showcases Ottoman architecture. The 20th and 21st centuries saw the introduction of modern and contemporary architecture like the Istanbul Sapphire and Galataport district.

15. Miami

Miami, Florida, is a southern U.S. city that serves as a gateway to Latin America. The international city blends Art Deco architecture with modern design. Miami is the Art Deco capital of the U.S., which is evident in the architecture in South Beach at places like the National Hotel and the Colony Hotel. The Miami Modern (MiMo) style showed up in the 20th century with open floor plans and the integration of indoor and outdoor spaces in places like the Fontainebleau Hotel. A mix of the Art Deco and MiMo led to the High-Rise Revolution, transforming Miami’s skyline into a mecca of modern skyscrapers. These include contemporary high-rises like the Brickell City Centre and the Panorama Tower.

16. Washington, D.C.

The U.S. capital, Washington D.C., was designed with governance in mind. Washington D.C. was planned in the late 18th century by Pierre Charles L’Enfant. L’Enfant had an idea to create a capital that embodied the ideals of the newly formed American republic. He drew up his plans and got his ideas from European cities, mostly Paris. He incorporated grand avenues, geometric layouts, and public spaces to create a sense of order, balance, and grandeur, which is the Neoclassical style. D.C. government buildings were designed for a sense of authority and permanence. The capital city has height restrictions on newly built buildings, so the focus will remain on the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial.

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17. Dubai

Dubai is an ultra-modern city known for skyscrapers and luxury. With its rapid growth, Dubai can be easily called the city of bold architectural ambition. Initially, Dubai started building with local materials like palm fronds and mud-brick. The discovery of oil in the 1960s transformed Dubai into a city with a dazzling skyline. Dubai’s leadership envisioned a global city and used architecture as a tool to achieve that goal. The city underwent daring projects and innovative designs, becoming a testing ground for cutting-edge architectural ideas. The fusion of styles includes Islamic architectural traditions, desert heritage, and modern and futuristic styles. Dubai has record-breaking skyscrapers like the Burj Khalifa.

18. Chicago

“The Windy City” is a global architectural destination. The U.S. city was rebuilt after an 1871 fire devastated most of its downtown area. The rebuilding was marked by the birth of the skyscraper, the development of the elevator, and innovation in materials like steel, which allowed architects to build higher. Chicago offers a melting pot of styles with skyscrapers like the Willis Tower and the Beaux-Arts-style Art Institute of Chicago Museum.

19. Boston 

Boston, Massachusetts, is a city steeped in American history. Visitors can see a history in brick and stone when walking around the historic city. In the 17th century, Boston’s early architecture was dominated by the Georgian style, evident in the Benjamin Franklin Statue House and Old North Church. Federal-style architecture emerged with the Old State House and Quincy Market. Boston embraces modern and contemporary design and buildings like the Prudential Tower and Christian Science Center. 

20. Oxford

Oxford, England’s architectural story stretches back thousands of years, beginning around 700 A.D. Settlements dating back to the Iron Age and Roman period set the stage for its architectural development. Established in the 11th century, the University of Oxford is an English Gothic-style building. Magdalen College Tower, the Oxford Divinity Schools, and Merton College Tower also reflect this style. Romanesque and Byzantine influences also line the city’s streets, with buildings like the Radcliffe Camera and the Church of the Holy Apostles. 

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