When travelling the world, one of the greatest joys is visiting iconic landmarks that give character and culture to a destination. Many different cities are recognized by particular buildings that is an architectural feat or historical wonder.
Whether it is a church, museum or heritage site, these buildings are famous for their significance and stature, many of which have been featured in movies and plastered all over souvenir shops. Some of them are more well-known than others, but each represents an important part of history and a gem in the transition of architecture through the years.
One of the most incredible and recognizable architectural feats in history, the Taj Mahal is an ivory-white marble mausoleum in Agra, India. The Taj was commissioned by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan to house his favorite wife’s tomb.
It was completed by 20,000 workers in 1643 but took an additional 10 years to finish other projects in the building. The Taj Mahal attracts around 8 million visitors a year and was declared one of the 7 wonders of the world.
A staple of Italy, the Colosseum is an oval amphitheatre in the center of Rome and was completed in AD 80. The Colosseum could hold between 50,000 to 80,000 and was used for gladiatorial contests, battle reenactments and executions.
The emperors would put on shows for the people where slaves and gladiators would fight to the death, causing over 400,000 people and one million animals to die in the arena. The Colosseum attracts over 7.4 million visitors a year and it is currently undergoing building restorations due to pollution and earthquakes destroying parts of it.
Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia is a Roman Catholic church which began construction in 1882 under architect Francisco de Paula del Villar and is still unfinished. Gaudi took over the project and less than a quarter of it was completed at the time of his death in 1926.
Much of this had to be rebuilt after the Spanish civil war and construction restarted in the 1950s. Recent technological advancements have moved the project along considerably, but 10 more spires need to be built for completion which is projected to be in 2026.
London’s Shard was designed by the Italian architect Renzo Piano and stands at 1,016 feet high, making it the tallest building in England and Europe.
Building began in 2009 and was completed in 2012. The Shard is home to restaurants, a hotel, residential apartments and many business offices. On a clear day in London you can see the cliffs of Dover from the top of the building. The construction got its name as it resembles a shard of glass.
Sydney Opera House
The Sydney Opera House is one of the staples of Australia. The multi-venue performing arts center was created by Danish architect Jørn Utzon after he won the international design competition.
The building was opened in 1973 and takes pride of place on the Bennelong Point in Sydney Harbour. The site is visited by over 8 million people each year and the venue hosts over 1,500 performances annually.In 2007, the Sydney Opera House became a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Towering over the Dubai skyline the Burj Khalifa was completed in 2010 with a height of 2,722 feet, making it the tallest structure and building in the world.
The building was developed to give Dubai and the UAE international recognition and was designed by Adrian Smith of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. The design was based on Islamic architecture including the Great Mosque of Samarra and is home to the Armani hotel, residential apartments and corporate offices. It has 163 floors in total.
The Sistine Chapel
The Sistine Chapel is considered one of the most significant and magnificent religious buildings in the world. Located in the Vatican City, the Sistine Chapel was restored between 1477 to 1480 and is now the site of the papal conclave, the process whereby a new pope is selected.
The ceiling of the chapel was created by Michelangelo between 1508 until 1512 and the artistic wonder draws in over five million people per year. The vast numbers and pilgrimages visiting generate the Vatican around $90 million annually.
China’s Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet was the residence of the Dalai Lama until the 14th Dalai Lama was forced to flee to India as a result of the Chinese Invasion in 1959. It was completed in 1649 and took four years to build.
The site it occupies was a previous fortress called the White or Red Palace built in 637 on the Red Hill. The building itself measures 1,300 feet at an altitude of 3,700 meters. The World Heritage Site has had to restrict visitors to only 2,300-per-day.
Guggenheim Museum Bilbao
The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao is one of the most inspiring buildings in Spain, not to mention it houses incredible modern artworks as a contemporary art museum. It was designed by Canadian-American architect Frank Gehry and was inaugurated in 1997 by King Juan Carlos I of Spain.
The building has been hailed by international experts and was named as one of the most important works completed in 1980 at the World Architecture Survey. The Basque government covered the $100 million construction cost.
Angkor Wat is one of the largest religious monuments in the world, spanning a site over 162.6 hectares. The temple complex is located in Cambodia and was originally constructed as a Hindu temple before being transformed into a Buddhist temple in the 12th century.
The temple was constructed in the classical style of Khmer architecture but over the years has faced extensive damage due to natural and man-made causes. Over two million tourists visit the site each year, which has had positive effect in generating funds for restoration.
Centre Georges Pompidou
The Pompidou Centre in Paris is situated in the Beaubourg area of the 4th arrondissement of Paris. It was modelled in the style of high-tech architecture and designed by Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano and Gianfranco Franchini. It is among France’s memorable buildings.
Now a Parisian staple, the center houses the public information library, the largest modern art museum in Europe, the Musée National d’Art Moderne, and IRCAM, a center for music and acoustic research. A first in architectural history, the building was the first ‘inside out’ design.
One of London’s most significant historical landmarks, Westminster Abbey is a gothic church just west of the Palace of Westminster. Founded in 960 A.D, the site is a traditional place of coronation and burial for British monarchs.
Since 1100, there have been 16 royal weddings at the abbey, the most recent and notable one being the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding in 2011. Different monarchs of England commissioned certain architectural structures of the abbey. Around 1.5 million people visit the church each year.
One World Trade Center
To commemorate the atrocities of the September 11th terrorist attacks and the falling of the Twin Towers, the One World Trade Center was built in the World Trade Center complex in lower Manhattan, New York City.
It is the tallest building in the United States and given the same name as the North Tower of the original World Trade Center. The building has 94 stories and was designed by David Childs. It is also known as the “Freedom Tower.”
Dome of the Rock
Situated on the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem, the Dome of the Rock is an Islamic shrine originally completed in 961-92 CE. It is one of the oldest extant works of Islamic architecture but has changed considerably over time, as well as one of the best known buildings.
In 1959 it was given a gold roof which was restored again in 1993. The site is also holy in the Jewish religion as the Foundation Stone the temple was built over was the place where God created Adam, the first human.
The White House
One of the most recognizable buildings in history, The White House is the official residence and workplace of the President of the United States, in the capital Washington D.C. The neoclassical style building was designed by Irish born architect James Hoban and the construction took place between 1792 and 1800.
Due to overcrowding of the first construction, President Roosevelt has the West Wing built in 1901 and moved all work offices. In 1909 President William Tell extended the wing and added the Oval Office. Each President redesigned their own living quarters.
As one of France’s most prominent landmarks, Le Mont-Saint-Michel is an island and mainland commune in Normandy. The island is 0.6 miles off the northeastern coast and from 2015 had a total population of 50.
Since 8 AD the island has been the seat of the monastery. Due to its position, pilgrims could access the abbey at low tide, but at high tide would act as a defense. More than 3 million people visit the island each year and it has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Musée du Louvre
The Louvre in Paris is the world’s largest art museum and a historic monument. Located in the heart of the city, on the right bank of the Seine, it is the world’s most visited museum, drawing in 10.2 million visitors annually.
The museum opened in 1793 which was expanded in different periods thereafter. Today, it is home to more than 380,000 objects and displays 35,000 works of art. The Louvre’s most popular attraction is Leonardo da Vinci’s original Mona Lisa.
Leaning Tower of Pisa
Known for its four degree lean, the tower of Pisa is the freestanding bell tower of the cathedral of the Italian city. The tilt of the tower began during its construction in the 12th century due to soft ground on one side which was unable to support the weight.
The lean gradually increased up until the late 20th and early 21st century after much effort. The tower has 296 steps in total and due to correction work, the tilt has been decreased over time. Th tower is one of the most prevalent buildings on social media.
St, Basil’s Cathedral
Also known as the Cathedral of Vasily the Blessed, the church in the Red Square in Moscow, Russia is the most recognizable and admired buildings and symbol of the country.
It was built from 1555 to 1561 on orders from Ivan the Terrible and until 1600 was the tallest building until the construction of the Ivan the Great Bell Tower. The building was designed in the style of a rising bonfire, unlike all other Russian architecture and has been part of the Kremlin since 1990.
The Pyramids of Giza
Built between 2589 and 2504 BC, by over 100,000 men, the pyramids are tombs holding relics of Egypt’s Old Kingdom era. Egyptian Pharaohs believed they would become gods in the afterlife so the pyramids Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure were constructed to contain everything they would need in the next life.
As one of the biggest mysteries of the ancient world, visitors flock to walk the tunnels of the pyramids with around 14.7 million people visiting each year.
The Gateway Arch
Constructed in 1963, St. Louis, Missouri’s biggest attraction is its famous 630-foot monument. The stainless-steel clad construction built in the form of a weighted catenary arch is the world’s tallest arch and the tallest man-made monument in the Western Hemisphere.
It was designed by Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen in 1947 and cost $13 million to complete. Today, the arch has four million visitors annually, one million of which around one million travel to the top to get the best views of St. Louis.
Notre-dame is a medieval Catholic cathedral on the Île de la Cité in the 4th arrondissement of Paris. The cathedral’s construction begun in 1160 under Bishop Maurice de Sully. It was mostly completed by 1260 but different parts were added to it over the years.
After Victor Hugo’s novel The Hunchback of Notre-Dame was published, public attention increased rapidly which led to a major restoration project between 1844 and 1864. While undergoing restoration in 2019, the roof caught fire and it burned for 15-hours, sustaining serious damage.
Also known as known as La Pedrera, Casa Mila is a modernist building in Barcelona and the last private residence designed by architect Antoni Gaudí and was built between 1906 and 1912. In 1984, it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and later in 2013 is became the headquarters of the Fundació Catalunya La Pedrera.
Today, it is one of Barcelona’s most popular buildings, with tourists flocking to admire the unusual building by Gaudi. Around 1 million tourists visit each year.
Different from it’s Spanish cousin, in a prime Manhattan location is the permanent home of a continuously expanding collection of Impressionist, post-Impressionist, early Modern and contemporary art
The current cylindrical building was not the original location, it moved from a rented space to the current 20th-century architectural space designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and cost around $3 million. It has undergone renovations and expansion in 1992 and from 2005 to 2008. Around 1.3 million people visit the gallery each year.
Château de Chenonceau
The Château de Chenonceau is a French château spanning the River Cher. It is one of the best-known châteaux of the Loire valley. Different parts of the impressive chateau were built at different times throughout the years.
The current château was built in 1514–1522 on the foundations of an old mill and was later extended to span the river. French Renaissance architect Philibert de l’Orme built the bridge over the river in 1556-1559 followed by Jean Bullant building the gallery on the bridge between 1570-1576.
30 St Mary Axe is informally known as “The Gherkin” due to its shape. It is a commercial skyscraper in London’s financial district, the City of London. Standing at 591 feet tall with 41 floors it is one of the tallest buildings in the capital.
Designed by Norman Foster and Arup Group, it opened in 2004 and quickly became a recognizable landmark of London and it’s modern architecture. It cost around $170 million to build, with an additional cost of $120 million for the land alone.
Also known as Fred and Ginger, the Dancing House was the name given to the Nationale-Nederlanden building on the Rašín Embankment in Prague. Designed by Croatian-Czech architect Vlado Milunić in cooperation with Canadian-American architect Frank Gehry, it took four years to build and was completed in 1996.
At the time of design, the building was controversial as it did not fit in Prague’s traditional Baroque, Gothic and Art Nouveau buildings. Nonetheless, former Czech president, Václav Havel, supported the project and hoped the building would encourage cultural activity.
Acropolis of Athens
Located above the Greek city of Athens lies the ancient citadel The Acropolis of Athens. It contains the remains of ancient buildings and significant greek architectural feats. The most famous of the buildings is the Parthenon.
Created in the 5th century BC, the only parts of The Acropolis that remain are the Parthenon, the Propylaia, the Erechtheion and the Temple of Athena Nike. Over one million people make the trip to visit The Acropolis in Athens and walk through the ancient ruins.
Now a museum, the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul was formerly a Greek Orthodox Christian patriarchal cathedral, and later an Ottoman imperial mosque. Constructed in AD 537, it was famous for its prominent dome and was the world’s largest and most impressive building of its time.
It is considered the original Byzantine architecture and many claimed it changed the history of architecture. In 2019, Erdogan said he would change the status of Hagai Sophia from a museum back to a mosque, something that would require approval from UNESCO World Heritage committee.
Niterói Contemporary Art Museum
The museum in the city of Niterói, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, is one of the city’s main landmarks. Also known as the MAC, it was designed by Oscar Niemeyer. The MAC-Niterói is 16 meters high; its cupola has a diameter of 50 meters with three floors.
It was completed in 1996 and offers stunning panoramic views across Rio De Janeiro. Although the museum is often likened to a UFO, the intention was actually for the form to emerge from the ground like a flower.
Mosque of Córdoba
Also known as the Great Mosque of Córdoba, the Cathedral is situated Spanish region of Andalusia. Originally, the Catholic Basilica of Saint Vincent of Lérins, a small Visigoth church originally occupied the site it now resides on.
In 784 Abd al-Rahman I ordered the construction of the Great Mosque, but it returned to Christian rule in 1236. Spanish Muslims have repeatedly lobbied the Roman Catholic Church to allow them to pray in the cathedral but have been denied.
Designed by Bruce Price and built by the Canadian Pacific Railway company. The landmark of Quebec, Canada is now a historic hotel owned and managed by Fairmont Hotels and Resorts. The Châteauesque-styled building opened in 1893 and was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1981.
Prior to becoming Château Frontenac, the site was owned by another hotel built in the 1780s, known as the Château Haldimand, named after the Governor of Quebec who ordered the hotel’s construction.
The Eiffel Tower
An iconic and treasured piece of architecture, the Eiffel Tower is a wrought-iron lattice tower on the Champ de Mars in Paris. The tower got its name from its builder and designer, architect Gustave Eiffel. Constructed between 1887 to 1889 it has been hailed as a staple of France.
It is the most-visited paid monument in the world and close to 7 million people ascend it each year. From sunset to 1am and in the summer 2am, the tower is lit up every hour, on the hour by 20,000 lightbulbs.