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8 Stunning Cities for Architecture Lovers

Add these worldwide destinations to your travel list.

Why do you travel? For history buffs and those mesmerized by dazzling skylines, architecture is an essential part of the jet-setting experience. These nomadic explorers often enrich their journey by learning about each city’s iconic buildings and the pioneers who built them. If you have an affection for impressive structures—from churches to parks and beyond—consider this your bucket list of places to visit.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Renowned for its luxury experiences and nightlife, the United Arab Emirates’ largest city possesses star power that has only ramped up over the past decade. Notable architects like Rem Koolhaas and the late Zaha Hadid have worked feverishly to define Dubai’s skyline, which includes the tallest building on the planet: the dizzying, 2,717-foot-tall Burj Khalifa. Also of note are the truly twisted Cayan Tower and a man-made archipelago known as The World being built off Dubai’s coast. Construction on the latter, a replica of the seven continents, halted during the financial crisis but is expected to reboot in the near future. 

Chicago, Illinois

As a flagship American city known for its feats in engineering, design, and architecture, it makes sense that the Windy City would earn a spot on this list. It became the birthplace of the skyscraper after a team of architects invented the very first steel-frame building, then went on to create The Chicago School architectural style. Many leaders within the industry have added their own mark to the skyline, from Jeanne Gang to Frank Lloyd Wright to Louis Sullivan to William Le Baron Jenney. Other stunning spots include the Willis Tower, the Navy Pier, The Art Institute of Chicago, and, of course, Millennial Park for a photo op with The Bean.

Montreal, Quebec

A mini version of Paris with just as much charm, Montreal is full of architecture that mimics this Canadian city’s culture. As you wander around the part cobblestone, part smooth pavements, you’ll be fascinated by the effortless way architects have preserved historical beauties while upgrading modern structures. Many styles are visible, from gothic revival to industrial to art deco. Prepare for your jaw to drop when you see the interior of Notre-Dame Basilica and the sleek lines of the Sun Life Building. While Montreal doesn’t have an immediately recognizable skyline (à la New York City), just as admirable are the rows of homes and streets that vary in age but not in splendor.

Copenhagen, Denmark

As one of the happiest countries in the world, Denmark boasts architecture that continues to amaze in modern times. Its capital, Copenhagen, is said to be going through a golden age, with international architects like Henning Larsen and the famed Bjarke Ingels Group taking an interest in this maritime city. As with the rest of Scandinavia, Copenhagen is at the forefront of sustainability, erecting buildings that are not only gorgeous to look at but beneficial to the planet. Visitors will be dazzled by the new juxtaposed with the old, resulting in a truly unique vibe. Don’t miss the Copenhagen Opera House, the royal Christiansborg Palace, the Børsen stock exchange, and the bow-tie-shaped 8 House, a mixed-use development in the suburb of Ørestad.

Barcelona, Spain

The capital of Spain’s Catalonia region isn’t just a seaside escape overflowing with tapas and wine—it’s also covered in jaw-dropping gothic and modern touches. Most famous are 19th-century architect Antoni Gaudi’s works, many of which remain untouched and just as beautiful today. From the domes of his unfinished masterpiece, La Sagrada Familia, to the public parks system (and UNESCO World Heritage Site) known as Park Güell, physical reminders of Gaudi are present everywhere in Barcelona. If you want to become schooled on his background and inspiration, plan a visit to Casa Milà, his personal residence in the early 1900s.

New Orleans, Louisiana

While generous drinking laws have made New Orleans a destination for partiers, its rich history provides scenery and structures unlike any other in the country. The French Quarter is famous for its classical style and balconies, and countless other neighborhoods—from Tremé to the Marigny—pile on the Creole charm. Take advantage of the various walking tours available (complete with a roadie, should that interest you) to learn all about the buildings of this Southern gem. Perhaps you’ll find a historic mansion on St. Charles Avenue that calls your name?

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Rio de Janeiro was recently named UNESCO’s first World Capital of Architecture, thanks in part to the Brazilian capital’s ability to blend hundreds of years of history with advancements in modern architecture styles. While most travelers know to check out Old Cathedral, Largo do Boticário, and Parque Lage, Rio offers also impressive new constructions. Notable sites include the eco-forward Santiago Calatrava Museum of Tomorrow and the elegant concrete creation of Cidade das Artes. The city continues to top many must-see travel lists, and for good reason—wherever you go, you’ll find an Instagram-worthy view. (Photo: Bernard Lessa/Museum of Tomorrow)

Shanghai, China

If you’re all for contemporary architecture, there is truly no comparison to Shanghai’s sleek, soaring buildings and smart, collected designs. Though the streets can be manic and chaotic, the skyline is clean and strong—not to mention record-breaking, with two of the tallest buildings on earth (Jin Mao Tower and Shanghai World Financial Center). Down below, can you lose yourself along Nanjing Road, a six-mile foot-traffic-only stretch with an up-close-and-personal view of historical Chinese buildings. For an afternoon away from the smog, architecture fans will enjoy the Baoshan district’s Museum of Glass, from the inside out.

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