Great architecture encompasses so much of what makes our world exciting. A single structure sings to us of history, art, human ingenuity, nature, and culture — just through its lines and choices. The most famous buildings in the world wallop us with emotional impact. It is a full-body experience! Let’s explore some of the best architecture across the globe, examining how each makes us feel.
In the 11 years that I’ve run this travel blog, I’ve been keeping a list of my favorite buildings in each country I’ve visited. For the first time, I’m sharing my rankings!
You may be surprised by what is included in this list — or what is missing from it — so let’s be very clear: there are AMAZING works of architecture and famous buildings in every corner of the globe. This list here is a TINY sampling of what is out there around the world, and only includes places I’ve taken quality photos of, myself, while visiting.
When you’re done scrolling this ranking, I invite you to add your own votes for architectural favorites in the comments section! Now, let’s start…
Famous Buildings and Architecture
A ranking of most beautiful and interesting famous buildings and architecture from around the world!
No, this list does not start with the Taj Mahal. Rather, my favorite world architecture is actually a group of buildings: the candy-colored town of Willemstad, Curacao in the Caribbean ABC Islands! What can I say? Color captures my heart. Click through to see the city's rainbow bridge.
Yes, I took that photo by dangling my camera off the edge of the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa, to snap pictures from 1,825 feet above Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. What a surreal experience and place.
As someone who has studied the history of the Greek and Roman Empires, it was magical to walk through the 2,000-year-old ruins of Ephesus: a city in Turkey where you can still see the library, theater, and even toilets used by ancient people.
How does a house in southwestern Pennsylvania make it onto a list with Ephesus and the Burj Khalifa? Because Frank Lloyd Wright's 1964 Fallingwater house is astounding in how it connects with the natural rocks, waterfall, light, and forest around it. It's America's architectural gem for a reason.
Heeeeey, here it is! What's often called the most beautiful building in the world, Shah Jahan's 1635 "Monument to Love" in Agra, Uttar Pradesh India, exceeds all expectations when seen in person. Check out these photos of the details from the inside, walls, and views.
What a miraculous building! Turkey's Hagia Sophia in Istanbul was built in 537 CE and has served as a church, mosque, museum, and more. Delight in these photos of its 182-foot-tall arched ceiling and shimmering gold decorations.
I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the architecture of this 2007 building in the United Arab Emirates. If you click nothing else in this list, pop over to this link to see the 49-foot-high chandelier covered in gold and colorful gems, plus the biggest marble mosaic on earth. Oh, and it's free to enter!
Traveling south to the Central American country of Belize, we find the ancient Mayan ruins of Xunantunich, nestled in the lush green jungle. Built between 650 and 1000 CE, these pyramids are still open to climb! Now that's some solid construction.
What's the most photographed hotel in the world? The 1893 Chateau Frontenac, which is perched artfully on the banks of St. Lawrence river in Quebec City. In fact, the entire district of Historic Old Quebec is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and when you scroll these photos you'll see why. It looks like a fairy tale!
During the Guilded Age of the late 1800s and early 1900s, wealthy families built extravagant mansions along an ocean cliff in Newport, Rhode Island that we can now tour today for a jaw-dropping walk through luxury. The Breakers, Marble House, and the Elms are just a few.
Sometimes architecture is so famous, we don't realize that it has influenced buildings in our home town. This article explains how I realized that the Acropolis in Athens, Greece helped shape the entryway sculptures at the school where I teach in Boston!
It's a real workout to tour the 7,800,000 square foot, 980-building Forbidden City in Beijing China, but the historic and artful architecture (dating five centuries back to the 1400s CE) make it worth the effort. If you can't tour in person, these detailed photos can give a virtual experience.
I have to include an architectural gem from my home city, right? The Copley Library in Boston , Massachusetts (built in 1895) is one of the most beautiful -- and FREE -- attractions in the city. It's a perfect place to sit, get work done, or tour when in Back Bay. Don't miss the arched courtyard, green lamp reading room, and new rooms for children and teens.
The Greek ruins on the misty mountainside of Delphi, Greece were built in the 8th Century BC, and are a perfect example of how architecture can blend perfectly with its natural surroundings to evoke feelings of awe and importance.
New York City is home to the biggest church building on the continent: a phenomenal 120,000 square foot structure which was started in 1892 and is still not complete -- earning it the nickname "St. John the Unfinished." Fact: The author of A Wrinkle in Time is buried there.
I knew the Great Wall of China was over 5,000 miles and one of the wonders of the world, but I didn't realize that sections of it were so steep, or the views so incredible! See the photos here of this less-visited part of the historic tourist attraction... and why I was sweating so much.
When we think of ornate architecture, stone often comes to mind, but seeing these bright, elaborate wooden houses in the vacation island of Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts might open your imagination for what's possible. You can even rent some of these delightful houses for a vacation stay!
What kind of hotel results when the construction budget is over THREE BILLION dollars? The mind-blowingly extravagant architecture of Emirates Palace in the UAE. It opened in 2005, and even has a gold bar vending machine in the lobby.
One of my favorite aspects of architecture -- particularly ancient buildings -- is examining detailed decorative carvings. These features are plentiful at Qutub Minar, a 72.5 meter tower made of bricks (the world's tallest), completed around the year 1220 CE in Delhi, India.
The skyline of Minneapolis, MN boasts something I'd never seen before: a city-wide network of raised glass bridges between buildings so you can walk for miles without ever stepping outside! In addition to this "Skyway," the city also has a glorious stone arch bridge which provides views of the Mississippi River and town architecture.
San Juan, PR has a magical, historic feel to it in part because of these castle-like forts which guard its shores. From San Felipe del Morro, to La Fortaleza, to Castillo de San Cristobal, these hulking stone structures have survived for hundreds of years. Learn their stories here.
Which Famous Buildings and Architecture Do YOU Love?
There you have the list. (Was it a surprise that a whole town in the ABC Islands was the #1 winner?) Now, I do know that my work has just begun in exploring the world, and again want to affirm in the spirit of inclusiveness that EVERY country and city has beautiful, worthwhile architecture. These are just the ones I have good photos and articles from to share.
In addition, it’s important to remember that great buildings can take many forms. There are innumerable small or lesser-known structures which bring brilliance and beauty into the world (from the wild colors of Randyland in Pittsburgh, to private residences in Folly Beach and historic Charleston, SC, to the lookout tower on Mount Greylock, MA — and every liminal space in between)… even though they aren’t as famous as the Taj Mahal.
We love ALL architecture that pleases our eyes, souls, and bodies! My hope is that this list will be a starting point for inspiration to influence exploration that will stretch forward much farther.
Now what about you? Which buildings that are included or not included on this list do YOU adore, and why? Do share!
The author, Lillie Marshall, is 6-foot-tall National Board Certified Teacher of English, fitness fan, and mother of two who has been a public school educator since 2003. She launched Around the World “L” Travel and Life Blog in 2009, and over 4.2 million readers have now visited this site. Lillie also runs TeachingTraveling.com and DrawingsOf.com. Subscribe to her monthly newsletter, and follow @WorldLillie on social media!
I had nice moments reading this inspirational post and I learn new things from you and this absolutely amazing for me.
Thank you for sharing and I appreciate your hard work.
Greetings from Canada.
Thursday 26th of November 2020
Friday 16th of October 2020
Hi Lillie! Wonderful article, very inspiring! The city palace let us like this... :O!
Sunday 18th of October 2020
Thanks Jesus! It's such a remarkable structure.
Friday 9th of October 2020
Today’s architectural monuments aren’t meant only to be admired from afar. “It’s not about creating an icon, but shaping public space."
Saturday 10th of October 2020
Interesting! That makes sense.
Wednesday 23rd of September 2020
The Sheikh Zayed Mosque is on my bucket list! How was it? It looks absolutely stunning. So many great spots on your list! Looks like you have really been all over the world!
Thursday 24th of September 2020
SO. AMAZING. Worth it for sure!
Wednesday 23rd of September 2020
O Lord! how I miss travelling! I better update my bucket list with at least the closest Indian monuments. The Chand Bauri is the first I am yet to visit it. Love this a great guide to where I want to go.
Thursday 24th of September 2020
You're lucky you're in the country with so many fabulous works of architecture!