When choosing a new travel destination, it can be cool to learn about the buildings and architecture you might encounter on your trip. While most people focus on the great local culture and food, famous buildings can tell you much about a country’s history and way of life. From museums and churches to castles and skyscrapers, historical buildings were often designed and built with beautiful architecture, resulting in amazing structures that have withstood the test of time.
While there are many interesting modern architectural feats around the world, it’s impossible to overlook the engineering and technological prowess required to construct these iconic buildings. To help you plan your next trip, we’ve compiled the most famous buildings in the world you need to see! Whether you like visiting cool-looking architecture or prefer experiencing old historical sites with important histories, these are some of the greatest architectural buildings to explore on your travels.
Famous Historical Buildings and Cool Architecture
Buildings can become world-renowned for many different reasons. Some structures were the site of historically-significant events, while others offer a unique architectural charm that makes them interesting or special.
People who love architecture will invest the time to analyze structural shapes, cultural symbols, ancient styles and design concepts, materials and colors used, and how art and science came together to create a surviving piece of history.
Architectural works can also simply be appreciated as works of art, offering inspiration in your own life to build a lasting legacy. After all, old civilizations are generally identified by their cultural achievements, and standing in awe of something beautiful and majestic may just spark your creativity.
The world has many amazing buildings from the past and a number of modern marvels that are being erected today. Whether you’re consumed by wanderlust and need ideas on places to travel or just want to check out some of the coolest buildings on the planet, these impressive structures and designs will inspire you.
Here is a list of 50 famous buildings with unique architecture you need to see as you travel around the world.
Sagrada Família (Barcelona, Spain)
Architect Antoni Gaudí combined curvilinear Art Nouveau with Gothic influences in the architectural plans for this building. The project was solely funded by private donations and faced many setbacks, including being set on fire during the Spanish Civil War. Gaudí died before it could be completed, and it remains unfinished to this day.
Geghard Monastery (Goght, Armenia)
The Geghard is a medieval monastery in Armenia that was carved from stone and built into the mountainside. The complex was constructed in the 4th century by Gregory the Illuminator, and the main chapel was established in 1215. The name “Geghard” means “the Monastery of the Spear” and refers to the spear that wounded Jesus during the Crucifixion. The spear is believed to have been brought to Armenia by Apostle Jude.
Acropolis of Athens (Athens, Greece)
This ancient citadel is perched atop a rocky outcrop that towers above Athens. The complex lies largely in ruins now, though there has been some restoration work done. The Acropolis consists of over twenty structures, including the Parthenon and the Temple of Athena Nike.
Musée d’Orsay (Paris, France)
The Musée d’Orsay is a museum housed in what was once a Beaux-Arts railroad station. The barrel-vaulted main hall features intricate architectural details while also allowing floods of natural light to enter inside.
Château de Chenonceau (Chenonceaux, France)
This classic French chateau features a mix of Gothic and Renaissance architecture. It’s large and lush gardens are comparable to those of the Palace of Versailles. But its most stunning view is of the wing that fully spans the River Cher.
Dancing House (Prague, Czechoslovakia)
This whimsical building stands out from all the other Art Nouveau, Gothic, and Baroque architecture in the area. Frank Gehry and Vlado Milunić collaborated on this deconstructivist structure that looks like it’s twisting and collapsing in on itself.
The Guggenheim (New York City, New York, United States)
This art museum was designed by the iconic architect Frank Lloyd Wright. The building has a cylindrical shape that is narrower at the bottom and widens at the top. This makes it so that the inside layout consists of a unique ramp gallery that unfolds in a continuous spiral. Wright conceived the design as a “temple of the spirit”.
Taj Mahal (Agra, India)
This immense white marble mausoleum was constructed to hold the tomb of the favorite wife of a shah. The 42-acre complex features formal gardens surrounded by crenelated walls. There is also a gated mosque with a vaulted dome and a guest house on the grounds.
Niterói Contemporary Art Museum (Niterói, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)
Rio de Janeiro features many landmarks, and this is one of its most famous. The saucer-shaped building has been compared to a UFO. Part of its interest comes from the juxtaposition of having such a modernist structure on a beach.
Pyramids of Giza (Giza, Egypt)
The Giza Pyramid Complex boasts three main pyramids along with several subsidiary pyramids. The famed statue of the Sphinx is there, too. These stone structures are all architectural treasures.
Le Centre Pompidou (Paris, France)
This multicultural complex was designed to bring different aspects of literature and art together in the heart of Paris’ 4th arrondissement. It houses buildings and sculptures. It is home specifically to an immense public library as well as the famed Musée National d’Art Moderne.
Gateway Arch (St. Louis, Missouri, United States)
This 630-foot structure is the world’s tallest arch. The Gateway Arch is wrapped in stainless steel and was built in the shape of a weighted catenary arch. This famed tourist spot is also commonly called “The gateway to the West”.
The Gherkin (London, England)
This commercial skyscraper’s official name is 20 St Mary Ax, but its cylindrical shape resembles a pickle. Hence, it is commonly known as The Gherkin. It is clad in 24,000 square meters of glass in different cultures, creating a swirling design.
Metropolitan Cathedral of Brasília (Brasília, Brazil)
Most people picture gothic architecture when they think of cathedrals. This more modern geometric cathedral is designed as a hyperboloid structure of 16 concrete columns that curve inward. The heavy columns are balanced by the 16 pieces of colored fiberglass that make up the outer roof.
Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba (Cordoba, Spain)
This noted example of Moorish architecture was originally an Islamic mosque, which has become a Roman Catholic cathedral. The most famous part of this structure is an arcaded hypostyle hall. It boasts over 850 columns made of granite, jasper, marble, onyx, and porphyry.
Westminster Abbey (London, England)
This Gothic abbey church was built over the course of centuries, but the architecture of the Westminster Abbey is unusually cohesive in design. Every aspect, from the tall carved ceilings to the stained glass windows, is beautifully ornate.
Dresden Frauenkirche (Dresden, Germany)
The Dresden Frauenkirche is a Lutheran Church that was built in the 18th century before being destroyed during World War II. It was reconstructed in 1992 using the original builder plans. As much of the original rubble as possible was salvaged during the rebuilding process.
Château Frontenac (Quebec, Canada)
In the 19th century, the Canadian Pacific Railway Company built this historic hotel. It includes Châteauesque elements like steeply pitched roofs, an asymmetrical design, and immense towers and turrets. It served as the template for several other grand railway hotels.
The Colosseum (Rome, Italy)
Rome is a unique European city with modern structures right alongside classic architecture that is thousands of years old. The Colosseum is a freestanding elliptical theatre that has become run down over the years, but features like the monumental facade and arches remain.
One World Trade Center (New York City, New York, United States)
As the tallest building in the United States and sixth tallest in the world, One World Trade Center is a relatively recent construction that was built on the site of the Twin Towers to memorialize the September 11 attacks. The simple and symmetrical profile ensures that the building blends into New York’s famous skyline.
The Lotus Temple (New Delhi, India)
This Baháʼí House of Worship is open to people of all religions to gather, reflect, and even pray. The building is designed to look like a lotus blossom unfolding. It is made of freestanding marble-clad petals that look surprisingly delicate despite their impressive size.
St. Basil’s Cathedral (Moscow, Russia)
A fanciful church-turned-museum, this building was designed to emulate the shape of a bonfire flame rising into a sky. Its many towers and onion domes have been painted and dyed a series of vivid colors.
Dome of the Rock (Jerusalem, Israel)
This Islamic shrine is one of the longest-standing examples of Islamic architecture. The architecture was influenced by Byzantine churches and palaces, which can still be seen in the prolific mosaics. But other standout elements like gold plating on the dome were added later.
Casa Milà (Barcelona, Spain)
Famed Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí designed this modernist private residence in the early 20th century. It is often referred to as “the stone quarry” thanks to its curvy self-supporting rough stone facade. It’s also lined with twisted wrought-iron balconies and boasts an immense rooftop terrace.
The White House (Washington D.C., United States)
The official residence of the president of the United States was designed in the neoclassical style. Classical influences can be found throughout, most notably in the columned portico on the northern facade.
Forbidden City (Beijing, China)
At 720,000 square meters, this massive complex is the largest palace in the world. It consists of 980 buildings and houses an extensive collection of artwork and artifacts. It’s surrounded by an impressive moat as well as a high city wall.
Lincoln Center (New York City, New York, United States)
Over a dozen architects worked on the buildings in this performing arts plaza. Notable buildings in it include the Metropolitan Opera House and Juilliard School. Though there are different architectural styles in each building, the overall look is clean and cohesive.
The Shard (London, England)
This glass-encased 95-story skyscraper is the tallest building in the United Kingdom. The spire-like architecture was inspired by railway lines and the masts of sailing ships. The glazing and angles of the glass mean the building’s appearance changes according to the weather and time of year.
Le Mont-Saint-Michel (Normandy, France)
This Benedictine abbey was built throughout the centuries, and many of the structures on the grounds are considered to be architectural marvels. The overall design combines elements of Roman and Gothic styles, making the Le Mont-Saint-Michel one of the coolest-looking places to visit.
Bran Castle (Bran, Romania)
Many people refer to this Romanian building as Dracula’s Castle. Builders combined wood and stone to construct this Gothic fortress. Today as a museum, it displays art and furniture collected by Queen Marie.
Angkor Wat (Siem Reap, Cambodia)
This Cambodian temple complex is the largest religious monument in the world based on land area. It became a Buddhist temple in the 12th century but was constructed as a Hindu temple to celebrate the god Vishnu. It combines a temple-mountain and a galleried temple, both of which are the two essential forms of Khmer temple architecture.
Konark Sun Tower (Konark, India)
The temple gets his name because it was built in honor of the Hindu Sun God Surya. It was built in the form of a 100-foot high chariot, complete with large wheels and horses carved out of stone. Much of it lies in ruins now, but the remaining parts are renowned for their intricate artwork and iconography.
Chrysler Building (New York City, New York, United States)
This Art Deco-style skyscraper is the tallest building in the world to feature both a steel framework and bricks. Fifty gleaming metal ornaments meant to pay homage to gargoyles adorn the building’s corners, along with areas of ornamental metal cladding and a memorable crown and spire.
Sacré-Cœur (Paris, France)
Also known as the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris, the Sacré-Cœur is a Roman Catholic church designed in an unusual mashup of Ancient Roman and Byzantine styles. The monument is built mostly from travertine stone and features bronze statues, a fountain, a meditation garden, and one of the world’s largest mosaics.
Potala Palace (Lhasa, Tibet, China)
People are often surprised to learn that the remote region of Tibet is home to such a massive palace, which served as the winter residence of every Dalai Lama for over three hundred years. It’s a truly impressive feat of architecture. It’s thirteen stories tall and holds over a thousand rooms and 10,000 shrines. Copper was poured into the foundation to protect it against earthquakes.
Musée du Louvre (Paris, France)
Often just referred to as the Louvre, the world’s largest art museum boasts some of the most famous pieces of art in history, including the Mona Lisa. Modern glass pyramids outside of the museum provide an interesting contrast to the French Renaissance-influenced traditional architecture.
Sydney Opera House (Sydney, Australia)
This modern expressionist performing arts center was one of the most iconic and unusual buildings constructed worldwide during the twentieth century. Large precast concrete shells featuring an understated chevron pattern loom over Sydney Harbor.
Guggenheim Museum (Bilbao, Spain)
Famed architect Frank Ghery broke from his typical style when he designed this innovative deconstructivist building. It’s glass and metal surfaces feature unpredictable curves which catch the light as they undulate.
Fallingwater (Mill Run, Pennsylvania, United States)
Frank Lloyd Wright is one of the most well-known architects of all time, and this is probably his most famous structure. The private residence got its name because it was built partially over a waterfall, which appears to flow through and out of the house.
The Pantheon (Rome, Italy)
This former Roman temple was built nearly two thousand years ago, but it was so well-preserved that it is still in use today as a Catholic church. It features an immense domed cella with a conventional temple front, which has served as an inspiration for many architects during times of classical revival.
Space Needle (Seattle, Washington, United States)
A Seattle landmark, this observation tower was constructed specifically for the 1962 World’s Fair. The hourglass-shaped tower is topped by a 360-degree halo which contains a restaurant and observation deck.
Villa Savoye (Poissy, France)
Most famous French architecture has Gothic or Renaissance influences, but this is well-known for being one of the origins of modern architectural style. Designed by Swiss architect Le Corbusier, it represented the “Five Points” that compromised his aesthetic.
House of Parliament and Elizabeth Tower (London, England)
Elizabeth Tower, better known as Big Ben, is a 315-foot tall neo-Gothic clock tower that still uses its original Victorian mechanism. It’s part of the Palace of Westminster complex, a historic building complex was done in the Gothic Revival style which serves as a meeting place for England’s Houses of Parliament.
Burj Khalifa (Dubai, United Arab Emirates)
Standing at 829.8 meters tall, this tower currently stands as the tallest skyscraper in the world. Designers drew inspiration from Islamic architecture and the work of Frank Lloyd Wright. Over 26,000 reflective glass panels as well as textured metal panels adorn the structure.
Leaning Tower of Pisa (Pisa, Italy)
This freestanding bell tower stands on an unstable foundation and famously began leaning during its construction in the 12th century. It has been stabilized in recent years, but still tilts at a rakish four degrees.
Hagia Sophia (Istanbul, Turkey)
The Hagia Sophia remains one of the greatest examples of Byzantine architecture. This richly-detailed temple boasts marble pillars, buttresses, and minarets. Its most impressive feature is a massive dome featuring intricate design elements like mosaic murals.
São Paulo Museum of Art (São Paulo, Brazil)
Lina Bo Bardi designed this glass and concrete building whose main hall is held up by two cherry red lateral beams. It is considered to be the hallmark of modern Brazilian architecture.
Flatiron Building (New York City, New York, United States)
This steel-framed skyscraper is one of New York’s most iconic pieces of architecture. The landmarked three-sided building is triangular in shape, coming to points where the walls meet, and sits on a corner block formed by Fifth Avenue, Broadway, and East 22nd Street. Sometimes described as a vertical Renaissance palazzo, this great architectural building boasts Beaux-Arts influences.
Sistine Chapel (Vatican City, Italy)
This chapel is part of the Apostolic Palace which is the official residence of the pope. While many famous buildings have artwork hanging on the walls, there is art painted directly onto the walls and ceilings of the Sistine Chapel by luminaries like Michelangelo.
Eiffel Tower (Paris, France)
This wrought-iron lattice tower was originally constructed for the 1889 World’s Fair, and it remains one of Paris’ most famous landmarks. It was controversial in its time, as many believed it wasn’t artistically sound, but it is one of the world’s most recognizable monuments.
Sultan Ahmed Mosque (Istanbul, Turkey)
Also referred to as the Blue Mosque, the Sultan Ahmed is an iconic Ottoman-era mosque adorned with hand-painted blue tiles along the interior. The enormous structure boasts five main domes and eight secondary domes, as well as six minarets. At night, the whole structure is illuminated by blue lights.