If you’re into architecture or if you like to visit new places you probably have a list of things that you want to see in your lifetime. There are probably a few iconic buildings in there somewhere as well. There are a lot of great attractions in the world and a lot of buildings worth seeing in real life, each with its own story and its own unique particularities. There are so many of them that we had a very hard time choosing the most interesting ones so our list kept getting longer and longer. Without further ado, here are 48 of the world’s most iconic buildings:
The Eiffel Tower – Paris, France
This is one of those landmarks that everyone knows about, no matter where a person might be from. It’s one of the most visited monuments in the world, with millions of people coming to see it every year. The tower was named after Gustave Eiffel, the engineer who designed and built it between 1887- 1889. It measures 324 meters in height being as tall as an 80-storey building. Visitors have access to three levels, two of them including restaurants. The top floor features a platform that sits 276 meters above ground which makes it the highest observation deck accessible to the public in the EU.
Musée du Louvre – Paris, France
In 2017 the Louvre was the world’s most visited art museum, receiving a total of 8.1 million visitors. It’s situated inside the Louvre Palace in Paris, a structure which was originally built to serve as a fortress in the 12th and 13th century. If you go to the museum’s basement you can still see remnants from that period. The Louvre first opened on August 10 in 1793 and back then it only featured an exhibition of 537 paintings. The collection has grown since then as the Louvre became the world’s largest art museum.
Centre Georges Pompidou — Paris, France
There are plenty of iconic buildings to visit while in Paris and another one of them is The Centre Georges Pompidou. It originally opened to the public in 1977 and after being closed for a while it reopened in 2000. The centre is a huge collection of various different art forms under one roof. Millions of visitors come here every year, the record number being 5,209,678 back in 2013. It’s not just the contents that make this iconic building stand out but also its exterior which is made mainly of glass and steel.
Musée d’Orsay — Paris, France
This is one of the largest and most famous museums in the world as well as another major tourist attraction in Paris. It’s situated in what used to be a railway station built between 1898 and 1900. Musée d’Orsay first opened in 1986 and it currently holds French art for the most part, including paintings by Monet, Renoir, Van Gogh, Degas and other famous impressionists and post-impressionists. In addition to such famous paintings, the museum also holds a vast selection of sculptures, furniture and photography.
Notre-Dame Cathedral — Paris, France
Of course, we can’t talk about iconic buildings from Paris without mentioning the Notre-Dame Cathedral. This major landmark is considered to be one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture. It’s one of the most famous churches in the world holding some of Catholicism’s most important relics such the Crown of Thorns, a fragment of the True Cross and one of the Holy Nails. The cathedral is also famous for its 10 bells, the largest one of them, Emmanuel, dating back to 1681 and weighing over 12 tons.
The Shard — London, UK
Formerly known as the London Bridge Tower, this 95-storey skyscraper is the tallest building in the United Kingdom as well as in the European Union. Its construction started in March 2009 and was completed in 2012. The Shard has 72 habitable floors with the most impressive one of all being the 72nd level which has a viewing gallery and an open-air observation gallery situated at a height of 244 meters.
The Gherkin — London, UK
The Gherkin is situated in the primary financial district of London and is one of the city’s most important and most recognizable landmarks thanks to its unusual design. The formal name of this commercial skyscraper is actually 30 St Mary Axe. The building has been the receiver of several awards related to its contemporary architecture but also to the fact that it used energy-saving methods which allow it to use only half the power that other similar towers typically do. The construction of the Gherkin was completed in December 2003 and the tower was opened in April 2004.
Tower Bridge – London, UK
The Tower Bridge was built between 1886 and 1894 and is an iconic symbol for the city of London but also the rest of the world. Because it’s situated close to the Tower of London, the two landmarks are sometimes confused for one another. The Tower Bridge crosses the River Thames and is in fact, a combination between a bascule and a suspension bridge, with operating machinery being housed in the base of each of the two towers.
Westminster Abbey — London, UK
Westminster Abbey is another one of London’s iconic buildings, its construction first being ordered by King Henry III in 1245. A previous church is said to have been present there prior to this period. The Abbey, also known as the Collegiate Church of St Peter at Westminster is a Gothic church which serves as the traditional place of coronation and burial site for the English and British monarchs. There have been many royal weddings here over the years (at least 16) and until 1556 the structure also had the status of cathedral. After 1560 its status changed and the structure became a church responsible directly to the sovereign.
Houses of Parliament — London, UK
The Palace of Westminster or, as it is commonly known, the Houses of Parliament, is an iconic building situated on the north bank of the river Thames. It’s not the first palace to be built on this site. The first one was built in the 11th century and served as the primary residence of the Kings of England until 1512 when fire destroyed a big portion of it. It then became the home of the Parliament of England but in 1834 another fire destroyed almost the entire thing. The palace was reconstructed by architect Charles Barry who chose a Gothic Revival style. Now, the new Palace of Westminster is a huge 112.476 square meter structure with over 1,100 rooms organized symmetrically around two sets of courtyards.
Colosseum – Rome, Italy
Who hasn’t heard about the Colosseum? It’s such an iconic building that people from all over the world come to see it every year and name it as one of the places everyone should visit before they die. The Colosseum even made its way onto the Italian version of the 5 cent euro coin. The construction of this ancient structure began in the year 72 AD under the emperor Vespasian and was completed in AD 80 under Titus. Later on a series of modifications were made during the reign of Domitian. Initially, this huge amphitheater was used for public events, gladiatorial contests and later for activities such as animal hunts, re-enactments of famous battles and even executions. Right now we can only see part of the structure as a lot of it has been damaged by earthquakes over the years but, even so, it remains an iconic world attraction.
The Leaning Tower – Pisa, Italy
The Leaning Tower of Pisa is another famous landmark and tourist attraction for people all over the world. Its construction occurred in three stages over a period of 199 years. The tilt began during the 12th century as a result of the inadequate foundation. The ground was simply too soft on one side and couldn’t properly support the structure’s weight. The tilt became more prominent in the period prior to the completion of the tower in the 14th century. It increased even more after that until the structure was stabilized in the late 20th century and early 21st century. That’s when the tilt was also partially corrected.
The Pantheon — Rome, Italy
The Pantheon is one of the best-preserved ancient Roman structures. That’s partially due to the fact that at no point in this was this building abandoned. It has been in continuous use throughout its history. It’s unclear exactly when the Pantheon was built. We know it was completed by the emperor Hadrian. However, because the emperor didn’t inscribe the temple but kept the original inscription of the older temple which had previously been built there during the reign of Augustus, the actual date of construction is unknown.
Sagrada Família – Barcelona, Spain
The complete name of this iconic building is Basílica I Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família. The structure is located in Barcelona and was designed by architect Antoni Gaudi who combined Gothic and Art Nouveau influences. The construction of this amazing Roman Catholic church began in 1882 under architect Francisco de Paula del Villar who then resigned a year after that. That’s when Antoni Gaudi took over the project and decided to devote the remainder of his life to this task. He died in 1926 and by then only a quarter of the project has been completed. Some progress was made in the 1950s and by 2010 the project was 50% complete. There are plans to finish it by 2026 when 100 years would have passed since Gaudi’s death.
Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao — Bilbao, Spain
The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao is one of the largest museums in Spain and one of several museums belonging to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation. It was designed by architect Frank Gehry and was inaugurated in October 1997. Inside you can find many exhibits of artwork by international artists, some permanent and some temporary. Looking at the contemporary architecture of this iconic building one could say the museum itself is a work of art.
Casa Milà – Barcelona, Spain
Casa Milà, also referred to as La Pedrera (the stone quarry) is the last private residence designed by architect Antoni Gaudi. It was built between 1906 and 1912 for Pere Milà and his wife Roser Segimon. The design of the building is unusual, especially for that period when the undulating stone facade and the twisting wrought iron balconies were not nearly as common as they are now. The structure is also special because of features such as its self-supporting facade, its open floor plan, underground garage and roof terrace.
Dresden Frauenkirche — Dresden, Germany
This is a Lutheran church located in Dresden, Germany. It occupies a site on which previously stood a catholic church which later became protestant only to be replaced by a larger lutheran structure in the 18th century. The church was later destroyed during world war II and its ruins stood there for 50 years until the rebuilding process started in 1994 after the reunification of Germany. The reconstruction of the exterior was completed in 2004 and the interior a year later. Now the church serves as a symbol of the reconciliation between former war enemies.
Another iconic building which you can visit while in Germany is the Brandenburg Gate which was built in the 18th century on the orders of Prussian king Frederick William II. Its role was to represent peace and the gate continues to be to this day a symbol of unity in Europe. As far as the design and structure are concerned, the gate has 12 Doric columns, 6 on each side, forming 5 passageways. At the top you can see the sculpture of a chariot with four horses. The original name of this landmark was the Peace Gate.
Located in southwest Bavaria, in Germany, the Neuschwanstein Castle (New Swanstone Castle) was built to serve as a home for the king, being commissioned by Ludwig II of Bavaria. When the king died in 1886 the castle no longer served its intended purpose. It became open to the public and has remained so ever since. The castle has been visited by more than 61 million people over the years.
Hagia Sophia — Istanbul, Turkey
Hagia Sophia held the title of world’s largest cathedral for almost 1000 years, losing it in 1520 to the Seville Cathedral. It was built in 537 AD and it initially served as an eastern orthodox church and seat of the Patriarch of Constantinople. Between 1204 and 1261 it served as a Roman Catholic cathedral under the Latin Empire and was later converted into an Ottoman mosque in 1453. It continued to serve as a mosque until 1931 when it was secularized. In 1935 it became a museum.
Sultan Ahmed Mosque — Istanbul, Turkey
The Sultan Ahmed Mosque, more commonly known as The Blue Mosque because of the hand-painted blue tiles on its exterior walls, is a famous tourist attraction located in Istanbul as was built between 1609 and 1616 during the rule of Ahmed I whose tomb can be found inside. The structure continues to function and a mosque even today. It has 5 major domes, 6 minarets and 8 smaller domes. You can find it in the close vicinity of another iconic building, Hagia Sophia.
Burj Al Arab – Dubai, UAE
Built on an artificial island in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Burj Al Arab is the 3rd tallest hotel in the world. Its shape is iconic, the structure being designed to resemble the sail of a ship. More than a third of this luxury hotel’s height is made up of non-usable space. You can access the building and the small island on which it stands via a private bridge.
Burj Khalifa — Dubai, UAE
Burj Khalifa is one of the most iconic buildings of the modern world, holding the title of world’s tallest structure since 2008. Originally it was named Burj Dubai but the name later changed to Burj Khalifa in honor of the ruler of Abu Dhabi, Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan. The construction of the building began in 2004. The exterior was completed in 2009, featuring a reinforced concrete structure. In 2010 the inauguration of this iconic mixed-use development took place.
Atlantis, The Palm – Dubai
This is not the lost city of the ancients but a luxury hotel named after the myth. Atlantis, The Palm is located on Palm Jumeirah island in the United Arab Emirates. It’s the first resort to be built on the island and it has a total of 1,539 rooms organized into two wings, the East and the West Tower connected by the Royal Bridge Suite. The resort opened on September 24 in 2008.
Sydney Opera House — Sydney, Australia
The Sydney Opera House is perhaps the most iconic building in Australia. It was designed by architect Jørn Utzon and it opened in October 1973. The structure is most famous for its modern expressionist design, featuring a series of large precast concrete shells which give it a futuristic and very artistic look. In total, the structure covers an area of 1.8 hectares (4.4 acres) of land and is supported on 588 concrete piers. It serves as a multi-venue performing arts centre and it attracts more than a million visitors every year.
Bran Castle — Bran, Romania
Although it’s commonly known as Dracula’s Castle, this structure has very little to do with the legend, being only one of several structures associated with it. In fact, there’s no evidence that Bram Stoker even knew about the existence of this castle when he wrote the famous novel. Even so, the Bran Castle attracts lots of visitors every year who come to Romania to see where it all began. The castle serves as a museum where art and furniture collected by Queen Marie are displayed.
Peles Castle- Romania
The Peleș Castle is another historical museum located in Romania. You can find it in the Carpathian Mountains, near the city of Sinaia. Technically a palace but referred to as castle, the structure was built between 1873 and 1914. It was constructed for King Carol I and was inaugurated in 1883. It currently serves as a historical museum and is also appreciated for its architecture which shows neo-renaissance and gothic revival influences.
Parliament House – Bucharest, Romania
Located at the center of Bucharest, the capital city of Romania, the Parliament House is the second largest administrative building in the world (excluding the Pentagon) as well as the heaving building in the world, weighing around 4,098,500,000 kilograms. It’s structured into 23 sections and it houses the Senate, the Chamber of Deputies, three museums and an international conference center.The building is valued at €3 billion which also makes it the most expensive administrative building in the world.
The Guggenheim — New York City, USA
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum also referred to as simply The Guggenheim is located in Manhattan, New York. It moved to its current location in 1959. The iconic building designed by Frank Lloyd Wright has a cylindrical shape, being wider at the top than at the bottom. The museum is famous for its unique ramp gallery which starts at the ground level and spirals up along the edges of the building, ending just under the ceiling skylight.
One World Trade Center — New York City, USA
The name of this structure may be a bit confusing, since it’s the same one that the original World Trade Center had (the one destroyed in the terrorist attacks of Septermber 11, 2001). One World Trade Center, also known as Freedom Tower, is located in lower Manhattan in New York and is the 6th tallest building in the world. It was designed by architect David Childs and there have been various controversies regarding some of its features, in particular the fortified base which some felt suggested a sense of fear rather than freedom.
The White House — Washington, D.C., USA
As everyone knows already, the White House serves as the official residence and workplace of the president of the United States. Its location is 1600 Pennsylvania avenue NW in Washington. It served as a presidential residence since 1800 and was designed by architect James Hoban who used Aquia Creek sandstone painted white. Construction took place between 1792 and 1800.
Chrysler Building — New York City, USA
The Chrysler Building is regarded as a symbol of the Art Deco architectural style. It was constructed by Walter Chrysler, the head of the Chrysler Corporation, who paid for it himself and thus became the owner. The building served as the corporation’s headquarters from 1930 until the mid-1950s. It was designed and built specifically for this purpose. You can find the building in the East Side of Midtown Manhattan in New York City.
Fallingwater — Mill Run, Pennsylvania, USA
Designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright in 1935, this iconic building is not a public structure but actually a private home. It was designed to serve as a weekend retreat for Liliane Kaufmann and her husband, Edgar J. Kaufmann, Sr. and the thing that makes it so special is the fact that it was built partly over a waterfall, hence the name. Fallingwater was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1966 and Time even called it Frank Lloyd Wright’s “most beautiful job”.
Golden Gate Bridge
The most photographed bridge in the world links the city of San Francisco to Marin County and has also been named one of the Wonders of the Modern World by the American Society of Civil Engineers. The Golden Gate Bridge opened in 1937 and at that time it was the longest as well as the tallest suspension bridge in the world, featuring a total height of 227 meters and a main span of 1,280 meters.
Space Needle — Seattle, Washington, USA
The Space Needle from Seattle, Washington is an iconic building and a landmark for the city. It was built for the 1962 World’s Fair and its design is a mixture of ideas proposed by architects Edward E. Carlson and John Graham Jr. It serves as an observation tower, featuring a total height of 184 meters. The tower is 42 meters wide and weighs 8,660 tonnes. It can withstand winds of up to 200 miles per hour (89 m/s or 320 km/h) as well as earthquakes of up to 9.1 magnitude in addition to having 25 lighting rods.
The Flatiron Building — New York City, USA
The Flatiron Building is one of the most recognizable structures in the world thanks to its unique triangular shape. It was originally called the Fuller Building and the name was later changed to reflect the structure’s visual resemblance to a cast-iron clothes iron. Construction of the structure was completed in 1902 and back then this was one of the tallest buildings in New York City. Obviously, that’s no longer the case as the structure is only 20 floors high.
Statue of Liberty
The Statue of Liberty is a landmark known by everyone in the world. You can find it on Liberty Island in New York Harbor. The statue is made of copper and was designed by sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi and built by Gustave Eiffel. It was a gift from France to the United States and it has become a symbol of freedom not just for the U.S. but people all over the world.
Taj Mahal — Agra, India
The Taj Mahal is one of the most iconic buildings in India and in the world. It’s located in Agra and represents a complex composed of a marble mausoleum surrounded by gardens. The mausoleum was built between 1632 and 1643 at the orders of Shah Jahan in memory of his wife Mumtaz Mahal. It was designed to hold her tomb and to remain as a symbol of the love story between the emperor and his wife. Work on the garden and some of the other buildings in the complex continued for 10 years after the completion of the mausoleum.
The Lotus Temple — New Delhi, India
Located in Delhi, India, the Lotus Temple is a Bahá’í House of Worship which means it’s open to people of all religions. Anyone can enter regardless of their religious orientation, sex or other distinctions. However, this is true for all Bahá’í House of Worship. The thing that makes the Lotus Temple special is its flower-shaped structure. This iconic building features a total of 27 freestanding marble clad petals arranged in clusters of three. Nine doors open onto a central hall which is more than 40 meters high. Inside there’s room for 2,500 people.
Acropolis of Athens — Athens, Greece
The Acropolis of Athens is not a single iconic building but actually a collection of several. It’s an ancient citadel which contains the remains of several structures, the most famous one of all being the Parthenon. This is a place of great architectural and historic significance. In 1975 a restoration project began, the goal of which was to reverse the effects of all the decay caused by pollution, military actions as well as faulty past restorations. Since then, the Parthenon colonnades which were badly damaged and largely destroyed by the Venetial bombardment during the 17th century have been restored along with various other structures.
Château Frontenac — Québec, Canada
Château Frontenac is located in Quebec, Canada and is is one of the “château” style hotels which were built for the Canadian Pacific Railway company in the period between the late 19th and early 20th century. It was designed by architect Bruce Price and contains more than 600 rooms structured on a total of 18 floors. Fun fact, Château Frontenac is known as the most photographed hotel in the world.
St. Basil’s Cathedral — Moscow, Russia
The official name of the Cathedral of Vasily the Blessed is actually the Cathedral of the Intercession of the Most Holy Theotokos on the Moat. This iconic building which has no parallel in Russian architecture is located in Red Square in Moscow and is designed to look like a frame rising into the sky. It was built between 1555 and 1561 and has been functioning as a museum since 1928 when it was confiscated from the Russian Orthodox community as part of the state atheism project.
Dancing House — Prague, Czech Republic
The Dancing House, initially named Fred and Ginger after dancers Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, is an iconic structure located in Prague, in the Czech Republic. The style in which it was designed is known as deconstructivist and was adopted by architects Vlado Milunić and Frank Gehry who collaborated on this unusual project. The building was designed in 1992 and the project was completed in 1996.
The Pyramids of Giza — Giza, Egypt
The list wouldn’t be complete without the Great Pyramid of Giza, the largest and also the oldest of the three pyramids in the Giza complex as well as the oldest of the seven wonders of the ancient world. It’s also the only one of them to remain intact (for the most part). It’s also known as the Pyramid of Cheops or the Pyramid of Khufu. It’s believed that the structure was built as a tomb and that the construction was done over a period of 10 to 20 years, being completed around 2560 BC. It was originally covered in limestone but today that layer is almost entirely gone and we can only see the underlying core structure.
Forbidden City — Beijing, China
The Forbidden City is a complex of 980 buildings spread over an area of 72 hectares in Beijing, China. It served as the Chinese imperial palace between 1420 until 1912 (from the Ming dynasty to the end of the Quing dynasty. Today the complex houses the Palace Museum and is listed as a World Heritage Site as well as the largest collection of preserved ancient wooden structures in the world.
Potala Palace — Lhasa, Tibet, China
This huge structure served as the residence of the Dalai Lama until the 1959 Tibetan uprising when the 14th Dalai Lama fled to India. It’s located in Lhasa, in Tibet and it currently serves as a museum. Its construction started in 1645 under the 5th Dalai Lama. The building measures 400 meters by 350 meters and has thick sloping stone walls. Copper was poured into its foundation to offer protection against earthquakes. It has 13 floors and over 1,000 rooms, 10,000 shrines and around 200,000 statues.
The Petronas Towers are located in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. They’re two twin skyscrapers and they were designed by architect Cesar Pelli in a postmodern style. The planning phase of the project started on 1st January 1992. A year after, in 1993, excavation began on the site. The construction phase started on 1st April 1994. On the 1st January 1996 the interior design was completed as well and the towers were fully furnished and ready for use.
The Great Wall of China
The Great Wall of China is the subject of an international myth which, as it turns out, is false. Many still believe that the structure can be seen from space in spite of evidence disproving this fact. But even without this characteristic, the great wall is still one of the most amazing and impressive structures on our planet. It stretches from present-day Sino-Russian border in the north to Qinghai in the south and the majority of the structure preserved to this day dates from the Ming Dynasty.