The power of architecture lies in its sense of place — that transportive feeling you get when you wander around a city that is distinct and immersive. Other sensory markers like smell, sound, and taste also work together to give a destination its ambience, sure, but there’s nothing quite like a thoughtfully designed building to burn the memory of a place in your mind forever. The best travel destinations if you love architecture might range from Old World cities with examples of historic works of art to more modern pursuits that display innovation and a penchant for sustainability. In either scenario, if you’re hovering over the idea of planning a trip and know that sense of place is a priority, it’s worth heading somewhere that’s regarded for its architecture.
Ahead, discover a roundup of cities that run the gamut from popular haunts (like Athens) to slightly less tourist-driven places (like Ecuador), all of which offer a visually specific “vibe” for the architecture-inclined traveler. Sure, food and shopping are worthy reasons to get out of town, but a stunning architectural landscape is, too.
Make note of these hot spots and add them to your travel bucket list for 2022 and beyond. Your Instagram feed will never be the same.
São Paulo, Brazil
Foreigners traveling to Brazil might instinctively head for Rio de Janeiro’s sandy beaches, but architecture-lovers know that the real hot spot is São Paulo. This metropolitan hub is renowned for buildings by master modernists like Oscar Niemeyer and Lina Bo Bardi, who designed the city’s beloved Museum of Art of São Paulo. One of the true architectural gems to be found here is Hotel Unique, a property designed by Ruy Ohtake that, depending on who you ask, resembles a ship or watermelon (referred to by locals as melancia). The curvature of the building’s design combined with the bold portholes make it a must-visit landmark in the city (and one that you should book a stay in).
Nicknamed “the Blue Pearl” and located in the Rif mountains of northwest Morocco, Chefchaouen is a town that is best known for its blue-hued buildings. The Spanish and Moorish architecture style feels especially unique here thanks to the brilliant color that sweeps over the entire village. A day will be well-spent wandering around ancient corridors and taking in the calming color that’s also thought to help repel mosquitos and cool down residents’ homes.
New Orleans, Louisiana
There is nowhere in the world quite like New Orleans, particularly from an architectural perspective. It boasts more than 20 National Register historic districts and almost all of the buildings here were built prior to WWII, meaning the “step back in time” game is strong. The city offers diverse architecture styles, ranging from Creole cottage and shotgun to Greek revival and Queen Anne. Of course, a stroll in the French Quarter is among the best activities you can partake in during a visit here, but for a quieter side of The Big Easy, head for the Garden District and take in the sleepy mansions featuring elaborate ironwork (bonus points if you can find the one crafted in a whimsical shade of soft pink).
Hội An, Vietnam
Hội An is an ancient port town dating back to the 15th century that is a surviving relic from the past (it went untouched by the Vietnam War). You can expect a vibrant mix of French, Japanese, Chinese, and Vietnamese architectural styles with a visit to this magical part of the world, including the buttery yellow houses that reflect the region’s French colonial influences. There are 1,107 traditional wooden buildings found here that are constructed tightly side-by-side, making a stroll along the river an especially enriching activity. Be sure to stop by the Japanese bridge with a pagoda on it that originates from the 17th century as well as the open market that is best enjoyed beneath the night sky.
Miami Beach’s Art Deco Historic District was the nation’s first urban 20th-century historic district to be recognized by the National Register of Historic Places and over 800 buildings designed in the style can be found here. If you’re ready to take in these symmetrical, pastel-hued masterpieces but aren’t sure where to start, begin with a trip to Señor Frog, a 1939-era building that was once a gay bar called the Warsaw Ballroom. The Carlyle, The Webster, and The McAlpin are also all worthy stops on your walking tour, as is the Colony Theatre, where you can catch a movie in a 1935-era theater.
Taos, New Mexico
If you’ve never experienced Adobe architecture in person, let this be your motivation to change that. New Mexico is home to this style, which turns to materials from the earth for construction (like clay, straw, and water). In Taos, specifically, you’ll find Taos Pueblo: the only living Native American community that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a National Historic Landmark. The buildings you see here today are estimated to have been constructed between 1000 and 1450 A.D. and around 150 people currently live here full time. Due to public health restrictions, Taos Pueblo is currently closed to the public, so this is a destination to add to your future travel bucket list (hint: It’s worth the wait).
Italy is a country renowned for its architecture (ahem, Rome). But if you’ve done the main tourist stops and want to try something new, head for Puglia. Located in the southern peninsula at the heel of “the boot,” this region is not only a fantastic destination for food and ocean, it also happens to offer world-class architecture. In Lecce during the 17th and 18th centuries, a new architectural style emerged named after what was going on in this city — Leccese Baroque. In 1695, Basilica of Santa Croce in Lecce was completed and it features an impeccably intricate exterior facade that is beloved by the city’s residents and visitors. In other parts of Puglia, you’ll find the masseria — fortified farmhouses, many of which have been converted into well-designed hotels, like Masseria Calderisi in Fasano.
Sevilla’s origins date back to the 8th century, which means an expansive variety of architectural styles can be found here. Among the shining examples of the city’s history is the Mudéjar style. The Alcázar Palace is a strong example of Mudéjar architecture with its tile decoration, calligraphy, and geometric patterns. The Seville Cathedral is another can’t-miss architectural gem and is considered to be the largest Gothic cathedral in the entire world. There are also modern displays of the art form to be found in Sevilla, like Las Setas, which was designed by German architect Jürgen Mayer and finished in 2011. It is a large wooden, waffle-like structure that offers unparalleled views of the ancient city.
Construction for the Parthenon began in 447 B.C. and is considered a symbol of democracy for Athens. It also happens to be among the most important works in all of architecture and just one of many landmarks in this ancient city. While here, you can also discover several historic temples as well as the open-air Theatre of Dionysus. Also worth considering: enhancing the architectural bend of your vacation with a day trip to Delphi or Corinth.
Quebec City, Quebec
If a tranquil meander through the cobble-stoned streets of Old Quebec sounds like time well spent, head for this part of the world that’s steeped in 400 years worth of history and was appointed a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The old city’s New France style architecture gives the region a whimsical European feel and one of the more attention-grabbing buildings here is the Château Frontenac Hotel, which is perched atop Cap Diamant and was designed by architect Bruce Price. If you’re looking to stay somewhere equally historic, the Auberge Saint-Antoine hotel was built on a major archeological site and each floor pays homage to the site’s evolution over the centuries, showcasing relics from the 1600s to present time.
Spanish colonial architecture hits its stride in Cartagena thanks to electric-hued buildings with magical courtyards bedecked in Bougainvillea. It’s the kind of place that embodies the term ‘energetic’ and is a joyful expression of texture and design — all beside the Caribbean Sea. One of the most breathtaking works here is Torre del Reloj, a clock tower positioned at the entrance to the Old City. Also located in the heart of the city lies Hotel Casa San Agustín, a small hotel that encompasses three restored 17th century Colonia-era whitewashed houses; an elegant home base for your Colombian adventure.
In Chicago circa 1871, a ravenous fire spread throughout the city and destroyed a whopping 17,500 buildings. It was rumored to have been started by a cow that kicked over a lantern (Mrs. O’Leary’s cow, to be specific), but regardless of who or what was to blame for the incident, Chicago’s architecture scene was forever changed. City planners were presented with a blank canvas and famous architects like Frank Lloyd Wright, Ludwig Mies van der Roche, and Louis Sullivan used it as an opportunity to experiment and create. These exciting works are best viewed by a river boat tour and you can stay at the soon-to-open, architecture-centric hotel at The Study at University of Chicago for unmatched views of the Rockefeller Memorial Chapel, Lake Michigan, and the city’s iconic skyline.
Dubbed “the Starchitect’s Next Frontier” by Architectural Digest, Quito is a destination that should be on your radar. Like many of the other cities on this list, it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and buildings designed by names like Jean Nouvel and Bjarke Ingels can be found in this bourgeoning city. Other emerging talent to know includes Felipe Escudero of Estudio Felipe Escudero, who works on residential and public projects with a futuristic, organic, and functional focus and a consciousness of the natural environment.
The Indian city of Chandigarh was planned by Swiss architect Le Corbusier and is a treasure among the architecturally minded. Completed in the early 1950s after their independence from Great Britain, it is widely regarded as an example of successful urban planning combined with modern architecture. The Palace of Assembly features a curved concrete form above the entrance, which is punctuated by a bold door featuring a celestial and natural scene in saturated colors.
Tel Aviv, Israel
You don’t have to be an architecture expert to know about Bauhaus, the influential art and design movement that began in Germany in the early 20th century. Interestingly enough, an excellent travel destination for buildings constructed in this style is in Tel Aviv, Israel (they have the world’s largest collection of Bauhaus-inspired buildings, around 4,000 of them, in the White City). Residential blocks are a perfect way to explore the city’s architecture, but if you’re looking to stay in one of these historic masterpieces, head for Cinema, an Atlas boutique hotel located less than half a mile from Bauhaus Center.
Historic palaces and mosques dot the ancient city of Istanbul, making a visit here a design-lover’s dream come true. And with a history that spans almost 1,500 years, it only makes sense that there would be a melting pot of styles to be discovered. Among the more exciting are the Byzantine and Ottoman influences, which can be appreciated through the signature dome ceiling as well as colorful mosaics and intricate calligraphy. Hagia Sophia is a mosque that is 1,484 years old and is a must for any visit to Istanbul.
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