Europe is a wonderland of opportunities, from the warm and inviting patisseries of Southern France to the crunch of snow on mountain hikes, I am always finding new reasons to fall in love with architecture in Europe.
In every city I visit, one of the first things I do is walk around the center city to understand the culture and designs of the cityscape. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m no architecture buff, but as an avid traveler and absorber of all things beautiful – these aged cities give me goosebumps.
From cobblestone roads to Gaudí, architecture in Europe offers some of the widest diversity in the world. It is often challenging to wrap your mind around just how these buildings came to be; many of the sights we cherish today have survived global wars, domestic turmoil, and empire rule. Because of its rich cultural and architectural history, Europe is a wonderland for design lovers and photographers alike.
Soaking in the magnificence of European cities gives you the opportunity to dig deeper into the culture and history of the towns you’re visiting.
So, whether you’re a Europe architecture junkie or just looking to wander through small streets and peer out of beautiful window sills, these cities have something unique and beautiful to offer you.
Table of Contents
- 1 Architecture in Europe: Top 16 Cities You Must Visit for Design
- 1.1 Amsterdam, Netherlands
- 1.2 Toledo, Spain
- 1.3 Stockholm, Sweden
- 1.4 Barcelona, Spain
- 1.5 Rome, Italy
- 1.6 Bordeaux, France
- 1.7 Budapest, Hungary
- 1.8 Athens, Greece
- 1.9 Prague, Czech Republic
- 1.10 Berlin, Germany
- 1.11 Strasbourg, France
- 1.12 Venice, Italy
- 1.13 London, England, the UK
- 1.14 Paris, France
- 1.15 Vienna, Austria
- 1.16 Florence, Italy
- 2 Are you on Pinterest? Pin these for later read!
Architecture in Europe: Top 16 Cities You Must Visit for Design
Amsterdam is easily seen by bike, an excellent way to see the canal district and Renaissance architecture that makes Amsterdam so stunning.
Related read: If you’re staying in Amsterdam for a few more days, make sure to also visit some its neighboring cities – they are equally stunning.
If Toledo isn’t on your list of weekend breaks in Europe – add it now. This ancient city located just south of Madrid is picture-perfect, easy to navigate, and offers some of the most interesting examples of traditional architecture in Europe.
As a UNESCO world heritage, Toledo hosts over 2,000 years of history. Its architecture is reflective of its extensive history. With the three major world religions that have all laid claims to the city, it’s certainly not one to miss if you love religious architecture.
Of the world’s very first twisting skyscraper and surrounded by water, Stockholm offers some of Europe’s most diverse architectural landscapes. Unlike many other European cities for architecture, Sweden has been widely preserved because of the city escaped destruction from war.
Beyond the elaborate Gripsholm castle and Drottningholm Palace, Stockholm is packed with traditionally painted homes and businesses that deserve a second look. You can easily book a photo tour to explore the architectural diversity, or you can map out your tour.
While Barcelona is one of the best places to visit in Europe for nightlife, it also offers unbeatable architecture. As the birthplace of Antoni Gaudí, Barcelona attracts flocks of travelers each year to embrace its stunning architecture.
Be sure to book your tickets in advance to enjoy Sagrada Familia – as Barcelona’s architectural centerpiece; the unfinished Sagrada Familia was Gaudí’s interpretation of late Gothic architecture, Catalan Modernism, and Art Nouveau. Other treats in Barcelona include Park Güell and Casa Batlló. Not to mention, apart from these, there’s plenty of fun things to do in Barcelona!
If you want, there are also architectural masterpieces in other cities outside of Barcelona.
Where do I even begin? The ancient city of Rome is packed with (you guessed it) Roman ruins, fountains, churches, and squares that will not disappoint. As a cradle of culture, Rome offers the most breath-taking views of Roman architecture. Notably, the Colosseum, Pantheon, and St. Peter’s Basilica are not to be missed.
A fall afternoon in Rome can feel like a step into the past, take a stroll through the Roman roads, or make a wish at the Trevi fountain. No matter where you end up in Rome, you will be surrounded by world-class architecture.
Also, not far from the city, about an hour train ride, you can also visit other cities such as Florence, Bologna, and Pisa on a day trip from Rome, all of which have worth seeing architectural buildings.
Wine country it is, but Bordeaux hosts unrivaled examples of European cities for architecture. As the biggest city in the Aquitaine region of France, Bordeaux is one of the best holiday destinations in Europe.
Not to be missed is the expansive Place de la Bourse – this palace served Louis XV and is now perfect for taking in all of Bordeaux’s beauty. Just opposite of the Palace is the Miroir d’Eau, a beautiful example of landscape architecture.
Other masterpieces in Bordeaux include the Grand Theatre and the Cathedral Saint Andre.
Often coined as the Paris of Eastern Europe, Budapest is amongst the gorgeous European cities for architecture. If Budapest is not on your places to visit in Europe, put it on your list now. Throughout Budapest, you’ll see Art Nouveau architectural styles, a blend of styles that point to Hungary’s eastern heritage.
Additionally, a trip will not complete without a day spent lounging in the thermal baths in Budapest. Be sure to block out some time to sit back and enjoy the Baroque and Turkish architecture of these buildings while relaxing in the heated baths. But, not even the baths can compare with the views of the Budapest Parliament building from across the river.
Be sure to walk along the Chain Bridge, built in the 1800s the bridge connects Buda and Pest to catch great views of both parts of the city. Walk further to soak in the views from Buda castle.
Of course, this list would be incomplete without Athens. As the birthplace of democracy, Athens, capital of Greece, provides the most stunning examples of ancient Greek architecture in the world. The 2004 Olympics ensured that Athens would become one of the most travel-friendly cities in the world.
The cities rich history is spoken through the great ancient Greek architecture seen throughout the city. While in Athens, you can’t miss the Parthenon on Acropolis Hill – built in 448 BC, the Parthenon represents the enduring nature of Athens culture and society.
Other must do’s include the ancient Greek theater, the Greek parliament located in the center of the city, and of course, Temple of Olympian Zeus.
Prague, Czech Republic
Maybe it’s because I love cities situated on rivers or maybe it’s because Prague pulls on my heartstrings, but either way – Prague is one of the best holiday destinations in Europe for a weekend break or a week-long break from society (check out this Prague travel guide for more information!).
If you want a taste of architecture in Europe, Prague brings together some of the best that European cities have to offer. Prague gives you the best of Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance-Baroque, and Rococo styles with sprinklings of Communist Era architecture and postmodern architecture that came after the fall of the communist regime.
After observing the architectural masterpiece that is the Clock Tower in the old town square, walk across the Charles River for beautiful views of Prague Castle.
The castle offers some of the most beautiful views of Prague’s red-roofed homes. Of course, I could go on and on about the plethora of architectural must-sees in Prague, but if I had to give you three – Church of our Lady Victorious, Dancing House, and St. Vitus Cathedral are must-dos.
Read also: Places to visit in Czech Republic
Berlin should hold a special place in any history and architecture lover’s heart. As a city that was once divided, the city’s architecture represents this long-lasting scar and is a history enthusiast’s paradise.
If you’re looking for a quick and easy way to experience the different elements of Berlin’s architecture, check out Museum Island via footpaths and then head over to the Reichstag building to see a 360-degree view of the city.
The new Reichstag building deeply contrasts the old building – it was built in this way to be representative of unified Germany after the Berlin Wall fell. Berlin is a great city to explore by foot, take some time to talk to Berlin natives to understand the area of Berlin that you are exploring.
Berlin is filled with little-known architectural gems, and those are yours to find!
As one of the seats of the European Union, Strasburg is a multi-faceted city outfitted with gothic style bridges and dotted with modern and post-modern styles. For a beautiful example of gothic architecture, head over to Strasbourg Cathedral and admire the large astronomical clock.
If you’re looking for examples of modern European architecture, be sure to check out the Strasbourg Museum of Modern Art and the European Union building. Strasbourg is best seen on a bike while biking through Strasbourg you can enjoy the beautiful Alsace architecture along the river and check out the gorgeous marketplaces.
Venice is perhaps one of the most romantic cities in Europe. Just wondering through the city can provide you with glimpses of one of the most beautiful architecture in Europe that you’re not likely to see anywhere else. See the city by gondola by riding through the small canals to get a perfect look at Venetian Gothic architecture.
Exploring Venice on foot? Be sure to check out Saint Mark’s Basilica, and spend the afternoon in the beautiful Peggy Guggenheim museum. Venice is small enough to catch these architectural gems in a few days, so let Venice be one of your city breaks in Europe.
Read also: Day trips from Venice
London, England, the UK
It is often said that the world is at your fingertips in London. Architecturally speaking, this sentiment rings true. From modern skyscrapers soaring into the clouds above to ornate cathedrals, no single architectural style defines London. To get an accurate skyline view of all the styles London has to offer, book your spot on the London Eye.
It is easy to get lost in the beauty of Paris. As the birthplace of Gothic architecture, you are bound to fall in love with the enchanting city.
Paris offers a multitude of architectural styles outside of its renowned Gothic style, including heavy influences of Art Nouveau and Belle Époque styles.
From the Paris Opera House to the Notre Dame Cathedral, you can’t help but fall in love with Paris.
Vienna’s historic city center is renowned for its ability to intertwine modern and traditional architecture in a harmonious and stunning way. Just off the Danube canal, you’ll find St. Stephen’s Cathedral – a jaw-dropping example of Gothic architecture.
Head closer to the city center, and Hofburg Palace will greet you. Bring a picnic and enjoy the view of this stunning example of one of the most beautiful architectures in Europe from the Hofburg Gardens.
Of course, a trip to Vienna is not complete without a stop at the Schönbrunn Palace and Gardens. Plan to spend an afternoon at the Palace, exploring the museum and exploring the palace grounds.
One of my favorite European cities for architecture is in Florence, Italy. As the capital of Tuscany, Florence offers masterpieces of ancient Greek and Roman styles, Gothic architecture, and Renaissance styles.
Journey through the past in this culturally and historically rich Italian city that represents the best of European architecture. Along with the Basilica of San Lorenzo, the breathtaking Florence Cathedral is not to be missed.
Also, make sure to check out the neighboring cities outside of Florence.