The Windy City is arguably the must-see design destination in the United States. Known as the birthplace of modern architecture, it is home to the first skyscraper and the Chicago school aesthetic, made famous by a group of 19th-century architects. The city is also the centerpoint of Frank Lloyd Wright’s influential career.
- The Skydeck at Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower) hovers 110 stories above the Chicago streets and, on sunny days, overlooks four states: Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin.
- Aqua Tower, an 82-floor residential skyscraper, has a unique wavy look. Designed by Jeanne Gang of Studio Gang Architects in 2007, it was the largest project awarded to an American firm headed by a woman.
- The Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio is where the starchitect developed many of his blueprints. After the house tour, walk around the Oak Park neighborhood to check out the 20 privately owned Wright–designed residences.
- Explore the Windy City by water on a 90-minute Chicago architecture river cruise and you’ll float by iconic structures such as the Wrigley Building, Chicago Tribune Tower, and the corn-cob–shaped Marina City towers.
- Ride the elevator to the top of the John Hancock Center and take in the sweeping vistas from the 360 Chicago Observation Deck. For an adrenaline rush, step on the Tilt, eight glass windows that extend 1,000 feet (305 meters) and tilt out over the streets below.
- Head out on a 2-hour Chicago walking tour to go inside some of the Loop’s most gorgeous interiors.
Barcelona may be a patchwork of European architectural influences, but its most unique style is art nouveau (or modernisme). This organic aesthetic was pioneered by 19th-century Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí, whose curving, otherworldly buildings—done up with colorful ceramic and stained glass mosaics as well as intricate ironwork—can be found throughout the city.
- La Sagrada Família is Gaudí’s unfinished masterpiece. The 1883 cathedral has a sandcastle appearance with spindly towers, a cavernous stained glass interior, and multiple facades depicting symbolic religious scenes. When sculptors complete the basilica in 2026, it will reach 564 feet (172 meters)—the tallest religious building in Europe.
- Another of Gaudí’s most popular sites, Casa Batlló is a vision of irregular oval windows, sculpted stonework, ceramic mosaics, and an arched roof that resembles a dragon’s back.
- Sitting on a hilltop overlooking the city and sea, Park Güell is Barcelona’s crowning glory. The landscape has a beautiful garden, mosaic terrace, open-air atrium, and the Gaudí House Museum.
- After much anticipation, Casa Vicens opened in 2017 as a museum dedicated to Gaudí. Book a guided tour to learn about the restored 130-year-old house, which was the architect’s first design.
- Learn about all of Barcelona’s modernist architects and Gaudi’s influence on a 2-hour guided walking tour through the Eixample neighborhood.
Nearly everything about Dubai is (literally) over the top, from the world’s tallest building to its 7-star hotel and futuristic shopping malls. If you’re into anything glitz or glam, Dubai is your destination.
- The sleek, sail-shaped Burj Al Arab boasts several superlatives, including being the world’s only 7-star resort and third-tallest hotel, plus housing the highest atrium on earth.
- Palm Jumeirah, an artificial palm-shaped archipelago that juts out into the Persian Gulf, is comprised of luxury resorts including Atlantis The Palm and the One&Only The Palm.
- Upon first glance, the glass-and-steel Emirates Towers—a highlight of Dubai’s skyline—look like twin razor blades cutting into the clouds.
- Burj Khalifa is the tallest building in the world, soaring 2,717 feet (828 meters) high. Book tickets to the 124th-floor At the Top observation deck for the best views in the city.
- Stop by the Dubai Mall, the largest shopping center in the world, for indoor entertainment via its aquarium, virtual reality theme park, and 24-hour movie theater.
Art deco is the name of the game in Miami. The Art Deco Historic District features the largest collection of 1920s and ’30s architecture in the world, and throughout the sultry seaside city you’ll find pastel-colored, geometric-patterned hotels, restaurants, and residences.
- The stainless-steel 11th Street Diner—built in the 1940s and moved from New Jersey to Miami in the ’90s—is an icon of the art deco era.
- Versace Mansion, the Italian designer’s former home, lives on as the Mediterranean-style Villa Casa Casuarina boutique hotel. It features a pool lined with 24-karat-gold tiles, elegant floral suites, and a mosaic garden.
- Lincoln Theatre opened in 1936 as a cinema before being transformed into a concert hall for the New World Symphony in the 1990s.
- The Colony Hotel is one of the city’s most photographed hotels. At night, the 1939 building is illuminated in neon blue and magenta lights.
- Take one of the Miami Design Preservation League‘s official tours of the Historic District’s art deco, Mediterranean Revival, and Miami Modern buildings.
- Join Art Deco Tours for a 2-hour guided walk around South Beach’s retro sights, where you’ll learn about the city’s mobster, Hollywood-glam past. If you want to spice things up, take a happy-hour cocktail tour of the art deco bars on Ocean Drive with Art Deco Walks.
In 1956, Brazil President Juscelino Kubitschek laid out an ambitious plan to build Brasília as the country’s new capital. The resulting UNESCO World Heritage Site is a beacon of futuristic architecture. The area’s symmetrical layout and modern buildings were designed by Pritzker Prize-winning Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer and urbanist Lúcio Costa.
- The Cathedral of Brasília (Catedral Metropolitana) resembles a crown of thorns and is inlaid with gorgeous stained glass on all sides.
- There’s a reason Itamaraty Palace is known as the Palace of Arches. The striking structure juts out of a pond and is lit up at night, forming a perfect reflection on the water. Highlights include its sculptures, interior garden, and rooftop art gallery.
- National Congress (Congresso Nacional), the centerpiece of Lúcio Costa’s Pilot Plan for the city, looks more like a spaceship than a government office building.
- Take some time to stroll the Monumental Axis (main avenue) and see its key landmarks, including the Square of the Three Powers (Praça dos Três Poderes), National Congress, and the Cathedral of Brasília.
- Experimente Brasilia has some of the top tours in the area, from sunset lake cruises to bike tours, but its architecture tour is highly recommended.
Art and architecture are embedded into the soul of Florence, celebrated as the birthplace of the Renaissance. A romantic mix of domes, columns, and marble, many original 14th-century landmarks can still be admired today.
- The Piazza del Duomo is one of the grandest squares in Florence. Construction on the largest Duomo in Italy started in 1294 and wasn’t completed until 1436, when Filippo Brunelleschi’s massive dome was finished. Climb to the top of the dome for a bird’s-eye view.
- Pitti Palace (Palazzo Pitti) is the epitome of Renaissance architecture, with its symmetrical structure, heavy arches, and stone pillars. Once a Medici family residence, now it’s the biggest museum in Florence, featuring priceless art, the manicured Boboli Gardens (Giardino di Boboli), and the Costume Gallery (Galleria del Costume).
- Take a comprehensive Florence walking tour that includes skip-the-line access to some of Florence’s top sights, such as the Duomo, Uffizi Gallery, and the Accademia Gallery, where you’ll find Michelangelo’s David.
- While most tourists make a beeline for the Piazzale Michelangelo, the nearby Basilica San Miniato al Monte has equally beautiful sunset views of the Arno river, Duomo, and Ponte Vecchio. Hike past the rose garden to the mountaintop basilica, built in 1018, to take in its Romanesque design and hear the monks’ Gregorian chanting.
Shanghai is a city of contrasts. It may be popular for its sky-high contemporary buildings and glittering financial district, but it’s also home to a leafy European quarter that is a welcome surprise amid the dense urban layout.
- The 1,381-foot (421-meter) Jin Mao Tower and the 1,614-foot (492-meter) Shanghai World Financial Center are prominent fixtures of Shanghai’s cityscape.
- The Shanghai Oriental Art Center is the city’s main performance and cultural center. The massive glass building is shaped like a butterfly orchid, with five hemispherical halls connected to look like petals.
- For something different, check out the baroque-style Bund International Architecture Exhibition, which is more representative of European design than Asian aesthetic.
- The 128-story Shanghai Tower takes the title of the tallest building in Asia. Book admission tickets to ride the world’s fastest elevators (46 mph/74 kph!) up to the 121th floor for sweeping vistas from one of the highest observation decks on earth.