Being in the presence of one of the world’s architectural wonders can be awe-inspiring. It’s little surprise that these masterworks are key attractions for people visiting their destinations. Discover 10 of the world’s most remarkable buildings you’ll want to visit in person.
Sydney Opera House, Australia
In 1957 a relatively unknown Danish architect, Jørn Utzon, won a global competition to create a new opera house in Sydney. The competition was stiff: 233 entries from architects in 32 countries. His work is now recognized as one of the world’s most remarkable buildings.
Utzon’s masterpiece graces a dramatic setting along Bennelong Point in Sydney Harbor. It consists of three groups of concrete shells, which form the building’s roof. Inside, the largest venue is the concert hall, with 2,679 seats. Four smaller theaters house opera, ballet and theatre companies.
Each year 1.2 million people attend performances at the building that now symbolizes Sydney and Australia. Even more – eight million – visit the landmark annually.
Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, Spain
There’s nothing on earth that looks quite like Sagrada Familia. The whimsical spires of the basilica rise above Barcelona, blending Gothic and Art Nouveau influences. A visitor could spend hours here, taking in every artistic detail both inside and out.
Construction on the landmark started in 1882. The architect, Antoni Gaudí, devoted more than 40 years of his life to the project. When he died in 1926, it was less than a quarter complete. Today, construction still isn’t finished. The project aims to wrap up at long last by 2026.
Along with six other Gaudi works in Barcelona, Sagrada Familia is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s also become an icon of Barcelona. Every year 2.5 million people marvel at the building firsthand.
Niterói Contemporary Art Museum, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
At first glance, the Niterói resembles a UFO that touched down on a suburban Rio cliff overlooking Guanabara Bay. It’s the work of Brazil’s most legendary architect, Oscar Niemeyer. The museum opened in 1996 when he was 89, but it was far from his last project. Also the designer of Brazil’s capital city, Brasilia, Niemeyer continued working even after his 100th birthday. He lived to almost 105.
Niemeyer wrote that “free-flowing, sensual curves” attracted him, and the Niterói testifies to that. The saucer-shaped building perches on a column base mounted in a pool of water. Visitors enter from a red-carpeted ramp that spirals upward. Inside, large windows along a circular promenade provide panoramic views of Rio, including Sugar Loaf.
Taj Mahal, Agra, India
India’s best-known structure – one of the world’s most remarkable buildings – sprung from tragedy. In 1631, Empress Mumtaz Mahal died during the birth of her fourteenth child. Her grieving husband, Shah Jahan, commissioned a mausoleum and funerary garden to honor her. Both Mumtaz Mahal and her husband lie here today.
It took more than 22 years of work from 20,000 artisans, but the masterpiece was finally finished. In Persian, Taj Mahal means “crown of palaces.” It’s been called the “jewel of Muslim art in India.” The Taj Mahal has been praised as the finest example of Mughal architecture – a blend of Persian, Turkish and Indian styles. Known as one of the new wonders of the world, the icon attracts seven to eight million visitors each year.
Burj Al Arab, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
This unmistakable skyscraper in the shape of a billowing sail has become an icon of Dubai since it opened in 1999. It took $1 billion, five years and 2,000 workers to create the engineering marvel. Long concrete piles driven into the sand secure the building’s foundation. And its façade features the world’s first double-skinned Teflon-coated glass fiber screen.
Burj Al Arab rises 60 stories atop a private artificial island made of reclaimed land. A curving bridge connects it to the mainland about 1,000 feet away. The building is home to a luxury hotel, Burj Al Arab Jumeirah, with 202 spacious suites. Walk inside and find the world’s tallest atrium, which ascends almost 600 feet high. Or arrive via the helipad on the 28th floor.
Chrysler Building, New York
One of America’s most beloved landmarks, the Chrysler Building is a stellar example of Art Deco architecture. For the year after its completion in 1930, it reigned as the world’s tallest skyscraper. Then the Empire State Building went up eight blocks to the south. However, the Chrysler Building is still the world’s tallest brick edifice, at 1,046 feet.
Designed by architect William van Alen, the Chrysler’s stainless-steel crown and spire tower above Manhattan. The design evokes cars of the era, and rightly so, since car manufacturer Walter Chrysler commissioned the building. Features of Chrysler automobiles, such as radiator caps and hood ornaments, inspired architectural details. The landmark served as Chrysler headquarters from 1930 until the mid-1950s.
Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Spain
More than any other of the world’s most remarkable buildings, the Guggenheim Bilbao has transformed its hometown. When it opened in 1997, its striking design put the Spanish city on the arts and culture map. Visitors created an influx of excitement and tourism dollars. The power of an iconic building to revitalize a place is today known as the Bilbao Effect.
Architect Frank Gehry won a competition to design the $89 million building. Sitting on the banks of the Nervión River, its curvy, titanium-clad exterior appropriately evokes a giant ship. In another nod to its waterfront location, exterior panels designed to catch light resemble fish scales.
Each year more than one million visitors journey to the building praised as one of the 20th century’s best architectural wonders.
St Basil’s Cathedral, Moscow, Russia
Its official name is a mouthful: Cathedral of the Intercession of the Most Holy Theotokos on the Moat. And like its name, St. Basil’s Cathedral is highly distinctive even in Russian architecture. It’s truly one of the world’s most remarkable buildings.
Ordered by Ivan the Terrible to commemorate the capture of two cities, the cathedral was built between 1555 and 1561. It’s really ten churches in one. Originally eight side churches surrounded a ninth central church. In 1588, a tenth church was added.
Today mainly a museum, the building with its surreal, vividly colored onion domes is Moscow’s most visited tourist attraction. The landmark, shaped like a bonfire flame shooting into the sky, is located in Red Square. It’s just outside the gates of the Kremlin at the city’s center point.
Petronas Towers, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
The distinctive post-modernist towers that have come to symbolize Malaysia opened in 1997. Built on the site of a former race track, they held the title of world’s tallest buildings for six years. Today they’re still the tallest twin towers.
Influenced by Malaysia’s Muslim religion, the floor plates of the 88-floor towers are designed with an Islamic motif. They’re based on geometric forms of two interlocking squares, which form eight-pointed stars.
The 1,483-foot high towers feature walls of 33,000 stainless-steel and 55,000 glass panels. The elevators take just 90 seconds to whisk you from the basement parking lot to the top. To travel from one tower to the other, take the double-decker skybridge on the 41st and 42nd floors. It’s the world’s highest two-story bridge.
Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey
Hagia Sophia has had several lives: first a church, then a mosque and now a museum.
The Byzantine masterpiece, whose name means “Holy Wisdom” in Greek, was built in 537 as an Orthodox basilica. Aside from 57 years as a Catholic church, it remained Orthodox until 1453. It was the world’s largest cathedral for nearly 1,000 years.
Hagia Sophia then became a mosque for almost 500 years after the Ottomans captured Constantinople from the Byzantines. In 1935, it opened as a museum. Today it attracts about 3.3 million visitors a year.
The landmark is especially famous for its enormous dome. Forty windows around the base allow light to reflect inside, making it appear as if the dome is hovering above. The inside glitters with gold mosaics representing Christian themes.
Seeing the World’s Most Remarkable Buildings in Person
Would you like to see these architectural wonders in person? A Virtuoso travel advisor can help you design a trip to any of these locales. Or if you have your next destination in mind already, an advisor can plan your visit to the most iconic buildings there.
What are your favorites among the world’s most remarkable buildings?