If seeing great architecture is a big part of your holiday checklist, you’ll no doubt have heard of grand landmarks such as the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, or the Empire State Building in New York. And if travelling to places like Vienna, you’ll see beautiful opera houses and gothic churches, however have you thought about some of the more offbeat architecture on display?
We’ve put together some of our favourite modern buildings in some amazing cities, so read on to be inspired for your next adventure!
1. Guggenheim Art Museum – Bilbao, Spain
Bilbao is a busy, urban Spanish town in the Basque region of Spain, with beautiful food and a thriving metropolitan centre. The last thing you’d expect to see while strolling the lovely streets of this industrial city is a giant dog covered in flowers, let alone the remarkable building behind it!
The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, designed by Canadian-American architect Frank Gehry, really is one of the most spectacular buildings in the world - and not just because of the famous art pieces you’ll find inside. From the outside, the random curved walls covered in titanium almost look like the bows of alien ships.
Even if you don’t go in, a walk around the sprawling exterior will uncover all sorts of wonders, including a giant spider sculpture! Can’t get enough of Frank Gehry’s architecture? He has also created masterpieces in other cities, like the Dancing Building in Prague and the Walt Disney Music Hall in Los Angeles.
Grab the free app, available on iTunes and Google Play, which provides a map to help you navigate your way around the museum, as well as information on planning your visit and audio guides to enhance your experience.
2. Hundertwasser House – Vienna, Austria
In a city of grand palaces, museums and cathedrals, you might be surprised to find the bizarre, crooked Hundertwasser House, designed by Friedensreich Hundertwasser. It’s an apartment building that’s a crazy mix of bright colours, uneven floors, misshapen windows and trees growing on the roof.
Since the building was completed in the 1980s, it has become one of Vienna’s largest tourist attractions, despite the beautiful palaces and museums nearby (which you should still visit if you have the opportunity!).
The building was an environmental experiment and Hundertwasser didn’t even accept payment for the completion of the building. It’s not the only building like it in Vienna, so if you want to hunt down other Hundertwasser oddities, you can also visit the KunstHausWien and the Spittelau District Heating Plant – which features a gold globe atop a tower!
3. Gardens by the Bay – Singapore
This incredible collection of structures sits proudly on the waterfront and houses a myriad of beautiful gardens. This unique ‘city in a garden’ is composed of sustainable tree and greenhouse structures that interact with each other to create ideal environments for plants.
With names like the Flower Dome and Cloud Forest, it’s easy to imagine how special these gardens are. There’s also the sky walk platform, which weaves among giant tree structures called ‘Supertrees’. Each consists of four parts: a reinforcement concrete core, a trunk, planting panels for the vertical gardens around them, and the canopy.
At night, these supertrees put on a beautiful lighting display which changes often, just like the life cycle of a plant. Gardens by the Bay is great for the whole family, with attractions for kids and plenty of cafes and restaurants.
This free visitor app includes tools for finding your way around the gardens, as well as learning more about the plants and sustainability efforts.
4. Park Guell – Barcelona, Spain
Antoni Gaudi is Barcelona’s most famous architect and the famous city is littered with his buildings, including the iconic Sagrada Familia and the La Pedrera apartment building. As crazy as his buildings may be, it’s Park Guell that really captures the imagination, with structures that look like gingerbread houses straight from a fairy tale.
It’s location on the hillside means there are amazing views to be had over the whole city, so it’s no surprise that Gaudi himself built his house in the park and lived there for several years. Park Guell is an amazing example of art nouveau architecture and a great setting to enjoy the warmth of Barcelona.
If you’re planning a trip to this city, it’s important to know that Barcelona is notorious for pickpockets and unfortunately Park Guell is no exception, so keep your bags zipped up and secure!
5. Solomon R. Guggenheim Art Museum – New York, USA
We’ve already mentioned one Guggenheim Museum in this article, but this list wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging the iconic New York counterpart.
In a city of hotdogs and high rises, the Solomon R Guggenheim Museum is an amazing example of 20th century architecture. This building, which sits opposite Central Park, is a piece of art against a city of skyscrapers and urban office buildings.
The exterior appears a little like a shell, with a curved spiral shape that is mirrored on the inside. If you head in to see the art on display, you’ll find yourself walking down a gentle ramp that spans seven stories.
Frank Lloyd Wright, who designed the building, is one of America’s most famous architects and many of his buildings, including the Guggenheim, are listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Visitors should be aware that the building is often undergoing cosmetic changes, so be prepared to see parts of the exterior hidden by scaffolding.
6. City of Arts and Sciences – Valencia, Spain
In the city centre of Valencia lies an other-worldly collection of modern buildings known as the City of Arts and Sciences. These buildings are a hub of activity, with a planetarium and Imax centre, an interactive science museum, an opera house, an aquarium and even an open air greenhouse. There’s truly something for everyone!
Even without entering the various buildings, you can wander around and be entertained by the various exhibitions on the grounds and the amazing shapes within each structure. At night, they are lit up in various colours and are just as beautiful as during the day.
If you’re heading to the City of Arts and Sciences, visit the Turia Gardens afterwards for a stroll on what used to be a river running through the centre of the city. It’s now a nine kilometre green belt full of parks, ponds, paths and playgrounds.
The VLC Valencia app has plenty of information on the City of Arts and Sciences and is free to download on Android and Apple.
7. Pompidou Centre – Paris, France
In the romance capital of the world, amongst the beautiful gothic buildings, is what has been described by some as a ‘monster.’ The Pompidou Centre is a large, industrial style building constructed with mostly glass sides.
The functional parts of the building have been made into features, rather than hidden inside walls. These parts are all colour coded, according to their purpose: green pipes are plumbing, blue ducts are for climate control, yellow for electrical wires and red for safety elements.
The building houses the Modern Art Museum, a public library and a centre for music, along with a rooftop restaurant offering fantastic views over Paris. The courtyard surrounding the centre is a great place to spend time, as there are usually street performers and artists during the day.
Just be careful to keep your bags secured and within your sight at all times. As with any major European city, tourists can often be a target for pickpockets.
Tips for architecture lovers:
- Walking around looking at buildings is a great way to see the city, but be aware that wandering around with your mouth agape does make it obvious you’re a tourist. This can make you a target. Remember to always be aware of your surroundings and stay alert.
- If you’re out exploring, make sure you have your bag zipped up and avoid wearing it on your back, so you can keep an eye on it. Backpacks are an easy target for thieves, especially when they’re worn by someone who’s busy looking up!
- If you’re taking photos, keep your camera in your hand and always wear a neck strap. If it’s a really expensive camera (over $2,500), make sure you specify it on your TravelCare policy.
- Your GPS can be really useful when it comes to finding certain neighbourhoods or buildings, but it doesn’t know the difference between a safe neighbourhood and a risky one. If you’re not sure about the safety of the building’s location, try looking it up beforehand or asking your accommodation provider about the area.