A city can be shaped by many things—its food scene, for example, or abundance of shopping options. But perhaps nothing can define a place quite as distinctly as its architecture. Whether it’s through thoughtful urban planning or adapting to cultural movements, the visual design of a city can transport you through time, while planting you firmly in a very specific place. Need convincing? These are the world’s 20 best cities for architecture, from Brasília to Budapest.
St. Petersburg, Russia: Rococo
The Rococo movement came about in the 18th century in France as a way to fight against the strict, symmetrical Baroque style that came before it. While both movements are known for their richly decorated architecture styles, Rococo has elements all of its own: think curves, pale colours, and secular, light-hearted themes. The style made its way across Europe, where it found favour with the female rulers in St. Petersburg. The Catherine Palace (commissioned by Catherine I and expanded by her daughter, Empress Elizabeth) is by far the most famous example in the area.
Brasília, Brazil: Futurism
When Juscelino Kubitschek became President of Brazil in 1956, he set forth a plan to build a new capital city in the barren centre of the country—and thus, Brasília was born. He commissioned architect Oscar Niemeyer to help with the project; within a matter months, Niemeyer designed residential, commercial, and government buildings for the new town. Chief among them were the National Congress of Brazil, the Cathedral of Brasília, the residence of the President, and the Attorney General’s office (pictured). The buildings—defined by the dynamic lines, use of materials like concrete and glass, and sharp contrasts typical of Futurism (a branch of Modernism)—give Brazil’s capital a true sense of aesthetic unity.
Athens, Greece: Classical
Visiting the architecture and world-renowned ruins in Athens is like taking a step back in time to ancient Greece, where stonework dates back to 400 BC, temples are held up by centuries-old columns, and sculptures of deities are a common sighting. For perfect examples of Classical architecture, turn to the Temple of Hephaestus, Temple of Olympian Zeus, or the iconic Parthenon (pictured).
Budapest, Hungary: Art Nouveau
Art Nouveau came into fashion in Budapest in the late 19th century to early 20th century, and the city remains one of the best places to see the architectural style today. One can find curving forms, organic shapes, use of iron and glass, and colourful flourishes all over this stretch of the Danube, including the Gresham Palace, Hotel Gellért and spas (pictured), Museum of Applied Arts, and Budapest Zoo and Botanical Garden.
Rome, Italy: Baroque
The Romans were known for being great innovators, so it should come as no surprise that the city of Rome has exemplified and adapted to pretty much every architectural style since the ancient Classical movement (Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance—you name it). Today, the city is one of the biggest centres of 17th-century Baroque architecture, known for its grandiosity, opulence, and contrast between light and shadow. Visit Rome’s St. Peter’s Square, Santi Luca e Martina, or Trevi Fountain (pictured) to see the dramatic style in person. Read more