European architecture is understandably a huge attraction for many visitors from all corners of the globe. If you are an avid historian or simply appreciate fine architecture, you should certainly be considering a visit to Europe in order to experience all of the amazing landmarks on display. European monuments offer something very different to anywhere else in the world and it’s no surprise to see nations around the world importing or replicating these types of architectural styles.
European Monuments and Architecture
I love architecture and we have been fortunate enough to explore a number of European countries, each of which offers something unique and distinctive when it comes to architectural designs. Whether you want to explore Gaudi’s infamous designs throughout Barcelona or perhaps a little Italian Renaissance architecture, Europe is inundated with iconic examples.
The various architectural periods that are iconic to Europe are present throughout the continent but we want to share a collaboration of monuments and landscapes that will likely inspire you to book a trip to Europe sooner rather than later. If you read our recent collaboration on why you should travel to Eastern Europe for amazing architecture, you will know that there are distinctive examples throughout the continent. However, we want to focus on Western Europe on this post.
We are delighted to collaborate with a number of our friends around the world who share some of their favorite European monuments, many of which are tourist hot-spots but some of them are hidden gems that you may never have heard of before! Let’s take a look at 20 of the finest examples of architecture that typify European architectural genius.
Address: Cong, Co. Mayo, Ireland
I’ve always loved castles and have spent many nights in them. My most recent stay was at Ashford Castle in Ireland. I think it is exciting to enjoy contemporary comforts in an ancient building.
In this case, Ashford Castle dates back to the 13th century, and 83 posh rooms in the original section of the castle date back to the 13th and 17th centuries. I guess they didn’t do any building there in between. I recommend taking tea in the comfortable lounge or a cocktail in the bar, followed by dinner in the grand dining room, while admiring the gorgeous views as seen in the image above.
Thanks to Carole Terwilliger Meyers from Berkeley and Beyond for highlighting why Ashford Castle is one of her favorite architectural designs around Europe.
Address: Burano Island, 30100 Venice, Italy
Burano is an enchanted island located about an hour boat ride from Venice in Italy known for the intricate and detailed lace that is made on the island. It is only accessible by boat and boasts some of the most colorful buildings in all of Europe.
An afternoon is best spent wandering the canal side streets and exploring the alleys that wind through the island resting only to sip on an aperitif or munch on some of the freshest Adriatic seafood you can find.
Thanks to Megan Stetzel from Forks and Footprints for highlighting why Burano is one of her favorite spots around Europe.
Address: Castle Ditch, Caernarfon, LL55 2AY, UK
These magnificent castle ruins are probably best known as the location for the coronation of Prince Charles when he became the Prince of Wales, but the attraction goes well beyond that.
With a long history of being a strategic location, Caernarfon has seen fortifications dating back to Roman times. To see this imposing castle standing guard over the surrounding village, with Roman buildings just outside the castle walls is a highlight for any history buff.
Thanks to Dean Williamson from La Vida Global for recommending Caernarfon Castle in Wales as a great example of European architecture.
Address: Parc de la Mola, 10, AD700 Escaldes-Engordany, Andorra
High in the Pyrenees Mountains is one of the world’s most remarkable buildings. It is ironic that one of Europe’s smallest countries is home to Europe’s largest spa: The Caldea-INUU spa complex.
The Jean-Michel Ruols design of cold glass and steel is designed to draw inspiration from the mountains that surround the valley. Inside the modernist building, visitors relax and float in pools of warm, thermal waters. The twin spas (Caldea and INUU) welcome thousands of visitors every year to this tiny mountain principality.
Thanks to Lance Longwell from Travel Addicts for introducing us to this hidden gem of a spa complex in the small nation of Andorra.
Address: Avenue de Chillon 21, 1820 Veytaux, Switzerland
How can you not love Chillon Castle? Impossibly romantic, scenically located on a rocky outcrop on Lake Geneva, Chillon Castle is one of the most visited attractions in Switzerland. It was propelled to fame by Lord Byron, who wrote ‘The Prisoner of Chillon’, a much-loved poem about the 16th-century prisoner, François Bonivard, who languished in the dungeon for years.
Strategically situated on an important land route to the St. Bernhard Pass, the castle was owned by the ruling Savoys from the 12th to the 16th century and offers visitors a glimpse into the region’s turbulent past.
Thanks to Carol Perehudoff from Wandering Carol for introducing us to the gorgeous Chillon Castle in Switzerland.
Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert
Address: Galerie du Roi 5, 1000 Bruxelles, Belgium
Just steps from Brussels’ spectacular UNESCO-listed Grand Place is a lesser known but no less striking work of architecture. The Royal Galleries of Saint-Hubert is the oldest covered shopping arcade in Europe, inaugurated in 1847. This stunning shopping mall has two main corridors topped with a glass roof allowing natural light to enter.
The galleries contain some of the city’s best high-end shopping. Inside, you’ll find merchandise from luxury handbags to delectable Belgian chocolate. Grab a seat at one of the indoor cafes and watch the colorful pedestrian traffic without fear of Brussels’ notorious rainy weather.
Thanks to Alison Cornford-Matheson from Cheese Web for introducing us to the gorgeous Royal Galleries of Saint-Hubert in Brussels.
Address: Hallgrímstorg 101, Reykjavík, Iceland
Hallgrímskirkja stands prominently over Iceland’s capital city of Reykjavík. The Lutheran church is the tallest building in Iceland as well as the largest church in Iceland.
The church’s steeple has some of the best aerial views the city and if the weather is clear, the Snæfellsnes peninsula offers a stunning backdrop with the city of Reykjavík in the foreground. The building is designed to look like the basalt lava flows of the island.
Thanks to Jennifer Melroy from Made All The Difference for introducing us to this gorgeous piece of Icelandic architecture.
La Casa Batllo
Address: Passeig de Gràcia, 43, 08007 Barcelona, Spain
One of the most emblematic and beautiful buildings in Barcelona is La Casa Batllo. The dragon skin rooftop, the inside patio and all the small details that show what a genius Gaudi was are on display at this former residential building turned museum-foundation.
I have visited it three times yet I never bore of listening to the audio guide sharing the fascinating ideas and concepts from nature that Gaudi illustrated. “There are no straight lines in nature” so none of his buildings had any either. Can you imagine living there? A family once did!
Thanks to Mar Pages from Once in a Lifetime Journey for recommending La Casa Battlo, an iconic reflection of Gaudi’s work in Barcelona. If you are interested in exploring more of Gaudi’s inspiration around Barcelona, check out our guide to Gaudi architecture.
Leaning Tower of Pisa
Address: Piazza del Duomo, 56126 Pisa PI, Italy
The Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy needs no introduction – it is one of the most recognizable monuments in the world. There is always something amazing about visiting somewhere you have seen your whole life and this is no exception. Even if you don’t go inside, it’s fun to visit and pose for silly photos which usually involve pretending you are holding it up.
The tower is located in the Piazza dei Miracoli (Plaza of Miracles) and its worth also visiting the other attractions at this site.
Thanks to Sharon Gourlay from Where’s Sharon for highlighting why the Leaning Tower of Pisa is a gorgeous piece of architectural brilliance.
Maastricht’s Historic Town
Address: 6211 CL Maastricht, Netherlands
Vrijthof Square is in the center of the old historic town in Maastricht, in the Netherlands. This is where Andre Rieu, the renowned musician was born and annually plays to his hometown people. In the square are two amazing churches, Sint Janskerk, and a Catholic Church, Sint Servaas sitting side by side. It is claimed that if you walk between the two your sins will be all absolved.
From the top of the red church tower of Sint Janskerk you look down onto Vrijthof Square, and only then can you see the visual illusion of a diving board in the center of the square. The people of Maastricht have a sense of humor about lots of things.
Thanks to Paula McInerney from Contented Traveller for highlighting why the historic town of Maastricht in the Netherlands offers a plethora of amazing architecture.
Address: 1010, Musikvereinspl. 1, 1010 Wien, Austria
The Musikverein in Vienna is a concert hall designed by an architect who had a thing for opulence. The building is grand and built with generous proportions to contain the Golden Hall with acoustics as magnificent as the décor. Gilded Caryatids, Apollo, and Muses painted on the ceiling and Orpheus on the front façade all echo Greek Renaissance styling.
A bold color scheme of red, green, ivory and gold give a classical ambiance to the building, sumptuously decorating the arches and domes in gilded Aztec designs. Massive crystal lights, gold embellished walls, stairways with red carpet and arched windows create an opulent concert hall. The Musikverein is renowned for delivery of the highest quality classical chamber ensembles and is one of my favorite Viennese buildings.
Thanks to Lyn Baker from A Hole in my Shoe for highlighting why this iconic building in Vienna is one of her favorites.
Oslo Opera House
Address: Kirsten Flagstads Plass 1, 0150 Oslo, Norway
The Oslo Opera House is probably one of the most iconic buildings in Norway. Clad in white Italian marble, the façade rises like the white crest of a wave from the ocean. While man-made and ultra modern, this building feels very natural and perfectly placed in its environment.
I visited Oslo during my honeymoon road trip through Scandinavia and I was mesmerized by the beauty of the Oslo Opera House. My favorite part is that you can walk on the building and enjoy the view over Oslo and the Oslofjord at its feet.
Thanks to Maria Haase from Maria Abroad for recommending Oslo Opera House as a building you can’t afford to miss the next time you visit Norway.
Palais du Justice
Address: Place Poelaert 1, 1000 Bruxelles, Belgium
The Belgian Law Courts may not seem like a fun place to visit, but this huge building dominating central Brussels is a striking piece of architecture with an intriguing story. The building is immense, bigger than St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, and is topped with a 24,000-ton dome. Controversial when it was constructed, owing to the demolition of a vast swath of low-cost housing, the building remains a point of debate.
Since 2003, the Palace of Justice has been hidden behind a shroud of scaffolding, the construction company having gone out of business, but peak behind the covering to discover the intricate facade of this magnificent building. The building is generally open to the public and it’s worth popping inside to stand under the giant dome.
Thanks to Alison Cornford-Matheson from Cheese Web for introducing us to the Palais du Justice in Brussels.
Address: Platz der Republik 1, 11011 Berlin, Germany
Berlin has got a whole lot to brag about these days, and The Reichstag building is no exception. The building served as the German house of parliament until an arsonist destroyed it in 1933, but it has been fully restored and back in action since 1990.
While once criticized for its mixture of architectural styles, the Reichstag’s tremendous size, picturesque glass dome, and shrouded history make it a quintessential part of any trip to Berlin.
Thanks to Taylor and Daniel from Travel Outlandish for recommending the amazing Reichstag in Berlin, Germany.
Address: Place du Cardinal Luçon, 51100 Reims, France
Magnificent Cathedrals seem to be a dime a dozen in Europe and so it takes something special to really make you sit up and take notice. This really is special as the site of 25 coronations of the kings of France, including the crowning of Charles VII in 1429 in the presence of Joan of Arc.
I love this building for its place in history and being one of the finest examples of Gothic architecture in the World.
Thanks to Dean Williamson from La Vida Global for recommending Reims Cathedral in France as a great example of European architecture.
Address: Via della Salara Vecchia, 5/6, Roma, Italy
Rome, like most major European cities, is history come to life. From its narrow, cobbled streets to its abundance of beautiful art and architecture, it’s hard not to be charmed by modern-day Rome. But to truly escape back in time, and get a glimpse of the city as it stood in the days of the Roman Empire, the Roman Forum is the place to be.
The Forum was the city center for centuries, housing temples, shops, government buildings and more. What remains now is a stunning complex of ruins, the scale, and beauty of which cannot be dulled by time. This is where I truly felt ancient Rome spring to life, and it’s a place I cannot wait to visit again and again.
Thanks to Beth Tryon from Adventuring the Great Wide Somewhere for suggesting the Roman Forum in Italy which epitomizes the historic European architecture we all love.
Rothenburg ob der Tauber Architecture
Address: Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany
If you don’t recognize this town, and this corner in particular, from the millions of photos online, then it may still remind of something from an early Disney movie.
And so it should! This beautiful little town was the inspiration for the streets in the original Pinocchio animated classic. I loved this place because it was like walking through a children’s book.
Thanks to Dean Williamson from La Vida Global for recommending Rothenburg ob der Tauber which certainly is a Disney-like experience!
Saint Peter’s Basilica
Country: Vatican City
Address: Piazza San Pietro, 00120 Città del Vaticano, Vatican City
Even if you’re not religious, like me, you have to visit the Saint Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. The seat of the Catholic Church must be exuberant and grand. But the building is more than a temple of religion. It houses some of the world’s finest artworks, like Michelangelo’s Pièta.
The architecture is bold, experimental and even after hundreds of years still interesting. Go early morning to avoid waiting and so you can hear your footsteps on the marble floor.
Thanks to Naomi from Probe Around The Globe for highlighting why St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City is one of those European monuments you can’t afford to miss.
Address: Athens 105 58, Greece
When you are traveling around the capital of Greece one of the absolute best things to do in Athens is explore The Acropolis. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is over 2500 years old, and can be seen from almost everywhere in the city.
The Parthenon stands proudly in the center as the most impressive structure, but the detailed columns and facades are worth studying for their intricate carvings. There’s nothing quite like wandering through an architectural marvel that has been inspiring travelers for centuries!
Thanks to Alesha Bradford and Jarryd Salem from NOMADasaurus for highlighting why the Acropolis is one of the best things to visit not only in Greece but also across Europe.
The Cloth Hall
Address: Grote Markt 34, 8900 Ieper, Belgium
The Cloth Hall stands in a commanding position in the town square of Ieper, a small Belgian town close to the French border. This magnificent building dates back to the 13th-Century. During this time, and for many centuries to follow, it was the marketplace for the cloth industry, the lifeblood of the town. Ieper suffered greatly during both world wars.
The Cloth Hall was completely destroyed during World War I. Given the importance of this building to the town, it was rebuilt at the end of the war. The building you now see, also now known as the Town Hall, is an exact replica. I fell in love with Gothic architecture when I was in Belgium and the Cloth Hall in Ieper simply took my breath away.
Thanks to Kerri McConnel from Beer and Croissants for highlighting why you should consider visiting the Cloth Hall in Ieper.
WOW…what a diverse collection of amazing European monuments that we have been introduced to. I enjoyed putting this collaboration together because I think this perfectly showcases a fine blend of iconic European monuments mixed in with a few hidden gems that I’m sure many of us were not aware of.
Even the smaller nations across Europe like Andorra can boast iconic landmarks that are worth experiencing. We want to reiterate our appreciation to all our amazing friends from around the world for sharing their thoughts and I am sure you will all agree that this will likely inspire you to consider many European destinations in the near future!
What are your favorite monuments around Europe? Do you prefer to visit mainstream landmarks or stumble across hidden gems that typify local European architecture?