We get it, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, it’s subjective, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure etc. But some buildings are undeniably beautiful, whether that’s due to location or geometry– and that deserves recognition. We’ve taken on the herculean task of compiling the best of the best using aggregated scores from social media and contributions from the Big 7 Travel editorial team. From the supermodel good looks of Italy’s duomos to the striking skyscrapers in the Middle East, here’s this year’s list of the 50 most beautiful buildings in the world.
The most beautiful buildings in the world
50. Burj Khalifa, Dubai (United Arab Emirates)
The Burj Khalifa gets top billing in Dubai. At 828 metres (2, 716-feet), not only is it the world’s tallest building, but it’s also 60% taller than the world’s second-tallest building. It comprises 160 floors and boasts the tallest observation deck in the world. The architecture features a triple-lobed footprint, an interpretation of the Hymocallis flower.
49. The Therme Vals, Vals (Switzerland)
Like most bathhouses, most of the action takes place underground at the Therme Vals, but what makes this one different is its network of thermal pools positioned between each of its walls. Architect Peter Zumthor used 6,000 layered slabs of local stone, cut to his precise specifications, to create the spectacle. Light slices through the roof to create a multi-sensory experience for the bathers below too.
48. The Azadi Tower, Tehran (Iran)
Built in 1971 to mark 2,500 years since the Persian Empire, the Azadi Tower is now Tehran’s most iconic landmark. Over 8,000 white marble blocks from Esfahan make up the 45-metre high tower. The architect, Hossein Amanat, used historical events as inspiration for the design. The main archway combines the arch of the pre-Islamic ruins at Ctesiphon with the pointed arches of the Islamic period, encapsulating a millennia of Persian history.
47. Würzburg Residence with the Court Gardens (Germany)
This magnificent Baroque palace, surrounded by immaculately manicured gardens, is one of Germany’s most striking and largest palaces. The Prince-Bishops Lothar Franz and Friedrich Carl von Schönborn commissioned it as a new residence, modelled on the Palace of Versailles. Its staircase, the Treppenhaus, is topped off by the world’s largest fresco, painted by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo. Today it’s home to government institutions and a museum, but you can still wander around at least 40 of its grandest rooms.
46. Marina Bay Sands, Singapore
Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands is technically a hotel, yes, but it’s much more than that – it’s a design marvel. And, it’s appeared in hundreds of movies and TV shows, which proves just how drop dead gorgeous it is. You can catch a glimpse of its three iconic curved structures from almost everywhere in the city. Did we mention it has the world’s largest rooftop infinity pool too?
45. Sydney Opera House, Sydney (Australia)
It’s one of the most instantly recognizable buildings in the world and it’s good looking too. Jørn Utzon’s visionary design was selected in 1957, but construction wasn’t without hiccups. It was estimated to take four years to complete, but it ended up taking 14 years – $95 million over budget. It’s still an impressive sight though, over five decades after it first opened. The roof is made of 1,056,000 self-cleaning Swedish tiles.
44. The Heydar Aliyev Centre, Baku (Azerbaijan)
Designed by Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid, the Heydar Aliyev Centre has gained a reputation as one of the most architecturally distinctive – and beautiful– buildings in the world. Its distinctive flowing lines and lack of sharp angles are breathtaking up close.
43. Le Mont-Saint-Michel, Normandy (France)
This gravity-defying abbey is one of France’s favourite landmarks and a top pilgrimage destination. The structure itself is beautiful, but it’s the location that sets this building apart. Set on a magical island shared by Normandy and Brittany, the abbey dates back to the 8th century.
42. Biltmore Estate, Asheville (United States)
Once home to the Vanderbilts, the wealthiest family in America, this Chateau-style mansion is the country’s largest private home – even bigger than the US Capitol Building. Built in 1895, the mansion features perfectly landscaped gardens and over 250 rooms to explore too.
41. The Chapel of the Holy Cross, Sedona (United States)
This stunning church, designed by sculptor Marguerite Burnswig Staude in the 1950s, protrudes dramatically from the red cliffs. A giant cross holds together the huge stained-glass window, with sparkling views over the Verde Valley.
40. Grand Palace, Bangkok (Thailand)
The official residence of the Kings of Thailand since the 1700s, the Grand Palace has stood as a cultural emblem for centuries. It covers a 2,351,000 square foot site and features gold-roofed temples and an emerald Buddah.
39. Tiger’s Nest, Bhutan
Bhutan’s most majestic site is located on the side of a cliff, 3,120-metres (10236-feet) above sea level. It’s not easy to reach, but it’s well worth the trouble. Legend tells that Padmasambhava, the ‘Second Buddha’, meditated here for three months when he brought Buddhism to Bhutan. There are a handful of levels inside the monastery and three temples to explore. The cave is at the highest and deepest point in the complex.
38. Hallgrímskirkja, Reykjavík (Iceland)
Hallgrímskirkja is one of Reykjavík’s most famous landmarks and the largest church in the country. It’s also home to an exceptionally large organ by Johannes Klais, measuring 15 metres tall with 5275 pipes. Architect Samúelsson took inspiration from the steep Icelandic landscape and its famous basalt columns for the design.
37. Hawa Mahal, Jaipur (India)
Built of red and pink sandstone in 1799, the historical palace of Hawa Mahal almost looks like a Wes Anderson filming location. In English, it translates as ‘The Palace of the Winds’. The five-storey building features 953 tiny windows decorated with intricate latticework, giving the effect of a beehive.
36. The Chrysler Building, New York (United States)
Built between 1928 and 1930, the famous Art Deco skyscraper is the jewel in New York’s skyline. At 319 metres, it was the world’s tallest building for eleven months before the Empire State Building dethroned it. It may be a far cry from the tallest skyscraper in the world today, but it is certainly one of the most beautiful. In fact, in 2005, New York Times declared it as “the most unique and most important landmark of architectural imagination on the New York skyline”.
35. The Pantheon, Rome (Italy)
Rome is home to dozens of beautiful buildings worthy of a mention on this list, but the Pantheon is probably its best-looking. The ‘Temple of the Gods’ was build around AD 126 but was destroyed at least twice, then rebuilt. Originally it had a rectangular structure, but it evolved into the beautiful dome we recognise and love today.
34. Vienna Opera House, Vienna (Austria)
This romantic palace encapsulates Vienna’s imperial elegance and charm. Designed by the Viennese architect August Sicard von Sicardsburg in the 1860s, the original building was badly bombed in 1945 so much of what you see today is reconstructed. Only the main facade, the grand staircase and the Schwind Foyer were originally spared. Inside, there are frescoes by Moritz von Schwind and a famous series of Magic Flute frescoes on the veranda. It’s not just good looking either, it’s also one of the world’s most esteemed opera houses and counts the likes of Mahler and Strauss among its previous directors.
33. United States Capitol, Washington DC (United States)
32. Las Lajas Sanctuary, Nariño (Colombia)
Built between 1916 and 1949, Las Lajas Sanctuary looks a lot older than it is. The gothic-inspired building sits inside a canyon, connecting one side to the other. The location is significant too; in 1754 a woman reportedly saw an apparition of the Virgin Mary who gave her mute and deaf daughter the ability to speak.
31. Fallingwater, Pennsylvania (United States)
Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1932, Fallingwater is perhaps the most famous private residence in the world. The unique design makes it look like there’s no solid ground beneath the building, that it’s floating on top of the waterfall. You can even buy a lego model of the historic landmark, such is its reputation as one of the most beautiful buildings in the world.
30. Dancing House, Prague (Czech Republic)
Nestled between some of Prague’s finest baroque, gothic and art nouveau buildings is the Dancing House, a controversial but undeniably striking building. Its nickname is Fred and Ginger, after the famous dancing duo Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, because the house resembles a pair of dancers. It sits on the ruins of a house destroyed by the U.S. bombing of Prague in 1945. Croatian-Czech architect Vlado Milunić and Canadian-American architect Frank Gehry designed the building in 1992 and completed it in 1996.
29. Westminster Abbey, London (United Kingdom)
Between its towering Norman masonry, famed vaulted ceiling and pointed arches, and epic stained glass windows, Westminster Abbey is an architectural marvel. It’s a treasure trove of artefacts, paintings and people too. The Abbey is home to the shrine of St Edward the Confessor, the tombs of countless kings, queens and poets, and it’s been the scene of every Coronation since 1066.
28. Semperoper, Dresden (Germany)
Built in 1841, the Semperoper is a bit of a hodgepodge of styles – which only adds to its charms. There are Early Renaissance, Baroque and even Corinthian style pillars typically seen in classical Greece. The building today is a reconstruction of the original, which was bombed in the last few weeks of World War Two. It’s the home of the Saxon State Opera Dresden and the Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden.
27. Jefferson Memorial, Washington DC (United States)
Perched on the edge of the water-filled west side of the National Mall, the open-air pantheon, dedicated to America’s third president, is one of the most serene spots in the city. The neoclassical style memorial was only completed in 1947. It looks its most beautiful framed by the cherry blossoms in spring.
26. Angkor Wat, Siem Reap (Cambodia)
Angkor – which means city – was once the seat of the Khmer Empire from the 9th to the 15th century. It is spread over an incredible 60 miles, comprised of over 1,000 stone temples. Angkor Wat is the most striking. Built in the early 12th century, it’s the largest religious monument in the world today. The temple emulates Mount Meru, the sacred centre of the universe in Hindu mythology, while the surrounding moat symbolizes the oceans.
25. Cathedral of Brasilia, Brasilia (Brazil)
One of the least traditional entries on our list is nonetheless one of the most beautiful. This spectacular stained glass crown-shaped structure was built between 1958 and 1970 by two prominent communists, Oscar Niemeyer and Lucio Costa. Its perfect symmetry and angles, as well as striking interiors, really captivate the imagination.
24. The Palace Museum, Beijing (China)
Tucked away on 178 acres is this gem of an imperial palace, also known as the Forbidden City. It served as the royal residence for emperors of the Qing and Ming dynasties and today houses a treasure-filled museum. In 1961, the State Council designated it as one of China’s foremost protected cultural heritage sites.
23. The Blue Mosque, Mazar-i-Sharif (Afghanistan)
Afghanistan’s magnificent Blue Mosque, or Mazar-i-Sharif Mosque, is a tranquil oasis. An original shrine stood here until 1157, but Genghis Khan destroyed it on his journey west. In 1481, Sultan Husayn Mizra rebuilt the Shrine of Ali in the grand fashion we’re familiar with today. Its intricately painted clay tiles are mesmerizing.
22. Chateau de Chambord, Loire Valley (France)
France isn’t short of fairytale palaces, but Chateau de Chambord is one of its most iconic. Five hundred years on, the architect of the famous castle still remains a mystery too, with some claiming it could be Leonardo da Vinci himself. Ostentatious, over the top and extravagant, it’s one of the most impressive examples of French Renaissance and Medieval Revival architecture.
21. Hagia Sophia, Istanbul (Turkey)
Hagia Sophia is both a former Greek Orthodox Church and an Ottoman imperial mosque. Built in AD 537, it was once the largest building in the world. It became the city’s principal mosque in the 15th century when the Ottomans conquered Constantinople. Most people hotfoot inside to explore its spectacular interiors, but it’s worth pausing to appreciate its spectacular facade too.
20. Neuschwanstein Castle, Bavaria (Germany)
With its turrets, towers and mountaintop location surrounded by dense forest, Neuschwanstein could’ve been plucked straight out of a Disney movie. While it may look pretty medieval, it’s much newer than you think too. The Mad King Ludwig II of Bavaria built the palace in the 1870s in a bid to reinforce his superior status after losing power to the Prussian Empire.
19. Mosque-Cathedral Cordoba, Cordoba (Spain)
The Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba is a temple to two religions – the Roman Catholic Church and Islam. It dates all the way back to the 10th century when Abd ar-Rahman III ruled the region. At that time, Córdoba was one of the largest and most prosperous cities in Europe, so a temple was built to reflect this wealth. With its intricate decoration, opulent fountains and spectacular arches, it’s one of the finest examples of Islamic architecture in the world.
18. Potala Palace, Lhasa (Tibet)
The chief residence of the Dalai Lama until 1959, the Potala Palace is now a museum and World Heritage Site. Named after Mount Potalaka, the mythical home of the bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara, construction began in 1645. Today, it boasts more than a thousand rooms, 698 murals and thousands of exquisite statues. Inside, eight Dalai Lamas rest in shrines. At 12,139 feet above sea level, Potala is the highest palace in the world.
17. La Pedrera, Barcelona (Spain)
Antoni Gaudi left his print on the streets of Barcelona, which is now home to some of the world’s most beautiful and unusual buildings. La Pedrera captures the architect’s extraordinary imagination, with its undulating stone and iron balconies.
16. Pena National Palace, Sintra (Portugal)
Pena is the prettiest palace in Portugal. With its peeling pastel walls and hilltop perch, it’s the perfect setting for a fairytale. German Baron von Eschwege built the Romanticist palace on the remains of a monastery in the 1840s. Outside it’s all swirling domes, statues and towers, while inside you’ll find sumptuous furniture, paintings and imposing statues.
15. The Sultan Ahmed Mosque, Istanbul (Turkey)
Built between 1609 and 1917, The Sultan Ahmen Mosque is also known as the Blue Mosque because of the blue tiles covering its interior. Sultan Ahmet I commissioned the building to rival the Hagia Sophia temple. The complex features ascending domes and semi-domes, a giant courtyard and six miranets. Around 20,000 handmade Iznik ceramic tiles in 50 different tulip designs adorn the walls too.
14. Winter Palace, St. Petersburg (Russia)
The Winter Palace served as the official royal residence from 1754 until it was stormed by Bolshevik revolutionaries in 1917. Today, it houses the world-famous Hermitage Art Museum. The mint-green, white and gold columned building is the prettiest in St Petersburg – and in a city of frou-frou churches, beautiful boulevards and Italianate mansions, that’s saying a lot.
13. The Lotus Temple, New Dehli (India)
Since it was completed in 1986, over 100 million people have visited The Lotus Temple, and it’s little wonder why. It’s a Bahá’í House of Worship, which means that it welcomes all religions. The 27 structures made from white marble found only in Mount Pentelicus in Greece come together to form a blooming lotus flower. These open onto the central hall. Its nine entrances feature emerald-green pools and pristine walkways too, while outside there are 26 acres of tranquil gardens to explore.
12. Petra (Jordan)
The lost city of Petra, so-called because it was only rediscovered in 1812, was once the capital of the Nabataean Empire. Combining ancient Eastern tradition with Hellenistic architecture, the infamous rock-cut architecture is one of the world’s most beautiful sights. It’s also known as the ‘Red Rose City’, owing to the vibrant red, white, pink and sandstone cliff faces.
11. The Great Mosque, Djenne (Mali)
Set in the scorching Sahara Desert in Africa’s oldest city, the Great Mosque of Djenne is the world’s largest mud-brick structure and an excellent example of Sudano-Sahelian architecture. It reaches nearly 20 metres high and sits on an impressive 91-metre long platform. Each spring, local masons maintain the mosque by applying a new layer of mud.
10. The Parthenon, Athens (Greece)
The Parthenon has stood atop the Acropolis of Athens for nearly 2,500 years. Built to give thanks to Athena, the city’s patron goddess, it’s a cultural icon that has inspired design and architecture throughout the ages. From its gently curving columns to its sublime sculptures, it’s a building that can’t fail to impress.
9. Dome of Rock, Jerusalem (Israel)
This 7th-century building is another example of spectacular Islamic architecture. The octagonal structure and rotunda are both Byzantine in design, while the Persian tiles were added in 1561. The shrine is located on the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem, built on the site of the Second Jewish Temple, which had been destroyed during the Roman Siege of Jerusalem in 70 CE. That makes it the oldest existing Islamic monument in the world.
8. St Paul’s Cathedral, London (United Kingdom)
One of London’s blockbuster sights, St. Paul’s Cathedral has been a Christian place of worship for over 1,400 years – and a pagan temple even before that. Sir Christopher Wren designed the current building after the original church burnt down in the Great Fire of London. Using the 4000 year old architectural rule called ‘golden ratio’, St. Paul’s Cathedral frequently comes up top of the list.
7. St Basil’s Cathedral, Moscow (Russia)
Standing proudly at the southern end of the Red Square, St Basil’s Cathedral is a kaleidoscope of colours and patterns. Its iconic onion-shaped domes loom majestically over the rest of the city, easily making it one of the city’s best-loved landmarks. Ivan the terrible commissioned the church in the 16th century, to commemorate the capture of the Tatar stronghold of Kazan.
6. Hungarian Parliament Building, Budapest (Hungary)
5. Osaka Castle, Kyobashi (Japan)
It’s one of Japan’s most famous landmarks, comprising 61,000 square metres and 13 structures that have each been designated as important cultural assets. The central building is five stories on the outside and eight stories on the inside. Its history is fascinating too, having played a major role in the unification of Japan during the sixteenth century of the Azuchi-Momoyama period.
4. La Sagrada, Barcelona (Spain)
Now Barcelona’s most iconic landmark, Antoni Gaudí dreamed up the Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família (Expiatory Temple of the Holy Family) more than 135 years ago. It was originally intended as a simple catholic church, but Pope Benedict XVI declared it a basilica in 2010.
3. The Duomo, Florence (Italy)
Florence’s breathtaking Duomo is the city’s most iconic landmark. Building began as early as 1296, but the church wasn’t consecrated until 1439. Filippo Brunelleschi’s red-tiled cupola, which sits prettily against the building’s pink, white and green marble facade, is the standout feature, but inside it’s just as good. Clamber up the cupola’s 463 steps to get a good look at Giorgio Vasari’s frescoes of the Last Judgement.
2. Palace of Versailles, Paris (France)
When the Palace of Versailles was originally built in the 1630s, Versailles was just a country village. Today, it’s a wealthy Parisian suburb, just 20 kilometres from the capital. Louis XIII used it as a hunting pavilion, then his son Louis XIV installed the Court and government here in 1682. The palace now spreads over 63,154 m2, comprising 2,300 rooms. The gardens are extraordinary but it’s worth poking your nose inside, if only to walk through the iconic Hall of Mirrors.
1. Taj Mahal, Agra (India)
The ivory-white mausoleum is instantly recognisable to people across the globe and it’s one of the world’s most iconic monuments. It was built by the Mughal Emporer Shah Jahān to immortalize his wife Mumtaz Mahal, who died in childbirth. The harmonious and symmetrical layout of the building, combined with its exquisite decorative elements, have distinguished it as one of the finest examples of Mughal architecture. There are twin mosque buildings, immaculate gardens and a museum to explore too.