Architecture Pilgrimage: 9 Well-Designed Destinations

Getting Around By Stefan Zechner March 15, 2017

Morocco may be known for its Moorish designs and Miami is certainly a hub for Art Deco, but there are plenty of architecturally distinct cities in the world. From the ancient greats to modern marvels, we’ve compiled the destinations every design lover should visit.

Classical Ruins of Athens, Greece


Greece is famous for its marble and limestone temples, but there are also remnants of open-air theaters, public squares and stadiums to explore.

Best Classical Ruins:

  • The Acropolis ­citadel, home to iconic buildings like the Parthenon
  • The towering columns of the Temple of Olympian Zeus
  • The grounds of the original Olympic Games in Olympia

Byzantine and Ottoman Treasures in Istanbul, Turkey


Its role in several major empires has made Istanbul a cross-section of architectural styles. Byzantine design is known for its square shapes, high central domes, and mosaic decoration, while Ottoman styles emphasize a harmony between interior and exterior space, elegant domes, refined arches and pillars, Islamic calligraphy, and intricate murals.

Best Byzantine and Ottoman Sights:

  • The grand Hagia Sophia, a Byzantine monument which has served as both a basilica and a mosque
  • The Byzantine Walls of Constantinople
  • The ancient Ottoman Topkapi Palace

Contrast of Imperial and Modern Styles in Beijing, China


Beijing is a juxtaposition of ancient imperial and modern architecture. The traditional imperial style best recognized by pagodas, or upturned roofs, now mingle with the boxy designs of the mid 20th century and modern glass buildings of the last few decades.

Best Imperial and Modern Landmarks:

  • The Great Wall of China
  • The Forbidden City, an imperial palace complex
  • The Summer Palace, one of the best-preserved imperial gardens in the world
  • The modern National Grand Theatre, also known as “The Egg”

Gothic and Baroque Preservation in Prague, Czech Republic 

Prague’s soaring towers, ribbed vaults, pointed arches, and Gothic spires are remnants of the Golden Age in the 14th century. Accents like cupolas, marble columns, gold details, and large-scale frescoes are vestiges to the Baroque period when the Austrian Habsburg Empire ruled from the city.

Best Gothic and Baroque Buildings:

  • Vitus Cathedral, a Gothic church where royal coronations once took place
  • The 14th century Charles Bridge, which features 16 arches, 30 Baroque statues, and two Gothic towers
  • Old Town Hall and the famed Astronomical Clock

French, Spanish, and Islamic Influences in Marrakech, Morocco 


Morocco’s architecture is a blend of tribal designs, Islamic flairs and colonial influences, known generally as Moorish style. It’s characterized by grand archways, beautiful domes, elaborate gardens, and geometric patterns.

Best Moorish Monuments:

  • The 19th century Palais de la Bahia, whose name means “brilliance”
  • The Saadian Tombs, built for the ruling family of the 16th and 17th centuries
  • Koutoubia Mosque, which law states must be taller than any other city structure

Renaissance Charm in Florence, Italy  Duomo_Piazzale_Michelangelo_Florence

Originating in Florence, the Renaissance marked a revival of classical styles. Architects incorporated classical elements like columns, lintels, and domes into their work, setting a stark contrast to the severity and irregularity of Gothic architecture.

Best Renaissance Works:

  • Duomo di Firenze, a massive cathedral adorned with the world’s largest brick dome
  • Palazzo Pitti, a vast, Renaissance palace complete with symmetrical arches and pillars
  • The Romanesque Basilica of San Lorenzo of the 15th century

Legendary Art Nouveau in Barcelona, Spain park_guell_barcelona

The unorthodox works of 19th century Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí are a defining characteristic of Barcelona. Influenced by Moorish, oriental, and modern Gothic styles, Gaudí integrated elements from nature in an urban setting with his colorful ceramics and undulating stone and ironwork.

Best Gaudí Creations:

  • The massive and yet-to-be-completed La Sagrada Familia, filled with floor-to-ceiling stained glass windows
  • Park Güell, a whimsical park and garden overlooking the Mediterranean
  • Casa Batlló, an apartment building with a roof arched like the back of a dragon

Bright, bold Art Deco in Miami, Florida  mcalpin_miami_art_deco

After a hurricane ravaged the city in 1926, Miami was rebuilt in the sleek style of Art Deco to evoke wealth and sophistication. South Beach is now home to over 800 nationally registered Art Deco buildings, recognizable by their sweeping curves, pastel colors, geometric patterns, and porthole windows.

Best Art Deco Architecture:

  • Art Deco hotels along the historic Ocean Drive, like The McAlpin, The Cavalier, and The Carlyle
  • Bass Museum of Contemporary Art, one of the oldest Art Deco buildings in Miami

Contemporary Opulence in Dubai, U.A.E. 


Thanks to an influx of oil money, a city once full of pragmatic structures is now home to some of the world’s most prodigious buildings. Dubai’s skyline is a playground for designers who like to push boundaries and set architectural records.

Best Record-Breaking Structures:

  • Palm Jumeirah, a man-made, palm-shaped archipelago
  • The sail-shaped Burj Al Arab, the world’s only 7-star hotel
  • Burj Khalifa, the tallest skyscraper in the world