Europe is home to the most varied architecture in the world. The long list of UNESCO sites in Europe include impressive historical monuments, seaside towns and ancient castles. Call them attractions, call them man-made structures, they make it to the bucket lists of travellers from all over the world.
Come with us as we take you through some of the architectural wonders of Europe that we reckon everyone should see for themselves! We promise, they really live up to the hype.
GERMANY: Neuschwanstein Castle
The fairytale Neuschwanstein Castle is arguably the most famous castle around the globe. In fact, Walt Disney referenced it in his animation of Sleeping Beauty. It also happens to be the most photographed structure in all of Germany. Neuschwanstein was constructed in 1869, at the behest of King Ludwig II. His vision for the castle was so fantastical that he ended up hiring a theatrical set designer rather than an architect. This much is obvious when you tour its dazzling interior!
The Sphinx Observatory, built in 1937 and also called the “Top of Europe”, is the highest-altitude construction in Europe . It’s from the comfort of this building and its observation deck that you get to enjoy the most incredible 360 views. The view from the top is something quite amazing, and there is always snow cover due to the low temperatures. The main part of the Sphinx is a research station used by scientists. It includes two laboratories, a weather station and astronomical cupola.
A ride up the Jungfraujoch is a quintessential Switzerland travel experience. Aptly called ‘the top of Europe’, Jungfrau is also home to Europe’s highest train station at 3471m. Jungfrau has its own hydroelectric power station and the railway generates electricity with the momentum of the trains coming downhill as well.
FRANCE: The Eiffel Tower
It simply doesn’t get any more iconic than this. At 1063 feet tall, the Eiffel Tower is the universal symbol for France. It was originally built as an entrance for the 1889 World’s Fair. This structure wasn’t intended to be permanent. Rather, it was set to be demolished in 1909, but was later turned into a gigantic radio antenna. Today, it is the most-visited paid monument in the entire world! Over 6 million visitors every year. Gustave Eiffel, the architect, hid a small apartment on the third level of the tower.
GREECE: The Acropolis
Keen to immerse yourself in Greek history? Then the Acropolis is the place to be. It was constructed between 495 BCE and 429 BCE under the reign of Pericles. Built originally to protect the city and honour the goddess Athena. The buildings of the Acropolis were built by the best architects, sculptors and artisans of the time. The Parthenon and many of the other buildings were destroyed in 480 BCE, during a Persian invasion. The monument has been taken over by many different religious groups and later kings. Remember, these thousand-year old buildings aren’t even the first to be built here! In fact, the Parthenon was built on the site of a much older temple.
RUSSIA: Red Square & St. Basil’s Cathedral
The Red Square in Moscow is one of Russia’s most famous landmarks and serves as the city centre. It also happens to be surrounded by plenty of other must-see destinations. As such, it’s a great spot to start your exploration of Moscow. From here, you can visit the Bolshoi Theatre, St Basil’s Cathedral, the Moscow Kremlin, Senate Square and more. It’s a car-free zone, so you can walk around freely and enjoy the lovely space. Interesting to know, the center of the Red Square is considered Moscow’s 0 km, i.e. the starting point of all it’s roads, highways and city blocks.
ITALY: St. Peter’s Basilica
No Italian tour is complete without a visit to the ornate St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican city. What can you expect? An amazing view from the 535-foot-tall dome and an unforgettable interior. This includes the mosaics and artworks like Michelangelo’s Pietà. Did you know? St. Peter’s is actually a cathedral or the official seat of the Pope! It’s the Basilica closest to his holiness’s residence, so it spends a lot of time in the international limelight. Look out for Bernini’s baldacchino when you visit. It’s a 96-feet-tall, four-poster canopy, made from 100,000 pounds of bronze.
SPAIN: La Sagrada Familia
The La Sagrada Familia is at the top of the list of any tourist who passes through Barcelona. This wonder has been under construction since 1882! The design was the brainchild of Catalan architect, Antoni Gaudi. He didn’t just use nature as inspiration for the look and feel of the La Sagrada Familia. He actually developed architectural techniques to learn how to naturally support weight. Gaudi passed away in 1926. La Sagrada Familia is also an active place of worship that holds Sunday mass every now and then. The basilica attracts more than 3 million visitors annually. Most come to marvel at the architecture.
GREAT BRITAIN: Big Ben
Did you know? The name Big Ben actually refers to the bell inside the belfry of the clock tower at the Palace of Westminster. The tower itself is called Elizabeth Tower. It’s the UK’s best-loved tourist destination. The 315 ft tower was constructed between 1843 – 1859. The clock inside remains the largest four-faced chiming clock in the world to this day. On the 31st of May 1859, the first chime of the Big Ben was heard. And it has chimed every fifteen minutes since.
The time of the clock is adjusted every year using an old British penny. If the clock is too fast, a penny is added to the pendulum. If it is too slow, one penny is removed.
PORTUGAL: Belem Tower
Belem Tower is one the most popular visitor attractions in Lisbon. Situated on what was once an island in the Tagus river, this fortified tower was built in 1515 to defend the city from invaders and welcome visitors. It was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983 and receives 500 000+ visitors every year. It also counts among the 7 Wonders of Portugal.
ROMANIA: Palace of Parliament
The official parliament building of Romania is not like any other. It’s the biggest and heaviest building in the world and a well-known landmark of Bucharest and Romania. First named ‘Casa Poporului’ (“The People’s House”), the Palace of Parliament was commissioned by Romania’s dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu, in 1983. Ceausescu was executed by the people of Romania before the building was completed. It’s the world’s second largest building by surface after the Pentagon and is a total of 12 stories high. There’s also an undisclosed number of underground levels. The interiors boasts 1,100 rooms decorated with crystal chandeliers, carpets of immense size, mosaics and stained-glass windows. Today it also houses the National Museum of Contemporary art (MNAC) and is the International Convention Centre of Bucharest. Tourists can’t visit independently, but there are guided tours available in several languages.
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