The world is full of famous buildings. For centuries people have been constructing buildings for several reasons. At first, it was shelter to keep the elements out. Then these rudimental shacks slowly transformed into sophisticated homes that we now live in today. As well as homes, buildings became used for a variety of reasons, such as places of worship and business. While many of these buildings are nondescript, some are incredible creations that have become famous around the world.
Many of these eye-catching buildings have become landmarks and tourist attractions. Others are magnificent structures from renowned architects and designers that challenge our perception of what a building should look like. The list details some of these fantastic structures, including the Empire State Building, the Eiffel Tower, and the Dancing House.
Putting a spotlight on these amazing constructions, we have highlighted 20 of the most famous buildings in the world for you to marvel at.
1. Sydney Opera House, Sydney, Australia
One of the most iconic locations in Australia is the Sydney Opera House. The design for the unique structure came from the mind of Danish architect Jørn Utzon. His idea was chosen from a competition he entered. The winner’s design became what is now the Syndey Opera House.
It took 14 years to build the Opera House. The innovative design features interlocking shell structures as the roof. The building has six venues inside where concerts and performances are held. The overall capacity of the Opera House is a decent 5,738. The Opera House has three resident companies: Opera Australia, the Sydney Theatre Company, and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.
More than eight million people visit the Syndey Opera House every year and it remains one of the most famous buildings in the world.
2. Empire State Building, New York, United States
New York City is home to an array of dazzling and eye-brow raising buildings, but arguably the most famous is the Empire State Building. Standing 102 floors above the ground, the skyscraper opened in 1931 and has been home to hundreds of businesses and organizations over the years.
One of the must see tourist attractions of New York City, the Empire State Building has an art-deco design and is often referred to as the ‘Eighth Wonder of the World.’ There are two observation decks on the 86th and 102nd floors offering panoramic views of New York.
3. Leaning Tower of Pisa, Pisa, Italy
Europe is home to some of the oldest buildings in the world. Case in point is the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Construction of the bell tower took 199 years before it was fully complete. While initially standing erect like most buildings, the foundations began to move in the 12th century. The soft ground caused the tower to begin to lean. At its worst, it had a tilt of 5.5 degrees, but it has been reinforced over the past three decades and is now stable with a tilt of 3.97 degrees.
People can climb the towers near 300 steps, with the view of the surrounding area quite spectacular. While many do so, most prefer just to have a photo of them holding the Leaning Tower of Pisa in place.
4. Taj Mahal, Agra, India
This is not only one of the most famous buildings in the world, but one of the most beautiful. The ‘Crown of the Palace’ was built by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan as a tomb for his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. Around 20,000 people worked on the creation of the Taj Mahal, with construction beginning in 1632. It wasn’t completed until 1643.
A fantastic example of Mughal architecture, the Taj Mahal features lots of white walls, marble flooring, and intricate patterns throughout. The dome-shaped roof is also very impressive, while the surrounding gardens are spectacular. More than six million people visit the Taj Mahal yearly, with the complex listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983.
5. Eiffel Tower, Paris, France
Designed by Stephen Sauvestre and taking just two years to complete, the Eiffel Tower is a Paris landmark like no other. Inspired by the Latting Observatory in New York City, the metal structure opened in 1889 and features three levels that tourists can visit. Both the first and second floors can be accessed by stairs or one of the eight elevators operating in the tower. The final observation deck can only be reached by elevator.
Although initially hated by many, the Eiffel Tower is now a Paris landmark. It is recognized as the most visited monument with an entrance fee in the world. Almost seven million people visit yearly, with the Eiffel Tower even more impressive at night when lit up. It is a great place to take your partner for an evening of romance. Many people also propose at the base or top of the Eiffel Tower.
6. Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey
Built between 532AD and 537AD, the Hagia Sophia has been many things over the years. First constructed by the Romans as a Christian church, it was converted to a mosque in 1453 before being established as a museum in 1935. The Hagia Sophia is one of the prime examples of Byzantine architecture, which is a type of design known for using interior mosaics and dome-shaped roofs.
The building has been renovated and updated many times over the years, with damage from riots and earthquakes and a general lack of care creating several problems. It has returned to its former status as a mosque and might be familiar to movie fans after featuring in the opening scenes of the James Bond flick Skyfall.
7. The White House, Washington, United States
Whatever your political persuasion is, you can not deny the White House is one of the most famous buildings in the world. The official home of the President of the United States was designed by Irish architect James Hoban. Built between 1792 and 1800, the first President to live in the Oval Office was John Adams.
There are two main wings, the East and West wing, with the central building having a circular column shape that looks out onto the gardens that back onto Lafayette Square. There are speculated to be many hidden corridors and doorways in the building, with former President John F. Kennedy rumored to have used them to bring Marilyn Monroe to and from the building in secrecy.
8. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, United States
There are a number of Guggenheim Museums around the world. We are focusing on the one in New York City. This famous building was designed by the legend that is Frank Lloyd Wright. The Guggenheim Museum is a cylindrical building that gets wider with each level. The large space is chock full of private art collections and unique artwork and is widely regarded as one of the best modern museums in the world.
Like many Frank Lloyd Wright buildings, it drew a mixed response from critics. While some praised the circular design, others believed it would take away from the artwork. The one thing people can agree upon is that the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum is one of a kind.
9. Burj Khalifa, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
The Burj Khalifa only opened in 2010 but has already been recognized as the world’s tallest building. Located in Downtown Dubai, the 154-floor tower contains office spaces, residential floors, and a hotel. It is an incredible modern structure that towers above the skyline of Dubai.
The Burj Khalifa, named after the ruler of Abu Dhabi and president of the United Arab Emirates, Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, was designed by Adrian Smith of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, the same firm behind the much-lauded Sears Tower in Chicago.
The building has won many awards and has been involved in several stunts, with both authorized and unauthorized BASE jumping taking place. Famous climber Alain “Spiderman” Robert also scaled the building in 2011.
10. Sagrad Familia, Barcelona, Spain
The unfinished church, Sagrad Familia in Barcelona, has been under construction for an incredible 140 years. It was sanctioned in 1882 by the great Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi. Even though it is set to be complete by 2026, there are fears it will once again be pushed back.
While it looks stunning from the outside, the inside is just as mind-blowing. The structure has several different geometric shapes and is designed in the style of Art Nouveau. There is lots of religious iconography throughout the Sagrad Familia, depicting scenes from the nativity and the Seven Deadly sins.
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11. Tribune Tower, Chicago, United States
Located at 435 Michigan Avenue in Chicago, Tribune Tower is the home of the Chicago Tribune. Similar to the Syndey Opera House, a competition was held to determine the design of the building. New York architects John Mead Howells and Raymond Hood were the winners with their neo-gothic design, receiving $50,000 for their plans.
Completed in 1925, the 36-floor building features buttresses near the top and an array of statues and sculptures crafted by American artist Rene Paul Chambellan. These include gargoyles and carved images of Robin Hood and a howling dog.
12. Great Pyramid of Giza, Cairo, Egypt
While some may dispute the Great Pyramid of Giza’s status as a building, it is a man-made structure, so we think it counts. The burial tomb of pharaoh Khufu, it’s the largest standing pyramid in Egypt.
It is the oldest of the Seven Wonders of the World. The Great Pyramid is constructed from some 2.3 million blocks of stone. It is believed to have taken around two decades to complete. While originally thought to have been constructed by slaves, recent investigations have led to archeologists pointing to thousands of employed laborers undertaking the construction.
Whatever the case, it is a wondrous structure with many rooms, tunnels, and chambers that needs to be seen in person to truly appreciate its magnificence.
13. Saint Basil’s Cathedral, Moscow, Russia
This colorful cathedral is Moscow’s most visited tourist attraction. Saint Basil’s Cathedral was built between 1555 and 1561 by Ivan the Terrible. It features nine domes, each representing the different churches found within, and is unlike any other building in Russia. It is still unclear who designed the cathedral, but rumors persist that those who did had their eyes removed by Ivan so that a building this beautiful could never be built again.
During the 16th and 17th centuries, Saint Basil’s Cathedral was seen as the Jerusalem for Russia, where people could go and feel connected to the holy land. While occasionally used for services by the Russian Orthodox Church, Saint Basil’s Cathedral is now more of a tourist trap, with a museum and plenty of great photo opportunities.
14. Big Ben, London, England
Some might say Buckingham Palace or Westminster Abbey, but when it comes to famous buildings, it is hard to go past Big Ben. The Great Bell is a towering clock that’s part of the Palace of Westminster. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987. Big Ben is designed by English architect Augustus Pugin. It is heavily influenced by the neo-gothic style.
Officially known as Elizabeth Tower, and the Clock Tower before that, Big Ben is one of the most iconic film locations in the UK. After four years of renovations, the scaffolding surrounding Big Ben was finally removed at the end of 2021, just in time for it to chime when the New Year hit.
15. Notre-Dame de Paris, Paris, France
Although the majority of this famous building burned to the ground in a fire in 2019, it remains one of the most visited tourist attractions in Paris. Construction began in 1163 and wasn’t finished until 1345. The design was influenced by Roman cathedrals and French gothic architecture. It became widely known thanks to Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre-Dame.
Before the fire, an estimated 12 million people visited the Notre-Dame de Paris per year, which is insane. The rebuilding process is expected to be finished in 2024, just in time for the Summe Olympics.
16. The Dancing House, Prague, Czech Republic
Taking four years to complete, the Dancing House is an odd-looking building found on the riverbank of the New Town district in Prague. Designed by Croatian-Czech architect Vlado Milunic and Canadian-American architect Frank Gehry, it has a dancing shape (hence the name) caused by the 99 concrete panels of different shapes and sizes.
While the Dancing House has been criticized by many for not fitting in with the Baroque and Gothic-styled buildings that surround it, the nine-story construction remains a fascinating architectural design that is big with tourists.
17. Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem, Israel
Built by Caliph Abd al-Malik between 687 and 691, the Dome of the Rock is a famous Islamic shrine recognized as Jerusalem’s most famous site. It holds much religious significance. The temple is believed to have been erected over the area where God created the world and Adam, as well as where Abraham tried to sacrifice his son.
The outside is decorated with colorful mosaics, with the golden dome making the shrine stand out. The interior is opulently decorated with marble, mosaic, and faience (tin-glazed pottery) and contains inscriptions from the Quran.
18. The Colosseum, Rome, Italy
Another famous construction located in Italy, the Colosseum has a very rich history. It is the largest oval amphitheater ever built (and still standing). The Colosseum played host to world famous gladiators. Up to 80,000 people gathered to watch these warriors slice each other up in its heyday. Along with mock sea battles and re-enactments of famous Roman victories in the wars, the Colosseum was also used as a market, fortress, shrine, and shelter since its completion in 80AD.
These days it is a popular tourist attraction visited by millions. Warning though; expect to be waiting in line for several hours before finally gaining entry to the Colosseum. Your best bet is to get there first thing in the morning. That way you can get in when the gates open. You also don’t have to worry about wanting in line as the sun beams down.
19. Space Needle, Seattle, United States
As well as being the home of grunge and dreary weather, Seattle also has one of the world’s most famous buildings. The Space Needle is a Seattle landmark and an icon of the city. It was built for the 1962 World’s Fair. The Space Needle stands an imposing 602 feet high. It takes just 41 seconds to reach the observation deck at the top via the elevator.
At one time the Edward E Carlson and John Graham construction was the tallest building west of the Mississippi River. While there are certainly taller buildings these days, the Space Needle remains a cultural icon that is always associated with Seattle.
20. Flatiron Building, New York, United States
This is another famous New York landmark that makes the list due to the unique triangle shape of the building. Designed by Daniel Burnham and Frederick Dinkelberg, the Flatiron Building is 20 stories high and currently unoccupied. The current owners are renovating the building. Nobody is sure what it will be next, with rumors stating it could be turned into a hotel.
Considered one of the most photographed buildings in the world, the Flatiron Building is also a pop culture icon, having been seen in a variety of movies and TV shows. It is featured during the opening credits of the Late Show with David Letterman and is the headquarters of the Daily Bugle in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man movies. It’s so famous it was even included as part of LEGO’s Architecture series of builds.
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