20 Iconic Buildings You Have To See Before You Die

Make your way through these popular architectural wonders, country by country. Some are closer to you than you think!

Photography: @ddp_seoul & @sydneyoperahouse on Instagram (Main Photos)

The world, with its natural and man-made wonders, offers an extensive list of places to see and travel to. Here is a mix of ultra-modern and historical sites across all continents that will make you marvel at how architecture has evolved, grown, and captured the zeitgeist, decade after decade, century after century. Now let’s count how many you’ve been to!


Hong Kong: HSBC Headquarters


Hong Kong’s stunning skyline is home to some of the world’s most captivating buildings, but none are more iconic than British architect Lord Norman Foster’s 180-meter tall skyscraper. Started in 1978 and completed after seven years, the most fascinating aspect of this building is its exoskeleton. Incorporating an external structural system with natural lighting and sunshades is a feat that still remains relevant almost 40 years after it was built.

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1 Queen’s Road, Central, Hong Kong

Singapore: Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay


Known affectionately as “the Big Durians,” this hard-to-miss structure in Marina Bay is devoted to the performing arts. With two space frames adorned by triangulated glass elements and sunshades, its resemblance to the pungent fruit is more circumstantial rather than conceptual. Protection against the equator’s harsh light was key in keeping the structure functional—aside from its unique shape; its spike-looking cladding is one of its most distinguishing features.

1 Esplanade Drive, Singapore

Korea: Dongdaemun Design Park and Plaza


Seoul’s dynamism and innovation continuously pushes this bustling city straight into the future. Right smack in the middle of its fashion district is the Zaha Hadid-designed Design Plaza, whose curvilinear elevation, walkable roof gardens, and intersecting spaces all help shape a neo-futuristic vision of the city. The building also plays host to an underground plaza, exhibition spaces, and retail spaces.

281 Eulji-ro, Euljiro 7 (chil)-ga, Jung-gu, Seoul

Japan’s Tokyo Skytree


Japanese architecture and engineering have advanced on a global scale largely because of the country’s exposure to frequent earthquakes. In 2010, Tokyo Skytree rose 634 meters up, claiming the spot as the country’s tallest structure. Used as a television and broadcast site, the tower also houses a restaurant and an observation deck. With a neo-futuristic design that pays tribute to a traditional pagoda, the cylindrical structure offers incredible city views.

1 Chome 1-2 Oshiage, Sumida, Tokyo

Malaysia: Petronas Towers


The tallest twin towers in the world, these post-modern towers designed by Argentine architect Cesar Pelli are located on the site of a former racetrack in Kuala Lumpur. Built on one of the world’s deepest foundations, the 88-storey towers use reinforced concrete, steel and glass to reflect Islamic art motifs. The towers are connected by a sky bridge midway through the buildings. Positioned on the 41st and 42nd floors, it is the highest skybridge in the world. Aside from offices, an art gallery, a theater, a science center, and underwater aquarium, the Petronas Towers also hold Suria KLCC, an upscale retail center.

Kuala Lumpur City Centre, Kuala Lumpur

Taiwan: Taipei 101


The tallest and largest green building in the world, this 89-storey giant was designed to honor Asian tradition alongside technological evolution and innovation. With Taiwan being prone to typhoons and earthquakes, it was important to design a building with structural flexibility and resilience as well as resistance. Located only 200 meters away from a major fault line, the building employs steel construction and mega columns packed with concrete and connected by outrigger trusses to ensure ultimate stability.

No. 7, Section 5, Xinyi Road, Taipei City

Philippines: Cultural Center of the Philippines


In the 1960s, the city of Manila experienced an intense period of building, with the Leandro Locsin-designed CCP being at the forefront. The Brutalist building is known for its masterful use of concrete and remains to be an icon of modern Filipino architecture. Locsin used the CCP to display his adeptness with volume and mass, utilizing a heavy and solid concrete block as a contrast to buoyancy and lightness. The CCP’s relevance remains, with it being used as a gallery, a theater venue, and more.

CCP Complex, Roxas Blvd., Magdalena Jalandoni, Pasay City

India: Taj Mahal


Commissioned in the 1600s, the striking ivory white Taj Mahal was built to honor the Persian princess Mumtaz Mahal. Part of a 17-hectare complex, the Taj Mahal was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. With four minarets framing the central tomb and an onion-shaped marble dome highlighted by a long, reflecting pool, its inlay of semi-precious stones further complements the sparkling white of the marble. The Taj Mahal’s external ornamentation is incredibly detailed—plant motifs, calligraphy and lattices deck the structure in ways never seen before.

Dharmapuri, Forest Colony, Tajganji, Agra


United Arab Emirates’ Burj Khalifa


Dubai’s iconic building has a footprint that extends into three narrow prongs. Designed by American firm Skidmore, Owings and Merril (SOM), the neo-futuristic building was set to put Dubai and the UAE front and center outside of its oil-based economy. With Islamic architecture as its design inspiration, the Burj Kalifa possesses a modern take on spiraling minarets that alternately reach towards the sky. At its tallest point, the 828-meter building sways up to 1.5 meters.

1 Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Blvd., Dubai


Egypt: Great Pyramid of Giza


While there have been initiatives in promoting the world’s new seven wonders, very few structures come close to the lasting power of the Great Pyramid of Giza. The only wonder of the ancient world to remain intact to this day, people over the centuries have been captivated by the mystery and technology that shrouds the Great Pyramid. Believed to have been built as a tomb, the pyramid is part of a larger complex and is said to have been built of highly polished stones that were quarried, dragged and lifted into place. The structure, now about 4,000 years old, stands 146 meters high.

Al  Haram, Giza Governorate, Egypt


Australia: Sydney Opera House


Sydney Harbour was forever changed in the 1970s with the completed construction of its famous Opera House, designed by Danish architect Jørn Utzon. With precast concrete shells forming cascading layers, the expressionist performing arts center houses a concert hall, multiple performance venues, as well as studios and an open-air outdoor court. The tumbling waves reflected by the white-tiled roofs make for a beautiful juxtaposition against the waters of the harbor.

Bennelong Point, New South Wales


France: Louvre Museum


The world’s largest art museum isn’t only worth seeing because of the Mona Lisa, but because its structure is a historic monument in and of itself. Originally built in the 12th century as a fortress, the Louvre Palace became a main residence of French royalty as well. When the royal family began to reside at Versailles in the late 1600s, the Louvre Palace became home to the family’s collection of Green and Roman sculptures intead. To this day, the museum holds antiquities and masterpieces. In the 1980s, Architect IM Pei was commissioned to renovate the building—his addition, the glass La Pyramide Inversée (like the Eiffel Tower) was met with intense controversy, but has since become part and parcel of French culture.

Rue de Rivoli, 75001, Paris

The United Kingdom: The Gherkin


In London, the early ‘aughts saw the completion of 30 St Mary Axe, more commonly called The Gherkin for its distinct cylindrical form. This neo-futuristic building designed by Lord Norman Foster is a striking symbol of contemporary architecture amidst London’s visually arresting mix of the old and new. With the top two floors available for rent, the building is used primarily for an array of offices. Very recently, the 41-storey building was purchased for £700 million by a group spearheaded by a Brazilian billionaire.

30 St. Mary Axe, London

Spain: Sagrada Familia


It is impossible to explore Catalonia without noticing the incredible impression architect Antoni Gaudí has left on Barcelona. Perhaps the most famous of his works is the Sagrada Familia, a modernist work-in-progress basilica that began construction over a century ago in 1882. The arresting combination of gothic and art nouveau forms in the church’s spires, as well as its incredible geometric details on all its facades (each touting a specific religious moment—the nativity, passion and glory) are unparalleled, earning it world heritage status.

Carrer de Mallorca, Barcelona

Russia: Saint Basil’s Cathedral


The animated, multi-colored onion domes of Moscow’s church on the Red Square have been a symbol of the city for centuries. Started in the 1500s, the Russian Orthodox Church began its journey into color from the 1600s to the 1800s, as more paints and dyes became readily available, and a new interest in murals and icons began to grow. The structure consists of eight side churches revolving around a central church of Intercession.

Red Square, Moskva, Russia

Italy: Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Flower


Italy has a proliferation of churches and cathedrals, but none are quite as visually arresting as Florence’s Duomo. What began as a Gothic church in the late 1200s later evolved into a symbol of the Renaissance with the construction of its dome by Filippo Brunelleschi. Apart from the advanced engineering it took to construct the dome, the Medici-backed structure is also noted for its use of pink and green marble, still captivating in present day.

Piazza dek Duomo, Firenze, Florence, Italy

Greece: Parthenon


The world owes its architectural and engineering basics to the Greeks, and it is a wonder that one of the country’s original temples, the Parthenon, still stands tall today. Constructed in 400 BC and dedicated to the goddess Athena, is known as the finest example of Greek architecture. The positioning of its columns, its proportions and the subtle curvatures that exist within its framework all show an intense attention to optical refinements and illusions, as well as symmetry. Some of the building’s sculptures still survive and are scattered all over the world in different museums.

Athens 105 58, Greece


New York City: Empire State Building


While the Big Apple is known for many of the world’s most iconic skyscrapers, none have retained its reputation for as long as the Empire State Building. Reining 40 years as the world’s tallest building (from 1931 to 1970), the 102-storey building is located on a lot owned by one of the city’s most prominent families, the Astors. At the time of its construction, the Empire State was vying for fame against the Chrysler Building, ultimately winning out the height competition because of a mast placed on top of its 86 storeys.

350, 5th Ave., New York, New York

Los Angeles: Bradbury Building


A landmark in LA’s Downtown district, this five-storey office building is famous for its ornate ironwork, its complementary birdcage elevators, and beautifully sky-lit atrium. Constructed in 1893, the renaissance-revival building pays tribute to the Chicago School of architecture. Just in time for its 100th year, the building underwent a $7 million renovation and retrofitting. Another standout feature of the building is its use of unglazed brick, decorative terra cotta and complex symmetry.

304 Broad, Los Angeles, California


Colombia: Santuario de Las Lajas


In 1754, the municipality of Ipiales was the setting for a miracle, wherein the Virgin Mary appeared in front of a mother and daughter caught in a strong storm. The shrine, which has been a pilgrimage destination since the eighteenth century, honors this event. The neo-gothic church that stands in the site today is an amalgamation of building from 1916 to 1949. The church is well known for the way it juts out of a canyon and connects to the other side through a bridge that stands over the Guaitara river.

Ipiales, Narino, Colombia

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