Take an alphabetical journey through the world’s most incredible buildings. These architectural wonders may be ancient, historic structures steeped in long-lost traditions, or avant-garde masterpieces of the modern day. Here are 26 manmade wonders guaranteed to blow you away.
A – Angkor Wat, Cambodia
The largest temple complex in the world has over 500 acres of temples, but it’s the endless parade of delicate relief carvings of gods, asparas (nymphs) and ordinary people that is most mind-boggling.
B – Bagan, Myanmar/Burma
Bagan is a vast, sprawling spread of romantically crumbling temples and pagodas. For wide horizons, dramatic desert scenes and peaceful wanderings, it’s hard to beat. For serene sunsets, it’s impossible.
C – Catherine Palace, Russia
The grandiose blue and gilt gold palace of the tsars is a how-to guide in rococo style opulence, stupendous financial expenditure and sheer, unquestioned power.
D – Dubrovnik Old Town, Croatia
A maze of cool, cobbled streets rooved with burnt orange tiles and domed towers, Dubrovnik is a deserved world heritage site, perfect for a wander with a camera and an artistic eye.
E – Egyptian Pyramids, Egypt
The architectural brilliance of the world’s most recognisable tombs is mind-boggling. Just trying to grasp the size, weight and mathematical brilliance of their construction, led by the architect Imhotep, is off the scale.
F – Fatehpur Sikri, India
The abandoned city in Rajasthan has an eerie quality to its beautiful red stone. The one-time imperial playground and pleasure palace is a majestic architectural gem of huge arches and suitably regal proportions.
G – Gyeongbokgung Palace, South Korea
The ‘Palace of Shining Happiness’ is the pinnacle of architectural flair during the 500 year Joseon Dynasty, with its dramatic tiered roofs, skilful carpentry and surrounded by tranquil lakes and gardens.
H – Hagia Sophia, Turkey
Where world religions coexist, the yo-yo history of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul makes it truly unique. Both basilica and mosque, it is famous as the epitome of Byzantine architecture, with its huge domes.
I – Icehotel, Sweden
Every year this mutable work of art is re-built in thousands of tons of snow and ice, to brand new designs born in the imaginations of world-renowned artists. In spring it will melt and vanish.
J – Jaisalmer Fort, India
The sinking fort at Jaisalmer is the last bastion of civilisation before the sweeping sands of the Great Thar Desert. It’s a joy to wander the honeycomb of sandstone alleyways and imposing arches.
K – Kiyomizu-dera Temple, Japan
Just one of the exquisite temples in Kyoto, the bright red tiers of the Kiyomizu-dera are unmistakable. The UNESCO site was constructed in 1633 and contains many temples and shrines decorated with incense and omikuji (paper fortunes).
L – Lalibela Rock Churches, Ethiopia
A place of pilgrimage and devotion, the ancient rock-hewn churches in Ethiopia are a labour of love and worship. The 11 medieval monolithic churches remain an incredible architectural feat even today.
M – Machu Picchu, Peru
Wedged between swollen lumps of the Andes, lined with stone steps and crowned with clouds, Machu Picchu is an archaeologists dream. These beautiful ruins are one of the must-see sights of South America.
N – Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany
It’s a fairytale come to life. Valiantly protected by statuesque, forested mountains, the Romanesque revival castle is decorated with stories of daring knights, noble ladies and of course, wild romances.
O – Ollantaytambo, Peru
Beautiful Ollantaytambo is quiet and peaceful. Ingenious waterways trace the cobbled streets, but what makes this town truly interesting is the blend of ancient Inca foundations supporting later colonial additions, now coexisting on every street corner.
P – Petra, Jordan
Unleash your inner Indiana Jones. The (almost) impenetrable desert fortress of Petra is carved directly into the rock, with the epicentre undeniably the imposing Treasury’s huge columns.
Q – Quan Cong Temple, Vietnam
One of Hoi An’s most distinctive landmarks, this Vietnamese temple honouring the general is a visual feast: colourful statues, columns topped with lotus flowers and lacquered artworks inscribed with poems.
R – Registan Square, Uzbekistan
Uzbekistan’s most famous public place is framed on three sides with impressive, beautiful Madrassahs (schools) – perfect examples of Islamic architecture, decorated with elaborate geometric designs.
S – Shiraz, Iran
The oldest city from the Persian Empire, Shiraz is known as a centre for learning and culture. Its crowning architectural gem is the kaleidoscopic Nazir al-Mulk mosque, a rare example of stained glass windows in Islamic architecture.
T – Taj Mahal, India
It’s been called the most romantic building in the world – and when the rising sun glitters rainbow hued off the white marble domes and minarets, a blend of Moghul and Persian traditions, it’s impossible to disagree.
U – Uxmal, Mexico
Perhaps the most important site for Mayan history, Uxmal is a superb example of Puuc architecture originating from this area. Prepared to be humbled by the domineering stare of the rain god Chac, who covers the walls.
V – Viceregal Lodge (also known as Rashtrapati Niwas), India
Designed by British architect Henry Irwin in the Jacobethan style, a blend of dramatic gothic and grandiose classical, this colonial era mansion has since found new life as a home for the Indian Institute of Advanced Study.
W – Wall of China, China
It’s hard to envisage a more iconic or imposing monument to human endeavour than the horizon-spanning Great Wall of China – a landmark which dominates the skyline.
X – Xingjiao Temple, China
The ancient stone pagoda of Xingjiao temple in Xi’an dates back to the Tang Dynasty of the 7th and 8th century. This Buddhist beauty may be a five-storied structure, but more stories lie inside.
Y – Yudanaka village, Japan
Traditional villages rarely come more picturesque than this: narrow streets lined with tall tiered buildings, hung with beautiful paper lamps and housing twenty different onsens, or thermal hot springs for bathing.
Z – Znojmo Castle, Czech Republic
This distinctive red-roofed castle dates back as far as 1080, when the then-wooden stronghold guarded against attack. The current structure dates from the 12th Century and now is a brewery.