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5 Must-Visit Cities if You Love Architecture

From art nouveau wonders to Frank Gehry masterpieces, embark on a journey of discovery through these destinations on expert-guided tours.

Spain, Bilbao, Guggenheim Museum and La Salve Bridge

Visitors outside the Guggenheim in Bilbao

Courtesy of Abercrombie & Kent

Many factors shape the world’s greatest cities, but perhaps none is quite as impactful as architecture. To dive deeper into the iconic landmarks, distinctive designs, and majestic structures that define urban landscapes and give an enduring impression of a city’s culture and identity, consider these five cities paired with trips led by expert local guides, courtesy of the tour operator members of the United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA).

With their wealth of knowledge and meticulously crafted itineraries, USTOA tour operators can make your travel dreams a reality, taking you to monumental buildings—ranging from grand skyscrapers to historic palaces and graceful temples—that have characterized urban centers for decades, sometimes even centuries or millennia. Plus, USTOA tour operators uphold the highest standards of transparency in tour details and pricing, prioritize safe access to remote destinations, responsible tourism practices, and environmental preservation.

Choosing a tour with a USTOA member also offers the opportunity to forge meaningful connections with like-minded travelers while exploring fascinating cities. These tours, often organized in small groups, foster camaraderie and shared experiences. Additionally, tours with USTOA operator members frequently include immersive cultural activities and culinary experiences, enriching your understanding of local culture and cuisine.

From Japan to France, you can explore cities large and small on these tours, celebrating the abundance of architectural styles, including baroque palaces, Japanese temples, and more found throughout the world. Embark on a journey of discovery through global destinations and their most awe-inspiring structures with the assistance of a tour provided by a specific USTOA member. Let them guide you through the city’s must-see architectural attractions.

Discover the Frank Gehry-designed Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao

The former industrial hub of Bilbao in Spain’s Basque Country underwent a remarkable architectural evolution in the 20th century, emerging as a global destination renowned for its modern designs. You can’t miss the Santiago Calatrava-designed Zubizuri footbridge, resembling the billowing sails of a ship as it spans the River Nervión. It’s the Frank Gehry-designed Guggenheim Museum, however, that is Bilbao’s true architectural masterpiece. Titanium plates cover the asymmetrical building, completed in 1997, and gleam in the sunlight.

In addition to visiting Bilbao, you can see another Gehry-designed building at the Hotel Marqués de Riscal in the Rioja wine–producing region. It’s just one more highlight on your 14-day Spain & Portugal: A Journey Across Iberia itinerary with Abercrombie & Kent, a trailblazer in luxury travel for six decades. On this tour, you’ll also explore Moorish architecture in Andalusia, medieval sites in Toledo and Évora, and the celebrated modernist buildings of Antoni Gaudí in Barcelona.

Experience the grandeur of the Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna

Courtesy of Insight Vacations/Noel Hibbert

Travelers outside the Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna

Courtesy of Insight Vacations/Noel Hibbert

Vienna, the former capital of the Austrian Habsburgs, offers an array of museums and baroque streetscapes, and a lively café culture that showcases centuries of architectural diversity, ranging from Gothic churches to imperial palaces, alongside art nouveau buildings and modernist structures.

You’ll see it all first-hand on this Highlights of Eastern Europe tour with Insight Vacations, including a memorable stop at the Schönbrunn Palace. Accompanied by a private guide, you’ll experience the opulence of this 1,441-room baroque palace, once the summer residence of the Habsburgs and a venue where Mozart captivated audiences with his performances.

But it’s not just about the sights. You’ll also participate in engaging activities like a “Dancing without Barriers” workshop for the visually impaired. Held in a sensory studio, it offers an inclusive opportunity to learn the Viennese Waltz and appreciate Mozart’s music.

With Insight Vacations, you’ll also explore Budapest’s famous Parliament Building, Prague’s charming Old Town, and Berlin and Warsaw’s historic sites while enjoying premium accommodations, superior authentic dining, small group sizes, and business class–style coaches for comfort. You’ll enjoy curated MAKE TRAVEL MATTER© experiences that benefit travelers and local communities with a dedicated travel director who ensures no detail is overlooked.

Explore the Golden Pavilion, Nijo Castle, and Kyoto Imperial Palace in Kyoto

Courtesy of SITA World Tours

Golden Pavilion in Kyoto

Courtesy of SITA World Tours

The legendary city of Kyoto lives and breathes craftsmanship, beauty, and history. Once the capital of Japan, Kyoto proudly displays its regal lineage through its temples, shrines, palaces, and gardens. On SITA World Tours’ 8-day Affordable Japan tour, you’ll see some of its most impressive sites, like the Golden Pavilion, a renowned Zen Buddhist temple; the Nijo Castle; and the Kyoto Imperial Palace, the residence of Japan’s imperial family for centuries.

You’ll also see the many other facets of Japan when you travel with SITA World Tours. Admire the symmetrical slopes of snow-capped Mount Fuji and explore Kanazawa’s serene Kenrokuen Gardens and old Samurai houses. Take in the vibrant energy of Tokyo as you visit landmarks like the Seaside Top Observatory, the Imperial Palace Plaza, and the Tsukiji Fish Market, the city’s largest marketplace.

SITA World Tours offers access to Japan’s premier attractions, earning it a reputation as a top name in the industry for the past 90 years. Their customizable itineraries can be tailored to your preferences, and their team of international specialists easily adapts to changing travel trends while upholding a dedication to excellence.

Marvel at the world’s tallest structure, the Burj Khalifa, in Dubai

Dubai city skyline at sunset seen from the desert

Dubai skyline from desert

Courtesy of smarTours

Dubai’s reputation as a haven for modern architecture is well known. Its skyline, adorned with futuristic skyscrapers and innovative structures, showcases the city’s penchant for pushing boundaries. From waterfront communities to glamorous islands, Dubai’s commitment to engineering innovation continues to shape its identity as a forward-thinking metropolis in the United Arab Emirates.

You can delve into Dubai’s architectural wonders on a Deluxe Dubai & Abu Dhabi adventure through the UAE, led by a knowledgeable local guide with smarTours. This expert will help you visit the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest structure, and its stunning “At the Top” observation deck.

You’ll also stop at the Louvre Abu Dhabi, a groundbreaking art and civilization museum that marks a significant milestone in the Arab world. Designed by renowned architect Jean Nouvel, it symbolizes the fruitful collaboration between France and the UAE. The museum’s design, inspired by traditional Arabic architecture, resembles a traditional medina and features interconnected pavilions, courtyards, and water elements.

To gain a better understanding of this modern city, you’ll visit the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding. Your journey starts at the souk of Old Dubai, where you’ll ride across Dubai Creek on a traditional wooden boat or abra. After arriving, you’ll have the chance to taste authentic Emirati cuisine and participate in an open discussion about the UAE’s history, culture, and traditions.

At smarTours, the team is devoted to designing inclusive itineraries that blend must-see attractions with authentic local encounters. With a focus on affordability, they offer tours that don’t break the bank, allowing guests to travel smartly and often.

Take in iconic landmarks like the Eiffel Tower and Sacré-Coeur Basilica in Paris

Courtesy of Trafalgar/Kondoros Eva Katalin


Courtesy of Trafalgar/Kondoros Eva Katalin

No list of the world’s best architectural cities would be complete without mentioning Paris, a locale that showcases different styles from various eras. From Gothic masterpieces to art nouveau, landmarks like the Champs-Élysées, Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame Cathedral, and the Musée d’Orsay—located in a stunning beaux-arts railway station—epitomize Parisian magnificence. Just outside the city, the Versailles Palace, with its spectacular baroque architecture tied to King Louis XIV, adds to the city’s allure.

You’ll see them all with Trafalgar on its nine-day guided London and Paris Explorer tour. Explore Paris with a local specialist, strolling through Montmartre, once the neighborhood of artists like Picasso and Toulouse-Lautrec. Revel in the artistic atmosphere of the Artist’s Square and enjoy panoramic views of icons including the Eiffel Tower and Sacré-Coeur Basilica.

With Trafalgar, you’ll also journey across the English Channel to London to see Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, and Westminster Abbey. Visit the famous town of Bath in the picturesque Cotswolds region, a World Heritage Site known for its Georgian architecture and Roman Baths dating to the first century. Additionally, you’ll have a chance to gaze upon the prehistoric structure of Stonehenge, one of the most iconic monuments in the world.

Whether visiting emblematic landmarks or dining with locals in a classic Parisian bistro, Trafalgar promises stress-free travel with authentic moments. They offer truly unique experiences, including “Be My Guest” meals, where you dine in the homes of locals, and “Stays with Stories,” where you overnight at culturally significant properties. Trafalgar offers nearly 300 carefully planned tours worldwide, emphasizing responsible and sustainable travel. Plus, with local specialists leading each city tour, guests fully experience each destination like insiders, not tourists.

For these tours and many others that mean expertly planned trips, access to VIP and off-the-beaten-path experiences, local and knowledgeable guides, around-the-clock service, and more, head to USTOA.

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