Discovering Europe’s Diverse Architecture

Europe, with all of its history and culture, offers a cornucopia of architectural styles. Architecture, changing with artistic tastes, available technology, building materials, and spiritual beliefs, reflects particular places and times. Europe is unique in that you can travel a relatively short distance and encounter a great variety of well-developed cultures. As if an outdoor museum of various styles, you can expect to see examples of Gothic, Renaissance, Romanesque, Art Nouveau, Byzantine, Baroque, Neoclassic, Fascist, Modern, Rococo, Palladian, and Victorian architecture.

As a traveler, it is a delight to discover and learn about the different architectural styles of Europe. The following are just a few examples meant to inspire your future travels.

The Trulli – Alberobello, Italy

Alberobello, Italy

In the Puglia region of Southern Italy, you will find the town of Alberobello. Tourists flock to the town to see its architecture, the Trulli: cone-roofed and dry-wall constructed without mortar. In a period of history when the Kingdom of Naples would tax new settlements, the people of Alberobello invented this style of construction out of the need to dismantle structures in a hurry upon inspection. The trullo are world famous for being one of the most extraordinary examples of drywall construction. UNESCO has included them as one of the 54 World Heritage sites in Italy. These houses are still used as homes (and souvenir shops) and can be found in Brindisi, Bari, and Taranto as well.

Basilica of Sagrada Familia – Barcelona, Spain

Ceiling of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain
Ceiling of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain

This remarkable and unfinished Roman Catholic Basilica in Catalonia’s capital city of Barcelona is a truly unique church. It was designed by famous Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí in his signature Gothic-meets-Art Nouveau style. Construction started in 1882 with an expected completion date of 2026 (100 years after Gaudí’s death).

Gaudí’s design, based on Gothic and Byzantine traditions, aims to express Christian beliefs and connect visitors with nature through architecture. Because construction spanned over 136 years, the differences between the old and new parts of the building are interesting to explore. The nativity façade and the crypt of the Sagrada Familia were listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites in 1984.

Construction is funded by private donations and through visitor entry tickets and tours. If you are planning to visit the basilica, I highly recommend taking an official tour to greatly enhance your appreciation of the art and the vision of its architect.

The Cube Houses – Rotterdam, The Netherlands

Cube Houses in Rotterdam, The Netherlands
Cube Houses in Rotterdam, The Netherlands

Architecture enthusiasts should be sure add a visit to Rotterdam to their Europe sightseeing must-see list. The port city in The Netherlands is known for its groundbreaking modern architecture that departs greatly from the traditional Dutch architecture found in most cities.

One of the more distinctive architectural achievements is the Cube Houses, designed by the brilliant and innovative Piet Blom. He envisioned the houses as trees and the whole development area as a forest. The Cube Houses are tipped to one side with three sides facing the ground and three facing the sky. Small-scale businesses, shops, a school, and a children’s playground are on the promenade below.

Curious tourists and budding architects can visit the inside of one of these houses. The Kijk-Kubus (Show-Cube) is open seven days a week and is easily reached by tram, metro, or bus.

Cycladic Architecture – Santorini, Greece

Cycladic architecture in Santorini, Greece
Cycladic architecture in Santorini

The Cyclades Islands comprise about 220 Greek islands that make up the Aegean archipelago. Featuring blue-domed houses with white walls, cobblestone streets, and windmills, the architecture on these islands is picture perfect. If you want to see genuine Cycladic architecture in all its glory, then Santorini is a great place to visit. Beautiful rows of white villages (walls and houses) sit atop red cliffs glowing orange gold in the setting sun’s rays. The lovely villages of Oia and Fira offer many different attractions such as historical museums, mansions, churches, cobblestone pathways and picture-perfect houses. The houses are characteristically defined by their arches, colorful stairs, vaults, and spotless white walls.

The Dancing House – Prague, Czech Republic

Dancing House in Prague, Czech Republic
Dancing House in Prague

There’s architecture that moves you, and then there’s architecture that actually seems to move. The Dancing House, also affectionately referred to as “Fred and Ginger,” is the Nationale Nederlanden building, constructed in 1996 and jointly designed by architects Vlado Milunić and Frank Gehry. Its deconstructivist architectural style consists of 99 differently shaped panels and a twisted metal sculpture on top. This sculpture has been nicknamed “Medusa” and is a beautiful complement to the asymmetrical rooms found in the interior of the building.

Inspired by the actor-dancer duo, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, the interior features over 3,000 square feet of offices, 21 luxury hotel rooms, an art gallery, a sightseeing terrace, and the Fred and Ginger Restaurant on the top floor.

Canal Houses – Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Canal houses in Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Canal houses in Amsterdam

The Dutch are a famously industrious and innovative people. From their engineering to their architectural feats, they consistently showcase their expertise in form and function. When visiting the great canal city of Amsterdam in The Netherlands, you will see the characteristic canal house architecture.

At the time of their initial construction during the Dutch Golden Age of the 17th century, the government levied property taxes according to a building’s width. As a way to lower their tax burden, homeowners built their houses tall, thin, and deep. The houses were, and still are, used for residences and workspaces. In this prominent trade city, the basements and attics are used to store goods. Pulley systems placed at the gable hoist products and furniture through the attic’s window, something you may get to observe firsthand.

When visiting Amsterdam, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to see the interiors for yourself. Shops, restaurants, hotels, and museums all inhabit canal houses, the most famous of which is the Anne Frank House, where the Frank family hid in the attic during the Nazi occupation. In addition to being a sobering memorial, it is a great example of a traditional canal house. (Be sure to note how far back into the house you go until you find the bookcase that hid the entrance to the attic.)


Ready to plan a trip?

For an opportunity to fully appreciate the art and history of the various architectural styles, you might like to consider an architectural tour. With both group and private options, tours are popular and available throughout Europe.

Short tours that may last only a couple of hours can easily be added to an existing travel itinerary to the city you’re visiting. (For itinerary help, check out my Door-to-Door Itinerary service and download a sample itinerary.)

There are multi-day tours available as well that may take you to several different cities. (Check out my Tour & Cruise Matchmaking service for assistance with this.) Even without a dedicated tour and regardless of where your travels take you, there will be plenty of opportunities to see and enjoy the architectural styles.

Not sure where to start? Contact me for a free, no-obligation 20-minute consultation, and I’ll be happy to discuss how I can help!

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