Hi Frugalistas! One of the things I love most about Europe is its architecture. Coming from a relatively young country, with homogeneous building styles, I love the regional and historical variation found in European architectural styles. I love the sheer age of the buildings. Early nineteenth century? That’s a “new” building. Choosing my favourite buildings has been very difficult. After all, I haven’t been everywhere in Europe, and there is just so much to choose from. After much thought, and an update to the post, I’ve managed to narrow my choices down to my favourite five. In no particular order, here are my favourite buildings in Europe (so far!)
1. St Peter’s Basilica in Rome
I visited St Peter’s Basilica on my first trip to Europe over 25 years ago. Although I’m not religious, I found it a genuinely overwhelming experience. The sheer grandeur and detailed glory of it. The way the sun shone in – it did look truly mystical, as if God was shining down inside.
To make it even more special there was a group of Polish pilgrims visiting at the same time as me. The Iron Curtain was still up, so Eastern European tourists were rare. To see the genuine adoration of those pilgrims, some with tears streaming down their faces really added to my experience. Like the best architecture it moved me in a way I did not expect.
2. Versailles Palace
Regular readers would know how much I love France, so it comes as no surprise that Versailles is on my list. You can’t beat Versailles for an over the top unbeatable French experience. But there’s more to this grand chateau than Baroque extravagance. I recommend visiting the palace when the fountains (boules) are turned on. They really do add to your experience of the gardens.
I also recommend taking the little train further down into the grounds to the Trianon Palace and even further down into the outer reaches of the gardens to Marie Antoinette’s hameau (village) – it really is another world down there. I love how the grounds of Versailles reflect the fortunes of the French monarchy during the Revolution – the initial excess of the main chateau, then receding deeper into the background into more humble circumstances as the Revolution raged around them. Finally ending up in humble village surroundings prior to their arrest.
3. Ste Chapelle
Ste Chapelle is definitely my favourite building in Paris. I love how small but perfectly formed it is. I love how pretty, and how feminine it is. I love how it is always far less crowded than the more famous Notre Dame Cathedral. I love how old it is and the amazing craftsmanship. Whenever I visit Ste Chapelle I never cease to be awe-inspired by the glorious stained glass windows. Ahh, I just love it……
4. Sagrada Familia
Gaudi’s unfinished masterpiece, the Sagrada Familia also makes my list of faves. While its architecture is somewhat of an acquired taste (I appreciate it’s not everyone’s cup of tea) no one can deny its sheer creativity. With riotous colours, fruits, flowers and light everywhere it is an assault for the senses. I love the faith that inspired this building – Gaudi knew it would not be finished in his lifetime, but he did it anyway.
5. Hagia Sophia
I thought long and hard about what to include from Istanbul. I adore Istanbul and I particularly love its architecture, so choosing just one building was tricky. In the end I went for Hagia Sophia. Hagia Sophia was the one place I desperately wanted to see when I went to Istanbul. It was the one place is genuinely hoped would be as beautiful as the photos I had seen. It was the one place I didn’t want to be disappointed by……
Hagia Sophia ticked all my boxes. In fact it was far more beautiful than I imagined. Not everyone who visits goes upstairs to see the stunning Byzantine frescoes, so I wandered around the gallery capturing every tiny detail, both on my camera, and in my mind. Hagia Sophia is one place where you must just put the camera away, and soak in its grandeur and beauty.
Great architecture is about more than just the walls and floors. It moves us. It teaches us. It reflects culture and history. It creates a sense of place. I truly believe you cannot genuinely appreciate any place without visiting, understanding, appreciating, and just be in awe of its architecture.
What is your favourite European architecture, and why?
All photos author’s own, except St Peters Basilica – Wikimedia commons
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Great list ~ I’ve been to all except Hagia Sophia. It’s on the list!
Hagia Sophia was the last one I made it to – well worth the wait!
Great list! I don’t think that I would be able to pick just 5 though. I don’t even think I could narrow down my choices just from Rome. The Hagia Sofia is one of my favorite buildings though; I spent hours in there!
Yes, it was hard! My list of Honorable Mentions is quite lengthy…..
Great choices, Jo. I’d like to go back to each one of them.
And me too!
Dianne W says
Notre Dame in Paris, especially the main mass on Sunday with the organ music. A total experience of both gothic architecture and music.
St. Marks in Venice, plus the canals. Architectural genius.
Il Duomo di Firenze, Filippo Brunelleschi’s dome ignited the Renaissance.
Lisa Goodmurphy says
Great list! I’ve been to all of them except Sagrada Familia and Barcelona is at the top of my wish list!
All beautiful places! I’ve had the pleasure of going to all of them except Hagia Sophia. Need to visit Istanbul soon!
I thoroughly recommend Sagrada Familia -amazing building both inside and out. And Barcelona is always top of my list!
Yes, Will you need to get there. I love, love, love it!
All gorgeous places! I’m looking forward to seeing La Sagrada Familia for the first time in person next year. It looks amazing. I was really wowed by the architecture in St. Petersburg, I think mostly because I wasn’t expecting it. Everything was so over the top and ornate.
I’ve only ever seen pictures of St Petersburg, but it does look truly amazing. Sagrada Familia won’t disappoint!
Milosz Zak says
I have to completely agree with you on Aya Sofya.
These five are amazing, but I just don’t know how you managed to whittle it down!!
I was really looking forward to visiting Hagia Sophia, but was also worried it might disappoint – if anything it was even better than I imagined!
Not sure either – lots of honourable mentions!
Francesca (@WorkMomTravels) says
I’ve been only to two on this list, St. Peter’s and Hagia Sophia, and I agree that they’re both amazing structures – architecturally and historically.
I love the history, and even though I’m not at all religious, the spirituality of them – I find them genuinely moving.
This must have been a tough one! I have to agree, I love Sagrada Familia and can’t wait to explore the beautiful buildings of Istanbul.
If you love Sagrada Familia, you’ll adore Istanbul!
Victor Tribunsky says
The European architecture – yes, but for me it is also a rich history. There are so many historical places in Europe.
Yes agreed. Don’t get me started on history……
Yes Carolyn, the Sagrada Familia is definitely the one that surprised me too – far more than just a church
Carolyn - Holidays to Europe says
Great list, Jo. The Sagrada Familia absolutely blew me away when I visited this year – nothing I had read about it had prepared me for the beauty of the interior – it is stunning. It must have been a tough task whittling your list down to five.
Great list! Sagrada Familia actually made me tear up when I visited. Having been fortunate to visit all of the buildings on this list, the only one that didn’t make my top five was Versailles – and I think that’s just because it was soooo crowded I couldn’t really enjoy it. Instead, I might replace it with the St. Vitus Caterdral in Prague, mostly because of the Chagall stained glass. Or perhaps the Alhambra in Granada, Spain!
I agree with you about the Alhambra. I went there many years ago, and it was the beginning of an ongoing love of Islamic architecture
Lina @ Divergent Travelers says
St Peters Basilica deserves your ‘#1’ spot on this list. Fantastic building to visit in Europe. Cannot wait to visit Versailles, looks stunning. Unfortunately missed it on my last visit to Paris. Great list!
Yes, St Peters is sensational, but then they all are in their own way. Try and make sure you go to Versailles when the fountains are working – well worth it
I had no idea that Trianon Palace was apart of Versailles? I loved Versailles and would have loved to see Trianon Palace because it looks so cute and quaint. Quite different than the palace…or did I misunderstand?
And what a great idea for a post! Inspiring. Great way to share beautiful architecture and buildings in Europe.
It’s a separate building to the main Palace Ivory. You need to go into the gardens and take the little train down to it.