10 U.S. Cities with Stunning Architecture That Will Make You Swoon
From Santa Fe adobe to the Beaux-Arts New York Public Library, America's architecture is awe-inspiring.
What makes traveling so exciting is experiencing all sorts of things you can't find in your local area: different kinds of food, historic landmarks, nightlife, and wildlife. One of the best reasons to travel around the U.S. is the sight seeing, and there is an incredible range of architecture in America. From the sleek modern glass skyscrapers in Chicago and the imposing Beaux-Arts buildings in New York City to the earthy adobe structures in Santa Fe and pastel-colored Victorian neighborhoods of San Francisco, each city offers a feast for the eyes.
"Architecture often reflects the influences of the city's past and the cultural identity of its people," says Justin Albertynas, travel expert and RatePunk CEO. "It's one of the best learning opportunities about a city's history, traditions, and values."
Whether you enjoy simply marveling at the work that went into crafting these majestic structures or learning about the history behind them, here are the cities with the best architecture in America.
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10 Cities with the Best Architecture in America
1. Providence, Rhode Island
While Providence may be on the smaller side as far as U.S. cities go, it's brimming with the kinds of historic buildings that will leave you awestruck.
"Providence is home to a wide range of architectural styles, from colonial to modern," says Khan.
According to Khan, one of the most striking landmarks is the Rhode Island State House, a grand neoclassical building located on a hill overlooking the city. Other notable local architectural landmarks include the Providence Athenaeum, the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul, and the John Brown House. And you can't miss the downtown Industrial National Bank Building—the tallest skyscraper in the city at 428 feet with 26 floors.
"The Benefit Street neighborhood is also a must-visit for anyone interested in historic architecture," Khan adds.
For a unique experience, take the Providence Preservation Society boat tour, during which you'll learn about 300 years of architectural history while cruising the city's waterways.
2. New Orleans, Louisiana
The Big Easy has lots more to offer than just crave-worthy gumbo and live jazz music, according to Kelly Johnson, the travel blogger behind Snap Travel Magic. The city has some of the most romantic architecture in America.
"Many buildings in New Orleans have a unique style, either Creole or French Colonial, which is a mix of French, Spanish, and Caribbean architecture," she explains.
Albertynas notes that you'll also find a number of Victorian-era buildings in New Orleans, as well.
"The city's most iconic buildings can be found in the French Quarter, including the St. Louis Cathedral, the Cabildo, and the Pontalba Buildings," he says.
Albertynas highly recommends strolling around the Garden District, which is known for its grand mansions and other historic sites, like the famous Lafayette Cemetery No. 1.
3. St. Augustine, Florida
Did you know that the oldest city in the U.S. is actually in Florida? That would be St. Augustine, which is known both for its pristine, tranquil beaches and Spanish colonial architecture. Johnson says you might even feel like you've traveled to Europe while walking around this charming coastal city.
According to Johnson, famous landmarks include Flagler College, The Lightner Museum, and The Casa Monica Hotel. Another site well worth visiting? The Castillo de San Marcos, a 17th-century Spanish stone fortress that offers sweeping views of the St. Augustine Inlet.
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4. Charleston, South Carolina
Seeing as Charleston is the oldest city in South Carolina, it makes perfect sense that this city is brimming with some of the most spectacular architecture in America.
"The city's historic district is a National Historic Landmark and is home to many beautiful examples of colonial and antebellum architecture, such as Rainbow Row, the Battery, and the Nathaniel Russell House," says Adeel Khan, a travel agent at BusinessClass.com.
According to Johnson, some of the prominent styles you'll see here include Gothic Revival, Colonial, Georgian, Federal, Classical Revival, Italianate, Victorian, and Art Deco. She advises walking along Church Street and the downtown corridor to see the best examples of these styles.
"For a unique architectural experience, I recommend visiting the Aiken-Rhett House, a preserved urban plantation house that offers a glimpse into the city's history," adds Khan.
5. Washington, D.C.
It should come as no surprise that our capital has some of the most memorable and recognizable buildings in the country. There's the Neoclassical-style U.S. Capitol Building, Greek-inspired Lincoln Memorial, the British-Palladian style Mount Vernon, the iconic Thomas Jefferson Memorial, and the Beaux Arts-style Library of Congress.
"There's an amazing mix of neighborhoods, monuments, government buildings, and museums in D.C. with unique architecture," says Johnson.
Be sure to check out the breathtaking Smithsonian Castle, inspired by the late Romanesque and early Gothic styles, the eye-catching cylinder-shaped Hirshhorn Museum, and the House of Sweden, which is a stellar example of contemporary Scandinavian architecture.
The best part? There is a slew of informative trolley tours that will take you right past the most important monuments, museums, and historic sites.
6. Santa Fe, New Mexcio
"Santa Fe is a city that's rich in culture and history, and its architecture is a reflection of that," Khan tells Best Life. "The city's unique Pueblo-style buildings are a result of its Native American and Spanish heritage."
According to Khan, the Santa Fe Plaza is a great place to start your architectural tour, with its beautiful adobe buildings and the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi.
"The Palace of the Governors is another must-see landmark, as it's the oldest continuously occupied public building in the United States," adds Khan.
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7. San Francisco, California
"San Francisco has always been known for its beautiful Victorian houses, but recent years have seen a surge in modern architecture as well," says Steer. "One of my favorites is Herzog & de Meuron's One Rincon Hill condominiums."
What really makes The Golden City's architecture stand out is its variety. While walking through the neighborhoods, you may spot several examples of different types all on the same street: post-Victorian shingle-style, Edwardian-style homes, stucco-walled Mission Revival homes.
Make sure to check out the Grace Cathedral Close (one of the last Gothic Revival structures ever built), the Art Deco-style New Mission Theater, and the many Beaux-Arts buildings with stunning columns and sweeping arches.
8. New York City
No list of cities with outstanding architecture in America would be complete without a mention of New York City.
"The Big Apple has an incredible variety of architectural styles and periods, from early 18th-century Georgian townhouses to 21st-century glassy skyscrapers," says Steery. "There's something for everyone here—you could spend your whole life just exploring different parts of Manhattan, each with its own unique aesthetic and history."
Without a doubt, New York City's most iconic style is Art Deco—examples of which include the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, and Rockefeller Center.
Meanwhile, Grand Central Terminal, the New York Public Library, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art all showcase the Renaissance-inspired Beaux-Arts style. Check out the Trinity Church or St. Patrick's Cathedral to marvel at the striking Gothic Revival style, or Federal Hall and Brooklyn Borough Hall to see examples of the dramatic Neoclassical/Greek Revival style.
9. Savannah, Georgia
"Savannah is a charming Southern city with a rich history and stunning architecture," says Khan. "The city's historic district is home to beautiful 18th and 19th-century homes, churches, and public buildings, such as the Telfair Academy and the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist."
Naturally, the Savannah Historic District is a must-visit for any architecture enthusiast. Not only is it gorgeous, thanks to the charming oak-lined cobblestone streets and cascading Spanish Moss, but it also boasts a plethora of historic mansions, monuments, and famous forts from the Revolutionary & Civil War eras.
Consider taking one of the many architectural walking tours to learn more about the storied buildings here and the architects behind them.
10. Chicago, Illinois
The Windy City may be known for its deep-dish pizza and gangster history, but it also offers a glimpse at some awe-inspiring industrial and modernist architecture, says Albertynas.
"Chicago is known for its unique and diverse architectural styles, from historic buildings such as the Rookery and the Monadnock Building to modernist masterpieces such as the Willis Tower and the Aqua Tower," Albertynas tells Best Life. "Some of the must-visit architecture spots include the Wrigley Building, the Tribune Tower, and the Chicago Riverwalk."
Albertynas recommends exploring the Loop neighborhood, as well as the nearby Magnificent Mile, to take in some of the most epic landmarks and skyscrapers, including the John Hancock Center and the Chicago Water Tower.
Chicago also boasts some classic works by famous American architects—like Frank Lloyd Wright's Robie House and Louis Sullivan's Carson Pirie Scott building—adds Mac Steer, travel expert and owner/director at Simify.