Updated: Mar 24, 2021
City skylines help define how we recall a destination, even if we've never actually visited. Some are so iconic as to be instantly identifiable without having ever set foot on the same continent. I'd say that's a strong win for the architects and planners responsible for the design, regardless of their age or history.
1. Dubai, United Arab Emirates
For more than a decade, the Dubai skyline has pretty much been in a constant state of change. Interestingly designed buildings span a great deal of the strip running parallel to the sea, from the incredible Palm Jumeirah through to Jumeirah Beach and beyond.
Likely the most renown building of the skyline, you'll probably recognize the Burj Khalifa right away. Not only is it the tallest building in the world (roughly 829m), it holds a number of world records and takes its unique shape from a type of desert flower.
Opening in January of 2010, it was originally to be called the Burj Dubai (Tower of Dubai or Dubai Tower) but was renamed in honor of Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al Nahyan.
2. New York City, United States of America
If you're like me you enjoy older films and more classic television programs rather than much of the modern stuff. And although I've never been to New York City (the Chief Fun Officer is dying to return) I can't help but look out for the image of the Twin Towers when I watch something classic or just relax and tune out with an episode of Friends.
Time will tell if the single tower holds the same symbolism, but the skyline and all its building remain unique in that they produce their own seasonally viewed effects, having a small solstice season of their own! #Manhattangate
3. Bangkok, Thailand
The locals might shorten the name to Krung Thep, but it has an incredibly long name I'm not even going to attempt for fear of messing it up and diminishing the value of those very words they're meant to represent. Suffice to say that it's in the region of 20 individual words.
Bangkok is a long way from the beaches of Phuket or Krabi, I don't typically recommend planning a stay of more than a few nights. Hollywood films or 80s hits (Murray Head, anyone?) might have you thinking there's nothing but trouble to be found here, but there are magnificent parks and interesting juxtapositions of shopping and dining to be enjoyed.
Doesn't hurt that there's decent nightlife if you want it.
4. Auckland, New Zealand
New Zealand's own tallest building (roughly 328m) is also the tallest in the Southern Hemisphere and is the symbolic center of a larger complex offering a number of attractions, including a casino.
More recently, a number of bicycle and motorbike stunts circumnavigating the roof of the observation decks. New Zealand has long been known for sheep, sure, but also the breathtaking countryside and the thrill-seeking nature of the local populace. The country is responsible for such recreations as Zorbing.
5. Paris, France
Pretty much the most well-known structure on the planet, the Eiffel Tower stands out clearly from the surrounding buildings and punctuates the Paris skyline in distinct fashion. I myself find the whole infrastructure and layout of Paris to be very pleasing. Best viewed from above, there are not one but two arches / arcs, for example; the Arc de Triomphe is easily recognized, but what about the lesser one at La Defense?
No visit to Paris is complete without a journey up the tower, just don't leave it to the last day of your trip. Commit and head up to the third level and take in the grand designs below!
6. Tokyo, Japan
I spent a couple of weeks travelling Japan in 2010 and my observation was that many of the buildings aren't particularly eye-catching, at least not the modern offices and such.
However, they perhaps fittingly represent the humility with which local culture showcases itself on the world stage...
What I mean, is that from outward appearance things may seem a bit ordinary, lackluster even. But beneath that modest shell (or in the shadow of the Tokyo Tower) lies a tiger of unrivalled culture, near bursting with welcoming people, colorful art, trending design, incredibly tasty foods, and any number of amazing things to experience. Want to experience the best of modern technology alongside 1000s of years of well-preserved history? You need to get a first-hand view of this skyline!
7. Budapest, Hungary
Split pretty much in two, the opposing sides of the Danube in this stretch of Hungary are characterized by Buda and Pest (although there was apparently a third city consumed). Somewhat distinct, you can recognize the Buda side as it is somewhat hilly and the Pest side for being pretty much flat.
A dichotomy you might perceive even among local styles and preferences, there's plenty to see and do from this relatively low-lying skyline. Although the hills aren't that high altitude that you might better appreciate the view from onboard one of the many river cruises which grace the city and the greater Danube in general.
Float under the famous Szechenyi Chain Bridge and feast your eyes upon the 2nd largest parliament building in all of Europe (do you know the biggest?). The unique features of Hungary are somewhat subtle, at least at first, kind of like the Hungarian language itself.
Did you know that Magyar is considered one of the most difficult languages for foreigners to learn?
8. Sydney, Australia
Maybe it would have been more fair to list this one as the Sydney Harbour skyline, but I think it's pretty much instantly identifiable and a fair choice, especially since it can be recognized by night too!
Although the Opera House hosts more than just singing, even if you're not into art you can get a thrill at the nearby Sydney Harbor Bridge by signing up for a Bridge Climb! It takes about 3.5 hours to complete and was a client favorite for our 2018 trips here at Odyssean Travel, especially during the Vivid Sydney events and light shows. Just know that you get breathalyzed before you strap on your climbing rig and that they have a zero tolerance approach. Maybe wait for the celebratory pint in the pub until after you've unstrapped your climbing gear for the day!
9. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Pardon my bias, but I love Malaysia and I had to put a Malaysian destination in the list!
There is so much more to Malaysia than Kuala Lumpur, but like Bangkok, it's a brilliant place to start exploring this incredible country. You might even recognize the towers here from Hollywood film Entrapment starring Sean Connery and Catherine Zeta-Jones.
Much like the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, you can visit the towers, do some shopping in the below shopping center, and venture out conveniently into the nearby city to explore...
But where you might find the skyline starts to become more interesting is in the variety of street foods to accompany the various cultures represented by diverse Malaysia. Chinese, Indian, local Malay foods all mixed alongside pockets of other Southeast Asian communities and those from further afield. Once you've filled up, you're ready to explore local landmarks for the day or start your island hopping adventure to seek orangutans in Borneo or climb Kota Kinabalu or dive Mabul or... I'm going to need another list!
10. Rome, Italy
When you think of Rome, you're probably thinking Vatican City and the Colosseum. That's fair, they're hugely popular. However, I like the Roman Forum and the green spaces which dot the city, in addition to its beautiful riverside features. Much of the city is perhaps best described as low-rise or otherwise not very tall or high, but there are some incredible viewpoints and a fair number of rooftop terraces spread throughout the city that you could easily enjoy your own unique skyline view from all over.
There's so much art and history in Rome, you might feel overwhelmed and that's OK. Just relax, make sure you're drinking enough water, and try to just be present while strolling among countless fountains and other beautiful features of the city.
11. London, England
Again, a bit biased, I called London home for a number of years through the mid-2000s and off and on again throughout the early 20-teens. There's a reason I've saved the best for last, London should surprise you - even if you've visited before.
Tower Bridge in the mid-to-foreground, it's instantly recognizable. But can you also spot London's City Hall (the little dome or egg shaped building just to the left-hand side of the bridge? What about the Gerkin? An egg or pickle-shaped building off to the right?
There's London's tallest building, the 95-storey "supertall skyscraper" piercing out into the sky on the left. Not only is there an exquisite luxury spa and hotel hidden away in there, but an observation deck roughly twice as high up as the rest of the buildings in the capital offering 360-views and a rotating schedule of regular and one-off events.
My personal favorite, not because of the design but for the hilarious story which followed its unveiling, a building known locally as the "Death Ray". Architects are smart people and they typically work under and alongside other smart people, they are commissioned for great works based on the merit drawn from their expertise in designing incredible buildings in a sort of alchemy - art meets science in a functional yet visually appealing combination.
How it never came to consideration that the Death Ray is basically a giant, south-facing concave reflector dish is beyond me. I'm not sure how true the tales might be, but they're good allegations and pretty funny. When it was first unveiled headlines included the likes of "London Death Ray melted my Jaguar" or "local chocolatier loses entire stock as Death Ray wreaks havoc in London"...
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