Between the joys of summer, and the excitement of Christmas, there’s a little thing called autumn. There are few things more refreshing than a weekend in a new place, and enchanting Europe is filled with small cities that are perfect for a little – or not so little – archie exploration.
As autumn slowly makes its way in, the cultural calendar picks up steam at the same time cities turn vivid ochre and old gold. Europe is always a good idea for a trip during this season as besides the undeniable charm, there is an interesting and educational program going on. Cities are at their most active period. The proximity between European countries also means you can even visit more than one on the same adventure.
This list is a compilation of cities that are exciting, quaint and overall culturally interesting. Locations where you’ll spend a lovely weekend (or more) of walking, Instagramming and sipping a nice and warm drink. All whilst discovering some of the most historical landmarks in the world. What these places have in common is a solemn built history.
If you are looking for inspiration, look no further as this list will provide plenty of ideas. Not only in terms of countries but also in terms of architecture, Instagram spots and restaurants. I’ve included all those important aspects on the specific map of each place. In this way you can quickly have a glimpse of what each city has to offer.
Shall we begin?
Berlin, with its bizarre mixture of of past and present architecture, is a delighful urban oddity. The vast range of feelings you’ll experience as an architect will include nostalgia (for instance at the formerly decaying Neues Gallery by Mies van der Rohe), idealism (Hansaviertel still standing proud after so many years, and changes), purity (the pristine façade of Chipperfield’s Museum Island) and rejection (the many bunkers and concrete fortifications that are evidence of a very dark past).
Anybody can learn history while wandering up its long avenues, sipping bier and admiring the historical legacy impregnated in the city’s buildings, parks and avenues. Berlin leaves no one indiferent, especially the architecture lover.
Check the map below for inspiration or download the Free Architecture Guide of Berlin.
This delightful little city will surprise you with its vast range of architecture. While the picturesque river and its lovely river houses attract a wide range of visitors, don’t be fooled, it is one of the best locations in Eastern Europe for Brutalist architecture. From the magnificent buildings at the Republic Square, to the most stunning petrol stations by Milan Mihelič.
Whilst Jože Plečnik is still considered the architect who defined what we now know as Slovenian modern architecture, there are many other architects who changed – and are changing – the rules for this city’s built world. Watch firms like Scapelab (refurbishment of The Cukrarna, see below image), Bevk Perović arhitekti (Ljubljana’s mosque) and Sadar + Vuga Arhitekti.
Check the map below for inspiration or download the Free Architecture Guide of Ljubljana.
Brussels is one of the most beautiful and romantic cities in the world. The city’s charm is balanced and carefully preserved. Some of the buildings that have added to Brussel’s charm over the years are protected under UNESCO Heritage rules. Brussels is indeed home to three World Heritage Sites: La Grand-Place, Stoclet House, and Major Town Houses of the architect Victor Horta.
In Brussels, Tintin and his friends are also abundandly to be found on the facades, but the Belgian capital is full of other treasures. The city celebrates the most important characters and authors of Franco-Belgian comic strip, on its walls. If there is only one city to be in if you are a comic strip fan, it is Brussels.
Oslo, hidden amongst mountains, is one of the least explored cities in Scandinavia – and also one of the most beautiful. From the new Opera House to Lambda Museum, one can find multiple architectural gems to delight the expert traveller.
In recent years, some of the most popular studios in Europe – MVRDV, Renzo Piano and BIG – have been building up the city, making it increasingly attractive to us architecture nerds.
Check the map below for inspiration or download the Free Architecture Guide of Oslo.
Cologne, a city that was almost completely destroyed in World War II, has reemerged – literally in some cases – from its ruins. A pioneering example for historical reconstruction, you’ll find world referents such as The Kolumba Museum (Peter Zumthor, 2007), Rathaus Bensberg (Gottfried Böhm, 1971) and the much-loved Hohenzollernbrücke (Franz Heinrich Schwechten, Fritz Beermann, 1911).
Its rich built environment is the consequence of having multiple cultures, traditions and politics coexisting together throughout time. Historically, this area has always been wealthy – the largest economy among the German states – and that has had an impact in what was built.
Check the map below for inspiration or download the Free Architecture Guide of Köln.
Bucharest is an emerging European city where you’ll find Neoclassical architecture proudly standing next to Communist buildings. Long avenues, vintage cafés and buildings with high risk for collapse: A strong personality within a growing city of which I have high hopes and lots of love (my sister lives there).
The honesty of this city is brutal as the contrast is perceptible in every single area. You will find old and new, poor and rich and captivating and ill-flavored coexisting so close that the tension is the norm. Bucharest is not ashamed of its past (why should it be?) and every building is part of a very complex history that has just veered 30 years ago. There is no “meh” with this city. You either like it or not.
Check the map below for inspiration or download the Free Architecture Guide of Bucharest.
With its rich architectural history (dating back to the Bronze age), tumultuous past and key strategic point in the Mediterranean, Malta has a lot to offer, if one knows where to look. This historic legacy, special even in the uniqueness of the Mediterranean, is reflected in the country’s national architecture.
Although popular as a holiday island, Malta’s focal position in the Mediterranean and historic associations have created a fascinating heritage. Equidistant between Spain and the Holy Land, Malta is an archipelago of seven islands of which three, Malta Island, Gozo and Comino are inhabited. Malta has been coveted throughout its long history with the first settlers arriving from Sicily around 5300 BC and that is visible through the city’s deep urban fabric.
Check the map below for inspiration or download the Free Architecture Guide of Malta.
Basel is Switzerland’s little secret. Located where the Swiss, French and German borders meet, Basel is a mecca for architects. Traditionally, the city has had an ancient kind of allure – Medieval Gates, grand cathedrals and historical palaces – but nowadays, contemporary architecture can be found everywhere.
Although there are plenty of contemporary buildings to rejoice in, a little gem of a building is the good old Goetheanum, a concrete giant in Dornach, a small municipality near Basel. The Goetheanum is a sight near Basel you don’t want to miss.
Check the map below for inspiration or download the Free Architecture Guide of Basel.
London is my home, the place that nurtures my creativity and where I’ve discovered some of the most amazing places. London can’t be defined as a place rich in history, Brutalism and gorgeous parks, because is more than that. You’ll know what I am talking about only if you’ve visited and felt that electrifying shock of happiness. London is pretty, very pretty. Every.Single.Part.Of.It.
I hope you enjoyed this wish list and that you are able to visit these amazing cities and buildings soon. I’d be delighted to read in the comments your traveling plans and the places you’d really loved. Time to pack your bags this Autumn!
And as they said in Asia:
“It is better to see something once than to hear about it a thousand times.”
Go out and explore!