bFew things lead to impulsive searches for plane trips faster than the New York Times’s annual 52 Places to Go feature, a roundup of up-and-coming and unexpected travel destinations that, taken together, offer even a seasoned globetrotter something to get excited about.
One of the best parts of the feature, the exquisite layout, offers full-bleed photos and videos that transport you to each amazing destination. We went through the list and added our own suggestions for architectural marvels and historic buildings worth adding to the itinerary (here the first half of this year’s list).
Consider our list of sights as an addition, or another background on which to project your travel fantasies.
Mostly known outside of Africa for its equatorial rain forests and natural wonders, Gabon and its capital, Libreville, also contain plenty of other attractions. While a pair of David Adjaye projects in the works, including a sleek new headquarters for the Sylvia Bongo Ondimba Foundation, are worth keeping an eye on, a great stop on any current itinerary is the Revival Sunset Chapel, a postmodern house of worship built with Carrara marble and Corten steel. Situated in a forest, the chapel was first assembled in Italy, then shipped in containers to Africa.
It’s a capital of classical architecture, to be sure, and there’s nothing quite like taking in the Acropolis at sunset. But the Greek city also has its share of modernist wonders as well, such as Renzo Piano’s recent Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center. A prime example is the Walter Gropius-designed U.S. Embassy, featuring a Grecian-style columns, local marble, and an exquisite interior wooden staircase carved by local artisans.
Northwest Puerto Rico
The Times’ highlights a new surf scene taking root on Puerto Rico’s northwest shores. Another highlight of the country’s landscape is the prevalence of Caribbean-inspired modern architecture, a contemporary take on regional styles. In the nearby city of Mayaguez, the ivory-colored Biblioteca General-RUM exemplifies the tropical modernism of Henry Klumb, a German-born architect who spent decades creating striking buildings, such as the University of Puerto Rico campus, and became one of the island’s most famous designers.
Chiang Mai, Thailand
Thailand’s northern capital boasts a mirror-clad modern art museum worth exploring, but no visit is complete without a trip to the city’s impressive ancient temples. The sacred Wat Phra That Doi Suthep temple, ensconced on a hilltop accessible by a stairway lined with serpent mosaics, is worth the hike, a paragon of Thai architecture in glittering, gilded detail.
Napa Valley, California
Wine country abounds with architecture for the moneyed set, whether it’s rustic farmhouses or chic bed & breakfasts. The recently opened tasting room for Odette Winery, located in the Stags Leap District, looks like it was airlifted out of Rio, with its perforated white facade. The minimal form of the new building, which is LEED-certified, reflects the winery’s sustainable practices.
Puerto Escondido, Mexico
After relaxing on this Pacific beachfront, bohemian tourists can take a trip back in time with the ancient architecture of nearby Monte Alban, near the state capital. Once a center of the Zapotec civilization, this former hilltop city features architectural ruins that date back to 500 BC.
Talk about site-specific: built into the red rock cliffs overlooking the desert, this singular Catholic chapel features a massive, 90-foot-tall cross that seems to support the building’s roof. The brainchild of sculptor Marguerite Brunswig Staude, who hired San Francisco architects to design this house of worship, the Chapel of the Holy Cross holds no services, standing simply as a mediative space to pray and reflect.
One of the first skyscrapers in Europe, the Telefónica Building, the work of architect Ignacio de Cárdenas, draws influences from ‘20s Manhattan, though filtered through a Spanish lens (note the elaborate stucco ornamentation). During the Spanish Civil War, the 14-story tower, then one of the tallest around, was used as a lookout by Republican troops, and famous writers including Ernest Hemingway, John Dos Passos and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry all sent reports from its top floors.
About 90 minutes from this laid-back ski town sits a rarity in the oeuvre of Frank Lloyd Wright. It’s the architect’s only work in the state, a small escape commissioned by Archie Teater, a local landscape artist. Known as Teater’s Knoll, the small home and studio, shaped like a parallelogram, leans out over the landscape like the prow of a ship.
While the wobbly white tower that is Tavaru, a high-end restaurant and wine bar on Velaa, a private resort in the Maldives, looks abstract, like a series of stacked hula hoops, Prague-based architect Petr Kolar decided on the curvy shape for more rational reasons. The facade of suspended fabric allows a cooling breeze into the dining area, and cuts down on the building’s weight, making it easier to build support for the structure on a narrow island.
Positioned near the toe of Italy’s boot, the Calabria area is peaceful, authentic, and off the beaten path. That may partially explain the mysteries of the Church of Piedigrotta in Pizzo, a sanctuary hewn from rocky cliffs on the coast. Beyond the gruff exterior sits a cast of hand-carved characters, from Biblical heroes to more modern figures, including the odd pairing of John F. Kennedy and Castro. Visit in the afternoon, when the sun shining through the entrance heightens the mystical vibes.
The Alhambra fortress and palace in Grenada will always be the bigger name on the tourist circuit, which makes the Alcazaba in Antequera, one of Spain’s oldest Moorish fortresses, a true gem (with much smaller crowds). Built in the 11th century, it’s considered the best-preserved Moorish citadel in Spain, a double-walled fortress perched on a strategic hilltop above the city.
Lofoten Islands, Norway
In a stereotypically Nordic fashion, this remote northern part of the country has been blessed with a government commitment to exceptional modern art and high-design public spaces. In addition to an art museum in a former caviar factory and a public plan to promote installation art throughout the region, visitors to the Lofoten Islands can also take advantage of this stylish rest stop in Eggum, the work of superstar firm Snøhetta. The amphitheater offers a fantastic perch for those lucky enough to be in the region during the Northern Lights.
Iberá Wetlands, Argentina
For good reason, the largest nature preserve in Argentina isn’t a hotbed of compelling architecture. But the nearby city of Corrientes, the historic provincial capital, is dotted with French- and Italian-influenced architecture. A stroll down the Plaza 25 de Mayo offers a panoramic view of Colonial styles and buildings.
Perched on the largest peninsula in the Adriatic, this city sits at the crossroads of Croatian, Italian, and Austrian culture, which explains the wealth of castles, churches, and basilicas. A picturesque stop during any visit, the 13th century Morosini-Grimani Castle showcases a Renaissance renovation; “new owners” in the 16th century added Venetian-style towers to the stately palace. The square plays host to festivals throughout the year.
This Central American nation’s popularity among tourists seeking sunshine, natural beauty, and waterfront escapes has brought a torrent of typical seaside lodgings and eco-hotels. Guests looking for a unique hotel experience need go no further than Mexican architect Javier Senosiain’s Swan Villas, curvy white bubbles of masonry with a decidedly organic style. The rental units looks like wisps of clouds that have set down near the sea.
Langtang Region, Nepal
A mountainous region of incredible beauty, this area was severely damaged by recent quakes, earning the tragic distinction of being Nepal’s Ground Zero. While many of the stunning Buddhist religious structures were damaged, there are still many historic sites worth visiting. Patan Durbar Square in the city of Lalitpur, south of Kathmandu, offers a chance to step back into time and walk among one of the oldest known Buddhist cities in the world.
No surprise that an island in the strategic Dardanelles Strait would be home to an ancient stone fortress. The oceanfront Bozcaada Castle, built by Ottoman Emperor Mehmet II in the 15th century, provides a history lessons for tourists getting off the ferry from the mainland, and a good start to a day of strolling across the laid-back cobblestone streets or visiting some of the island’s vineyards.
Bouncing back due to new development and creative reuse, this southern city has turned its history into an asset. One of the most pivotal chapters in that story is Birmingham’s important contributions to the Civil Rights movement. Landmarks like the A.G. Gaston Motel, a meeting place for activists, form part of a newly designated national monument that President Obama just made official this week.
Sacred Valley, Peru
This Incan highland near the provincial capital of Cuzco overflows with ancient archeological sites. One of the most famous, Ollantaytambo, served as the royal estate of conquering leader Emperor Pachacuti. The intricately terraced highlands contain some of the oldest continuously lived-in building in South America, as well as ceremonial temples and a number of fountains.
On the way to central Kenyan nature preserves, guests traveling through the capital, Nairobi, should pause to admire the city’s modernist buildings. The Kenyatta International Conference Center, built to host the first meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank in Africa, symbolizes national independence, and since its construction in 1973, has been renowned as a grand meeting hall for important gatherings.
Busan, South Korea
South Korea’s burgeoning design scene has seen scores of modern museums and supertall towers alter the urban fabric of its big cities over the last decade. But in Busan, one of the most impressive buildings has been standing for more than a millennia. The Beomeosa Temple, or the Temple of the Nirvana Fish, a reference to an origin story involving a golden well and heavenly fish, was first established in 678 on the slopes of Geumjeongsan, a mountain location surrounded by eight scenic wonders.
Portlandia is more than rustic chic and throwback cocktail bars. The city’s rich architectural heritage also boasts this prime example of postmodern architecture, Michael Graves’s Portland Building, considered the first of its type. Recently the subject of a heated preservation battle, the multi-hued tower still stands.
Designed in the Moorish revival style, the Dohány Street Synagogue, or Great Synagogue, is a magnificent monument to Judaism, the second largest such house of worship in the world. While significantly damaged during WWII, the glorious 19th century building was restored to its glory after the country became democratic in the ‘90s, financed in large part by a $5 million donation from Estee Lauder, a Hungarian Jew who had emigrated to the United States.
South Bronx, New York
The city’s most under-appreciated borough has its share of architectural gems. One of the most compelling, Marcel Breuer’s Bronx Community College, a bold, brutal concrete slab near the Major Deegan Expressway in the northern part of the Bronx, is hard to miss. As Curbed architecture critic Alexandra Lange noted, that anybody who loves architecture and has glanced at the incredible structures from their car “should return on foot for more than a blurry photo.”
Ryukyu Islands, Japan
This chain of tropical islands that stretch from Okinawa down towards the equator, an independent nation for centuries, are a hidden land of white beaches and coral reefs unfamiliar to many visiting Japan. For many years, the Shuri-jō served as the royal court of the Ryukyu kingdom. Damaged during the battle of Okinawa, the castle was recently restored to its former glory.