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52 buildings to see near the New York Times’s Places to Go, part 1

From North Dakota to Mexico City to Malta

The Louvre Abu Dhabi, by French architect Jean Nouvel.
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Few things provide as strong and reliable a dose of wanderlust as The New York Times’s annual 52 Places to Go feature.

In addition to offering hope to those slogging through the dead of winter and fueling the fantasy that you may somehow accrue enough vacation days, business trips, and unexpected financial windfalls to afford to take a fabulous vacation every week of the year, it also offers incredible photos of pristine landscapes and urban scenery from across the globe.

While there’s little additional inspiration required after seeing this compendium of dream vacations (outside direct links to discount flights), we went through the list and added our own suggestions for architectural marvels and historic buildings worth adding to the itinerary.

Consider our list of sights as an addition, or additional realistic background on which to project your travel fantasies.

Mexico City, Mexico

As the Times write-up suggests, Mexico’s bustling, crowded capital offers an equally kinetic and exciting variety of cultural experiences.

As we mapped out earlier this year, the county’s wealth of modern architecture claims no single style, veering from the color-blocked precision of Luis Barragan to the reflective aluminum wave of the Museo Soumaya and the soon-to-finish Torra Reforma, a 57-story tower with an unorthodox concrete facade. In addition to those cutting-edge examples, we’d recommend stopping by a classic: Pedro Ramírez Vázquez’s Museum of Anthropology.

A modernist interpretation of Mexican motifs, it’s captivating architecture that offers a sweeping narrative of cultural history.

Bordeaux, France

A hub of the country’s wine region, this French city, filled with a renowned collection of neoclassical architecture, is in the midst of a modern update, including a major facelift along waterways and the River Garonne.

For a taste of the classic architecture the city is known for, the Bordeaux Grand-Théâtre, a Neoclassical masterpiece of French architect Victor Louis, offers a stately facade and grand interior painted in blue and gold. The oldest wood-framed theater of its type in Europe is an inspiration in itself, featuring a grand entablature, supported by a dozen Corinthian columns, showcasing statues of the Muses as well as Juno, Venus, and Minerva.

If you have extra time, it’s worth a short trip out of the center of town to spy the exterior of Maison Bourdeux, an OMA-designed experimental home that looks like a slab of concrete jutting out from the hill (just remember that it’s still a private residence)

Malta

Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs: the list of those who have paid a visit to Valletta, the capital city of this charming island nation in the Mediterranean, and left their mark is extensive.

That explains why recent renovations by Renzo Piano, tasked with modernizing the functions and stone facades of the ancient buildings lining the city’s centuries-old grid, has generated so much attention.

By reshaping and modernizing Valletta’s weathered gates, and adding new angles to the exterior of the parliament building, Piano’s vision for Malta has energized once-ancient streets while maintaining their monumentality.

Coral Bay, St. John

The prime attractions of this quaint Caribbean town are the incredible landscape, white sandy beaches, and local culture, not a massive collection of modernist architecture.

That said, the town of Cruz Bay does have buildings with plenty of history; sites such as the Cinnamon Bay Plantation and Annaberg Historic district harken back to the island’s experience with the sugar trade, as well as a series of slave uprisings that shook the region in the 18th century.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota

Not surprisingly, a national park named after the leader who may have done more than any president to advance the cause of preservation also, at one point, served as his own natural retreat. Next to the park visitor center sits the Maltese Cross Cabin, where the president slept during his first buffalo hunts in the Dakota territories.

The three-story stack of Ponderosa pine, a mansion compared to other nearby cabins, suited Roosevelt, serving as the home away from home that helped him develop a lifelong affinity with the West.

Mozambique

A buzzed-about destination in travel circles due to its unspoiled wilderness and under-the-radar reputation, the East African nation also offers a wealth of Art Deco buildings and unique architecture, especially in the capital, Maputo.

Grand buildings such as the mint-green train station, designed by an associate of Gustave Eiffel (check the wrought iron), as well as the Natural History Museum, a prime example of Manueline architecture, showcase some of the Portuguese style imported by former colonial rulers.

Toronto, Canada

Canada’s largest city, currently in the midst of a building boom, boasts serious modern bonafides, from the Toronto-Dominion Centre, one of Mies’s most revered skyscrapers, to the signature CN Tower. But the curved forms of the concrete New City Hall, designed by Viljo Revell, was one of the most striking midcentury additions to the Victorian centre.

Revell’s inspiring design, which beat out hundreds of other entrants to the international competition to create the civic landmark, is, according to critic David Hume, the only building that comes close to meeting Toronto’s grand aspirations for itself.

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

While Dubai may be home to many of the superlatives of modern Middle Eastern architecture, there is still plenty of space (and money) left to make Abu Dhabi a showplace for experimental, eccentric design.

The city’s Saadiyat Island, set to become a world-class cultural district with a constellation of new or soon-to-open museums, will soon be the home of Jean Nouvel’s Louvre Abu Dhabi.

The striking exterior, a white dome interlaced with a series of geometric openings, offers both an artful way to control light and temperature as well as a riff on traditional palm leaf roofing that provides a “rain of light” meant to reference mashrabiya and the beams of light that illuminate souks.

Skane, Sweden

The Swedish southwest has earned rave reviews for contemporary Nordic cooking, but the region’s biggest city, Malmö, also gets plenty of press for booming tech firms and a new hi-tech focus. Perhaps the building that best symbolizes the area’s growth in the Turning Torso, Santiago Calatrava’s torqued tower based on the architect’s own marble statue. The recent recipient of the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat’s 10 Year Award, the 54-story building has become a new landmark for the changing city.

Viñales, Cuba

As Cuba quickly becomes an American tourist destination, more remote area such as Viñales, located in a lush valley protected as a UNESCO Heritage site for its traditional agriculture, become even more desired. Within the picturesque area dotted with hills and small farms, vernacular architecture takes center stage. Time capsules can be found in the form of nearby tobacco plantations or the sleepy village of Puerto Esperanza.

Guadeloupe

A chain of French-controlled islands in the Caribbean, this may be the best place in the region to score a baguette. Amid the archipelagos sugarcane fields and sandy beaches, numerous historical sites reference the area’s colonial and plantation past, including the 17th-century Fort Napoléon, which fell to the British, but was later turned into a historical museum with an adjoining garden featuring native flora and iguanas.

Park City, Utah

This skiers mecca offers plenty to see for anyone looking for downhill action, from expensive resorts and fine dining to the Alf Engen Ski Museum, a celebration of the Norwegian-American ski jumper who popularized winter recreation in the area decades ago.

For those looking for more offbeat historic properties or places to visit, the historic Road Island Diner offers an offbeat, Art Deco history lesson best appreciated over a meal. The train car-turned-diner, supposedly the only Art Deco diner of its type west of the Mississippi, was built in New Jersey in 1939 by the Jerry O’Mahony Diner Company and displayed later that year at the New York World’s fair.

The car has changed hands numerous times, and was recently restored and moved from Rhode Island to the town of Oakley, where it operates today.

Aarhus, Denmark

A more blue collar town built around an industrial port, Aarhus, Denmark’s second city, makes a strong case for inclusion on any Scandinavian itinerary. The city’s rich music and art scene benefit from the region’s many art schools, and its cultural infrastructure and architecture is equally as impressive.

And, in many cases, angular and jagged: one of the more recognizable recent additions, the Isbjerget apartment buildings, offer a series of sharp white forms modeled after icebergs; the new suburban Moesgaard Museum boasts a sleek, angular green roof perfect for picnics, and the massive, recently opened Dokk1 Library by Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects, an intricate stack of polygonal forms, towers over the waterfront.

Even more changes are forthcoming; is ARoS Aarhus Art Museum is due to receive a James Turrell-designed extension in a few years, and BIG has plans to redesign the harborfront.

Cesme, Turkey

The Times’s take on this sun-drenched town on one of Turkey’s westernmost peninsulas focuses on the culinary scene, a natural place for creative takes on Mediterranean cuisine. After the extensive eating that may accompany any visit, a walk is probably in order, and few are more scenic than touring the Cesme Fortress, originally built in 1508 by the Genoese. The battlements, walls and towers loom over the square, providing a clear view of the blue waters and surrounding town.

Road of the Seven Lakes, Argentina

The Patagonian Lake District offers some of the most sublime scenery in the entire country, and perhaps continent, so it’s not surprising that many of the architectural highlights of the area are stylish retreats and tucked away hotels.

Numerous high-design homes can be found amid the larger regions winding roads. One of our favorites is the MD House by Alric Galindez Arquitectos, a series of five blocks set up like some sort of spatial shish kebab.

Hangzhou, China

Like many Chinese cities, the eastern city of Hangzhou has been rushing forward in a bid for economic development, in large part propelled by the headquarters of e-commerce giant Alibaba. But the recently opened Folk Art Museum by Kengo Kuma, set on a former tea plantation, looks back. Topped with a series of sloping black tiles, the zigzagging building is meant to recall a small village, a reference to the traditional craft being celebrated inside.

Korcula Island, Croatia

A less-discovered part of Croatia’s popular Dalmatian coast, the island is famous for its white wine and rocky beaches. After a day enjoying both, a lazy stroll through the town of Korcula offers an array of historic sites, including St. Mark’s Cathedral, built from local limestone in the 15th century and decorated with the work of Italian renaissance painter Tintoretto, among other local artisans.

San Sebastian, Spain

This waterfront Basque city boasts one of the more important pieces of modern Spanish architecture, Rafael Moneo’s Kursaal performance hall. Built on the site of a former casino, Moneo’s concept, a pair of glass cubes that faces the ocean, was a bit of an abstract gamble; the two “stranded rocks” set at the mouth of the Urumea River were meant to compliment the natural landscape. It paid off, winning the Mies van der Rohe award in 2000 and becoming a local landmark over time.

Virunga National Park, Democratic Republic of Congo

The massive wildlife refuge in Africa, like many rural areas around the world, won’t contain more than vernacular architecture (and there are numerous projects in the country, such as the MASS Design Group’s Ilima Primary School project, that are offering new and creative spins of local styles).

The country’s capital and biggest city, Kinshasa, however, has plenty of interesting examples, including the Basilique Sainte-Anne, a fusion of Western and African religious traditions in nearby Brazzaville. The work of French architect Roger Erell, who designed the brightly colored house of worship in 1949, the steep church offers a familiar profile with a strong local accent.

Grand Rapids, Michigan

Known as Furniture City, the Michigan town has a rich design history, including architecture highlights such as the neoclassical Amway Grand Plaza Hotel. But the must-see building might by the Meyer May House, a Frank Lloyd Wright commission for a local clothier from 1908. Located in the Heritage Hill historic district, the Prairie School standout is considered one of the best-restored Wright works in the Midwest.

Garzón, Uruguay

Part of a wine region near the South American country’s southeastern coast, Garzón’s most notable landscape features are rolling hills dotted with wine grapes. Which makes the subtle Laguna Garzón Bridge by Rafael Viñoly such a notable addition.

A circular span the shape of a wine glass stain on your countertop, the unorthodox infrastructure project was purposely designed to impede the flow of water so as to not interrupt the ecosystem in the adjoining lagoon. In wine country, slowing down always seems like the proper design choice.

Dublin, Ireland

The city’s most lauded architect, Pritzker winner Kevin Roche, pursued fame and fortune overseas, working closely with Eero Saarinen and later completing his own masterpieces with partner John Dinkeloo, such as New York Ford Foundation.

That makes his most famous commission in the city, the Convention Centre, even more of a standout. A cylindrical volume wrapped in glass and set ajar, it’s not only an important site, but the Irish legend’s most visible contribution to the landscape of his hometown.

Todos Santos, Mexico

Located a short drive from Cabo, this beachfront resort town is prized by surfers and anybody in search of sunshine. But if visitors feel motivated to explore the history of the Baja, there are few better places to start than the Misión de Nuestra Señora de Loreto Conchó, located up the peninsula in Loreto. Considered the “mother mission” and the first one founded by area Jesuits looking to proselytize the new world, the historic church marks an important chapter in the Spanish colonial period.

Tamil Nadu, India

Architecture is a key draw in this area of southeast India, home to some of the country’s most famous temple complexes, including Meenakshi Temple in Madurai, a 170-foot-tall Dravidian temple so renowned by locals and visitors that it’s been shortlisted as a potential new wonder of the world.

But there’s more to the region’s architecture. A wealthy caste of merchants called the Chettairs built ornate mansions in the 18th century, furnished with Spanish tile, Burmese teak and Italian marble. Grand buildings such as the Chettinadu Mansion represent one of the many high points in local design, the southern Indian version of the grand industrialist homes found in the West.

Vaud, Switzerland

It’s a trying task to choose a single building from among the wealth of options ringing Lake Geneva. Countless fortresses, museums and hotels have beckoned travelers and visitors for centuries (Charlie Chaplin’s former estate and escape has recently been transformed into a museum). One of the classics in region filled with greatest hits, the Château de Chillon looks like a fairytale floating atop the lake.

Once the home of the House of Savoy, the medieval structure, which sits upon a small island in Veytaux, has had its share of admirers throughout history. Artists and writers such as Lord Byron, Henry James, and William Turner have created work inspired by the waterfront castle.

Washington, D.C.

The pace of change in D.C., as many will attest to, can be unbearably slow. But at least architecturally, there are big signs of change right around the corner. Positioned as a ziggurat that moves upward towards the sky—a pattern and profile meant to signify praise—David Adjaye’s new National Museum of African American History and Culture is one of the most high-profile additions to D.C. in years.

Along with others long-term project along the Mall, including Bjarke Ingels’s Smithsonian revamp, the capital is slowly but surely evolving.