The world's most impressive cityscapes

updated 7/27/2021
fb tw mail_outline

Shanghai, China

Shanghai is actually is sinking beneath the weight of its buildings at a rate around 1.5cm a year. That aside, the skyline of China’s economic powerhouse is nothing short of spectacular. Cocktail bars in The Bund’s colonial mansions offer some of the best vantage points for admiring Pudong’s hyper-modern cityscape.

Shanghai by night © ESB Professional/Shutterstock

Oxford, England

Matthew Arnold dubbed Oxford the “city of dreaming spires” in his 1865 poem “Thyrsis” and his words still ring true today. This centre of academia is one of Britain’s most beautiful cities, and its skyline of dreamy domes, quads and gothic spires continues to entrance tourists and students alike.

Oxford University City © aslysun/Shutterstock

Marrakesh, Morocco

Morocco’s “red city” has captivated travellers for centuries. Its low, dusky-pink buildings, maze-like souks and frenetic mix of hawkers, tourists and touts make it a seductive introduction to the country. Many buildings still remain from the eleventh century, including the Koutoubia Mosque and Kasbah, while modern wonders include the Majorelle Gardens and luxurious hotels in the Nouvelle Ville.

Market and Food Stalls, Djemaa el-Fna, Marrakesh, Morocco, Africa © Ivan Soto Cobos/Shutterstock

Las Vegas, USA

Short on time to see the world? Head to Vegas, where a trip down the strip takes in Paris’s Eiffel Tower, a Venetian gondola ride, an Egyptian pyramid and more. This city of excess has only existed for just over a century, yet is home over eighty per cent of the world’s largest hotels.

Las Vegas, Nevada, USA cityscape along the strip at twilight © Sean Pavone/Shutterstock

continued below

Istanbul, Turkey

Istanbul is the only city to straddle two continents, sited half in Europe and half in Asia. The city’s fascinating history is reflected in a slew of Byzantine churches, Ottoman Palaces and modern engineering projects. It’s hard to catch a bad angle of the minaret-studded skyline, dominated by the iconic Blue Mosque and Haghia Sofia.

Istanbul, Turkey © Seqoya/Shutterstock

Havana, Cuba

Cuba’s capital is home to over two million souls and the romantic image of vintage cars and peeling, pastel-painted buildings doesn’t ring true all over town. Still, the faded Art Deco elegance of the old city – or Habana Vieja, a UNESCO World Heritage site – attracts millions of visitors each year.

Havana, Cuba © YU_M/Shutterstock

Barcelona, Spain

No other city has a relationship with an artist quite like Barcelona does with Antoni Gaudí. From the Sagrada Família – still decades away from completion – to Parc Güell, his influence can be felt all over Catalunya’s capital. He’s best known for his modernist mosaics, which strike an interesting contrast to modern buildings like the waterfront W Hotel.

Sagrada Familia Cathedral in Barcelona, Spain © R.M. Nunes/Shutterstock

New York City, USA

New York is awash with impressive vistas, from the lofty heights of the Empire State and Flatiron buildings to street-level scenes on the Brooklyn Bridge and in Central Park. We’d hazard a guess that this is one of the most photographed cityscapes ever, immortalised in black-and-white posters the world over.

New York City with the Brooklyn Bridge © Taiga/Shutterstock

Venice, Italy

There’s a reason Venice attracts over fifteen million visitors annually: Italy’s most romantic city boasts over four hundred palaces, one hundred and fifty canals and nearly five hundred bridges. On any given day, there are reportedly more tourists than locals packed into its streets, traghettos and trattorias.

Grand Canal, Venice, Italy © Apple Kullathida/Shutterstock

Brisbane, Australia

Sydney somewhat unfairly steals the spotlight down under. While the Harbour Bridge and Opera House have become iconic Australian images, the riverside vistas of Queensland’s capital are often overlooked. Head to Kangaroo Point at sunset to catch the twinkling lights of the skyscrapers reflected in the Brisbane River.

South bank city beach, Brisbane, Australia © Pixabay

Djenné, Mali

Djenné’s UNESCO-listed Great Mosque is the world’s largest mud-brick structure and the centre of a unique and spectacular settlement. The mosque holds over three thousand people and is lovingly re-plastered by the community with a fresh coat of mud each year. Nearly 2,000 traditional houses in the surrounding streets are also recognized on the World Heritage List.

Mali, West Africa, Djenne - impressive mosques built entirely of clay © robertonencini/Shutterstock

Pyongyang, North Korea

Pyongyang’s gloomy apartment blocks and eerily grandiose monuments could be straight out of Orwell’s 1984. Crowning off the skyline is the hulking, pyramid-like structure of the Ryugyong Hotel – under construction since the late 1980s yet still not complete – a much-publicised embarrassment to the regime that’s now been dubbed the “Hotel of Doom”.

Street of Pyongyang, the capital city of North Korea © Kanokratnok/Shutterstock

Jodhpur, India

Rapid development is a challenge for town planners, and the mayhem of India’s cities is world-renowned. Delhi and Mumbai, in particular, can be a wonderful but exhausting assault on the senses. Jodhpur in Rajasthan is a different experience entirely, a jumble of romantic blue buildings perched beneath a cliff-top fort.

India, Jodhpur, Mehrangarh Fort © Marcel Toung/Shutterstock

Paris, France

The city of lights has inspired artists, authors and playwrights for centuries. Whether gazing over rooftops from the Sacré Cœur, strolling along the Seine or picnicking with bobos in the Parc de Bellevile, it’s impossible not to be captivated by France’s capital. No wonder it’s the most popular tourism destination in the world.

Paris street with view on the famous Eiffel Tower © Neirfy/Shutterstock

Hong Kong, China

Hong Kong is one of the most densely populated cities in the world, with over 50,000 people per square kilometre. There’s no more land to build on here, so the only way to go is up: skyscrapers take up much of the 1100 square kilometre metropolis. The most iconic view is of Hong Kong Island from Kowloon.

Hong Kong sunrise © leungchopan/Shutterstock

Tokyo, Japan

Thanks to the 2003 film Lost in Translation, Tokyo has made it onto travel bucket lists around the world. The world’s largest metropolis, it’s also one of the most fascinating, home to capsule hotels, Harajuku girls, cat cafés, karaoke bars and more. Explore after dark to see the city’s famous neon illuminations at their best.

Senso-ji Buddhist temple at dusk in Asakusa, Tokyo © FenlioQ/Shutterstock

Dubai, UAE

The pace of construction in Dubai is unparalleled. The city is reportedly home to over 15 per cent of the world’s cranes and new skyscrapers seemingly spring up overnight. The tallest building in on Earth, the Burj Khalifa, might be the most impressive development, but the Palm Islands are perhaps the most characteristic of the city’s excesses.

Dubai skyline © Jens Ottoson/Shutterstock

New Orleans, USA

With buildings dating back to the 1700s, New Orleans has an atmosphere unlike any other city in the USA. Bourbon Street might have been overtaken by neon signs and drunken revellers, but beneath the flower-draped balconies of the French Quarter’s backstreets, it’s hard not to be seduced by the city’s charm.

Bourbon St, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA © Sean Pavone/Shutterstock

Cape Town, South Africa

Few cities have as spectacular a setting as Cape Town, which sprawls from the lower slopes of Table Mountain down to the shores of the Southern Ocean. This metropolis is better known for the splendour of its natural setting than its architecture, but sights like the bold colours of Bo-Kaap’s Georgian terraces are still worth seeking out.

Cape Town, South Africa - aerial view © Mark Van Overmeire/Shutterstock

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

From Christ the Redeemer atop Corcovado to its carnival-packed streets and samba beats, Rio’s scale, sights and stunning natural setting justify its moniker of Cidade Maravilhosa – the “Marvellous City”. It might not be Brazil’s capital, but we reckon it boasts the best cityscape in the country.

View of Rio de Janeiro and Sugarloaf Mountain from Corcovado view point, Brazil © galaro/Shutterstock

author photo
updated 7/27/2021
fb tw mail_outline

Planning on your own? Prepare for your trip

Use Rough Guides' trusted partners for great rates

Find even more inspiration here

Ready to travel and discover Spain?
Get support from our local experts for
stress-free planning & worry-free travels