20 Awe-Inspiring Landmarks of the World

Explore the most iconic landmarks of the world (Explore 20 of the most iconic landmarks of the world)

Every country has its icons. From the seven wonders of Russia to the myriad engineering marvels of the USA, every nation on Earth has at least one structure to be proud of. Some could be considered local landmarks, while others are recognised the world over. Structures or natural features so iconic as to be instantly recognisable to citizens in all countries of the world. These are the monuments, buildings and places that have gone beyond being merely ‘well-known’ and become part of our global culture. With that in mind, this article journeys to 20 of the most iconic landmarks of the world.

The Eiffel Tower (Paris, France)

Iconic landmarks of the world: the Eiffel Tower in Paris (Image: designerpoint)

Many can build a tower that dominates the skyline. Few can build an engineering marvel that still stands over a century after it was due to be demolished. Fewer still can make that marvel into a beloved icon. And only one man has ever managed to make that icon into the symbol of an entire nation.

Gustave Eiffel built his eponymous tower for the 1889 World’s Fair in Paris. Amazingly, he only leased the land for 20 years, expecting his tower to be torn down after that. Luckily for him, by 1909 the tower was being used as a transmitter and authorities agreed to keep it standing. The tower was soon so globally famous that when Hitler ordered its destruction in World War Two, Nazi general General Dietrich von Choltitz directly disobeyed him, saving it for future generations.

Today, the Eiffel Tower is one of the most-visited landmarks of the world. 2015 saw nearly seven million visitors ascend its rattling lifts to gaze out on the city below, more than any other paid-for monument on the planet.

The Great Wall (China)

The Great Wall of China (Image: tpsdave)

China’s Great Wall is the greatest monument to egomania ever made. Self-obsession on a grand scale, despotism and a viciousness rarely matched collide in its mighty foundations. Instigated by the First Emperor Qin Shi Huang, it formed part of his devastating ‘year zero’ campaign, where history was completely wiped out, the country sealed off, books burned, and thousands of scholars murdered.

Of course, time dulls even the greatest of atrocities, and today it’s unlikely many of the Great Wall’s visitors are thinking of this turbulent period of history. Instead, they’re simply there to admire one of the greatest man-made landmarks of the world. Everything about the wall is massive. It covers 5,500 miles. It once housed 25,000 watchtowers. Up to a million workers may have died during its construction. While that old canard about it being the only man-made structure visible from space may have been debunked, everything about the Great Wall of China remains so wonderfully overwhelming that you can’t help but wish it were true.

Stonehenge (Wiltshire, UK)

Landmarks of the World: the enigmatic Stonehenge on Salisbury Plain (Image: Freesally)

Rising out the Wiltshire plain in Britain’s pastoral West Country is one of the most enduring prehistoric monuments. Stonehenge is burned into the minds of archaeologists, historians, folklorists, New Age-types, and UFO fanatics across the globe. A Neolithic circle of giant sarsens and smaller bluestones that were dragged across seemingly-impossible distances in the dim and distant past, the henge is a place where the air crackles with mystery. Who built it and why? Why here, rather than closer to the source? Scholars remain uncertain to this day.

Though there are other popular landmarks of the world in the UK (Big Ben, say, or the Forth Bridge), none packs quite so much wallop on the international stage as Stonehenge. People have been writing about it throughout recorded history. The henge crops up in historical records, travellers’ diaries, in old paintings, you name it. Small as it may be compared to some on this list, Stonehenge is nothing if not alluring. Thrumming with the mystery of bygone ages, it is arguably the most hypnotic landmark in the entire world.

Mount Rushmore (South Dakota, USA)

Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, USA (Image: Pexels)

You can keep your Golden Gate Bridge. Keep your Hollywood sign, Grand Canyon and Empire State building. If we had to choose a single landmark to define the entire United States, it would be Mount Rushmore. Blasted into a mountainside by dynamite, featuring the giant stone heads of four beloved presidents, Mount Rushmore is quintessentially American: big, brash… and unquestionably brilliant.

Incredibly, this iconic landmark of the world, which has featured in movies and novels and TV shows across the globe, was nearly very different. Instead of presidents, it was originally meant to showcase famous heroes of the American West. Had originator Doane Robinson got his way, instead of Lincoln, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Washington, South Dakota would currently be overlooked by guys like Buffalo Bill and Lewis and Clark. It was only thanks to sculptor Gutzon Borglum’s insistence that Mount Rushmore have broader appeal that it became the grandiose paean to the nation’s presidents we see today, taking its place among the grandest landmarks of the world.

Sydney Opera House (Sydney, Australia)

Global landmarks: the stunning Sydney Opera House (Image: Profotos-de)

It’s rare that a piece of modern architecture becomes truly iconic, especially one forged mainly from concrete. But Sydney Opera House isn’t just any piece of modern architecture. It’s perhaps the most-successful work of the last half-century. Huge concrete sails sweep into the sky, clad in brilliant white tiles and bringing to mind a choppy sea. Inside, enormous halls bring music to thousands at a time. The overall effect is beyond elegant, beyond merely impressive. It is, in a word, superlative.

The brainchild of Danish architect Jørn Utzon, the Sydney Opera House was so forward-looking it was nearly unbuildable. It took well over a decade to get started, and the work repeatedly threatened to run over both schedule and budget by alarming amounts. But it was all worth it. The result was a building unparalleled anywhere in the Southern Hemisphere; a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a global landmark that’s as much a part of Sydney as Gustave Eiffel’s tower is of Paris.

The Moai (Easter Island, Chile)

The haunting statues of Easter Island (Image: myeviajes)

Giant stone heads that gaze forbiddingly over the surrounding landscape, the dramatic Moai of Easter Island (better known as the ‘Easter Island Heads’) are one of the enduring mysteries of the world. Carved by the Rapa Nui people between 1250-1500 AD, they required almost supernatural levels of manpower, all in the pursuit of… what, exactly? No-one can agree on the precise function of these compelling statues. All we know is that they were likely status symbols, and that they were everywhere.

What motives lay behind this building craze, we’ll likely never know for sure. Easter Island is incredibly remote. Surrounded by 2,000 km of empty ocean, it was only visited by Europeans in 1722, by which point civilisation had effectively collapsed. Disease and enslavement then wiped out most of the Rapa Nui’s descendants, leaving only 11 survivors by 1877. Although the population has since bounced back, much history of the island remains lost. On a purely aesthetic level, this may be no bad thing. The Moai are iconic landmarks of the world because of their mystery, not in spite of it. Take that away and the image of their stern, stone faces would be less well-known.

The Leaning Tower (Pisa, Italy)

The Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy is one of the world's most striking landmarks (Image: JimboChan)

The most-famous collapse risk in the entire world, the Leaning Tower of Pisa is one building no child ever forgets hearing about. While the image of the Colosseum may be better known, no other Italian landmark has such an evocative, yet accurate, name. The idea of a tower in a perpetual state of collapse, forever tilting but never falling, is one guaranteed to send chills down the spine. As such, it’s our pick for Italy’s most-iconic landmark.

Perhaps what’s most surprising is that the tower was never intended to lean. Built on inadequate foundations, it began to subside while still under construction, eventually coming to a halt at some 5.5 degrees off-centre. There it remained, a kind of architectural curiosity, until in the late 20th century somebody realised it was perhaps only moments away from toppling and killing dozens of tourists. The global landmark was hastily reinforced, eventually coming to a permanent rest at 3.99 degrees off-centre. Less-dramatic, perhaps, but certainly safer.

The Taj Mahal (Agra, India)

The iconic Taj Mahal in Agra, India (Image: Simon)

There are few moments more unforgettable than your first sight of the Taj Mahal. Framed by a vast gateway, shrouded in smog, its incredible form seems to rise above the grime of its home city. A pristine, almost glowing mausoleum, stretching like a dream into the hazy Indian sky. Built in the mid-17th century for a cost equivalent to 52.8 billion rupees ($827 million) in today’s money, it is a monument to love unlike any other in history.

The story is well known, but its outline bears repeating. Commissioned by Shah Janah to commemorate his dead wife Mumtaz Mahal, it took 20,000 artisan workers nearly 20 years to complete. The results were so staggering that a legend rose up of Janah having his workers all blinded (or, in one version, chopping off their hands) so they’d never build anything as beautiful again. He needn’t have bothered. It’s arguable that nothing as beautiful as the Taj has been constructed before or since in the whole sweep of human history. Perfect, unique, awe-inspiring, it is perhaps the most-attractive world landmark on this entire list.

St Basil’s Cathedral (Moscow, Russia)

St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow, Russia (Image: Dezalb)

In the pantheon of great landmarks of the world, St Basil’s Cathedral tends to get overlooked in favour of monumental icons like Christ the Redeemer, Uluru or even the Burj Khalifa. Certainly, if you said the words ‘St Basil’s’ to someone, they may even give you a blank stare. But show them a picture like the one above, and watch their eyes light up in recognition.

With its chocolate box decorations, spiralling domes and strange, candy cane colours, St Basil’s Cathedral is instantly recognisable. Perhaps the most-beautiful building in Russia, it evokes the strange grandeur and sheer differentness of this Eurasian country more effectively than a thousand guidebooks ever could. Commissioned by Ivan the Terrible in the mid-16th century, and designed to evoke the image of a bonfire flickering at night, St Basil’s is one of the unlikeliest, most perfect buildings ever constructed. Seen by daylight, it’s ethereal. Seen by night, it’s like something from another world.

The Sphinx (Giza, Egypt)

The Sphinx at Giza, Egypt (Image: NadineDoerle)

It’s impossible to imagine what went through the minds of the first Europeans to stumble across the Sphinx. The romantic poem Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley gives some idea, but it’s an imperfect picture. A giant stone head emerging from the endless sands of Egypt, vast beyond comprehension, the Sphinx was once a source of terror and wonder. Since excavated to reveal its body, it is no longer quite so sublimely horrifying. Yet it remains an undoubted wonder of the world; a fragment of what was once the greatest civilisation in history.

Everything about the Sphinx is staggering, even more so than the surrounding pyramids. It was constructed around 2550 BC, almost precisely when Stonehenge was being built. But whereas Stonehenge is modestly-sized, the Sphinx is vast. Over 66 ft tall and 238 ft long, it must’ve appeared as a distant, terrible god to Egypt’s slaves. While now we can see it for the work of man, its sheer age and craftsmanship means it remains one of the most impressive landmarks of the world, arguably the most iconic of them all.

Mount Fuji (Tokyo, Japan)

The snow-capped peak of Mount Fuji in Japan (Image: oadtz)

Is there any other mountain on Earth so completely identified with a single city? Mount Fuji is the crowning landmark of Tokyo, a snow-topped icon that has graced the background of endless postcards, photographs, movie frames and novels.

Some of this fame may be to do with proportions. Surrounded by what, until recently, was the most populous metropolitan area on Earth (China’s Pearl River Delta conurbation eventually overtook it in 2015), only something as vast and permanent as a mountain could ever hope to give the sprawling megacity a focal point. But its status is at least as much due to aesthetics. Seen, wrapped in the faint, bluish haze that dominates this corner of Japan, Mount Fuji is astonishingly beautiful.

Despite its eminence, the mountain is actually something of an easy climb. People go up and down in a single day. There are even amenities at the very top. But Fuji is more than just a mountain. It is an icon. A symbol of a nation, unparalleled in the natural world.

Uluru (Australia)

Uluru, also known as Ayers Rock, is one of the most spiritual landmarks of the world (Image: walesjacqueline)

On paper, Uluru (formerly Ayers Rock) doesn’t sound like an enticing prospect. A vast plateau of rock rising abruptly out the burning Australian outback, it seems like an unlikely landmark. Yet mere words are hopeless for expressing the sheer, otherworldly power of Uluru. Seeming to glow at sunset, giving off a mystical energy that has drawn humans to it since time immemorial, Uluru seems like something from another world. A spooky alien monolith placed on Earth by beings beyond our comprehension.

The myths surrounding this otherworldly topographical feature are plentiful. People are said to disappear here. The dead are meant to go walkabout. Visitors from the spirit world, psychic experiences and, of course, aliens have all been witnessed in the shadow of this unearthly, mysterious formation. Then there’s the sheer, understated beauty of it. A simple, clean shape, looming over the distant horizon, Uluru is simply Mother Nature at her showing-off best, and undoubtedly one of the most iconic landmarks of the world.

The Colosseum (Rome, Italy)

The Colosseum in Rome, Italy (Image: pascalmwiemers)

The Leaning Tower of Pisa may be more-evocative, but there was no way we could leave the Colosseum out of a feature about powerful global landmarks. The great, crumbling Roman ruin at the heart of Italy’s most-storied city is historic, romantic, and impressive, all at once. Surrounded by busy roads, it seems to suddenly jump upwards, scratching at the sky with its broken walls.

It’s testament to both Roman engineering and humanity’s short-sightedness that the arena looks like it does today. Those missing sections aren’t due to the passage of time. They’re due to humans harvesting the stone for buildings. Had it been left alone, this Roman wonder would’ve still been standing completely intact. Think how many modern buildings you would bet on to survive 2,000 years of wind and rain and decay.

Historically, the Colosseum is legendary. It was here that Christians were martyred, Roman gladiators engaged in mortal combat, wild beasts were slain, and Emperors exercised their power over life and death.

The London Eye (London, UK)

The London Eye, a surprisingly-iconic landmark of the world (Image: OltreCreativeAgency)

If you’re from the UK, you won’t believe what we’re about to tell you. Until the 21st century, London had no iconic global landmark that was known across the world. Sure, Big Ben, Westminster, Buckingham Palace, Canary Wharf and the BT Tower (formerly the Post Office tower) are famous. But they aren’t famous in the way other entries on this list are. Instead, foreigners associated London with smaller things: red phone boxes, double-decker buses and palace guards. Then came the London Eye, and that all changed.

Some might even call the Eye London’s Eiffel Tower. Like Paris’ most-famous landmark, it was meant to be temporary. Incredible as it seems now, everyone expected the Millennium Dome to be the thing that truly lasted. Well, time makes fools of all of us. As of 2017, the Eye is perhaps the most famous Ferris wheel on Earth; a gigantic, futuristic disc that invites you to witness Britain’s biggest city from on high. Standing tall in all its electrifying, pulse-pounding glory, the London Eye may be one of the more unlikely landmarks of the world, but it’s quickly taking its place.

The Statue of Liberty (New York City, USA)

The Statue of Liberty is one of the world's most recognisable monuments (Image: Ronile)

You could argue she’s the most famous woman in modern history. Lady Liberty has been standing tall over New York Harbor since the end of the 19th century. Shining the beacon of American exceptionalism and welcoming the world’s tired, poor, huddled masses, she was the first thing millions of immigrants saw as they started their new lives in the Land of the Free. For hundreds of millions of Americans, Europeans and Asians, Lady Liberty is more than just a global landmark. She’s the embodiment of their great-grandparents’ hopes and dreams.

So it can be surprising to learn that she was originally meant to stand in North Africa. When the idea for a vast statue was first mooted, it was to be at the head of the Suez Canal and take the form of an ancient Egyptian peasant woman. Her improbable transition from humble local woman to bearer of the light of liberty is thanks entirely to Frederic-Auguste Batholdi’s overwhelming urge to build an enormous green woman somewhere in the world. When the only takers were the Americans, the Egyptian peasant aspects were dropped, and the statue as we know her came to be.

Machu Picchu (Peru)

Machu Picchu in Peru, one of the most spectacular man-made landmarks of the world (Image: Unsplash)

Nothing evokes the romance of exploration quite like Machu Picchu. Often referred to (incorrectly, as it turns out) as ‘the Lost City of the Incas’, Peru’s ancient mountain ruin is perhaps the most recognisable ‘abandoned city’ on Earth. A collection of broken, crumbling buildings decaying in the shadow of the Andes, it is a place of sublime wonder and sheer beauty.

Despite generally being known as a city, modern scholarship suggests Machu Picchu was probably the ancient Incan equivalent of a millionaire’s holiday home; somewhere to escape the bustle of the city with your retinue. Despite this, it’s impossible not to witness Machu Picchu without imagining the bustling of hundreds of thousands of bygone lives. Who lived here? The ruins of one of the most mysterious landmarks of the world seem to cry out for answers, but none may ever be forthcoming.

The Acropolis (Athens, Greece)

The Acropolis of Athens in Greece (Image: edibejko)

Sitting high above the bustling city of Athens is the imposing birthplace of modern European culture. Ancient Greece was undoubtedly where the roots of European art, literature, science and philosophy were born. While the Romans may have conquered half the known world, it was the Greeks who taught us how to think, how to understand the world around us. The place where they paid homage to their greatest achievements? The Acropolis.

A vast, ruined citadel bleached bone white by the scorching Mediterranean sun, the Acropolis is less one specific place than a collection of buildings, each suffused with historical significance. The great Parthenon crumbles to dust here, alongside lesser-known treasures like the Temple of Athena Nike and the Erechtheion. Built in the fifth century BC, the complex was already old when the Colosseum was barely a gleam in Rome’s eye. Although it may be a ruin today, its prominent site, visible from all across the Greek capital, means it will likely never lose its status as one of the most iconic landmarks of the world.

Christ the Redeemer (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)

The iconic global statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (Image: playartstudio)

Few statues on Earth can compete with Lady Liberty in New York. But Christ the Redeemer is one of them, more than earning its place among the great landmarks of the world. Rising high up into the skies above Rio’s sprawling favelas, the vast, pristine white statue seems to offer salvation to the entire city. In the gang-filled, hedonistic, yet deeply Catholic world of Brazil’s most vibrant city, the image of the saviour watching over his subjects takes on a resonance almost impossible to imagine elsewhere in the world.

Designed by Frenchman Paul Landowski, the statue is older than it may at first appear. Despite its pristine surface, and almost ’50s-style simple, straight contours, Christ the Redeemer was actually built between 1922 and 1931. Stretching 30 metres into the sky, it immediately became a global icon. Often named as one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World, it is as much a part of Brazil today as the Eiffel Tower is of Paris, or Lady Liberty is of New York.

The Dome of the Rock (Jerusalem, Israel)

The holy Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, Israel (Image: Republica)

It’s a place where the focal beliefs of three world religions collide. A single site considered holy by Jews, Muslims, and Christians alike. It’s one of the most contested holy places to be found anywhere, a place of remarkable religious sensitivities and constant tension. It is Jerusalem’s Dome of the Rock, possibly the holiest place in the whole pantheon of Abrahamic religions.

For Jews, the dome marks the site where Abraham nearly sacrificed his son Isaac. For Christians, it’s the place where baby Jesus was presented in the temple, and where, aged 12, he impressed the teachers with his knowledge. For Muslims, it’s the site of Mohammed’s night journey, the rock from where he took off into the embrace of Heaven itself. It’s also the oldest extant Islamic monument in the world.

Religious and political differences aside, the Dome of the Rock is an arresting sight on a purely visual level. Crowning the ancient city of Jerusalem, this great landmark of the world attests to the melting pot of religions that have swirled here over the centuries, and how they would go on to change the world.

Natural Landmarks of the World: Mount Everest (Nepal)

Mount Everest, arguably the most iconic landmark of the natural world (Image: Skeeze)

We couldn’t write a list about the most iconic landmarks of the world without including its most famous mountain. Everest is a known to children in every corner of the Earth. It’s the tallest mountain in existence, stretching an incredible 8,848 metres into the air. If the mythological Atlas were real, it is here that he would stand, valiantly holding the sky aloft.

Interestingly, despite all we know of Everest, few of us realise we’re getting the name completely wrong. The great mountain was named after George Everest, the first Surveyor-General of India under the Raj, who pronounced his name EVE-rest, rather than EVER-est.

Of course, all this is neither here nor there to the locals, who still refer to it by its ancient name Sagarmāthā (or Chomolungma on the Tibetan side). Whatever you want to call it, there’s no doubting that this remote, forbidding peak is one of Earth’s great natural monuments. Possibly the very greatest of them all.

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About the author: Morris M




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