From bridges that connected communities and soaring spires that inspired worship to medieval castles that defended cities, Europe has been forged by a unique history that in turn shaped the creation of its capital cities.
From Gothic church spires to Soviet-era office blocks, Prague offers 800 years of European architectural style in one city.
Prague is like an architectural textbook. Every style is represented here. Within a few minutes, it is easy to walk from the crooked alleyways of 14th-century Gothic Europe, through the pastel arches of the 16th-century Renaissance, straight into the extravagance of the 20th-century art nouveau. The Vltava River gives the city its shape, but the diverse architectural styles give Prague its romantic restlessness.
That restlessness energizes the Old Town, or Staré Město, by combining soaring spires, achingly romantic towers, meandering cobbled streets, blind alleys, and hidden courtyards into an unforgettable cityscape. At the heart of the city is the photogenic Old Square, overlooked by the Gothic towers of the Church of Our Lady Before Tyn and the world’s oldest working astronomical clock. In the 15th century, visitors would stand in awe at its clockwork rotating saints; today, they capture an image on a mobile phone before grabbing an ice-cold beer at a brightly colored cafés nearby.
Shaped by the sea, funded by exploration, and devastated by an earthquake, Lisbon’s story is as dramatic as its architecture.
From the leafy fortifications of Castelo de São Jorge, Lisbon is breathtaking. The cool blue of the River Tagus frames the endless terracotta reds and oranges that warm the city’s rooftops. You can see the dramatic theatrical spaces and the auditoriums of unexpected urban areas that have grown organically to fit the landscape. And that clear, sharp light reflected from the river and buildings is exceptional.
The river and Lisbon’s relationship with the sea have always inspired the city’s architecture. In just nine kilometers of the city coastline, you can experience almost 500 years of history, from the 16th-century Belém Tower in the west to the 20th-century architecture of Portugal’s Expo 1998 in Parque das Nações in the east.
Lisbon may not have the monuments of Rome, the parks of London, or the boulevards of Paris. But walking from the geometric, ordered Baixo area in the city center to the chaotic medieval layouts, you will discover Lisbon’s uniqueness – secret courtyards and hidden palaces.
Vilnius is a small city with a big history. And that history is at its most eloquent in the Old Town.
For a small city, Vilnius had a big architectural influence. Vilnius was presented to the world as the political and cultural center of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania of the 13th to 18th century and the most significant city of Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque styles in Eastern Europe where cultures of the East and West meet.
To stroll Vilnius barely takes a few hours, but you need more time to read the history that is written on every wall. Take Bernadine Church, for instance. During the late 20th century, the church’s sacred interior was converted into a Soviet warehouse, but the power of all those historic layers remained undiminished.
Peering from the church’s now-restored loft, the view of the strikingly diverse range of towers, spires, and cupolas that punctuate Vilnius’ Old Town skyline and overshadow its crooked, cramped, and confused streets is beyond special. It’s magical. No wonder it is a UNESCO World Heritage site.