Bucket List Buildings

Which buildings should be on a World Wide Bucket List - Seven Wonders of Architecture? Old or modern? I like both. Beautiful or meaningful?

Tallest Buildings in the World

If you want to add mega-tall to your list, then the shiny segmented needle edifice, the Burj Khalifa, in Dubai is currently the winner. You can get afternoon tea and admire the view.

There's been a lot of competition, over the years for the world's tallest building. The Jeddah Tower, now under construction in Saudi Arabia is planned to reach one kilometre in right, dwarfing the 830 metres of the Burj. Going back in time, we have The Petronas Towers, The CN Tower and The World Trade Centre. All iconic and worth a visit (to Ground Zero, for the Trade Centre, of course). Going back still further, The Empire State Building and the Eiffel Tower are obligatory additions to the list.

Largest Buildings in the World

It's not so easy to rank buildings by size and a highly contentious undertaking. Floor area? Volume? The Aerium near Berlin, Germany has the largest uninterrupted volume in the world, whilst Boeing's factory in Washington, U.S.A. has the world's largest useable volume. The AvtoVAZ main assembly building in Tolyatti, Russia is the largest building in area footprint. The New Century Global Center in Chengdu, China is the largest building in terms of total floor area, because it has numerous storeys. It is home to several hotels, a skating rink, a university and a water park with an artificial beach. That sounds like cheating to me.

The Heaviest Building in the World

Bucharest's Soviet era, Palace of the Parliament is the undisputed heaviest building in the world.

The Sagrada Familia

But for me, buildings have be beautiful. So, I'm going to concentrate on that quality. Number One isn't that old, but it isn't exactly modern and it's not even quite finished. I love the Sagrada Familia, in Barcelona. (And Gaudi's other works too.) La Sagrada Familia was begun in 1882. It's a straight out of Mervyn Peake 'minor basilica', incongruously surrounded by cranes.

Construction actually began under architect Francisco de Paula del Villar, but he resigned, in 1883, and Antoni Gaudí took over as chief architect, 'transforming the project with his architectural and engineering style, combining Gothic and curvilinear Art Nouveau forms'. Gaudí devoted the remainder of his life to this project, but, at the time of his death, in 1926, less than a quarter of the project was complete. He is buried in the church's crypt.

After Gaudí's death, the work was continued by his main disciple, Domènec Sugrañes i Gras. It was badly interrupted by the Spanish Civil War , in 1936. Parts of the unfinished building and Gaudí's models and workshop were destroyed by fire. The present design is based on reconstructed (and adapted) versions of those plans.

The basilica is best observed illuminated at night. There are plenty of bars in the square opposite.


The Pompidou Centre

I'm fascinated by Richard Rogers high tech inside out style architecture. I wander past his old studio on the River Thames, casting admiring glances. His Pompidou Centre Musée National d'Art Moderne is my favourite Parisian building (both inside and out). It houses the largest collection of modern and contemporary art in Europe. It is named after Georges Pompidou, the President of France from 1969 to 1974, who commissioned the building, and it was officially opened on 31 January 1977, by President Valéry Giscard d'Estaing.

The Taj Mahal

Now a more traditional choice. The Taj Mahal in Agra, India is much hyped, but it doesn’t disappoint. It is truly an exquisite building. It required the labour of 20,000 men and is estimated to have cost something in the region of three million rupees (at today's prices that equates to around $70 million). Shah Jehan, Akbar's grandson, built it as a tomb for his wife, Mumtaz, and then was overthrown by his son. It’s poignant to think of the imprisoned shah locked up across the river, in the fort - so near and yet so far.

Again, The Taj Mahal has to be toured both at sunset and sunset, for the rosy light and the atmospheric photos. Little men pop up to lead us to the best spots for pictures - for a suitable reward, of course. And visiting Indians queue up to take our photos and have shots taken with us.

The Chrysler Building

The Chrysler Building was built with the aim of becoming the world's tallest building, stealing the title from the Eiffel Tower. But barely a year went by, before it was surpassed by the Empire State Building. Today, at 319 metres, it is still the tallest brick building in the world, with a steel framework, and the twelfth tallest building in New York City, It was commissioned by Walter Chrysler, of the car company, but he never intended it as a company headquarters and quickly sold it on. It was designed by William Van Alen, in Art Deco style, with 3,862 exterior windows and approximately fifty metal ornaments, protruding at the building's corners, on five floors. There are also replicas of 1929 Chrysler radiator caps and eagles (America's national bird), adorning the 61st-floor.

When the Chrysler Building opened, there were mixed reviews of the building's design. Some complained it was inane and unoriginal, others hailed it as modernist and iconic. I'm with the latter group. It's by far the most engaging building in New York. I also enjoy the Flat Iron Building. The Americans prefer the Empire State Building. Each to his own.

Saint Basil's Cathedral

St Basil's Cathedral in Moscow's Red Square, is another building which exceeds expectations. with its kaleidoscopic onion domes and icons. It ought to be garish, but somehow it isn't. It's entrancing. Ivan the Terrible had it built to celebrate his victories and then blinded the architect, so he could never build anything so beautiful again. Terrible sounds like the right adjective to me.

The Kremlin and the red brick State Museum are pretty impressive too.

The Potala Palace

There are numerous other religious buildings which are contenders. Gorgeous mosques, like the Blue Mosque at Istanbul. The Jerónimos Monastery at Lisbon, almost made it. The tracery is wonderful. The Temple of Bacchus at Baalbek, in Lebanon, is stunning. The Tiger's Nest Monastery (above) perched on a mountainside in Bhutan is postcard perfect, as are so many Buddhist monasteries and temples throughout Asia. I initially went for Angkor Wat, in Cambodia. But that's a complex. (The Registan in Uzbekistan is eliminated for the same reason.) So, I 'm opting for the extraordinary Potala Palace, in Tibet.

Saint Pancras Station

What's my favourite building in the UK? There are plenty of castles and cathedrals, palaces to choose from. Skyscrapers like The Shard and The Gherkin. Maybe my local Brighton Royal Pavilion (though I would say that it's striking rather than beautiful.) But I'm plumping for Gilbert Scott's amazing St Pancras Station.

What would your Buildings Bucket List be?

New Seven Wonders - Cities

Recently, I've been obsessed with bucket lists and whether or not I agree with the findings of votes (or committees) who decide what goes on these rolls of honour. When I was looking at The Seven Wonders of the World, the 'New Seven Wonders - Cities' list caught my attention. The Swiss Foundation managed vote suggested: Durban, South Africa, Vigan (Philippines), Havana (Cuba), Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia), Beirut (Lebanon), Doha (Qatar), La Paz (Bolivia).

This is a weird and eclectic collection. Maybe it's designed to be alternative. They're all interesting cities. Well, nearly all. Durban I just don't get. Nice beaches, theme parks and a lot of crime. Though it has been renovated, since I was there, in 2003. Give me Cape Town any time. Vigan's a gorgeous colonial city, but there are plenty of those, especially in Latin America. I'm not sure it stands out.

Havana has colonial architecture and more modern communist era buildings. And that mid last century vibe. La Paz: witch's market, colonial architecture and that wonderful gondola transport system. Beirut: 'The 'Paris of the East', a mix of religious buildings, pavement cafes and a pretty corniche. But lots of renovation, still ongoing, to repair war damage. Doha - ultra modern, with a tiny old souq and falconry area. I'll take Abu Dhabi instead. (Dubai is too large and artificial.) Kuala Lumpur, again a mix of colonial and modern. But, it's not my favourite Asian city.

What criteria do you use to choose a favourite (or Bucket List) city? I suppose for me its a mixture of beauty - aesthetic appeal, general vibe, interesting things to do and see (galleries, unusual buildings, monuments, sculptures, living history and lovely things to eat.

Here's my list. There's no way I can stick to just seven, so I've come up with a cunning plan. I'm going to incorporate the latest fashion for dupes, or duplicates (usually at lower cost). The idea annoys me instantly, of course, Not least as it's a silly word which implies you've fallen for some con trick. No place has a duplicate. But some are more similar than others...

Beautiful Cities - Venice

Let's start with beauty. It might be a cliche, but it has to be Venice. It wasn't love at first time. The first visit was classically crowded and smelly. But the second time I went, in the Time of Covid, Venice was bereft of tourists. I actually got to see what the city looked like. It was utterly gorgeous, sublime, despite the ghoulish Don't Look Now images, which intrude, as I wander the canals. There's absolutely no duplicate for Venice, but there's always Florence (or Bologna, or Milan, or the cities of Sicily. Not to mention Rome.

Feasts of European Architecture - Vienna (Budapest and Prague)

Staying with European cities which are historically and architecturally interesting. All of the European capitals (and many other cities, such as Munich) warrant a visit. but three cities on rivers stand out here, the first two, on the Danube. It's hard to beat Vienna, the capital of Austria, if you like somewhere stylish to wander around. Baroque buildings, palaces, museums and gardens to admire, The Prater Park (Harry Lime on the wheel) and a plethora of coffee shops. And nip up the Danube, in a boat, to Bratislava, a pocket city that's a mini Vienna, just over the border, in Slovakia. Two for the price of one.

Further east on the Danube, Budapest, capital of Hungary, makes for a great stay, with the old and new cities, again plenty of interesting architecture, (Disneyesque crenellations), vibrant edgy quarters and lovely food.

Prague, capital of Czechia, is closer to Bratislava (for some time they were in the same country) but it's on the Vltava River. The waterway divides the city, as it does in Budapest and again it's a veritable feast of architecture, right through to modern day and The Dancing House, castles, museums and eateries.

Colonial Cities - Cartagena, (St Louis, Granada, Antigua, Willemstad)

Further afield, but still with architecture, it's generally the Spanish colonial cities, which delight the eye. Cartagena in Colombia, has to take the crown. But sadly it's on the cruise circuit and the streets are too often too crowded to properly enjoy. Otherwise, head to Latin America. Granada, in Nicaragua is gorgeous (thrown in Leon too), Antigua in Guatemala (not the island) is another strong contender (go during Easter week for the celebrations and carpets of flowers). I've already mentioned Havana and Vigan.

French colonial atmosphere - try the Caribbean or Vietnam. But it's strong in Africa, perhaps most notable in Saint Louis, in Senegal, the old capital of French West Africa. It's a satisfying contrast, to the bush and rainforest, with its shabby chic and overflowing markets. My other pick is Willemstad, in Curacao, for its (almost toy town) clusters of bright pastel painted Dutch colonial houses.

All of these cities are on the UNESCO World Heritage list, except for Granada, which has been hovering on the tentative list, since 2003

Culturally Enchanting Cities - Samarkand (Esfahan, Varanasi, Fez)

Cities which draw you into their culture through their beauty and ambience are perhaps my favourite. I've chosen Samarkand, in Uzbekistan. The Registan ensemble of Islamic buildings is an absolute must see. It's also home to other glorious mosques and complexes, as well as ancient Samarkand. (Don't miss Bukhara and Khiva while you're there.)

Esfahan, in Iran, offers a very different Islamic experience, with its souks, palaces, squares and amazing domes. Fez, in Morocco, has one of the most authentic and winding souks in the Arab world, though the sour smell (some would say stink), in the world renowned tanneries may prevent you from staying in that section overlong.

For an unforgettable spiritual experience, then it's Varanasi. Like much of India, it's uncomfortably crowded, dirty and overwhelming at times. But take a boat trip on the Ganges, watch the hugely spiritual cremation ceremonies on the ghats, take in the astonishing light, at dawn or dusk, and listen to the inspiring music.

Cities With Beautiful Settings - Cape Town, (Sydney, Rio de Janeiro, Vancouver, San Francisco, Tel Aviv)

CIties voted to have the most beautiful setting almost inevitably have natural harbours. Cape Town, South Africa, Sydney, Australia, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Vancouver, Canada, and San Francisco, U.S.A, all qualify here. And they all regularly feature on best city lists and best places in the world to live.

Except for maybe Cape Town, as South Africa still has a reputation for crime and violence. But I'm still going to make it my number one. The beaches are gorgeous, the food and architecture are great, there's a huge amount to see in the vicinity, from wildlife to wine estates, the view of the Twelve Apostles backdrop is stunning and Table Mountain is iconic, from above, or below.

I'm also going to sneak in Tel Aviv-Yafo. It may not have the same mountain scenery, and only a small harbour, but The Big Orange, in Israel, has a long string of lovely beaches, the old city at Yafo (Jaffa) and plenty of cafes, museums and an extraordinary amount of Bauhaus architecture, in The White City area, to explore.

Mega Cities - New York (Chicago, Buenos Aires, Istanbul, Singapore)

And then there are the mega cities, the ones which offer history, diversity and an endless list of sights and experiences and one visit just won't do. New York often tops best city in the world lists for good reason. We get to interact with all those landmarks we've seen on TV. And there are some great panoramas and fabulous restaurants. Though I've never rated the shopping.

Chicago is another close contender, with its 1930s vibe. Further south, Buenos Aires is another city you can walk for days, taking in the barrios from up market Palermo to La Boca, home of the tango.

Istanbul is mostly in Europe (it's the largest city of that continent), but it spills over the Bosphorus into Asia, making it unique and exciting. And Singapore, the city state, which continually reinvents itself: China Town, Little India, The Bay Gardens. It's one huge theme park. I'm not sure if I like it, but there's plenty to do.

The City That Has it All - London

So many contenders. Ghent, in Belgium, some of the Dutch cities. I really wanted to include Lisbon (and Porto). You may have noticed that I've missed out Paris. It's undoubtedly a lovely city, in parts, but its also very one dimensional and urban in other areas. Romantic? I'm not sure. And I've never had a good meal there. I think it's had very good PR.

But one city has to get the final mention and that's London. The place of my birth frequently tops polls for best city in the world, and with reason. It's historic, once the largest city on earth, vibrant, hugely diverse, both in terms of population and architecture and city areas. The food is great (if expensive) and you never run out of new things to see and do. And, apologies, that makes eight.

What would your Cities of the World Bucket List be?

The Seven Wonders of the World

Everyone has heard of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World: the Colossus of Rhodes, the Great Pyramid of Giza, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Statue of Zeus at Olympia, the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, and the Lighthouse of Alexandria. Four of these wonders were destroyed by earthquake, two by fire, and just one, the Great Pyramid of Giza, is still standing. So I’ve seen that, of course, and I’ve been to the sites of all the other ancient wonders except for Alexandria.

Two in Egypt, two in Turkey (Halicarnassus is modern day Bodrum), two in Greece and one in modern day Iraq. No-one at the Babylon archaeological site is able to identify a position for the Hanging Gardens and there is even doubt, amongst scholars, as to whether they actually existed.

The First Travel Bucket List

Whatever, I’m still on the theme of travel goals and I'm excited, as this was the first Travel Bucket List, devised by the ancient Greeks, after Alexander the Great began to open up the east, in the fourth century BC. The list of ‘sights’, rather than wonders, began to emerge at the end of the second century BC. Even then, the writers, most notably Antpater, strongly debated which monuments should be included, though the contents are generally very similar.

The argument over what should be in or out continued over the centuries, with later, more religious additions. In the sixth century, an offering of a more spiritual Seven Wonders was compiled by St. Gregory of Tours. It included the Temple of Solomon, the Pharos of Alexandria, and Noah's Ark(!). I'm wondering if these early lists were actually intended to be achievable

The New Seven Wonders of the World

Today’s bucket lists are far more complicated and encompassing. We have the whole world to consider (maybe even beyond our globe). In 2007, The New Seven Wonders of the World appeared, the result of an initiative by a Swiss foundation, offering online voters a selection of 200 existing monuments. The winning seven were: The Great Wall of China, Petra (in Jordan), the Statue of Christ the Redeemer (in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), Machu Picchu (Peru), Chichen Itza (Yucatán, Mexico), the Colosseum (Rome, Italy) and the Taj Mahal (Agra, India.)

The Great Pyramid of Giza, the only one of the traditional Seven Wonders of the Ancient World still standing, was not one of the winners, but it was added as an 'honorary candidate'. So much for democracy. I’m not unhappy with the list - in the sense  that I've  ticked them all off. But there is something about other people's lists. Sometimes they just seem so arbitrary. Is this still a list of ancients or relative ancients?  If so, why is the Brazilian Statue on it? I didn't find it that exciting. Rio and the harbour yes. The statue not so much. And its horribly crowded.

And if we are staying with ancient what about Angkor Wat or the Temple at Baalbek? Or the Acropolis? Or the other temples in Egypt, for that matter - such as Karnak? 

Seven Wonders of the Modern World

How about going modern? In 1994, the American Society of Civil Engineers compiled a list of Seven Wonders of the Modern World: The Channel Tunnel between the United Kingdom and France (longest undersea portion of any tunnel in the world), the CN Tower, Toronto, Canada (tallest freestanding structure in the world from 1976 to 2007), the Empire State Building, New York City, (tallest building in the world from 1931 to 1970 and first building with 100+ stories), the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, the Itaipu Dam, on the Paraná River, on the border between Brazil and Paraguay, the Netherlands North Sea Protection Works (Delta and Zuiderzee Works) and the Panama Canal.

It's a worthy list, but that was 30 years ago, so I suppose it depends, again on your definitions of time. I’m sure there have been many permutations since. There must be a lot of overlap between this and My List of Favourite Buildings.  And there's a plethora of other lists of wonders. Some mix natural and man made nominations.

The New Seven Wonders of Nature

Similarly to the other lists of wonders, there is no consensus on a list of seven natural wonders of the world, and there has been debate over how large such a list should be. One list of natural wonders was compiled by CNN, in 1997: the Aurora, in the Earth's high-latitude regions (I saw it in Greenland and Norway), the Grand Canyon (Arizona, United States), the Great Barrier Reef (off the coast of Queensland, Australia), the Harbour of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mount Everest, on the border of Nepal and China, the Parícutin Volcano (aargh, I haven’t seen that one, except maybe from the air), Michoacán, Mexico and Victoria Falls, (on the Zambezi River, the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe).

I'm vaguely  happy with all of these. Some of the items are the biggest - some selections are more subjective.  The Northern Lights is definitely a bucket list event, but there are other atmospheric phenomena that are amazing. Rainbows anyone?  The Parícutin Volcano is apparently special, as it the newest volcano on earth, a cinder volcano shooting out of the ground, rapidly and dramatically, in 1943. The problem is that is now motionless. It's more fun to watch the original video. If you want a classically stunning volcano it's hard to beat Fuji. Or Mayon in the Philippines, or one of the immaculate cones in Chile.

Then, in 2011, the same Swiss foundation as above, came up with the New Seven Wonders of Nature: Iguazu Falls (on the border between Argentina and Brazil), Hạ Long Bay in Vietnam), Jeju Island in South Korea), Puerto Princesa Underground River (in Palawan, Philippines), Table Mountain (Cape Town, South Africa), Komodo Island in Indonesia) and the Amazon Rainforest. Incredibly, there is no overlap at all. Not even the same waterfalls. And I’ve seen all those except the river in the Philippines, even though I lived there for a year. (I got quite close.)

New Seven Wonders Cities

Still more lists emanated from the Swiss organised vote. New Seven Wonders Cities: Durban, South Africa (Really?), Vigan (Philippines), Havana (Cuba), Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia), Beirut (Lebanon), Doha (Qatar), La Paz (Bolivia). I’m sorry, but that’s a weird collection. I think I’ll do my own - read it here; List of Best Cities.

New Seven Wonders Underwater

The New Seven Wonders Underwater roll of honour originated with marine scientists and was more protection orientated: Palau, Belize Barrier Reef, Great Barrier Reef, Australia, Deep-sea hydrothermal vents (worldwide), Galápagos Islands, Ecuador, Lake Baikal, Russia, Northern Red Sea, bordered by Saudi Arabia and Yemen on the eastern shore, and Egypt, Sudan, Eritrea, and Djibouti on the western shore. I can't argue with most of that, though I think having deep sea vents is beyond ambitious, bucket list wise. These are, in essence, hot springs, or geysers, on the ocean floor. The deepest are in the Cayman Trench, which goes down to 7686 metres.

The Seven Natural Wonders of the UK

There are plenty more worldwide lists and it’s an ongoing and often heated debate. The next trend is to think local. Many countries have got in on the act by  devising their very own list of wonders. According to Wikipedia, the UK has a list of Natural Wonders, compiled by the Royal Geographical Society, in 2021. There are four wonders in England (Wastwater, Dovedale, The Needles and The Jurassic Coast), one in Northern Ireland (the Giant's Causeway), one in Scotland (Loch Coruisk and the Cuillins) and one in Wales (Pistyll Rhaeadr). The last one is a skinny 73 metre waterfall, in Wales, that I have never heard of before. This shows how contentious these lists are. I think I will have to do my own UK list too.

So I had better stop there. But before I go:

  • What is your Bucket List of World Wonders?
  • And, to help me and others, what would be your list of Seven Wonders (natural or otherwise) in your own country?

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