The world is absolutely full of buildings. You’ve likely noticed this if you’ve lived where human beings live and, presumably, you’d be aware of this if you’re reading this on the internet. However, some of those millions of structures are famous buildings, and this article will look at ten of the most famous buildings in the world. So, keep reading to find out about some of the most famous buildings in the world!
- 1 A Look at the Most Famous Buildings
- 1.1 The Great Pyramid (26th Century BCE) in Giza
- 1.2 Colosseum (70 – 80 CE) in Rome
- 1.3 Notre-Dame (1163 – 1345) in Paris
- 1.4 Leaning Tower of Pisa (1173 – 1372) in Pisa
- 1.5 Taj Mahal (1631 – 1653) in Agra
- 1.6 White House (1792 – 1800) in Washington D.C.
- 1.7 Big Ben (1843 – 1859) in London
- 1.8 Eiffel Tower (1887 – 1889) in Paris
- 1.9 Empire State Building (1930 – 1931) in New York City
- 1.10 Sydney Opera House (1959 – 1973) in Sydney
- 2 Frequently Asked Questions
A Look at the Most Famous Buildings
What makes a building one of the most famous buildings in the world? Is it because of famous architecture or because of some other iconic historical event? It’s a difficult question and one that will likely be difficult to answer. You may not agree with all of the picks below, but here are ten of the most famous structures.
The reason for their inclusion will also be mentioned, and these famous structures have been placed in chronological order rather than in order of fame, because that may be a little difficult to determine.
The Great Pyramid (26th Century BCE) in Giza
|Architect||Hemiunu (26th Century BCE)|
|Date Constructed||26th Century BCE|
The Great Pyramid of Giza is the largest of the three pyramids located at Giza, and it was built during the rule of Khufu, the pharaoh of Egypt during the Fourth Dynasty. This was during the 26th century BCE. This means that this is by far one of the oldest standing structures in the world and definitely one of the most famous buildings in the world.
It’s even one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. In addition to this, it is also the only one of those seven ancient structures that are still standing.
The Great Pyramid of Giza stands at 146.6 m (or 481 ft) tall when it was constructed, and this meant that it was the tallest building in the world for over 3800 years of human history. It was the original skyscraper! By today’s standards, this is not a particularly tall structure, but this famous building has remained one of the most iconic buildings in the world regardless.
This particular pyramid, like many pyramids, was built using comparatively roughly hewn rock. These gigantic slabs were dragged to their final resting place and used to create this massive structure. The Great Pyramid of Giza is also the only remaining pyramid that includes at least some of the original limestone that was used to smooth out the building and turn it into its perfect triangular shape.
However, only the top of this most famous of pyramids includes some of that remaining limestone.
The Great Pyramid of Giza has remained for thousands of years as a symbol of ancient civilizations that is more recognizable than many of the other ancient monuments of the world. You aren’t likely to meet someone who has never heard of a pyramid, and most people also generally know that the pyramids were created as vast and elaborate tombs for the pharaohs who were laid to rest within their thick stone walls.
Colosseum (70 – 80 CE) in Rome
|Date Constructed||70 – 80 CE|
You cannot imagine one of the most famous cities in the world, Rome, without also thinking of the building that is likely the most famous building within its perimeter, the Colosseum. This building, including its mostly destroyed current existence, has remained one of the most iconic sights of one of the most famous cities in the world. Perhaps the Colosseum is only as famous as it is because it is located within that city, but regardless of the reasons, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who has never heard of this particular building or who cannot give you the basics of what it was used for.
The Colosseum was constructed during the time of Emperor Vespasian, but he did not finish it.
Instead, it was finished during the time of Emperor Titus and later decorated and elaborated on by others. This famous building is one that was made of a combination of limestone, Roman concrete, and volcanic rock. It is one of, if not the most, famous examples of Roman architecture. The Colosseum is an amphitheater that was infamously used for gladiatorial conflict, but also for various other publicly viewable events, like dramatic performances and executions.
Interior of the Colosseum by late nineteenth-century photographer Francis Frith; Francis Frith, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
It could hold a massive amount of people with its 50,000 to 80,000 seating capacity, and it was even considered to be famous enough to be named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. Much of the Colosseum has actually been removed over the centuries, and that is why the structure is in its current state, but that doesn’t change the recognizability of the silhouette or how it has become a representation of both Rome and Italy.
It has been featured in numerous films and is quite simply a part of the culture of Ancient Rome, a culture that influenced the entire western world. You can’t have not heard of the Colosseum.
Notre-Dame (1163 – 1345) in Paris
|Architect||Jean de Chelles (12th Century CE)|
|Date Constructed||1163 – 1345|
Notre Dame in Paris; Ali Sabbagh, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
The Notre-Dame de Paris is a cathedral located in Paris, and the full name translates into English as Our Lady of Paris. However, it is typically known by the name Notre-Dame. This massive structure is a medieval Catholic cathedral that is dedicated to the Virgin Mary and stands as one of the most famous examples of French Gothic architecture. It may not have the most significant architecture in the world, but it does have the classic appearance of a traditional-style cathedral.
The Notre-Dame is covered in sculptures and colored windows and was even used for major historical events like the coronation of Napoleon I.
In addition, there have been many French presidents who were brought to the ancient cathedral for their state funerals. This cathedral has become an integral aspect of French existence, but it wasn’t always this way. The reason the Notre-Dame has become such an iconic building is because of Victor Hugo, the writer of Les Misérables, and, for the purposes of this particular building, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. Many modern people may recognize this book through its Disney adaptation, but that novel has become one of the most famous in the world, and its use of the now-iconic Notre-Dame as its setting has solidified the location as a central monument.
The Notre-Dame was also famously the subject of a catastrophic fire on 15 April 2019. This fire was discussed throughout social media in the aftermath of that devastating fire, and it became such an international concern that reconstruction officially started in 2021 and is ongoing at the time of writing.
This famed cathedral has been in use since its construction, and once the reconstruction ends, it will resume its function as an operating Catholic church.
Leaning Tower of Pisa (1173 – 1372) in Pisa
|Architect||Diotisalvi (12th Century CE)|
|Date Constructed||1173 – 1372|
The Leaning Tower of Pisa is so famous that the building next to it, which is an actual cathedral, is less known. No one cares about the cathedral. Not when they could visit the bell tower that is so famous because of the four-degree lean that the building has had since its construction. That lean was actually caused by an unstable foundation, and the lean got worse by 1993, which necessitated some restoration to reduce the lean, but the lean itself was not removed. You cannot remove the lean! It’s in the name!
The Leaning Tower of Pisa also has two heights when you view it as having a higher and lower side. The higher side is 56.67 m (or 185 ft) and the other side is just over a meter shorter.
This has all contributed to the Leaning Tower of Pisa being considered one of the most famous buildings. It is an icon of Italy and a building that is so famous as just a leaning tower that most people likely don’t even know that it’s a bell tower. The building is not only famous because of the tourism and iconography that has been squeezed out of it, but also because it has a connection with Galileo Galilei.
According to some stories, which may not be true but have been widely circulated for centuries, Galileo Galilei dropped two cannonballs of differing weights off the building. He is said to have done this to demonstrate that the velocity of falling is not determined by the weight of the falling object; everything falls at the same speed.
This story is more of an anecdote that may not be true. We do not know. However, we do know that this famous building was considered to be the most lopsided building for a long time. It has since been surpassed by buildings like the Leaning Tower of Wanaka in New Zealand, but that structure was designed to lean, so should it really count?
That’s also probably why the Leaning Tower of Pisa remains the most iconic lopsided building.
Taj Mahal (1631 – 1653) in Agra
|Architect||Ustad Ahmad Lahori (17th Century CE)|
|Date Constructed||1631 – 1653|
|Function||Tomb and memorial|
Taj Mahal (1631-1653); Taj_Mahal,_Agra,_India_edit2.jpg: Yann; edited by King of Heartsderivative work: Jbarta, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
The Taj Mahal is one of those famous buildings that has become so well-known because of its absolutely gorgeous and unique design. It is considered to have some of the most significant architecture in the world and it is an icon of India. The story of its construction is also incredibly well-known. The Taj Mahal was built as a mausoleum that was dedicated to the deceased wife of the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan.
Both he and his wife, Mumtaz Mahal, were buried within this vast structure that took over 20,000 artisans to build. It is considered one of the most famous buildings, and it is also one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.
This famous building has gone on to be lauded as the greatest example of Mughal architecture from the time when the Mughal Empire was considered to be at the height of its architectural abilities. This has become a symbol of both Indian and Islamic architecture. Its recognizable silhouette is used in iconography throughout the country, and it has become an important tourist spot. Everyone knows this massive monument to love, and the story of its creation as being built for love has resonated with many throughout the world.
White House (1792 – 1800) in Washington D.C.
|Architect||James Hoban (1755 – 1831)|
|Date Constructed||1792 – 1800|
|Location||Washington, D.C., United States|
The White House is the official residence of the Presidents of the United States. Little has to be said about this building because while it is not noted for its amazing architecture, it is the home of the American president. This means that it has been featured in numerous movies throughout the years. It is impossible to not know the White House unless you’ve never heard of the United States. This famous building was first occupied by John Adams in 1800 and it was expanded over the years to include various new wings and additions, such as the West Wing in 1901 and the first Oval Office in 1909.
The original design was neoclassical and it was actually modeled after a building in Dublin, the Leinster House. It has gotten its famous name because of the white paint that covers the sandstone that was used to build it.
The White House may not be an architectural marvel, but it is one of the most famous buildings in the world because of its influence on global events and because it has been depicted in far too many movies. This iconic building will remain one of the most famous in the world for as long as the United States retains its political power and its control over the modern film industry.
Big Ben (1843 – 1859) in London
|Architect||Augustus Pugin (1812 – 1852)|
|Date Constructed||1843 – 1859|
|Location||London, United Kingdom|
Big Ben is not the proper name of this famous building. The Great Bell of the Great Clock of Westminster Abbey is a bit of a mouthful though, so everyone just calls this immensely famous building Big Ben. It was, to complicate matters a little more though, renamed to Elizabeth Tower in 2012 because Queen Elizabeth II had her Diamond Jubilee that year. However, regardless of that, everyone still calls it Big Ben. The name has also come to mean the whole structure and not just the bell itself. This famous building was designed using a Neo-Gothic style that stands at 96 m (or 316 ft).
It was also, at the time of its construction in 1859, the largest and most accurate four-facing clock in the world. It has obviously since been supplanted. It has been supplanted many times over, but there still isn’t likely a more famous architectural clock in the world than this particular one.
The name itself, seeing as it isn’t actually called Big Ben, is something of a mystery. There are theories that it could be because the person who oversaw the installation was Sir Benjamin Hall, or it could have been named after Benjamin Caunt, who was a heavy-weight boxer. Regardless of where the name actually comes from, Big Ben is an icon of London. It may be the most famous image of London and could even be seen as something like the English version of the Eiffel Tower. You cannot imagine London without Big Ben.
Eiffel Tower (1887 – 1889) in Paris
|Architect||Maurice Koechlin (1856 – 1846), Émile Nouguier (1840 – 1897) and Stephen Sauvestre (1847 – 1919)|
|Date Constructed||1887 – 1889|
|Function||Observation and broadcasting tower|
The Eiffel Tower is, quite possibly, the most famous building in the world. Paris is one of the most famous cities in the world, and the Eiffel Tower is located in Paris. It has become such an iconic building that represents Paris and France that the two of them cannot really be separated from one another. This famous tower has also appeared in French iconography for over a century now and it isn’t likely to go anywhere anytime soon.
It is a wrought-iron lattice-style tower that can be seen throughout the city, and it was named after Gustave Eiffel.
This man was in charge of the company that made the tower, but he did not actually do the design. His name being attached to this famous tower did probably help solidify his name though. Everyone knows it now, after all. The Eiffel Tower was originally built for the 1889 World’s Fair in Paris, and it towered above everything at a height of 330 m (or 1,083 ft). This tower was also the tallest building in the world for decades, but it was eventually overtaken by the Chrysler Building in 1930.
However, even though this is now considered to be one of the most famous buildings in the world, it was not universally loved at the time of its construction. There were many French intellectuals and artists who despised the thing. Probably one of the funniest accounts of someone who hated the Eiffel Tower was the story of Guy de Maupassant. This famed French writer supposedly despised the Eiffel Tower so much that he had lunch in it every single day.
He didn’t do this to be near it, but because the Eiffel Tower observation deck is the only place in Paris where you cannot see the Eiffel Tower. It’s quite a petty response, but one that is very funny.
Empire State Building (1930 – 1931) in New York City
|Architect||Shreve, Lamb and Harmon|
|Date Constructed||1930 – 1931|
|Function||Office building and observation tower|
|Location||New York City, United States|
The Empire State Building is one of the most iconic buildings in the world. It was the world’s tallest building from its construction until the original World Trade Center was topped out in 1970. It stands at a still impressive 443.2 m (or 1,454 ft). This famous building was constructed right after the financial crash that led to the Great Depression, so the building didn’t actually turn a profit until the 1950s. However, it became iconic right after it was built.
The Empire State Building may be a marvel of Art Deco design, and the interior is positively gorgeous to behold, and it has also come to house many businesses over the years in its dozens of floors of office space, but that isn’t why it’s extremely famous.
The Empire State Building is representative of early Hollywood. It was the building that King Kong scaled at the end of the original film in 1933. Everyone knows that image. The Empire State Building has been explicitly connected to film from the very beginning, and film is one of the biggest mediums in the world. It is a medium that has influenced absolutely everyone and everything around it. This famous building is also often ranked in American polls to be one of the best examples of American architecture.
Empire State Building in a Sunset (2017); Michael Discenza, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
It has remained a symbol of New York City, Hollywood, and film in general, and it’s also just an example of famous architecture that happens to have an observation deck that’s open to the public. You too can climb the Empire State Building and see what King Kong saw from up there.
You too can experience some of early film history from atop this Art Deco delight.
Sydney Opera House (1959 – 1973) in Sydney
|Architect||Jørn Utzon (1918 – 2008)|
|Date Constructed||1959 – 1973|
|Function||Performing arts center|
The Sydney Opera house; Bernard Spragg. NZ from Christchurch, New Zealand, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
The Sydney Opera House may not be a particularly old building in comparison to many of the other famous buildings on this list, but it has some of the most significant architecture in the world. This is the building that has come to represent Australia. It has an unusual design that has become positively iconic.
The building was originally designed by Jørn Utzon, and he got the job because he won a competition to do so.
However, the construction of the Sydney Opera House proved to be a bit of a mess. It was difficult and expensive, the architect resigned, and it led to a massive worker’s strike. However, the end result, with its iconic shell-like design has become a famous example of modern expressionist architecture.
This building was even formally opened by Queen Elizabeth II on 20 October 1973 and was even considered to be one of the finalists for the New Seven Wonders of the World. It did not ultimately win, but that has not stopped this performance venue from becoming one of the most famous pieces of architecture in the modern world.
Thus concludes this list of ten of the most famous buildings in the world. Many of these have the most significant architecture that has led them to become iconic buildings and famous structures, but some of them are famous buildings because of their position in history rather than any kind of famous architecture they may or may not possess. Do you agree with these picks?
Frequently Asked Questions
What Is the Most Famous Building in the World?
This is obviously a highly subjective question, and you could never conclusively determine the most famous building because there’s always the likelihood that someone has never heard of it. However, the Eiffel Tower is likely the most famous as practically everyone has heard of this iconic building and knows the image of it as a representation of Paris.
What Is the Oldest Building in the World?
The oldest building in the world may be Göbekli Tepe. This is a pre-pottery Neolithic site in Turkey. It is considered to have been constructed at some point between 9500 and 8000 BCE. This is a truly ancient structure, and it also contains the oldest megaliths that have ever been discovered. However, there isn’t much left of the site as it is so ancient.
What Is the Most Iconic Building in the World?
This is, once again, highly subjective and one could argue that it isn’t particularly distinct from the most famous building. However, when we think of iconic buildings, we likely think of the Empire State Building in New York City, as it is a classic image of Hollywood. It was the famous building that was scaled by King Kong, after all.
Justin van Huyssteen is a writer, academic, and educator from Cape Town, South Africa. He holds two degrees in Theory of Literature and is currently completing a third. His primary focus in this field is the analysis of artistic objects through a number of theoretical lenses. His predominant theoretical areas of interest include narratology and critical theory in general, with a particular focus on animal studies. Other than academia, he is a novelist, game reviewer, and freelance writer.
Justin’s preferred architectural movements include the more modern and postmodern types of architecture, such as Bauhaus, Art Nouveau, Art Deco, Brutalist, and Futurist varieties like sustainable architecture. He is also particularly interested in the many vernacular styles of architecture that have often gone unnoticed in favor of the more famous universalized styles. He likes the more inventive and unusual forms that tend to go against the descendants of Classical architecture.