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St. Petersburg Church on the Spilled Blood

Trace the History of Your Favorite Destinations Through Design

It’s often the up-close-and personal, in-your-face, lining-the-main-thoroughfares markers of history and greatness that make exploring a new destination easy. The architecture – the actual buildings that have built some of the world’s greatest legacies – is a fantastic way to get to know a destination. Sleek, contemporary structures with gleaming glass walls, onion-shaped domes of Tsarist past, timbered huts favored by Vikings and regally columned façades that still evoke a sense of power.

The picturesque countries of Northern Europe boast all of these styles and more, proudly chronicling the past and present events and creative minds that have shaped them. Architecture buffs have a fascinating journey ahead of them in this diversely developed region. Here are a few places to get you started on your planning.

Copenhagen Royal Opera House
Copenhagen’s Royal Danish Opera House sits on the waterfront in the city’s vibrant harbor.

This lovely city’s canals are lined with colorful rowhouse-like structures from centuries past, creating a blissful harbor-front walk that seems set in a story book. You’ll find Baroque, Rococo and even Medieval design along the avenues, making the new wave of contemporary architecture all the more striking. Copenhagen has had a new Renaissance of sorts over the past decade, with imaginative buildings rising amidst the historical. One architect after another has taken traditional concepts and turned them into masterpieces of art and futuristic shells for everything from the arts and education to sports complexes.

Don’t miss: Krøyers Plads, a new square with an industrial feel that’s perfect for relaxing strolls with lovely views, an afternoon picnic or stop at the Michelin-starred restaurant with wine and coffee bar. Also, the Royal Danish Opera House is a sight to behold, its more than 441,000 square feet comprising a main auditorium whose ceiling is adorned with 105,000 sheets of gold leaf and sculpted masterpieces from local artists on display.

Helsinki Railway Station
Iconic statues adorn Helsinki’s railway station.

Helsinki’s charm is more subtle than other notable locales, but just as striking in its impressive array of styles. Helsinki is home to the largest concentration of Art Nouveau structures (called Jugend architecture, or National Romantic), with buildings throughout the city fashioned in this colorfully vibrant style that thrived in the 19th and 20th centuries. Local museums also showcase this and the city’s works of Modernism and Functionalism.

Don’t Miss: The Helsinki Railway Station is an iconic emblem of the city, built in 1914. Created by Finland’s most famous architect, Eliel Saarinen, the station is a place for people watching if you can tear your eyes from the details of the vaulted spaces, which also boast Modernist elements. Dramatic arches, painted frescoes, stone pillars and a lively café are highlights of Jugend Hall, another must-see on your architecture list. Every painted scene tells a story, and enthusiasts will feel a thrill of being part of it all.

The golden fountains of the Peterhof Palace flow according to a carefully crafted schedule for visitors.

St. Petersburg
Anyone who has seen even photographs of this former Russian capital knows to expect a heavy dose of Baroque building with intricately adorned interiors and exteriors alike. Grandeur, opulence, color and gilded details are everywhere, though they are not everything. You’ll also find Neo-Gothic, Neoclassical and decidedly Soviet styles peppered throughout the city, depicting various eras in Russia’s eventful history.

Don’t Miss: The Winter Palace – former home of Catherine the Great and now to the State Hermitage Museum – tops almost every type of must-see-in-St. Petersburg list, for good reason. It houses more than 3 million works of priceless art, sculpture, jewels and other vestiges of the imperial family, but its rooms themselves are also meticulous and stunning. Another Baroque wonder not to miss is Peterhof, the palace of Peter the Great, whose architect, Domenico Trezzini, set the tone for the predominant Baroque influence throughout the city when he constructed the gilded residence in 1714.

Oslo's Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art
Oslo’s Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art

The Norwegian capital is filled with curiosities – heated sidewalks, the iconic Holmenkollen Ski Jump hill rising above the sea and an architectural renaissance that is seeing futuristic and contemporary structures pop up against the untouched fjord land that surrounds most of Oslo. The city’s layout was heavily influenced by German philosophy in the 19th century and is easily navigable on foot. You’ll see the brick mid-20th-century City Hall and what is known as one of “Europe’s foremost functionalist buildings,” Ekeberg Restaurant, built in 1929, along with dozens of imaginative contemporary structures that nod to the future.

Don’t Miss: (Not that you could) the Oslo Opera House, the most recognizable symbol of Oslo’s new age of architecture. White granite, aluminum and glass harmonize into angles and contradictory slopes to create a gravity-defying effect situated on the waterfront. Also on the waterfront is the Astrup Fearnley Museum, constructed into a sail-shaped grouping of three pavilions covered by a glass roof, with an interior designed to starkly showcase works by Warhol, Richter and other greats. For a look at Oslo’s architectural past, head to the Viking Ship Museum, where the long legacy of craftsmanship is on display in a strikingly modern setting.

These remarkable buildings and the cities where they reside are just the beginning. Explore Northern European architecture on luxury voyages to Sweden, Russia, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Estonia and more.

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