How many of the world’s most iconic landmarks are located in Europe? At least the 15 you’ll find on this list, which includes modern architectural marvels to ancient ruins dating back to prehistoric times.
From the neverending Sagrada Família in Barcelona, most tourists visit when they travel to Spain to Ancient Greek ruins and one of the world’s most iconic fairytale castles in Germany, join us on a journey across the continent as we uncover the fascinating stories behind each landmark. Now let’s explore the 15 most iconic European landmarks and why you should visit them!
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15 Most Iconic European Landmarks
1. Eiffel Tower – Paris, France
Take one look at the Eiffel Tower, and it’s hard not to feel overwhelmed by the iron architecture Gustave Eiffel designed for the Universal Exhibition of 1889 in France. It is very well one of the most iconic European landmarks.
While initially designed as a temporary structure (it was not well received by Parisian locals, particularly in the creative community), it’s proved its power as an iconic European landmark, evidenced by the fact that it welcomes at least 7 million visitors annually.
While plenty of people climb to the top, the best views are seen from below as it twinkles after dusk. After the sun sets, the tower lights up every hour and hour for five minutes until 11:45 pm.
🏡 Read my full post on the prettiest streets in Paris which include famous landmarks.
🏨 Best Hotel Option: Pullman Paris Tour Eiffel with views of the Eiffel Tower from the room.
🏩 Want to have a stay with a view of the Eiffel Tower? Then read my post on the Best Hotels in Paris with an Eiffel Tower View
2. Colosseum – Rome, Italy
You’ve likely seen it all over social media and in movies like Gladiator and Roman Holiday, but there’s nothing like seeing the Colosseum up close and in person. Built-in 80 AD to host everything from epic gladiator battles to public executions, this massive amphitheater inspires wonder and awe.
Whether viewing the outside or entering the arena, it’s hard not to feel inspired by the ingenuity it took to build the impressive arches 2,000 years ago or feel impacted by the thought of the lively scenes that once took place on its hallowed ground.
Combo tickets for the Colosseum include entry to the Roman Forum just across the street, which is equally historically impressive and worth your time.
🏨 Top Hotel Pick: Hotel Fontana overlooks the Trevi Fountain!
🎟️ Best Tour: Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel & St Peter’s Basilica Guided Tour
3. Sagrada Familia – Barcelona, Spain
The Sagrada Família is a true testament to the creative genius of Antoni Gaudí. It’s also a testament to the patience of the people of Barcelona, as it’s been under construction for 140 years.
Inside and out, you’ll find intricate designs and beautiful stained glass windows representing the story of Jesus Christ. Every detail, from the four columns representing the Evangelists to a tower named after the Virgin Mary, has been thoughtfully crafted to tell a story.
Not only that but when it’s completed in 2026, it will be the tallest religious building in Europe! So, if you didn’t have a reason to visit Barcelona before, you do now (although Barcelona is worth visiting even if you’re not interested in Gaudí).
4. Buckingham Palace – London, UK
Home to the British monarch since Queen Victoria moved in in 1837, Buckingham Palace is luxury embodied. With over 775 rooms, it’s easy to see what makes this place one of the most iconic landmarks in Europe. Wander its halls, and you’ll find 19 staterooms, 52 royal and guest bedrooms, 188 staff bedrooms, and 78 bathrooms!
While in London, plan your trip on a Monday, Wednesday, Friday, or Sunday to catch the Changing of the Guards (although days and times might change; check the website for official times). If you want to tour the interior, you’ll need to visit during the ten weeks during the summer that the palace is open to the public.
🏨 London top hotel pick: Treehouse Hotel
🎟️ Best Tour: Guided Tour of Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, & Buckingham
5. Stonehenge – Wiltshire, UK
Stonehenge, the world-famous prehistoric monument located in the English county of Wiltshire, has intrigued people for centuries.
Apart from its unsolved origins, what’s so special about a pile of rocks? The unbelievable feat of engineering it took to get the massive stones upright! The largest stone weighs about 26 tons, making it truly mind-boggling to try and understand how primitive people could have erected it without modern-day tools.
Whatever the truth is, its mystery has made Stonehenge one of the most iconic European landmarks in Europe for decades. It is one of the best day trips from London, which you can combine with a visit to Windsor Castle and/or Bath (book the tour here).
6. Acropolis – Athens, Greece
Let’s clarify one thing that most people get confused about the Acropolis. It is not just a fortress; it’s a powerful symbol of Greek history, perched atop the rocky hill in Athens.
The main attraction for most tourists is the Parthenon, a symbol of the Golden Age of Greece. It was originally built in the 5th century BC to honor the goddess Athena.
However, you’ll also find other buildings worth visiting within the Acropolis, such as the Propylaia, the Erechtheion, and the Temple of Athena Nike. Altogether, the ruins here serve as a symbol of democracy and the root of Western civilization.
7. Brandenburg Gate – Berlin, Germany
Speaking of the Acropolis in Athens, did you know that Brandenburg Gate, which opened in 1791, was inspired by the gateway to the Acropolis? As Berlin’s first Greek revival building, it symbolizes unity, freedom, and hope.
These themes grew significantly in Germany’s post-Cold War Era, becoming even stronger in German society following the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 when people were looking for a beacon of hope. Today, it’s one of the most-visited landmarks in Berlin.
Besides its historical significance, the gate’s neoclassical design is quite striking. Standing at an impressive 26 meters high, it looks especially beautiful when lit up at night.
8. The Blue Mosque – Istanbul, Türkiye
Built by Sultan Ahmed I during the 17th century, the Blue Mosque symbolizes Ottoman Empire power. And, truly, few things prepare you for the magnificent interior of this iconic European landmark (yes — it’s on the European side of Istanbul!).
You can marvel at its six minarets and majestic domes from the outside. Then, you can enter the courtyard before being pulled into the prayer room, where you can witness some of the most breathtaking blue tiles and intricate details that adorn the walls and ceilings.
For the best photo opportunities, be sure to visit in the early morning to avoid crowds.
9. Charles Bridge – Prague, Czech Republic
This 14th-century structure spans the Vltava River and is the oldest standing bridge in the Czech Republic.
As you stroll across the bridge’s storied and cobblestoned pathway, notice the Bohemian sandstone sculptures and romantic, sweeping views of the city and river.
The best time to visit is in the evening when it illuminates the sky with elegant lights, making it a great spot for lovebirds or photography lovers after the perfect shot of Prague.
10. St. Peter’s Basilica – Vatican City, Italy
Some of the Renaissance era’s most respected artists designed and built St. Peter’s Basilica, which is known (mainly) for its soaring dome and intricate interior. However, that’s just a small part of what makes St. Peter’s Basilica so iconic.
It’s also one of the holiest places in the world for Catholics (which likely comes as no surprise given that it’s located inside the Vatican City and houses the tomb of the first pope, St. Peter).
If you’re an art lover, take the chance to enjoy the awe-inspiring sights of various works from Michelangelo, Bernini, and Bramante. And definitely don’t miss the chance to tour the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel. No wonder, it’s one of the most iconic European landmarks.
🏨 Top Hotel Pick: Hotel Fontana overlooks the Trevi Fountain!
🎟️ Best Tour: Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel & St Peter’s Basilica Guided Tour
11. Royal Palace – Madrid, Spain
While Madrid feels much “newer” than most European capital cities, the Royal Palace is steeped in history.
Located in the heart of the city next to popular attractions such as the Templo de Debod and Plaza de España, this massive neoclassical building has been home to Spanish royalty for over two centuries.
The word massive doesn’t do this palace justice, though. With over 3,000 rooms, including the always popular, incredibly lavish Throne Room, the Royal Palace of Madrid is the largest palace in Western Europe.
It also served as the headquarters of the Spanish army during the Napoleonic Wars, making it a must for any history lover pondering how many days to spend in Madrid.
Read my full guide on how to spend 2 days in Madrid
🏨 Top Hotel Pick: Dear Madrid is a great place to stay with a pool overlooking incredible views of the city.
🎟️ Best Tour: Madrid Walking Tour and The Royal Palace Skip the Line Tickets
12. Belem Tower – Lisbon, Portugal
Commissioned by King Manuel I, this Portuguese maritime monument was initially built in the 16th century as a defense structure to ward off invading marauders trying to enter Portugal from the Tagus River.
It stands as a reminder of the power and wealth searched for and found during the Age of Discover. On it, you’ll find intricate carvings in both Renaissance and Gothic styles that tell tales of the country’s rich maritime heritage.
While historically intriguing, it’s also a great spot to stop and take in panoramic views of the river and the Atlantic Ocean. You can also see it from the water on a sunset cruise down the Tagus River.
13. Fisherman’s Bastion – Budapest, Hungary
Built to commemorate the 1,000th anniversary of Hungary, Fisherman’s Bastion in Budapest represents the seven tribes that founded the nation-state. Each of the seven ornate spires represents a tribe and, while likely not part of the initial design, gives off a fairytale-like feel.
You’ll find the real magic at the top of the bastion, where you can peer through open arches to view some of the city’s most iconic buildings, including the Danube River, the Hungarian Parliament Building, Buda Castle, and St. Stephen’s Basilica. If you go at sunrise, you’ll witness the most magical sunrise ever with the skies lighting up in orangey-red hues.
Read my full guide on How to Spend 2 days in Budapest
🏨 Hotel Top Pick: Hilton Budapest which has views of the Fisherman’s Bastion!
🏰 Best Tour: Budapest Castle Hill Walk with Matthias Church Entry
14. Neuschwanstein Castle – Germany
While most people associate this castle with Disney, the original inspiration was found in Wagnerian operas. In 1892, King Ludwig II began construction on Neuschwanstein Castle and used his love of Wagner’s mythological stories to guide the castle’s intricate design.
Initially designed to serve as a symbol of Ludwig’s vision of a utopian world where art and music were valued above all else, it’s since become a major influence in pop culture, serving as the iconic inspiration for Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle and several other movies. Don’t miss one of Europe’s most iconic and famous castles.
🏰 Best Tour Option: Neuschwanstein and Linderhof Castle Day Trip from Munich
15. Rijksmuseum – Amsterdam, Netherlands
Explore 200 rooms and 800 years of Dutch history at the Rijksmuseum, where you’ll find thousands of pieces of artwork from eras ranging from the Middle Ages to modern times.
Walk the 1.5 kilometers of gallery space to check out great pieces from artists like Rembrandt, Vermeer, and van Gogh. If you’re not a fan of paintings, the museum also showcases other unique pieces of art and history, including prints, rare books, and Dutch cultural artifacts. It is one of the most famous museums in Europe.
Top Hotel Pick: Mr Jordaan Hotel which is located in a great area near the picturesque neighborhood of the 9 streets.
Best Tour Option: Rijksmuseum & Van Gogh Museum Exclusive Guided Tour
Why Visiting Iconic European Landmarks is Unforgettable
Most travelers are drawn to Europe for its various architectural styles, world-class museums, and countless landmarks. For many (especially the locals), the landmarks here are more than just statues or buildings, though. They’re structures that embody the stories of a continent that’s seen everything from revolutions to renaissances.
Most are also symbols of human achievement, marking the progress of civilization over hundreds of years. And you can learn about that in guidebooks or on the History Channel, sure. But it’s only when you step foot inside these landmarks that you really start to understand the people, events, and eras that shaped the continent.
Tips for Exploring Iconic European Landmarks
Want to explore the most iconic landmarks in Europe but don’t want to feel overwhelmed? Totally understandable. The lines, crowds, and logistical challenges can detract from the experience.
Follow these tips to make the most of your visit:
- Timing is Everything: If possible, avoid peak season (June to August), as you’ll likely face big crowds and long lines wherever you go in Europe’s hottest destinations. If you can’t avoid traveling during peak season, try to get up early to be the first one in line at each landmark.
- Book Tickets in Advance: Even if you’re not traveling during peak season, booking your tickets online in advance is worth it. If you have the budget, skip-the-line tickets are usually well worth it for some of the more popular spots. You can do this on reputable tour booking sites like Viator or Get Your Guide.
- Learn About the History: Take advantage of guided tours, which can help you learn more about each landmark’s cultural and historical significance. If you prefer a solo travel experience without a group tour, find documentaries of each landmark to watch beforehand!
- Visit At Different Times: Try to visit at different times of the day to fully experience the landmark’s changing atmosphere (this is especially true for the larger landmarks like the Eiffel Tower or Neuschwanstein Castle that look simply enchanting under the soft glow of a sunset).
Ultimately, though, these 15 iconic European landmarks ensure an unforgettable experience regardless of when or how you visit. At least with this guide in hand, it will be!