Human beings love symbolism. So when a place is home to a notable landmark, we tend to pin certain values to it. For instance, some equate the Statue of Liberty with the notion of freedom. The Eiffel Tower, meanwhile, is an emblem of Paris itself. But while you can instantly recognize these and other important structures around the world from the ground, you might just have a more tricky task from the air. You’ll still be impressed by these 20 landmarks with a bird’s-eye view, but you might need a second to recognize them.
20. Central Park, New York
Whether it’s Times Square, the Statue of Liberty or the Empire State Building, New York is full of world-famous urban attractions. But when it comes to seeking out a bit of serenity within the metropolis, nothing beats Central Park. Having a splash of green in the city is welcome, and if you view the park from the sky you can really get a sense of its scale.
Central Park covers a whopping 843 acres, which is quite something when you consider just how many people pack into New York. But it wasn’t exactly an accident. Rather, designers Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux carefully devised Central Park. The area’s perfectly rectangular shape shows off their planning.
19. Buckingham Palace, London
You know the saying “fit for a king”? Well, it’s never fit better than it does when we talk about Buckingham Palace. For almost two centuries now, British kings and queens have called this rather ostentatious building home and enjoyed its gardens. Given its role, then, it’s no surprise that the estate caters to the loftiest of tastes.
As houses go, it’s probably fair to suggest that Buckingham Palace is on the larger side. According to the British Royal Family website, the place is equipped with 775 rooms. These include “19 state rooms, 52 royal and guest bedrooms, 188 staff bedrooms, 92 offices and 78 bathrooms.” Plenty of room for a prince or two!
18. Yankee Stadium, New York
For more than 80 years, the New York Yankees played their home games in the Yankee Stadium of old. Since 1923 the arena had served as the team’s fortress, but by the mid-2000s the time had come to move into a more contemporary, state-of-the-art venue. So in 2006 works commenced on a new stadium worth some $1.6 billion.
The designers did base the newer Yankee Stadium on its predecessor, but they gave it some more modern touches. The place can hold about 52,000 people, split over a variety of different levels. It opened up in 2009, with the Yankees coming out on top in the first game inside their new home.
17. Angkor Wat, Cambodia
If you ever visit the famous Buddhist temple compound of Angkor Wat in Cambodia, you might struggle to get a sense of its true scale. The site, after all, might be the biggest religious shrine on Earth, stretching out across 400 acres. Really, then, you can only really appreciate how large it is from the air.
Angkor Wat is pretty near Siem Reap, a city with in excess of 200,000 inhabitants. At first, Hindus constructed the site as a place of worship. But as the 12th century came to a close, Buddhists converted it. The process of changing it may have happened over many decades, but according to traditional Buddhist lore, it took just a single night.
16. Tower Bridge, London
Works got under way on the iconic Tower Bridge in London back in 1886. They were completed eight years later, meaning that the structure has been a huge part of the English capital’s landscape for well over a century at the time of writing. But we’re not exactly used to seeing it from above.
Construction of Tower Bridge required the efforts of more than 430 laborers each and every day. It wasn’t a straightforward task, with some of those workers raising a pair of piers either side of the River Thames to support it. From there, they used steel collectively weighing more than 11,000 tons to create the bridge’s frame. To top it off, they added a stone facade to give the structure a finer finish.
15. The Sydney Opera House, Sydney
When his ambitious designs for the planned Sydney Opera House were officially selected in 1957, Denmark’s Jørn Utzon wasn’t a particularly well-known architect. Even so, the authorities decided to go with his ideas for the new venue in Sydney. This, of course, would prove to be an astute move. Today, everyone recognizes the opera house when they see it.
What makes the Sydney Opera House so instantly recognizable? Of course, it’s those white “shells.” And it’s not small: the complex structure covers quite a lot of ground, somewhere in the region of four acres. It’s an impressive building, a feat of modern architecture that’s come to define the city in which it stands.
14. The Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco
There are few suspension bridges in the world more recognizable than California’s Golden Gate Bridge, which joins San Francisco with Marin County. Stretching over the strait that gave it its name, the Golden Gate Bridge is nearly two miles long. Given that building work began in 1933, that’s a mightily ambitious length.
As a matter of fact, the Golden Gate Bridge broke records upon its its completion in 1937. That’s to say, its two-mile length was the longest of any suspension bridge of the time. It was finally beaten in 1981. And as for its impressive height, the bridge held the record for that until 1993.
13. The Gherkin, London
If you’re driving into the city of London from any direction, the first thing you’re likely to spot is the Gherkin. Standing almost 600 feet tall, the striking building definitely catches the eye. And that point still applies if you happen to be flying over the building in a helicopter.
The Gherkin’s exterior consists of a huge amount of glass. In fact, if you were to lay all this glass out flat, it would cover something close to six acres of space. And in terms of its shape, perhaps the most notable aspect of the Gherkin relates to the way it tapers in and out – just like a pickle!
12. Arc de Triomphe, Paris
As one of the world’s most easily recognizable monuments, the Arc de Triomphe is a true emblem of Paris. Even in contemporary times the structure holds special significance, as it’s where the Bastille Day military parade commences. On the flip side, it’s also where the famous Tour de France cycling competition ends.
The Arc de Triomphe can trace its history as far back as 1806, when Napoleon ordered its creation in commemoration of his military successes. The resulting monument stands 164 feet tall and 148 feet in width. It’s an impressive sight, but it’s only from the sky that you can appreciate the fact that it serves as the center point of 12 different avenues. From a bird’s-eye perspective, it’s easy to see why another name for the monument is the Arch of Triumph of the Star.
11. United States Capitol Building, Washington, D.C.
With its enormous dome and white paint job, the United States Capitol Building is recognized all over the world. Inside, the building contains more than 600 rooms, with endless corridors weaving through the place. It was actually George Washington who gave the go-ahead on the design of the Capitol in 1793.
Trees once covered the site where the Capitol Building stands. Now, of course, it’s a much more carefully managed place, with a huge array of plant species maintained on the grounds. The pathways that guide people through the park are quite rounded, which you can really see from the sky.
10. The Basílica de la Sagrada Família, Barcelona
If you ever go to Barcelona, an astonishing sight awaits you: the Basílica de la Sagrada Família. With its looming towers and whimsical architecture, the cathedral is unlike anything else on Earth. When viewed from the sky, though, your eye might be more drawn to how the streets around it fall into precise grids.
The Basílica de la Sagrada Família is the crowning achievement of Antoni Gaudí, yet he never actually got to see his project in its completed form. Nobody has, for that matter, as it still isn’t actually finished. Works began on the structure in 1883, with Gaudí himself passing away in 1926.
9. The Eiffel Tower, Paris
When looking down at Paris’s Eiffel Tower from the sky, you might say that its four legs somewhat resemble a compass. Well, it seems that this is no accident, as each individual leg either points north, south, west or east. Basically, it’s just another reason to admire the extent of thought and imagination that went into the tower’s design.
But when the finished Eiffel Tower was first unveiled in 1889, not everybody went crazy for its form. It’s said that when they first set eyes on the structure, many Parisians thought it either ugly or unsafe. Over time, of course, the tower came to be accepted, and it now stands as a symbol of the whole city.
8. Statue of Liberty, New York
The Statue of Liberty is obviously an eye-catching sight, but if you are looking from the sky, you might notice something you normally wouldn’t. From ground level, you can’t get a proper look at the base the structure stands on. But from above, you can clearly see that it’s a star with 11 different points.
But what is this star? It is actually what’s left of an old fort, which had originally been constructed for defensive purposes. Fort Wood, as it’s known, was finished in 1811, at a time when Liberty Island was called Bedloe’s Island. It was upon this fortification that Lady Liberty was later raised in 1886.
7. Niagara Falls
No matter what perspective you look at it from, you can’t escape the might and majesty of Niagara Falls. But it isn’t just one waterfall. No, we usually think of it as a singular landform, but in reality three individual falls come together as one. These are Bridal Veil Falls, Horseshoe Falls and American Falls.
Together, these three torrents constitute one of the biggest waterfalls on Earth, second only to Victoria Falls. The flow of water at Niagara rockets over the edge of the fall at a speed of roughly 25 miles per hour. This means that in a single minute around 45 million gallons of water cascade down to the plunge pool below. For reference, that amount of water could fill an Olympic-designated swimming pool 70 times over more or less.
6. Great Pyramids of Giza, Egypt
Even from a bird’s-eye perspective, the Pyramids of Giza are a mightily impressive sight. By looking down at them from the sky, in fact, we get to see how the sunlight interacts with the structures. When this photo was taken, for instance, the sides pointing in a southwesterly direction were bathed in light. The northwestern faces, on the other hand, were darkened in shadow.
Even today, contemporary engineers still don’t know how the ancient Egyptians managed to construct the pyramids. And this has led to the emergence of some feverish conspiracy theories about their creation. But in any case, there’s no ignoring the majesty of the structures.
5. Stonehenge, England
The Neolithic monument of Stonehenge in England is as baffling today as ever. How exactly did people that hadn’t even invented the wheel yet manage to construct such a shrine? And why were the stones on the site laid out with such particular care? Theories abound, but nobody knows for sure.
Well, astronomer Gerald Hawkins came up with one idea. He reckoned that Stonehenge’s slabs of rock served as a sort of calendar. According to Hawkins, each stone on the site represented a specific astronomical event, such as an eclipse or an equinox. However, there are doubts whether the people of Neolithic England would’ve known enough about astronomy to achieve this.
4. Mount Rushmore, South Dakota
Depicting four revered American presidents, Mount Rushmore in South Dakota is among the biggest works of sculpture on Earth. But the choice of its location has proven to be extremely problematic. That’s because the indigenous Lakota Sioux people regard the Black Hills it was carved into as sacred.
The United States government had once officially stated in a treaty that the Black Hills would remain undisturbed. But when gold was discovered in the area, the government broke its end of the bargain and occupied the hills. To this day, activists are calling for the land’s return to the Lakota Sioux.
3. Mount Fuji, Japan
Mount Fuji is an iconic landform in Japan, but it looks a little different from the International Space Station. But thanks to specialized cameras on board, now we can see for ourselves. From this view, you’d find it difficult to understand the mountain’s scale. But you can clearly observe the crater at its summit.
Mount Fuji is still volcanically active in the present day, but its last eruption occurred more than three centuries ago. Frighteningly, this is thought to be the longest gap between eruptions in the mountain’s 100,000-year history. So people nearby cannot get too comfortable: an eruption could be occur at any point.
2. The Taj Mahal, Agra
India’s Taj Mahal is almost entirely symmetrical. The minarets on both sides of the mausoleum are perfectly matched with one another, with the pool in front leading directly to the building’s center. The gardens are arranged in fours, each one shaped perfectly. The only thing that throws off this harmony is a single tomb that sits out of line.
The careful and precise design of the Taj Mahal also allows for numerous optical illusions. As you approach the monument from the front, for instance, it appears to get smaller – which would seemingly defy the ordinary laws of the universe. Elsewhere, the minarets on either side may look straight, but they’re actually angled out.
1. The Colosseum, Rome
When it was completed in A.D. 80, Rome’s Colosseum was a staggering achievement. With a length of 620 feet and a height of 513 feet, it was a mighty structure for the time. So far as we know, it was the biggest in the Roman Empire. And unlike other amphitheaters, it was freestanding and wasn’t carved into a preexisting hill.
The Colosseum could accommodate around 50,000 people, who’d show up to watch some rather gruesome sporting events. People might be there to see a gladiator battle, for example, or maybe a fight between some wild creatures. There were even times when the arena would be flooded and a simulated naval engagement would take place.