What comes to mind when you hear the words Britain and architecture? Ancient castles? Grand gothic cathedrals? Big Ben? They’re all here, but Britain is also home to some of the most ingenious modern designs on the planet. From London to Glasgow, the world’s leading architects compete to design fresh and exciting buildings. See what we’ve picked for Britain’s best 21st-century architecture.
1. The Shard
32 London Bridge St, London SE1 9SG
VisitBritain © Jason Hawkes
See London from above atop Western Europe’s tallest building. Opened in early 2013 and soaring 800 feet above London, its open-air viewing deck offers unrivaled panoramic views from an exhilarating height. Designed by Renzo Piano, the building’s narrowing, tapered design embodies the innovative architecture that punctuates London’s financial district that lies just north of the Shard. With strict measures to protect the views of St. Paul’s Cathedral, the city’s new skyscrapers need ingenious designs that not only look the part but protect the integrity of old London.
2. Tate Modern Blavatnik Building
Hopton St, London, SE1 9TG
© Iwan Baan
From the Shard, take a 15-minute westward stroll along the river to the Blavatnik Building at the Tate Modern. An extension of the Tate Modern, it opened its doors in 2016. The building received wide acclaim with RIBA describing the building as “a project of immense complexity and ingenuity” giving a particular nod to the designers at Herzog & de Meuron. Home to the country’s most important modern and contemporary art collection, the gallery is a colorful exploration of modern art. See unmissable paintings by Monet, Van Gogh and Picasso, and British greats David Hockney, Tracey Emin and Lucian Freud. And they’re always free to see. The gallery’s roster of exhibitions is unbeatable – see what’s on.
Located in London’s Southbank area, the gallery is roughly between Waterloo and London Bridge stations.
3. King’s Cross St Pancras
King’s Cross, Euston Road, London
For most Londoners, King’s Cross was just a busy thoroughfare with a big underground station. But the area has seen a stunning transformation during the last ten years, and it continues to grow. The new train station design – led by John McAslan and Partners – includes a giant web-like structure that cloaks the train terminal and concourse. It marked an era of regeneration in the area, opening up a new destination for students, visitors and locals alike. The area even has its own brand new zip code. While there, discover Granary Square, Central St Martins College and enjoy the perks of Regents Canal. Harry Potter fans and budding wizards should check out the trolley-in-the-wall on Platform 9 ¾.
King’s Cross St Pancras has two railway stations for national travel, the Eurostar for international travel, and the underground has the Piccadilly, Victoria, Circle, Metropolitan, Hammersmith & City and Northern lines passing through.
4. Hastings Pier
1-10 White Rock, Hastings TN34 1JU
© 1066 Country
Awarded the Sterling Prize in November 2017, RIBA described the pier as “a masterpiece in regeneration and inspiration”. In 2010, a fire wrecked the pier, but architects and the local community led a massive reconstruction project that resulted in one of the most stunning piers in the country. Hastings is a town in East Sussex on the English south coast and is enjoying somewhat of a renaissance. Once a sleepy seaside town, the arts and culture movement that is reviving towns outside of London typifies the community-led reconstruction of its remarkable pier. It’s also home to the most famous date and battle in British history – The 1066 Battle of Hastings. Well, not quite. The battle actually occurred in Battle, which takes its name from the conflict is about a 15-minute drive away. Visit Hastings Castle to see the ruins that remain of the stone fortress built by William the Conqueror and the Normans. A great place to stay is The Zanzibar. It’s an offbeat boutique hotel on the seafront with six funky bedrooms and sweeping but restful views of the ocean.
Trains to Hastings from London Bridge Station take about one and a half hours.
5. Sage Gateshead
St Mary’s Square, Gateshead Quays, Gateshead, NE8 2JR
Spearheading Gateshead’s ambitious regeneration project, the Sage Gateshead attracts over half a million visitors to its music halls every year. It now stands as the go-to destination for musical life in Gateshead, Newcastle and North East England, bringing world-class artists, musicians, and bands to the area. Designed by leading architecture firm Foster + Partners, its billowing curves have reinvigorated the Newcastle-Gateshead landscape. Gateshead is south of the River Tyne, with Newcastle on the north side. Experience a home from home this summer because the venue is hosting the ‘SummerTyne Americana Festival’ – see what’s on and when.
Trains to Newcastle from London’s King’s Cross Station can take under three hours.
6. RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) North Architecture Center
21 Mann Island, Liverpool, L3 1BP
© Johannes Marburg
Designed by London-based architecture firm Broadway Malyan, RIBA North opened on the Liverpool Waterfront in June 2017. Two blocks make up the physical structure, set at right angles to face the River Mersey. Inside you can discover more about architecture through exhibitions, talks, and tours. There’s a café and shop for refreshments and souvenirs, too. Its location on the docks means it’s a stone’s throw from Liverpool’s other major attractions.
Trains to Liverpool from London’s Euston Station take about two and a half hours.
7. Riverside Museum
Pointhouse Place, Glasgow G3 8RS
‘Starchitect’ Zaha Hadid was the brain behind this hyper-modern building, which won European Museum of the Year in 2013. The museum’s zigzagging roof stands out and is a popular photo op for visitors to the museum. Inside is Glasgow’s Transport Museum with more than 3,000 objects on display. See everything from skateboards to trains and cars to… a Stormtrooper. Since opening, the museum has seen millions of visitors and its location on the bank of the River Clyne suits visitors who want to explore the city of Glasgow by foot.
Fly direct to Glasgow from the US, or take a train from London’s Euston Station and arrive in about four and a half hours.