Why Doesn’t Europe Build Skyscrapers? European Cities Compared

You may have noticed while travelling around Europe, or on TV, that many of these destinations don’t tend to have soaring skyscrapers on the skyline. For such a developed continent this seems strange, yet it is surprisingly refreshing and offers a whole different travel experience to say Asia or the United States. Here we’ll look at why Europe doesn’t really build skyscrapers, which are the best countries to visit if you want a skyscraper-free trip and compare and contrast some of the top European destinations based on their architecture.

Why Doesn't Europe Build Skyscrapers?

Most of the major European cities were already well established when skyscrapers were introduced in Chicago and New York. The city centers were already taken up by grand old buildings, and the European governments didn’t want to get rid of their heritage and tradition in place of tower blocks.

rome skyscrapers

Why Hasn't Europe Built Many More Skyscrapers in Recent Years?

Ok, so when you think about the skyscraper being a relatively modern invention, it seems obvious as to why ancient cities like Rome and Athens don’t have tower blocks on every corner. But why today, since space is such a premium, is there still a limit to the number of skyscrapers built in Europe?

After the destruction caused in the Second World War, you’d think Europe would take the opportunity to redesign their cities. However, Europe actually did the opposite and tried to restore much of the heritage and tradition that they had before that was lost in the war. Rather than modernising, they simply recreated old architectural designs. The space, therefore, was again taken up with a large number of low-rise and, needless to say, beautiful buildings. In addition, the post-war population figures were low, and the demand for countless skyscrapers simply didn’t exist.

Another reason that European still doesn’t have many skyscrapers is due to planning regulations and restrictions that came into place in the 1960 and 70s. Before these regulations were put in place, some cities, most notably Brussels, starting demolishing older buildings and replacing them with more modern – and to many, more unsightly – structures. This led to the coining of the term “Brusselisation” for the description of a city being taken over by unattractive, soulless, high-rise buildings.

This, in conjunction with the bland, utilitarian mid-rise blocks that were constantly being erected in the ever-expanding Soviet Union, meant that there was a distinct dislike of the tower block and building regulations were put in place to ensure that European charm was not replaced by these architectural monstrosities. The building regulations required architects to uphold the cultural fabric of the city in any new-build design. Many cities even decided to have dedicated areas of the city in which to allow skyscrapers so as to ensure the high-rise developments did not encroach on the cultural and historical centres. Areas like Canary Wharf in London and La Defense in Paris are set aside from the main city and are architecturally interesting in their own way.

London, in particular, has regulations in place that ensure historical buildings such as St. Paul’s Cathedral, Big Ben and Westminster Palace have unrestricted views from vast distances. Architects are therefore restricted when planning new projects and must not interrupt these ‘protected views’.

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European Skyscrapers In The 21st Century

Thankfully, architect-designed skyscrapers in the 21st Century aren’t the utilitarian boxes they once were, and with the high demand for office space and city residences, European cities are warming to the idea of welcoming these high-rises into their cities.

As of 2019, Europe has just 218 skyscrapers, the majority (66%) of which are located in just five cities – London, Paris, Frankfurt, Moscow and Istanbul. You can, therefore, expect to see a modern landscape in these cities, but that doesn’t mean that culture and tradition are neglected entirely. Europe has managed to create a harmonious balance of old and new, allowing travellers to experience the low-rise, cultural parts of a city, without really having to interact with the towering skyscrapers of the CBD.

When you compare the number of skyscrapers in Europe (218) to that of the United States (639) and Asia (2777!), it really is mind-blowing, but perhaps due to the demand for city living, globalisation and economic growth this is all set to change…

Until it does, why not explore some of the best European cities without skyscrapers!

Best European Cities Without Skyscrapers

One of the real charms of many European cities is their relatively low skylines which allow you to really soak up the beauty of the place; seeing the whole of each building rather than peering up at looming windows high above. Having a city that centres around low-rise buildings means that when you do head to a place of higher ground, you can really witness the whole city spread out in front of you.
In the middle ages, churches were the most important building in the city and subsequently, often the tallest. Therefore, cities such as Prague, Cologne, Amsterdam and St. Petersburg offer travellers spectacular skylines (not of the high-rise variety!).

Prague

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Prague is often referred to as the City of a Hundred Spires thanks to its breathtakingly beautiful skyline of low-rise buildings pierced with hundreds of spires, towers, turrets and steeples. Standing on the hillside at Prague Castle allows you to witness this majestic landscape and you’ll be thankful that the city has remained virtually unchanged since the medieval ages!

Cologne

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Cologne Cathedral

Cologne is another European city that is virtually devoid of skyscrapers (aside from perhaps the LVR Tower) which allows travellers to enjoy stunning panoramic views of the city. Visitors can head up Cologne Cathedral, take a ride on the Cologne Cable Car or walk across the Herkulesberg Pedestrian Bridge in order to take in the low-rise landscape.

Budapest

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Stephen's Basilica, Budapest Hungary

The Hungarian capital of Budapest is actually split into two sections, Buda and Pest which are located on each side of the Danube River. Buda is conveniently situated on a hillside which means you can explore Buda Castle and the Fisherman’s Bastion while also looking out over Pest which is home to the pristine Parliament building that is perched on the waterfront.

Amsterdam

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Amsterdam

The canal-based city of Amsterdam features a gorgeous skyline but is interspersed with a handful of higher buildings that allow you to see the city from a bird’ s-eye view. A’DAM Tower, Westertoren church tower and the Skylounge & Amsterdam Public Library are all great places to get up high and admire the view.

St. Petersburg

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Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood. St. Petersburg, Russia

Considering St. Petersburg is such a huge city (6.2 million residents) you would think that it would be rife with skyscrapers, but it has managed to avoid the high-rise trend (apart from the Lakhta Center constructed on the outskirts of the city). Instead, travellers are blessed with views of the likes of St. Isaac’s Cathedral, Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral and the Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood.

Dublin

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Dublin has long put-forward a strong case for being a low-rise city which means that buildings such as Trinity College Dublin and Christ Church Cathedral and areas such as Temple Bar and O’Connell Street remain firm favourites. There has, however, been a considerable increase in economic growth and infrastructure in Dublin so it may all be set to come in the next decade or two!

Copenhagen

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Copenhagen’s colourful landscape is best enjoyed on foot, and thankfully many of the buildings are only a few storeys tall so you can see and photograph them in all their glory. The city has retained wide pedestrian streets and open parks, so you feel connected with people and nature wherever you go. The council placed a ban on high-rise development within the city centre which allows Copenhagen to keep its charm that we know and love.

European Cities With Skyscrapers That Are Still Worth A Visit

While some European cities haven’t bucked the high-rise trend, this doesn’t mean that they have been ruined beyond recognition or that they’re not worth a visit. Here I’ll look at some European cities that are home to skyscrapers but that are definitely still Bucket List favourites!

London

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As I mentioned earlier, London perfectly combines city living and cultural heritage with strict building regulations that work in everybody’s favour. The heart of the city is home to an incredible selection of buildings such as Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, The Tower of London and the Palace of Westminster. The city also boasts some fantastic viewpoints from structures like the London Eye, the Shard and the Sky Garden located at the top of The Walkie Talkie.

Istanbul

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istanbul skyscrapers

Istanbul is another city that blends old and new, height and heritage, with ease. The city is home to over 100 completed skyscrapers but still draws in visitors year after year to witness the breath-taking beauty of The Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmed Mosque), Hagia Sophia, the Dolmabahçe Palace and the Grand Bazaar.

Frankfurt

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Frankfurt is one of Germany’s major financial hubs and as such the city skyline has exploded with skyscrapers and high-rise office blocks. However, it still retains some of its old-world charm with areas like Römerberg with its iconic town hall and old timber-frame houses.

So, there you have it, the reasons that Europe doesn’t tend to have skyscrapers and the top destinations that do or don’t have high-rise buildings. Europe is home to a whole host of stunning Bucket List-worthy destinations that are just begging to be explored. So what are you waiting for?!

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