10 of the best architecture tours

Whether it’s modernism, brutalism or art deco that draws your interest, these guided trips reveal the unique stories of buildings and city designs


Architecture buff Robert Imber knows everything and everyone in Palm Springs and is a leading voice in the California Preservation Foundation too. His company’s entertaining and informative tours take small groups through diverse neighbourhoods to discover the treasures of this desert city, a veritable living museum of modernist architecture. Visiting distinctive homes, Hollywood-celeb hideaways and noteworthy civic buildings, highlights include Richard Neutra’s 1946 Kaufmann house and Frank Lloyd Wright's downtown 1923 Oasis Hotel tower - and the stories of who lived there and the architects behind them bring the place to life.• $85pp,

Jump on a 1962 Routemaster bus for an expert-led, National Trust tour of the best Brutalist buildings in the capital. The hotly debated, postwar architectural movement saw the arrival of buildings such as the Queen Elizabeth Hall and the Hayward Gallery at the Southbank Centre, and Ernö Goldfinger’s iconic Trellick Tower in north Kensington. With guides including Joe Kerr, head of critical and historical studies at the Royal College of Art and part-time London bus driver, and Joe Watson of the National Trust, it promises an entertaining and in-depth look at Brutalism’s utopian visions and somewhat dystopian results. The tour is part of Brutal Utopias, a nationwide celebration of 60s architecture with events around the country.• £35pp, 26 Sep and 3 Oct,

Le Corbusier, 19th-century master of modern architecture, planned the Indian city of Chandigarh and designed many of its most famous buildings. Swiss-born Pierre Jeanneret, who led a team of Indian architects, played an important role in the city’s development too – and this tour pays homage to both. As well as visiting the City Architecture Museum and Le Corbusier Center (home to many of his drawings), the itinerary takes in places such as Sukhna lake and the Capitol Complex, part of the grand masterplan of one of India’s most influential 20th-century towns.• €70pp,

Led by Cambodian architects or architecture students, these tours of this fascinating capital focus on landmarks built after independence in 1953 in the New Khmer architecture style. Reflecting a new cultural and social vision for the country, the style blended traditional local architecture with elements of the international modernist movement. Besides learning about Phnom Penh’s history, visitors get to see works by the country’s most famous architect Vann Molyvann, such as his 100 Houses Social Housing project. The Royal University of Phnom Penh and the National Sports Complex (made infamous during the Khmer Rouge period) are other highlights.• $15pp,

Construction of Brasilia, the Brazilian capital and a Unesco world heritage ste, began in 1956 – the city fast becoming a landmark in the history of town planning. Designed by urban planner Luis Costa, with Oscar Niemeyer the main architect, it’s an ambitious homage to the principle of the modernist movement, with its monumental buildings and symmetrical layout. Focusing on the main avenue (the Monumental Axis), this four-hour architect-led tour takes in key landmarks, from the Square of the Three Powers to the TV Tower, cathedral and National Congress.• €200 for four people,

There is also a popular art-deco walking tour, but this option throws in cocktails at some of the city’s coolest art-deco hotel bars too, so what’s not to love? Taking in some of the most famous art-deco buildings in South Beach, it’s three hours of light-hearted fun with tales of the movement’s pioneers and stories behind the design and decor of landmark sites.• $60pp, including drinks

A great way to get beneath the surface of the city, this two-hour tour looks at Sydney’s urban landscape and the forces shaping it. The focus is on three iconic buildings: Aurora Place, an office and apartment space designed by “starchitect”Renzo Piano; the imposing Governor Phillip Tower by Richard Johnson; and 1 Bligh Street skyscraper, a clever, green project by German architect Christoph Ingenhoven. Several other themed tours are available too.• From £19pp,

The influence of art nouveau, which emerged at the end of the 19th century, is seen in landmark buildings across Prague. On this three-hour guided walk you’ll visit hotels, bars, restaurants and train stations notable for their elaborate facades, carved with ginkgo biloba leaves, and elegant light fittings – including the Lucerna bar and the Grand Hotel Europa. The city’s cubist architecture, with its striking geometric forms, is explored too, with stops at the House of the Black Madonna and the Bank of the Legions.• £43pp

Its contemporary architecture has put Bilbao on the map, with Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum and works by world-renowned architects, from Norman Foster to Philippe Starck, part of an exciting transformation over the last 20 years. GA Bilbao offers a choice of architect-led tours, including a half-day in the centre and beyond, starting and ending at the harbour, exploring the radical changes the city has undergone and also visits non-tourist areas were regeneration is still under way. Alternatively, if you can speak Spanish, check out the self-guided Instagram route - for free.

• €200 for five people,

Tokyo’s tourist board runs an interesting (and affordable) architecture tour centred around the Marunouchi, Hibiya and Kasumigaseki districts, which have been the centre of political and business life since the 19th century. Urban development really got going here at the turn of the 20th century, and the tour takes in key modern architecture including railway stations and skyscrapers. It includes a look around the National Diet, Japan’s parliament building, which was completed in 1936.• £5pp for a three-hour tour, 1pm Monday-Friday, apply online between three days and a month in advance, .


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