Travel With an Architect: The AIA Announces Architectural Tours Across the Globe

Pat Finn Pat Finn

Tour guides are a mixed bag. The best guides can bring a city to life, allowing visitors to truly grasp what makes a place special. The worst ones, however, simply work from a script and can transform even the most vibrant cities into a dull series of “sites” no more inspiring than what one would find looking through a book of photographs.

© Sergey Dzyuba

© Sergey Dzyuba


The critical ingredient that separates a great guide from a mediocre one is expertise. Indeed, the type of passion that comes from deep knowledge is impossible to replicate. Guides who truly know their stuff can help visitors understand not only what they are looking at, but why they should care about it.


Architecture fans know better than anyone else how tour guides can make or break their experiences of a landmark building. Thankfully, reliably excellent architectural tours, guided by real-life architects and other experts, are now just a click away. The American Institute of Architects recently announced plans for tour packages in 10 destinations around the globe. These “Architectural Adventures” last between five and 10 days and aim to provide participants with a comprehensive understanding of various regional and period styles.


“Every Architectural Adventures tour will feature subject-matter experts, handpicked by the AIA, to guide travelers and enliven their awareness of the world’s architecture,” the AIA said in a statement. “The tour guides will offer an up-close view of not just the iconic landmarks and buildings in the various cities, but also an explanation of how the historical, political and cultural events helped shape the cityscapes.”

The website offers concise descriptions of the tours on offer this year:

  • Havana: In March, set forth on a six-day immersion in the Cuban capital that spans from Old Havana and the 16th-century stone fort that guards Havana Bay to the city’s early-20th-century Art Deco wonders and its most prominent contemporary projects.

© Karel Miragaya

© Karel Miragaya

Havana skyline

Old Havana

  • Barcelona: In March, discover Antoni Gaudí’s Modernist marvels (Sagrada Familia shown at top) and see the city’s medieval Gothic Quarter.

Palau de la Musica Catalana, Barcelona

© Artur Bogacki

© Artur Bogacki

Barcelona’s Rambla del Mar

  • Chicago: In April, explore the varied works of Frank Lloyd Wright and see why Chicago is known as the first city of American architecture.

Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio in Oak Park, Ill., via Frank Lloyd Wright Trust

  • Lisbon to London: In April, cruise Europe’s Atlantic coast, stopping to see its most spectacular sites and structures, like the Frank Gehry–designed Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, and France’s Mont Saint-Michel.

Normandy’s Mont Saint-Michel


  • Northern Italy: In May, immerse yourself in the Renaissance world of Andrea Palladio and visit Venice for an exclusive tour of St. Mark’s Basilica.

© Juergen Schonnop

© Juergen Schonnop


  • Cities of the Baltic Sea: In June, sail from Copenhagen to Gdansk to Tallinn to St. Petersburg to Helsinki to Stockholm, stopping to see the Baltic’s grandest designs.

© Figurniy Sergey

© Figurniy Sergey


  • Along the Danube: In June, experience Central Europe’s signature cities, including Prague, Vienna, Bratislava and Budapest.

© Roland Nagy,

© Roland Nagy,


Melk Abbey, Austria

  • London: In July, wander London’s charming backstreets and towering triumphs like Westminster Abbey and St. Paul’s Cathedral.

London’s Tower Bridge

  • Portugal and Northern Spain: In October, take an epic 17-day journey from Lisbon to Barcelona by way of the seminal cities of the Spanish Pyrenees.


  • China: In October, spend two weeks exploring Chinese culture and design in Beijing, Pingyao, Hangzhou and Shanghai

Pudong, Shanghai

West Lake, Hangzhou

This reporter feels particularly drawn to the tour of Chicago, which the AIA provocatively labels the “first city of American architecture.” The six-day tour hits all the major sites in the city proper but also includes forays into destinations in the suburbs, including Frank Lloyd Wright’s home and studio in Oak Park, Illinois, and the famous Johnson Wax Administration Building in Racine, Wisconsin.

As you might imagine, these vacations aren’t exactly cheap, costing anywhere from $2,500 to $6,000. However, meals and accommodations are included in the packages, and you can’t put a price on memories that will last a lifetime.

Pat Finn Author: Pat Finn
Pat Finn is a high school English teacher and a freelance writer on art, architecture, and film. He believes, with Orwell, that "good prose is like a windowpane," but his study of architecture has shown him that a window is only as good as the landscape it looks out on. Pat is based in the New York metro area.
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