One of my favorite things in travel is to hunt for beautiful architecture. Classic architecture can be found anywhere in Europe, of course, but Europeans also took their sense for style to the colonies. We’ve teamed up with fellow travel bloggers to highlight some of the most beautiful examples of colonial architecture around the world.
Table of Contents
What is Colonial Architecture?
In short, colonial architecture is any type of architecture that incorporates classic architectural elements of a ‘mother country’ in buildings or structures in territories overseas. This is commonly found in former European ‘colonies’ where continental architecture found its way to the Americas, Asia, and beyond. Often, traditional elements mixed with the local culture led to a stylistic hybrid, a unique architectural style not found anywhere else in the world. Commonly we distinguish between Spanish Colonial, Portuguese colonial, British colonial, French colonial, and Dutch colonial. Less frequently, however, we can also identify buildings in the Italian Colonial style and the German Colonial style.
Architecture and Power
During their travels, colonists generally built houses in familiar styles as a way to stay connected to their homelands. However, these houses were primarily reserved for the cultural elite and only became available to the local population after the demise of the colonial powers. As such, architecture was very much a way to express power, wealth, and status in the colonies. After the end of colonialism as we know it, many structures fell victim to neglect and into disrepair. In fact, many former European colonies have only recently started to promote such buildings as tourist attractions. While colonial architecture is surely unique and beautiful, one must also remember that it was once much more than just that.
Dutch Colonial Architecture
Dutch Colonial architecture can primarily be found in Indonesia, South Africa, as well as parts of South Asia and North America. Dutch Colonial is often characterized by the conformity of Dutch building styles to the tropical climates of the former East Indies and South Asia. In contrast to the red brick used in the Netherlands at the time, buildings in the colonies were whitewashed and often featured overhanging roofs. Dutch Colonial architecture may have had its beginnings in the 17th century, but fully bloomed in the late 19th and early 20th century.
Galle, Sri Lanka
Recommended by Eliza of Digital Travel Guru.
Galle, Sri Lanka is located in the South West of the island. The Dutch partly governed Sri Lanka between 1640 till 1796. At the time, Sri Lanka was at war with the Portuguese. Finally, the king of Kandy requested the Dutch to help fight the Portuguese in the battle.
After the Dutch won, they stayed in Sri Lanka and colonized various parts of the island, which is still evident today and has influenced the food, the style of buildings, street names and the architecture. Galle is one such location where you will see many colonial Dutch buildings as you wander through the old fort and surrounding areas.
Under Dutch governance, Galle was made the administrative capital of the island. In 1974, the Archeological Department of Sri Lanka named Galle fort as an archeological reserve and in 1983 UNESCO inscribed it as a world cultural heritage site due to history and architecture of the buildings and fort.
Examples of Dutch Colonial in Galle
One such building is the “Groote Kerk Church”, which was first built around 1640. It is located a few yards from the main gate entrance into the huge fort. The church was built in the Doric style of that era and built in the form of a cruciform. Looking from the outside, the church has no central tower, the roof is supported by two Dutch gables and is styled with double scroll molding. The original ceiling was pained blue and had golden stars embossed on the paint.
The church has a tiled roof and beautiful ornate decorations in the front and back of the building. Within the white wall that surrounds the church are the gravestones of Dutch soldiers who were buried there. When you visit, inquire about the secret underground tunnels that run from the church to the old governor’s house and other parts of the fort.
Inside the church, there are high ceilings that are made out of ironwood and there are many tombs stones on the floor of the church, which are written in Dutch with Dutch designs of that period. There is also an organ which was placed there in 1760. The church features magnificent stain glass windows, which allow the sunlight into the church and has two huge timber doors which lead you inside.
This Dutch Church was the principal place of worship in Galle for the Dutch during their rule and later to the British. If you love architecture then Galle is a must visit destination especially for colonial architecture.
German Colonial Architecture
The German ‘colonial empire’ was short-lived and primarily limited to sub-Saharan Africa in the late 19th century as Germany lost but all of its colonial territories after their defeat in World War I. Today, the only countries with visible traces of German colonialism are Namibia and parts of Togo.
Recommended by Claudia of My Adventures Across The World
Visiting the city of Luderitz is one of the coolest things to do in Namibia. Luderitz is located on the southern coast of the country and almost feels like a desert outpost. Here, the ocean meets the desert, and the surrounding area is incredible in terms of nature and wildlife. This harbor city is a fantastic example of German colonial architecture, to the point that visitors feel like they are visiting an average Bavarian city rather than a city in the middle of the desert in Namibia.
The city is scattered with beautiful Art Nouveau buildings, which are fun to photograph. The most important ones are the Deutsche Africa Bank building, which is a national monument and was first built in 1907; the Felsenkirche, or Rock Church, a national monument since 1978, which is located on Diamond Hill and is a church in vertical Gothic style consecrated in 1912 – the best views of the church are from the Luderitz Nest Hotel.
Other notable buildings are the Gluck Auf, built between 1907 and 1908 for a lawyer of the diamond companies of the nearby Kolmanskop (now a ghost town) and declared a national monument in 2014; the Goerkehaus, which was the residence of Hans Goerke, manager of the diamond company – the house was built between 1909 and 1911 and is also a national monument. The Kreplinhaus was the residence of the first mayor of Luderitz, Emil Kreplin: built in 1909, it now is a national monument. Last but not least, there’s the Railway Station, which, just like the rest of the buildings, is a national monument and was built in 1904.
French Colonial Architecture
French colonialism primarily took place in North America and the Carribean between the early 17th century and the late 19th century. In the later years, the French style also found its way to the colonies in Africa and Asia (‘French Indochina’). The French style took on different shapes throughout its colonies, usually bending to the dominant climate and available building materials.
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Recommended by Jen of Two Can Travel.
Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital city, was a French colony for nearly a century from 1863 to 1953 and still boasts several French-colonial style buildings.
One of the most interesting buildings to check out is the Central Market, which was built in the 1930s in the Art Deco style. The building is well preserved and is one of the best examples of this style of architecture in the region. It still functions as one of the most popular markets in Phnom Penh.
Another great example of colonial architecture is The Mansion Bar, located across from the National Museum. The building was abandoned and boarded up for decades but has now been taken over by the Foreign Correspondents Club. The FCC is another example of French-colonial architecture and sits just behind The Mansion facing the Mekong River. The FCC has been updated, but The Mansion is not in the best state of repair, and while beautiful, it also has an eerie quality with vines growing up over the crumbling facade and even inside. It’s a great spot to grab a drink in the early evening.
A few other French-colonial buildings worth checking out in Phnom Penh are the Railway Station, the General Post Office, and the Raffles Hotel, all built between 1890-1935.
Recommended by James of This Travel Guide.
Over the past few years, Myanmar has opened its doors to tourism. Amongst other things, one of the top reasons to visit Myanmar is to see some of the beautiful colonial architecture: Yangon has more colonial-era buildings than any other South-East Asian city. Although many of these have been demolished, and even more are in need of renovation, many are in surprisingly good condition – at least from the outside.
Some of the buildings that are worth visiting include The High Court Building, the Central Telephone & Telegraph office, The Secretariat or Ministers Office, and the Accountant General Building.
If you’re feeling fancy, you could splash out and stay at the Strand Hotel. Built at the start of the last century, and re-opened in the 90s following renovation, this is now one of Myanmar’s most expensive and luxurious hotels. If you can’t afford a night here, you can still get a glimpse of the grandeur by popping in for high tea or a cup of coffee.
New Orleans, USA
Recommended by Ketki of Dotted Globe.
New Orleans is one of the best places in the United States to see French Colonial architecture. The city was established as a French colony in the early 18th century. The city’s strategic location along the Mississippi trade routes increased its prominence and it soon became the capital of French-controlled Louisiana. Along with the rise in importance came an era of flourishing architecture and city building. Many New Orleans buildings dating to the colonial period were destroyed in fires and today the French Quarter is the oldest part of the city. The architecture of the French Quarter is one of the city’s most famous tourist attractions and visitors to New Orleans can view it on a self-guided tour.
Within the French Quarter, the French colonial style has uniquely blended with the Spanish and Creole styles and can be seen in the three steepled St. Louis Cathedral, hipped roofs of the townhomes, and the intricately wrought iron designs of the balconies. The Cathedral is the most important building displaying the French architectural style laced with heavy Spanish influences. The houses in the French Quarter are typically wooden frame and built on raised platforms. They also have large galleries that wrap around the building which has become a defining feature of the French Quarter. Other places to see Louisiana’s French architecture include the historic antebellum plantation homes along the Great River Road and the Cajun-Creole townhomes spread throughout New Orleans.
Recommended by Emily of Wander-Lush.
Established as a hill-station retreat at the turn of the century, Dalat in Vietnam’s Central Highlands region was favored by the French because of its cool climate. Before that, the area was inhabited by the K’ho and other ethnic minority groups. Dalat would later go on to serve (briefly) as the capital of Indochina before flourishing as a tourist mecca. The French transformed Dalat by adding wide boulevards, huge roundabouts—and of course, lots of beautiful architecture.
Beautifully preserved colonial-era buildings are scattered across the city. The French Quarter is home to a lovely collection of villas—some restored, some abandoned. The best-known examples of colonial architecture in Dalat were constructed between the 1920s and the 1940s; their bright colors and perfect symmetry now make them favorite Instagram spots. These include the deco-style Dalat Railway Station, the pink and brick-colored Domaine de Marie, and the incredibly grand Lycee Yersin.
Dalat’s Pasteur Institute
Not far from Lycee Yersin, lies Dalat’s Pasteur Institute. Established in 1936, Dalat’s Pasteur Institute was one of the largest producers of vaccines in Southeast Asia before operations ceased in the 1960s (the building is now used by the Vietnamese Government).
The Pasteur Institute is classic French-colonial, painted the bright shade of canary yellow that’s synonymous with administrative buildings all over Vietnam, including in Hanoi and Hoi An. Government buildings are often off-limits to photographers, but if you are lucky you can get a quick snap.
Pasteur institutes can be found all over former French Indochina (there are four in Vietnam alone), but Dalat’s has special significance. One of the first Frenchmen to identify Dalat as a place to settle, Swiss bacteriologist Alexandre Yersin, was actually a protégée of Louis Pasteur himself.
Portuguese Colonial Architecture
The Portuguese empire was not only the earliest colonial power as we know them, but it was also the longest-lived. Portuguese architecture spread to its colonies from the 15th century until the late 20th century. Portuguese Colonial architecture can primarily be found in South America, as well as South Asia and parts of sub-Saharan Africa.
Sao Luis, Brazil
Recommended by Michael of MscGerber.
Sao Luis is in Maranhao, which is located in the northeast of Brazil, is certainly one of the most interesting and unusual cities in South America. This includes the fascinating nature, the reggae music, the special climate and, mainly, its interesting architecture. The city’s architecture is extremely special, as Sao Luis was founded by the French and occupied by the Dutch before coming under Portuguese rule. The historical architecture is in a great state and over 1000 buildings are part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The prettiest buildings can mostly be found inside the city’s old town, which is a lively area, especially with its famous nightlife. Make sure to look out for the “Rua Portugal” (Portugal Street), which includes beautiful azulejos (painted tiles) and Colonial mansions. On the picture, you can see the street with some décor of the Bumba-Meu-Boi festival, which takes place in June.
Rua Portugal is kind of the emblem of the city – and the people from Sao Luis were very proud to show this beautiful street to visitors. It is home to some of the most fascinating architecture you’ll ever see during your travels. If you are looking for an authentic experience of a former Colonial city, Sao Luis’s old town is definitely a perfect place for you.
Please note: Although generally safe, it is recommended that you hire a local guide when visiting Sao Luis as a tourist due to potential safety concerns.
Recommended by Soumya of Stories by Soumya.
Macau, one of the two Special Administrative Regions of China, was colonized by the Portuguese in the late 1550s. It was only recently handed over to China, in 1999 to be precise, ending close to 450 years of Portuguese rule. No doubt, Macau is filled with remnants of its Portuguese past. Pastel-colored neoclassical buildings, 16th-century Jesuit churches, and delicious Portuguese egg tarts: you can find them all here.
The best place to view Portuguese architecture is at the Historic Center of Macau which was accorded the UNESCO World Heritage status in 2005. Senado Square (Largo Do Senado) and St. Lazarus Quarter are especially beautiful. Here, you will find many European-styled buildings, cobblestone sidewalks, and a wave-patterned Portuguese pavement.
As you walk up the pavement through a picturesque, European-like alleyway you will arrive at the Ruins of St. Paul, arguably the most iconic landmark of Macau. Originally known as Mater Dei, St. Paul’s was the largest Catholic church in Asia in the 17th century. The ruins include an elaborately carved façade that remains after the cathedral was burnt down by a fire in 1835.
The granite façade sits atop a small hill with a long flight of steps leading up to it. It is more than 25 meters tall and is divided into 5 distinct tiers replete with Ionic and Corinthian columns and bas-reliefs. The architecture is classically Baroque with a touch of the Orient. Japanese floral patterns and Chinese motifs are some distinct Asian influences. The Ruins of St. Paul are the perfect amalgamation of the East and the West and a must-see if you wish to tap into the Portuguese veins of Macau.
Possibly the biggest player in the game of colonial architecture would have to be Spain. Between the early 16th and the late 19th century, Spain colonized vast parts of North America as well as the majority of South America. During the Spanish ‘Conquista’, religion and architecture came hand-in-hand. Religious buildings such as churches and cathedrals dominated the city scene, often in a distinct Baroque style.
Recommended by Sandy of Tray Tables Away.
Once a sleepy farming community, the Cuba of today is the result of a unique history of occupation and influence that sees it as one of the most sought after and photographed locations on the planet.
Having been invaded at various times by the British, Spanish, French and Americans with a significant African influence from the era of slavery, there is incredible architecture all over the island. This is particularly true for Havana where the Spanish colonization was prevalent in the 16th century.
Most of the buildings are still intact today but many are in significant disrepair as the communist Government has not had the financial means to undertake the necessary restoration and repair. Many of the buildings have an intriguing and colorful history as they have been frequented over time by everyone from the Mafia, the Russians and numerous Hollywood movie stars and Afro-Cuban musicians and artists.
Old Havana is home to numerous buildings of significance and one of the most famous is the Gran Teatro de La Habana which was constructed to serve as a social center for Galician (Spanish) migrants in 1915. Today it is the home of the Cuban National Ballet.
Recommended by Dhara of It’s Not About the Miles.
Like other parts of the USA, California was originally inhabited by Native Americans. In the 16th century, Europeans began exploring the coast of California. By the middle of the 18th century, the Spanish, who had already colonized Mexico, began colonizing California as well. They built a number of missions in California, stretching from San Diego in the south to Sonoma in the north, along the historic road known as the El Camino Real. These missions are famous examples of Spanish Colonial architecture in California.
The second of the 21 missions built in California was the Mission San Carlos Borromeo del Rio Carmelo, the Carmel Mission. It is one of the most beautiful missions in California, with its Spanish Colonial architectural style. The building actually includes some Moorish influences as well, somewhat reminiscent of the more rustic structures in Andalusia. The church has two unequal towers and is built around a large courtyard, similar to buildings in Spain. You will love visiting this beautiful Spanish-style building with its serene interior and gorgeous gardens. It is interesting to see the style that emerged from the missionaries’ desire to re-create the architecture from “back home” within the constraints imposed by the local paucity of skilled labor and appropriate materials.
You can see the Spanish influence in many buildings in the charming village of Carmel-by-the-Sea. Beautifully tiled staircases, stone walkways, walled-in courtyards and tile details on facades are some of the charming aspects of Spanish architecture you will see as you stroll the village.
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Recommended by Isabella of Boundless Roads.
Spanish Colonial architecture abounds in Mexico, and, although one cannot deny what it stands for, a sad and atrocious past of oppression and exploitation, it’s also evidence of its cultural heritage and traditions.
The city of Puebla is one of the most enthralling examples of colonial architecture with its Baroque facades and opulent churches. Puebla historical center is an open air museum and it’s not surprising that’s been nominated a world heritage site by UNESCO. One is in awe while looking at the beautiful facades of the old buildings, most of them turned into luxury hotels, governmental offices, museums or fine restaurants, but also private homes.
One of the most striking detail that catches your eyes is the artistic way the red bricks are interlaced with each other and with colorful Talavera tiles, forming an incredibly beautiful and unique pattern. The Talavera tiles are prestigious ceramic works, painted with natural colors created from minerals, and in the past it a sign of power and social status. Now is one of the emblems of Puebla, which, together with its delicious cuisine, attracts lots of tourists from other parts of Mexico and abroad.
There are a few workshops that are continuing the Talavera craftsmanship and you can also take a tour and learn the entire process. It’s kind of reassuring that in our era of automatization and artificial intelligence, there are some corners of the world where traditions are preserved and beauty comes from manual creativity and craftsmanship.
Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay
Recommended by Thais of World Trip Diaries.
Colonia del Sacramento is one of the most beautiful examples of colonial architecture in the world. It’s a small city in Uruguay and a must for anyone who comes around to the South of South America.
The whole area of Barrio Histórico is kept as it was during the Portuguese settlement and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The cobblestone streets lined with the prettiest, simple, colorful adobe houses, the Portón de Campo (the remains of the walls that protected the city), the lighthouse visible from anywhere, the vintage cars around the place; they all bring the visitors to the olden days.
Almost all around the city is Rio de la Plata (the river) and you can even see Buenos Aires (Argentina) when the weather is good (though that breaks the mood a bit). It’s not about one single building or a street, but Barrio Histórico as a whole is an excellent place to see the Portuguese colonial architecture.
If you do wish to see it more in depth, though, I suggest you visit the Museo Portugués (Portuguese Museum) with Portuguese colonial artifacts and furniture.
Recommended by Noel of Travel Photo Discovery.
Vigan city in the northwest section of Illocos Sud on the Luzon island is one of the best preserved colonial Spanish cities in the Philippines. Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Vigan city retains all the splendor and charm of a typical colonial city which is rare in the country.
What you’ll find are amazing Spanish era architecture, grand churches, and private homes that have been repurposed into living museums, beautifully restored inns, restaurants, and other tourist-oriented venues. One of the most iconic cobbled stone streets to visit is Calle Crisolo oozing with gorgeous architecture and details, restaurants and galleries and horse-drawn carriages that take you all over the historic parts of the city.
It is all wonderful and fun to explore the entire city and the many attractions worth visiting here. Due to its architectural interest and UNESCO-listed attractions, Vigan is growing in popularity, both domestically and internationally.
Recommended by Elisa of World in Paris.
Granada is a beautiful city in Nicaragua, located on the shore of Lake Nicaragua, and one of the main tourist destinations in the country. It was founded by the Spaniards in 1524 and it is considered the first European city in mainland America.
The city still keeps a beautiful architecture from its colonial past, mostly residences for rich and influential Spaniards in the city; but there are also some religious buildings like Iglesia de la Merced, with beautiful views of the city from its bell tower. Colonial architecture in Granada can be found downtown, on the streets surrounding the main square with the cathedral. Here, you’ll find cobbled streets, striking a beautiful contrast between the dark stone (or asphalt) and the colorful houses.
Unlike its rival city in the country, León, the architectural style of Granada features Andalusian trends. The colonial houses in Granada usually have one floor but the richest ones can have up to two, with nice balconies. In general, they have a large external facade with an impressive door with iron decoration. Nonetheless, life in Granada’s houses always turns around an inner patio, with shade, plants and perhaps a central stone fountain. Rooms are spacious and with beautiful wooden furniture. Finally, roofs are supported by wooden beams and covered with tiles.
The best way to see colonial architecture in Granada is to book a room in a boutique hotel in central Granada. Most of these boutique or luxury hotels in the city are former colonial residences.
With an empire as vast as the British Empire dating back to the late 15th century, it comes as no surprise that British Colonial architecture can be found far and wide throughout the world. Georgian and Victorian architecture is an integral part of many North American cities today, but can also be found in places such as South Asia and Australia. British Colonial architecture is often an eclectic mix of styles and materials, representing traditional British values and local customs.
Recommended by Maire of Temples and Treehouses.
George Town on the island of Penang in Malaysia is an incredible destination for art and architecture lovers. Penang was the first British settlement in Southeast Asia, dating back to the 1700s. The name George Town honored King George III. Although it’s now the second biggest city in Malaysia, George Town’s historic town center is beautiful, small and walkable, and home to a huge number of beautifully preserved colonial buildings.
What makes George Town even more special though is the way British architecture and culture has fused with Malay, Chinese and Indian cultures to create a unique multicultural heritage. Thanks to 500 years of cultural exchange between East and West, George Town’s historic center is now a UNESCO heritage site, along with the old town of Melaka, another colonial Malaysian city. (Although Melaka features Dutch colonial architecture rather than British).
Some British colonial buildings you might come across in George Town include the Penang Museum, the City Hall, the Queen Victoria Diamond Jubilee Clocktower, and lots more. However, it’s particularly fun to explore George Town’s old town because it’s not just a few famous buildings that are charming and historic; there are lots of beautiful colonial-style buildings lining the streets, and many are now shops and hotels, such as the Museum Hotel.
New Delhi, India
Recommended by James of Travel Collecting.
India was the jewel in Britain’s imperial crown and when they decided in 1911 to move the capital from Calcutta to New Delhi, they needed buildings that showed their power to the local people. The best examples of Indian colonial architecture of the time are therefore the government buildings. The grandest is the former Viceroy House, today Government House or Rashtrapati Bhavan, now home to the Indian president. Rashtrapati Bhavan, which was opened on Christmas Day in 1929, is not only imposing but also beautiful, built of red and pale orange bricks and topped with an enormous dome. Interesting fact – it is the largest residence of any head of state in the world.
What’s to love about this building is the combination of classic European architecture and Indian architecture. Colonial architecture is its most interesting when local culture gets integrated into European architecture, creating something new, and Rashtrapati Bhavan is a great example of this. It is clearly British, but at the same time, there are large water bowls, overhanging eaves, lattice screens and elephant statues that come from Indian architecture. Even the dome, which is a common feature of European architecture, is said to also be influenced by the Sanchi Stupa. Even on a rainy day, Rashtrapati Bhavan does not fail to stand out from the grey and impress.
Recommended by Shobha of Just Go Places.
Jamaica is a great place to see Georgian architecture in the Carribean as it was interpreted by the British colonists who lived far from home but wanted the feel of home. Two good examples of such homes are Prospect Plantation built in 1721 and the Good Hope Plantation established in 1774. There were approximately 800 plantation houses that peppered the countryside by the end of the 18th century that reflected the colonial architecture.
Architects of these Jamaican plantation houses adapted the pattern books for Georgian architecture into something called Jamaican Georgian architecture. This colonial architecture was different from what would have been in the home country in several aspects such as the use of shaded verandahs, hurricane-proof roofs, and plantation shutters. Other aspects of both types of Georgian architecture would have been similar such as the use of symmetrical proportions and symmetrical windows.
The interiors of the houses and the furniture would have been made using locally-available hardwoods. There were also decorative items that were shipped from England. You can see porcelain plates that were broken were stapled back together because the cost of getting them fixed was too much. The exterior landscaping also tried to mimic British customs such as fountains and pretty gardens. On Prospect Plantation, the owners recreated a full English country garden in a tropical setting! It is pretty spectacular.
Recommended by Suzanne of Boomeresque.
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is the largest city in the state and the 5th largest in the United States. Philadelphia boasts the “most historic square mile in the United States”. Pennsylvania was one of the original 13 British American colonies, founded by an English Quaker, William Penn, in 1682 as a refuge for religious dissidents.
Colonial architecture in Old City Philadelphia is largely inspired by the proportion, balance, and symmetry of the British Georgian style, named for King Georges who reigned in 17th and 18th century Great Britain.
Philadelphia’s most famous building in the Georgian colonial style is what we know today as Independence Hall because the Declaration of Independence of the American colonies was debated and adopted there in 1776. The original building was constructed between 1732 and 1748 to serve as the Pennsylvania State House. The construction materials are brick and wood, with marble keystones over the windows. A wooden steeple/tower was added in about 1750 but had to be removed in 1781 due to wood rot. The more ornate replacement visible today, including a clock, was added in 1828.
Independence Hall is part of Independence National Historical Park managed by the United States National Park Service. The inside of the building can be visited by tour only. Timed tour tickets are free. Although some same-day tickets are available at the National Park Visitors’ Center, a block from Independence Hall, it is safest to reserve a tour online.
The so-called cracked Liberty Bell used to hang in the tower of Independence Hall. Today it can be visited in a dedicated museum across the street.
Recommended by Rachel of Rachel’s Ruminations.
Singapore is a great place to see British colonial architecture. While there are some well-known, impressive British-era buildings like the Raffles Hotels or what is now the National Museum of Singapore, what represents British Colonial the best, is the shophouses.
Singapore has whole neighborhoods of shophouses, which are small row houses, often painted in bright colors, dating from the early 1900s. The designs borrow from European architectural styles, and some include tiling imported from Europe, but also use many common motifs from Chinese tradition. Many of the houses are built in such a way that they provide shade to the sidewalk as well as their own front windows. Upstairs, originally, the windows had no glass, but rather shutters to allow a breeze in the building. The ground floor would have housed a shop, while behind that and upstairs provided a home for the shop owner and family.
The best neighborhoods to see these houses are Emerald Hill – on some of the smaller streets off of Orchard Street – and Katong, where the best rows are on Koon Seng Road. On the main roads, these buildings are still used as shops, while the ones on the side roads are mostly residences these days. The houses are not as small as they look, by the way: most of them stretch quite a long way back, covering a long, rectangular plot.
Oamaru, New Zealand
Recommended by Jon of Jon Is Travelling.
Some of the best British colonial architecture in New Zealand can be found in Oamaru, a small town located on the main road between Christchurch and Dunedin. Oamaru’s Victorian Precinct is full of old government buildings, warehouses and other relics from the late 1800s.
Most of Oamaru’s old buildings are made from “Oamaru stone” (limestone) which is famous in these parts. The best part of the old town is Harbour Street. It’s full of old buildings and is surely one of New Zealand’s most atmospheric streets. There are several art galleries and cafes to explore and you’re really transported to another time when strolling around this area.
Another interesting feature in the old streets of Oamaru is the steampunk aesthetic which ties in nicely with all the history on show. There’s a steampunk festival every year (in July) and you’ll likely see people dressed in quirky clothing wandering around town (and working in the shops and galleries). Oamaru is also one of the best places in New Zealand to see little blue penguins and is close to some great beaches / coastal features including the Moeraki Boulders.
Now, what do you think? Where can you find other stellar examples of colonial architecture in the world? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!