Europe modern architecture: The 10 most spectacular buildings

If you think Europe is all about castles and cathedrals, then feast your eyes on these striking feats of contemporary architecture.

GUGGENHEIM MUSEUM, BILBAO

One of the world's most striking and universally admired masterpieces of architecture helped revitalise a rundown Spanish port city when it was opened in 1997. It still seems extraordinarily inventive, displaying American architect Frank Gehry's signature use of random curves and light-filled interiors. The exterior, covered in titanium panels that resemble fish scales, changes colour as the sun moves through the day. Some architects hail it as our greatest contemporary building. See guggenheim-bilbao.es

OPERA HOUSE, OSLO

Thanks to its sloping roofs that reach down to the ground, the home of Norway's national opera and ballet seems to rise straight from the waters of Oslo's fjord. Its coating of white aluminium, marble and granite suggests an iceberg. You can walk right onto and up its roof. Lobby windows soar 15 metres for uninterrupted water views, with the interior use of oak adding warmth to an otherwise chilly-looking building. See operaen.no

ALLIANZ ARENA, MUNICH

Officially this football stadium, home to Bayern Munich, is covered in rhomboidal inflated ethylene-tetrafluoroethylene foil panels. Whatever, it's the biggest membrane shell in the world, formed from what look like giant, stitched-together bags of air that, when up close, are actually see-through. The facade is embedded with 300,000 LED lights that illuminate the exterior like a giant spaceship and allow it to change colour. Europe's largest carpark lies beneath. See allianz-arena.com

VITRA DESIGN MUSEUM, WEIL-AM-RHEIN

Just across the German border from Swiss city Basel, this is another brainchild of Frank Gehry, a deconstructed clump of ramps, blocks and towers in Cubist white. But it's just one of many extraordinary buildings on the grounds of furniture-maker Vitra – including a fire station described as a "frozen explosion", and a house of stacked, gabled oblongs with breathtaking cantilevers – that form a world-class collection of buildings by distinguished architects. See vitra.com

CITY OF ARTS AND SCIENCES, VALENCIA

Spain's third-largest city put itself on the map with this entertainment district's inventive architecture, all the more striking for its uniform whiteness and reflective blue pools. It includes an opera house and cultural centre that resembles a vast helmet; an IMAX theatre and planetarium that stares at you like a giant eye; and a museum of science said to resemble the skeleton of a whale. See visitvalencia.com

ATOMIUM, BRUSSELS

The modernist Atomium was constructed for the Brussels World Fair in 1958 when the structure of atoms was all the rage, but still looks futuristic. It consists of 18 huge stainless steel balls connected to form the shape of an iron crystal. Some of the spheres contain exhibition halls, including one that looks at the history of the building itself. The highest sphere has a restaurant with great views over the Belgian capital. See atomium.be

FRIENDLY ALIEN, GRAZ

Snuggled up to traditional gabled Austrian houses with sloping red roofs, Kunsthaus Graz is an organic-looking blue blob of acrylic glass with protruding nozzles (actually light wells), and resembles some strange underwater creature. At night, fluorescent rings on its facade create coloured patterns and occasional messages. The eye-popping building – a fine example of what is sometimes called "blob architecture" – houses a contemporary art museum. Sunday architectural tours are conducted in English. See museum-joanneum.at

MAXXI, ROME

This national museum for contemporary art and architecture was designed by famed British-Iraqi architect Zara Hadid, and many consider it one of her best works. It's essentially a series of overlapping and intersecting tubes inside a curved outer envelope that create a sense of movement and flow. Huge cantilevers are dramatic. The building is mostly concrete with the odd appearance of black steel, and occasional slits allowing views to the outside. See maxxi.art

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DANCING HOUSE, PRAGUE

Less excitingly known as the Nationale-Nederlanden after the insurance company that paid for it, this building – inspired by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers – appears to wobble thanks to its 99 concrete panels, all differently shaped and angled. Moulding undulates, and the windows are unaligned, catching light and shadow. It provides a controversial clash to Prague's otherwise many Gothic and Baroque buildings, and contains a restaurant, bar and hotel. See tadu.cz

MARKET HALL, ROTTERDAM

This office and residential complex has a hollowed-out, tunnel-like interior and resembles a giant horseshoe in grey stone. That in itself is remarkable, but what really makes passers-by pause is that the building's interior arch, which shelters a market and food hall, is entirely covered with a giant 3D artwork on perforated aluminium panels depicting exuberant flora and fauna. It lays claim to being the world's largest artwork. See markthal.klepierre.nl

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