Tips for Planning Your Next Architecture Trip

Make the most of your learning vacation

Brunelleschi's Dome, the Duomo, and the Bell Tower by night in Florence, Italy
Brunelleschi's Dome, the Duomo, and the Bell Tower, visiting 15th century Florence, Italy. Photo by Hedda Gjerpen/E+ Collection/Getty Images (cropped)

Some people travel thousands of miles just to look at a building. Is it worth the journey? Follow these tips to make your vacation a learning adventure.

It's a traveler's nightmare. You spend the night in economy class, choke down airplane food and finally reach the destination of your dreams: The Eiffel Tower! The Roman Pantheon! The Sydney Opera House! You want to linger, study its lines, contemplate its engineering.

But no one can answer your questions, the guide is looking at his watch and a member of your group is whining, "When are we going shopping?"

Just about any tour you sign up for will include architecture. After all, who visits India without swinging by the Taj Mahal? Unfortunately, many so called Art and Architecture tours are not created for the serious student of building design or for anyone who wants more than a hurried overview. Here are some hints to help you cope.

Art and Architecture tours:

Before you fasten your seat belt, be sure to ask:

  • Who will be leading the tours? Do the guides have advanced education in architecture, art history, or even history? I don't want to be smarter than my guide.
  • How much time will be spent at each site? Will there be time to closely examine details and ask questions? I want to take my time and linger.
  • How many people will be on the tour? Will your group be combined with other tour groups? Will you receive personal attention? I want to be able to ask probing questions.
  • What is the typical age and background of travelers who sign up for the tour? Will your fellow travelers share your passion for architecture? Will they mind spending three hours exploring a single cathedral? I don't want to be with kids who would rather be elsewhere.
  • Will you be permitted to take photographs inside the buildings visited?
  • Will your group be granted access to areas not normally open to tourists?
  • Does the tour include after-hours lectures and presentations? Will specialists be available for in-depth discussions?
  • Will you have the opportunity to see blueprints and building specifications for modern structures?
  • How flexible is the itinerary? Will you have enough free time to pursue special interests?
  • Can you receive college credit for your participation in the tour? Is the tour approved for Learning Units (LUs) and Continuing Education Units (CEUs)?

A tour tailor-made for architects and architecture enthusiasts may be hard to come by. Chances are, the trips recommended by your travel agent won't satisfy your needs. So, where do you look?

The best trips begin with a knowledgeable guide:

Many architects have said they've spent their early years studying the architecture of Italy. Brunelleschi's Dome in Florence is high on the list of must-sees. If you're serious about architecture, a run-of-the-mill packaged tour may feel hurried and superficial. For a true learning vacation, try these resources:

  1. Begin by telephoning museums and colleges in your area. Tours offered by educational institutions are often lead by professors or art historians. Take these tours for college credit, or just for the fun of it.
  1. Contact architecture organizations. Groups such as the Society of Architectural Historians and the National Trust for Historic Preservation offer a variety of study tours for members. Membership in nonprofit organizations is often inexpensive and open to everyone.
  2. Browse through the print versions of professional journals for architects. Special interest tours may be advertised in the classified pages. The American Institute of Architects (AIA), the professional organization for architects, has chapters all over America. Some of these local groups, like AIA New York, offer tours of their hometown. AIANY shows you New York City from the decks of a Jazz Age style yacht.
  3. If you or your partner are edging toward retirement, consider signing up for a Road Scholar program. Formerly known as Elderhostel, Road Scholar is a not-for-profit organization that offers classes and tours covering a wide range of topics, including art and architecture. Travel itineraries range from Architecture of Paris and London to Manor Houses of Iberia. "Usually, Road Scholars are lifelong learners over the age of 50," says their website.
  1. Volunteer your services. The nonprofit organization Earthwatch Institute will match you with professionals working in areas of global concern. Select a Cultural Diversity program and you can help architects design and restore churches in Mexico or document derelict traditional houses in Turkey.
  2. Browse the Internet for Edventures. Go to reliable sources, or verify a tour's authenticity with a travel agent. For more travel ideas, explore the About.com Travel Channel.

Bon voyage!