Stephen Travels

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The Deceptive Beauty of Oslo’s City Hall

City Hall, Oslo, NorwayEvery now and then, you will find a reason to visit a city hall other than to, say, pick up a marriage license or attend a meeting about your local school system. On such occasions, you may very well be delightfully surprised by what’s in store. The City Hall in Belfast, Northern Ireland, for instance, is a gorgeous building where I had the good fortune to meet the city’s mayor during my visit; Stockholm’s City Hall boasts gorgeous golden mosaics and an unbeatable view of the city from atop its tower. And while the austere exterior of the city hall in Oslo, Norway, may not attract you at first, this city hall is particularly chock full of history, stories, art, and superlatives, which became increasingly apparent to me the closer I got to it. Read more >


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Savannah’s Best Buildings in America’s Best Historic District

Savannah Cotton Exchange, Savannah, GeorgiaWith hundreds of buildings in Savannah’s five historic districts, it’s virtually impossible to select some favorites, particularly in the Savannah Historic District, one of the largest such districts in the United States. Within its confines, I came across the birthplace of the founder of the Girl Scouts of the United States of America, one of the South’s first public museums, the oldest African American Baptist congregation in the United States, the house that launched the city’s preservation movement, and the third-oldest synagogue and the oldest standing pre–Civil War rail facility in America. Impressive as they are, even these beauties didn’t emerge as my favorites. Read more about the top five buildings in Savannah, Georgia >

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Coursing Through the Heart of Belfast: Donegall Square

Scottish Provident Building, Belfast, IrelandWith “the Troubles” apparently — and hopefully — relegated to the history books, a day trip to Belfast now seemed necessary during my three-week jaunt around Ireland. Just a two-hour train ride north from Dublin, the capital of Northern Ireland has settled into a peaceful, bustling center of activity. The heart of the city beats in and around Donegall Square, a concentration of fantastic buildings, monuments, and green space, and a wonderful place to wander around when the clouds part. Read more >

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Big Buildings in Little Rock, Arkansas

Villa Marre, Little Rock, ArkansasMy day trip from Hot Springs, Arkansas, to Little Rock centered around a visit to the state capitol, a stroll through a couple of the half dozen historic districts, and the duck march at what was then the Peabody Hotel. This sleepy capital city (indeed, the downtown felt rather abandoned, and within walking distance of it you’ll feel like you’re in the suburbs, with spacious homes along tree-lined streets) is ideal for strolling, whether it’s along the banks of the Arkansas River, through the Market Hall for some international snacks, or around the historic districts that boast some beguiling edifices, many of which rank among the city’s best. Read more about the top five buildings in Little Rock >

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Secular Stockholm’s Religious Past

St. James Church, Stockholm, SwedenNearly 80 percent of Swedes describe themselves as “not religious” or “convinced atheists,” and only about 4 percent of members of the Church of Sweden attend a weekly service. Those statistics belie the country’s religious past: There are more than 3,500 churches in Sweden, dozens and dozens of which are dotted around the capital city. I was enamored by the diversity of their architecture, history, and features, and I was enchanted by all of them. Read more about the top five churches in Stockholm >

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The Depthless Southern Charm of Natchez, Mississippi

Temple B'nai Israel, Natchez, MississippiWith a population that has been almost halved since its peak of only about 24,000 in 1960, Natchez, Mississippi, could easily become a forgotten, dying backwater along the Mississippi River. But its rich history, grand setting, elegance, and hospitality help maintain its relevance as one of the South’s most charming cities, particularly for those interested in heritage tourism. At the city’s zenith, more than 500 millionaires called it home — more than any other U.S. city except New York. They left behind a treasure trove of outstanding architecture that still lures a steady stream of visitors, including me, who come to gape at more than 600 antebellum structures — the largest collection in the United States. Read more about the top five buildings in Natchez >

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Key West’s Key Buildings

San Carlos Institute, Key WestKey West, Florida, is quite literally the end of the road, the final stop along the Overseas Highway, one of the world’s top 10 drives. The richest city in Florida and one of the richest in the United States in 1889, despite its isolation, Key West’s glory days didn’t last very long: It declared bankruptcy in the 1930s. During that short time span, however, the city thrived on its tobacco factories and shipwreck salvage industry, creating handsome structures while wisely maintaining a low-rise profile better suited to survive the annual threat of hurricanes. Read about the top five buildings in Key West >