I always enjoy observing a city’s panoramic skyline when traveling, especially the first time I visit a city or if it has been a long time since being there. Often, the skyline is the city’s principal image to the outside world. To me, the four aspects that lead to the best skylines are water, light, backdrop, and compactness.
The reflective qualities of water add a certain panache to a city’s skyline, plus it gives a shimmering quality. Cities located near mountains/hills have an advantage to those on flat terrain, because the mountains provide a visible backdrop and frame of reference. Dusk or nighttime shots nearly always enhance the image, while the compactness of the downtown also can lend itself to a skyline, because compact central cities typically build upward, versus spread outward. However, spreading out is fine if you have a foreground feature, like Lake Michigan in Chicago, to provide a frame of reference and border.
Both the United States and Canada are blessed with some beautiful and inspiring city skylines. My favorite skylines in the USA and Canada include the following:
USA Top 10
1. Seattle – water, majestic mountains, shimmering lakes, ferries, and the Space Needle, oh my!
2. Chicago – Lake Shore Drive, distinctive architecture, and the Magnificent Mile
3. Pittsburgh – arriving from the airport through the Fort Pitt Tunnel is simply amazing as is the view from Mt. Washington and the inclines.
4. New York City – the skyline at night from New Jersey is terrific, as is Lower Manhattan from the Statue of Liberty.
5. San Diego – blue waters of San Diego Bay, distant mountains, and abundant sunshine.
6. Madison – proof that you do not need skyscrapers to make an impressive statement - just lovely architecture, flair, and a fine city resting on a narrow isthmus between two stunning blue lakes. Monona Terrace (foreground) is and architectural gem.
7. Miami – crystal blue waters, vibrant colors, and loads of Florida sunshine
8. San Francisco – fog, bay waters, hills, and bridges. Not rated higher because the scenery can distract one from the skyline.
9. St. Louis – the Gateway Arch is its signature, but not the only impressive feature of this heartland metro area
10.Louisville – view from southern Indiana is one of the best for an inland city.
Canada Top 5
1. Montreal – approaching the city with its signature Mount Royal as a backdrop and the St. Lawrence River in the foreground is inspiring.
2. Quebec City – resting upon an amazing promenade – number one for historic skylines in all of North America
3. Toronto – mighty megalopolis of the Golden Horseshoe abutting Lake Ontario
4. Vancouver – Shoe-horned downtown onto a tiny peninsula surrounded by green and blue. Seaplanes coming and going add pizzaz.
5. Calgary – Set aside the Bow River with the Canadian Rockies as a backdrop – hard to beat.