World's most surprising city layouts

A general view of the lightbulbs that are part of the largest solar power lightbulb display, for which the UAE won the Guinness World Record, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, May 23, 2024. REUTERS/Rula Rouhana

Urban planning is what gives every city its unique character and makes it a place people want to visit.

Cities like San Francisco, Dubai, and Florence all have their own special layouts, but Paris stands out with its historical uniqueness. The streets of Paris are a mix of wide boulevards and narrow, winding alleys, designed to be both beautiful and practical.With grand monuments and cozy cafés around every corner, Paris has made name as a top destination for years. This careful planning is what keeps cities vibrant and inviting, making them wonderful places to explore and enjoy.

We take a look at cities around the world with their various layouts.

San Francisco

San Francisco has a unique look and feel that comes from its views, hills, streets, buildings, and major landscaping. This gives the city a clear organization, showing where different districts are and highlighting important activity centres. It also helps people navigate the city on foot, by car, or by public transport.


The work of modern Japanese architects, mostly in Tokyo, has gained global attention. Their designs often reflect the unique style and setting of Japanese cities, especially Tokyo. Tokyo's cityscape features a mix of tall modern business buildings and crowded neighborhoods filled with small wooden houses. This setup makes Tokyo look more like other Asian cities than European ones.


Thessaloniki is Greece's second-largest city, covering about 20,000 square meters. It has a crowded urban setup with very little open or green space—just 2.6 square meters per person. Despite having a forest on the outskirts and a 7-kilometer waterfront, the city still faces problems from natural disasters like floods, wildfires, and earthquakes.


Sydney, one of the largest cities globally, spans over 1,730 square kilometers from the sea to the Blue Mountains. The Central Business District (CBD) is compact, with the stunning Sydney Harbour at its heart. The harbor, featuring the Sydney Opera House and various beaches like Bondi, divides the high-rises of the CBD from North Sydney. Main streets like George, Pitt, Elizabeth, and Macquarie make navigation easy, with key landmarks such as Sydney Tower and The Rocks tourist area nearby. Walking around the CBD is convenient, with short distances between major points like Circular Quay, Town Hall, and Darling Harbour.


The renovation of Paris was spearheaded by Georges-Eugène Haussmann, commonly known as Baron Haussmann between the 1850s and 70s. During Haussmann’s tenure, Paris underwent three major phases of urban planning from 1853 to 1870. First, the city’s main north-south and east-west boulevards were built. Next, arterial roads were added to connect these main roads. Lastly, many central roads were expanded. Haussmann’s plan aimed to create a network of monumental buildings and large parks connected by boulevards, emphasizing architecture, modernizing the city, and improving traffic flow. This restructuring gave Paris a unique, orderly urban layout, linking the city’s development to classical culture and laying the foundation for modern urban planning.


Lagos' urban planning history can be divided into three periods. Initially, indigenous land-use organization focused around palaces, predating colonial rule. By the 15th century, Lagos had become a key trade and slave port, growing demographically and spatially. The British annexation in 1861 introduced formal urban planning, marked by ordinances for development control, public health, and segregation. Key legislation like the 1946 Town and Country Planning Ordinance shaped city planning for decades. However, mid-20th century planning prioritized economic and social development over spatial planning, contributing to the rise of slums and shantytowns.


Florence is a small city along the Arno River, surrounded by olive-covered hills. Its compact historic center, where most tourist attractions are located, can be easily explored on foot, with no major sights more than a 25-minute walk apart. Most hotels and restaurants are in this historic area, a maze of medieval streets and squares. The main part of Florence, including the tourist spots, is north of the river. The Oltrarno neighborhood, an old artisan area, lies south of the Arno between the river and the hills.

Mexico City

Mexico City is surrounded by mountains and active volcanoes like Popocatepetl and Itzacehuatl. This earthquake-prone area faces significant risks due to natural hazards and structural vulnerabilities such as rapid urban sprawl, high population density, and poverty. The city’s urban footprint extends into the mountainous regions, highlighting the challenges of managing its vast and growing urbanised areas.


Dubai’s layout is geared at optimising the use of space and infrastructure, planning vibrant and healthy communities with a range of housing and core facilities, enhancing the provision of parks and open space, and improving accessibility with a people-centric approach. The plan will also enhance the effectiveness of economic land, improve environmental spatial quality and resilience and protect heritage, archaeology, and places of cultural significance.


Barcelona has become a top city known for smart urban planning. Its transformation began with the Eixample district, designed in 1859 with beautiful, accessible architecture. The 1992 Olympics sparked major city-wide changes, turning neglected areas into vibrant spaces, including the famous Olympic Village and new beaches. Now, Barcelona continues to innovate with projects like the high-tech 22@ zone and Diagonal Mar community, while also revitalising inner-city and old industrial areas.

Fort Bourtange

Fort Bourtange is a star-shaped fort located in the village of Bourtange, and Venice is 4km from the mainland, connected by the Ponte della Libertà to Piazzale Roma. The Grand Canal runs through it like an inverted S. Central Venice includes the main tourist spots like St. Mark's and the train station, spread across six main districts. Greater Venice covers all the inhabited islands, including Murano, Burano, Torcello, and the Lido. The Lagoon includes everything from the city to the mud flats and fish farms, plus many uninhabited islets.











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