Even in the age of impressive technological wonders, there’s still nothing quite as majestic as a beautiful fountain. If you think back to your favorite movies, artful water features have served as the backdrop of some of cinema’s most iconic moments, from Anita Ekberg jumping in the Trevi Fountain in La Dolce Vita to the Ocean’s 11 crew standing in front of the Bellagio fountains, and they are as inspiring in real life as they are on the big screen. Today public fountains serve as public art pieces, such as the Stravinsky Fountain in Paris or the Crown Fountain in Chicago; architectural marvels, including the Moonlight Rainbow Fountain on the Banpo Bridge in South Korea or the Swarovski Fountain in Austria; or beloved spots to cool down on a summer day, like the Julia Penrose Fountain in Colorado. Some of the world’s most beautiful fountains also come with architectural pedigrees, including designs by artist and landscape architect Isamu Noguchi and French designers Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec. We’ve gathered some of the most awe-inspiring—and sometimes record making—public fountains from around the world, all of which enhance their respective cities and have made their mark on the landscape.
1. Water Boat Fountain (Valencia, Spain)
The Fuente del Barco de Agua, or Water Boat Fountain, in Valencia, Spain, uses streams of water to mimic the features of a sailing vessel. The simple metal frame sprays water, creating the sail and hull of the boat. The fountain is set near Playa de la Malvarrosa and appears to be headed out to sea.
2. Keller Fountain Park (Portland, Oregon)
Working with the firm Lawrence Halprin and Associates, landscape architect Angela Danadjieva designed Portland’s cascading Forecourt Fountain—later renamed for Ira Keller, the chairman of the Portland Development Commission. The fountain recalls the waterfalls of the Columbia River Gorge and 13,000 gallons of water flow through every minute. It became a local landmark after it was completed in 1970, and the New York Times architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable called the park “one of the most important urban spaces since the Renaissance.”
3. Vaillancourt Fountain (San Francisco, California)
Set on the Embarcadero Plaza in San Francisco, the Vaillancourt Fountain was completed in 1971 by Quebecois Armand Vaillancourt. The fountain is made of concrete tubes and stands 36 feet tall and 200 feet long. San Francisco Chronicle critic Allan Temko said it looked like it had been “deposited by a giant concrete dog with square intestines”—and it was once spray-painted by U2’s Bono during a free concert.
4. Swarovski Fountain (Innsbruck, Austria)
Austrian artist André Heller created this fantastical fountain, which forms the entrance to Swarovski Crystal Worlds. The plant-covered structure, known as the Giant, houses the subterranean Chamber of Wonder, featuring designs and experiences by artists such as Brian Eno and Yayoi Kusama. The fountain in the nearly 56-foot-tall head of the Giant spills into a large pool.
5. Stravinsky Fountain (Paris)
Sculptor Jean Tinguely and painter Niki de Saint Phalle created the spirited fountain on Paris’s Igor Stravinsky Square. The artistic duo took inspiration from the music of the 20th-century composer, creating 16 abstract and whimsical figures, many painted in vibrant colors, which correspond to compositions. The fountain, which opened in 1983, is located near the Centre Pompidou.