33 Historical Aerial Photos Of The World’s Great Cities

Published April 6, 2018
Updated July 22, 2020

These historical aerial images of New York, Paris, London, and others reveal the planet's most astounding cities like you've never seen them before.

Historical Aerial Photos Hindenburg
The Hindenburg flies over New York City, just hours before meeting its fateful end. 1937.The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Boston Molasses Disaster
Following the Boston molasses disaster of 1919, portions of the city's North End lie in ruins.Wikimedia Commons

Egyptian Pyramids From Above
A view of Giza and the Great Pyramids. 1904.Wikimedia Commons

Golden Gate Bridge Under Construction
The first pieces of the unfinished Golden Gate Bridge sit along the San Francisco coast. 1934.Wikimedia Commons

Sunset Over New York
The sun sets over the smog, clouds, and skyscrapers of New York. 1932.Wikimedia Commons

Aerial View Of Colosseum In Rome
An aerial photo of the Colosseum in Rome. Date unspecified.Library of Congress

First Aerial Photo
This image — taken of Boston in 1860 — is widely believed to be the oldest surviving aerial photo ever taken.Library of Congress

Aerial View Of Boston
Boston, as seen from a hot air balloon. Circa 1860.The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Aerial Photo Of Paris
A view of the Eiffel Tower and the surrounding parts of Paris. 1889.Library of Congress

Hiroshima Before And After From Above
Aerial images of Hiroshima before and after the atomic bombing, with ground zero noted by bullseye. 1945.U.S. Department of Defense

Hiroshima After Blast From Above
Aerial view of the Hiroshima aftermath. 1946.Library of Congress

Aerial Photo Of Thames
An aerial view of the Palace of Westminster and Big Ben on the banks of the Thames River in London. Circa 1900.Jack Benton/Archive Photos/Getty Images

San Francisco Earthquake
Buildings still in shambles following the San Francisco earthquake of 1906.Wikimedia Commons

Carnegie Hill New York
The Carnegie Hill section of New York, long before skyscrapers. 1882.The New York Historical Society

New Orleans From Above
The Mississippi River snakes through New Orleans. 1951.Wikimedia Commons

Tokyo After Bombing
Tokyo lies in ruins after the bombings of World War II. Circa 1945.Wikimedia Commons

Smog In Louisville
Smog envelops Louisville, Ky. in this photo taken as part of the Documerica project to document pollution in the U.S. 1972.U.S. National Archives

Chrysler Building
Smog obscures New York's Chrysler Building. 1952.Library of Congress

Los Angeles At Nght
Aerial view of Los Angeles at night, as seen from the Griffith Observatory. Circa 1962.Archive Photos/Getty Images

Historical Aerial Photos Houses
Aerial photographs of housing developments, some of the very first of their kind, in Levittown, Pa. 1957.Margaret Bourke-White/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Historical Aerial Photos Manhattan
Aerial view of Manhattan from New York Harbor, with the then-new World Trade Center's Twin Towers looming above Wall Street buildings. Circa 1970.Henry Groskinsky/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

1920s Manhattan
Aerial view from Upper New York Bay, looking north over Battery Park and the lower Manhattan skyline. 1923.FPG/Getty Images

Aerial Photo Of Berlin
Apartment buildings in Berlin. Circa 1900.ullstein bild/Getty Images

Coney Island July Fourth
Crowds enjoy the boardwalk and beach at New York's Coney Island on a hot 4th of July. 1946.Sam Shere/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Aerial View Of World's Fair
View of the 1939 New York World's Fair.The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Canadian Airplane
A Canadian plane flies over New York's George Washington Bridge as it makes its way up the Hudson River en route to Montreal, Canada. 1939.Photo by Margaret Bourke-White/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Toronto From Above
An aerial view of Toronto, Canada. 1967. Norman James/Toronto Star via Getty Images

Aerial View Of Boston
A view of the Prudential building in Boston, Mass. Circa 1964.Library of Congress

Aerial Photo Of Woolworth Building
New York's Woolworth tower pokes through the clouds. 1928.Library of Congress

Aerial View Of Jefferson Memorial
The Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C., just two years after its completion in 1943. Library of Congress

Aerial View Of Cincinnati
View of Cincinnati, Ohio. Circa 1934.Library of Congress

Aerial View Of Constantinople
Overview of the city and harbor of Constantinople. Date unspecified.Bettmann/Getty Images

Brooklyn Bridge
An aerial view of the Brooklyn Bridge. Circa 1912.Library of Congress

When we're stuck down here on the ground, even the most exciting cities can eventually seem dull. But, when we look at these same cities from high above, they can seem like totally different places.

Throughout history, aerial photography has served to showcase these new and exciting perspectives, as well as something else: change. Cities are in a state of constant evolution. It seems that almost every year a new building makes its mark and changes the skyline.

Take New York City for example. Historical aerial photos from the mid-1800s through even the 1920s show an unremarkable plot of land. This undeveloped New York had few buildings taller than 10 stories and virtually no skyscrapers. Today, the New York skyline obviously looks quite different.

Even cities that are a fraction of the size of New York both in the U.S. and around the world are of course still remarkable when seen from above — even if you'd never think so from the ground.

See for yourself in the gallery of historical aerial photos of cities above.

After this look at historical aerial photos, check out some more of the most astounding aerial photography from around the world. Then, check out these popular interesting photos from all around the world.

Katie Serena
A former staff writer at All That's Interesting, Katie Serena has also published work in Salon.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.
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Serena, Katie. "33 Historical Aerial Photos Of The World’s Great Cities." AllThatsInteresting.com, April 6, 2018, https://allthatsinteresting.com/historical-aerial-photos. Accessed May 19, 2024.