While many games include environments that are worthy of being praised for their design, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim has repeatedly been heralded for the composition of its breathtaking landscapes and cities since the game’s release in 2011. An entire generation of gamers have become intimately familiar with the lands of the Nords, and a huge part of this is the effort that Bethesda put into constructing their fictional world.
The Dragonborn traverses a variety of areas in their efforts to thwart Alduin, the World Eater, but none stand out as much as the wonderful cities found across Skyrim. Solitude’s Blue Palace, Whiterun’s Dragonreach, and Winterhold’s College of Mages are but a few of the magnificent set pieces offered by these towns, and although all the video game’s towns deserve acknowledgement, a few stand out in particular.
10 Morthal Is Barren, Marshy Settlement
Whereas most of the cities in Skyrim feature at least some sort of unique landmark, Morthal is instead characterized by the opposite—the town, named after the Atmoran (the ancestors of the Nords, Bretons, and Imperials) hero Morihaus, lacks a market, armory, stable, and really anything else that makes a town worth visiting.
Tucked away in the recesses of Hjaalmarch’s marshland, Morthal does include a couple of quests worth checking out, but these do little to offset the boring nature of the dreary, isolationist town. All in all, players would not be missing out on much should they avoid this city.
9 Dawnstar Is A Small But Unique Port Town
While some towns in Skyrim are a bit lacking in identifying landmarks, Dawnstar is certainly not plagued by this issue. Built around a bay, surrounded by mountains, and featuring a dedicated mine, Dawnstar packs several key landmarks into a fairly small area.
The town itself is on the smaller side compared to Skyrim’s other population centers, yet somehow the density of the designs, quests, and characters found in Dawnstar more than compensate for its diminutive size. This, when coupled with its dragon spawn rate (tied for the highest in Skyrim alongside the town of Winterhold), make it worth visiting on a regular basis.
8 Falkreath’s History Makes It Worth Checking Out
Falkreath isn’t much bigger than the small farming villages found throughout Skyrim, but it makes up for its relatively small size with quality questlines, a warm atmosphere, and historical importance. Found near Skyrim’s border with Hammerfell and Cyrodil, Falkreath has been claimed by multiple different regions due to the nations’ numerous conflicts with one another.
Coincidentally, the only man to ever unify the continent of Tamriel, Tiber Septim (also founder of the Septim Dynasty seen in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion), was once the leader of Falkreath’s forces, signaling that the quiet town may have once been of greater significance than seen in Skyrim.
7 Winterhold’s College Is The Sole Sign Of Its Former Glory
Once the seat of magical knowledge in Northern Tamriel, Winterhold has since been reduced to a tenuous mess, characterized by the dichotomy of its crumbling residential area and preserved college. The former capital of Skyrim, Winterhold thrived until what is known as “the Great Collapse,” an event that decimated the town and caused most of its area, minus the College of Winterhold, to collapse into the Sea of Ghosts.
Thankfully, the College of Winterhold was guarded against most of the effects of the Great Collapse by a protective barrier—were this not the case, the town would be absent its signature landmark and only engaging storyline, which revolves around the townsfolk’s suspicion of their magically-inclined neighbors.
6 Raven Rock Brings Morrowind Into The Modern Era
Included in the Dragonborn DLC, Raven Rock is located on Solstheim, an ash-covered island in Morrowind that formerly belonged to Skyrim. Due to taking place in an entirely separate geographic region from the rest of the game, Raven Rock’s architecture and design are a breath of fresh air, featuring archaic styles that have been used for centuries on the island.
Although the town is still on the smaller end of the spectrum compared to larger population centers, Raven Rock has a slew of quests that complement its novel atmosphere. In addition to this, the town’s mine greatly increases its total area, making Solstheim’s largest city a popular destination for all Dragonborn.
5 Windhelm Likely Marks The First Human Settlement In Tamriel History
No city in Skyrim has more history than the town of Windhelm. Whe wintry settlement was the first town to be settled by mankind in the region, and likely all of Tamriel. Taking this into account, it only follows that Windhelm would be one of the larger cities in the entire game, especially considering it is serving as the home base for Ulfric Stormcloak, leader of Skyrim’s revolution against the Empire.
With multiple, clearly segregated boroughs inside the town, few destinations in Skyrim can rival Winterhold’s ability to tell a story through the layout of its city. However, compared to some of the game’s greatest cities, Winterhold’s snowy landscape and ancient building designs cause it to feel slightly bland, leaving it in the middle of the pack.
4 Markarth Is The Sole Dwemer Settlement That Is Still Populated
Markarth is a bit of an oddity compared to the other cities found in Skyrim, as this crime-infested town occupies what was formerly a Dwemer settlement. The since-disappeared race was significantly more technologically advanced than their peers in the area, so the town greatly benefits from the architecture usually only found deep within Dwemer ruins.
Most Dwemer settlements are built deep inside the ground, buried by centuries of vacancy; however, Markarth serves as evidence that the race was capable of building beautiful settlements above the surface. The Dwemer design, running body of water, and unique building arrangement make this town one of the best that Skyrim has to offer.
3 Riften’s Design Parallels Its Criminal Activity
No town more quickly establishes its culture and general atmosphere that the thief-ridden town of Riften. Tucked away in South-Eastern Skyrim, Riften and its design serve as a perfect parallel to the world of crime found within its walls.
Above ground, the city is run by the family responsible for the majority of white-collar crime in Riften: the Black-Briar’s. Below ground, deep within Riften’s sewers, the true criminal presence of this city is revealed: the Thieves’ Guild. The split parts of Riften represent the dichotomy of criminal activity within the city, making this town clearly stands out compared to its peers.
2 Solitude Is The Pinnacle Of Imperial Architecture In Northern Tamriel
Solitude crystallizes the essence of Tamrielic society, history, and architecture more than anything found within Skyrim. The seat of Imperial power in the region, Solitude is a far cry from the more rustic settlements found in-game, taking everything that made Windhelm a legendary city and thrusting it into the modern age. Located upon a beautiful stone arch over the Karth River, this town is easily the most beautiful town, and perhaps landmark, found in the entire game.
While the features found inside Solitude’s walls—its Imperial-filled castle, its gorgeous Blue Palace, its catacombs, and its sprawling residential area, to name a few—are iconic elements that demand acknowledgement, it also features an abnormally large amount of structures and individuals outside its walls, making it one of the most well-designed spaces in all of Skyrim.
1 Whiterun Represents Everything Fans Love About Skyrim
Whereas Solitude does a great job of creating a space that feels Tamrielic, no location in the game feels more Nordic than the game’s iconic city, Whiterun. Located in the dead center of Skyrim, Whiterun not only serves as the commercial heart of the region under Jarl Balgruuf, but also the area’s cultural hub. Whiterun harkens back to an older way of life in Skyrim, as evidenced by the longboat that brought the first settlers to Skyrim, Jorrvaskr (home of the beloved Companions).
Fit with the aforementioned hall of the Companions, the Gildergreen tree (an offshoot of the Eldergleam Tree, thought to be the oldest living thing in Tamriel), three different housing districts, and a keep built for catching dragons, Whiterun serves as a crash course in what makes Nordic culture so fun to explore, cementing the town’s legacy in The Elder Scrollsfranchise.