Of all meteorological phenomena – from puffy white clouds to dramatic lighting strikes – the rainbow is surely the most universally loved. And really, what’s not to love? Coming, as it does, on rainy days, the rainbow can be seen to represent a promise of better times after adversity or hardship. The many beautiful shades of a rainbow have also come to stand for the wonders of human diversity.
The rainbows in these pictures are certainly diverse in terms of setting, standing as they do over some of the greatest cities in the world – from Sydney (pictured here) to Istanbul. So let’s take a look at some more metropolises framed by one of nature’s most beautiful creations.
Slashing through the sky like the trail of a colorful superhero, this rainbow descends into the skyline of Midtown Manhattan. You’ll notice that the buildings look almost as if they're lit up against the dark clouds behind them. That’s because when you look at a rainbow, you always have your back to the sun, so the sun will be illuminating whatever you are facing – in this case the city skyscrapers.
There’s no mistaking Sydney Harbor, with its iconic Opera House and green-and-cream colored ferryboats. The rainbow in this picture so beautifully frames the harbor that it almost looks like the rounded glass of a souvenir snow globe!
The rainbow's end, in this case, seems to be on the shiny apartment block known as “the Toaster” – a moniker that's not always meant in an affectionate way. In fact, it's even been described as the part of Sydney Harbor that many Australians would like to see blown up!
We can’t help but see the allegory in this photograph, with the rainbow ending just below L.A.'s famous Hollywood sign. Lots of people have certainly chased a dream to find their pot of gold there.
The band of colors is pretty wide in this shot, too – great for seeing just how many shades you can spot, alongside the seven well-known colors.
If you look carefully at this graceful curve above Singapore, you'll see that it is, in fact, a double rainbow! The second is just outside of the first, and slightly fainter. Second rainbows aren't all that unusual; it's just that because they are lighter than the main rainbow, we rarely notice them.
These extra arches appear when light is reflected from water drops at an angle of 50° to 53° (from the sun) rather than just the usual 42° for primary rainbows. So, next time you’re admiring a rainbow, look closely and see if it has a ghostly twin shimmering away nearby.
Here’s a close-up look at the double rainbow effect, this time over Seattle. Theoretically, light can refract through raindrops at even more than two angles, but double rainbows are the most we generally see.
For the residents of Seattle, there is a plus side to their frequent drizzles with sunny patches: it’s the perfect condition for rainbows!
This stunning rainbow, which looks like it has a bit of cloud draped over it, spans the New Zealand city of Auckland. In this case, it really does look like the colored arch brings sunnier times with it – judging by the bright blue sky you can see peeking through!
Here’s another perfect dome rainbow, this time seen over San Francisco. Look how there is a slight contrast between the color of the sky on the inside of the rainbow curve and the sky on the outside. That’s because if you really analyze rainbows, they are actually disks of light, not just colored arches. The light reflecting off the water drops that form rainbows is directed not only towards the outside rim of this disk but also – more faintly – inside it.
Rain showers can happen at any time in Amsterdam – and so can rainbows! This one looks like it's bringing a bit of color to what is otherwise quite a gray, drab-looking day. Although we think of rainbows as being divided up into seven colors (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet), they are actually much more complex. The rainbow contains every shade your eye is capable of seeing – plus a few more!
The Turkish city of Istanbul sprawls beneath this colorful crescent – or two, if you look carefully. The Mesopotamians believed the rainbow was both the goddess Ishtar’s necklace and a bridge to heaven.
Actually, the colorful arches are regarded as a supernatural bridge in several mythologies, including that of the Norse, who called it the ‘Bifröst’ – a road between men and the gods.
We thought that first image of the rainbow over New York was so magical that it was worth another picture! At first glance, it looks like the dazzling arc disappears behind the Empire State building, but look closely: you can just make out the colors crossing over in front. But that’s not the only quality to look out for! Check out the right hand corner above the skyline, and you can see, very faintly, a double rainbow.
Pink shades stand out perfectly in this rainbow over Rio de Janeiro, adding some more color to what's already a colorful place. The Arawak Indians of South America believed that seeing a rainbow over the sea was a good sign. Unfortunately, we don’t know what they’d say about one over a city (but we're sure it can't be bad).
These buildings in Seattle are being bathed in color! At least, that’s how it appeared to photographer Joe Schumacher and his camera lens. Because a rainbow is the result of the way light is distributed by the raindrops and hits each eyeball from a different angle (everybody viewing it will be standing in a slightly different place), no two people will ever see a rainbow in the exact same way. Which makes seeing one just a little bit more special, we think.
Here’s a second rainbow over Singapore, standing out against the stormy sky behind it. In Chinese legends, it is said that the sky is supported by a giant pillar. One day, this pillar collapsed and tore a hole in the heavens. The goddess Nüwa then repaired this rift by sealing it with five (some versions say seven) colored stones, which is the rainbow that we see today.
Vancouver looks like a city of glass and steel under the rainbow in this picture. Lloyd K. Barnes, the photographer who took this shot, said it had been raining all day before the sun, and this amazing rainbow, came out to play. We’re certainly glad he was there to capture it.
Ireland is, of course, the origin of one of our favorite rainbow myths – the one that tells of a pot of gold guarded by a leprechaun at the rainbow’s end. So we felt we had to include a rainbow in Ireland, and this one was snapped in the grand city of Dublin. Finding that tricky elf doesn’t guarantee you’ll get the treasure, though. According to the tales, you have to nab him before he sees you or he'll disappear... As elusive as the lovely rainbow itself, it seems.
This rainbow is truly monumental – or standing over a monument, at least! We're talking, of course, about the Washington Monument, seen here looking especially bright in the late afternoon sun. The rainbow really does make a pretty picture as it arcs through both clouds and sky.
Here's an ominous looking sky if ever there was one, but it just makes the rainbow depicted here that bit more striking. This storm over Bucharest, in Romania, definitely makes for an interesting picture, with the sunlight on the houses contrasting with those dark, gunmetal-gray clouds.
Single or double, against dark skies or light, nothing decorates a sky like a rainbow. We hope you've enjoyed these gorgeous pictures of rainbows from around the world, and perhaps learned just a little more about this wonderful natural phenomenon.