Top 10 most beautiful churches in the world

Monday newsletters always feature top 10 travel lists to inspire.

Today: Top 10 most beautiful churches in the world

In ancient times, churches were religious place where people could prayer and connect with gods. Today, churches remain religious places, although most people will only visit them for special occasions or for sightseeing. There are uncountable churches in this world, but only few with dazzle their visitors with eye-catching beauty and giant dimensions, making them so much more than just places of worship. From recognisable city icons to cathedrals-turned-museums, here’s my selection of the world’s most beautiful churches that should be on your travel bucket list.

There is more information (with YouTube videos) below the slideshow. What’s the world’s most beautiful church in your opinion? Leave a comment.

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10. HALLGRIMSKIRKJA, REYKJAVIK, ICELAND

Hallgrímskirkja in Reykjavík is both a parish church and a national sanctuary in Iceland. Designed by the architect Gudjon Samuelsson in 1937 and completed in 1986, the concrete structure took over 40 years to build. The soaring modernist church features a stepped concrete facade that was designed as an ode to modernism and a reminder of the basalt lava flows found in Iceland‘s natural landscape, especially the basalt columns around Svartifoss waterfall. The church is named after the 17th-century clergyman Hallgrímur Pétursson, author of Hymns of the Passion. Hallgrímskirkja is an Evangelical-Lutheran church and is a part of the Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Iceland. The iconic building is 75 m (240 ft) high, and a visit to the top will reward you with awe-inspiring views of Reykjavik and even Snaefellsjokull glacier on a clear day. Its wonderful acoustics and enormous pipe organ (designed and constructed by the German organ builder Johannes Klais of Bonn) make the church an ideal venue for classical music concerts.

HALLGRIMSKIRKJA, REYKJAVIK, ICELAND


9. SAINT BASIL’S CATHEDRAL, MOSCOW, RUSSIA

Saint Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow is a proud survivor of the city’s tumultuous history. Rising majestically from Red Square, it provides a striking contrast to the monochrome buildings characteristic of the Soviet era that fill much of the city. It has remained standing despite several fires, Napoleon’s invasion and the demolition of other churches in Moscow like the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour under Stalin. Enchanting visitors with its vibrant mix of bright colors, the towers topped with differently designed onion domes – some swirled like ice creams, some textured with diamond patterns – St Basil’s Cathedral is the most famous building in Moscow, offering an unforgettable postcard image for everyone who visits the city, whether at day or night. Inside the unique exterior is a small temple made up of a labyrinth of nine different chapels, one of which is topped by the central bell tower. Each small chapel is exquisitely decorated with Orthodox iconology, gilt details and colorful murals.

SAINT BASIL'S CATHEDRAL, MOSCOW, RUSSIA


8. CANTERBURY CATHEDRAL, UNITED KINGDOM

A breath-taking mixture of Romanesque and Gothic architecture, Canterbury Cathedral in Kent has been the seat of the spiritual head of the Church of England for nearly five centuries. The imposing cathedral building, set in beautiful gardens, was built around 597 AD. The UNESCO World Heritage monument is often described as ‘England in stone’ as its history is intrinsically linked to the country’s history. From its first Archbishop, Augustine, who established Christianity in England to Archbishop Langton’s role in the Magna Carta negotiations and the power struggle between King Henry II and Archbishop Thomas Becket, Canterbury Cathedral’s history is as rich as it comes. Whether you go on a tour or take things at your own pace, don’t miss the fantastic stained glass windows, – including one of England’s largest collections of early medieval stained glass – and the Water Tower from the 12th century (possibly earlier) with piping that has survived and is still functioning today.

CANTERBURY CATHEDRAL, UNITED KINGDOM


7. CATHEDRAL OF SANTA MARIA DEL FIORE, FLORENCE, ITALY

Florence Cathedral was designed at the end of the 13th century by Arnolfo di Cambio and is dedicated to Santa Maria del Fiore, a reference to the lily, the city’s symbol. The third largest cathedral of the world (after Saint Peter’s in Rome and Saint Paul’s in London), at the time of its consecretation in 1436 it was the largest in Europe. The building was erected on top of the earlier Cathedral of Santa Reparata, the remains of which are accessible via the nave. The exterior, now clad in polychrome marble, remained incomplete for a long time; the original façade, which had been partially built to the design by Arnolfo di Cambio, was demolished at the end of the 16th century, and the current one was only erected at the end of the 19th century. Inside, the nave and two side aisles end in a vast choir where the main altar stands, surrounded by the tribune on which the Cupola rests. The 44 stained-glass windows were the work of leading 15th-century masters, including Donatello, Andrea del Castagno and Paolo Uccello.

CATHEDRAL OF SANTA MARIA DEL FIORE, FLORENCE, ITALY


6. MEZQUITA CATHEDRAL DE CORDOBA, SPAIN

The Spanish city of Cordoba’s period of greatest glory began in the 8th century after the Moorish conquest, when some 300 mosques – including the Great Mezquita – and innumerable palaces and public buildings were built to rival the splendors of Constantinople, Damascus and Baghdad. In the 13th century, under Ferdinand III, the Saint, Cordoba’s Great Mosque was turned into the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption. Although only the Christian religion is practized in it today, the official title of the Great Mosque of Cordoba as Mosque-Cathedral makes it the only religious monument in the world with this distinction. The integration of the cathedral, with its construction being carried out within the mosque in the 16th century by the Christians, lends the compound its unique and surprising combination. The building’s design – with its many horseshoe arches, domes, and decorative tile work – is the epitome of Moorish architecture. Because of its cultural and artistic value, UNESCO declared the Mosque-Cathedral a World Heritage Site in 1984.

MEZQUITA-CATHEDRAL DE CORDOBA, SPAIN


5. ST PETER CATHEDRAL, COLOGNE, GERMANY

Cologne Cathedral – a building of superlatives – is the center and hallmark of this city on the Rhine. The cornerstone of this gothic cathedral was laid on the Feast of the Assumption of Mary on 15 August 1248. The previous building was apparently no longer deemed impressive enough to house the remains of the Three Wise Men, which Archbishop Rainald von Dassel had brought to Cologne from Milan after the latter city was conquered in 1164. Because of these relics, the cathedral became one of the most important places of pilgrimage in Europe. Its two massive towers have dominated the city’s skyline since their completion in 1880.  Today the cathedral is Cologne’s second-tallest structure, surpassed only by the telecommunications tower, and can hold more than 20,000 people. Due to the building’s impressive Gothic architecture, the shrine of the Three Wise Men, the outstanding stained-glass windows and the many other important works of art, UNESCO declared Cologne Cathedral a World Heritage Site in 1996.

ST PETER CATHEDRAL, COLOGNE, GERMANY


4. DUOMO OF SANTA MARIA NASCENTE, MILAN, ITALY

Milan’s famed cathedral, better known as Duomo or Santa Maria Nascente (Saint Mary of the Nativity), is the second largest church in Italy (second only to Saint Peter’s in size) and the fourth largest church in the world. It took nearly six centuries to complete, with more than 78 architects and engineers heading the project from its groundbreaking in 1386 to its completion in 1965. With its spires, pinnacles, gables and countless statues, the cathedral’s gothic exterior is a breathtaking sight, especially when the afternoon sun reflects on the light-white marble facade. The interior is sober bordering on the austere and is strikingly intimate for its very vastness. Don’t forget to head up to the cathedral’s rooftop terrace for sweeping views of Milan and to admire the cathedral’s architectural decorations up close.

DUOMO OF SANTA MARIA NASCENTE, MILAN, ITALY


3. NOTRE DAME CATHEDRAL, REIMS, FRANCE

With a length of 150 m (492 ft) and two towers rising 80 m (262 ft) above the ground, Reims Notre Dame Cathedral is recognized worldwide as one of the defining models of Gothic art. The monumental building bears witness to the remarkable mastery of the new architectural techniques acquired in the course of the 13th century, and achieves a harmonious marriage of architecture with sculpted decoration. The perfection of the cathedral’s architecture and sculptures is so great that it influenced many later buildings all over the world. This gothic art masterpiece also played a major role in the history of France for 800 years, as it was the site of the coronation of the French kings of France. The cathedral hosted thirty-three sovereign coronations in just over 1000 years! Together with the adjacent 9th-century Abbey of Saint Remi and Tau Palace, the former archiepiscopal residence, the cathedral constitutes a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1991.

NOTRE DAME CATHEDRAL, REIMS, FRANCE


2. ST. PETER’S BASILICA, VATICAN CITY

While Vatican City is home to the Roman Catholic Church’s governing body, this small sovereign city-state within Rome offers a wealth of attractions open to visitors of any faith. St. Peter’s Basilica is Vatican City’s top attraction and the largest church in the world. The most important building in Christendom is called after one of Jesus’s twelve disciples known as Saint Peter, one of the founders of the Catholic Church who was executed in Rome and buried where the Basilica now stands. The Italian Renaissance style church was designed primarily by Donato Bramante, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Michelangelo, and Carlo Maderno. The construction of the new basilica began in 1506, when the old basilica had been torn down, and was finished in 1626.  A cultural, historical, and architectural landmark, the church holds within itself treasures from millennia including paintings, sculptures, artifacts, and more. This includes Michelangelo’s Pieta, the famous sculpture of Mary holding the body of her son, Jesus, and the tomb of St. John Paul II.

ST PETER'S BASILICA, VATICAN CITY


1. SAGRADA FAMILIA, BARCELONA, SPAIN

The world-famous Sagrada Familia Basicila, the construction of which began in 1882, is today one of the landmarks of Barcelona and visited by millions of people from across the world. Initially, the project was commissioned to architect Francesc de Paula Villar, but the legendary architect Antonio Gaudi assumed the position at the end of 1883. Gaudi’s project was much more ambitious and spectacular than that proposed by his predecessor. It included the construction of a giant temple with 5 naves, a transept, an apse, an exterior ambulatory, 3 façades and 18 towers. It was the most complex and unique project that Gaudi had carried out throughout his professional career, to which he dedicated 43 years of his life. The part built by Gaudi was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005. The Construction Board hopes to finish the works in 2026, marking the centenary of Gaudi’s death. When completed, the Sagrada Familia will be the tallest church in the world.


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4 Comments

  1. better if you just judge the first-class armchairs or the amount of caviar available in the lounges. forget the churches.

  2. I love it that you list these great sacred spaces. My favourite would be a very small chapel on the Greek island of Patmos on the site where it is alleged Saint John baptised people. Amazing energy and peace.

  3. Perhaps its also worth mentioning two of the most important churches in the world, and where it all started actually;
    The Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem – Palestine
    Church of the Holy Sepulchre in East Jerusalem – Palestine

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