There are countless churches in the world, but not all of them are what you would call beautiful. Churches meet in high school gyms, cinemas and people’s houses, so their appearance can vary. Yet, the ones that take your breath away with their towering steeples, onion domes, extravagant artwork and maybe even their gargoyles are definitely criteria for the best of the best. So, we went searching for what travel experts say are the must-see most beautiful churches in the world.
But churches are more than places people go one day a week … they involve traditions and practices that members keep alive through generations. In 2011, Catholic bishops urged the faithful to return to the Catholic tradition of meat-free Fridays. With the same motive as Meatless Monday, researchers from the University of Cambridge said the practice could cut thousands of tons of carbon emissions each year. Though only 25 percent of the faithful partook, it still saved more than 55,000 tons of carbon emissions. That is the equivalent of 82,000 fewer people flying from London to New York and back over the course of a year!
Perhaps the reason 75 percent didn’t miss out on eating meat on Fridays was because of how devout they were. An interesting study examined the progression of religious beliefs in young people as they matured. It revealed children who received a religious upbringing from both parents have stronger faith throughout adolescence and are less likely to move away from religion as they grow up. And the opposite scenario was shown to be true as well. Kids who grew up without a strong religious presence at home were more likely to lose their faith fairly early in life.
Whether you’re religious or not, there is no denying the wonder and significance of the most beautiful churches in the world. They are well worth a visit, and many are UNESCO World Heritage Sites — a testament to their cultural value. These magnificent structures are not only places of worship, but also works of art, and it is no surprise that they attract millions of visitors each year. Read on to find out which five churches top experts’ lists for being extraordinarily beautiful.
The List: Most Beautiful Churches, According To Experts
1. St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City
Touropia thinks St. Peter’s Basilica will take your breath away: “Named after the venerated saint whose tomb lies within, the spectacular Renaissance style basilica proudly exhibits a colossal facade and dome, with the colonnade-lined St. Peter’s Square leading up to it. Covered in marble, its floors stretch endlessly away before you, with breathtaking statues, centuries-old artworks, and glittering treasures all on display. Undoubtedly one of the most beautiful churches in the world, St. Peter’s Basilica is an architectural masterpiece with incredible artworks for you to enjoy.”
It’s also a tourist attraction. “The largest Catholic church in the world and the holiest site in Christianity, St Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City is one of the most popular attractions for those visiting Rome. It is the burial site of St. Peter, the head of the twelve Apostles of Jesus, the first Bishop of Antioch, and later the first Bishop of Rome, rendering him the first Pope. It is a significant pilgrim site drawing crowds in the tens of thousands to the cathedral and St Peter’s square to hear liturgies presided over by the pope. St Peter’s Basilica can accommodate 20,000 people,” Vagrants of the World writes.
Luxury Columnist says, “Considering that the Vatican City is home to the pope and the seat of Catholicism, it comes to reason that it also has the world’s biggest church, St. Peter’s Basilica. The enormous building covers approximately 22,300 square meters. This Roman Catholic church was commissioned by Pope Julius II to be the grandest building in Christendom. The cathedral was built between 1506 and 1626, with legendary figures contributing to its works, including Raphael, Michelangelo, and Bramante.”
2. Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, Spain
Construction on this icon is still going on today! According to Road Affair, “One of the world’s most famous churches is known just as much for being unfinished as it is for its incredible beauty. Construction of the Sagrada Familia started in 1882 and is incomplete to this day. The architect who designed it, Antoni Gaudí, died before his vision could be realized, but there are now plans to complete La Sagrada by 2026 on the centenary of his passing. Despite being unfinished, this modernist basilica is a dazzling sight, especially from the inside.”
“The world-famous Sagrada Familia 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 Gaudí assumed the position at the end of 1883. It was the most complex and unique project that Gaudí had carried out throughout his professional career, to which he dedicated 43 years of his life. The part built by Gaudí was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005,” The Luxury Travel Expert claims.
Celebrity Cruises calls it a masterpiece: “Antoni Gaudí’s great unfinished masterpiece is Spain’s most visited attraction and with good reason. Towering above the elegant Eixample district in Barcelona, the Sagrada Familia is a work of dazzling genius. Based on the wavy forms of nature, the slender towers and ornate facades are modeled on the rock formations of the holy mountain of Montserrat, located outside the city, with organic shapes and colors.”
3. Las Lajas Sanctuary, Colombia
The World Bucket List thinks this unique church is a must-visit: “Las Lajas Sanctuary in southern Colombia has to be one of the most unusual churches in the world. It sits in a very precarious location, 150 ft (46 m) over a river gorge. The site once served as a shrine in the 18th century. This came after a reported sighting of an image of the Virgin Mary in the rocks.”
Trips To Discover compares it to looking like something out of a fairytale: “The breathtaking Santuario de Las Lajas, with its fairytale good looks, is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful places you can visit in all of Colombia. In fact, it was ranked the No. 1 on a list of the world’s most beautiful churches by The Telegraph newspaper. The Neo-Gothic cathedral was built on the bridge that spans the Guaitara River sometime between 1916 and 1944, in such a way that the gorge cliff with the image of the Virgin forms the back wall of the church.”
“Throughout the world, faith inspires beauty. The neo-Gothic Las Laras Sanctuary sits perched on a bridge spanning a deep river gorge in southern Colombia — one of South America’s most dramatic churches,” USA Today writes.
4. The Church of Hallgrímur, Reykjavík, Iceland
According to Bored Panda, you’ll want to look to the sky when you’re in the presence of this church: “The Church of Hallgrímur is a Lutheran parish church which is also a very tall one, reaching 74.5 meters (244 ft) in height. It is the fourth tallest architectural structure in Iceland and one of its most famous monuments. It took incredibly long to build it (38 years!). Construction work began on this Icelandic church in 1945 and ended in 1986.”
“Hallgrímskirkja is a parish church, resembling the landscape of its location, that can be found in Reykjavík, Iceland. According to the website icelandtravel.is, it is the largest church in this Nordic island nation. Many churches have a steeple on the top, but this one, high up in the sky, is very unique. And this building contains a pipe organ, a crypt beneath the choir, an observation tower and a statue out front of Leif Eiriksson, an Icelandic Viking,” The Travel says.
Condé Nast Traveler claims it’s inspired by nature: “Designed to resemble the basalt lava that flows in Iceland, the church looks like a strong upside-down V made of tall, thin white beams. Even though the exterior is striking, make sure you visit the inside as well — there’s a sculpture of the famous explorer Leif Eriksson and an observatory at the top where you can get breathtaking views of Reykjavik.”
5. Notre Dame, Paris
ForTravelAdviceLovers.com advises checking out Notre-Dame: “The building is known all over the world, and is one of the most visited in Paris: registered in the UNESCO World Heritage Site, during the French Revolution there were many damages that led to extensive renovations. Even the famous stained glass windows have been rebuilt several times over time: the current ones date back to 1965.”
“The Notre Dame cathedral is one of the most singular and beautiful cathedrals of Europe. The cathedral’s dramatic towers, spire, stained glass and statuary are most impressive. The Notre Dame was the heart of medieval Paris and took over than a century to complete,” 10MostToday.com says.
Top5.com believes it’s the one of the best examples of French Gothic architecture: “Arguably the most famous monument in Paris, Notre Dame is located in the city’s 4th arrondissement and considered one of the best examples of French Gothic architecture in the world, with massive flying buttresses supporting the impressive cathedral. Make sure to climb to the top of the tower for spectacular views of the city. The tower measures 223 feet high and is famous for its intricate gargoyles and as the haunt for Victor Hugo’s Quasimodo, the Hunchback of Notre Dame.”
There are so many more beautiful places of worship, you could probably come up with your own top five list of the most beautiful churches. Feel free to leave us a comment, and let us know your favorites!
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- Vagrants of the World
- Luxury Columnist
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- Trips To Discover
- USA Today
- Bored Panda
- The Travel
- Condé Nast Traveler
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