Regardless of personal faith, visiting the world’s great churches is high on most travel to-do lists.
The stirring stroll through St Peter’s Square to tour the Renaissance wonder of St Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican museums and the Sistine Chapel, is the pinnacle of church experiences for travellers. And rightly so. The scale, emotion and beauty of this incredible place leaves an indelible mark.
If the Vatican is the benchmark, here’s five more places of worship that make up a must-see list for those who love the grandeur, history and spiritual connection of visiting these amazing structures.
Westminster Abbey, London
Built on the site of the church first consecrated there in 1065, the ‘new’ Westminster Abbey has an unbelievably rich history that includes no less than 16 royal weddings that have taken place there since construction first began in 1245 – the last wedding being that of Prince William to Kate Middleton.
Like more than one-million others every year, you can explore London’s most famous holy place on a guided or self-guided tour that takes in the tombs of Kings and Queens, the marble High Alter, the famous Harrison & Harrison grand organ and a virtual treasure trove of artefacts and monuments that chart a living history of Britain.
Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem
Visiting the birthplace of Jesus Christ is naturally something of a pilgrimage for many travellers.
Completed in 565AD, the Church of the Nativity is one of the oldest Christian churches in the world. Entry is via a stone fortress-like frontage and through a very low doorway (1.2 metres) put in place during the Middle Ages to deter looters and their carts from entering.
Within the Grotto of the Nativity is a 14-pointed star marking the exact point believed to be where Jesus was born.
Sagrada Familia, Barcelona
Construction on this Spanish icon began in 1882 and although it’s been consecrated by the Pope as a basilica, the Gothic and Art Nouveau-style church is still being built and current timing has it completed in 2026.
Entering the central nave of this extraordinary building immediately pulls your head back as you are struck by the brilliant colours of the 45-metre-high vaulted ceiling. The semi-circular crypt features seven intricately decorated chapels.
The church’s unmistakeable landmark feature is its eight spires. The original architect, Antoni Gaudi, planned eighteen spires to represent the Twelve Apostles, the Virgin Mary, four Evangelists and Jesus Christ.
You can enter the spires on the Nativity and Passion facades by pre-purchasing tickets (http://www.sagradafamilia.org/en/tiquets/). The first part of the ascent is an easy lift ride but make sure you’re ready for a steep 300-step climb up a narrow staircase to the top. The views are worth it though!
Borgund Stave Church, Norway
Borgund Stave Church is Norway’s best-preserved example of an extant stave church and is now a treasured museum showcasing the country’s fascinating history and culture. Built in the 12th century, Borgund Church is a triple nave stave church with a dramatic tiered ceiling that evokes images of Viking warriors and religious augurs shrouded in dark cloaks.
The church is encircled by the graves of the local villagers. Inside, you can see runic inscriptions carved into the walls and roof carvings of dragon heads.
You can’t attend a service in the church now (you can next door in the modern local church), but you can explore Norway’s Viking past through the hundreds of artefacts and other informative displays.
Salt Cathedral of Zipaquira, Colombia
About 200 metres below the earth in a halite mountain near the small Colombian town of Zipaquira sits an atmospheric church known as Salt Cathedral. It’s considered one of Columbia’s greatest architectural achievements.
Salt Cathedral encompasses Colombia’s rich religious, cultural and environmental traditions. Its temple is divided into three sections where you can follow the course of Jesus Christ’s birth, life and death, thanks to icons and sculptures hand-carved into the halite rock.
Visit on Sunday and join about 3,000 worshippers in the dark and cool cavern for a service you ‘ll never forget. The cathedral is part of the wider Salt Park, a popular attraction with artworks, mining displays and educational exhibits on sustainable salt extraction.
Published under license from Well Travelled.