When it comes to beautiful architecture and buildings, many of the world’s most spectacular examples happen to be churches. No matter what country you visit, whether heading on a trip to North America or a family cruise holiday to Europe, you stand an excellent chance of seeing a church that will truly take your breath away. Church tradition and faith seems to have inspired designers and architects to reach extraordinary heights. From Moscow and Rome to Montreal and Istanbul, we’ll be highlighting some of the most stunning churches anywhere in the world in this guide. Hopefully, our selections will inspire you for a future trip so you can see what all the fuss is about for yourself. Until you can visit these locations in person, we have made sure to include links to virtual tours of each church.
Sagrada Família, Barcelona
When it comes to stunning churches, the conversation can’t possibly be had without mentioning Sagrada Família in Barcelona. Sagrada Família is one of the world’s most famous churches, thanks to its undeniable majesty and its truly epic construction history. Designed by maestro Antoni Gaudí, construction started all the way back in 1882 and work is still continuing today. Sadly, Gaudí never got to see the completion of his masterpiece but fortunately, the rest of us can stand back in awe at this truly monumental Catholic basilica.
The exterior’s intricate details are just staggering, they really have to be seen to be believed and will surely be a highlight of any cruise to Barcelona. Keri, from the travel blog Ladies What Travel, has visited Sagrada Família herself and has shared her thoughts with us: “Sagrada Família should be experienced on a trip to Barca because it’s one of a kind. I promise you’ll never see another church like it, and to this date, no other church I’ve visited has compared!”
Keri also talked to us about her favourite features of this wonderful church: “There are so many beautiful features all around this church, but I think my favourite part has to be the exterior and how it wows you when you first see it. I dare you not to have your breath taken away!
“It’s epic in scale, to the point that when you stand outside and look up you can almost fall backwards trying to see the top of its spires, but it’s the level of detail that continues to blow my mind. The detail is truly amazing; you can spend hours wandering around discovering new stories being told all over the walls of the church.
“Outside the three grand facades' intricate designs cover the walls in their entirety, with different styles being embraced in the telling of Christ's birth, life and death. Visitors pass under the tree of life, with animals and wildlife to be spotted wherever you look.”
Yulia from the travel blog Miss Tourist is also a big fan of this Spanish marvel, telling us: “Sagrada Familia is not just your regular church, it is a masterpiece by Antonio Gaudi that deserves a visit with a tour guide – there are so many hidden meanings and details that I would never notice/understand by myself!
“Funnily enough, I myself visited Sagrada Familia only the 3rd time I went to Barcelona – the attraction is so popular that there was always a huge line in front of it. Good thing now you can book your visit online and just come at the right time and go straight to the entrance!”
Regarding what she likes most about the church, Yulia shared: “There are so many things inside such as the tree-like columns or beautiful sunlight reflections on the stained glass. But I’d prefer you to go there and discover it for yourself. One of my favourite spots outside of the cathedral is a small park with a lake that overlooks one of Sagrada’s sides. It is really beautiful, not so crowded comparing to the entrance, and you can take some amazing pictures from there!”
St. Basil's Cathedral, Moscow
Russian Orthodox churches are well known for being some of the most striking churches anywhere in the world. Moscow certainly has its own contender in the wonderful St. Basil’s Cathedral. This incredibly colourful church is one of the most famous landmarks in Russia, with many from outside the country mistaking it for the Moscow Kremlin itself. Built between 1555 and 1561 under orders from the first Russian tsar Ivan the Terrible, the church is a cultural symbol of Russia, wowing all who see it with its multi-coloured domes.
Today, the church also acts as a museum and is certainly a must-see when visiting Moscow. Travel blogger Lindsey from Have Clothes, Will Travel, has visited herself and shared the following praise with us: “St. Basil’s Cathedral is one of the most iconic sites in all of Russia. You can't visit Moscow and not see St. Basil's Cathedral - it's one of the top things to do in Moscow. It would be akin to visiting Paris but not seeing the Eiffel Tower.
“The exterior of St. Basil's Cathedral is the most jaw-dropping aspect of this cathedral, in my opinion. The candy-coloured onion domes are unlike anything I have seen before in my travels. They are simply breathtaking. I hate to say the ‘outside’ is my favourite part, but this whimsical structure really looks as though it came straight out of a fairy-tale or Disney World! It never ceases to amaze me.”
Hagia Sophia, Istanbul
When Istanbul was known as Constantinople and was capital of the mighty Byzantine Empire, the Hagia Sophia was its crowning glory, a majestic church that was the crown jewel of Orthodox Christianity. Finished all the way back in A.D. 537, Hagia Sophia truly dominates the skyline with its massive central dome and its famous awe-inspiring towers. It hasn’t actually been in use as a Christian church for centuries, having been converted into a mosque when the Ottomans invaded in the 1400s. Most recently, this Byzantine masterpiece has been acting as a museum and attracts tourists and pilgrims from all over the world.
While recent news from Turkey has revealed that Hagia Sophia will become a mosque once more, hopefully, it will retain its fascinating heritage and features for those planning to visit Istanbul in the future. Soraya from the travel blog Hello Raya says: “I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again – No visit to Istanbul will be complete without a visit to Hagia Sophia.
“When I walk around inside, I am just completely mesmerized by its Byzantine architecture and history. There is so much detail everywhere you look that you need hours to fully appreciate the structure. From mosaic details to marble pillars to paintings, the Hagia Sophia is artistically beautiful.”
St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City
St. Peter’s Basilica is perhaps the most famous church in the world. Located in Vatican City, the basilica is an icon of the Catholic world as well as its beating heart. While not the mother church of the Catholic faith, it is from St. Peter’s that many of the Pope’s duties are performed. This holy shrine is also the burial site of St. Peter, the chief disciple of Jesus Christ. The basilica itself is worthy of its enormous heritage and prestige, with St. Peter’s Square acting as a grand entrance to one of the world’s most miraculous architectural feats.
Featuring exquisite Baroque masterpieces from Bernini throughout the church, including the magnificent High Altar, St. Peter’s will take your breath away on a holiday to Rome. Byrna from the travel blog Dotted Line Travels shares that Michelangelo’s Pieta (a sculpture of the Virgin Mary cradling the body of Jesus) is a must-see and “the grandeur of St. Peter's Basilica blew me away. The interior of the Basilica is so lavishly decorated, there was marble and gold everywhere!”
Notre-Dame Basilica, Montreal
Canada might not jump instantly to mind like Italy, Spain, and France when one thinks of beautiful churches, but it is here in Montreal where one of the world’s most spectacular examples exists. Notre-Dame Basilica in Montreal was finished in 1829 and is a magnificent example of the Gothic Revival style. The exterior of the basilica is impressive enough, but its interior is truly jaw-dropping. Its sheer size and scale will leave you speechless, as will the beauty of its vibrant colour palette.
The church is a true masterpiece and its altar is one of the most dramatic in the world. Decorated with blues, reds, gold, and hundreds of intricate wood carvings, there is nothing quite like the grandeur of Notre-Dame Basilica. When on holiday in Montreal, treat yourself and stop by.
The most beautiful churches in the world
- St. Basil's Cathedral, Moscow
- Sagrada Família, Barcelona
- Hagia Sophia, Istanbul
- St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City
- Notre-Dame Basilica, Montreal
These are just some of many incredible churches located around the world. There are plenty more stunning examples in existence but those featured above will take some beating!
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