In our series on the great European cathedrals, this time we asked our fellow travel bloggers to tell us about their favorite cathedrals in Europe including Spain, Italy, Iceland, Finland, Montenegro, the Czech Republic, and more. From ancient times to more modern times, these cathedrals are a worthy addition to any travel itinerary.
The Great European Cathedrals
Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela
This cathedral, named after Saint James, one of the apostles whose bones are reputed to be buried in the lower crypt, is the final destination on the Way of Saint James pilgrimage. Pilgrims have been flocking to this cathedral since the 9th Century and upon arrival they are granted a certificate attesting to the completion of their journey.
The legend is that the cathedral is only one of three built over the body of an apostle.
Construction began in the early 9th Century by King Alfonso II of Asturias and Galicia. The cathedral suffered major damage during the reign of the Caliphate when it was burned down. Upon the reconquest it was rebuilt with additions until it reached its current glorious state.
The architectural style is a well-structured combination of Baroque, Romanesque and Gothic. The façade is mainly baroque with heavily ornamented curlicues so typical of the style. The elaborate interior is stuns with its Romanesque vaulted ceilings, naves and massive organ. This is the largest Romanesque cathedral in Spain and one of the most beautiful of the European cathedrals.
Talek blogs at Travels with TalekMost buildings, whether they're Gothic cathedrals or Romanesque ones, were high tech for their time. Richard Rogers Click To Tweet
Basilica of Montserrat
Montserrat Basilica is a major pilgrimage spot in Spain, located 50 km (31 miles) northwest of Barcelona. Its remote location in the Sierra de Montserrat mountain ridge of Catalonia gives it an otherworldly air, and even today, though it draws major crowds during the day, it retains an air of sacred serenity.
While Montserrat, the ‘Serrated Mountain’, has been considered a sacred site since before Christianity, the first monastery was built here around 880 by hermit monks, and the present Benedictine monastery, the Santa Maria de Montserrat, was founded in 1409. The basilica itself dates back to the 16th century, and has been the centre of turmoil more than once. After the Peninsular War in 1811, it had to be reconstructed. The facade was again destroyed in the Spanish Civil War, and was rebuilt between 1942 and 1968. Even so, its architecture is not created to outshine its mountain location, and blends into its rocky setting as if nature and spirituality are one.
Inside the basilica is the revered statue of the Black Madonna, the patron saint of Catalonia. This wooden statue, which likely dates back to the 12th century, is believed by some to have been carved by St. Luke, and has had a number of miracles attributed to it.
Carol Perehudoff blogs at Wandering Carol.
Cathedral of Notre-Dame of Reims – France
The Cathedral of Notre-Dame of Reims is one of France’s most important cathedrals- it was the site of the coronation of the French kings. Nearly all the kings of France, over 30 kings, were coronated in this cathedral. One of the most emblematic events was the coronation of Charles VII in 1429, during the Hundred Years’ War. The coronation of Charles VII was only possible due to the help of Joan of Arc, who influenced the people of Reims to accept Charles VII and switch allegiance. This was the turning point of the Hundred Years War with England.
The cathedral is also a UNESCO World Heritage site alongside with the Palace of Tau and the Abbey of Saint Remi in Reims. Besides the historic importance of the cathedral, it is a breathtaking site. It is filled with stained glass windows with a big rose window over the main portal. When the sun reflects on the windows, the cathedral glows with different colors. One of the most stunning stained glass windows were designed by Marc Chagall.
The cathedral also has a big organ and several statues, including one of Joan of Arc. In the past, there used to be a church labyrinth made on the Nave of the Cathedral, but it was destroyed. Nowadays it is only possible to see the projection of the labyrinth in certain events.
From the outside, the cathedral is huge and full of sculpted figures that will capture your eye. In front of the cathedral, there is a statue of Joan of Arc on a horse. It is very easy to go to Reims, as it is only 129 km from Paris it is accessible by car or train.
Jorge Bastos blogs at Travel Drafts.
Chartres Cathedral – France
Located in the small city of Chartres is the very large Chartres Cathedral—formally known as Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres. The Cathedral itself, whose construction began in the year 1205, is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most well-preserved Gothic cathedrals in all of Europe. It is the centerpiece of Chartres, France which is located just 60 miles southwest of Paris.
Chartres Cathedral is home to some of the most important religious relics out there, including the Sancta Camisa—a piece of cloth believed to be part of the tunic worn by the Virgin Mary on the night Jesus Christ was born. The Sancta Camisa is on display and helps Chartres Cathedral mark the end of a popular pilgrimage destination for this very reason.
A few years ago, Chartres Cathedral underwent an ambitious renovation which cleaned away 800 years of dirt from the interior of the church. This renovation was not without controversy but the church now gleams as it did once upon a time. Regardless of the cleaning, most of the stained glass windows are original—windows that feature a special blue color known as bleu de Chartres. To this day, no one has been able to replicate this particular shade of blue.
Ashley Smith blogs at My Wanderlusty Life.
Valencia Cathedral – Spain
This beautiful church is located in the Old City neighborhood of Valencia, Spain. Also called Saint Mary’s Cathedral, this Roman Catholic church has a long and rich history. Today, it is one of the most recognizable architectural symbols for Valencia.
The land that this Cathedral was built on was originally the site of a Roman Temple. Later, it was turned into a mosque. Construction on the cathedral started in the 13th century. However, additions continued to be made on the structure until the 15th Century. The style is primarily Gothic, but overall mixed. Since construction took place over such a long time, features from different movements were incorporated into its design. Ultimately, you can find examples of Romanesque, Baroque, Renaissance and Neoclassical styles within its structure. It’s most well-known Baroque feature is the La Porta de Ferros –Door of Iron.
A very unique relic of this church is a holy chalice. This chalice is considered by some historians to be the true Holy Grail. This chalice has been dated back to the 1st Century! It is available for viewing at the Capilla del Santo Caliz of the cathedral.
Tourists can visit the Cathedral and its museum Mondays through Saturdays. The entrance fee is 8 euros, and an additional 2 euros to climb the el Miguelete. Once at the top of the el Miguelete or Miguelete Tower, you’ll be rewarded with fantastic views of Valencia. Entry to the museum also includes an audio guide. The museum features many beautiful frescoes.
Valentina blogs at Valentina’s Destinations.
Aachen Cathedral – Germany
It may not be the biggest – or even the most famous these days – but, in many ways, Aachen Cathedral is the most important cathedral in Germany. It was at the core of the country’s politics and faith for centuries, with 42 German kings and queens crowned here between 936 and 1531.
But there was one ruler who will always be the most associated with Aachen Cathedral – the legendary Emperor Charlemagne, who united much of Western Europe and created the foundations of Germany and France. He was the one who built this cathedral and his remains are still housed within it in a large shrine.
Construction of Aachen Cathedral began in 796 and it actually takes its inspiration from churches that were found in the eastern part of the Holy Roman Empire in those days – places like Serbia or Greece. The core of the cathedral has an octagonal core that goes up for several levels.
The core is decorated with textured marble and elegant columns. In the smaller chapels, every inch of the walls is covered in art. When you go further in, the vaulted ceiling seems so much higher than you might expect from the outside, and the enormous stained-glass windows beam in bright colours. The size of Aachen Cathedral, smaller than the other main German cathedrals, makes it seem even more impressive in some ways. There’s a concentration and intensity to the colours, the grandeur and the art. You can feel the history here.
Michael Turtle blogs at Time Travel Turtle.
Cathedrale Notre-Dame de Strasbourg – France
Located in the center of the city of Strasbourg, the Cathedrale Notre-Dame de Strasbourg is a massive Gothic style cathedral winding its way high above the town’s rooftops. It is currently the 6th tallest church in the world and allows for visitors to climb up to the top platform and get a spectacular view of the city.
Its history is an interesting one, as much of its construction was due to private donations received by local citizens. A variety of architects were also involved in the design and construction of various parts of the cathedral with no one person taking credit for the entirety of the cathedral. The cathedral was the tallest building in the world for over 400 years.
The interior of the cathedral is exquisite and contains various mural paintings and stained-glass windows dating back as far back as the 12th century. Instruments including the large organ as well as Gothic sculpture statues are also relics that give the cathedral a vintage look. An astronomical clock, which unfortunately is no longer working, was put together by a variety of artists, represents life stages as well as the last Judgment.
The façade of the cathedral is spectacular, and when walking along the streets of Strasbourg and turning towards the entrance of the cathedral, its enormity is quite stunning. It has an overbearing presence in an otherwise mid-size city and has also inspired men such as Victor Hugo and Goethe.
Diana blogs at The Elusive Family.I love church buildings, particularly cathedrals, and I like living in spaces that remind me of music or evoke that creative energy. Laura Mvula Click To Tweet
St. Tryphon’s Cathedral – Kotor, Montenegro
Kotor is one of the most stunning towns in Europe. Its Old Town is incredibly well preserved, and it takes you back in time with its stunning architecture and old-world charm. There are countless pictures of Montenegro to prove it, and after you’ve seen them we’re almost sure you’ll add this Balkan country to your bucket list. It’s a magical place nestled by the Adriatic sea.
Right at the center of Kotor, which is fittingly a UNESCO World Heritage Site, you can find the St. Tryphon’s Cathedral, a majestic monument that dates back to the 12th century. It was built in the name of St. Tryphon, the patron and protector of the city of Kotor. This cathedral, one in two in the whole country, is stunning both from the outside and the inside, where you can find frescoes from the 14th century, intricate ornaments, and vast decorations in romanesque style. On the upper part of the cathedral there’s actually a Sacral Art Museum.
The St. Tryphon’s Cathedral has changed through time, and has been rebuilt more than once due to earthquakes: first after the 1667 Dubrovnik earthquake, and more recently after the 1979 Montenegro earthquake, which vastly affected the country’s beautiful coast. Today the cathedral is fully restored and serves as the seat of the Catholic Bishopric of Kotor.
Find out more about Montenegro at Two Find a Way.
Catedral de Santa Maria – Girona, Spain
The Catedral de Santa Maria is one of the most beautiful sights in the city of Girona, the capital of Costa Brava, in Catalonia. The church was built between the 11th and the 18th centuries following a variety of styles. Among the many styles used there are the Romanesque, the Gothic and the Baroque. There are 90 steps leading to the cathedral, which can be viewed from a distance. Inside the church, you’ll be able to admire beautiful stained classes and to visit the Cathedral Treasury Museum. This holds the Tapís de la Creació (Tapestry of Creation), an embroidered panel in Romanesque style that dates back to the 11th century and which is remarkably well preserved.
The best views of the cathedral are those from the defensive walls that run through the old town of Girona. They can be accessed from three points. One of them is the gardens behind the cathedral, one by the Monestir de Sant Pere de Galligants and the last one by the Spanish Civil War Memorial. I recommend starting from the Spanish Civil War Memorial and walk all the way to the Cathedral from there. The views as you approach it are breathtaking.
On a final note, you may be glad to note that the Cathedral of Girona is one of the filming locations of popular series Game of Thrones.
Claudia Tavani blogs at My Adventures Across the World.Art is, nowadays, our new religion and museums are our cathedrals. Theodore Zeldin Click To Tweet
St. James Cathedral – Innsbruck, Austria
Innsbruck is a picturesque city in the heart of the alps in Austria. The town is compact and easy to walk around, with lots of stunning architecture to admire particularly in the old part.
The Cathedral of St. James is one of the cities most famous buildings. Its located by Hofburg Palace in the old part of the town. It’s believed that there has been a church here since 1180. The cathedral that stands here today was built in the early part of the 18th Century after an earthquake destroyed the previous church.
It was designed by Johann Georg Fischer and Johan Jakob Herkomer, and the Baroque architecture with its two green domes makes it an easy to recognise landmark in this part of town. The structure was heavily damaged during World War II, but thankfully it is now fully restored and well worth a visit.
Inside the interior of the cathedral is exquisite and richly decorated with pink marble and gold leaf. The organ is particularly impressive with its golden facade and elaborate decorative statues. It has 3,729 pipes, and 57 registers and its presence dominates the gallery in the west wing.
Another highlight of the cathedral is the tomb of Archduke Maximilian III, Grand Master of the Teutonic Knights. It lies beneath a canopy which is supported by four bronze pillars. Each of these pillars is elaborately decorated with vine leaves, birds, and small animals. On top sit several beautiful bronze figures including one of the Archduke himself dressed in Armour.
The cathedral has eight bells one of which, the Mariahilferglocke is the second largest in the Tyrol. These bells can be heard only on a Friday. The chimes that ring out each day just after noon are from the cathedrals peace Carillion. The cathedral has the largest carillon in Austria consisting of 48 bells which are housed in one of the towers.
Fiona blogs at Passport and Piano.
Basel Münster – Switzerland
Basel, Switzerland sits on the corner where France, Germany and Switzerland meet. One of the most important sights in Basel is the Münster (or Cathedral in English).
The Basel Münster sits high above the Rhine River on a location where the Romans once had a fortress. It is located in Basel’s Old Town and is easily reached by public transport or walking. For a more unique arrival, you can always take a traditional fähri across the Rhine!
The cathedral was built and rebuilt several times between 1019 and 1500. Once a Catholic Cathedral, it became Protestant after the Reformation in the early 1500s.
From its red sandstone architecture and coloured roof tiles on its exterior to the pipe organ and stain glass inside, the Basel Münster is a truly beautiful cathedral. While visiting, make sure to visit the cloister and crypt where the tombs of royalty and prominent citizens of Basel were buried hundreds of years ago.
The Basel Münster has two façade towers, one of which can be visited. It originally had five but all fell during an earthquake in the 1300s and only the existing two were rebuilt. If you wish to climb the tower, beware, it isn’t an easy task. The 250 stairs are narrow and winding and the upper areas are quite open. That said, the hard climb is well worth it. The top of the tower has a spectacular view of the Rhine and Mittlere Brücke, Basel’s famous Middle Bridge.
The square in which the Münster stands is often a place of concerts and other events. There is also a beautiful terrace behind the church which has one of the best views in Basel.
Joanne blogs at Sunsets and Roller Coasters.
Sainte Reparate – Nice, France
Nice, France actually has two impressive cathedrals: One is Saint-Nicholas Russian Orthodox Cathedral used for worship by the large Russian community that settled in Nice in the 1800’s, and the other is the Sainte Reparate Cathedral for the Catholic community.
Reparate is the patron saint of Nice, and was a young woman martyred in Palestine during the persecutions of the Emperor Decius in the 3rd Century. Her relics arrived in Nice in 1060 and were placed in a chapel called Sainte Marie’s up on Castle Hill, which used to be the original heart of Nice.
Around 1000 CE, Nice expanded, people moved down from Castle Hill and new settlements were set up at the base. A new church was built in 1075 to house her relics, and this new Baroque-style church was called Sainte Reparate.
The initial church took over 50 years to be built, but continued to be enlarged over several hundred years. It had been re-modeled after the church of Santa Susanna in Rome. Sainte Reparate’s church finally received Cathedral status in 1590.
The cathedral was consecrated in 1699, and the clock tower was added onto the right side of the Cathedral in 1757. The façade you see today wasn’t finished until 1830.
There are 10 Baroque chapels inside with ornate altar pieces, and the high altar houses the remains of Reparate, and has a painting of her above it.
The cathedral is located in Place Rossetti in Old Town Nice. There is a small buzzing piazza with cafes and restaurants, and it’s a common meeting place for locals and tourists alike.
Maureen McDermott blogs at Life on the Mediterranean.
Helsinki Cathedral – Finland
There are two famous cathedrals in the heart of Helsinki, Finland. The Helsinki Cathedral is located in the heart of city centre and is the Evangelical Lutheran Cathedral of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland. It is a very popular sightseeing stop for lots of tourists, but is also still a place of worship for hundreds of church goers today. It is a beautiful white cathedral with emerald accents, and is a stunning building with a lot of details around the church.
This cathedral was built in 1824 and completed in 1852. The Helsinki Cathedral seats 1,300 people in its sanctuary. It is a church that is used every week for regular services and is still used for special events like weddings, baptisms, and funerals as well. Helsinki Cathedral is perched up high on dozens of steps, so it will be a bit of a climb if you want to go up to see it close. Inside, the church has statues, an impressive organ, and murals around the building. Tourists can step inside and enjoy both the inside and outside on their visit. The outside has strong pillars and overlooks city center. It’s a great place for some photo opps of this amazing cathedral.
Sara blogs at Our Kind of Crazy.
Hallgrímskirkja – Reykjavik, Iceland
Hallgrímskirkja stands proudly in the centre of Reykjavik and is probably the only concrete building in the world that I’ve considered beautiful. We visited Reykjavik at the end of our five day Iceland itinerary with kids last year, and our first stop in the city was to marvel this impressive Lutheran church. At 73 metres tall, it is the largest church in the country and is named after Hallgrímur Pétursson, author of the Passion Hymns.
Pop inside to thaw out from the bitter cold and check out the gargantuan pipe organ designed and constructed by the German organ builder Johannes Klais of Bonn. Then take take the lift to the top to breathe in the extremely impressive views from the top. Yes, a lift (elevator) in a cathedral! That’s a novelty! Unlike most cathedrals throughout Europe, Hallgrímskirkja is very modern; construction started in 1945 and was completed in 1986. So there are no narrow winding staircases to the top here! Although do arrive early to beat the queues. On a clear day (which is certainly not guaranteed in Iceland), the observation tower offers a perfect 360 degree panoramic view of the city and harbour, and beyond. Entry to the tower is ISK 1000.
Jenny blogs at TravelLynn Family.
Cathedral of the Incarnation – Granada, Spain
The Cathedral of the Incarnation in Granada in Andalucia is the third largest cathedral in Spain. Its construction started in 1523 and finished in 1704. The church was built in the site of the Mosque as Granada used to be the capital of the Moorish Kingdom until 1492 when it was conquered by Queen Isabella I of Castille.
The construction started by Enrique Egas, the master of the Old Gothic School. His work lasted only 5 years and was focused on the foundations. Then Egas was replaced by Diego of Siloam, who took his education in Italy. He changed the style from Gothic to the Renaissance. Inside the Cathedral, we can see many chapels built in different ages and styles.
What’s interesting about the Cathedral is the fact that it has only one bell tower. Originally, there were two towers planned but only one was built. Moreover, it was lowered because the Gothic foundations could not resist the heavy mass of the tower. Therefore, it’s said that the cathedral is still incomplete.
Inside the cathedral there is a small museum in the sacristy. The exhibition includes a crown and a sceptre of Queen Isabella, the sword of King Ferdinand and flags used during the seizing of Granada in the 15th century as well as paintings of Hans Memling and Sandro Botticelli.
On the left side of the cathedral, you will see the Royal Chapel of Granada. The facade of the chapel is in the style of Isabelline Gothic. It was the dominant architectural style during the reign of Isabella I of Castille. The Catholic Monarchs, Isabella I of Castille and her husband Ferdinand II of Aragon, are buried there as well as some others members of the royal family, including Joanna the Mad and Philip the Handsome.
Hanna blogs at Hanna Travels.
La Sagrada Familia – Spain
Anyone and everyone who’s thought about visiting Barcelona has seen or heard of the beautiful La Sagrada Familia church. The famous cathedral was designed by Antoni Gaudi and is still in the works, taking over 130 years to build and is still not yet complete. Sagrada Familia is one of the most famous works of Antoni Gaudi and along with 6 other Gaudi buildings is also a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The building consists of 3 beautifully unique facades: nativity, passion, and glory. The nativity facade was the first to be completed and was built between 1894 and 1930. It was dedicated to the birth of Jesus and is decorated with naturalistic elements. Characteristic of Gaudi’s style, it was the only facade to be constructed while Gaudi was still alive. He had wanted to personally work on it because it would make the church’s architecture more attractive accessible to the public.
The passion facade is more modern, with clean lines resembling bare bones. This is because it was meant to strike fear to anyone viewing the building and depict the brutality of Christ’s sacrifice. The glory facade is currently still under construction and is meant to be the main facade offering entrance into the building. This facade represents the road to God with death, final judgment, and finally glory, with hell awaiting those who disobey God.
Aside from the amazingly designed facades, the church also has a total of 18 spires representing the 12 Apostles, the Virgin Mary, 4 Evangelists, and Jesus Christ. After the spires are completed, the Sagrada Familia will be the tallest church in the world.
The cathedral is insanely beautiful especially when its nave is filled with light shining through its stained glass windows. It is well worth a visit!
Constance blogs at The Adventures of Panda Bear.
Orvieto Cathedral – Italy
Orvieto Cathedral is situated in an incredible spot: positioned atop a volcanic cliff, it is visible across the Umbrian countryside from quite a distance. Although initially begun in the Romanesque style, Orvieto Cathedral is predominantly Gothic, constructed during the 13th and 14th centuries with Lorenzo Maitani responsible for much of its impressive design. It is said that Maitani was influenced by the cathedrals of Siena and Florence but whatever his influences, the resulting structure is quite magnificent.
The decorative façade features detailed sculptures including stories from the Old Testament and there are beautiful mosaics depicting the story of the Virgin Mary. In the centre of the cathedral’s façade is an intricately designed rose window with Christ’s face at its centre.
The interior of Orvieto Cathedral is not as dramatic as its exterior but it does house significant fresco cycles by Fra Angelico and Luca Signorelli in its Cappella della Madonna di San Brizio. These were completed in the 15th and early 16th centuries. The frescoes of Signorelli (said to be the best of his career) are not for the faint-hearted: they depict the Apocalypse and the Last Judgement.
The Umbrian town of Orvieto is midway between Rome and Florence and can be reached in an hour by train from Rome.
Annabel Kirk blogs at Smudged Postcard.
St. Stephen’s Cathedral – Vienna, Austria
Dating back to the 12th century, the Roman Catholic St. Stephen’s cathedral is located in the first district of Austria’s capital city, Vienna. The German name is “Stephansdom”, but locals usually call it “Steffl”. This iconic Romanesque and Gothic church is famous for its “Pummerin” bell, colorful roof and south tower (136 m, 446 ft). The cathedral owns 23 bells, one of which is called the “Pummerin” (“boomer”). It’s the second largest swinging bell in Europe, weighing 20,130 kilograms (44,380 lb). It only sounds on special occasions, like New Year’s day.
The roof is covered by 230,000 glazed tiles, which includes mosaics of Vienna’s coat of arms as well as the one of the Republic of Austria. On the south side above the choir, you can also find the double-headed eagle, which was the symbol of the Habsburgs, who were the rulers of the Austro-Hungarian empire. The south tower is the highest tower of the cathedral, measuring 136 meters.
In the final days of World War II, St. Stephen’s Cathedral was nearly destroyed. The roof structure, bell frame, and organ burned in a fire. Thanks to the generous donations by Viennese citizens, it was possible to reconstruct Stephansdom and reopen the cathedral in April 1952.
Kati and Sabrina blog at Moon and Honey Travel.
Basilica di San Marco in Venice, Italy
In the heart of Venice, a city full of wonders, is the incredible Basilica di San Marco (St Mark’s Basilica). This golden church is a work of art, both inside and out. The domed roof is topped with Byzantine cupolas that frame glittering gold mosaics depicting biblical scenes. Inside, 500 columns and a further 8,000 square feet of gold mosaics decorate this unique place of worship.
The Basilica di San Marco was founded when Venetian merchants took the remains of the apostle Mark back from Alexandria in Egypt 1200 years ago. There is a mosaic that shows this story above the left door of the basilica. Once the private chapel of the Doge (duke) of Venice, most of the treasures inside were found during the Venetian Republic’s crusades as far east as Constantinople – today’s Istanbul. These eastern influences means that San Marco has a very different look and feel to the other great churches of Italy.
The wealthy dukes of Venice wanted to ensure their church reflected their power and influence. No expense was spared in lining the interior and exterior with gold leaf and other treasures. One of the basilica’s most important features is the golden Byzantine altar screen known as the Pala d’Oro encrusted with thousands of gems including pearls, rubies and emeralds.
The Basilica di San Marco dominates the world famous piazza of the same name and is and enduring icon of the lagoon city. Visitors can enter the church free of charge however there is a small fee to see the Pala d’Oro.
Katy Clarke blogs at Untold Morsels.
St. Peter’s Basilica – Vatican City, Italy
St. Peter’s Basilica is the mother of all Catholic churches in the world and takes its rightful place in this list of the great cathedrals of Europe. While it is located in Rome, Italy, St. Peter’s Basilica is technically part of Vatican City, the smallest city state in the world. Every year, millions of visitors flock to St. Peter’s Basilica to attend its major celebrations, masses, or tours.
This massive basilica is one of the largest in the world, and certainly the most important. Some of the highlights are the Pieta (a sculpture by Michelangelo), the Baldacchino bronze canopy, and the cupola climb to the top of the St. Peter’s Dome. Easter and Christmas masses are held here, and St. Peters Square outside the Basilica is where most visitors sit to watch the Pope on large screens.
I highly recommend the unforgettable Scavi Tour. It is a guided tour to explore underneath St. Peter’s Basilica to the humble beginnings of the Vatican Hill necropolis – a cemetery from the time of Christ. This underground hill marks the very beginning of the Christian faith, and is believed to be the site where Peter was crucified and buried.
It is worth a visit to see the remains of Saint Peter (or what’s left of him in a vial). You will see and witness a significant area that is rarely seen by other visitors to Vatican City. Be sure to reserve your spot way in advance – although Scavi Tour of Vatican City is relatively unknown, it is highly limited and regulated. You must get approval from Vatican officials to attend.
Halef and Michael blog at The Round the World Guys.
Cathedral of San Giovanni – Turin, Italy
One of the top places to visit in Turin if it’s your first trip is the city’s cathedral, devoted to John the Baptist. Standing tall behind the Royal Palace in Piazza San Giovanni in the historic centre, its architectural style shows a mix of Baroque and Renaissance features. There are many reasons to visit Turin’s Duomo. Built around the end of the 15th century on the site of three older churches under commission of Savoy clan, the royal family of unified Italy, and bishop Domenico Della Rovere, apart from being the city’s main church, the cathedral is also an important pilgrimage site among Catholics as it has been hosting the Holy Shroud, the funerary piece of cloth used to wrap the body of the Christ after his death, since 1578.
In the 17th century, Italian architect Guarino Guarini was appointed to supervise the renovation of the Duomo and build the chapel meant to preserve the Holy Shroud. In 1997, a huge fire heavily damaged both the cathedral and the chapel where the Shroud was kept. Since then, the facade and the interior of the dome were restored and the Shroud has now been placed inside a modern shrine made of bulletproof glass, air-isolated and protected from the light. Visiting the cathedral, you can see the glass shrine where the Shroud is kept at the end of the left nave.
Angela Corrias blogs at Chasing the Unexpected.
The Cathedral of Lisbon – Portugal
The Cathedral of Lisbon, or the Sé as it’s known in Portuguese, is the oldest church in the city. It was built by Portugal’s first king, Afonso Henriques, in 1147. This was right after the Siege of Lisbon, when Crusaders had defeated the Moors and taken over the city.
And indeed, the cathedral was built right on top of the ruins of the main mosque in Lisbon, which the Crusaders had destroyed. The 12th century in Portugal was a tempestuous time, marred by violence and conflict, and this is reflected in the architecture of the cathedral.
In many ways, it looks more like a fortress than a church, with its two enormous crenelated towers guarding either side of the main entrance. Fortified churches like this one were fairly common in Portugal during the Reconquest. It was built this way so that it could be used as a base from which to attack the Moors if there was a siege.
The cathedral was badly damaged in the 1755 earthquake and subsequent fire that destroyed most of Lisbon, but it did survive. Recent excavations in the cloisters have revealed part of the old mosque as well as Visigothic and ancient Roman remains.
The Sé stands at the entrance to Alfama, one of the oldest and most picturesque neighborhoods in the city. Be sure to take time to explore the surrounding area while you’re here, and stop for lunch at the nearby Princesa do Castelo, one of a growing number of cozy, veg-friendly cafés and restaurants in Lisbon.Wendy Werneth blogs at The Nomadic Vegan.
St. Vitus Cathedral – Prague, Czech Republic
Located inside Prague Castle, St. Vitus Church is the largest cathedral in the Czech Republic. It is officially under the ownership of the Czech government. There is an entry ticket for visiting the entire cathedral, however, a small section is free for visitors. The ticket for tour of the cathedral in included in the various sightseeing tours. To go up the main tower, there is an additional ticket of 100 CZK. Although, if you’re visiting the cathedral as a pilgrimage or a part of service, then no ticket is required.
St. Vitus Cathedral is a fine example of Gothic architecture going way back to the 13th century. With the construction starting in the 13th century, the cathedral was actually completed in the 19th century. The tombs of the cathedral speak volumes of the country’s bohemian roots. There are two towers in the cathedral with the main tower standing tall at 102 meters high. The front tower is comparatively shorter at 82 meters.
The exteriors & interiors of the cathedral are equally craved in intricate work. The windows & doors of the church showcase some of the best baroque work in the world. The windows are adorned with colored stained glasses which fortunately survived the accidental bombing of Prague in World War II. The cathedral is an architectural masterpiece, and I’d recommend spending some time here to behold its beauty.
Shivani Sharma blogs at The Wandering Core.
La Cathedral – Barcelona, Spain
La Catedral de Santa Creu in Santa Eulàlia, or La Catedral for short, is located in Barrio Gótico, in the heart of Barcelona. Although this cathedral will probably always stand in the shadow of its famous sister, the Sagrada Família, it is definitely worth a visit – for many, it is even considered the prettier of both.
Visitors are especially excited about the roof of the cathedral, which you can go up to by elevator. From here, you have a wonderful view of the Barrio Gótico, which surrounds the cathedral.
At the site of this impressive cathedral, once stood a Roman temple. Already in the 6th century, it was replaced by a church and inaugurated in the 11th century in Romanesque style.
The construction of the cathedral, as we know it today, began in the 13th century and lasted until 1448. In the 16th century, the bell tower was added. However, the extraordinary façade of the cathedral was not built until the 19th century, based on the original plans. Later, a middle tower was added.
La Catedral attracts hundreds of tourists every day. Especially on Sundays during the summer, this is a popular meeting place, as on the square in front of the cathedral traditional Catalan dances or similar performances take place. But even in winter, a visit is worthwhile, because there are some stables built into some sort of Christmas market, where you can buy mainly traditional Christmas decorations and craft goods.
Vicki blogs at Vicki Viaja.
The Wawel Royal Cathedral of St Stanislaus B. M. and St Wenceslaus M., as it is officially known (in English), is conveniently located within the Wawel Castle, a top attraction in Poland’s most visited city. You could spend more a good half-day exploring the entire compound and its museums, which are steeped in the country’s rich history. The cathedral was first built in the 11th century but most of the current structure dates from the Renaissance. Multiple Polish kings were crowned here in the days when Krakow was the Polish capital. Only St Leonard’s Crypt survives from the early period, and it is the final resting place of Polish royalty and luminaries.
One can walk among the tombs of the likes of King Jan III Sobieski, the poet Adam Mickiewicz, Lieutenant General Tadeusz Kosciuszko and First Marshal Jozef Pilsudski. The cathedral and the castle are reminders that Poland was once a great and influential country and that makes them powerful symbols of the nation. Besides going underground, one can also climb the bell tower to see the rest of Krakow from the top and touch the Royal Sigismund Bell.
The cathedral’s largest bell turns 500 years old in 2020, but you don’t have to wait to touch it with your left hand for luck. While admission to the cathedral itself is free, a ticket covering the Sigismund Bell, the cathedral museum and St Leonard’s Crypt costs 12 PLN.
Nicholas blogs at Rambling Feet.
Seville Cathedral – Seville, Spain
Magnificent Seville Cathedral must surely rank among the great cathedrals of Europe, but it has an unusual origin. When the foundations of today’s cathedral were started, Seville was under Islamic rule, and the original building was a grand mosque. After the Reconquista when Seville was captured by the Christian Ferdinand III, the mosque was converted into a Christian church overnight. You can still see traces of its Islamic origins today though; the grand Giralda bell tower was originally the mosque’s minaret.
As Seville became more and more wealthy and powerful, the authorities wanted to build a centrepiece cathedral that would express the city’s might. From the 1400s onwards, the old mosque was remodelled and rebuilt. The cathedral’s makeover took over 100 years, and you can see clues in the architecture which show just how long it took; as you move from one end of the cathedral to the other, the style becomes less Gothic, more Renaissance.
Today, Seville Cathedral impresses hundreds of thousands of visitors every year with its size. It’s the largest Gothic cathedral in the world and the third largest church overall (although both titles are somewhat disputed). The best way to understand the unique architecture of Seville Cathedral is by taking a guided tour of its secret passageways and rooftops. On this amazing tour which is run by the the cathedral itself, you can go through hidden doors, climb staircases inside columns, see the masons’ marks of the men who built the cathedral and see the enormous nave from above.
Helen blogs at Helen on Her Holidays.
Milan Duomo – Milan, Italy
The Milan Duomo is one of the most magnificent architectural masterpieces of all time and is surely one of the great cathedrals of Europe. It took six centuries to build the gothic cathedral near the city center of Milan, Italy. Construction began on the cathedral in 1386, and it wasn’t considered complete until 1965. With its intricate spires, pinnacles, gargoyles, and thousands of statues, it is easy to see why it took thousands of workers and nearly 600 years to complete the elaborate cathedral.
The Milan Duomo, or Duomo di Milano in Italian, is the largest cathedral in Italy and the fifth largest Christian church in the world. The inside of the cathedral is just as breathtaking as the exterior of the church. The church pews are surrounded by large, marble pillars and elaborate altars. The Duomo also houses the largest pipe-organ in all of Italy. For an up-close view of the Duomo’s detailed construction, guests can visit the terrace on the roof of the cathedral. The terrace looks out out over the piazza through the forest of spires and offers impressive views of the city. On a clear day you can even see the Italian Alps in the distance from the Duomo’s rooftop terrace.
Melissa blogs at Parenthood and Passports.
Rouen Cathedral – France
Rouen Cathedral is probably one of my favourites in the world. It’s stunning gothic architecture and charm both inside and out is what truly brings it to life. The cathedral is otherwise known as “Cathédrale Notre-Dame De Rouen”. This beautiful cathedral dates back to the 12th century and stands on what was once a 4th century church, so it’s old! The cathedral is most famous for its gothic grandeur, stained glass windows and stunning sculptures. A visit will also take you to the vaults of famous kings which is super interesting. This includes the tomb containing the heart of Richard the Lionheart, whom was King of England.
Another great thing about this cathedral is that it’s totally free to enter and you can spend as long as you want wandering around and exploring the beauty on offer. The cathedral is the centrepiece of the old town of Rouen and you can either start or end your explorations here. Either way it’s easy to find, beautiful to see and a truly wonderful cathedral in Europe. If you want to avoid the crowds then I suggest heading either early in the morning, or late evening so you can have the cathedral to yourself (I suggest checking mass times too!). The cathedral itself is open from 9 am to 7 pm, so there is lots of time to explore.
Bradley and Cazzy blog at Dream Big, Travel Far.
Orleans Cathedral – France
One of Europe’s most haunting cathedrals is Cathedrale Sainte-Croix de Orleans, famous for being visited by Joan of Arc when she was in Orleans to try to lift the British siege of the city during the Hundred Years War. It’s located in the heart of the Loire Valley, just over an hour by train from Paris.
What may surprise many visitors is that the building that stands there today isn’t the same one that she visited! Historians believe that the first church on the site was built as early as 330, but that there have been four different churches there over time.
The original church succumbed to the same fire that destroyed much of the town. The second cathedral, built in the 12th century, wasn’t well-engineered and collapsed on itself within a century. The third cathedral, which was visited by Joan of Arc, was destroyed by 16th century Protestants during the Wars of Religion.
The final cathedral, which still stands proudly in the center of town today, took the entire 17th century to build; the finishing touches (main facade and bell towers) weren’t completed until after the French Revolution. The cathedral’s Gothic style is common of the era, but the story told inside is a unique one. In honor of Joan of Arc’s bravery in fighting the English invaders, the walls of the cathedral are adorned with ten enormous stained glass panels telling the story of her life, her fight against the English and her eventual capture and execution.
Melissa blogs at The Family Voyage.
If you like this post, be sure to check out our post on the great cathedrals in England and Ireland!
Learn more about the great European cathedrals with these handy reference books.
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