It is easy to experience the best churches in Europe while traveling. Many amazing buildings are scattered around the continent – including a range of religious sites. From grand cathedrals to small parishes. Every country has its own range of beautiful churches. Some are full of wealth, others full only of stories and local community.
The best churches in Europe
Definitions of the best depend on your own preferences. However, these are some of our favorites.
Shipka Memorial Church, Bulgaria
Built in 1885, the Shipka Memorial Church in Bulgaria has an old and exciting architecture. With a striking, red exterior with golden decorations, it stands out against the beautiful, natural background. Be sure to catch this sight in the sunset. The dimming light illuminates the trees behind it. Wait for the snow on the ground and the red skies of the evening and this church becomes even more stunning. Inside is also impressive with religious illustrations decorating the walls and ceilings.
The Church Of The Assumption, Slovenia
The single thing that travelers remember about Lake Bled is a distinct castle-like building. Sitting on an island in the middle of the water, it is only reachable by tackling the waves. Isolated in the center of the lake, this church dominates a magnificent area. So swim, or boat, and experience this defining image close up. Once you are there, 99 stone steps lead you to the entrance. Weddings take place here frequently. Locals expect the groom to carry the bride up these steps for good luck.
Strasbourg Cathedral, France
France has numerous impressive churches. From the famous Notre Dame in Paris to the pilgrimage sanctuary of Lourdes. Beyond the classic Gothic architecture of traditional French churches, Strasbourg Cathedral offers a small, quirky feature: the astronomical clock. Rather than merely telling the time, it shows the exact positions of the moon and sun. As well as solar and lunar eclipses. If such timeless, intricate design doesn’t impress you, the clock is also aesthetically engaging. Large religious figures process daily at the strike of half past midday.
St. Finbarr’s Oratory, Ireland
Lost in the dense, wild nature of Ireland, St. Finbarr’s Oratory is a small and understated church. It lies on the banks of Gougane Barra Lake. Simple wooden doors lead you into a single stone room. An old monastic site, it has been a local parish for over 1500 years. It holds as much raw, authentic history as the land itself. In a country where religion is intrinsically tied up in culture, such an honest building in the heart of beautiful Irish countryside is certainly worth a visit.
Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, Spain
More than just another cathedral, this church in Spain is a destination. It is the end of the Camino de Santiago or St James’ Way. One of the most prestigious pilgrimages in the world, it is taken by many for an experience of spiritual healing and growth. Inside the cathedral is a shrine to St James. An apostle of Jesus, St James’ tomb is one of the most important locations in Christianity. And this route is one of its most significant journeys.
Saint Sophia Cathedral, Ukraine
Saint Sophia Cathedral in Kiev draws you in with its layered white, green and gold exterior. It is a key landmark of the city and a World Heritage Site. Defined by the architectural spheres and many crosses decorating its roofs, it is an impressive, unmissable building. Inside is just as enticing. Symmetrical and golden, with bright stained glass windows. The result is a colorful display of religious artwork.
Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral, England
Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral completely breaks away from the traditional church image. There are countless dramatically beautiful and significant cathedrals in England. Most of their pasts date back centuries. Yet, this one is unique. Created in the 1960s, what it lacks in history, it makes up for in creative design. The plan of the building is cyclical, with a central cone tower. At night, undertone lights subtly illuminate the church. It is a refreshing modern cathedral, revealing the timelessness of religious practice.
Our Lady of Victory, Italy
There are many amazing churches in Italy. Particularly in the capital, you can find some of the most famous in the world, namely: St Peter’s Basilica. It is the quintessential image of Rome. And the Vatican. However, there are various smaller churches scattered around the side streets of Rome. One is Our Lady of Victory. The sculpture of the Ecstasy of St Theresa dominates this chapel. Its location supposedly inspired other saints that visited. The interior is remarkable, with an incredible golden mosaic ceiling to rival the Sistine Chapel.
Heddal Stave Church, Norway
Heddal Stave Church is a truly exceptional piece of architecture in the heart of Norway. It is the largest stave church in the country, defined by its wooden design and medieval routes. Dating back to the 13th Century, there is a strong past attached to it. Including local legend. Supposedly, five farmers built the church in three days. They even had to solve a riddle in its creation. Surrounded by cute small, houses and natural beauty, the church is magnificent to witness.
Búðir Church, Iceland
This 19th Century Búðir church is a simple, yet beautiful image of the country. A few grand cathedrals in Iceland are great and dramatic. Yet, the most appealing churches are the tiny ones you suddenly see in the distance, off a long and empty Icelandic road. There is nothing particularly significant about this church. It does not hold a particular history or meaning. However, like most place in Iceland, the view is the most beautiful thing. The blackness of the building is an impressive statement. It contrasts the background of green and natural brown colors.
Churches are architecturally, historically and spiritually profound. Any type of traveler can appreciate them, for the richness of culture and the unique experience of exploring one.
These are some of our favorite churches in Europe, what are yours?
Would you identify the church in the top header photo? Is it in Prague? Or somewhere else?
Oh, I looked at another image of the church, and saw it was labeled as “Night view of the Basilica St Peter and the Tiber river in Rome, Italy”. I wasn’t sure it was St. Peter’s Basilica, at first, because of the low elevation angle of the photo. Usually, it’s seen up close, or from an aerial perspective, in the day time.