World’s 10 Most Beautiful Churches, Chapels and Temples to Visit

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Whether you’re religious or not, visiting some of the world’s most magnificent churches, temples and chapels, can be an enlightening experience into a destination’s history, while also offering the chance to gaze upon incredibly striking beauty.

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Santuario de Las Lajas, Ipiales, Colombia
Las Lajas Sanctuary (Santuario de Las Lajas)

Santuario de Las Lajas, Ipiales, Colombia

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. While the town itself offers little to see or do. it is a place you’ll inevitably end up at when crossing the border between Ecuador and Colombia. Santuario de Las Lajas can be reached by taking a short side trip. 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. It was constructed to commemorate the appearance of the Virgin, which as legend tells it, appeared on a massive vertical rock roughly 148 feet above the water. Walking down the hill, you’ll notice a multitude of plaques along the wall of the cliff, placed by pilgrims from Colombia and other nations as a thanks for the miracles that have occurred and were credited to the Virgin.

St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City
St. Peter's Square and Basilica, Vatican City in preparation for Easter

St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City

You can’t go to Vatican City or Rome for that matter, without visiting St. Peter’s Basilica. The largest church in the world was designed by Renaissance genius Michelangelo, and in a place renowned for its stunning churches, none can hold a candle to St. Peter’s. Built upon an earlier fourth-century church, it was completed in 1626, some 120 years after construction began. Inside you’ll find Michelangelo’s Pieta, the great bronze baldacchino and more. After you’ve explored the Vatican Museum, head to St. Peter’s to check out this 2,000-year-old basilica that dominates the region. It’s home to the majority of the Catholic Church’s most important ceremonies and is a classic symbol of the Vatican City.

La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, Spain
Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, Spain

One of Barcelona’s biggest allures is its architecture, including magnificent works by Antonio Gaudi. The Sagrada Familia, which fuses Gothic and Art Noveau styles in unprecedented ways – the hyperboloids, vivid colors, and unconventional animal representations like pelicans, turtles and chameleons epitomize Gaudi’s belief that nature and the divine were inextricably linked. Some deem it to be the greatest achievement of Catalan building, though others consider it to be a glaring example of waste. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that it’s impressive. Constructed of stones and rocks, and the jumbled way they’re pieced together, resembles a melting house of wax or mineral deposits inside a psychedelic cave that’s filled with stalagmites.

Borgund Stave Church, Laerdal, Norway
Borgund Stave Church, Norway

Borgund Stave Church, Laerdal, Norway

Norway is most famous for its magnificent fjords and otherworldly-like Arctic landscapes, but it’s also the only place in Northern Europe with Middle Ages-era wooden churches that are still intact. It’s home to a total of 28, but the finest of all is arguably the Borgund Stave Church in western Norway. Dating all the way back to 1180, it was named for the vertical wooden boards known as staves from which they are built. Stave churches are renowned for their nail-less construction of interlocking notches and grooves, which often results in the appearance of an upside down Viking ship. The Borgund is an outstanding example of stave architecture, with its four carved dragonheads that sprout from rooftop gables, as if it you’d expect to find it in Far East.

St. Basil’s Cathedral, Moscow, Russia
Saint Basil's Cathedral, Moscow, Russia

St. Basil’s Cathedral, Moscow, Russia

The impressive Russian Orthodox church known as St. Basil’s Cathedral sits on Red Square opposite Voskresensky Gate. Built in the 16th century under Tsar Ivan IV the Terrible’s rule, the story behind its construction is nothing short of tragic, but the architecture is extremely unique and impressive, supplemented with colorful towers, that attract attention. Today, the cathedral is a museum. During restoration work in the 1970s, a wooden spiral staircase was discovered within one of the walls. Visitors now take this route into the central church, with its extraordinary, soaring tented roof and a fine 16th Century iconostasis. It’s also possible to walk along the narrow, winding gallery, covered in magnificent patterned paintwork.

Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar
Shwedagon Pagoda

Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar

In Myanmar’s largest city, Yangon, you’ll find faded grandeur that looks like an Asian Havana as well as the Shwedagon Pagoda, a 335-foot golden spire with diamonds, rubies and sapphires that’s considered one of the most revered Buddhist sites. The golden pagoda honors Buddha and rises to a 98 meters height. Among its religious relics are hair from the head of Buddha. While you’re in the country, you can discover an abundance of beautiful temples and pagodas, historical sites, and picturesque, often isolated beaches, particularly in Chaung Tha, Ngwesaung and areas near Dawei.

Church of Hallgrimur, Reykjavik, Iceland
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Hallgrimskirkja Church

Church of Hallgrimur, Reykjavik, Iceland

No matter where you are in Iceland’s capital city, chances are you’ll be able to spot the towering steeple of this most unusual concrete structure. At 244 feet tall, the Church of Hallgrimur, or Hallgrimskirkja, as locals call it, is the tallest building in Reykjavík and the largest church in all of Iceland. Located on top of Skolavorduhaed Hill, this picturesque church that was inspired by the beautiful columnar basalt of Svartifoss water in South Iceland offers a panoramic view of downtown and out to the Atlantic by taking a ride up an elevator into the top of the steeple. The minimalist interior is in keeping with the church’s Lutheran heritage, with the exception of one bold element: an enormous organ with some 5,000 pipes that tower up to 50 feet high. In front of the church is a statue of Leif Ericsson, an early explorer who discovered North America in the year 1000, centuries before Christopher Columbus..

Milan Cathedral, Milan, Italy
Milan

Milan Cathedral, Milan, Italy

Milan Cathedral is located in the heart of Piazza del Duomo, and stands as the most important example of Gothic architecture in all of Italy. Mark Twain may have described it best when he wrote in his 1869 classic The Innocents Abroad, “A very world of solid weight, and yet it seems in the soft moonlight only a fairy delusion of frostwork that might vanish with a breath!” Much of its appeal lies in the exterior, with the 3,400 intricately detailed statues and 135 elegant spires that grace the structure, but particularly stunning are the windows of this marble church, which tell biblical and religious stories. Taking the stairs to access the rooftop terraces shouldn’t be missed, as you’ll be surrounded by the marble towers and will be able to see all the way out to the peaks of the Alps.

Wat Rong Khun, Chiang Rai, Thailand
Wat Rong Khun temple

Wat Rong Khun, Chiang Rai, Thailand

Wat Rong Kun, a magnificent contemporary temple in Thailand known as the White Temple among westerners, is a favorite with its striking snow-white features. The Buddhist shrine looks as if were a part of “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” series. The building’s design is a mix of majestic white adornments with dark mystical undertones represented by its anonymous raised hands and extended ominous bridges. It’s actually still under construction and won’t be totally complete until 2070, but the brainchild of artist Chalermchai Kositpipat already looks absolutely jaw-dropping.

Church of the Assumption, Lake Bled, Slovenia
Lake Bled, Slovenia in the fall

Church of the Assumption, Lake Bled, Slovenia

Lake Bled, one of Europe’s best kept secrets, is less than an hour’s drive from Slovenia’s capital city. Surrounded by alpine mountains, it looks as if it stepped right out of the pages of a fairy-tale book. Located on a tiny isle in the center of the glacial blue waters is Bled Castle, AKA, the Church of Assumption which calls photographers and artists from around the world to capture it at sunrise, when the first rays of sunshine break through the morning sky. Unless you’re a very fit swimmer and don’t mind cold water, you’ll have to hire a local pletna boat to make the short crossing to reach it. The first masonry church on the island was constructed in 1142, though the structure that can be admired today was built in the 17th century following an earthquake that destroyed the prior incarnation.

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