Stained glass windows and stately statues — besides being sites of worship, some churches around the world have also gained attention for their aesthetic intricacies. They draw crowds beyond church-goers and have come to be appreciated as works of art. From a renowned work of Renaissance architecture in Rome to a fairytale-like structure in Russia, here are the 7 most beautiful churches in the world.
Beautiful Churches Around the World
1. Westminster Abbey in London, England
If you have been following the British royal families, you will hear Westminster Abbey often mentioned in the news. The massive Gothic church in London is well-known for holding major events for the English and British monarchs, from coronation and wedding to burials.
The intricate interior design of Westminster Abbey will leave anyone speechless. Head to the Lady chapel to see the pendant fan vault ceiling with its lavish decor. Recently, Westminster Abbey added a new extension for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries, showcasing 300 collections from the Abbey that mostly have never been on display.
2. St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, Italy
A renowned work of Renaissance architecture in Rome, St. Peter’s Basilica for the longest time was the largest church in the world. The church’s dome remains a distinctive feature of the church, visible from all locations nearby. You can climb the cupola or dome for a small fee to get a breathtaking 360-degree view of St. Peter’s Square and Rome.
Tourists often flock St. Peter’s Basilica for pilgrimage and liturgy, and many popes have been interred at its grounds. Rumour says that Saint Peter, whom the Basilica is named after, has his tomb directly below the high altar of the church. The treasury and grottoes are also open for visits, but no photography is allowed there.
3. Sacre Coeur in Paris, France
The Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris, or Sacre Coeur for short, is a well-known Roman Catholic church in Montmartre, Paris. The Romano-Byzantine architecture of this beautiful church is a great contrast to the typical Gothic churches during the period it was built.
The construction took 40 years to complete, partly because of the political and cultural sentiments behind it. In spite of the controversial origin, those factors don’t undermine its design and decor. What makes the church even more stunning is its location at the summit of the highest point in the city, overlooking the town below.
4. Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem
Located in Bethlehem, the Church of the Nativity is the oldest church in the Holy Land. It might lack the elaborate designs and architecture of the recent churches — elegant facade and carvings. However, the Church of the Nativity has its own charm.
Church of the Nativity / CC by 2.0 / Neil Ward
From the unassuming 4-foot tall entrance to the underground grotto believed to be the birthplace of Jesus, the church is beautiful for its raw and crude design. Having survived many significant events — earthquakes, invasions, rebellions, and disputes among different religious communities, the church compound has continually expanded.
The painting above the location of Jesus’s birth / Dan Lundberg / CC BY-SA 2.0
5. Cologne Cathedral in Cologne, Germany
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Cologne Cathedral in Cologne holds the record for being the most visited landmark in Germany, drawing 20,000 people every day. It is the seat of the Archbishop of Cologne and a renowned monument of German and European Catholicism alike, being hailed as a “masterpiece with exceptional intrinsic value” by UNESCO.
A work of Gothic architecture with its two iconic spires and intricately detailed main entrance, Cologne Cathedral is the largest Gothic church in Northern Europe.
6. Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain
This cathedral is so spectacular and intricate, it’s not even finished yet! Located in Barcelona, the Sagrada Familia is still one of the most beautiful churches in the world, even before its complete. It was designed by the famed Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi with plans to develop the church according to his specifications, past his life’s duration. As of 2010, has just passed the halfway mark of completion.
It has, however, been used as an official church and, with its distinct Cubist towers piercing the Barcelona sky, become an icon of the Spanish city. Its state of constant construction has become somewhat of an art in its own right, although latest projections state that it will be completed by 2026.
7. Florence Cathedral in Florence, Italy
Marble panels of pink, green and white adorn the exterior of the Florence Cathedral in Florence, Italy. The cathedral with its Gothic Revival facade is one of the largest churches in Italy.
Similar to Sagrada Familia, some parts of the Florence Cathedral are unfinished, as the well-known artist Michaelangelo disapproved certain designs. Still, the cathedral looks great from every angle and is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Florence, or Firenze, is a hub of the great artists of the Italian Renaissance, so the church is just one of the many architectural marvels to take in. The Duomo is one of the most famous icons, so go early and be prepared to queue. It has spectacular carvings on the outside and many beautiful paintings to admire on the interiors. The Duomo itself was designed by Filippo Brunelleschi. Design fans, don’t forget to admire the Baptistery on the same square, which is an icon of Brunelleschi’s founding of the perfect use of perspective in drawing and architecture.
Besides the Duomo, there are many other artworks on the Christian theme, such as the Madonna della Seggiola in the Palatine Picture Gallery, the statue of David by Michelangelo (of David and Golliath), the Procession of the Magi in the Medici Palace, The Life of Saint Francis in the Church of Santa Trinita. You should definitely also visit the Uffizi which has one of the most spectacular collections of artistic masterpieces, and admire the famous sculptures outside on the Piazza Signoria.
8. Cathedral of Brasilia, Brazil
Cathedral of Brasilia in Brazil may not look like a church at all upon the first glance. The hyperboloid structure comes with a glass rood, signifying the church is opening up to heaven. While the facade is all about modernity and elegance, the interior is nothing short of magnificent.
Three angel sculptures are seen “flying” near the ceiling where the stained glasses are made of 16 different fibreglasses. Go to the crypt to see a replica of the Shroud of Turin — the linen cloth used to cover Jesus’ body after his crucifixion, complete with the blood stains.
9. Hallgrimskirkja, Iceland
This Lutheran church may not be as old as the other churches on the list, but the unique facade is hard to miss in Iceland. While most of the already well-known beautiful churches around the world date back quite a bit in history, especially during the historic Renaissance and Medieval periods, this church is more of a modern marvel.
The tall steeple and wings are meant to resemble Iceland’s rough natural landscape, like the cliffs and geyser. There have been divided opinions on this church – one of the strangest and one of the most beautiful architecture in the world. That aside, the interior exudes simplicity and elegance, letting you soak in the solemn and peaceful atmosphere.
10. Sistine Chapel, Vatican
CC BY-SA 2.0 / Dennis Jarvis
The most famous chapel in the Vatican City, the Sistine Chapel is known for its stunning ceiling painted by the famed Michelangelo. It is probably the most famous beautiful church in the world. The ceiling tells the nine scenes from the Book of Genesis such as Noah’s ark, the creation of Adam and God’s creation of light.
The Last Judgment on the sanctuary wall | CC BY-SA 2.0 / Dennis Jarvis
Michelangelo also had the honour to draw the Last Judgment on the sanctuary wall. The complex beauty of the Sistine Chapel, considering the time it was built and completed, is indeed a testament to human’s capability to push his limit.
If looking at these beautiful churches has tingled your wanderlust, you’re not alone. Include one of them on your upcoming trip so that you can witness the true beauty of the church on your own!