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Europe’s Top 10 Churches in 2024: A Guide to Historic Religious Gems

Europe is a treasure trunk of architectural wonders, and its churches are part of the continent’s rich cultural heritage and religious history.

As the birthplace of Christianity, Europe is home to countless religious sites that have stood as enduring symbols of faith for nearly two millennia.

From grand Gothic cathedrals to magnificent basilicas, these sacred spaces invite visitors with their divine and spiritual atmosphere.

In this article, we’ll explore the top 10 churches in Europe that are well known for their timeless beauty and impressive architecture.

1. Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, Spain

Sagrada Familia
Image: Nomadic Julien on Unsplash

The Sagrada Familia is a prime example of the Catalan Modernist style and has been under construction since 1882. 

The church is known to be the longest under-construction building yet considered one of the best churches in Europe due to its magnificent architecture.

Its intricate facades, towering spires, and innovative use of light and colors make it attractive and it is expected to be completed by 2026.

This basilica is a masterpiece of organic architecture, with an exterior that resembles a large forest and an interior of tall corridors resembling tree branches.

The unique tree-like architecture and magnificent stained glass windows are the major tourist attractions and are quite popular among photographers.

  • Location: C/ de Mallorca, 401, L’Eixample, 08013 Barcelona, Spain. Get Directions.
  • Hours: Monday to Saturday 9 am to 6 pm, Sunday, 10.30 am to 6 pm
  • Best Time: Morning 9 am Monday to Saturday

2. Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, Florence (Italy)

Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore
Image: Nick Fewings on Unsplash

The “Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Flowers,” also known as the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, was built between 1296 and 1436 and is the biggest church in Italy.

UNESCO has designated the Baptistery and Giotto’s Campanile, which are part of the basilica, as World Heritage Sites that encompass Florence’s historic center. 

Before the modern discovery of new structural materials that allowed for the construction of larger structures, the dome was the largest in the world. 

It remains the largest brick dome ever constructed, drawing millions of annual visitors who eagerly secure tickets months in advance for a mere glimpse of this site.

  • Location: Piazza del Duomo, 50122 Firenze FI, Italy. Get Directions.
  • Hours: Monday to Saturday, 9 am to 5 pm, Sunday Closed
  • Best Time: Winters November to March

3. Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

Hagia Sophia
Image: Lewis J Goetz on Unsplash

Hagia Sophia is one of the most significant Byzantine buildings in Istanbul and is known to be one of the oldest churches in Europe and the fastest-completed cathedral in the world.

Justinian I, the Byzantine emperor, oversaw the church’s construction as a Christian congregation in the sixth century CE (532–537). 

It changed to a mosque, a museum, and then back to a mosque throughout the ensuing centuries. 

With its elaborate Christian mosaics and Islamic minarets and inscriptions, the structure represents the religious shifts that have occurred in the area throughout the ages.

Hagia Sophia’s magnificent architectural design and mosaics made of colored stone, terracotta, glass, and metals like gold and silver are famous fascinations for tourists.

  • Location: Sultan Ahmet, Ayasofya Meydanı No:1, 34122 Fatih/İstanbul, Türkiye. Get Directions.
  • Hours: Open 24 Hours, Monday to Sunday
  • Best Time: Early Morning 9 am and Late Afternoon

4. St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City

St. Peter’s Basilica,
Image: Fr. Barry Braum on Unsplash

St. Peter’s Basilica is the largest church in Europe as well as around the globe, located in the heart of Vatican City, and holds rank among the four major basilicas in the world.

Known for its remarkable Baroque characteristics, St. Peter’s Basilica is among the most well-known examples of Renaissance architecture.

The church’s interior is a treasure trove of artistic wonders, including Michelangelo’s Pietà, Bernini’s stunning Baldachin altar, and the breathtaking works of Raphael and other Renaissance masters.

  • Location: Piazza San Pietro, 00120 Città del Vaticano, Vatican City. Get Directions.
  • Hours: Monday to Sunday 7 am to 7 pm
  • Best Time: Everyday 7 am to 9 am

5. Duomo de Milano, Milan (Italy)

Duomo de Milano
Image: Anastasia Varova on Unsplash

Duomo di Milano cathedral is situated in the city center of Milan, Italy, and is the fifth-largest cathedral in the world, took 6 centuries to complete. 

One of the most striking examples of Gothic architecture in all of Europe, this building is renowned for its exquisite craftsmanship and beautiful stained glass windows. 

The cathedral’s interior, which features exquisite marble flooring and detailed stone carvings, is every bit as magnificent as its appearance.

Some of the greatest writers like Percy Shelley, Lord Tennyson, Oscar Wilde, and Mark Twain drew inspiration from visiting the iconic Duomo cathedral in Italy. 

Mark Twain was so captivated by its grandeur that he dedicated an entire chapter to it in his famous travelog, “Innocents Abroad”.

  • Location: P.za del Duomo, 20122 Milano MI, Italy. Get Directions.
  • Hours: Monday to Sunday 9 am to 7 pm
  • Best Time: Everyday Early Morning

6. St Paul’s Cathedral, London (United Kingdom)

St Paul’s Cathedral, London
Image: Bobby Wang on Unsplash

St. Paul’s Church, the Anglican Cathedral, and the seat of the Bishop of London, is located at the top of Ludgate Hill, the highest point in the City of London. 

It is known to be the tallest structure in London from 1719 until 1962 and is known to be one of the best churches in Europe.

After the Great Fire of London destroyed the original St. Paul’s Cathedral, construction on the new church started in 1675, was completed for service in 1708. 

It has been a venue for significant Royal events, such as Prince Edward and Lady Diana’s wedding, commemorations for the conclusion of World War I and II, as well as events for Elizabeth II’s Gold and Diamond Jubilee.

  • Location: St. Paul’s Churchyard, London EC4M 8AD, United Kingdom. Get Directions.
  • Hours: Monday to Saturday 8.30 am to 4.30 pm, Sunday, 8 am to 6 pm
  • Best Time: Weekdays in the morning before 11 am or in the afternoon after 1 pm

7. St. Stephen’s Cathedral, Vienna (Austria)

St. Stephen’s Cathedral, Vienna
Image: Christian Lendl on Unsplash

One of the best churches in Europe, built in the Gothic and Romanesque architectural styles, St. Stephen’s Cathedral is situated in Vienna, the capital city of Austria. 

Today, the church is well-known for its roof, which features the coats of arms of Vienna and Austria on one side and the eagles of the Habsburgs on the other.

The church has hosted weddings and burials for some of the most famous figures in European history and culture, including Ferdinand I Holy Roman Emperor, Wolfgang Antonio Vivaldi, and Amadeus Mozart. 

  • Location: Stephansplatz 3, 1010 Wien, Austria. Get Directions.
  • Hours: Monday to Saturday 8.30 am to 4.30 pm, Sunday 8 am to 6 pm
  • Best Time: Every Sunday Morning

8. Basilique du Sacré-Coeur de Montmartre, Paris (France)

Basilique du Sacré-Coeur de Montmartre
Image: Bastien Nvs on Unsplash

The Basilica of the Sacred Heart, also known as Basilique du Sacré-Coeur de Montmartre, started construction in 1875 and was consecrated in 1919 post-World War I.

The Sacré-Coeur is designed in a Roman-Byzantine fashion which stands out with its distinctive white appearance. 

Inside the church, the ceiling is decorated with France’s largest mosaic, spanning approximately 480 square meters (744001 square inches).

The church is a major tourist attraction for its historic significance to World War I. Also, the design is influenced by Bishop Fournier’s speech of Franco-Prussian war.

  • Location: 35 Rue du Chevalier de la Barre, 75018 Paris, France. Get Directions
  • Hours: Monday to Saturday 8.30 am to 4.30 pm, Sunday, 8 am to 6 pm
  • Best Time: Early Mornings after 9 am

9. Westminster Abbey, London (United Kingdom)

Westminster Abbey,
Image: Amy-Leigh Barnard on Unsplash

Westminster Abbey is an iconic church in central London, famous for its beautiful Gothic architecture.

Westminster Abbey is recognized as UNESCO World Heritage and has hosted many important events like royal coronations and weddings.

Additionally, the Abbey houses the tombs of numerous renowned figures, such as Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, and Charles Dickens.

For those captivated by English history and architecture, a visit to Westminster Abbey is an absolute must, offering a glimpse into the nation’s rich heritage.

  • Location: Dean’s Yard, London SW1P 3PA, United Kingdom. Get Directions.
  • Hours: Monday to Friday 9.30 am to 3.30 pm, Saturday 9 am to 3 pm, Sunday Closed
  • Best Time: Early Mornings 

10. St. Basil’s Cathedral, Moscow, Russia

St. Basil’s Cathedral, Moscow
Image: Jaunt and Joy on Unsplash

St. Basil’s Cathedral, constructed between 1555 and 1561 in Moscow to celebrate the Russian victory over Kazan (presently a city in Russia), is an architectural marvel.

As the story goes, the cathedral’s architect was blinded after its completion, ensuring that a structure of such unparalleled beauty could never be replicated.

The cathedral’s appearance is defined by its vivid red brick towers and vibrant 9 colorful domes symbolizing the conquest of the city of Kazan. 

Drawing inspiration from architectural styles found in Jerusalem, the design of Saint Basil’s Cathedral holds deep religious significance. 

When viewed from above, the eight domes surrounding the central ninth dome create the shape of a star, adding to the cathedral’s iconic look.

  • Location: Red Square, 7, Moscow, Russia, 109012. Get Directions.
  • Hours: Monday to Sunday 11 am to 5 pm
  • Best Time: Between May and September

FAQs

What is the largest church in Europe?

The largest church in Europe is St. Peter’s Basilica, located in Vatican City. This iconic Catholic cathedral is renowned for its grandeur and architectural brilliance, featuring a dome.

Which European city has the most historic churches? 

Rome, the capital of Italy, is home to an incredible number of historic churches, including St. Peter’s Basilica, the Pantheon, and many others dating back to ancient Roman times.

What is the most famous church in Europe? 

The Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, designed by the renowned architect Antoni Gaudí, is one of the most famous and iconic churches in Europe.

This Roman Catholic basilica has been under construction since 1882 and is Gaudí’s unfinished masterpiece.

What is the dress code for visiting churches in Europe?

The dress code for visiting churches in Europe generally requires modest attire, covering shoulders and knees. 

Avoiding shorts, sleeveless tops, and revealing clothing is advisable. Some churches may provide shawls or scarves for visitors who need to cover up. 

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