The Most Beautiful Cathedrals in the World for your Bucket List
Ever since I watched David Macauley’s documentary, Cathedral, as a child in primary school – I’ve been delighted by and obsessed with the idea of laying my own two eyes on each of the world’s most beautiful cathedrals.
In any place I travel, it is often sitting on a pew in the local Cathedral where I finally get a sense of the people living their and their hopes and fears through the centuries. I have a few favorite Cathedrals myself, like the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Savannah, and many more where I have meaningful and fond memories – such as lighting a candle in the Duomo in Milan one early morning after learning my former foster daughter got moved from her home once again.
Some places have just one or two amazing churches, like Coimbra Portugal with its castle-like Romanesque Cathedral, and others, like Antigua Guatemala, are absolutely packed with churches and cathedrals.
I asked some amazing travel bloggers to share a little bit about their favorite cathedrals in the world.
Here you will find some of the world’s most beautiful cathedrals, some of the largest cathedrals in the world, and some cathedrals that simply have amazing stories. These stories are meant to inspire your next destination or encourage you to not overlook stepping inside the church doors the next time you are traveling.
Want to know what my (current) favorite Cathedral is?! Read to the bottom of the post to find out!
Vank Cathedral, Isfahan – Iran
Contributed by Angela of Chasing the Unexpected.
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I‘ve visited Isfahan’s Vank Cathedral quite a few times. It’s one of those places you definitely need to see if it’s your first trip to the Iranian city, even though, like me, you will probably visit more than once. Vank Cathedral is one of the world’s most beautiful cathedrals. It has an impressive collection of decorations that are an interplay of Armenian and Persian styles in both colors and artwork. But for as beautiful as it is, this is not the only reason that lures me in every time.
I think Vank Cathedral is an important landmark in Isfahan for what it represents. This beautiful church is the heart of Isfahan’s Armenian quarter, and is a wonderful example of an Armenian church. Around the cathedral is an Armenian graveyard where both clerics and ordinary citizens were buried. Part of the complex is also a memorial of the Armenian genocide and a museum displaying documents, precious objects and tools of Armenian culture.
To complete the view on the life of this important Armenian community in Isfahan, I always suggest wandering around the streets of the Jolfa quarter. Start from the cathedral and navigate the main roads as well as the backstreets, stop at the typical cafes, enjoy a snack from their traditional bakeries and have lunch at one of their restaurants.
Hallgrímskirkja, Reykjavik – Iceland
Contributed by Jenny of TraveLynn Family
Hallgrímskirkja stands proudly in the centre of Reykjavik and is probably the only concrete building in the world that I’ve considered beautiful. When we visited Reykjavik with kids, it was our first stop to marvel this impressive building. 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 impressive views from the top. Yes, a lift (elevator) in a cathedral!
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 73 meter observation tower offers a perfect 360 degree panoramic view of the city and harbour, and beyond. Entry to the tower is ISK 1000.
Dili Cathedral – East Timor
Contributed by The Round The World Guys.
As one of the smallest countries in the world, East Timor packs a lot of punch. Per capita, East Timor has the second largest practicing Catholic population after the Vatican, with more than 96% of population considering themselves to be devoted Catholics.
Dili Cathedral was completed in 1988 as a gift by the president from the Indonesian people to Indonesia’s then 27th province. A year later, in 1989, Pope John Paul II visited Dili and blessed the Cathedral. At the entrance, there’s a plaque that bears his signature.
After Manila’s cathedral, Dili’s is the second largest church in South East Asia. Although it is not as impressive as those in Europe, it can fit roughly 2,000 congregants.
Although it is open throughout the day for anybody to visit, naturally it is more lively if you attend the Sunday mass here. You will be able to hear the sermon in the Timorese native language of Tetum, as well as in Portuguese.
If you’re looking for things to do in Dili, East Timor, Dili Cathedral is a great option.
Cologne Cathedral ,Cologne – Germany
Contributed by Hannah, of ThatAdventurer Blog
The Cologne Cathedral is absolutely beautiful, especially at sunset! One of my favourite memories of a weekend city break Cologne was walking along the Hohenzollern Bridge at sunset towards this cathedral.
The Cologne Cathedral, Kolner Dom, is a World Heritage site, Germany’s most visited landmark with around 20,000 visitors a day and it also holds the accolade of being the tallest twin-spired cathedral!
You can go inside the cathedral and climb up the bell tower too but, for the best view of the cathedral, head up KölnTriangle where you’ll get a view of Cologne AND the city!
The Basilica of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré, Quebec City – Canada
Contributed by Sherrie of Epiphany To Travel
While exploring Quebec City make sure you make time to visit The Basilica of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré is located approximately one half hour drive from Quebec City. Your first site as you arrive will be a beautiful white cathedral shaped in a cross that shines against a blue sky.Named after Saint Anne, the grandmother of Jesus Christ, the Basilica of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré is also known to be a healing church.
The present Basilica is actually the 5th church to be built at this area of Quebec. The first was a chapel in 1658 where the first healing occurred. The next were churches were 1661-1676, and 1676-1876. The first actual basilica was built in 1876 which is also when Saint Anne was proclaimed the patron saint of Quebec.
The basilica burned down in 1922 but was immediately rebuilt which is the one that stands there today.As you enter the Basilica through huge copper doors, look up at two columns and see all the canes, crutches and walkers that are attached to the columns.
These represent the healings performed at the basilica. The stunning stain glass, statues, and even the ceiling will have you memorized. You can also visit the chapel and usually there is a Priest there to bless you or any item you may want specially blessed. The Basilica of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré is a very holy and spiritual experience to enjoy.Make sure to take photo’s outside before leaving. Tip- you will have to get to the farthest spot in the lawn in front of the basilica to fit it all in with the fountain.
Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, Jardin – Colombia
Contributed by Emily of Wander-Lush
One of Colombia’s most colourful and photogenic towns, Jardin in Antioquia Department is also home to one of the most distinctive cathedrals in the country. The Basilica of the Immaculate Conception is a working Catholic church that opened its doors in 1932, but dates back to the 1870s. The Neo-Gothic design is the work of Salesian architect, Giovanni Buscaglione.
The façade of the cathedral is made from local stone quarried on the outskirts of town. As the story goes, the parish’s first priest requested townsfolk from Jardin to carry a rock ‘equal to the weight of their sins’ from the quarry for the cathedral’s construction as a sort of penance. The cathedral was literally built on the backs of Jardin’s residents! Metallic spires reflect the afternoon sun and can be seen from all over town, rising high above Jardin’s colourful houses. My favourite feature of the church is the interior, particularly the blue-ombre ceiling with gold detailing.
El Libertador Park, Jardin’s main square that opens out in front of the basilica, is still a gathering place for the local community. It’s a wonderful spot to stop, sit and people-watch—perhaps over a cup of local coffee.
Sao Paolo Cathedral, Macau – China
Contributed by Suzanne of Meandering Wild
A grand flight of steps from a bustling touristy street is the first hint that somewhere special is nearby. Looking up the steps the façade of Sao Paulo Cathedral is seen on the skyline. This is a beautiful blend of Asian style on an ancient Portuguese frame. Whilst busy, this relic of the Portuguese past of this Chinese enclave is evident in the quiet surrounds of the cathedral.
Built in the 16th century it was once the largest church in Asia, built alongside a college, residence, farm, and library by priests from the Society of Jesus. All that remains today are the foundations of the once elaborate building and the crypt. Steep narrow steps lead into the crypt where artifacts from this ornate building are found. This has to be one of my favorite cathedrals despite not being intact any longer. It is an escape from the gambling madness of the city, a place to sit and think. It blends Asia and Europe perfectly and even 5 centuries after being built it remains – despite war, wind and time.
Our Lady of Grace Cathedral, Léon – Nicaragua
Contributed by Thais of World Trip Diaries
The White Cathedral, also called Our Lady of Grace Cathedral, is in León, Nicaragua. It’s a pretty famous cathedral in the country due to its stunningly white rooftop – where you can climb and be amazed for a while. Besides being Instagram worthy, it gives a lovely view of the whole city.You have to pay a symbolic donation to climb it, but it’s very worth it! When you’re there, remember to bring a pair of socks because you can’t wear your shoes there.
Also, if the sun is shining, the floor will be hot so I suggest you leave it for the morning or late afternoon. Even though there are many, but oh so many cathedrals in León only, this one can not be missed! The interior of the church (tours are available) is cool and refreshing and the architecture in all its Spanish colonialist glory is stunning. Take your time climbing the stairs that lead you to the roof – it’s pretty cool!
York Minster, York– United Kingdom
Contributed by Teresa of Brogan Abroad
York, in the north of England, is the perfect weekend getaway in England, with plenty of things to do, but in particular, if you enjoy historical architecture. It has one of the most spectacular cathedrals I have ever seen, York Minster, the largest Gothic cathedral in Northern Europe that it took 250 years to complete. And you can see why it took so long as it is truly magnificent, both in size and detail.
The Minster houses the largest concentration of medieval stained glass in Britain, and in particular the recently restored Great East Window, which is the largest single expanse of medieval stained glass in the country. A truly awe-inspiring sight.
In the Undercroft you will find an exhibition with historical artifacts as well as the remains of the Roman Fortress and of Saxon and Norman York. Don’t forget to climb the steps (275 in total!) to the top of the Central Tower to enjoy the best view of York and the countryside around it.
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Cathedral Basilica, Esquipulas – Guatemala
Contributed by Michele of A Taste for Travel
One of the most beautiful cathedrals in Guatemala also happens to be the most culturally significant. On January 15-16th, thousands of pilgrims from across Latin America make their way to their way to the Basilica of the Black Christ in Esquipulas in eastern Guatemala.
One of the largest and most important celebrations in Guatemala, this event observed by devout Catholics recognizes the image of Christ created by Quirio Catano in 1594. Housed within the Basilica which was built in 1740, the statue of the Black Christ draws long line-ups of pilgrims who come to pay tribute to it.
The Cathedral Basilica of Esquipulas is also a popular destination for people of all faiths year-round. For my Guatemala-born husband and his family, it’s an important site to visit to acknowledge life’s milestones such as the birth of a child, a marriage, or the death of a family member.
In the past, pilgrims would walk from the surrounding villages but in modern times, virtually all visitors come by vehicle, or in the case of our family, a convoy of trucks, mini-vans, and other vehicles containing everyone from newborns to grandmothers. It’s a full day visit which includes a visit to the outdoor market next to the cathedral where there are stalls selling religious keepsakes, candies and street food as well as the straw hats with dangling tassels traditionally worn by pilgrims.
Esquipulas is also well known for its Tierra Santa clay tablets said to have curative powers. Visiting the Cathedral Basilica of Esquipulas is a full-day event that concludes with witnessing the holy statue of the revered Cristo Negro within the cathedral itself and enjoying a traditional Guatemalan lunch in one of the restaurants in Esquipulas before making the long trek back home.
Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Amiens, Amiens – France
Contributed by Helene of Masala Herb
The Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Amiens is located at the city center of Amiens, which is the capital of the Picardy region in northern France. The Amiens cathedral is the largest and tallest completed Gothic cathedral in France. The medieval master builders build this wonderful structure between 1220 and 1270 towards the skies. The ultimate aim was to get closer to the heavens and to build higher than ever before.
The structure is a brilliant masterpiece and this is why the Amiens Cathedral is my favorite. The tall windows let in luminous peaceful emitting daylight. The slender walls and pillars seem to be light and are effortlessly holding up the whole massive structure. Walking through the cathedral will take you back in time! Something not many people know is that you can visit the roof and enjoy the view of the city. The Amiens Cathedral is a serene place to be and your ticket to discover the rich history of the city and its people.
San Sebastian Cathedral, Lipa, Batangas – Philippines
Contributed by Jing Calonge of Finding Jing
The vibrantly colored frescoes of the domed ceiling had me transfixed as I moved closer to San Sebastian Cathedral’s grand altar. The dome has several small windows that illuminate the otherwise dim interior of the cathedral. The cool air and quiet radiance convey a sense of tranquility that is conducive to self-reflection. I first visited San Sebastian Cathedral to do a Visita Iglesia, a religious tradition in the Philippines wherein Catholics visit seven churches during Holy Thursday to pray before the Blessed Sacrament.
The church has stood the test of time having been submerged due to the eruption of Taal Volcano, rebuilt in its current location, severely destroyed again during the World War but was restored through the concerted efforts of the faithful devotees of Lipa. Its Romanesque architecture, the history it witnessed and the faithful parishioners it houses make San Sebastian Cathedral an important institution in Batangas.
Duomo Di Siena, Siena – Italy
Contributed by Dhara of Not About The Miles
The Duomo di Siena is my favorite cathedral anywhere: every part of it is stunning and had me completely mesmerized. I spent the greater part of our one day in Siena just viewing the Duomo. I loved it so much that I would return to Italy just to be able to see it again.
First, the exterior is gorgeous, with a stunning facade and elegant black and white stripes on the other walls. On the facade, don’t miss the mosaics on the gables and the large rose window at the top. The interior is equally impressive, with its solid black and white striped columns and a blue dome decorated with golden stars.
But the two features that set this cathedral apart are the Piccolomini Library and the marble pavement covered with art. The Piccolomini Library is one of the most beautiful rooms I have ever seen. The walls feature large painted frescoes from the life of Enea Piccolomini, a native son who became Pope Pius II.
The ceiling is ornate, and all around the sides of the room are beautiful illustrated choir books. The floor of the cathedral is completely uncovered only for a few weeks in the fall, so try to time your visit for this time. At other times, you can only see a part of it. The art is the work of some 40 artists, and was done during the 14th to the 16th centuries.
If you are planning a visit to Tuscany, don’t forget to put the magnificent Duomo di Siena on your itinerary!
Cathedral Sé of Sao Paolo – Brazil
Contributed by Wendy of The Nomadic Vegan
The Cathedral of São Paulo, Brazil, or the Sé as it’s known in Portuguese, is my favorite because the atmosphere there is so different than in any other cathedral I’ve visited. The huge Neo-Gothic building can hold up to 8,000 worshippers, and it’s a hive of activity. As soon as I stepped inside, it was obvious that I was in Brazil, not in Europe. Inside a Catholic church, I would normally expect people to be shuffling around quietly and talking in hushed whispers, if at all. But here, the Brazilian zest for life and love for music and dancing is always present, even at church.
The day I visited, a Christian rap artist was performing on a stage right outside the Cathedral! The Praça da Sé (Cathedral Square) has always been the heart of São Paulo’s city center, so it makes sense that this is the hub of city life. In the middle of the square stands a marker known as “marco zero”. It’s called this because the official distances from São Paulo to all other points in Brazil are measured from this spot.
The square is the perfect starting point for exploring the many things to do and see in São Paulo. Also, while you’re in the square, notice the cathedral-shaped traffic lights as you cross the street. They make a great photo opportunity!
Cathedral Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Lincoln – England, UK
Contributed by Andrea of Happy Day Travel Blog
John Ruskin, the noted Victorian writer, declared, ‘I have always held that the cathedral of Lincoln is out and out the most precious piece of architecture in the British Isles and, roughly speaking, worth any two other cathedrals we have.’ Who am I to argue with such an opinion? Besides, I have reasons of my own to love this magnificent structure.
It was here back in the 1970s as a very nervous eleven-year-old, that, in my pristine white dress and veil, I was confirmed into the Church of England. Even though I have long since lost my faith in organized religion, I can still recall the moment Bishop Simon put his hand on my head. As a child with a vivid imagination, I felt certain that God himself (or herself) was touching me!
Built in the 11th century in the English Gothic style, Lincoln Cathedral stands on a hill, the highest point for miles around (Lincolnshire is famous for being flat!), giving locals and visitors alike a landmark to draw them into the city. When it was completed, Lincoln Cathedral surpassed the Pyramids of Giza as the tallest man-made structure in the world, a title it held for over 200 years. Today, it is the third-largest cathedral in the UK after St. Paul’s in London and York Minster. It is a beautiful, awe-inspiring building, both inside and out.
If you visit, don’t miss the Lincoln Imp, the mascot of the city. Legend has it that in the 14th century, two mischievous imps were sent by the devil to do evil work on Earth. They came to Lincoln Cathedral where they smashed tables and chairs and tripped up the bishop! An angel appeared and ordered them to stop. One of the imps climbed to the top of a stone pillar and began throwing rocks at the angel. The angel punished the imp by turning him to stone. You can still see him sitting there today. The other imp escaped. Locals believe that he is responsible for the strange phenomena whereby, even on a still day, a wind blows through Lincoln Cathedral!
St. Sophia Cathedral, Kiev – Ukraine
Contributed by Megan of meganstarr.com
One of the most interesting cathedrals in the world is St. Sophia’s Cathedral in Kiev, Ukraine. Kiev is such a spectacular city and when you fly over it, you will see golden domes for days that show-off the Ukrainian Orthodox cathedral’s beauty. St. Sophia’s is located close to other cathedrals and monasteries but it is one of my favorites because there is a peaceful aura that surrounds it. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the grounds around the cathedral are well-kept, yet serene.
The white and green church is topped with stunning gold domes and there is even a large belltower out front that you can go to the top of for a fee and get a nice view over this area of Kiev. There are so many things to do in Kiev and I always suggest travelers to ensure they check out St. Sophia’s Cathedral when there.
Notre Dame Cathedral, Ho Chi Minh City – Vietnam
Contributed by Allison of Eternal Arrival
If your mind doesn’t instantly go to Vietnam when you think of cathedrals, I wouldn’t be surprised. This Southeast Asian country is far more known for its temples and pagodas than its cathedrals. However, what many people don’t remember is that Vietnam was colonized by the French, particularly in the South and as a result, there are a lot of unique churches and cathedrals in Saigon.
One of my favorite things I did in Saigon was to visit the Notre Dame Cathedral in the center of Saigon, where much of the French Art Nouveau architecture can be found.
Unfortunately, when I visited, Notre Dame was under renovations so I was not able to enter, but the building is still incredibly impressive from the exterior. All of the church’s building materials were imported from France, with the bricks brought in all the way from Toulouse. There are two beautiful bell towers that contain a total of six enormous bronze bells with a combined weight of nearly 30 metric tons. In front of the cathedral is a beautiful flower garden with a statue of the Virgin Mary that supposedly “shed tears” in 2005 (this was never confirmed, however).
The cathedral took a lot of damage during the Vietnam War, and many of the original tiles have been replaced over the last few decades. However, it’s remained an architectural wonder in Saigon and one of the most popular tourist sites in the entire city.
Prague St. Vitus Cathedral, Prague – Czech Republic
Contributed by Adam of Getting Stamped
Our very first trip to Europe started in Prague and we fell hard for the city. Of all the amazing sights and architecture in the city, the Prague Castle will always be a highlight for us. Inside the walls of the castle is the most magical cathedral surrounded by the tall castle walls. Its steeples and arches reaching toward the heavens peeking over the same walls that protect it.
As beautiful as the cathedral is from the outside, the interior is the true star. Inside St. Vitus there is a pale blue glow that fills the tall cathedral lighting up impressive stonework leading up to an ornate altar. This church is truly a must-see Prague attraction.
Every inch of the interior is a treat for your eyes, but my favorites are the stained glass windows that cast magical colors over the congregation on Sundays. While this cathedral may have been one of our first of many in Europe, the beauty isn’t topped by many. St. Vitus is still one of our favorites in the world.
St. Mary’s Basilica, Gdansk – Poland
Contributed by Jonny of Northern Irishman in Poland
Poland is brimmed with churches ranging from very modern constructions to churches that have survived centuries, including some which endured wars. Poland is a staunchly Catholic country, a trend aided by the tenure of Pope John Paul II. Of these churches all over Poland, many form part of the old towns in the cities while others are listed by UNESCO as world heritage sites. Gdańsk’s stunning St. Mary’s Basilica holds the honor of being the largest brick church in the world!
St. Mary’s Basilica is a work of art and a towering structure in the heart of the poky streets of central Gdańsk. The official name of the cathedral is Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
I love St. Mary’s Basilica for its location, its views, and its sheer size. Intriguingly the church sits on Ulica Piwna (Beer Street), where locals and tourists drink and eat nightly in the bars and restaurants. Entry to the Cathedral is free, however, there is a charge if you want to climb the 400 steps to the top. It is worth it for the views over the city and harbor. Catholic Masses are held regularly and this church is one of two Cathedrals in Gdańsk that form part of the city’s Catholic Diocese. The other cathedral is in the Oliwa district.
Cathedral Basilique de Saint Denis, Saint Denis – France
Contributed by Elisa of World in Paris
The Cathedral – Basilique of Saint-Denis is a very interesting and special place to visit near Paris. Actually, it can be reached with a single Paris metro ticket if you take line 13 of the Parisian metro. The Cathedral of Saint-Denis is said to be built on the exact place where Saint-Denis, the saint patron of Paris, was buried.
The Cathedral of Saint-Denis is also the first building to use new architectural techniques, like the pointed arch, which will give birth to the Gothic architecture. However, what makes Saint Denis special, is the fact that it was chosen by the majority of Kings and Queens of France as their final resting place.
From the XII century to the XIX century, the most powerful men in France built sumptuous tombs following the artistic trends of their time. This means that a visit to Saint-Denis is not a lesson of French history and Gothic architecture but a complete 800-year tour of funerary art in France. When visiting Saint-Denis cathedral where to start?
Amongst more than 70 original tombs, we have some favorites, such as Charles V tomb, considered the first official portrait in the history of funeral sculpture or the Renaissance tomb of King Francois I and Claude de France, built in two levels.
Metropolitan Cathedral of Buenos Aires – Argentina
Contributed by TravelFunFam
You may not realize it right away, and possibly even miss the most famous cathedral in the world at the moment. Located in Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires, Argentina, right by the Casa Rosada, where the president lives, you will find the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Cathedral. This cathedral is very special because it happens to be where Jorge Mario Bergoglio spent 15 years as an Archbishop of Buenos Aires before he was elected and became Pope Francis I (2013 – present). The cathedral, now, has a museum where they display Pope Francis’ personal artifacts.
History was made when he became the first Latin pope! As a Latin and catholic myself, I feel like this is an extra special place to visit. Secret be told, during our visit I prayed to be blessed with a child after some time trying and when we arrived home my pregnancy test was positive. Is it a miracle or a coincidence? Whatever the answer may be, this is a place that I will hold dear in my heart forever.
What is Cate’s Favorite Cathedral?
I don’t know if I will ever find a Cathedral that surpasses the Pink Sandstone of Strasbourg Cathedral.
Strasbourg itself is such a beautiful and memorable town, with lots of connections to my minority religious group – the Mennonites. I have wonderful memories of wandering the streets there. Don’t miss an amazing tea shop next door to the Cathedral: Au Fond du Jardin (which is almost my last name!!!).
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