Every tourist to Europe flocks to Europe’s most famous cathedrals – and for good reason! Europe is filled with the most beautiful churches whose rich history offers so much for visitors! These are the 34 best cathedrals in all of Europe. These magnificent cathedrals, from Gothic churches to Romanesque basilicas, are testaments to the faith of those who came before us and will inspire your next European itinerary.
What is the difference between a Church and a Cathedral in Europe?
Both churches and cathedrals in Europe serve as places for Christian worship but differ in important ways.
Aside from size and grandiosity, cathedrals typically as the primary church for a diocese or an archdiocese and are both literally and figuratively the seat of a bishop. Cathedrals should (literally) have a seat or throne for a bishop somewhere near the altar.
These religious buildings often hold important events like ordinations or special masses, and they may also serve as a parish home for local worshippers. Many of the most famous churches in Europe are actually cathedrals in Europe – but not all of them.
In this post, I will highlight the most beautiful cathedrals in Europe, most of which are Roman Catholic or Church of England (Anglican) places of worship and serve significant roles in the wider Christian Church.
Cathedrals in Europe Facts & Statistics
The Largest Cathedral in Europe: Seville Cathedral, 11,500 square meters. It was a mosque before it was converted to a Cathedral.
The Oldest Cathedral in Europe: The Cathedral of Saint Dominus in Split, Croatia has elements dating back to 295 AD, making it the oldest Cathedral in the world still in continuous use.
The Newest Cathedral in Europe: Sagrada Familia, designed by Antoni Gaudi, in Barcelona, Spain. This Cathedral is still under construction.
How Many Cathedrals are there in Europe? It is believed there are over 600 Cathedrals standing in Europe at this time. Because the distinction between “church” and “Cathedral” can be a bit difficult, this is just an estimate. But certainly, Europe is rich with Cathedrals and religious buildings of all shapes and sizes!
Famous Cathedrals in Europe: The United Kingdom, England and Ireland
England and Ireland are home to some of the most magnificent Cathedrals in all of Europe. While many beautiful Cathedrals in the United Kingdom are Roman Catholic, many have become Church of England or Anglican over time.
Although the UK is no longer officially a part of the European Union – I’m still counting it as a part of Europe in order to highlight the most important and beautiful European cathedrals!
1. Westminster Cathedral
Westminster Cathedral is not the same building as Westminster Abbey – but is a famous cathedral in Europe in its own right. Westminster Cathedral, known as the Metropolitan Cathedral of the Precious Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ, is the largest Catholic cathedral in England and Wales.
After the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829 allowed for greater religious freedom for Catholics in England, Catholics in London desired their own place of worship.
Victorian architect John Francis Bentley was hired to create a catholic church and Cathedral in London that drew on Byzantine and Romanesque style influences.
Westminster Cathedral was begun in 1895 and took almost ten years to complete – it was consecrated and opened in 1903.
One of the most distinctive features of Westminster Cathedral is its campanile, a separate bell tower standing about 87 meters tall.
2. St. Paul’s, London
The original St. Paul’s Cathedral was founded in 604 AD by King Ethelbert of Kent and was made of wood, and later of stone.
In 1087, the Normans built a grand Romanesque-style cathedral on the site, which became known as “Old St. Paul’s.” This cathedral featured a central tower and a spire that made it one of the tallest
Unfortunately. in 1561, lightning struck Old St. Paul’s Cathedral, causing a fire that led to extensive damage. Although there were some hopes to rebuilt, it was only after the Great Fire of London in 1666, which further damaged Old St. Paul’s Cathedral, that the decision was made to build a new cathedral.
The renowned architect Sir Christopher Wren was commissioned to design the new St. Paul’s Cathedral in the English Baroque style. Construction began in 1675, and the cathedral was completed in 1710.
Sir Christopher Wren’s design for St. Paul’s Cathedral is famous for its massive dome, the largest brick dome in London, which is inspired by the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
The interior of the cathedral is adorned with stunning mosaics, sculptures, and intricate carvings. During World War II, St. Paul’s became a symbol of resistance during the blitz as it stood tall on the London skyline.
3. Canterbury Cathedral
In the late 6th century, St. Augustine of Canterbury arrived in England as a missionary sent by Pope Gregory the Great. Augustine established a Christian community in Canterbury and became the first Archbishop of Canterbury, making Canterbury an important religious center in England.
The original Canterbury Cathedral on the site was built by King Ethelbert of Kent in the early 7th century. It was constructed primarily of wood and dedicated to St. Martin of Tours. In 1070, Archbishop Lanfranc began the construction of a new Caterbury Cathedral in the Romanesque style after the Norman Conquest of England.
The most famous event to occur in Canterbury Cathedral happened in 1170, when Archbishop Thomas Becket was murdered within the cathedral, leading to his martyrdom and the cathedral’s increased importance as a pilgrimage site. Today Canterbury Cathedral remains one of the most important Catholic pilgrimage sites in Europe.
Due to this significance, in the 12th and 13th centuries, Canterbury Cathedral underwent significant renovations and expansions in the Gothic style.
Unfortunately during the English Reformation in the 16th century, many religious relics and images were destroyed, and the cathedral’s role changed. Canterbury Cathedral suffered further damage and was even used as a barracks during the English Civil War in the 17th century.
By the 19th century, a major restoration project got underway, led by architect George Gilbert Scott aimed to restore the cathedral to its medieval glory. As a result, Canterbury Cathedral was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988.
4. Ely Cathedral
Ely Cathedral, formally known as the Cathedral Church of the Holy and Undivided Trinity of Ely, is a magnificent cathedral in Europe located in Cambridgeshire, England.
St. Æthelthryth, also known as St. Etheldreda, a Saxon princess established a monastery on the site of the modern Ely Cathedral in the early 7th century.
During the Middle Ages, a Benedictine monastery replaced the original monastery, and in the 12th century, work began on the construction of the Norman-style Ely Cathedral.
The cathedral’s central feature is its massive octagonal lantern, often referred to as “the ship of the Fens.”
Like many English cathedrals, Ely Cathedral experienced significant upheaval during the English Reformation in the 16th century. The shrine of St. Æthelthryth was destroyed, and much of the Cathedral’s wealth and ornamentation were confiscated.
In the 19th century, a major restoration project was undertaken, led by the same architect as Canterbury Cathedral, George Gilbert Scott. Today Ely Cathedral is renowned for its stunning Gothic architecture, with Romanesque elements, including the Lady Chapel and the Octagon Tower.
5. Lincoln Cathedral
Lincoln Cathedral is also known as the Cathedral Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Lincoln. Lincoln Cathedral is one of the biggest cathedrals in Europe with a significant role in the history of Christianity in England.
The first cathedral on the site of Lincoln Cathedral was built in the late 7th century during the Anglo-Saxon period. In the 11th century, after the Norman Conquest of England, work began on the construction of a new cathedral in the Norman Romanesque style.
Later, In the 13th century, Lincoln Cathedral underwent a significant transformation into the Gothic architectural style. The cathedral’s iconic central tower, the Angel Choir, and the beautiful carved screen known as the “Bishop’s Eye” were added during this period.
For history lovers, Lincoln Cathedral is one of the most important cathedrals in Europe for history because it was home to the sealing of the Magna Carta in 1215.
Like a lot of British Cathedrals, Lincoln Cathedral was significantly damaged during the English Reformation and the Civil War.
In the 19th century, architect James Fowler led a significant restoration project to repair and enhance the cathedral’s structure. Today Lincoln Cathedral is an important Anglican cathedral, the seat of the Bishop of Lincoln, and a center of the Church of England. It is renowned for its stunning Gothic architecture, including its soaring vaulted ceilings, intricate carvings, and stained-glass windows.
6. Coventry Cathedral
Coventry Cathedral, officially known as the Cathedral Church of St. Michael, perhaps has one of the most tragic yet resilient stories of all the Cathedrals in Europe on this list. There are two distinct cathedrals associated with Coventry: the Old Cathedral (St. Michael’s) and the New Cathedral (also known as the Cathedral Church of St. Michael or Coventry Cathedral).
The original St. Michael’s Cathedral in Coventry was founded in the late 11th century and was constructed in the Romanesque architectural style. It was later expanded in the Gothic style but tragically the cathedral’s spire, which once stood as one of the tallest in England, collapsed in 1662 due to structural issues.
On the night of November 14, 1940, during the Blitz, Coventry Cathedral suffered devastating bombing raids by the German Luftwaffe. The Cathedral was damaged beyond repair.
In a testament to England’s resistance, plans were made to build a new one alongside the ruins of the former cathedral. This new cathedral was designed by architect Sir Basil Spence and was consecrated in 1962.
Thus, Coventry Cathedral is one of the newest Cathedrals in Europe and in England and is an example of a modern architectural style. Its design incorporates elements from the ruins of the old cathedral, and a wall of the new cathedral includes the words “Father Forgive” as a message of forgiveness and reconciliation.
7. Durham Cathedral
The history of Durham Cathedral is intricately tied up with Saint Cuthbert. In the late 10th century a community of monks led by St. Cuthbert brought his relics to Durham, seeking a safer location away from Viking raids.
St. Cuthbert’s shrine attracted many pilgrims, leading to the construction of a grand Norman-style cathedral in the 11th and 12th centuries.
In the later medieval period, several Gothic elements were added to Durham Cathedral, including the Galilee Chapel and the Chapter House. The Galilee Chapel is particularly known for its stunning Early English Gothic architecture.
Throughout history, Durham Cathedral housed the Durham Cathedral Priory, a monastic community that wielded substantial influence in the region. However, during the English Reformation in the 16th century, the shrine of St. Cuthbert was dismantled.
Thankfully Durham Cathedral survived relatively intact through the religious and political upheavals in England over the next years.
Durham Cathedral, along with nearby Durham Castle, was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1986. Today, Durham Cathedral is one of the most renowned cathedrals in Europe because of its stunning architecture, including the Rose Window, and its library, which houses rare and valuable manuscripts.
8. York Minster Cathedral
York Minster, officially known as the Cathedral and Metropolitical Church of Saint Peter in York, is one of the most impressive cathedrals in Europe and the United Kingdom.
Back in Roman times, York (then known as Eboracum) was an important Roman city. Christianity was established in York as early as the 4th century, which is quite early (similar to how Christianity was established early in Armenia)
The Vikings occupied York during the 8th and 9th centuries, during which the first Christian church on the site of the current York Minster was established. In 1069, York was captured by William the Conqueror’s forces during the Norman Conquest, and the Viking church was destroyed.
After the Norman Conquest, the construction of a new cathedral, in the Romanesque style, began in 1080 under the direction of Archbishop Thomas of Bayeux. Like a lot of Cathedrals in Europe, it was completed in stages, with the eastern part finished in the late 11th century and the nave and western towers added in the 13th century.
Later, York Minster became the seat of the Archbishop of York, one of the most prominent positions in the Church of England.
Today, York Minster is known for its stunning stained glass windows, including the Great East Window, which is the largest medieval stained glass window in the world.
9. Salisbury Cathedral
Salisbury Cathedral, the Cathedral Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary, is renowned for its stunning Gothic architecture and its role in the development of English Gothic design.
Construction of Salisbury Cathedral began in 1220 under the supervision of Master Mason Elias de Dereham. The cathedral was built in the Early English Gothic style, characterized by pointed arches, rib-vaulted ceilings, and large windows with intricate tracery. Salisbury Cathedral was consecrated in 1258.
Salisbury Cathedral is famous for its soaring spire, which was added in the 14th century. At 404 feet (123 meters), it is the tallest spire in the United Kingdom. In the 14th and 15th centuries the Lady Chapel was added, which is known for its elaborate decorations.
Thankfully, unlike many medieval cathedrals in England, Salisbury Cathedral escaped significant damage during the English Reformation and the English Civil War.
In 1986, Salisbury Cathedral, along with nearby Stonehenge, was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, recognizing its historical and architectural significance. The cathedral is home to the world’s oldest working clock, dating back to 1386, and a beautifully preserved 13th-century Magna Carta.
10. Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin
Christ Church Cathedral is one of Ireland’s most historically significant religious buildings whose history is intertwined with the development of Christianity in Ireland. It’s also simply one of the most beautiful cathedrals in Europe!
Christ Church Cathedral’s history dates back to the Viking era in the 11th century when the Norse-Gaelic king, Sitric Silkenbeard, founded a wooden church on the site. Later, the Normans built a stone church during their invasion of Ireland in the late 12th century.
In 1172 King Henry II attended mass at the cathedral, which led to the cathedral becoming a symbol of Norman power and influence. This led to the cathedral being established as the seat of the Archbishop of Dublin, and its structure was expanded in the Gothic architectural style over the centuries.
Christ Church Cathedral is known for its beautiful Gothic architecture. The cathedral also houses the 12th-century crypt, one of the largest medieval crypts in Ireland, which contains a variety of historical and archaeological artifacts.
Famous Cathedrals in Europe: France, Belgium, & Germany
France is well-known as a premier country for gorgeous cathedrals and is one of the best places to visit Cathedrals in Europe! There are almost too many beautiful Cathedrals in France to choose from – but these are the most famous Cathedrals in France that every visitor with an interest in churches and spiritual travel should make a point to visit.b
Belgium is also known for its beautiful churches and Germany has its fair share as well, particularly the Cologne Cathedral – perhaps one of the best examples of Gothic Cathedral in Europe.
11. Notre-Dame de Paris
Notre-Dame Cathedral on the Île de la Cité in Paris may be the most famous church in the entire world. It’s certainly one of the most famous cathedrals in Europe.
The history of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris spans nearly 900 years.
The construction of Notre Dame de Paris began in 1163 during the reign of King Louis VII, located right next to the Seine River, and it took almost two whole centuries to complete. Notre Dame Cathedral was built in the Gothic architectural style, and Notre Dame is known for its beautiful flying buttresses.
The first Mass was held in Notre Dame in 1182, even though it was not yet finished. Notre Dame has played a huge role in French history, including the coronation of Henry VI of England in 1431.
Some of the most significant renovations in Notre Dame occurred during the 17th and 18th centuries when the cathedral’s Gothic elements were partially replaced with Baroque features. Notre Dame Cathedral also suffered major damage during the French Revolution when it was used as a warehouse.
Notre Dame Cathedral gained international fame through Victor Hugo’s novel “The Hunchback of Notre-Dame,” published in 1831.
In response to public interest generated by Hugo’s novel and concerns about the cathedral’s deteriorating condition, a major restoration project began in 1844 under the direction of architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc. This restoration added some new features, such as the spire, which was sadly totally destroyed during the Notre Dame fire on April 15th, 2019.
Since the fire, an ambitious restoration project has been launched to rebuild and restore Notre-Dame to its former glory. Some parts of Notre Dame are open for visiting now, but the work isn’t expected to be completed until the end of 2024.
12. Chartres Cathedral
French Name: Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres (Cathedral of Our Lady of Chartres)
Chartres Cathedral is one of the most beautiful and well-preserved examples of Gothic architecture in France.
When I was there in 2012 it was undergoing major renovation – and even with the scaffolding up it was stunning and one of my absolute best memories of visiting cathedrals in Europe.
Many historians believe that a Roman temple dedicated to a pagan deity once stood on the site where Chartres is now, and only in the 4th century a Christian basilica was built there.
The construction of the current cathedral began around 1145, replacing the previous Romanesque basilica that was tragically destroyed by fire. This new Chartres Cathedral was filled with architectural innovation and grandeur. It was constructed quite quickly for the time and nearly completed by 1220.
Today, Chartres Cathedral’s most distinctive features are its intricate stained glass windows, some of which date back to the 12th century. The Rose Window on the west facade is particularly gorgeous. The labyrinth on the floor of the nave is another unique feature, but it can only be walked on Friday afternoons are other days the chairs are placed over it.
Unlike many other cathedrals in France, Chartres Cathedral largely escaped damage during the French Revolution. It was spared from significant damage during the First and Second World Wars as well.
Chartres Cathedral was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979.
13. Reims Cathedral
French Name: Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Reims (Cathedral of Our Lady of Reims)
Reims Cathedral is located in the city of Reims in northeastern France. Its history is closely tied to the French monarchy and the celebration of royal coronations.
Although the first church at Reims was built in the 5th century, the construction of the current cathedral began in the early 13th century, around 1211, and it was completed in the 14th century. Reims Cathedral is a prime example of High Gothic architecture. Reims Cathedral is particularly renowned for its magnificent facade adorned with intricate sculptures.
Reims Cathedral was the traditional site for the coronation of French monarchs. Beginning with the coronation of Louis IX in 1226, it became the place where French kings were anointed and crowned. The most famous coronation held here was that of Joan of Arc in 1429 when she helped Charles VII secure his crown.
Reims Cathedral was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991. Its historical and architectural significance, particularly as the site for the coronation of French monarchs, was recognized on a global scale.
14. Amiens Cathedral
French Name: Cathédrale Notre-Dame d’Amiens (Cathedral of Our Lady of Amiens)
The construction of Amiens Cathedral began in 1220 and was completed in 1270, which is remarkably fast for a Gothic cathedral that is so massive.
Amiens Cathedral is a quintessential example of High Gothic architecture. It is characterized by its soaring height, pointed arches, ribbed vaults, and numerous flying buttresses. The cathedral’s facade has intricate Gothic ornamentation.
Amiens Cathedral is the largest Gothic cathedral in France, and it held the record for the tallest completed nave in the world until the 19th century. It’s a truly imposing building with a unique design and should be a priority for any visitor to France!
During the Middle Ages, pilgrims to Amiens Cathedral visited to venerate the head of John the Baptist, which was believed to be housed in the cathedral.
Amiens Cathedral went through a major renovation in the 19th century by none other than Viollet-le-Duc, who also renovated and added some of his own vision and elements to Notre-Dame above.
Amiens Cathedral was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981.
Every year, the Festival of Lights (Fête de la Lumière) showcases the cathedral’s stunning architecture with an illuminating display.
15. Strasbourg Cathedral
French Name: Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Strasbourg (Cathedral of Our Lady of Strasbourg)
Strasbourg Cathedral is in the Alsace region of northeastern France (one of my favorite regions of France!).
The construction of Strasbourg Cathedral began in the late 12th century, around 1176 but it took several centuries to complete the cathedral. Strasbourg Cathedral was officially consecrated in 1439.
Strasbourg Cathedral was made of pink sandstone, giving it a unique color and striking ambiance compared to other French Cathedrals on this list.
One of the most striking features of Strasbourg Cathedral is its single, massive tower, which rises to a height of 142 meters (466 feet). For several centuries, it held the title of the world’s tallest building.
Strasbourg Cathedral is home to a famous astronomical clock, known as the Strasbourg Cathedral Clock. It was originally built in the 16th century. The clock features intricate mechanics and automations, and it still operates today.
In terms of history, the most significant event to take place in Strasbourg Cathedral was that the Peace of Westphalia, which ended the Thirty Years’ War in 1648, was celebrated there.
Due to its soft stone and damage from the World Wars when Alsace changed hands multiple times between France and Germany, the Cathedral had to undergo major renovation work. Thankfully, it was completed and Strasbourg Cathedral was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988.
I have very fond memories of being in Strasbourg, and for me, its spire and pink stone make it one of my favorite cathedrals in Europe!
16. Avignon Cathedral
French Name: Cathédrale Notre-Dame des Doms d’Avignon (Cathedral of Our Lady of the Doms of Avignon)
The history of Avignon Cathedral dates back to the 12th century when construction began. The cathedral was consecrated in 1150. The most significant renovation work on the cathedral took place in the 14th century when Avignon served as the residence of the popes during the Avignon Papacy.
Due to its history of renovation, the Avignon Cathedral reflects a blend of architectural styles, including Romanesque and Gothic elements.
During the Avignon Papacy (1309-1377), when the popes resided in Avignon rather than Rome, the cathedral played a major role in the papal court. It is located just next to the Palais des Papes (Palace of the Popes), and the popes used a private passageway to enter the cathedral directly from their residences.
Nearby Avignon is the Senanque Abbey, one of the most well-known Abbeys in France and one of the best pilgrimage sites in France you can visit!
17. Antwerp Cathedral, Belgium
Dutch Name: Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekathedraal in Dutch
The construction of Antwerp Cathedral began in the 14th century, around 1352. It replaced an earlier Romanesque church that stood on the same site. The cathedral was built in the Brabantine Gothic style and reflects the architectural trends of the late medieval. The Cathedral of Antwerp wasn’t completed in it’s current form until the 16th century.
Perhaps the most striking feature of the cathedral is its tower, which was completed in 1518, andwas an important symbol of the city’s prosperity during the late Middle Ages and Renaissance.
Antwerp Cathedral is known for its artwork, including works by famous artists such as Peter Paul Rubens and Jacob de Wit.
The cathedral has endured periods of turmoil, including damage during iconoclastic riots in Belgium in the 16th century, but it was restored and preserved. During the Napoleonic era it was briefly converted into a stable, but thankfully returned to its religious function later!
Antwerp Cathedral, along with its surroundings in the city of Antwerp, was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999 as part of the Belfries of Belgium and France listing.
18. Cologne Cathedral, Germany
German Name: Kölner Dom
Cologne Cathedral is one of the most iconic landmarks in all of Germany and one of the best examples of HIgh Gothic architecture of all the cathedrals in Europe.
The construction of Cologne Cathedral began in 1248 when the foundation stone was laid. The Cologne Cathedral took a particularly long time to build and was finally completed in the 19th century when the construction of the twin spires was finished.
Cologne Cathedral is one of the finest examples of High Gothic architecture in all of Europe. The cathedral’s exterior is adorned with intricate sculptures and detailed stone tracery.
Perhaps the most defining feature of Cologne Cathedral is its pair of towering spires. These spires reach a height of approximately 157 meters (515 feet), making them some of the tallest church spires in the world. The south spire was completed in 1880, while the north spire was finished in 1884.
Cologne Cathedral was believed to have the Three Wise Men’s relics in the 12th century, which turned the cathedral into a major pilgrimage destination. The cathedral was unfortunately significantly damaged during the Second World War.
Thankfully, Cologne Cathedral was restored and in 1996, Cologne Cathedral was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in recognition of its architectural significance and cultural value.
Today, its observation deck offers panoramic views of the city of Cologne and the Rhine River.
Famous Cathedrals in Europe: Italy
Italy and Spain below have remained strongly Roman Catholic over the years, and thus are home to an outsized number of incredible Cathedrals in Europe.
Some of the biggest and most impressive Gothic Cathedrals in Europe are in Italy today – including some of my very favorites: the Duomo di Milano and Saint Marks Basilica – a Byzantine Cathedral that is totally unique in Italy and Europe!
19. Duomo di Milano, Milan Cathedral
The Duomo di Milano is one of the largest and most famous Gothic cathedrals in the world. I can tell you from experience standing in front of it when I spent one day in Milan in 2018 that it truly is a magnificent and striking Cathedral – one of my favorite Cathedrals in Europe!
The construction of Milan Cathedral began in 1386 when Archbishop Antonio da Saluzzo decided to replace the older basilica with something grander. Its design was influenced by the cathedrals of northern Europe, particularly the Cathedral of Chartres in France.
The construction of Milan Cathedral spanned over several centuries due to various interruptions and financing issues, and it wasn’t until the 19th century that the facade and most of the structure were completed.
The most famous architect and sculptor to work on the Milan Cathedral, Filippo Brunelleschi, is known for his work on Florence’s Cathedral, and he contributed to the cathedral’s construction in the 15th century.
The Milan cathedral is crowned with numerous spires, and the central spire, known as the Madonnina, is topped with a gilded statue of the Virgin Mary. The cathedral’s roof, adorned with thousands of statues and sculptures, is accessible to visitors and offers panoramic views of the city.
This was one of my favorite memories of being in Milan and of visiting cathedrals in Europe – walking along the roof of the Duomo di Milano and getting up close to the Gothic art and architecture!
20. Saint Marks Basilica
Italian Name: Basilica di San Marco
Saint Mark’s Basilica is an amazing example of Byzantine architecture, rare for Western Europe, and is closely associated with the history and culture of Venice.
In the 9th century, the relics of Saint Mark the Evangelist were purportedly stolen from Alexandria, Egypt, and brought to Venice. Afterward, a church was built to house these relics.
The current basilica, built in the Byzantine architectural style, was constructed between the 11th and 13th centuries. Venice’s trading relationships with the Byzantine Empire heavily influenced the design and ornamentation of the basilica. The use of domes, intricate mosaics, and marble columns are characteristic of Byzantine architecture.
Saint Mark’s Basilica is known for its five “onion” domes, each of which is adorned with intricate mosaics depicting various religious themes. The mosaics on the inside of the Basilica are particularly amazing and should not be missed – check the times because they only light the mosaics during certain hours of the day!
The relics of Saint Mark are still enshrined in the basilica’s high altar, making it a significant pilgrimage site in Italy. The Winged Lion of Saint Mark, a prominent symbol of Venice, can be seen throughout the basilica and the city. It represents the evangelist Saint Mark and is a symbol of the city’s power and influence.
21. Florence Cathedral
Italian Name: Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore
The Florence Cathedral, known simply in Florence as the Duomo, dates back to the late 13th century when Arnolfo di Cambio began the construction of the cathedral. It’s one of the best Cathedrals in Europe and you should carefully plan your visit to the Duomo in Florence to make sure to best the crowds!
The dome, the so called “Duomo”, is in the Renaissance style. It was designed by Filippo Brunelleschi and was a remarkable feat of engineering. The dome was completed in the 15th century.
The Florence Cathedral is a fusion of architectural styles, including Gothic and Renaissance elements. The cathedral’s exterior features intricate marble facades adorned with decorative panels, sculptures, and intricate carvings. The use of polychrome marble gives the facade its distinctive striped, multicolor appearance.
Adjacent to the cathedral is Giotto’s Campanile, a separate bell tower designed by the renowned artist and architect Giotto di Bondone. You can climb Giotto’s Campanile for an incredible view of Florence!
The interior design of the Florence Cathedral is incredible, featuring stunning frescoes, stained glass windows, and world-famous sculptures. In particular, the cathedral houses a bronze statue of John the Baptist by Lorenzo Ghiberti and the tomb of Brunelleschi himself.
22. Siena Cathedral
Italian Name: Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta
The Siena Cathedral dates back to the 12th century when the construction of a Romanesque cathedral began. But in the early 13th century, the citizens of Siena decided to expand and rebuild the cathedral in the Gothic style – which led to the Cathedral in Europe we see today.
One of the most distinctive features of the Siena Cathedral’s facade is its alternating bands of white and green-black marble, giving it a striking appearance that sets it apart from other Gothic cathedrals in Italy.
The Siena Cathedral is known for the remarkable works of art inside, including the famous pulpit sculpted by Nicola Pisano in the 13th century.
The cathedral also houses the Piccolomini Library, decorated with frescoes by Pinturicchio, depicting the life of Pope Pius II. Additionally, there are stunning stained glass windows and a really beautiful mosaic floor.
Interestingly, the original plans for the cathedral included an ambitious project to build a dome larger than the one in Florence’s cathedral, but it was never completed. The unfinished nave of the cathedral remains a striking feature, known as the “Dome of Siena.”
Siena Cathedral, along with the historic center of Siena, was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995 in recognition of its cultural and historical importance.
Famous Cathedrals in Europe: Spain & Portugal
When I first went to Spain, I’ll admit I didn’t fully realize just how many incredible Cathedrals are dotted throughout the country – including the biggest cathedral in all of Europe, Seville Cathedral.
Spain today has some of my favorite Cathedrals in Europe and in the whole world, and Portugal in particular has beautiful Romanesque and Manueline Cathedrals with cloisters that are to die for!
23. Seville Cathedral
Spanish Name: Catedral de Santa María de la Sede
Seville Cathedral is one of the largest and most impressive cathedrals in the world, and the largest of the Gothic Cathedrals in Europe.
Seville Cathedral dates back to the late 15th century when the decision was made to replace the city’s existing mosque with a grand cathedral following the Christian Reconquista of the region. Construction began in 1401 and continued into the 16th century.
Today, Seville Cathedral is primarily a Gothic structure, but it also incorporates Renaissance elements.
The Giralda Tower, a prominent feature of the cathedral, was originally built as a minaret during the mosque’s existence. It was converted into a bell tower when the cathedral was constructed. Climbing it is an amazing experience – instead of stairs it has ramps so that horses could climb up it in the past!
Seville Cathedral is famous for being the burial place for Christopher Columbus. The altarpiece of the main altar, known as the Retablo Mayor, is another masterpiece in the Seville Cathedral.
Seville Cathedral, along with the nearby Alcázar and Archivo de Indias, was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987 in recognition of its cultural and historical importance.
24. Santiago de Compostela
The Santiago de Compostela Cathedral, also known as the Cathedral of Saint James is one of the most important and revered religious sites in the world and is the final destination along the famous Camino de Santiago, one of the most important Pilgrimages in Europe. There are so many things to see and do in Santiago de Compostela – but of course the Cathedral is the most important!
Santiago de Compostela Cathedral is dedicated to Saint James the Greater, one of the apostles of Jesus Christ.
The tomb of Saint James was discovered in the area in the 9th century and a small chapel was built on the site to honor the saint. In the 11th and 12th centuries the grand cathedral, as we know it today, was constructed. The cathedral was built in the Romanesque architectural style with later Gothic additions.
One of the most famous features of the cathedral is the Portico de la Gloria, a Romanesque masterpiece created by Master Mateo in the 12th century. It is renowned for its detailed sculptures of biblical figures, including Saint James.
The cathedral is known for its large censer, known as the Botafumeiro, which is swung from the ceiling during certain religious ceremonies. It is one of the largest censers in the world.
In 1985, the Santiago de Compostela Old Town, which includes the cathedral, was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in recognition of its cultural and historical importance.
The best way to get to the Santiago de Compostela is of course to take a Pilgrimage on the Camino! There are so many great guides to doing so – but don’t forget you can take a pilgrimage no matter your age, fitness, or dietary needs – there are lots options for everyone, including vegetarians on the Camino!
25. La Sagrada Familia
La Sagrada Família…is not technically a Cathedral. This is the one church I’m cheating on in this list! Sagrada Familia is officially known as the Basilica and Expiatory Church of the Holy Family (Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família) and was begun in 1882 under architect Francisco de Paula del Villar.
However, in 1883, Antoni Gaudí took over the project and transformed it into his masterpiece.
Gaudí worked on the basilica for the rest of his life and dedicated his final years exclusively to this project. He passed away in 1926, and the basilica remains under construction to this day.
La Sagrada Família is a fantastic blend of architectural styles such as Gothic and Art Nouveau, with Gaudí’s distinct influence. The basilica’s design features a combination of nature-inspired motifs, organic shapes, and innovative structural elements. It’s characterized by its distinctive spires, facades, and a central nave with a hyperbolic structure.
One of the most well-known features of La Sagrada Família is the Nativity Facade, which was completed during Gaudí’s lifetime. It tells the story of the birth of Jesus and is adorned with intricate sculptures and details. (There’s even a really cool detail of a Harp on the facade!)
The Glory Facade, the last of the basilica’s facades, is still under construction. It will represent the glorification of Jesus and the final judgment.
The interior of La Sagrada Família is a vast, awe-inspiring space with tall columns that branch like trees and a canopy ceiling that evokes a forest canopy. Stained glass windows provide colorful illumination, and if you time your visit just right the whole of Sagrada Familia is awash in colors!
In 2005, La Sagrada Família was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site even though it isn’t finished yet. I can’t wait to visit again in the future and see how its construction is coming along!
26. Barcelona Cathedral
Spanish Name: Catedral de la Santa Creu i Santa Eulàlia
The Barcelona Cathedral is located in the heart of the historic Gothic Quarter of Barcelona, Spain. Technically it is the only Cathedral in Barcelona, but I couldn’t ignore the Sagrada Familia above!
The Barcelona Cathedral was built in the 13th century on the site of a former Romanesque cathedral and was constructed primarily in the Catalan Gothic style. The cathedral’s nave and facade were completed in the 15th century.
One of the notable features of the cathedral is the cimborio, a lantern-like structure above the transept that is adorned with intricate tracery and sculptures. It provides a distinctive silhouette to the cathedral.
I love any Cathedral with a cloister and the Barcelona Cathedral is known for its beautiful cloister and courtyard, which are home to a charming garden with palm trees and a even a pond. The cloister is also home to a colony of geese, which are kept as a tradition dating back to the 14th century.
The Barcelona Cathedral is dedicated to Saint Eulalia, a young Christian martyr who is the co-patron saint of Barcelona. Her relics are housed in the crypt beneath the high altar.
Visitors to the Barcelona Cathedral have the opportunity to take a guided tour to explore the rooftop, which offers panoramic views of the city.
27. Palma Mallorca Cathedral-Basilica
The Palma Cathedral is an iconic Gothic cathedral located in the city of Palma de Mallorca, which is the capital of the Balearic Islands in Spain.
The history of the Palma Cathedral dates back to the late 13th century when construction began during the reign of King James I of Aragon. Like a lot of churches in Spain, the Palma Cathedral was built on the site of a former mosque and incorporates elements of both Gothic and Catalan Gothic architectural styles. The cathedral was officially consecrated in 1601.
The cathedral is often referred to as “La Seu,” which is Catalan for “the See,” indicating its status as the seat of the Diocese of Mallorca.
The Palma Cathedral is known the the incredible play of light inside the building, especially during the morning hours when sunlight filters through the massive stained glass windows. This phenomenon is locally known as “La Llum de la Seu” and adds to the cathedral’s magical atmosphere. Be sure to visit in the morning to experience this!
The Royal Chapel of the cathedral is the final resting place of several Spanish monarchs, including King James II of Aragon and his wife, Queen Sibila of Fortia.
28. Porto Cathedral
Portuguese Name: Sé Catedral de Nossa Senhora da Assunção
The Porto Cathedral was built in the 12th century under the patronage of Bishop Hugo and King Sancho I.
The Porto Cathedral exhibits a primarily Romanesque architectural style, particularly in its older sections, such as the fortress-like facade and the lower part of the two towers. However, later additions and renovations introduced Gothic elements.
Because I love a good cloister – one of the notable features of the cathedral is its Gothic cloister, which was added in the 14th century. The cloister is known for its ornate decoration, including intricate carvings and tilework.
Inside the cathedral, be sure to find the Silver Altar (Altar de Prata), a masterpiece of Baroque artistry. It is adorned with elaborate silverwork and is considered one of the most valuable treasures in the cathedral.
29. Lisbon Cathedral
Portuguese Name: Sé de Lisboa
The Lisbon Cathedral or Santa Maria Maior de Lisboa (St. Mary Major of Lisbon), is the oldest and most important church in the city of Lisbon, Portugal. Also – personal note – the Lisbon Cathedral just happens to be one of my favorite Romanesque Cathedrals in all of Europe! I’m not quite sure why but I just love the Lisbon Cathedral!
The Lisbon Cathedral was commissioned by Portugal’s first king, Afonso I (Afonso Henriques), in the 12th century. The cathedral was built on the site of an existing mosque following the Christian Reconquista of Lisbon from Moorish rule.
The original design of the Lisbon Cathedral was Romanesque, characterized by thick walls, rounded arches, and in many ways looked like a fortres! Over time, the Lisbon Cathedral underwent various modifications, including the addition Gothic elements.
One of my favorite parts of the Lisbon Cathedral is the prominent rose window on the facade with its intricate tracery. The Lisbon Cathedral has an amazing Gothic cloister that dates from the 14th century. The cloister is known for its beautiful Manueline (Portuguese late Gothic) decoration.
Famous Cathedrals in Europe: Northern & Eastern Europe
There are so many other areas of the continent with beautiful cathedrals in Europe. In Eastern Europe, many of the Cathedrals are Greek or Eastern Orthodox and are quite different than those here (but well worth seeing!). Here are a few more of the most famous cathedrals in Europe that are iconic or historically significant.
30. Salzburg Cathedral
German Name: Salzburger Dom
Salzburg Cathedral is a beautiful Baroque cathedral located in the heart of the city of Salzburg, Austria. In 774, when the city of Salzburg was founded by Saint Rupert, and a wooden church was built. Later it was replaced by a Romanesque cathedral.
The current Baroque cathedral was constructed between 1614 and 1628, after a fire damaged the previous Romanesque structure. Althought it’s in Austria, the Salzburg Cathedral was designed by the Italian architect Santino Solari, who introduced the Baroque style to the cathedral’s architecture.
Salzburg Cathedral is renowned for its Baroque architecture. It has an extremely ornate facade, curved lines, and intricate decoration.
The Salzburg Cathedral is dedicated to Saint Rupert and Saint Vergilius. Saint Rupert was the founder of the city, and Saint Vergilius was an early bishop of Salzburg.
Salzburg Cathedral is associated with the famous composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who was baptized in the cathedral. The cathedral’s organ is also an amazing musical instrument you should hear played if you get a chance!
31. St. Stephen’s Cathedral, Vienna
German Name: Stephansdom
St. Stephen’s Cathedral is located in the heart of Vienna, Austria that dates back to the 12th century when the original church on the site was consecrated. However, the Gothic-style cathedral we see today was built between the 14th and 16th centuries, with ongoing renovations and additions.
The exterior of St. Stephen’s Cathedral has a stunning pattern of colorful roof tiles, intricate stone carvings, and a tall south tower with a high spire.
The South Tower of St. Stephen’s Cathedral, which you can climb, houses the Pummerin Bell, one of the largest free-swinging bells in the world. It weighs over 20 tons!
Beneath the cathedral, there is a network of crypts and catacombs where members of the Habsburg dynasty are buried that you can visit!
St. Stephen’s Cathedral is a symbol of Vienna’s resilience: it has survived fires, wars, and sieges over the centuries.
32. St. Vitus Cathedral, Prague
Czech Name: Katedrála svatého Víta
St. Vitus Cathedral is located within the Prague Castle complex in Prague, Czech Republic.
St. Vitus Cathedral dates back to the 14th century when the foundation stone was laid during the reign of Emperor Charles IV. However, the cathedral’s construction took a very long time – St. Vitus wasn’t officially consecrated until 1929, even though it still wasn’t complete by then!
St. Vitus Cathedral is a masterpiece of Gothic architecture featuring flying buttresses, and a variety of spires and pinnacles. The interior boasts a grand nave with ribbed vaulting, stained glass windows, and numerous chapels including the St. Wenceslas Chapel, where the Czech crown jewels are kept.
St. Vitus Cathedral is also home to the Shrine of St. John of Nepomuk, an ornate silver tomb created in the Baroque style.
The South Tower of St. Vitus Cathedral rises to a height of over 96 meters (315 feet) and you can climb the tower to enjoy amazing views over Prague!
33. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, Sofia
The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is a beautiful and iconic Eastern Orthodox cathedral located in Sofia, the capital city of Bulgaria.
The foundation stone for the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral was laid in 1882 to honor the Russian soldiers who died during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878, which led to Bulgaria’s liberation from Ottoman rule. The cathedral was completed in 1912.
The Cathedral is in the Neo-Byzantine architectural style, inspired by Byzantine and Russian Orthodox architecture. The cathedral’s central dome reaches a height of approximately 45 meters (148 feet) and is covered entirely in gold leaf. The top of the dome can be seen all over Sofia! The interior of the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is decorated with stunning mosaic artwork.
The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is dedicated to Saint Alexander Nevsky, a revered Russian Orthodox saint and military leader. It is a place of worship for the Bulgarian Orthodox Church and serves as the cathedral church of the Patriarch of Bulgaria.
Don’t miss visiting the crypt or the Cathedral Museum at the Sofia Cathedral, and make sure to look up and find the famous Alexander Nevsky Cathedral Bells that are rung on special occasions and can be heart throughout Sofia.
(Fun personal fact: I have 2 nieces and 4 nephews who are adopted from Bulgaria. They are all currently between ages 6 and 11! Bulgarians officially outnumber Americans in our extended family! Someday I hope to visit Sofia, Bulgaria with them!)
34. Helsinki Cathedral
Finnish Name: Helsingin Tuomiokirkko
The Helsinki Cathedral is a prominent Lutheran cathedral located in the heart of Helsinki, the capital city of Finland.
The Helsinki Cathedral was constructed in the 19th century as a part of the Russian Empire’s efforts to enhance the city’s architecture and status as the capital of the Grand Duchy of Finland.
The Helsinki Cathedral is an example of Neoclassical architecture, meaning it draws inspiration from classical Greek and Roman architectural elements.
The exterior of the Helsinki Cathedral features a grand facade with a flight of stairs leading to the main entrance. It has a tall central dome, four smaller domes, and a series of very classical Corinthian columns. The cathedral is constructed from local Finnish granite.
Since it was built, the Helsinki Cathedral has played a central role in Finnish history and national identity. It has witnessed various historical events, including the declaration of Finnish independence in 1917.
Enjoy Visiting These Cathedrals in Europe!
With more than 600 Cathedrals in Europe, I know it will take me a long time to see them all (but you know I’m going to try!). I hope you’ve enjoyed this dive into some of the best Cathedrals in Europe grouped by region so you can plan to visit them on your next trip to Europe! Many of these Cathedrals in Europe make a great stop on a European Pilgrimage or just a sightseeing trip to major places like Paris or Milan!
More Spiritual Travel in Europe…
More Travel Resources
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