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Argentina for first-timers: A short travel guide

Blog 9 must-see cathedrals, churches and basilicas in Europe
Date: 30 October 2019

9 must-see cathedrals, churches and basilicas in Europe

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Europe is home to some of the world’s most stunning houses of worship. With their magnificent spires and awe-inspiring architecture, these churches, cathedrals and basilicas – many centuries old – are wondrous sights to behold, regardless of your religious beliefs.

If you’re heading to any of the fantastic European destinations below, be sure to add these holy sites to your itinerary.

1. Duomo di Milano, Milan, Italy

The Milan Cathedral as seen from the square in front
The Madonnina perches high atop the tallest spire of Milan’s cathedral

Il Duomo is one of the most famous Gothic cathedrals in Europe, and one of the largest in the world. Situated in Milan’s Piazza del Duomo, this impressive structure is said to have more statues on it than any other building on Earth, with around 3,400 statues, 135 gargoyles and 700 figures.

The most revered of all the adornments is the gold-covered Virgin Mary found perched on the highest spire of the Duomo’s roof. Known as the Madonnina (the Little Madonna), this 4-metre-high statue once marked the highest part of the city, and was even covered with a cloth during World War II to avoid providing an easy target to bombers.

Fly to Milan

2. St Stephen’s Cathedral, Vienna, Austria

St Stephen's Basilica in Vienna as seen from outside
Climb the steps of St Stephen’s Cathedral for amazing views of Vienna. Photo: Oleg Nikolaevich – Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0

Located in the city’s main square, Stephansplatz, this stunning, 700-year-old cathedral is topped by four towers, the tallest of which you can reach via 343 steps for fabulous views over Vienna.

Even more impressive is the intricate, diamond-patterned tile roof emblazoned with the Austrian eagle.

Classical music fan? St Stephen’s, or Stephansdom, was the venue of both the wedding and funeral of composer Mozart, and it’s said it was where Beethoven actually discovered he was deaf.

Once you’ve had a good look, refuel with a world-renowned Viennese coffee and slice of scrumptious ‘Apfelstrudel’ in the nearby Demel bakery.

Fly to Vienna

3. St Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City

Part of the dome inside St Peter's Basilica in Vatican City
The inside of St Peter’s Basilica is an impressive sight to behold

Going down in history as the most renowned work of Renaissance architecture, this mind-blowing building is located in Vatican City, the smallest country in the world.

From Michelangelo to Carlo Maderno, some of the world’s most famous architects of the time contributed to its design. While you’re there, be sure to check out Michelangelo’s ‘Pietà’ sculpture, which he carved at the ripe age of 24.

Fly to Rome

4. St Paul’s Cathedral, London, England

The dome of St Paul's Cathedral in London as seen from across the street
Hike up to the Golden Gallery of St Paul’s for spectacular views over London

Along with the Houses of Parliament and London Bridge, St Paul’s Cathedral is one of London’s greatest icons, and one of Europe’s must-see cathedrals. Boasting one of the biggest domes in the world, it’s an architectural marvel.

Sir Christopher Wren’s masterpiece was the location of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer’s wedding, and the funerals of Admiral Nelson, Sir Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher, to name a few.

If you’re feeling energetic, climb the 528 steps to the Golden Gallery where you’ll be treated to killer views over England’s stunning capital.

Whilst in the UK’s capital, why not treat yourself to a quintessentially British meal? Check out our top ten places to have afternoon tea in London. 

Fly to London

5. La Sagrada Família, Barcelona, Spain

The Sagrada Familia basilica in Barcelona as seen from across the park in front of the building
The unfinished Sagrada Família is one of the most famous features of the Barcelona skyline

Throw a stone in Barcelona, and the chances are you’ll hit something designed by Antoni Gaudí. La Sagrada Família is his most famous work – even though it’s still unfinished over 100 years later.

Aside from being one of the tallest churches in the world, this towering landmark is filled with colourful stained-glass windows and treelike columns that are unlike anything else on earth.

Sadly, Gaudí died before his masterpiece was complete. But it’s due to be finished in 2026, to coincide with the centennial of the architect’s death.

Tip: Book a priority access guided tour and learn about this fascinating building from a local expert.

Fly to Barcelona

6. Hallgrímskirkja, Reykjavik, Iceland

The Hallgrímskirkja in Iceland
The unique design of Hallgrímskirkja takes inspiration from the Icelandic landscape. Photo: David Stanley – Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Hallgrímskirkja in Reykjavik is a church like no other. Its striking futuristic design gives a nod to Iceland’s landscape, taking inspiration from the form lava takes when it cools.

The 73-metre-high tower provides a wonderful 360° view over Reykjavik, the mountains and the ocean stretching west to Greenland. Because of this, the church is among the most visited tourist destinations in Reykjavik.

Tip: While visiting the land of ice and fire, don’t miss out on these 14 breathtaking experiences in Iceland.

Fly to Reykjavik

7. Cologne Cathedral, Cologne, Germany

Cologne Cathedral as seen from across the water
The majestic Cologne Cathedral is said to be the final resting place of the Three Wise Men

Cologne Cathedral is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and for good reason. One of Europe’s most beautiful cathedrals, around 20,000 people make their way inside every day to see the Shrine of the Three Kings, which is said to contain the bones of the Three Wise Men from the nativity story.

If you’re religious, another must-see in the cathedral is Madonna of Milan, an elegant wooden sculpture depicting Mary and Jesus. Made in the cathedral workshop around 1290, this high Gothic statue is associated with miracles and has attracted pilgrims for centuries.

Fly to Cologne

8. Church of St Sava, Belgrade, Serbia

Church of Saint Sava as seen from outside
Belgrade’s most famous church practically sparkles on a sunny day. Photo: George M. Groutas – Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Nothing dominates the Belgrade skyline like the monolithic Church of Saint Sava. The temple was built on the spot where its namesake’s remains were burnt by the occupying Ottomans. And it’s well and truly the centre of spiritual life in the White City.

The interior is unfinished, but the amazing exterior more than makes up for it.

While in Belgrade, why not take a walking tour of this fascinating city? This three-hour sightseeing tour will cover all the essentials.  

Fly to Belgrade

9. Notre-Dame, Paris, France

The front of Notre-Dame against a blue sky
The Notre-Dame cathedral is one of Europe’s symbols of beauty and history. Photo: Anna & Michal – Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

One of the world’s most famous Gothic structures, we couldn’t miss the gargoyle-topped Notre-Dame off this list of Europe’s must-see churches, basilicas and cathedrals.

Built on an island in the middle of the Seine, this jewel of Gothic architecture is one of Paris’s most symbolic monuments, and to many, it’s regarded as the heart of the French capital.

Sadly, the cathedral was badly damaged when it was engulfed by fire during restorations in 2019. The roof and 850-year-old spire were destroyed, so you can currently only admire it from the outside.

Fly to Paris

Get your adventure started with Norwegian

Man and woman holding hands walking down steps with a church behind them
Book a trip with Norwegian and explore Europe’s amazing cathedrals

Whether you’re religious or not, Europe’s magnificent cathedrals, basilicas and churches are well worth a visit.

Don’t forget, if you’re a member Norwegian Reward, you earn CashPoints on flights, hotels, car rentals and GetYourGuide activities, to use towards your next European adventure.

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Argentina for first-timers: A short travel guide