Western European Churches you Must Visit

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Western Europe is home to many churches, each more splendorous than the other. Featuring imposing architecture, intricate stone carvings, and stunning stained glass windows, these churches will leave you in awe. It’s hard to imagine how these impressive structures were built in Medieval times or earlier, when modern buildings are so drab and boring. Of course, there are modern buildings like the Burj Khalifa, The Broad, Elbphilharmonie Hamburg, National Museum of Qatar and others that make you wonder. But yet, nothing beats the magnificence and draw of the older European churches. If you’re planning a visit, here are some of the most breathtaking and stunning churches to see in Western Europe.

1. San Luigi dei Francesi, Rome

By Jonathon from Artifacts Travel 

Inside architecture of San Luigi dei Francesi
San Luigi dei Francesi, Rome

Just off Piazza Navona lies San Luigi dei Francesi, which for centuries has served as the primary church of Rome’s French community.  Completed in 1589, the church is dedicated to the patron saints of France, including King Louis IX, from whom the church takes its name.  

Designed by Giacomo della Porta, the church features a bold exterior, complete with sculptures of Charlamagne, Louis IX, and St Clotilde.  The interior is no less elaborate, sumptuously gilded in the ostentatious manner of the Baroque.

Today, the church is a treasure trove of art.  Especially notable is the Contarelli chapel, which displays Caravaggio’s famed The Calling of St Matthew and The Martyrdom of St Matthew.  These were Caravaggio’s break out works, setting the tone for the artist’s later intensely realistic and shadowy style.

2. Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral

By Amber from Amber Everywhere

Exterior view of St Fin Barre's Cathedral.
St Fin Barre’s Cathedral in Cork, Ireland

The Irish city of Cork, Ireland is home to Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral. The cathedral you can see today was designed by William Burges and completed in 1879, but there is evidence of earlier church structures dating back to the 7th century. 

Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral is one of the most recognizable landmarks in Cork, with its Gothic architecture and distinctive spires. There are guided tours of Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral offered daily. If you’d prefer, you can get a great view of the cathedral from the nearby viewing deck of Elizabeth Fort, which is free to visit. 

Saint Fin Barre, for whom the cathedral in Cork is named, was born in about 550 AD. He also founded Gougane Barra, a monastic site with a serene lake and walking trails that you can visit on a day trip from Cork

3. Duomo di Milano

By Denise of Chef Denise

Exterior of The Milan Cathedral.
The Milan Cathedral, or Duomo di Milano

The Milan Cathedral, or Duomo di Milano, is not only the largest church in Italy but also the fourth largest in the world. With over 3,400 statues, 135 gargoyles, and 700 figures it is also one of the most elaborate churches.

Construction of this Gothic masterpiece took more than half a century—it began in 1386 and was not complete until 1965. Today it stands proudly in the Piazza del Duomo, the main square in the heart of Milan. 

One of the highlights of visiting the Milan Cathedral is its rooftop. You can take the elevator, or the stairs if you’ve indulged in too much delicious Milanese food

The rooftop itself is an architectural marvel, allowing visitors to walk among the spires and statues that can’t be fully appreciated from the ground. But the best sights are the panoramic views of the city’s skyline.

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4. Chiasa del Gesu

By Ashley from Museums and Miles

Interiors of Chiesa Del Gesu.
Chiesa Del Gesu, Rome

Designed by Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola and Giacomo Della Porta, Chiesa Del Gesu was built in the 16th century and decorated with 17th century panache. The mother church of the Jesuit order, this church is one of Rome’s best-hidden artistic gems, just a quick 5-minute walk from Piazza Venezia. 

When you get inside, look up to see the masterful stucco puttis that grace the heavens depicted in the frescos on the ceilings by Giovanni Battista Gaulli. You’ll also find a marble bust in this church by Baroque sculptor Bernini.

Unlike other more popular churches in the city, you won’t find big crowds even in peak season. Chiesa del Gesu is only open in the early morning and later in the afternoon, and I highly recommend a morning visit. You’ll be relatively undisturbed, and it’s a great quick visit that’s completely free.

5. Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, Ireland

By Cath from Passports and Adventures

Exterior view of Christchurch Cathedral.
Christchurch Cathedral, Dublin, Ireland

Dublin is not just about food. Right in the center of Dublin City Centre, is where you’ll find one of the city’s two medieval churches, namely Christ Church Cathedral, or The Cathedral of the Holy Trinity. It is the official seat of both the Roman Catholic Church and Church of Ireland archbishops of Dublin.

The original church on the site was built in the early 11th century, but the church that you see today was renovated in the Victorian age. You can also explore the crypt where Ireland’s first copy of the Magna Carta is still present, just like England’s copies are in Lincoln and Salisbury Cathedrals.

Guided tours provide insights into the cathedral and its history, and offer the opportunity to ring the famous bells. It’s a stunning church in Europe and a wonderful place to explore in Dublin City with kids.

READ NEXT  Salisbury Cathedral, the home of the Magna Carta

6. Hallgrímskirkja, Reykjavik, Iceland

By Viola & Sebastian, Away to the City

Exterior view of Hallgrímskirkja.
Hallgrímskirkja, Reykjavik in Iceland

Hallgrímskirkja is Reykjavik’s largest church, named after the poet and clergyman Hallgrímur Pétursson. Its construction began in 1945 and took 41 years to complete. The architect, Guðjón Samúelsson, was inspired by Iceland’s basalt lava flows when he designed this unique church.

At 74 metres tall, Hallgrímskirkja is one of the tallest structures in Iceland. You can take the elevator to the tower’s peak and enjoy panoramic views of Reykjavik. It’s one of the best views over Iceland’s capital, especially in winter with a slight dusting of snow!

Inside, the church houses a grand pipe organ with over 5,000 pipes. Beyond its architectural marvels, Hallgrímskirkja is a cultural landmark, hosting concerts and events.

7. The Berlin Cathedral in Germany

By Sharon from Exploring Our World

Exterior view of Berlin Cathedral.
The Berlin Cathedral in Germany

A visit to the impressive Berlin Cathedral will give you a good picture of the architectural splendor in Berlin. With its magnificent dome, the cathedral is a landmark in the city. It sits on the edge of Museum Island next to the Spree River. The Berlin Cathedral is notable for being the largest Protestant church in the area.

While the cathedral’s exterior is lovely, it’s worth going inside for a tour of interior beauty. The baroque-style cathedral dates from 1905. Kaiser Wilhelm II decided to build a cathedral to rival St. Peter’s in Rome and St. Paul’s in London. So you can imagine the intricacy and glitter of the design.

Once inside, be sure to climb the 267 steps to the dome. Then take in breathtaking views of Berlin as you wind around the outside platform high above the picturesque scene below.

8. Panagia Tourliani church on Mykonos Island, Greece

By Vanessa Morgan from Traveling Cats

Courtyard of Panagia Tourliani church.
Panagia Tourliani church on Mykonos Island, Greece

The Panagia Tourliani church in Ano Mera wasn’t on my original Mykonos itinerary but when a local suggested it, my friend and I just knew we had to visit. 

While Mykonos has many churches, this one stands out as the most beautiful. Built in 1542, it’s renowned for its stunning Cycladic architecture, rich history, and picturesque setting. Many consider it one of Greece’s most beautiful religious sites, as beautiful as the Agia Triada in Lefkes.

What can you expect? Whitewashed exteriors, serene courtyards with fountains and benches, abundant plants and flowers, and plenty of cats.

A public bus from Mykonos Town to Ano Mera takes about 30 minutes. Since the church is in the center of this small town, it’s easy to reach. An even better option is to drive there.

READ NEXT  Agia Triada (Holy Trinity) Church in Lefkes, Greece

9. Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome

By Michelle of Travel Her Story

Ceiling and walls of the Santa maria Maggiore in Rome.
Santa maria Maggiore in Rome

Santa Maria Maggiore is a papal basilica, one of the Seven Pilgrim Churches of Rome, and the largest Catholic Marian church in Rome, Italy. What’s different about this church is that it depicts the Blessed Virgin Mary as the protectress of the Roman people. And was one of the first churches built to celebrate the Virgin Mary, shortly after she was proclaimed the Mother of God.

Though not within the territory of the Vatican City, the Holy See still fully owns the Basilica, which is often used by the pope. One of the unique features is that under the high altar is the Crypt of the Nativity, said to contain wood from the Holy Crib of the nativity of Jesus Christ. Whether visiting Rome for religious reasons or otherwise, Santa Maria Maggiore’s mix of Romanesque and Baroque architecture is a treat to see.

10. Sainte-Chapelle in Paris

By Michelle of Travel Her Story

Saint Chapelle in Paris France.
Saint Chapelle in Paris

Sainte-Chapelle is a gothic-style royal chapel on the River Seine in Paris, France. Commissioned by King Louis IX of France, its purpose was to house his collection of Passion relics, including Christ’s Crown of Thorns. What makes it a stunning piece of architecture is its wall-to-wall stained glass. Sainte-Chapelle is one of the most extensive examples of 13th-century stained glass anywhere in the world.

Visiting on a sunny day is a treat as the interior glows with all the tiny mosaic-like glass pieces, which are cleaned by Q-tip during restoration periods. Each panel depicts a different scene from the Bible, making it a visually stimulating way to process the immense religious text. When you leave, grab a souvenir from the myriad of stalls on the ground floor.

How many of these amazing Western European churches have you visited? And what other churches should be on this list? Comment and let us know!

Other Posts To Plan Your Travels

Pinterest images of Berlin Cathedral and St Fin Barre's Cathedral in Cork.
Pinterest images of Hallgrimskirkja in Iceland and Christchurch Cathedral in Dublin.
Pinterest images of San Luigi dei Francesi, Chiesa Del Gesu and The Milan Cathedral.

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