Central and Eastern European Churches to Visit

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Churches have played a significant role in the history and culture of Central and Eastern Europe. The region is home to a diverse range of Christian denominations, including Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Protestantism, and others with different manners of worship. The different churches also showcase different aspects of the region’s architectural and artistic traditions, from simple humble structures to magnificent towering UNESCO World Heritage sites. If you are visiting any of the countries in Eastern of Central Europe, here are some cathedrals and churches that you absolutely must visit.

1. Basilica of Saint Sofia, Sofia, Bulgaria

By Paul from Minimalist Journeys

Exterior of Basilica of Saint Sofia, Bulgaria.
Basilica of Saint Sofia, Bulgaria

The capital city of Bulgaria is named after the Basilica of Saint Sofia. A building of worship has been at the location in Sofia since 600 years before the first Bulgarian Empire existed (9th century) and has undergone many changes over the centuries. As such, it holds the distinction of being the oldest operating church in Europe. For a period, it was destroyed and rebuilt when successive parties battled for the fertile lands.

From 13th to 16th centuries, it served as a warehouse during the Ottoman rule, but they eventually converted it into a Mosque. However, after the earthquakes of the 19th century, it was once again abandoned and left for ruin.

After the Ottoman rule in 1870s, it was once again used as a warehouse and watchtower for the local fire station. In 1900, a new design was created and in 1911, the building was restored and now serves as an important Eastern Orthodox Church for the city, country and Eastern European region.

One of the best parts of the church is the underground museum, crypts and the ancient necropolis. With excellent well-lit explanations in English, a glass ceiling to view the church from the below the main floor and striking brick, mosaics and stonework dating back to the third century, you start to understand the history and reverence given to the building.

2. Zagreb Cathedral, Croatia

By Martina from Places of Juma

Exterior of Zagreb Cathedral.
Zagreb Cathedral, Croatia

The Zagreb Cathedral, officially known as the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Saints Stephen and Ladislav, is among the most captivating attractions in Zagreb, Croatia’s capital city. Its origins date back to the 11th century, but the cathedral has undergone numerous reconstructions due to invasions, earthquakes, and fires. The most significant rebuilding occurred in the late 19th century following a devastating earthquake in 1880, which gave the cathedral its present-day Neo-Gothic style. The twin towers, soaring to a height of 105 meters, dominate Zagreb’s skyline and stand as iconic landmarks of the city. Inside the cathedral, visitors are treated to remarkable stained-glass windows, intricate altars, a treasury, and the Walcker organ.

3. Matthias Church, Budapest, Hungary

By Viola & Sebastian from Away to the City

Exterior of Matthias Church, Budapest.
Matthias Church, Budapest, Hungary

One of Europe’s must-visit churches is Matthias Church in Budapest, Hungary. Its history dates back to the 13th century when it was originally built in Romanesque style.

Named after King Matthias Corvinus, who significantly renovated it in the 15th century, the church has witnessed numerous coronations and historical events. During the Ottoman occupation in the 16th century, it was converted into a mosque and was restored to its Gothic splendour in the late 19th century.

What we love most about Matthias Church is its colourful tiled roof that you can see from afar. Inside are beautiful frescoes, a magnificent altarpiece, and a replica of the Hungarian crown jewels.

With its blend of architectural styles, Matthias Church is a true masterpiece and one of the must-see attractions in Budapest!

4. St. Stephen’s Cathedral, Vienna, Austria

By Mayuri from ToSomePlaceNew

Exterior of St Stephens Cathedral.
St Stephens Cathedral, Vienna, Austria

Nestled in the heart of Vienna, St. Stephen’s Cathedral—also known as Stephansdom—is a testament to the city’s rich history and architectural grandeur. This Gothic masterpiece is one of the most beautiful churches in Vienna, Austria, because it not only survived the test of time but also played a pivotal role in shaping Vienna’s cultural and political landscape.

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St. Stephen’s Cathedral stands as an enduring symbol of Vienna’s illustrious past. For over 700 years, this architectural marvel has witnessed the city’s evolution—from a medieval town to a thriving cultural hub.

Visiting the cathedral is akin to stepping into a time machine. Each corner, statue, and stained glass window tells a story, offering a glimpse into Vienna’s rich heritage. Its impressive Gothic architecture, intricate detailing, and towering spires make it a must-see for enthusiasts.

Beyond its historical and architectural significance, the cathedral offers a serene space for reflection and spirituality. It’s also a cultural hub, often hosting classical music concerts that resonate through its hallowed halls.

5. St Anne Church in Vilnius, Lithuania

By Mary of Three Week Traveller

Exterior of St Anne Church Vilnius, Lithuania.
St Anne Church Vilnius, Lithuania

St. Anne’s Church in Vilnius, Lithuania, is a stunning example of Gothic architecture, completed in 1500. It was built using 33 different kinds of clay bricks, creating intricate patterns and a striking façade. Legend has it that Napoleon Bonaparte was so captivated by its beauty that he wished to carry it back to Paris “in the palm of his hand”.

The church has remained relatively unchanged since its construction, surviving wars and various political regimes. St. Anne’s Church is located right in the Old Town of Vilnius, and if you walk about 200 metres north, you can see Gediminas Castle Tower as well. Both of these attractions are among the oldest in Lithuania, making them both worth visiting during your Eastern Europe trip.

6. Bazylika Mariacka in Kraków, Poland

By Joanna from Over Here

Interior of Bazylika Mariacka, Kraków, Poland.
Bazylika Mariacka, Kraków, Poland

Bazylika Mariacka (St. Mary’s Basilica) stands as one of the two most significant religious structures in Poland. Visited annually by thousands of tourists and devout individuals, it’s one of the best attractions in Kraków.

The Basilica is situated on the Main Market Square, where its towering spires rise above the surrounding buildings. Every hour, a bugle call known as the “hejnał mariacki” resounds from one of the towers, its melody echoing across the Old Town.

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The interior of Bazylika Mariacka is simply awe-inspiring. Upon entering, you’ll see slender columns, impressive arches, and vaults resembling a starry sky. The Basilica boasts beautiful stained-glass windows, illustrating biblical stories and saints.

Bazylika Mariacka is known for the renowned altar by Veit Stoss. Carved in the 15th century, it’s the largest Gothic altarpiece in Europe – it’s 13 meters high and 11 meters wide!

7. Assumption of Maria Church, Lake Bled, Slovenia

By Krysti from Wanderful Horizons

Church of the Mother of God on Lake Bled.
Church of the Mother of God on the Lake, the Assumption of Maria

Known informally as the “Church of the Mother of God on the Lake,” the Assumption of Maria is a historical church that lies on a tiny island in the middle of Lake Bled. Dating back to the 8th century, the church was destroyed over time by numerous earthquakes and, as such, has undergone several renovations. The Baroque-style structure that remains today can be traced back to the 17th century.

The only way to reach the church and view it up close is by crossing Lake Bled. Locals provide daily transportation to the island via traditional pletna boats, which are wooden flat-bottom boats steered by oars. Once you’ve arrived on the island, you’re welcome to visit the church and ring its legendary wishing bell – which is believed to grant wishes to the faithful.

This is a work in progress list of the must-visit cathedrals and churches in Central and Eastern Europe. There are many that still need to be added. If you would like to contribute, ping abby@abbyshearth.com Or go here if you want to read about popular Western European churches.

Other Posts to Read

Pinterest Images of Zagreb Cathedral and Matthias Church, Budapest.
Pinterest images of St Anne Church Vilnius Lithuania and Basilica of Saint Sofia, Bulgaria.

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