Due to Europe’s rich history and diverse cultures you can find countless beautiful churches, abbeys and other sanctuaries in all the different countries of Europe. When planning your trip to Europe there are several of these you definitely can’t miss out on because of their tremendous architecture and huge history. Some of the many sanctuaries have even been added to the UNESCO Heritage List. In this blog we will discuss five extraordinary sanctuaries that are definitely worth a paying visit during a trip through Europe!

St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican

St. Peter’s Square, Vatican | Photo by Caleb Miller on Unsplash

At the St. Peter’s Square you will find the St. Peter’s Basilica, both named after the apostle of Jesus whom Catholics consider to be the first Pope. This Basilica was started to be built in 1506 and finished in 1626, a relatively short period of time compared with the other churches we will discuss in this blog. The main designer of the Basilica is Michelangelo, but besides him there were four other architects who worked on the St. Peter’s Basilica. Together they designed the Basilica in Renaissance style, with some Baroque elements. The Basilic is now the symbol of the Catholic Church’s grandeur and spiritual significance.  In 1984 the Vatican was added as a UNESCO heritage site for being one of the most sacred places in Christendom. Inside the Basilic there are even 91 Popes buried. Nowadays the St. Peter’s Basilica and Square are used for a lot of big Catholic and cultural events. Also, you might know this square as the place where people gather and wait for the white smoke to appear when there is a new Pope chosen. When you visit the Vatican, and other holy places, make sure you dress properly by not showing your knees and shoulders. 

The Sagrada Familia | Photo by Guy on Pixabay

Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

The Sagrada Familia is known as the largest unfinished Catholic basilica in the world and is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The project started in 1866 when Josep Maria Bocabella purchased a plot of land to build a basilica dedicated to the Holy Family. In 1883 Antoni Gaudí took over the project and he started designing and building the basilica as we know it today. Sadly, in 1926 Gaudí got into a tram accident and died of his wounds. His disciples proceed to build the giant basilica, but as of today it’s still not finished. The Sagrada Familia is now expected to be finished in 2026. When it’s finished, the Sagrada Familia will be the highest religious building in Europe. When you visit the Sagrada Familia on a sunny day, the stained glass will be lighted by the sun and create beautiful coloured lights inside the basilic. Also try to take the elevator up into the towers to see the magnificent view over the city of Barcelona. 

Duomo de Milano | Photo by Laurel C on Pexels

Duomo de Milan, Italy

In 1386 the Duomo started to be built by order of Count Giangaleazzo Visconti and it took almost 600 years to finish this church. The Duomo of Milan became the fifth largest Christian church in the world, and is decorated enormously with its 3,400 statues, 135 gargoyles and 700 figures. This makes the Duomo one of the most interesting decorated cathedrals in the world. Due to the long time it took to build the Duomo, at least 78 different architects have worked on the project which resulted in a gorgeous interior containing numerous chapels, stunning stained glass windows in blended architectural styles. 

The Duomo de Milano is located in the heart of the city. If you visit the Duomo make sure to take the elevator or stairs to the rooftop terrace which will give you a close up of the beautiful ornaments of the church and an amazing view of the city of Milan.

Holy Monastery of Varlaam | Photo by Andreas on Pexels

Meteora, Kalambaka, Greece

In central Greece, built in a beautiful rocky landscape, you can find the stunning Meteora monasteries. In the 9th century hermits started to live on the sandstone towers, also called the ‘columns of the sky’. In the mid 14th century the first monasteries started to arise on the peaks of the rocky landscape. In its heyday there was an autonomous community of monks and 24 monasteries in almost complete isolation from the rest of the world. In the 17th century the monasteries started to deteriorate, and after a few centuries only 6 monasteries remained. In the past years, the monasteries were restored so their original features can be seen again. The monasteries of Meteora were added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1988. Because the monasteries are built in the rocks a visit to these historical monasteries will offer you a gorgeous view of the valleys as well. 

Le Mont Saint-Michel | Photo by Ismael Galaviz on Unsplash

Le Mont Saint-Michel, Normandy, France

Located on a hill 50 meters (164.042 feet) above sea level, you can find the abbey of Le Mont Saint-Michel. This abbey is considered as one of the most beautiful abbeys in the world, and in 1979 the hill became a UNESCO Heritage Site. In 966 the monks installed themselves in the abbey, so this year is considered as the founding year of the Mont-Saint-Michel Abbey. Legends say that archangel Saint-Michel appeared three times in the dream of Bishop Aubert, giving him the task to build a shrine in his honor on an island called Mont-Tombe. During the French Revolution the state nationalized the property of the clergy and the monks were expelled from the abbey. Sadly, the abbey became a prison for political opponents, but that did save the abbey from being destroyed during these turbulent times. In 1863 the prison closed but the abbey became a ruin. In 1874 the abbey became classified as a historical monument, and from that moment on the renovation of the abbey began and tourists were starting to visit this beautiful place. Nowadays, about ten monks and nuns live in this monument. 

As you have discovered in this blog, in Europe you can find a treasure trove of breathtaking sanctuaries. Each sanctuary has their own different architecture styles and history and all the churches will provide a unique experience. Do not forget to include these five UNESCO heritage listed sanctuaries into your travel itinerary for Europe!

Author: Noor Roozendaal from Spanish Trails