A top most beautiful whatever is a subjective matter. As for churches, they are all so different, from various periods, different rites, diverse styles. Some people will find the concrete unusual shaped church in Stykkisholmur in Iceland the most beautiful one, while other people will tell you the most beautiful is the impressive Gothic cathedral of Cologne. I think, whether you believe or not, a religious edifice from whatever religion has something magical.
Some time ago I accidentally bumped into such a pretty little church in the South of France. It was the 12th century Romanesque church of Notre-Dame de Pitié in Saignon, a small village in the Vaucluse department. The interior is relatively simple and you can see some water damage here and there, which I think absolutely adds to the charm of the place. Inside there was a young woman playing on the organ and a man playing the clarinet. The church probably would not have made it onto my top 30 list without those two playing music that day but for the sake of the moment, it did and it would still be worth the visit if ever you were to end up in the picturesque village of Saignon one day.
Anyway here is my utterly subjective top 30 of most beautiful churches in Europe.
St. Michael’s monastery (Kiev, Ukraine)
There are so many glorious churches in Kiev, and even more in the Ukraine, that this one was quite difficult to chose. When in Kiev don’t miss out on these beauties: St. Sophia’s cathedral (inscribed on the World Heritage list), St. Andrew’s church (gold, gold and more gold) and St. Cyril’s church (frescoes that make you go wow). But now, my favorite color is blue so I impossibly could leave St. Michael’s out of my list. Magic mirror on the wall, isn’t it the fairest of them all?
Krijtberg (Amsterdam, the Netherlands)
The real name of this Roman Catholic church is Church of St Franciscus Xavierus. Since halfway the 17th church there had been a place of prayer here but it used to be in a house (called Crijtberg, hence the name of the church) before the actual church was built in 1881. The neo-Gothic church is beautiful from the outside: stuck between small Dutch houses with its two slim high pointed towers but I love the inside even more with all the joyful colors and details.
Borgund Stave Church (Borgund, Norway)
I think this church is awesome. I have the feeling little happy trolls are gonna walk out the door any minute.
All six Meteora monasteries, perched on the sandstone peaks, are impressive. There used to be twenty four monasteries but only six survived to this day. It must have been an incredible sight.
Sagrada Familia (Barcelona, Spain)
What should I write about Gaudi’s wonderful and unique minor basilica that has not been written to this day? There are some places in the world that are so truly beautiful you can’t describe them, you just need to get out there and visit them. The Sagrada Familia is one of those. There are so many wonderful details not to be missed! (No seriously, did you guess I was a huge Gaudi admirer?)
The peace church (Swidnica, Poland)
I love the basilica for the simple look it has, as if it was a little wooden doll’s house you could hold in your hands. But it’s not is it, it’s an enormous edifice, more then 1000 m2, loaded with history. Unesco loved it before I did by the way!
St. Peters Basilica (Vatican city)
The king of kings of churches.
Igreja do Carmo (Porto, Portugal)
This baroque Rococo church was built between 1756 and 1768. It is highly unusual as it leans against another church. So it’s kind of the twin churches. The azulejo tiles on the exterior are absolutely gorgeous!
The cathedral of St. Domnius (Split, Croatia)
I could tell you about the emperor Diocletian or tell you that the cathedral is composed of three different sections corresponding to various historic periods. But nothing of that matters when you arrive in Split by ferry and you see, from far, the outline of the town with the Romanesque bell tower standing proudly against the mountain backdrop you just understand why it is on this list.
Chapelle de Notre Dame du Haut (Ronchamp, France)
The captivating pilgrimage chapel has been designed by Le Corbusier. It’s build mostly of concrete and it’s lovely in a weird way.
Hallgrimskirkja (Reykjavik, Iceland)
I’m not sure if I would call the Lutheran parish church beautiful but it is fascinating, that’s for sure. When you’re standing here it all just makes sense again: Star Wars, Hákarl and the Björk swan dress.
Collegiata di San Gimignano (San Gimignano, Italy)
The church from the 12th century is very simple from the exterior. The interior though has some of the prettiest and most colorful and stunning Sienese school frescoes.
Chapelle de St-Gildas (Bieuzy-les-Eaux, France)
Doesn’t this chapel built into the base of rocky cliff look amazing? The legend says Saint Gildas and Saint Bieuzy once lived in the natural cave at the base of the rock where the chapel stands these days.
Église Saint-Jean-Baptiste (Saint-Jean-de-Luz, France)
The town and the church both are very nice except in july and august, seriously way too many tourists! Louis XIV and Marie-Thérèse of Spain got married in that church in june 1660. The oldest parts of the church date from de 14th or 15th century but it has been destroyed by fires so many times that most parts of the church as we know it now have been built in the 17th century.
Church of Arbore (Arbore, Romenia)
The tiny church of Arbore, dedicated to St John the Baptist, is a Moldavian church with beautifully painted exterior walls. It was probably built around 1503 and is part of the monastery of Arbore. It is on the UNESCO World heritage list. There are more churches in that region with such beautiful exterior frescoes, amongst others the church of the Sucevita monastery.
Church of Panagia Paraportiani (Mykonos, Greece)
There are around 400 churches on Mykonos so why this one? Well for starters it’s completely asymmetrically weird. Panagia Paraportiani is actually a group of five churches tied together, which explains the different architectural styles and strange shape.
Roskilde cathedral (Roskilde, Denmark)
The Danish monarchs have been buried in this stunning Gothic cathedral, built out of bricks, since the 15th century so it has been extended over the centuries. A building with a soul..or more..
Sedlec ossuary (Kutna Hora, Czech Republic)
Creepy chapel with bones everywhere. More then 50 000 skeletons have been used in the Sedlec ossuary for the decoration of the chapel. The enormous chandelier that hangs from the centre of the nave is impressive and will give you chill bumps for sure!
Cathedral of Saint Basil (Moscow, Russia)
Russian Orthodox churches are often attractive because of the round forms and vivid colors. The Saint Basil, for me, is kind of the greatest of them all. It takes my breath away and it’s one of the most photogenic as well. Don’t feel like making the trip up to Moscow? Check the Russian church of Nice out in France, admitted it’s by far not as impressive but it’s really pretty anyway!
Church of Notre-Dame de Pitié (Saignon, France)
The reason I ever started this list!
St. John of Nepomuk (Zelena Hora, Czech Republic )
The pilgrimage Gothic Baroque church of St John of Nepomuk, listed by UNESCO, was built in the 18th century. The church was designed by the architect Jan Blažej Santini who incorporated the 5-pointed star symbol throughout the building because according to the legend, a crown of five stars appeared over the body of the drowned martyr.
Cathedral of Seville (Seville, Spain)
We couldn’t leave the biggest Gothic edifice in the world out of this list (and 3rd largest church), could we? It took around hundred years to build the cathedral, which when you stand in front of it, looks like impossible. It’s so large, so detailed, hundred years is just too short to build this!! Columbus is also buried here by the way.
Saint Kinga’s chapel (Wieliczka, Poland)
The underground chapel, 101 meters deep, has been carved out of the rock salt by the miners in the Wieliczka salt mines. There are more chapels in the mine but St. Kinga is the largest.
San Juan de Gaztelugatxe (Basque country, Spain)
A great hermitage dedicated to John the Baptist on a tiny Basque island. The boat above the altar is just great!
Notre dame cathedral (Paris, France)
When you stand at the foot of this powerful Gothic cathedral and look up, it’s as if it was leaning towards you in all it’s majestic grandeur.
Church of St. John at Kaneo (Ohrid, Macedonia)
They say they are 365 churches in Ohrid, one for every day of the year. I don’t know if that’s true but I do think there are a few of the most beautiful churches of the world in this relaxed little town on the edge of lake Ohrid. The tiny church of St. John at Kaneo is a Macedonian Orthodox church overlooking the lake. I hesitated between this church and the Church of St. Sophia which is very impressive and beautiful. It has superb frescoes and turtles walking around in the garden but the small church of St John at Kaneo had in my eyes a unique atmosphere and charm.
St Lydia church (Asprovalta, Greece)
I did not expect this when I entered the church but wow! The interior of this Byzantine church is simply breathtaking!
Cathedral of Cologne (Germany)
A grand Gothic church this is. There are some religious edifices that don’t need much words.
Notre dame des cycliste (Labastide-d’Armagnac, France)
Ok so maybe it’s not the prettiest church in the world but it’s cute and unique so I figured it deserved to be on some list somehow. This little church, built at the end of the 11th century, is situated in the middle of nowhere in the Landes in France. It is tiny and dedicated to cyclists, and filled with hundreds of tour de France jerseys.
The main church of the monastery of Rila (Rila, Bulgaria)
The main church of the monastery is called the church of the Nativity of the Virgin. It is a complex and interesting edifice and the whole setting, high in the mountains, makes it even more special.
Which church do you find the most beautiful in Europe?