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TOP 16 MOST SPECTACULAR CATHEDRALS IN THE WORLD

I have made over 200 blog posts here and it’s been a wonderful “Knycx journey”, recording my footsteps traveling around the world. Although I may have some serious backlog I am trying my best to get there. I hope that readers would find the information useful in some ways and do feel free to leave comments to me for any feedback or questions.

So…I wonder what should I be sharing this time, and I think it would be great to celebrate it with a compilation of the Cathedrals in Europe ~ 🙂 It is a list of my choices of the most “memorable” cathedrals in Europe. They are at the top of the list based on their look, their scale, or their uniqueness. It was quite difficult for me to narrow it down and pick them from thousands of cathedrals across Europe so maybe you have other recommendations. I am looking forward to hearing about your experience!

#16 Berliner Dom

Berlin, Germany

Highlight: The largest and most important Protestant church in Berlin

Berliner Dom is the largest cathedral in Berlin – it is the Evangelical Supreme Parish and Collegiate Church and it is a striking architecture that stood on the UNESCO heritage-listed Museum Island. Interestingly, Berliner Dom has never actually been a church because it has never been the seat of a bishop. The establishment of the “dom” dates back to the 14th century when Frederick II Irontooth of Brandenburg moved to the island and decided to elevate the chapel to a parish church. However, the colossal building that we see today was built between 1895 and 1905 (yes, this church was considered a Protestant counterweight to St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City), with the order by Emporer William II, in neo-renaissance style. This is a fine example of Prussian Historicist architecture. It was devastated during World War II and closed during the GDR times. The restoration work only began to take place in 1975, and re-opened to the public in 1993, with a lot of decorations simplified.

I put this on the list because of its significance and representation of  Berlin in Germany these days. While it’s been badly destroyed, the interior has an opulent manifest, filled with marble columns and gilded ornaments. Another must-see inside the Dom is the pipe organ, built by Wilhelm Sauer, and has more than 7,000 pipes.

#15 York Minster

York, United Kingdom

Highlight: “Look back” to the largest expanse of medieval stained glass in the world

York is one of the most visited towns in England as it screams “England” to the utmost. The well-preserved medieval galore in this city has attracted waves of visitors to feel the Harry Potter vibe as if everyone has traveled back in time to the 14th century. The magnificent York Minster is the focal point of York’s old town, and it is the second-highest office of the Church of England. Although it may look too much alike with any typical Gothic-style cathedral in the rest of Europe, the West Window and the Great East Window, finished in 1338 and 1408 respectively, are the largest expanse of medieval stained glass in the world! So, don’t forget to “look back” when you enter the Cathedral from the front door and that’s how I was amazed by the delicacy and refinement of an art piece that was preserved so for over 670 years.

For the photos and more places to see in York, check out The Best Things to Do in York… in English Style.

The other side of the York MinsterThe York Minster

#14 Tuomiokirkko

Helsinki, Finland

Highlight: The unique presence of a Lutheran Cathedral and appreciation of “simplicity”

The Helsinki Cathedral (or Tuomiokirkko) was originally called the Nicholas’ Church (from Tsar Nicholas) until the independence of Finland in 1917. It is also the most photographed building in Finland, as it uniquely stands in the heart of the city overlooking the majestic Senate Square.

True, the interior of the cathedral is not as “mind-blowing or jaw-dropping” as many other Roman churches but the brightening white exterior and green domes are one-of-a-kinds. The unique design makes it memorable. The church was built in the 1800s and I appreciate the simplicity of its Neo-classical style as the image of this church kind of stuck in my head ever since I saw a picture of it dominating the city’s skyline.

Having said that, there are some Russian orthodox-style churches in the city that are beautiful, yet the Helsinki Cathedral is still the center of attention.

I would also like to take a moment and talk about the Temppeliaukio Church (Rock Church), which is another Lutheran church in Helsinki that was built directly into the solid rock. How cool is that? It has a copper dome and a pipe organ, making it another must-see in Helsinki!

For the photos and more places to see in Helsinki, check out How to Spend 4 Days Experiencing the Best of Helsinki’s Winter.

Inside Helsinki CathedralOutside "Rock Church" Helsinki Cathedral in the snow ~ :)

#13 St. Stephen’s Cathedral

Vienna, Austria

Highlight: The impressive artsy mosaic-tiled rooftop unlike anywhere else

The foundation of St. Stephen’s Cathedral dates back to the 12th century and it is the symbol of Austria’s capital, Vienna. Thirteen bells were hung in the cathedral, but the largest bell Pummerin is the second-largest free-swinging chimed church bell in Europe.

One of the most impressive features of the cathedral is definitely the artistic mosaic-tiled roof, 38-meter above ground, covered by over 230,000 pieces of glazed tiles. While it’s not the only church in the world (but only a few) that features an image or pattern (other examples are St. Mark Church‘s roof in Zagreb, Croatia, and Matthias Church in Budapest, Hungary), St Stephen’s Cathedral is definitely the most memorable and unique. The north side of the roof features two eagles (one represents the City of Vienna and the other for the Republic of Austria). The south side of the roof features an image of a double-headed eagle (it was a symbol of the Austrian empire when it was ruled by the Habsburgs).

While the roof is eye-catchy and impressive, the cathedral also a hidden message carved into a front door’s stone: O and 5. O5 which is interpreted as an abbreviation for Österreich (Austria), is a sign of resistance during WWII against the Nazis.

Today, the cathedral is also a performance venue for classical music concerts and the perfect location to enjoy a perfect city view of the city.

#12 St. Vitus Cathedral

Prague, Czech Republic

Highlight: The largest cathedral in Prague took 600 years to complete

St. Vitus Cathedral is the largest and the most important temple in Prague. Situated entirely within the majestic Prague Castle, this cathedral was built on top of a much smaller Romanesque church and it’s also the venue for numerous religious services, coronations of Czech kings and queens, and the burial place of many patron saints, sovereigns, noblemen, and archbishops. Charles IV, one of the most notable Czech kings, was also buried here.

The cathedral is literally the first landmark you will see entering Prague Castle. While you would think there is a church in Spain that takes forever to build – it is yet to be the world’s champion because St Vitus Cathedral took over 600 years to truly complete! The construction began as early as 1344 when the seat of Prague was elevated to an archbishopric. Then, because of the Hussite Wars (1419) and multiple fires, the development suffered from a series of setbacks. The cathedral was left unfinished for centuries and eventually finished in the year of 1929. While it stood unfinished, it still functioned as a place of worship, and a number of imperial events took place there.

The cathedral is filled with beautiful stain glass windows, the most notable one is done by Alfons Mucha. Don’t forget to see the sculptures and compartments behind the altar of the cathedral, and pay respect to St. Wenceslas Tomb in the St. Wenceslas Chapel.

To find out more about how to cover Prague’s Old Town on foot, check out Your Free City Walking Guide in Prague’s Old Town for Bohemian Rhapsody.

#11 St. Mark’s Basilica

Venice, Italy

Highlight: The flooding, the sinking… and ooh the pigeons, save Venice!

Of course, the St Mark’s Basilica (or Basilica San Marco) has the sculptures, the frescos, the mosaic, and the treasures that many cathedrals have, but I am not sure if there’s any other cathedral in the world that has an uneven marble floor. The rise and fall of the mosaic were actually caused by flooding (which has been a constant struggle of Venice), but somehow it gave the pattern a nice effect and created ripples that look like waves in the ocean.

Piazza San Marco, in front of the Basilica di San Marco (btw, one of my fav cathedrals in the world)

It was the first time I traveled alone, and this was the first spot, the first SELFIE.

St. Mark’s Basilica was built in the 9th century (then burnt down and restored a couple of times) and it’s a fine example of Italo-Byzantine architecture – because both Byzantine and Italian architectures and craftsmen were employed in the construction and decoration. In some sense, the cathedral does look like a mosque (if you have seen the Blue Mosque in Instanbul, you will notice the resemblance). The interesting mix of design and its location at the “finest drawing room in Europe” definitely makes everyone give it a “WOW”.

For the photos and more places to see in Venice, check out Run! Run! Venice: How to Conquer the Floating City in One Day!

#10 Kölner Dom

Cologne, Germany

Highlight: The largest façade of any church in the world and how to take a picture of it bending backward

Welcome to one of the world’s largest cathedrals – the mighty Cologne Cathedral (Or Kölner Dom), a Classic Roman Catholic Church dating back to the mid-13th century. It is definitely the most eye-catching landmark in Cologne and basically the first thing people would see as it is right next to the Cologne train station. The construction of the façade of the cathedral began in the mid-14th century and then it was halted in 1473, the cathedral’s south tower was left undone with construction cranes that remained on top for 400 years! The construction resumed in 1842 and finally completed in 1880.

The Cathedral was once the tallest skyscraper in the world for 4 years until the Washington Monument was erected and beat it by 4 meters. But still, the cathedral remained the tallest Gothic building in the world with the largest façade of a church. Therefore, “be warned”, taking a picture of the entire façade of the Cathedral could be a challenge without a lens wide enough.

For the photos and more places to see in both Düsseldorf and Cologne, check out A Blogger’s Guide of Things to See & Do in Düsseldorf and Cologne.

#9 Hallgrímskirkja

Reykjavík, Iceland

Highlight: The unique design that resembles basalt lava flows, not a space shuttle (as much as how extraterrestrial Iceland looks)

Another iconic Lutheran Cathedral (while the Helsinki Cathedral is the other one) in North Europe. Of all the classic extravagant churches that were built all over Europe, these churches managed to stand out from the “norm” with their futuristic and simplistic design, standing like a space shuttle in the city center of Rekjavik. Yeah, some say the cathedral looks like a space shuttle but in fact, the design resembles the basalt lava flows of Iceland’s extraterrestrial landscape. The tallest building in Iceland was located on a hill and could be seen almost anywhere in the capital of the country.

My experience of visiting the northernmost capital in the world was simply incredible, and I enjoyed a panoramic view of Reykjavík at the top of the bell tower with colorful rooftops, glaciers, the Atlantic Ocean, and beyond…

For the photos and more places to see in Venice, check out Exploring Reykjavik: Itinerary from the Capital to Southwest.

Panoramic view of Reykjavík at the top of the cathedral – can you also spot Harpa, the concert hall that’s one of the most impressive modern architecture in Europe?

#8 Duomo di Milano

Milan, Italy

Highlight: The cathedral with the most number of statues

The facade of the Duomo di Milano is for sure the most photographed and you won’t be mistaken with Milan to anywhere else. It is the fifth-largest Christian Church in the world, covering a surface of 109,641 square feet (the size of an entire city block). I think this is one of the few cathedrals in Europe that has a really high density of sculptures inside and out. Walk around the building from the outside, I was told there are more statues than any other building in the world (with a total of 3,400 statues, 135 gargoyles, and 700 figures). Like the St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague, the Duomo’s construction officially started in 1386 under the order of Bishop Antonio da Saluzzo. It took thousands of workers and 78 architects until the year 1418, the consecration put the project on halt due to lots of political and financial difficulties. The construction kept on for another 200 years, and the facade was only completed by Napoleon in the early 19th century.

Like many other cathedrals, visitors can climb to the top and enjoy a glorious view of the city and beyond. In Milan, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is on the right of the cathedral with a beautiful glass ceiling, and you will be able to see the snow-capped peaks of the Alps.

#7 Westminster Abbey

London, United Kingdom

Highlight: A connection with the royal family means everything

Westminster Abbey was anything anyone could talk about. Located in the heart of Westminster in London next to the Parliament, Big Ben, and all iconic structures, Westminster Abbey has been there since 1000 years ago where countless monumental events were held at the Abbey. Since 1560, the building was no longer an abbey nor a cathedral, but a Church of England “Royal Peculiar” – which means instead of the diocese the building was subject to the direct jurisdiction of the monarch. From the coronations of kings and queens (with a few exceptions), royal weddings, funerals to burials, they were all taken place in the Westminster Abbey. Therefore it has a supreme status and close ties with the Royal families. On “usual” days, though, civilians like me could still enter the building for the daily service to worship, or a guided tour to marvel.

By the way, the Westminster Cathedral, which you might get mix up with, is a completely different building that looks completely different from the abbey! In case you want to know what it looks like – check out London in a nutshell and you might find a picture of it.

#6 Santa Maria Del Fiore

Florence, Italy

Highlight: The largest cathedral dome in the world painted with world-class fresco

Standing at the Michelangelo Square, there’s the view of the city of Florence with a striking and eye-catching dome that dominates the skyline. The Giant dome of Santa Maria Del Fiore is the largest cathedral dome, and the largest brick and mortar one, in the world. How it was built remained a mystery as the architect Filippo Brunelleschi left no sketch or evidence about the know-how of constructing such a massive structure with only bricks and mortar 600 hundred years ago.

Not only the dome has incredible “hardware”, but also incredible “software” as it was painted by the architect’s student with the fresco of “Last Judgment”.

Besides, the polychrome marble panels in various shades of green and pink were marvelous. Not only that, the breathtaking experience of climbing up 463 stairs to the top of the dome for a gorgeous panoramic view of the city. I could take a really close look at the fresco on the way up there. Florence – Cathedrals, churches, mansions, and palaces… it takes days to look at them all! Check out The Birthplace of Renaissance.

Honorary Mentions

Okay, before heading to the top 5 of my picks, let’s list out some of the honorary mentions: Bourges Cathedral and Chartres Cathedral in France, Saint Paul’s Cathedral in London, Salisbury Cathedral, and Durham Cathedral (oh of course!) in England, St. Isaac’s Cathedral in Saint Petersburg, Porto Cathedral (and Tram #28), Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula in Brussels, Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow, and Matthias Church in Budapest… the list goes on…

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For the full list, check out TOP 16 MOST SPECTACULAR CATHEDRALS IN THE WORLD

Knycx Journeying

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Travel Blogger covers 6 continents and over 50 countries.

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