Europe is home to an array of cultural history and breathtaking architecture, most of which is captured through the continent’s vast collection of places of worship. That’s why today, we’ve rounded up 3 that we consider being absolute must-sees, covering world-renowned buildings across some of Europe’s most famous cities.
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1. St Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City
Located inside the walls of the world’s smallest nation, Vatican City, St Peter’s Basilica is undoubtedly one of civilization’s greatest feats of architecture and art. Now a major attraction drawing 10 million visitors a year, this stunning structure overlooks St Peter’s Square and boasts an opulent combination of historic art, marble columns and an iconic mosaic-lined dome designed by Michelangelo (which you can climb to the top of, should you dare to take on the 491 steps along the way!).
Although this is such a popular spot among tourists, there is still a strict dress code enforced that you should be aware of before visiting. You must wear long trousers (meaning no shorts, regardless of how hot that Italian sun is), with women permitted to wear skirts longer than knee length. Shoulders must also be covered by all genders at all times.
St Peter’s Basilica is open daily from 7am-7pm in April to September and 7am-6pm from October to March. Entry is free (although there are admission fees for ticketed sections, such as St Peter’s Treasury and St Peter’s Dome), however, be aware that the queues can be long, due to the airport-style scanners and security you have to pass through first.
2. Sultan Ahmed Mosque (The Blue Mosque), Istanbul
Located in Turkey’s transcontinental city, Istanbul, the Sultan Ahmed Mosque is commonly referred to as The Blue Mosque because of its unique blue interior. Built by the Ottoman sultan Ahmed I between 1609 and 1616, this impressive structure acts as both a major tourist attraction and an active place of worship, meaning the mosque is closed to non-worshipers during the five daily prayers
There is a strict dress code that all visitors must adhere to before entering the mosque. Firstly, shoes must be removed and placed in the clear plastic bag provided by the mosque free of charge – you then have the option to leave your shoes in a cubby hole or carry the bag with you. When it comes to your clothing, men should opt for loose clothes and ensure their legs are covered, avoiding items such as vests and shorts. Women should also wear loose-fitting clothing while ensuring their arms, legs, and hair are covered at all points. This means that women are expected to wear a headscarf when inside and, as this may be a new concept for many non-Muslim Western visitors, we recommend learning how to correctly wear this modest clothing essential before you travel.
Entry is free (although a small donation to contribute to the general upkeep of the building is encouraged upon exit) and, once inside, photography with flash is permitted, meaning you’re free to take plenty of snaps of the mosque’s impressive interior. Naturally, it goes without saying, that as the Sultan Ahmed Mosque is still an active place of worship, be sure to remain quiet and respectful of both the building and any worshipers during your visit.
3. La Sagrada Familia Basilica, Barcelona
La Sagrada Familia Basilica has become an iconic Spanish landmark, despite the fact the building is still under construction – although work started in 1882, it’s currently not expected to be completed until 2026! Nonetheless, this semi-complete Roman Catholic church is already an architectural masterpiece, making it an indisputable must-see attraction for visitors from across the globe.
Open to churchgoers and visitors since the 19th century, La Sagrada Familia Basilica receives 4.5 million visitors every year and now operates a ticketed entry system as a result. These tickets work on fixed entry times as a means of reducing overcrowding, however, once you’re inside you’re free to spend as long as you’d like admiring the impressive interior. We recommend allowing at least 2 hours to properly take in this architectural wonder. For visitors looking to attend a church service, mass is held at 9 am every Sunday and 8 pm every Saturday, lasting 1 hour and being conducted in several languages.
La Sagrada Familia Basilica officially implements the standard dress code for Roman Catholic churches, however, this doesn’t tend to be as strictly enforced as it is at the Sultan Ahmed Mosque or St Peter’s Basilica. This being said, it’s still our recommendation to follow this dress code whenever possible, meaning you should remove any headwear upon entry, wear appropriate upper body clothing that covers your shoulders, back, and midriff and wear legwear that covers below the thigh.
Europe is home to many beautiful places of worship that truly encapsulate the unrivaled power of architecture and religious inspiration. To see these spots first-hand, travel the continent by train and book with Save A Train to leave no stone upturned across Europe’s many sights and attractions.