Europe is home to numerous beautiful buildings designed in different styles, from the early medieval edifices to some very modern ones. I especially love the European churches because they were built in various historical styles. Still, you can also see numerous regional characteristics in them. To boost your wanderlust a bit, here are 2o most iconic churches in Europe.
Most iconic churches in Europe
1 – Sagrada Familia, Barcelona
Located in Barcelona, Sagrada Familia is one of the most famous buildings designed by Antoni Gaudi. The construction started in 1882, and the church is still unfinished today (the plans are to have the church finished after 2026). Despite that, Sagrada Familia has already been placed on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list.
The church is fascinating from both inside and outside. On its exterior, you’ll find statues that obviously inspired George Lucas for some of the characters in the Star Wars movies. Sagrada Familia is an incredible church without any apparent references in historical architecture. And absolutely one of the most iconic churches in Europe.
⤷ Read more: Why is Sagrada Familia not finished yet?
2 – Notre Dame, Paris
Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris is, without any doubt, one of the most famous medieval churches in Europe. This church dedicated to the Virgin Mary was built in the French Gothic style. You can recognise it very well by its flying buttresses, rose windows and numerous statues on its western facade. Its construction started in the 12th century and lasted for more than two hundred years.
In 2019 the cathedral’s roof was caught by a massive fire. The church has been under renovation and closed to the public ever since.
⤷ Read more: Beginners’ art and culture guide to Paris
3 – Aachen Cathedral
One of the oldest European cathedrals is located in the German town of Aachen. It’s quite unique because it shows elements of Carolingian, Romanesque and Gothic styles. Aachen Cathedral was a coronation place for German kings and queens. And it’s a place where one of the most famous European emperors, Charlemagne, was buried in 814.
It’s a must-see place for anyone interested in medieval architecture and absolutely one of the most iconic churches in Europe.
4 – Saint Charles Church, Vienna
Saint Charles Church in Vienna, also known as Karlskirche, is one of the most famous Baroque churches in Europe. It was designed by the well-known architect Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach during the 18th century. The church was built because of the vow Emperor Charles VI took during the plague epidemic.
It’s dedicated to Saint Charles Borromeo, the Habsburg family’s patron and the saint protecting people from the plague. Nowadays, the church hosts regular Vivaldi concerts because he was buried close by in a grave that’s lost today.
⤷ Read more: Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna Collection
5 – Saint Peter’s Basilica, Rome
Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome isn’t only one of the most iconic churches in Europe but also one of the most famous churches in the world. Rebuilt many times in history, it’s home to numerous masterpieces created by some of the most famous artists. Michelangelo’s dome, Maderno’s facade and nave, and Bernini’s Baldacchino are among the best known.
Today’s church was built in the Renaissance and Baroque styles during the 16th and 17th centuries.
⤷ Read more: What to see in Vatican City
6 – Berlin Cathedral
Berlin Cathedral is the largest Protestant church in Germany. Although it seems much older, the church was built between 1894 and 1905. It was designed in the Renaissance and Baroque Revival styles by father and son architects Julius and Otto Raschdorff.
The church was heavily damaged during the Allied bombing in World War Two. Although restored after that, there are still discussions about the parts needing to be reconstructed and repaired.
7 – Šibenik Cathedral
The Šibenik Cathedral dedicated to Saint James is one of the most beautiful churches in Europe. Its construction started in 1402. Designed in the Renaissance style, the cathedral was made entirely of stone.
It’s exceptional because of the 74 stone heads – portraits of residents of Šibenik located on the outer walls of the cathedral. And a unique construction technique in which its dome was built.
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8 – Cologne Cathedral
Cologne Cathedral is one of the most famous Gothic churches in Europe and Germany’s most visited cultural site. It used to be the tallest church in the world (before the Ulm Minster surpassed it). However, it still has the largest church facade in the world.
Its construction took a long time to be finished; it started in 1248 and was only done in 1880.
9 – Munich Cathedral
Munich Cathedral, also known as Frauenkirche, is a monumental church built in the Gothic style. The building is quite unique among the European Gothic cathedrals because it was made of bricks. Contrary to the Cologne Cathedral, its construction was extremely quick, and it only took twenty years to be completed (1468 – 1488).
The legend says the architect Jörg von Halsbach had the devil’s help in that quest. The proof of that is the devil’s footmark you can see inside the cathedral.
⤷ Read more: 10 Must-visit art and culture sites in Munich
10 – Florence Cathedral
One of the most iconic churches in Europe is located in Florence. The Santa Maria del Fiore or Florence Cathedral was built in combination of Gothic and Renaissance styles. It’s world-famous today for its dome, designed by the famous architect Filippo Brunelleschi, finished in 1436. The dome is still the largest brick dome in the world.
⤷ Read more: 10 Cultural spots to visit in Florence
11 – Milan Cathedral
Milan Cathedral is one of the most fascinating Gothic buildings in Europe and the largest church in Italy. Its construction started in 1386 and it was only finished in 1965.
One of the best ways to enjoy that beautiful church is from its roof. Visitors can walk around it, explore its decoration from up close and enjoy the view from this massive Italian cathedral.
12 – Saint Mark Church, Zagreb
Saint Mark Church is one of the oldest buildings located in the Croatian capital of Zagreb. The church was built during the Middle Ages and rebuilt a few times later. It’s home to some fascinating wooden statues on its south portal.
However, the church is most well-known for its glazed tiles roof made in the 19th century. They represent the coats of arms of Zagreb (the white tower on the red background) and the Kingdom of Croatia, Slavonia and Dalmatia.
⤷ Read more: Summer in Zagreb
13 – Westminster Abbey, London
Westminster Abbey is one of the most famous churches in London, located next to the Palace of Westminster and the House of Parliament. Built in the Gothic style, the church is where royal weddings and burials occur.
However, not only monarchs were buried inside of it. Around 3300 people important to British culture, politics and history are buried at Westminster Abbey, as well.
14 – Sacré-Cœur, Paris
The Basilica of the Sacred Heart is located in the Montmartre neighbourhood in Paris. It was designed by the architect Paul Abadie and finished in 1914. The church was financed entirely from private donations. It isn’t only a religious object today, but it also has strong political connotations.
If you’d like to enjoy one of the best views of Paris, be sure to climb the hill on which it’s located and enjoy the view from the stairs in front of the church.
15 – Saint Mark’s Basilica, Venice
Attached to the Doge’s Palace, the Saint Mark’s Basilica used to be the Ducal Chapel before it became a cathedral in 1807. The church’s design shows strong Byzantine and Islamic influences.
A lot of its decor was stollen from the buildings in Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade, for example, the Quadriga from the Hippodrome or the Four Tetrarchs statue.
16 – Saint Paul Cathedral, London
The Saint Paul Cathedral is one of the most impressive churches designed in the English Baroque style. It was built in the late 17th century by architect Cristopher Wren.
The church was heavily damaged during the Second World War. And in two suffragette bombing attacks in 1913 and 1914.
⤷ Read more: The best museums in London
17 – Saint-Chapelle, Paris
Saint-Chapelle is the royal chapel which was a part of the French kings’ palace located in the centre of Paris. Built in the mid-13th century, this church is considered the masterpiece of the Rayonnant period of Gothic style. It used to be home to the relic of Christ’s Crown of Thorns before it was relocated to the nearby Notre Dame Cathedral.
Its architecture was inspired by the Aachen Cathedral (you can see in this article on number three) and is quite unique as a sacral building designed to have two floors.
⤷ Read more: The best museums in Paris
18 – Saint Vitus Cathedral, Prague
Saint Vitus cathedral is one of the finest examples of Gothic architecture, the largest church in the Czech Republic and a place where many Bohemian kings and Holy Roman Emperors were buried. In the mid-14th century, the cathedral’s master builder became Peter Parler, one of the most famous Gothic architects.
He and his family members, who were stonemasons, had a significant impact on the development of the Gothic style in central Europe. Besides designing other Czech medieval buildings, they also worked on Saint Mark’s Church in Zagreb (in this article on number twelve).
19 – Dubrovnik Cathedral
Dubrovnik Cathedral was built at the beginning of the 18th century after the previous building was heavily damaged in a strong earthquake that hit that town in 1667. It’s a classical building today built in the Baroque style.
Titian’s ‘Ascension of Mary’ is one of its most famous paintings, created around 1550.
⤷ Read more: Weekend guide – Two days in Dubrovnik
20 – Saint Stephen Cathedral, Vienna
Saint Stephen Cathedral, located in the Austrian capital of Vienna, was built in the Romanesque and Gothic styles. The church is famous for its roof today, depicting the Habsburg’s eagles on one side and the coat of arms of Vienna and Austria on another.
In its interior, the Saint Stephen Cathedral is home to numerous fascinating artefacts, making it one of Vienna’s cultural highlights.
Being the birthplace of many architectural styles in history, it’s no wonder Europe is home to numerous fascinating buildings. This list of the twenty most iconic churches in Europe is here to spark your wanderlust and help you decide where to travel next.
Cover photo by Ali Nuredini on Unsplash