Top 12 Cathedrals in Europe

by KNYCX Journeying
December 9, 2021 | 16 min read

Top 12 Cathedrals in Europe

It’s my 100th blog post and it’s excited that I have been recording my footsteps traveling around the world for 23 months. 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 be my 100th post; and I think it would be great to celebrate it with a compilation of the Cathedrals in Europe ~ 🙂 So it’s a list of my choices of the most “memorable” cathedrals in Europe – They are the top of the list based on its look, its scale or its uniqueness. It was quite hard for me to pick them so maybe it’s not the same for you. I am looking forward to hearing about your experience as well!

It’s my 100th blog post (and part 2 is technically the 101st) and it’s a celebration of a compilation Cathedrals in Europe! 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. Here are the #6-#1 of my choices of the most “memorable” cathedrals in Europe – They are the top of the list based on its look, its scale, or its uniqueness. It was quite hard for me to pick them so maybe it’s not the same for you. I am looking forward to hearing about your experience as well!

#1 Sagrada Família, Barcelona, Spain

Highlight: If you have passion, you get inspired.


Antoni Gaudi’s organic and unique style in architecture has influenced the world profoundly and I admire his work so much for a long time. “Organic” is such a great, and truthful word to describe Gaudi’s work. He regarded a building as a human body covered with skin, the structure itself was flesh and bones, so it’s curvy, and it has an element of randomness to the way he created art. Antoni Gaudi has countless masterpieces left behind and his final unfinished project, the Sagrada Familia, alone is already a lot to talk about.


It’s been under construction for 135 years and probably would take 20 more years to build. His organic interpretation of nature and how he applied it to his architectural work just amazed me profoundly. I am the MOST passionate (& fascinated :P) about the 2 façades – the Nativity Façade and the Passion Façade. One of them is complicated, classic and busy. The opposite one is clean, simple, modern… The Nativity Façade depicts the birth of Jesus Christ, sculptures (plants and animals and saints) organically ornate the façade without an inch of blank space. The Passion Façade represents the Passion of Christ. The entire storyline is vividly laid out one by one on the façade with modern giant sculptures.

The 2 façades face Northeast and Southwest, forward and backward, covered and bare, hard and soft, organic and passionate, life and death…

Check out the 4 Gaudi’s amazing works in Barcelona and more photos at The Gaudi’s Muse.

Must-see list of La Sagrada Familia:

  1. Passion Facade:
    Among the Fachada de la Pasion’s stand-out features are the angled columns, dramatic scenes from Jesus last hours, an extraordinary rendering of the Last Supper, and a bronze door that reads like a sculptured book. But the most surprising view is from inside the door on the extreme right.
  2. Main Nave
    The majestic Nave Principal showcases Gaudi’s use of tree motifs for columns to support the domes: he described this space as a forest. But it’s the skylights that give the nave its luminous quality, even more so once the scaffolding is removed and light will flood down onto the apse and main altar from the skylight 75m above the floor.
  3. Side Nave and Nativity Transept
    Although beautiful in its own right with windows that project light into the interior, this is the perfect place to view the sculpted tree-like columns and get an overall perspective of the main nave. Turn around and you’re confronted with the inside of the Nativity Facade, an alternative view that most visitors miss: the stained-glass windows are superb.
  4. Nativity Facade
    The Fachada del Nacimiento is Gaudi’s grand hymn to Creation. Begin by viewing it front-on from a distance, then draw close enough (but to one side) to make out the details of its sculpted figures. The complement to the finely wrought details is the majesty of the four parabolic towers that for the sky and are topped by the Venetian stained glasses.
  5. The Model of Colonia Guell
    among the many original models used by Gaudi in the Museu Gaudi, the most interesting is the church at Colonia Guell. From the side you can, thanks to the model’s ingenious use of rope and cloth, visualize the harmony and beauty of the interior.

#2 Saint’s Peter’s Cathedral, Vatican, Italy

Highlight: The LARGEST church in the world. Period.


If you agree that size doesn’t mean everything then I am about to conflict everything I just said. I have never seen anything that’s quite big (Of course, Saint Peter’s Basilica is the largest cathedral in the world, and it’s 4 times larger than the second-largest cathedral in the world in terms of volume) and trust me: it was impressive, jaw-dropping, wowing. I had to gasp in awe as I enter because it was just so… huge. Every corner there is a sculpture, and every corner there is an art. My heading was spinning at all angles I was worried that I broke my neck. Of course, there were thousands of artworks worth admirations, and I would probably go back to Rome to appreciate them one by one.

Talking about sending a postcard back home and the Vatican and throwing a coin into the Trevi Fountain over the shoulder…

About my trip to Rome in 24 hours – Check out Run! Run! Roma!


#3 Saint Basil’s Cathedral, Moscow, Russia

Highlight: Amazing thing comes in a small package


Another Cathedral that was converted into a museum yet its religious flavor didn’t quite fade away. The Red Square in Moscow was intense to me – simply because as grand as the square already is, every side and every corner of it stands an important Russian building or monument that was insane. Among these buildings, the Saint Basil’s Cathedral managed to be the most eye-catching and recognizable of all. I am not sure if it was the Kremlin or GUM that looked so massive, or it really was true; my first impression of the Saint Basil’s Cathedral was kind of …. tiny. Once I got into the museum it didn’t has a grand hall that most cathedrals had and instead, there were passages that connected us to different rooms of different churches (the churches actually consisted of seven churches around the central core.) Anyway, the small size was made up of amazing frescos and valuable artifacts on display. The museum has 2 floors – the ground floor is a foundation of the building and the churches are on the second floor.

Interesting, the layout of the cathedral was in perfect symmetry – a core in the center, four middle-sized churches built on the four compass points, and other smaller churches diagonally placed between the middle-sized churches. With multiple colors, size, and careful placements, the architectural wonder looks great and different from any angles and distance.

See the photos of Red Square and get more traveling tips of visiting Moscow, check out We are Here! Moscow! and Moscow! Onion Domes!

#4 Notre Dame, Paris, France

Highlight: Paris would always have a place in my heart  


Of all the beautiful Gothic cathedrals in Europe, the Notre Dame is a classic and of its genre. Standing in the historic center of the city, Île de la Cité, the cathedral is a symbol of Paris’s culture and history. Notre Dame de Paris was built in the 1240s and every part of the structure was art. The north rose window, the flying buttresses, the gargoyle statue, the tympanum of the last judgment, and the altar… it would take days to appreciate them one by one.

I always stayed in the area every time I visited Paris and sometimes I could see the beautiful cathedral from the window. Hop on a Seine River Cruise to view the architecture from the water, or go in and climb the stairs to view the city from the tower. Either way, they just make my love of Paris grew more and more.


The Île de la Cité has a lot of historic attractions and I would also like to recommend the La Sainte-Chapelle, simply because the royal chapel looks completely ordinary from the outside but it has the most extensive 13th-century stained glass collection anywhere in the world. Once I got in I was just “surprised”.


#5 Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

Highlight: The building withstood 1400 years of chaos and it remained powerful and strong. Embrace changes and persevere!


The Byzantine-style building has undergone quite a few transformations over the last 1400 years. Originally an Orthodox church, it then became a Roman Catholic church. Later it was again converted to a mosque, and finally, it was secularized and converted into a museum. Although it’s not a place of worship anymore, I could feel the sense of sanctuary washed over me as I entered the museum and I could see traces of both Christian and Muslim religion here and there. In a city like Istanbul, the only transcontinental metropolis that straddles the Bosphorus Strait between Europe and Asia, it’s also a symbol of the mix of oriental and western culture. It is simply unique. We arrived at the museum early in the morning before it opened and immediately it was swarmed with tourists from all over the world.

Learn more about must-visit places in Istanbul, check out Europe to the Left, Asia to the Right

#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 an 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. More! – 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

#7 Westminster Abbey, London, United Kingdom

Takeaway: A connection with the royal family means everything


The 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.

Btw, the Westminster Cathedral is a completely different building that looks completely different from the abbey! – check out London in a nutshell and you might find a picture of it 😛

#8 Hallgrímskirkja, Reykjavík, Iceland

Takeaway: 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 its futuristic and simplistic design. 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, Atlantic Ocean and beyond…

Panoramic view of Reykjavík

#9 Kölner Dom, Cologne, Germany

Takeaway: 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 of the city 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 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 as 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.

For the photos and more places to see in Venice, check out A Day in Düsseldorf and Cologne

#10 St. Mark’s Basilica, Venice, Italy

Takeaway: 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 has the 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.

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. 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!

#11 Tuomiokirkko, Helsinki, Finland

Takeaway: 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 beautiful Senate Square.

True, the interior 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 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.

There are some Russian orthodox style churches in the city that are magnificent as well but the Helsinki Cathedral is still the center of attention.

Temppeliaukio Church (Rock church) – a popular attraction in Helsinki

I would also like to mention the Temppeliaukio Church (Rock church), another Lutheran church in Helsinki that was built directly into the solid rock. Its copper dome and pipe organ also make it a unique church in the world!

For the photos and more places to see in Helsinki, check out 2-day Winter Itinerary in Helsinki!

#12 York Minster, York, United Kingdom

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


York is one of the most visited towns in the UK 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. As a focal point of York’s old town, the magnificent York Minster the second-highest office of the Church of England. Although it may look too much alike with any 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” as you enter the Cathedral and I was amazed by the delicacy and refinement of an art piece that was preserved for over 670 years.

For the photos and more places to see in York, check out York – Time for Tea

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Any thoughts, tips or questions?

Hey! I am Kenny. Since I was a kid, I was bitten by a travel bug quite seriously that I would choose a globe and atlas book for Christmas over video games. Now, the Knycx Journeying website was launched as a platform to share my passion - covering anything that interests me from history, culture, humanity, architecture, art, food, music to outdoor adventure.

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