18 Beautiful Cathedrals That Have Turned into Tourist Hotspots

Religious buildings worldwide often serve as architectural wonders and places for spiritual reflection. Yet many world-famous cathedrals have transcended their original purpose by becoming popular tourist destinations, attracting thousands of visitors every year. For better or worse, we explore 18 such cathedrals whose impressive beauty, cultural significance, and historical interest have turned them into tourist magnets!

Notre-Dame Cathedral (Paris, France)

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Perhaps the most famous church in the world, the 850-year-old Notre-Dame is renowned for its Gothic architecture, stained glass windows, and grotesque gargoyles. CNN reports that it “is one of the most famous symbols of Paris, attracting an estimated 13 million visitors and pilgrims yearly.” Despite the fire that almost destroyed it in 2019, it continues to attract people in droves.

St. Peter’s Basilica (Vatican City, Italy)

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Located in the heart of Vatican City, the Basilica is one of the most globally significant religious sites. Completed in 1615, it also has impressive, grandiose architecture and a rich history. Britannica reports that visitors come to admire the Latin dome (whose internal ceiling was painted by Michelangelo) and Bernini’s famous colonnade.

Sagrada Família (Barcelona, Spain)

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Antoni Gaudí’s masterpiece is an ongoing construction project combining Gothic and Art Nouveau elements to create what many call ‘a modern masterpiece’. Barcelona Tourist Guide states, “The Sagrada Família is the most visited tourist attraction in Barcelona, catering to over 3,000,000 visitors a year.”

Cologne Cathedral (Cologne, Germany)

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Although work began in 1248, this Gothic masterpiece wasn’t completed until 1880! Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is a stunning religious building with breathtaking views from its towers. Visitors flock to explore its interior, climb to the roof for panoramic vistas, and marvel at its seven-century-long construction!

St. Basil’s Cathedral (Moscow, Russia)

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Located in Moscow’s historically rich Red Square, St. Basil’s Cathedral boasts truly unique architecture of colorful domes and geometric shapes. Lonely Planet writes that the Orthodox Cathedral is an enduring symbol of Russia that many tourists deem an essential place to visit during their travels.

Westminster Abbey (London, United Kingdom)

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Historic UK explains that Westminster Abbey is not only a place of worship but also a historic site where British monarchs have been crowned and buried since it was first rebuilt from an old monastery in 1065. Tourists love the abbey’s long and colorful history and admire the impressively detailed Gothic architecture.

Chartres Cathedral (Chartres, France)

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Named for the French town in which it stands, Chartres Cathedral is 100 km southwest of Paris and was completed in 1260. It is most famous for its remarkable stained glass windows, but it also wows visitors with intricate sculptures, spiraling towers, and even a stunning labyrinth that is supposed to mimic a ‘walk towards Christ.’

Milan Cathedral (Milan, Italy)

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The cathedral’s official name is Duomo di Milano, and it is a magnificent example of Italian Gothic architecture. Milan Tickets says, “It is one of the largest cathedrals in Europe and gets hundreds of tourists every day.” Many come to admire its intricate details, ancient statues, and the breathtaking view from its rooftop.

Hagia Sophia (Istanbul, Turkey)

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Originally a cathedral built on the site of a 4th-century church, Hagia Sophia was turned into a mosque during the Ottoman invasion of Constantinople in 1453. In 1935, it became a museum of Byzantine architecture and exquisite mosaics. Tourists visit to learn of its long, fascinating history and admire its gentle dome and tall minarets.

St. Vitus Cathedral (Prague, Czech Republic)

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This Czech cathedral is located within the walls of Prague Castle and is another famous example of Gothic architecture. Visitors love to explore its stunning interiors, vaulted ceilings, and stained glass windows and climb the Great South Tower for fantastic, uninterrupted views of the surrounding landscape.

Duomo di Firenze (Florence, Italy)

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According to Italy Magazine, Florence’s cathedral features a beautiful dome designed by Filippo Brunelleschi. Tourists marvel at its architectural brilliance and climb the dome for panoramic views of Florence. At 153 m long, 90 m wide, and 90 m high, it is the third-largest church in the world.

St. John’s Co-Cathedral (Valletta, Malta)

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This Roman Catholic cathedral was built by the Order of St. John in 1578, and its intricately decorated interior is considered to be one of the finest examples of Baroque architecture in the world. Visitors come to see its ornate design and the famous Caravaggio paintings displayed inside.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral (New York City, USA)

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The first American church on the list is St. Patrick’s in Manhattan—an iconic example of Neo-Gothic architecture. Its central location makes it a popular spot for tourists, who come to appreciate its opulent interiors and intricate, vaulted facade. It also has ongoing religious significance, being the seat of the Archbishop of New York.

La Catedral de Sevilla (Seville, Spain)

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As the largest Gothic cathedral in the world, La Catedral de Sevilla attracts more than two million visitors each year (Pancho Tours). It’s most well known for its impressive Giralda bell tower, magnificent relics, and wide halls. It took five centuries to complete (starting in 1402), so it exhibits a vast range of different architectural styles.

Washington National Cathedral (Washington, DC, USA)

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This excellent example of Gothic Revival architecture is an Episcopal church that was built between 1907 and 1990, when President George H. W. Bush placed the final finial in place. Tourists come to admire the stained glass windows, peaceful gardens, and intricate carvings and learn about its long construction history.

Canterbury Cathedral (Canterbury, United Kingdom)

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One of the oldest and most historically significant Christian structures in the U.K., Canterbury Cathedral is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It also has a long history as a place of pilgrimage that continues to this day. Tourists are amazed by its Gothic architecture, rich history, and connections to Thomas Becket, a 12th-century saint.

Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Assumption (San Francisco, USA)

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The most modern on the list, this cathedral was built in 1971 and has a unique and modernist architectural design. Visitors to the Bay Area often visit to admire the stunning stained glass windows, unusual architecture, and serene atmosphere. It is also a venue for religious liturgies and classical music concerts.

St. Andrew’s Cathedral (Sydney, Australia)

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Another impressive example of Gothic revival is St. Andrew’s Cathedral, which first opened its doors in 1868 and was an important place of worship for colonists. Tourists frequently add the church to their list of ‘must-see’ landmarks due to its ornate interiors, beautiful stained glass, and significance in colonial history.

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