One of my favorite things to do when I’m visiting a city is explore its churches. While studying in Bologna, I got used to just popping into random churches while walking around to scope out their artwork and architecture. Over the past couple of years, I feel like I’ve visited some all-stars. Here’s the list in no particular order:
Scrovegni Chapel, Padua
This Giotto chapel in Padua is extremely strict about photography due to their preservation policies, so this is just a picture of Prato della Valle. In fact, visitors are only allowed to visit for fifteen minutes and must pass through a humidity chamber before entering the chapel to maintain the correct conditions. The artwork is incredible, and Giotto’s rendition of Judgment Day is stunning.
Notre-Dame Basilica in Montreal was the highlight of my visit to the city. Between the dark wood, play with light, and painted night sky, you feel like you’re in this divine place. While Montreal is a city for francophiles and French influence can be seen and felt throughout, something about this basilica still seems distinctly North American to me.
Sagrada Familia, Barcelona
Gaudí’s Sagrada Familia is truly like nothing else. Its colorful stained glass fills the church’s interior with whimsical and warm light. While the basilica is decidedly modern, it still exudes the imposing feel of many European churches.
Catedral de Sevilla, Seville
Seville’s cathedral is one of the city’s biggest attractions, and for good reason. Where the Sagrada Familia is modern and avant-garde, Seville’s cathedral boasts the pomp and circumstance of gothic architecture and artwork. The famous Giralda which visitors can climb is actually a minaret and is a beacon of the mixed influences one can find in Spain.
Santo Stefano, Bologna
Bologna’s Seven Church Complex was my favorite place to bring visitors to the city. It’s been compared to Nesting Dolls, which I still don’t quite get, but it is unique in that the building is a series of churches and chapels built on top of and next to each other. Thus, this is a great place to peel away layers of time and history.
Westminster Abbey, London
Another heavy hitter, Westminster Abbey doesn’t need me to play it up to get people to visit. Poets’ Corner, King Edward’s Chair…the list goes on.
Duomo di Modena, Modena
Modena is a quiet city in Emilia-Romagna, but its Duomo is a shining example of Romanesque architecture. While the church isn’t ornate and ostentatious like the others on the list, it’s certainly unique and showcases a different style.
One of the first things my Bowdoin friends and I did when I met up with them in Paris was visit Sainte-Chapelle. My sister’s friend recommended it over Notre Dame for its stunning stained glass. In my opinion, the interior or Sainte-Chapelle, though small, was more impressive than Sacre Couer and warrants a visit.
Ravenna’s churches, Ravenna
Ravenna’s mosaics are a highlight stop on a tour of Emilia-Romagna, so great that I visited twice while studying abroad. While I didn’t know much about mosaics before visiting, I’m a big fan now because of those in Ravenna’s churches.
Duomo di Milano, Milan
Milan’s Duomo is the fourth biggest in Europe. The interior is dark and impressive, but the best part is a climb up to the roof to enjoy the city and its details from above.
St. Peter’s Basilica and Beyond, Rome
Finally, the crowning jewel on the list, is the churches of Rome, and not just those of the Vatican. When my mom and I visited Rome, we spent a lot of our time popping into different churches to see work by Caravaggio, Michelangelo, and other big names, and I was floored by every church we stepped inside. Of course, St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican takes the cake, and the Sistine Chapel is breathtaking.