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Bucket-list builder: churches and cathedrals

PUBLISHED: 10:00 27 June 2020

Chartres cathedral illuminated during Chartres Light show - but is this the house of god we'd chose to visit when we can leave our houses again?   Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Chartres cathedral illuminated during Chartres Light show - but is this the house of god we'd chose to visit when we can leave our houses again? Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto

KovalenkovPetr

Six stunning churches to visit after the Covid-19 lockdown

Lincoln Cathedral used to be the tallest building in the world   Picture: Getty Images/iStockphotoLincoln Cathedral used to be the tallest building in the world Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto

For many people, the end of the coronavirus pandemic will be a cause for rejoicing - and perhaps that will lead many to give thanks in a church or cathedral. Even for the less religious, these man-made miracles of stone and architectural ingenuity are still well worth a visit – both for the sense of peace they all capture and for the way the eye marvels at the details and, with cathedrals, the sheer impressive scale of them.

So where do you go, if you’re picking one church or cathedral as a bucket-list destination? England’s not short of impressive options, from St Paul’s in London or Norwich’s own cathedral to more modern structures like Liverpool’s Catholic cathedral. Look over the water and you’re spoilt for choice, with household names like Notre Dame in Paris, the Mezquita in Cordoba, Chartres cathedral and of course St Peter’s in the Vatican city.

We’ve picked six very different types of churches or cathedrals that could form the focal point of a bucket-list trip. They’re ones where the place of worship is just a part of the attraction and the area around it can provide a wonderful, once-in-a-lifetime trip – exactly what you want on your bucket-list.

The aurora borealis above Hallgrimskirkja in Reykjavik, with a statue of Lief Erikson in front of it   Picture: Getty Images/iStockphotoThe aurora borealis above Hallgrimskirkja in Reykjavik, with a statue of Lief Erikson in front of it Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto

The British option: Lincoln Cathedral, England

There’s so much to love about Lincoln Cathedral, visible from miles around as you approach the compact city. It sits opposite the equally fascinating Lincoln Castle at the top of the appropriately named Steep Hill (where TE Lawrence, aka Lawrence of Arabia, once lived above the still-open Brown’s Pie Shop). The cathedral has three lofty towers and it was once even taller, as the central one boasted a spire that made it the tallest building in the world – until it was destroyed by a storm in 1548. The medieval stonework is well-preserved and it boasts 22 bells, lashings of traditional carved woodwork and a pair of huge rose windows. It’s also the fourth largest cathedral in the UK.

For more information and tickets, click here.

Cologne Cathedral seen at night from the other side of the Rhine. It's the world's tallest twin-spire church   Picture: Getty Images/iStockphotoCologne Cathedral seen at night from the other side of the Rhine. It's the world's tallest twin-spire church Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto

The modern option: Hallgrimskirkja, Iceland

If you’re looking for an unforgettable church, head to Reykjavik and the astonishing Lutheran chruch of Hallgrimskirkja (named after a local priest, Hallgrim Petursson). It towers over the Icelandic capital – as well as being the largest church in the country, it’s the second tallest building in Iceland and visitors can take a lift to an observation deck at the top of the tower. Though commissioned before the Second World War, construction didn’t start until 1945 and it finally finished in 1986. Iceland is one of the more unusual destinations, but with the prospect of the seeing the northern lights, swimming in natural hot springs and exploring the volcanic interior, it’s a real bucket-list destination - just be cautious with the local delicacies like Hakal (fermented shark), Hurtspungar (ram’s testicles) and Kutmagar (fish stomach).

For more information, click here.

Gaudi's Sagrada Familia has been a Barcelona landmark for more than 100 years - and still isn't finished   Picture: Getty Images/iStockphotoGaudi's Sagrada Familia has been a Barcelona landmark for more than 100 years - and still isn't finished Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto

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The gothic option: Cologne Cathedral, Germany

Germany’s most-visited landmark is Cologne Cathedral, the Kolnerdom. It’s the tallest twin-towered church in the world - which means it also has the largest facade in the world. It’s an astonishing confection of intricate stonework that truly boggles the eye and the mind. It’s a masterpiece of medieval architecture... And though it followed the original plans, it wasn’t actually completed until the 1880s after a 400-year hiatus (possibly the longest builders’ tea break on record). Cologne sits on the Rhine and is a fantastic destination for a city break, packed with culture, public spaces and fantastic restaurants. It’s easily reached from the UK too – and in November and December, there’s an amazing Christmas market outside the cathedral.

For more information, click here.

Can you imagine a more tranquil setting for a church? Bled in Slovenia is home to this amazing lake   Picture: Getty Images/iStockphotoCan you imagine a more tranquil setting for a church? Bled in Slovenia is home to this amazing lake Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto

The artistic option: Sagrada Familia, Spain

Just as construction work was finishing on Cologne Cathedral, it was starting in Barcelona on architect Antoni Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia – and it isn’t finished yet. Gaudi died in 1926 and work proceeded without him until the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s, when his plans and original models were damaged. It took 16 years to piece together his intentions and for work to resume. It’s now anticipated that it could be finished by 2026 – the centenary of Gaudi’s death. You can seek out his work throughout Barcelona (famously in Guell Park) and the city is a fabulous place to explore. Though the Sagrada Familia has long been a landmark of the Catlan capital and referred to as a cathedral, it wasn’t actually consecrated as a church until 2010, and if you think it looks interesting from the outside, you should see what it’s like on the inside...

For more information and tickets, click here.

St. Peter's Basilica, viewed across the Tiber. The world's largest church is crammed full of amazing artworks   Picture: Getty Images/iStockphotoSt. Peter's Basilica, viewed across the Tiber. The world's largest church is crammed full of amazing artworks Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto

The rural option: The Church on the Lake, Slovenia

Nestled in the foothills of the Julian Alps, in northwest Slovenia, is the small town of Bled. Packed with half-timbered mitteleuropean charm, it’s a popular holiday destination, with mountains in the background and a lake in front of it – and on an island in the lake is the Church of the Mother of God on the Lake. It’s small, unutterably beautiful and with an atmosphere of tranquility that’s impossible to put down in words. The voyage from Bled town to the island takes about 20 minutes in one of the traditional, gondola-stye boats (called a pietna) and legend has it that if you ring the wishing bell at the church, your dreams will come true.

For more information, click here.

The famous option: St Peter’s Basilica, Rome

This is the big one, in the churches game. The Renaissance masterpiece of St Peter’s Basilica is the biggest church in the world, and the all-time heavyweight champion, with the pedigree and the history - though, ahem, let’s just say that sometimes divides the crowd... What always draws the crowds is the Vatican museum, which includes St Peter’s square, the Basilica and the Sistine Chapel. As well as spectacular architecture there’s an unrivalled collection art from the likes of Giotto, Bernini, Raphael, Caravaggio, da Vinci and, of course, Michaelangelo. And outside the Vatican there’s another city to explore: Rome, the eternal city, packed with everything a tourist could want – from Roman ruins to modern shopping experiences and fabulous restaurants.

For more information and tickects, click here.


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