6 of the Most Impressive European Cathedrals

Europe is home to many of the world’s most spectacular churches and cathedrals. Regardless of your religious affiliations, there’s something quite grand and majestic about these iconic structures, and a trip inside and around the exterior is almost always an enthralling experience. There are dozens of impressive European cathedrals and churches – here are six of the best to include on your next rail trip.

European cathedrals and churches

 1. Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

La Sagrada Familia | European cathedrals

Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia is one of Europe’s most dramatic churches, due to its majestic Gaudi touches and the fact that it’s still unfinished. Despite still being under construction, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is simply breathtaking, inside and out.

Insider tip: You can purchase a ticket to ascend one of the two complete towers. Each offers its own benefits, but if you’re after stunning views of the city and a glimpse at the high-altitude construction work, opt for the Passion tower.

Opening hours: November to February, 9am to 6pm; March, 9am to 7pm; April to September, 9am to 8pm; October, 9am to 7pm.; December 25, 26, January 1 and 6, 9am to 2pm.

How to get there by train: There are several trains per day to Barcelona from across Spain, and high-speed trains from several European capitals, including Paris, Lyon, Marseille, Toulouse, and Madrid.

2. Notre Dame, Paris

Notre Dame Paris front view | European cathedrals

Notre Dame is another iconic European church sitting as a centerpiece in a European capital. This medieval cathedral, on Paris’s Seine river, is particularly dramatic in the early evening when the setting sun drifts through the stained glass windows.

Insider tip: Entrance to the cathedral is free, but you can also pay to climb the towers that offer spectacular views over Paris.

Notre Dame Paris interior | European cathedrals

Opening hours: The cathedral is open every day of the year from 8am to 6:45pm, and 7:15pm on Saturdays and Sundays.

How to get there by train: Paris is well connected to the rest of Europe via several high-speed and overnight trains. Trains arrive at one of seven stations depending on your point of departure.

3. Santa Maria del Fiore, Florence

Cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore | European cathedrals

Florence’s Santa Maria del Fiore is the third largest church in the world, and it’s quite possibly the most dramatic. Whether you view it from afar, or spend hours exploring its intricate interior, you’re in for a scintillating experience.

Insider tip: Entrance into the cathedral is free, but there are few experiences that can rival a trip up to the dome and bell tower. Purchase a combination ticket to get access to all the attractions for the best value.

Cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore ceiling | European cathedrals

Opening hours: Thursdays: 10am to 4/5pm (depends on season); Saturdays: 10am to 4:45pm; Sundays and religious holidays: 1:30pm to 4:45pm; Holy Thursday: 12:30 to 4:30pm; Good Friday: 10:30am to 4:30pm; Holy Saturday: 11am to 4:45pm.

How to get there by train: There are high-speed trains to Florence from all of Italy’s main cities and several international destinations, overnight trains from Germany and France, as well as regional trains from several nearby cities.

4. Hagia Sophia, Istanbul

Hagia Sophia view | European cathedrals

Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia has an interesting, layered history – it started as a Greek Orthodox church back in 573 A.D., then served as an imperial mosque, before turning into the enthralling museum that it is today.

Insider tip: Purchase your ticket online ahead of time here to reduce your queuing time.

Hagia Sophia interior | European cathedrals

Opening hours: 15 April – 25 October: 9am to 7pm.; 25 October – 15 April 9am to 5pm.

How to get there by train: There are daily overnight trains from Belgrade, Sofia, and Bucharest. Most trains from Europe arrive at Sirkeci station.

5. St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City

St. Peter’s Basilica | European cathedrals

Few words can prepare you for the scale and grandiosity of St. Peter’s Basilica. While many are aware of St. Peter’s Basilica’s significance for Catholics, the sheer scale and beauty of the church’s interior and collection of famous artwork catches many visitors off-guard.

Inside tip: Don’t forget to visit the dome of the church – it offers dramatic views down over the church’s interior. Get there early to avoid the crowds.

St. Peter’s Basilica interior | European cathedrals

Opening hours: The Basilica is open every day from 7am to 7pm during April to September, and from 7am to 6pm during October to March.

How to get there by train: High-speed trains connect to Rome from throughout Italy, as well as major European capitals. Long distance trains arrive at Roma Termini station during the day and Tiburtina station during the early hours.

 6. Kölner Dom, Cologne

Cologne Cathedral | European cathedrals

Cologne Cathedral is a dramatic Roman Catholic cathedral that sits proudly in the center of the busy German city. It’s the largest Gothic church in Northern Europe, and its spires are the second tallest after Ulm Minster.

Inside tip: The church is located just a few steps from Cologne’s main train station, so it’s possible to visit the church as a stopover en-route to other German cities.

Cologne Cathedral detail | European cathedrals

Opening hours: November to April 6am to 7:30pm; May to October 6am to 9pm.

How to get there by train: There are trains to Cologne from throughout Germany and several international capitals, including Amsterdam, Brussels and Paris.

Most cities in Europe have at least one church worth exploring. These serve as fascinating portholes into a distant era. And with most offering free entry to the main sections, and stunning views from old bell towers, it always pays to step through the ancient doors to see what’s hiding behind. If you’re planning to visit European cathedrals across multiple countries, a Eurail Global Pass can get you there with ease.

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