Europe’s ecclesiastical architecture celebrated as the finest landmarks on the continent.
Following on from yesterday’s top 25 best destinations yesterday, I thought I’d have a look at the top 10 European landmarks as voted for in the 2016 Trip Advisor Travellers’ Choice Awards. Voted for by millions of online users, here’s what they ranked as the top 10 crème de la crème for Europe:
1. Sagrada Família, Barcelona
A stone’s throw from the city centre is Barcelona’s iconic landmark, the Sagrada Família, Spain’s most popular attraction with some three million visitors per year. Amazingly, this awe-inspiring architectural masterpiece is still unfinished despite work starting in 1883, yet visitors can still ascend to the top of the tower for some unbeatable views over the city, or to the crypt beneath the cathedral where Gaudí himself is buried. Unquestionably amazing from every angle, this is an absolute Barcelona essential.
2. St Peter’s Basilica, Rome
Enclave of the Holy See and a separate sovereign state since 1929, Vatican City ranks high amongst Rome’s must-see sights. Dominating Vatican City is the world’s largest church, St Peter’s Basilica, an awe-inspiring and sumptuously decorated edifice rising above the tomb of St Peter. If you think the outside is impressive, step inside and you’ll find a nave replete in opulence, boasting Michelangelo’s famous statue, Pietà, and Bernini’s bronze Baldachin amongst its many treasures. Be prepared, too, for the wow factor of the dome’s interior, decorated in the most intricate and stunning detail.
3. Duomo, Milan
A starting point for any visitor to Milan must surely be its stunning Gothic cathedral, the fourth largest in the world and described by Mark Twain as “a poem in marble” for its extensive collection of marble statues. The climb to the roof is particularly worthwhile for its 135 spires, 3,000 gargoyles and statues and breath-taking views across the city to the Alps beyond. Having taken 500 years to complete, this is one landmark not to miss.
4. Eiffel Tower, Paris
Soaring 300 metres into the Parisian skyline, the Eiffel Tower is unequivocally Paris’ most iconic landmark, built in 1889 for the World Exhibition. Situated in the Champ de Mars, the vertical views from the ground are almost as impressive as those from the three platforms (at 57, 115 and 276 metres), offering unparalleled panoramic views over the city. For the ultimate experience, dine at one of the tower’s two revered restaurants – 58 Tour Eiffel and Le Jules Verne.
5. Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood, St Petersburg
From an architectural perspective, this church would be more fitting set amongst the domes of Moscow, however it represents one of the city’s most beautiful landmarks. With an interior covered in beautiful mosaics, each one representing a particular biblical theme, this distinctive church with its onion-shaped domes was so named as it was built on the spot where Tsar Alexander II was murdered in 1881. A definite photo opportunity if there ever was one.
6. Cathédrale de Notre-Dame, Paris
Situated on the Ile de la Cité, Notre-Dame is an immense Gothic masterpiece and represents the cradle of Paris, attracting millions of visitors each year. Site of centuries of royal coronations and marriages and inspiration for Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame, the cathedral is renowned for its ornate nave, flying buttresses and gruesome gargoyles, its stunning rose windows and 7,800 pipe organ. A climb to the top of the bell tower is a must.
7. Alhambra, Granada
Translated from Arabic as ‘the red’, so named after the rich colour of its façade, Granada’s mighty Alhambra represents the jewel in the crown of Spanish Moorish architecture and one of the country’s top visitor attractions. Built in the 13th and 14th centuries, this incredible, sprawling fortress boasts a wealth of treasures including the fabulous Generalife Gardens, the Alcazaba (citadel), the Patio de los Leones and the Palacios Nazaríes, the central palace complex. An absolute must-see.
8. Hagia Sophia, Istanbul
Perhaps Istanbul’s most famous monument, the Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya in Turkish) served formerly as a Christian church, then as a mosque before becoming a museum in 1935 and home to an unrivalled collection of Byzantine Mosaics. Today a UNESCO World Heritage Site, for almost 500 years the Hagia Sophia was Istanbul’s principal mosque and served as the blueprint for many of the Ottoman mosques that followed, most notably the Sultanahmed Mosque.
9. Charles Bridge, Prague
One of the most visited sites in Prague, the Charles Bridge was commissioned in 1357 and completed in the early 15th century, an important trade route between Eastern and Western Europe across the Vltava River. Connecting Prague’s Old Town with the Lesser Quarter, the bridge is renowned for its Baroque statues and today serves as a pedestrian walkway, buzzing during the day with tourists, street artists and musicians yet particularly romantic at sunset.
10. Grand Place, Brussels
Starting point on any Brussels itinerary must surely be the Grand Place, a simply stunning cobbled square lined with some of the finest examples of Flemish architecture from the guild houses to the Gothic Hôtel de Ville. This is the true heart of Brussels and unquestionably where you’ll want to spend some time, admiring the square’s charm, character and architectural beauty from one of its many bars and cafés, a traditional Belgian beer in hand.