The World's 10 Most Divine Cities

A view from the Cathedral of Notre Dame Hazel Chan
By Charis Atlas Heelan

Every year, millions of travelers visit St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, or the Blue Mosque in Istanbul. Still others travel to see the Buddhist temples in Bangkok or the onion-domed cathedrals in Moscow.

Even if you're not religious, it's hard not to be awed by the architecture and design of these places of worship.

From Paris to Tokyo, we rounded up 10 cities with the world's most beautiful churches, mosques, synagogues, and temples.

As you marvel at the sheer beauty of these physical manifestations of faith, remember that many people regard these landmarks as sacred sites. Dress respectfully, be mindful of services or prayers in progress, and adhere to any photography regulations.

Photo Caption: A view of Paris from the Cathedral of Notre-Dame.
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St. Peter's Basilica in Rome at dusk. Frommers.com Community
The epicenter of the Catholic Church, Rome has hundreds of churches, cathedrals, chapels, basilicas, and houses of worship. The architectural styles sweep through history from ancient Roman times to the Baroque period, providing us with some of the world's best examples of ecclesiastical architecture.

Where to Go: Start at the beginning with the Pantheon -- once a pagan temple, then a church. At one point, the Pantheon was the largest domed structure in the world and nothing beats staring up into its oculus, especially when it rains. Be sure to leave enough time to appreciate St. Peter's Basilica and the Vatican.

Various churches designed by Baroque masters Borromini and Bernini -- including San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, Sant'Andrea al Quirinale, Sant'Andrea delle Fratte, Santa Maria della Vittoria, and Sant'Ivo alla Sapienza -- are among the world's most beautiful. Santa Maria in Trastevere, Santa Maria Maggiore, and Santa Maria del Popolo are also worthy contenders.

Photo Caption: St. Peter's Basilica in Rome at dusk. Photo by cat116/ Frommers.com Community
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St. Basil's Cathedral in Moscow, Russia. Frommers.com Community
The ornate façades of Russian Orthodox churches are nowhere more apparent than in the 600-plus cathedrals and smaller churches of Moscow, where the distinctive use of color, gold, and domes is hard to surpass.

Where to Go: St. Basil's Cathedral -- with multi-hued onion domes and turrets built by Ivan the Terrible in the 16th century -- has become an icon in the Red Square and the Kremlin. Also located within the Kremlin is the 15th-century Annunciation Cathedral (featuring golden domes, wall murals, and burial chapels for some of the country's tsars and princes) and the Archangel Cathedral (with numerous frescoes and tombs of famous Russians).

The Novodevichyi Convent and Smolensky Cathedral is a fine example of Russian ecclesiastical architecture and its cemetery is the burial place for a who's who of Russian writers, artists and leaders.

Photo Caption: St. Basil's Cathedral in Moscow, Russia. Photo by Mr. Fred/Frommers.com Community
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Kinkakuji Temple - Rokuonji Temple- Golden Pavilion-Kyoto Japan.  The Golden Pavilion (Kinkakuji) is literally covered in gold Golden Pavilion at Rokuonji Temple in Kyoto Japan Jennifer English
Of the 1,000-plus Buddhist temples in Kyoto, several are UNESCO World Heritage-listed sites and have the distinction of being among the oldest in Japan.

Where to Go: Perhaps the most famous of the Kyoto temples is the Golden Pavilion of Kinkakuji, set on a glistening lake and surrounded by perfectly manicured gardens that change dramatically each season.

The 15th-century Ginkakuji, also known as the Silver Pavilion (despite not being silver) is almost as dramatic and visually appealing. The 8th-century Saiho-ji (Kokedera) or Moss Temple is perched on a serene golden pond and although open to the public, it requires visitors to write and request permission in advance to visit.

Shunkoin Temple is an important center of Zen Buddhism; and Kiyomizudera is known for its massive wooden terrace and its bold orange pagodas that tower over the grounds and complement the surrounding foliage each fall. The autumn colors are also emphasized by the woodwork at the Tofukuji Temple; the 8th-century Toji Temple boasts Japan's tallest pagoda.

Photo Caption: The Golden Pavilion (Kinkakuji) is literally covered in gold.
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Sacre-Coeur Basilica in Paris. Amy Chen
The City of Light (and museums, parks, and romance) is also a city of beautiful religious architecture, especially its landmark cathedrals.

Where to Go: Famed for its gargoyles, flying buttresses, and distinctive riverside location, Notre Dame is a stunning example of Gothic architecture at its finest. But for views of Paris, nothing beats the Romanesque Sacré-Coeur Basilica, a shining white beacon on the hill of Montmartre.

La Madeleine Church was originally a military temple monument commissioned by Napoleon and its grand Neoclassical style is an architectural standout, as is the 18th-century Pantheon; the 13th-century Gothic Sainte-Chapelle on Île de la Cite; and the eerie 6th-century St-Germain-des-Prés. From a non-Catholic perspective the early 20th-century Great Mosque of Paris is very attractive and public tours are offered.

Photo Caption: Sacré-Coeur Basilica in Paris.
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The Temple of the Emerald Buddha in Bangkok. Frommers.com Community
Tranquil temples surrounded by gardens offer a welcome respite from the noise, traffic, and fast pace of Bangkok.

Where to Go: Wat Phra Kaew, also known as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, is perhaps the best known and holiest of the city's Buddhist sites, located within the confines of the Grand Palace.

Other noteworthy temples include Wat Arun (Temple of the Dawn) on the Thonburi side of the river; Wat Pho; Wat Ratchabophit; Wat Mahathat, headquarters of the Mahanikai sect of Buddhism; Wat Benchamabophit; Wat Intharawihan with its 100-foot-high Buddha covered in gold mosaics; and the 18th-century Wat Saket, also known as the Temple of the Golden Mount, featuring a 190-foot gold "Chedi" (bell-shaped tower) with sacred relics of Buddha and spectacular views of the city.

Photo Caption: The Temple of the Emerald Buddha in Bangkok. Photo by BKKTours/ Frommers.com Community
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Canterbury Cathedral Kmiragaya/Dreamstime.com
Famed as the setting for Chaucer's seminal literary work, Canterbury is a UNESCO World Heritage-listed city in County Kent that is to the Church of England what Rome is to Catholics.

Where to Go: The mother church of the Anglican Communion, Canterbury Cathedral is a monolithic structure and fine example of high Gothic architecture, although various parts date from later Norman and Romanesque periods. The historic St. Martin's Church and St. Augustine's Abbey are likewise UNESCO-listed landmarks.

Also check out St. Mildred's, St. Dunstan's, St. Clement's, and St Andrew's for imposing examples of early Anglican church architecture.

Photo Caption: Canterbury Cathedral
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The view from the upper interior gallery of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre toward the entry door. Frommers.com Community
Even with all the political unrest and controversy, Jerusalem is considered the world's most holy place and the nexus of three major monotheistic religions. Step back in time and uncover the traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

Where to Go: The Dome of the Rock/Church of the Holy Sepulchre/Western Wall is one of the world's most important pilgrimage sites for followers of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. The 8th-century Al-Aqsa Mosque, also on the site known as the Temple Mount, is considered the third holiest site in Islam after Mecca and Medina. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is Christendom's holiest site and believed to be Cavalry, where Christ was crucified and later buried. Although a church was built here in the 4th century, the one that stands today is largely an 11th- and 12th-century Crusader building.

The 5th-century Greek Orthodox Church of St. John the Baptist is the oldest in the city. Although used as a mosque for 300 years, the Chapel of the Ascension is a small crusader church on the Mount of Olives that remains sacred for Jews, Christians, and Muslims as its burial crypt is known to hold the remains of a Christian saint, a Jewish prophet, and a Muslim holy woman.

Photo Caption: The view from the upper interior gallery of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre toward the entry door. Photo by lindakmca/Frommers.com Community
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Jubilee Synagogue in Prague. Rhys Alton
The Czech capital of Prague may have one of the most diverse examples of historical architecture in Europe.

Where to Go: The early 20th-century Jubilee Synagogue in Jerusalem Street is a colorful and eclectic mix of Art Nouveau- and Moorish-style architecture. The Staranova Synagogue (or Altneuschul) was originally built in 1270, making it one of the oldest synagogues in Europe. Although many parts of the building have been rebuilt, services are still conducted there today.

The imposing Church of Our Lady Before Tyn dominates the Old Town Square and features a striking Gothic facade with a Baroque interior. St. Vitus Cathedral is another commanding Gothic structure and features the burial sites of Bohemian saints, nobility, royalty, and political leaders.

Photo Caption: Jubilee Synagogue in Prague. Photo by Rhys Alton/Flickr.com
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Wawel Cathedral in Krakow. Frommers.com Community
In Krakow, the strong Catholic influence is juxtaposed with what was a large pre-World War II Jewish community. Today, a few examples of historic synagogues still exist.

Where to Go: The Gothic-style Wawel Cathedral is the final resting place of most Polish kings, while its 14th-century Sigismund Chapel is a Renaissance art and architecture treasure. The immense 13th-century Basilica of the Virgin Mary houses some exceptional art and huge stained-glass windows.

Other predominantly Gothic, Romanesque, and Baroque masterpieces include the 13th-century Basilica of St. Francis with its monastery and cloisters; the 11th-century Church of St. Andrew's; Church of St. Casimir's with its catacombs; the ornate Church of St. Peter and St. Paul's; and the 14th-century Church of St. Catherine's with an adjoining monastery and outstanding medieval and Renaissance frescoes.

For Jewish heritage, visit the 16th-century Remuh Synagogue and the 15th-century Old Synagogue (now a museum), both in the historic Kazimierz district.

Photo Caption: Wawel Cathedral in Krakow. Photo by Ron Diaz/Frommers.com Community
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A vendor with simits (a bread ring covered with sesame seeds) and the Blue Mosque in the background. Frommers.com Community
Istanbul features religious monuments that span millennia and two of the world's major religions, reflecting the changing empires and religious doctrines of its rulers over the centuries.

Where to Go: The 17th-century Blue Mosque is the architectural symbol of Istanbul with a stunning blue mosaic tiled ceiling and its six minarets dominating the city's skyline. The 6th-century Church of the Holy Wisdom, known as Hagia Sophia, is a former Byzantine cathedral and Ottoman mosque that is now a museum and considered perhaps the finest example of Byzantine architecture.

Other notable mosques and churches include the 16th-century Süleymaniye Camii, the 15th-century Fatih Camii, the 11th-century Church of St. Savior in Chora (formerly the Kariye Camii and now the Kariye Museum), and the 16th-century Beyazit Mosque.

Photo Caption: A vendor with simits (a bread ring covered with sesame seeds) and the Blue Mosque in the background. Photo by KnottyBill/Frommers.com Community
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