The architecture of houses of worship varies according to time and place, ranging from hilltop chapels built in the 10th century to geometric modernist designs of glass and steel.
While many pay tribute to the beautiful landscape around them, other churches or temples use intricate craftsmanship—think colorful sculptures or woodworking—to encourage meditation and mindfulness.
History plays an important part in these spaces, too, especially in the renovation or even reconstruction of holy buildings after persecution and war.
A tour around the world in search of the most beautiful houses of worship shows that despite the immense differences in architecture, the ability of humans to create beautiful, holy places transcends geographical and sectarian boundaries. Behold, 26 of the world’s prettiest churches, mosques, and temples.
Las Lajas Sanctuary in Colombia
According to legend, the Virgin Mary appeared in this canyon of the Guaitara river in 1754, prompting locales to start building this basilica church in the Gothic Revival style in 1916.
Completed in 1949, it is one of the few churches around the world connected to the opposite canyon wall with a 160-foot tall bridge.
Paro Taktsang in Bhutan
Precariously built on a 10,000-foot cliff in Bhutan, this small monastery is one of thirteen "tiger’s lairs" where Guru Rinpoche—also known as the Second Buddha—is said to have meditated. For those who brave the long trek today, it’s simply stunning.
Beth Sholom Synagogue
Located in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, Beth Sholom Synagogue is the only synagogue designed by famed American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Dedicated just five months after Wright’s death in 1959 and one of his last completed projects, the building has been called a “translucent tent” thanks to its glass roof. Wright was inspired by the geometry of the triangle found in the Star of David and the synagogue is especially notable for the ornamental crockets that sit on the roof framework.
Grundtvig’s Church in Denmark
Known for the church’s striking west facade—designed to look like a church organ—this church in Copenhagen, Denmark, is a unique example of expressionist architecture with a Gothic-inspired interior.
Designed by Peder Vilheml Jensen-Klint and completed by his son Kaare Klint, the large building can fit a congregation of 1,800.
Paraportiani Church in Greece
High atop the town of Chora on the Greek island of Mykonos, parishioners started construction on this church in 1425 but didn’t complete the structure until the 17th century.
Although it looks small, Paraportiani is actually five churches joined together; four other churches form the base of this one.
Saint Panteleimon Church in Macedonia
Built in the 12th century, this small church is located in a larger monastery complex and features classic Byzantine domes, three apses, and a stone and mortar construction.
Saint-Pierre Church in France
As the last major work of Le Corbusier—the Swiss-French pioneer of modern architecture—the Saint-Pierre church was not completed until 2006, 41 years after the architect’s death.
When designing a place for spiritual enlightenment, Le Corbusier said that the space "must be vast so that the heart may feel at ease, and high so that prayers may breathe in it." Although the massive concrete structure was designed to be a Roman Catholic church, it is now used as a cultural venue.
The Hassan II Mosque in Morocco
As the largest mosque in Morocco and the 7th largest mosque in the world, the Hassan II mosque also boasts the world’s tallest minaret at 689 feet. The teal accents and the mosque’s location on a promontory looking out to the Atlantic Ocean make it a stunning house of worship.
Wat Rong Kuhn in Thailand
This all-white temple in Chiang Rai, Thailand, is unique amongst the Buddhist temples of the world for its intricate design. The highly ornate structure is the creation of renowned Thai artist Chalermchai Kositpipat and the structure is still under construction, estimated to take another 90 years.
Prambanan in Indonesia
As the largest and most beautiful Hindu temple in Indonesia, Prambanan has three main temples in its impressive complex. The 9th-century structure is also a UNESCO World Heritage site and attracts visitors from around the world.
U.S. Air Force Academy Cadet Chapel in Colorado
Sitting in the Colorado foothills at the United States Air Force Academy, this 1962 church was built by Walter Netsch of Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill. Now acclaimed as an impressive example of modernist architecture, its 17 spires and 100 identical tetrahedrons were originally controversial.
Il Duomo di Firenze in Italy
As the jewel of Florence, this Gothic-style cathedral was begin in 1296 and completed in 1436. Visitors flock to view the cathedral’s intricate marble panels in shades of green and pink and the largest brick dome ever constructed.
Wayfarers Chapel in Los Angeles
Locals call this Californian structure "The Glass Church" and it’s clear why: Lloyd Wright—son of Frank Lloyd Wright—designed Wayfarers Chapel in the late 1940s to make churchgoers feel like they were outside.
St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery in Ukraine
This functioning monastery in Kiev, Ukraine, saw plenty of damage and renovations over the years (the current structure was rebuilt after Ukrainian independence in 1991), but it’s most notable today for its striking blue and gold Baroque style.
Blue Mosque in Turkey
Also known as the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, this Istanbul site is popular with tourists but still serves as a gathering place for worshipers. The mosque was built between 1609 and 1616 and earned its "Blue" nickname thanks to the hand-painted blue tiles that adorn its interior walls.
St. Basil’s Cathedral in Russia
Located in the Red Square in Moscow, Russia, this building originally contained 10 churches but now functions as a museum and national landmark.
Bahai Lotus Temple in India
Completed in 1986, this temple—aptly called the Lotus Temple—uses a flowerlike shape and is the Mother Temple of the Indian subcontinent. Like other Bahai houses of worship, it’s open to anyone, regardless of religious affiliation.
The Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba in Spain
This site in Cordoba, Spain, has seen many transformations. Originally a Christian Visigoth temple, when Muslims conquered Spain in 711 they eventually built the grand mosque of Cordoba. During the Reconquista of the 13th century, the building was converted to a Roman Catholic Church with a newly built Renaissance cathedral nave.
The Stykkisholmskirkja church in Iceland
Designed by Jon Haraldsson and built in 1990, this modern white church in Stykkisholmur features sweeping lines that ascend toward the sky and an all-white facade.
Meenakshi Amman Temple in India
Located in the holy city of Madurai in India and recognized as an important Hindu temple, the 17th-century Meenakshi Amman Temple consists of 14 astounding towers featuring elaborate sculptures and bright colors.
New Synagogue in Bochum, Germany
Opened in 2007, the New Synagogue in the western city of Bochum, Germany, replaced one that had been destroyed by the Nazis in 1938. Costing about $10 million to construct, the all-white, cubic structure now holds up to 400 people.
Thorncrown Chapel in Arkansas
Similar in style to the Wayfarers Chapel in California, the Thorncrown Chapel in Arkansas harkens back to the Prairie School of architecture to create an airy, open space that makes visitors feel like they are immersed in nature.
Sagrada Familia in Spain
This huge Roman Catholic church designed by the Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi started construction in 1882 and likely won’t be completed until 2026—the centenary of Gaudi’s death.
Harmandir Sahib in India
Known as the Golden Temple, this temple was founded in 1577 and is the holiest shrine in Sikhism. Despite its sacred status and current use as a religious center, the temple is open to visitors.
Saint-Michel d’Aiguilhe Chapel in France
This beautiful chapel in France was built in 959 on a volcanic needle that juts out from the surrounding landscape. It also marks the starting point of the Via Podiensis pilgrimage route, a route that is still used today.
Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel Church in Mexico
Notable for its wedding cake styling and its pink hue, the towers of the church in Mexico’s San Miguel de Allende were designed by stonemason Zeferino Gutierrez in the late 19th century.