You don’t have to be religious to appreciation things are that are spiritual in nature. For example, I don’t have a religious bone in my body, but when I walked into Basilique du Sacré Cœur in Paris for the very first time, I got chills. Then I started to cry – just a little bit! – because I was overwhelmed with it’s beauty.
But it was after that experience that I realized that churches aren’t the boring places that I thought they were when I was being forced to go every Sunday. I understood, in that moment, that while there is a religious element there, there’s also a spiritual one, too. Getting to be part of that and getting to see these types of places had a profound effect on me.
So if you have a case of wanderlust, but aren’t sure where you should go in 2016, here are seven spiritual places that will give you the right amount of goosebumps and awe.
1. Cologne Cathedral in Cologne, Germany
Although the construction was started in 1248, it took over several centuries to complete. I can say, hands down, that this is the most stunning cathedral I have seen in my life (so far!). The architecture both inside and out almost makes you want to convert to Catholicism (almost), and the sheer size of it is enough to make anyone swoon. To drive into Cologne at night and see it there all lit up, is like something out of a movie.
2. Notre Dame in Paris, France
One of the most beautiful things about Notre Dame is the fact that it somehow managed to survive the French Revolution which, if you know your history, then you know it was a bloody disaster where many religious sites were destroyed. But since the start of its construction in 1163, Notre Dame has stood the test of time – and war (WWII wasn’t particularly kind to the Paris’ architecture either). It is one of the most visited cathedrals in the world, but if you manage to go on an off day, like a snowy Tuesday in January, you can avoid the hoopla of tourists and actually be able to take it all in without being elbowed by people trying to take photos.
3. Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Constructed in the early 12th century, Angkor Wat is the largest religious structure in the world. It was originally built as a temple for Hinduism, but eventually became a Buddhist place of worship. Not only is the outside of Angkor Wat a sight, but the inside is covered in beautiful stone art on the walls. The walls also have their fair share of bullet holes thanks to the Vietnam War, but like so many places of worship around the world, it still stands.
4. Mont-Saint-Michel in Normandy, France
In Normandy there is an island that is sometimes not an island. Confused? Don’t be. Mont-Saint-Michel is an island commune of just 44 people that is an island when the tide is high, and is part of the mainland when the tide goes out. Originally built to be an abbey in the 11th century, by the time the French Revolution rolled around it was turned into a prison. The structure is a basically a work in progress to keep the weight of it from tumbling off the island. Whether you see it from afar or cross the bridge to get to it, it’s something that moves you in a way you’ll never forget.
5. St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, Italy
You don’t have to be a fan of the Pope to go to St. Peter’s Basilica. Named for St. Peter, who is supposedly buried below the alter of the basilica, St. Peter’s embodies everything that is perfect about Italian Renaissance architecture. Again, you’re looking at a crazy tourist attraction (buy tickets online beforehand!), but once you get inside and make your way to the Sistine Chapel and look up to see Michelangelo’s “The Creation of Adam,” it will all have been worth it. Also, they’ll yell at you when you try to take a photo of the ceiling, but if you’re stealth like me, you can pull it off.
6. Abu Simbel Temples in Nubia, Egypt
What’s a spiritual list without Egypt? Not much. Although the pyramids, in general, are an intense vision to behold, it’s the Abu Simbel temples that are the real gems of any pilgrimage to Egypt. The two temples were carved into a mountainside after the Battle of Kadesh under the commission of Pharaoh Ramesses II in 13th century BC as a spectacular (did the Egyptians do anything that wasn’t spectacular?) monument for he and his queen, Nefertari. Although wear and tear after thousands of years took its toll, the two temples were moved in 1968 to an artificial hill so they could be preserved forever.
7. Machu Picchu, Peru
While the exact history of Machu Picchu isn’t exactly clear, it’s assumed that it was home to an Inca emperor in the 1400s. Nestled in the Andes mountains, Machu Picchu is almost 8,000 feet (roughly 1.5 miles) above sea level. It was abandoned in mid-1500s during the Spanish Conquest, and no one outside the locals knew it even existed until 1911. The mysteriousness of it all (some people believe that aliens once lived there) just adds the goosebump factor of this spiritual vision. Also, the hike it takes to get up here just might have you speaking in tongues, because OMG, altitude sickness is not fun.