If you don’t find architecture fascinating, you’re missing out big time. I’ll admit that your average apartment building or even a typical Romanesque construction aren’t the most eye catching examples, but I can quickly turn the tides around by bringing up just one word: Gothic. No, it’s nothing of the “black lace, red Victorian dress” sort, but a late Medieval movement responsible for some of the most spectacular cathedrals and abbeys in Europe. You can easily recognize a Gothic building through some key characteristics, like rib faults, pointed arches and the flying buttress. Or, to put it more commonly, they tend to be really imposing and mildly intimidating looking. Whether you’re familiar with the style and want to see more, or you want to begin with the finest exhibits, we’re here to help with a list of 9 Breathtaking Gothic Cathedrals To See Before You Die.
1. Notre Dame de Paris
Location: Paris, France
We’ll start off with one of the most famous tourist attractions in Europe, the widely known Notre Dame (curtsy to Victor Hugo and his equally popular hunchback). The construction of the cathedral began sometime around the 12th century and through its centuries of existence, it suffered serious damage after the events of the French Revolution and World War II. Thankfully, an ambitious restoration process had it better looking than ever by the time we entered the 90’s.
2. Milan Cathedral
Location: Milan, Italy
I think that one of the most impressive things about Gothic structures, is just how time consuming their construction is. One of the best examples for this is the Milan Cathedral, which took roughly six centuries to reach its final form, after the first brick was laid in the 13th century. This construction is insanely spectacular, not just because of the imposing multitude of pinnacles and spikes, but because of its size too. Milan’s famed cathedral is the world’s fourth largest.
3. Santa Maria del Fiore
Location: Florence, Italy
Ah, this is quite a common sight for your average Assassin’s Creed player. Long before Ezio Auditore was doing leaps of faith off the Cathedral of Florence’s roof, the first constructions began in 1420, finalizing about two decades later. The most spectacular aspect of the cathedral has to be the entirely brick constructed dome, adding to the sheer massiveness of the building. Funnily so, Filippo Brunelleschi, the mind behind the dome’s creation, feared losing control over the construction so much, that he kept hidden the technique that went into it. Which is why, centuries later, we still have no clue how he managed to build it.
4. Sagrada Familia
Location: Barcelona, Spain
If you ask me, Sagrada Familia is by far the church with the biggest impact of all. It has a unique, incredibly intimidating appearance, thanks to the genius of Antonio Gaudi (who is responsible for about seventy percent of Barcelona’s architecture) and it’s guaranteed to make your breath stop when first laying eyes on it. Constructions first began in the 19th century and are still continuing today, with the deadline having been set for Gaudi’s death centennial, in 2026. When the Sagrada will be finished, it’s going to be the tallest church in the world and it’ll also have the honor of owning the tallest spire on Earth.
5. Cologne Cathedral
Location: Cologne, Germany
The Cologne Cathedral, which also serves as seat for the Archbishop of Cologne, is a church with a lot of history and with a lot of superlatives attached to its name. The project was started in the 13th century, having been interrupted two hundred years later. Thankfully, the construction was resumed in the 19th century and its final form was achieved in 1880. The cathedral is Germany’s biggest tourist nest, attracting over twenty thousand visitors daily. Moreover, it hosts second tallest spires in the world and the choir with the biggest width-height ratio.
6. Ulm Minster
Location: Ulm, Germany
If you’re thinking that this church is incredibly scary looking, you have all the reasons to think so. It’s the tallest church in the world, standing at 161 meters (530 feet) and from the top reachable level (141 meters), on a clear day, you can get a view of the Alps. As a fun fact, the last set of stairs is shaped into a spiral, with there barely being enough space for one person to fit in. If you’d like to self-induce some panic attacks, just thinking about climbing those stairs.
7. St. Stephen’s Cathedral
Location: Vienna, Austria
Located in the central square of Vienna, Stephansplatz, St. Stephen’s Cathedral proudly stands tall – and for good reason – since it’s the seat of the Archbishop of Vienna. Although not one hundred percent a Gothic structure, given the fact that it includes Romanesque elements in its appearance, the style of the spire alone is enough to make it a good representative of the Gothic movement.
8. Salisbury Cathedral
Location: Salisbury, England
The United Kingdom also has its undeniable share of beautiful Gothic constructions, with the Salisbury Cathedral being one of the most notable examples. There are several things that make this particular church stand out, one of them being the fact that it possesses the tallest spire in the United Kingdom. Another one is that it hosts the oldest working clock in the world, as well as one of the original four copies of King John’s Magna Carta.
9. Amiens Cathedral
Location: Amiens, France
The Amiens Cathedral is the tallest finished church in France, being deemed by many as more spectacular than the fellow Notre Dame. More than that, the building also has a historical meaning, since it houses the head of the one believed to be John the Baptist. As history has it, it was brought to the doorstep of the cathedral all the way from Constantinople, after the invasion of the Crusaders in 1204.
I was fortunate enough to see some of the entries from this list with my own eyes, so I can vouch for the fact that there is no feeling comparable with the fascinating overwhelm you encounter when you first gaze upon a Gothic cathedral. Not only are they stylistically impressive, but their age and the history that fills their walls manage to sate the cultural appetite of anyone who can get enjoy something like this. That being said, heed my advice. Add these 9 Breathtaking Gothic Cathedrals To See Before You Die to your bucket list.