St. Petersburg Mosque // © 2017 iStock
Feature image (above): Finland’s Temppeliaukio // © 2017 iStock
There are some 4,200 religions in the world, each with a different story to
tell. It may be impossible to learn about all of them, but a good way to
start is by visiting places around the globe impacted by these belief
systems. Europe's extensive and ever-changing history makes it a great
destination to find some of the world's unique places of worship. Following
are six of the must-see holy sites of the continent.
St. Petersburg Mosque, Russia
Known to locals as the Tatar Mosque, the St. Petersburg Mosque was the
largest of its kind in Europe outside Turkey when it opened in 1913,
accommodating up to 5,000 worshippers at a time. In line with traditional
Islamic architecture, the three-story mosque includes a nearly 130-foot
main dome, with minarets that stand at some 160 feet. The main dome,
minarets and entrance portal are lined with multicolored mosaic tiles that
make up a complex geometric pattern, a design that contrasts with the gray
In addition to being a place of worship, the mosque also serves as the
city's educational center for Muslims of all ages. The first floor is
dedicated for male worship and the second floor for female worship. The
third floor is for children's Sunday school lessons, as well as classes in
Islam and the Arabic and Tatar languages.
To the unassuming eye, the exterior of southern Finland's Temppeliaukio
church simply looks like a glass dome surrounded by a wall of rocks. But
once inside, guests are greeted by sunlight that enters through the
spaceship-like dome and a sizeable area that can seat up to 750 people.
Commonly called the "Rock Church," the structure has walls made entirely
out of the rugged rock found underground here, which produces stellar
acoustics — making this church a favorite local concert venue.
As visitors walk the polished concrete floor, they will find an altar made
of smooth granite and an organ featuring 3,001 pipes.
Meteora Monasteries, Greece
Atop the rocky formations of Meteora, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in
central Greece, sit six 14th-century monasteries that are home to Greek
Orthodox Christian monks. Of the 24 original monasteries that were built
here, only six have lasted throughout the ages and are still in operation
today. The Great Meteoron monastery — the largest and oldest, located on
the highest peak of Meteora — contains preserved Byzantine frescoes. The
Holy Trinity monastery is the hardest to get to; visitors must climb 140
steep steps to view this spiritual landmark. James Bond fans may recognize
Holy Trinity, as it was used in scenes for the 1981 film "For Your Eyes
Dohany Street Synagogue, Hungary
The largest synagogue in Europe and the second largest in the world, Dohany Street Synagogue is also known as the Great Synagogue. The Budapest,
Hungary, structure can seat 3,000 people, with additional standing room for
2,000. The Hungarian Jewish Museum is located here, which is home to more
than 1,000 cultural relics associated with Jewish history, faith and
culture. The Heroes Temple and cemetery, also located in the synagogue
complex, pay tribute to those who lived in the Budapest Ghetto during World
War II, many of whom are buried in mass graves in the cemetery.
Lerab Ling, France
About an hour drive from Montpellier, France, is Lerab Ling, one of
Europe's leading Tibetan Buddhist cultural and learning centers. The
temple, which houses a 23-foot high golden Buddha statue, has been blessed
twice by the Dalai Lama (in 2000 and 2008). Throughout the year, the
complex — part of Rigpa, a network of Buddhist centers and groups — hosts
various conferences and events, such as meditation workshops and programs
made specifically for children and teenagers. Those seeking a spiritual
getaway can book a personal retreat and stay on-site for at least two
nights. During a stay, guests can seek spiritual guidance from a Rigpa
instructor and utilize temple shrine rooms for personal meditation.
Kagyu Samye Ling, Scotland
Named after the first monastery established in Tibet, Kagyu Samye Ling is
the first Tibetan Buddhist center to be established in the Western world.
Beyond its monastery, the center, which is located in southwest Scotland,
is also home to a community of about 60 volunteers, who are both Buddhist
and non-Buddhist. Visitors can attend prayer sessions and partake in guided
meditation, as well as stay overnight in one of six guesthouses or at
on-site campsites, with three vegetarian meals per day included. Throughout
the year, Kagyu Samye Ling holds special workshops on various topics, from
meditation and mindfulness to tai chi and yoga.