The world’s most spiritual sites draw thousands of devotees annually, with Saudi Arabia’s Mecca seeing up to two million pilgrims descend on it during the yearly Hajj. With the exception of some sites of worship, most of the globe’s spiritual places are open to visitors of all faiths.
Jerusalem is central to three of the world’s pillar religions and the site of dozens of spiritual monuments sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims alike. For celebrated Hindu sites of worship, head for India’s Varanasi, a mystical city on the banks of the holy River Ganges. Christian monuments of faith can be seen at Vatican City, home of the pope and the remarkable Sistine Chapel.
Mecca, Saudi Arabia Islam’s holiest city is home to the Grand Mosque and the Kaaba Shrine, and is the final destination of the Hajj, an annual pilgrimage of around two million that makes up one of the five pillars of Islam. The holy sites of Mecca are only accessible to Muslims.
Vatican City, Italy The smallest city-state in the world is the center of Catholicism and home to its religious leader, the pope. This is also the site of some of Michelangelo’s most famous works in the Sistine Chapel.
Jerusalem, Israel Of major significance to Christians, Jews and Muslims alike, Jerusalem is home to numerous ancient sites that are of religious significance to these three pillars of faith. Dating to the 4th century BC, the ancient city is host to the Temple Mount, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Dome of the Rock.
Lhasa, Tibet Lhasa was home to the Dalai Lama for centuries until the current Dalai Lama fled to India upon the Chinese invasion of Tibet. The Dalai Lama’s palace, the Potala, remains the focus point of this former center of Buddhism, and the city is surrounded by Himalayan peaks and ancient monasteries.
Varanasi, India This fascinating Indian city rests on the banks of the holy River Ganges, a site of pilgrimage for Hindus. The banks are lined with significant temples, Hindu bathers and holy men, making this one of the world’s holiest cities.
Hajj, Saudi Arabia The world’s biggest pilgrimage takes place annually according to the Islamic calendar and is carried out by all Muslims who can afford to make the trip at least once in their lifetime. When reaching Mecca, the pilgrims must perform a series of rituals.
Valley of the Kings, Egypt The burial site of ancient pharaohs has a wealth of fascinating sites to visit, including Tutankhamen’s tomb. Once the site of the ancient city of Thebes, today the valley is one of Egypt’s premier tourist destinations. Many of the treasures from the valley are housed in the Cairo Museum, however.
Uluru, Australia A holy site for aboriginals, Uluru is protected as part of a national park and receives visitors in their thousands year-round. Also known as Ayers Rock, the rock can be climbed, but this is considered offensive by aboriginals and therefore not recommended.
Chichen–Itza, Mexico Built by the Mayan–Toltec civilization, this site was the one-time center of the Mayan and is the finest remaining example of the civilization’s architecture. Here visitors can explore the El Caracol spherical observatory.
Lourdes, France The most visited Christian pilgrimage site in the world, Lourdes was allegedly the site of apparitions of the Virgin Mary in the mid-1800s, and the spring water from the grotto at the sanctuary here is said to have healing properties.