Spain is known for many things, just some of which includes Flamenco dancing and paella. Spain is also a country with a strong Catholic background, and some of Spain’s churches are among the best in the world. Whether or not you’re religious, your next trip to Spain should definitely include a few stops at the nation’s most beautiful and historic religious structures. This list includes the top churches in Spain and what makes each unique.
The Malaga Cathedral was constructed between the 16th and 18th centuries, using Renaissance plans to create what is now a focal point of the city. Originally located within the Moorish walls of Malaga, the cathedral is filled with an amazing art collection. Enter through the Baroque facade, which is different from the rest of the cathedral, and admire medallions carved from stone, an enormous Gothic altarpiece and countless sculptures and paintings. Surprisingly, the south tower is still unfinished, because the congregation used its funds to support the United States in its war against the British back in the 18th century.
On the banks of the Duero River is Zamora Cathedral, a 12th century cathedral built in the Romanesque style. Over the last 900 years, several additions have been made to the structure, including Gothic apses and a Herrera cloister. The exterior of Zamora Cathedral is incredible, but what is within is just as fascinating. A large art collection is open to visitors to admire, including embossed images right on the architecture.
Avila Cathedral stands out from other religious structures on this list because it did double duty as a fortress. Construction began in the 11th century, with one of the turrets of the city walls serving as the apse to the church. The style has strong influences from French cathedrals built in the years prior, and it serves as the earliest example of Gothic architecture in Spain. Since the cathedral is still connected to the walls surrounding Avila, it is a stunning destination and a picture-worthy attraction.
Looking more like a palace from a fairy tale than an ordinary church, the Basilica de Santa Maria la Real de Covadonga is truly a unique and impressive structure. The neo-Romanesque cathedral was built toward the end of the 19th century, and it is entirely pink thanks to the natural hue of the limestone used in its construction. With towering twin spires and a background of green hills, the Basilica de Santa Maria la Real de Covadonga is definitely a bucket-list destination in Spain.
The final Gothic-style cathedral built in Spain was Segovia Cathedral. Construction on the church began in the 16th century, according to the plans of the architect Juan Gil de Hontañón. The cathedral is located right in the center of the Plaza Mayor in Segovia, making it an iconic part of the city’s history and identity. There are three major vaults and entrances to the cathedral, but the highlight is the incredible altarpiece from the 18th century that is made with bronze and marble.
On the island of Mallorca, just off the coast of Spain, is the stunning Cathedral of Santa Maria of Palma. Known to locals as La Seu, the cathedral was started in the 13th century but only finished in 1601. The cathedral was built on the site of a Moorish mosque, and it stands as one of the tallest cathedrals in all of Spain, and indeed even in all of Europe. The design is a distinct combination of Catalan and Gothic, but in the early 20th century some cosmetic changes were made by Gaudi, refreshing the style.
The magnificent Temple Expiatori del Sagrat Cor, known in English as the Expiatory Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, is found in Barcelona, right at the summit of Mount Tibidabo. This is one of the newer cathedrals in Spain, and it was only consecrated in the 1950s after a lengthy construction process. The church is made from stone in a Romanesque design, although there are plenty of embellishments and neo-Gothic touches worth admiring as well.
In Spanish tradition, it is said that the Virgin Mary appeared to the Apostle James as he was praying at the Ebro River in Zaragoza. For that reason, the Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar has long been a historically significant structure, and one that is revered both throughout Spain and throughout the Christian religion. The architectural style of the basilica is a blend of rococo, Baroque and neoclassical styles, and the interior is home to a staggering display of works by painter Francisco Goya.
Perhaps the most famous Gothic church in Spain is the Toledo Cathedral, a fairy tale building that represents the height of Spanish design and architecture. Built with white limestone, the cathedral is almost otherworldly, reflecting light and impressing even those without an interest in religion or architecture. Natural light streams in through open vaults, adding to the effect. The Cathedral Treasury is a must-see part of the structure, thanks to its impressive collection of precious stones far larger than any you could ever see in a jewelry store.
Although the Burgos Cathedral was commissioned in the 13th century, it wasn’t completed until the 16th century. That long construction and design process was worth the wait, however, because the final result is a magnificent Gothic cathedral. Dedicated to the Virgin Mary, Burgos Cathedral boasts unusual octagonal spires, setting it apart from most other Gothic churches in Europe. From the exterior, you can admire the facade and its hundreds of sculptures of saints and Biblical figures.
The site of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela is steeped in history. Legend tells of the Apostle James having his remains brought to the site by angels, and then in the eighth century this burial place was discovered by a hermit. A small church was built to mark the site, and by the 11th century there was an enormous cathedral. The Romanesque architecture of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela is remarkable, and marks the traditional end on the Way of St. James pilgrimage since the Middle Ages.
Also known as the Cathedral of Saint Mary by the Sea, Seville Cathedral is a stunning Gothic structure that is currently also the largest Cathedral in the world. Built in the 16th century, the cathedral is sprawling and occupies a prime position in the center of the city of Seville. Along with the gorgeous spires and embellishments, Seville Cathedral is worth a visit because it is the final burial place of famed explorer Christopher Columbus.
The Sagrada Familia is without a doubt the most famous church in Barcelona, thanks in part to its creator, Antoni Gaudi. Begun in 1882, this cathedral is still an ongoing project, although it is nearing the end of construction. Different from many of the classic Spanish churches, the Sagrada Familia is built with elements of the Art Nouveau style. Today, the Sagrada Familia is one of the most popular tourism attractions in the city of Barcelona, and it is open to the public for tours as well as religious services.
The Mezquita, also known as the Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba, has one of the most fascinating history of all the churches in Spain. Parts of the structure date back to the seventh century, when it served as a Visigoth church. Later, the Mezquita was a Muslim mosque, and only in the 13th century did it revert back to Catholicism. The building is a prime example of Moorish architecture, boasting countless arches and tall domes. A Renaissance nave was added in the 16th century, blending architectural styles and showcasing harmony between design ideas as well as religions.