A centuries-old golden temple. Prehistoric enormous stones atop vast grassland. An ancient holy city for three different religions. All around the world, you can find a multitude of popular pilgrimage sites for the pious or intrigued traveler. And even though some of these destination spots may only appeal to people of the same faith, anyone can appreciate the cultural significance and beauty of the various temples and structures. No matter what you believe in, these sites have been known to elicit some level of spiritual experience, or at least respectful awe.
So whether you’re looking for a little spiritual rejuvenation, or just want to see pilgrimage sites of a different time period or religion, here are some of the best spiritual destinations around the globe:
Machu Picchu (Cusco, Peru)
Located on a mountaintop in Cusco, Peru, Machu Picchu is believed to be have been a popular pilgrimage site for local Incans, and is today visited by up to one million people a year. The incredibly unique stone facades that make up the several hundred buildings in the site, along with the terraces they’re built upon, have earned its place as one of the New 7 Wonders of the World. From the ancient site to the breathtaking mountains surrounding it, Machu Picchu is a must-see for any traveler seeking to discover this serene citadel.
Vatican City (Rome, Italy)
Up to five million people a year visit the center of the Catholic world, and this year the election of Pope Francis could drive that number even higher. The Vatican is filled with monuments erected in honor of various saints, and is also believed to be the exact spot where Saint Peter took his last breath. Participate in Mass celebrated by the Pope himself and tour the Sistine Chapel, which is both revered for being the home of the head of the Church, and for Michelangelo’s famous artwork.
This centuries-old city is one of the most spiritually significant places in the world for three different faiths: Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. Around two million travelers visit Jerusalem each year, whether they’re pilgrimaging to the Western Wall, which is a place of prayer in the Jewish religion, visiting the site of Golgotha where Jesus was crucified, or admiring the beauty of the famous Muslim shrine, Dome of the Rock. Travelers can further explore the city’s history during tours of local museums, tombs of ancient kings, and archeological sites.
Stonehenge (Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire, England)
This prehistoric site contains enormous stone monuments from the Neolithic and Bronze Age, and has puzzled archeologists ever since it’s discovery. And even though the iconic Stonehenge pictures only showcase a selection of stones, there were actually 200 other lesser-known structures set up during that same time period as well. During the summer solstice, thousands of people travel to Stonehenge to watch the sunrise atop the rocks.
Golden Temple (Amritsar, India)
Even though the Golden Temple is the spiritual center for the Sikh religion, anyone of any belief system is invited to the popular pilgrimage site to pray, find spiritual comfort, or simply learn more about the temple’s history. Whether people are enticed by the golden façade or simply enjoy being welcomed with open arms, around 50,000 visitors stop by the temple every day. Although there aren’t formal tours around the majestic golden religious site, it is said that you can talk to locals who will be more than happy to show you around, answer your questions or tell you all that there is to know about the temple.
Ulpotha (Sri Lanka)
This one’s for the all of the spa-lovers and meditative yoga gurus out there. For thousands of years, pious pilgrims traveled to Ulpotha. Today, it’s considered one of the best and most beautiful spas in the world. The retreat is an incredible getaway for anyone looking for a little R&R and soul-cleansing, but it is only open during certain times of the year. The retreat is also a non-profit, whose funds go to locals who maintain an organic farm nearby.
Easter Island (Chile)
This remote island is famous for being sprinkled with enormous big-headed, tribal-like volcanic stone statues, known as Moai. Like Stonehenge, there’s little knowledge as to why the Moai were placed all over the island. But if you ask the locals, they’ll likely tell you they represent deceased ancestors, and they’re treated with the utmost respect. As a result, the Moai are totally hands-off, but they are incredible to look at.