Destinations

5 great Cathedrals

These breathtaking buildings never fail to in-spire me!

When I was growing up, Easter was way more churchy than chocolatey, so this year I’m revisiting some of the world’s most spectacular cathedrals.

1. Notre-Dame, Paris

Perching like a lovely cake on the Île de la Cité in the middle of the River Seine in Paris, this is my favourite church. Notre-Dame is open every day of the year from 8am and is free to visit. I did a very enlightening tour of it a few years back with an historian from the tour agency Paris Muse. She explained how the carvings and statues on the outside of the cathedral – the first stone was laid in 1163 – all told stories, which meant people who couldn’t read or write could still come to church and, literally, get the picture. She also told me that gargoyles were the original downspouts.

The infamous haunt of fictional hunchback Quasimodo, Notre-Dame is pure theatre.

2. The Duomo, Milan

This cathedral is quite different in style from Notre-Dame and has a real fairytale thing going on. It sits in its own piazza in Milan’s shopping district, and with 135 spires and pinnacles, plus silvery good looks, it’s a real stunner. I confess, however, I’ve never been inside. The first time I tried, I was turned away because I had a sleeveless dress on and the second time, I baulked at the 15-euro ($24) entrance fee. Bona fide worshippers can get in through a side door for free, but I confess I chose to spend my 15 euro at the nearby Obicà Mozzarella Bar, which serves cheese any which way you like and has a terrace looking out over this stunning monument.

Pay to visit the Gaudí-designed Sagrada Família – you might even see it finished!

3. Sagrada Família, Barcelona

Technically a basilica rather than a cathedral, this makes it on to my list because I’ve been there and because it is so unusual. The architect Antoni Gaudí – whose amazing Dr Seuss-like architecture peppers Barcelona – started on this amazing combination of Gothic and Art Nouveau construction in 1883, but, um, progress was slow. In fact, it only reached the halfway mark in 2010 and is not due to be finished for another decade. Tickets to this church also cost 15 euro, but you are helping to get it built. And for another 14 euro ($23), you can climb to the top of one of the towers for an amazing view of this lovely Spanish City.

4. St Paul’s, London

This famous domed cathedral with its much-visited Whispering Gallery is actually the fifth church built on this site. The first four burned down but architect Christopher Wren did a sterling job of this build, which was completed in 1711. The cathedral has seen many an historical sight, including the planned hanging and quartering of Guy Fawkes, who tried to blow up Parliament, and more happily – at the time, anyway – the marriage of Prince Charles to Lady Diana Spencer. It’ll cost you a pretty penny to follow in their footsteps, though – tickets start at £16 ($34) online.

5. Local lovelies

Christchurch was arguably New Zealand’s most famous cathedral until it was felled by the 2011 earthquake, but the Transitional Cathedral in Hereford Street – known widely as the Cardboard Cathedral – is still a treat. Not only can you visit or worship there, but you can rent it out for a fully catered event as well. I’d also put a word in for St Joseph’s Cathedral in Dunedin, a commanding Gothic number sitting above the Octagon. I went to the primary school next door but had to navigate the now-derelict nunnery behind the church to go to speech lessons. It’s amazing I haven’t got a stammer.

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