Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Image 1 of 20
The largest religious monument in the world began life as a Hindu temple in the 12th century but adapted to become a Buddhist sacred site in line with the country’s changing religious beliefs. It’s so revered by Cambodians that it features on their flag. A quick tuk-tuk ride from Siem Reap will get you there but the crowds are sure to join you for that famous sunrise shot so give yourself a day to explore.
Image 2 of 20
The influence of Indian as well as Indigenous Javanese art can be seen in the design of this monumental Buddhist shrine, the largest in the world. Built in the ninth century, it measures a staggering 123 metres by 123 metres, contains 504 Buddhas and was, for a long time, buried under a blanket of volcanic ash until its rediscovery in 1815 and full-scale restoration in the 1970s.
Blue Mosque, Turkey
Image 3 of 20
Known as Sultan Ahmet Camii in Turkish, this 17th century mosque, clad in exquisite blue tiles and built on the site of an ancient Byzantine palace, is one of Istanbul’s most popular tourist sites. Its interior is made up of more than 20,000 handmade tiles, arranged in elaborate floral designs. It’s closed for worship five times a day but is open for visitors the rest of the time; don’t be put off by the long queues, they tend to move quickly.
Crater Lake, USA
Image 4 of 20
The Klamath people of southern Oregon, who lived in the area as early as 7700 years ago when Crater Lake was formed from a volcanic eruption, consider its pure blue waters a place of deep spiritual significance and believe that powerful beings live within its depths. People were said to swim in its waters, especially at night, and emerge as shamans or entrapped by malignant spirits. It’s a popular hiking and swimming spot and considered one of the most significant natural wonders of the US mainland.
Easter Island or Rapa Nui
Image 5 of 20
This small, treeless volcanic island 3600 kilometres off the coast of Chile is famous for its solemn stone humanist statues known as moai, which are scattered all over the island and thought to have been of ritual significance to their ancient Polynesian creators. It’s believed a spiritual essence called mana dwelled within their form. Due to its remoteness, the island is only accessible by air, with flights leaving from Santiago and Tahiti.
Basilica San Vitale, Italy
Image 6 of 20
Located in the town of Ravenna in north-eastern Italy, this astonishingly well-preserved Byzantine church is one of the most significant examples of early Christian art and architecture in the country. Adorned with magnificent mosaics and frescoes, as well as a floor inlaid with a pattern thought to lead the observer away from a path of sin, it was consecrated in 548AD by Archbishop Maximilian and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1996.
Glastonbury Tor, England
Image 7 of 20
Considered one of the most spiritual sites in rural England, this ancient hill topped with the ghostly remains of an abbey dedicated to Saint Michael is a significant site of pagan worship and believed to be the burial place of the legendary King Arthur. Travellers who climb its grassy peak are rewarded with sweeping views of the Somerset countryside.
Image 8 of 20
Considered the epicentre of holiness for three major world religions – Christianity, Judaism and Islam – the Middle Eastern city of Jerusalem, also known as the City of Gold, is the site of many deeply significant religious events. It is a place of uncommon beauty, with The Wailing Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Dome of the Rock among its most arresting landmarks.
Image 9 of 20
In the 13th century, a Christian king ordered the churches of Jerusalem be rebuilt into the dark-pink rocks of this tiny African town after the original centre of Christianity was threatened with invasion. All 11 interconnected houses of worship at this UNESCO heritage-listed site still operate as working churches, filled with nuns, monks and pilgrims who seek spiritual solace within their walls.
Machu Picchu, Peru
Image 10 of 20
These ancient Incan ruins constructed of grey granite that soar 2400 metres above sea level in the Andes Mountains are considered one of the most spiritual places on the planet. Although the original purpose of the structures remains something of a mystery, the layout and location suggest it was built at least in part as an astronomical observatory, perhaps as a place for ancients to convene more closely with deities. It remains a place of pilgrimage for people of all beliefs who trek to its heights via train or on foot.
The Mahabodhi Temple complex, India
Image 11 of 20
The original site of the Bodhi tree, where Buddha attained enlightenment, the Mahabohdi Temple complex in north-eastern India is a site of immense spiritual importance to Buddhists. Branches from the original tree – which was replanted in 1870 AD after it was destroyed in war - have been re-propagated all over the world and the 50-metre high grand temple dates from the fifth to sixth centuries. Even today, Buddhist pilgrims travel from all over the world to pray and meditate on its sacred grounds.
Mount Parnassus, Greece
Image 12 of 20
The ruins of the ancient shrine of Delphi stand on the slopes of this magnificent limestone mountain in upper central Greece, a place of enormous significance to the ancient Greeks. According to myth, this extraordinary archeological site was sacred to the gods Apollo and Dionysus and the home of the winged horse, Pegasus, as well as the place where the Oracle of Delphi shared her prophetic visions. Today, it takes in spectacular views of olive groves and in winter is a popular skiing spot.
Mount Sinai, Egypt
Image 13 of 20
As the place where Moses is said to have received the Ten Commandments, Mount Sinai is considered one of the world’s most significant Biblical sites. Many tours take visitors to the base of the mountain in the early hours of the morning so they can then climb the mountain overnight and watch the sunrise over the Sinai Desert, followed by a visit to the Saint Catherine Monastery where God is said to have spoken to Moses as a burning bush.
Cape Reinga, New Zealand
Image 14 of 20
Situated at one of the northernmost tips of the North Island, Cape Reinga, or Te Rerenga Wairua, is the place where Maori spirits are said to begin their final journey to their ancestral home beneath the waves by leaping from the branches of the 800-year-old pohutukawa tree. Around 120,000 visitors pay their respects here each year and the site is currently awaiting UNESCO world heritage recognition. It’s also known as the place where two great oceans meet – the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean – and from the right vantage point you can watch the two great water bodies dance and clash in a violent meeting of the tides.
Image 15 of 20
No one knows how the ancients created this mysterious ring of enormous Welsh bluestones and sandstones in Wiltshire, England, or how they managed to erect them without the help of modern machinery. Experts are also divided over its purpose: it’s believed to have been a burial ground, a religious monument or an astronomical observatory – or all three. In the 20th century it was revived as a place of mysticism, a sentiment that continues. Today, it’s still used for ceremonies at solstices and equinoxes by New Age groups such as neo-Druids.
Paro Taktsang, Bhutan
Image 16 of 20
Seemingly rising towards the heavens – and clinging to the side of a cliff – the Paro Takstang monastery complex is made up of four main Buddhist temples and a number of smaller dwellings. The hike to the top, 3120 metres above sea level, is not for the faint-hearted but the majesty of Bhutan’s spiritual centrepiece, including gold-plated domes, intricate carvings and views of the jade-green valley below, makes the journey worth it.
Sgang Gwaay Llnagaay, Canada
Image 17 of 20
Located off the coast of the mainland province of British Columbia, the small island of Sgang Gwaay Ilnagaay is home to a number of historically significant long houses and totem poles built by the indigenous Haida people as a monument to their art, spirituality and connection with nature. The island is protected by the Government of Canada and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It retains significant spiritual value to Haida people today, who maintain a presence on the island as “watchmen” to preserve its natural integrity.
Mecca, Saudi Arabia
Image 18 of 20
As the birthplace of Muhammad and the site where he is said to have received the first verse of the Koran, Mecca, in western Saudi Arabia, is considered the holiest city of Islam. It is home to the Kaaba shrine, found inside the Great Mosque at the city’s centre. Every year, millions of Muslim believers from all over the world make a haaj, or a pilgrimage, to the ancient city as a symbol of their piety.
Image 19 of 20
The Yankunytjatjara and Pitjantjatjara people consider Australia’s most recognisable natural wonder to be a place of solemn spiritual significance. The magnificent red rock in Central Australia is believed to have been created thousands of years ago by the ancestral beings of Australia’s Indigenous people and is still home to their spirits. Uluru and the sacred sites that surround it have been used for traditional ceremonies for more than 10,000 years.