Just coming off of a trip to Israel, we started thinking about pilgrimage cities of the world. While most people take a pilgrimage for religious reasons, pilgrimage cities are interesting to all travellers. Most have layers of history. There is much to see and learn about in all of them.
All the major religions of the world have cities that hold special significance to their religion. Some of these holy cities are important to more than one religion. All of them are interesting to visit. If you’re trying to come up with a reason to visit a new corner of the world, maybe one of these cities will entice you.
Jerusalem, of course, is considered holy to Jews, Muslims and Christians. There are important shrines for each of the religions within the old city, and you may find pilgrims from any of them visiting.
Bethlehem is also a site that Christian pilgrims want to visit. It is in the Palestinian Territories, but it’s easy to get there with a short bus ride from Jerusalem.
Santiago De Compostela has been the destination for a pilgrimage route through Spain from all over Europe since about the ninth century.
Rome is, of course, home to Vatican City and headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church. In addition to the possibility of seeing the Pope, pilgrims may visit many churches around the city. Let’s face it, Rome is an amazing city to visit, whether you’re a pilgrim or not!
Lourdes is in France at the base of the Pyrenees. It’s known for an apparition of the Virgin Mary, and it’s the second most visited Christian pilgrimage site after Rome. We visited friends in the Pyrenees, and we’ve got to tell you, the whole region is beautiful and worth visiting in it’s own right.
Fatima in Portugal is another site associated with a vision of the Virgin Mary, called Our Lady of Fatima here. Even if you’re not overly religious, the devotion of the pilgrims is inspiring.
I’m not sure many people actually take a pilgrimage to Mont St. Michel in France anymore, but it is a great sight to see floating off in the distance.
Mecca in Saudi Arabia is a major pilgrimage city for Muslims. It is the birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad. All Muslims consider it a duty to make the pilgrimage, called the Hajj, to Mecca at least once in their lives.
Kyoto does not boast only one sacred site: It has Buddhist temples and Shinto Shrines scattered all through it and in the surrounding area. As an ancient Japanese city, it is on many pilgrimage circuits. It’s a wonderful city for travelers to visit to see the temples and sample Japanese culture outside of Tokyo.
Varanasi (also known as Benares) is in India. The city and the Ganges River which runs through it are holy to Hindus. Many pilgrims come not just to visit but to die here, believing that this allows them to enter heaven.
Lhasa is the spiritual center for Tibetan Buddhism, though the Dali Lama lives in India now. Both the Potala Palace and the Jokhang Monastery are pilgrimage sites.
There are many more pilgrimage sites around the world; there’s no way we could begin to tell you about all of them here. We’re not suggesting that you take a pilgrimage, but these cities certainly could call to you, so why not answer and visit one of them.