Ditch the guidebook and soak up the mythical nature of these awe-inspiring temples. Standing for millennia, their ethereal beauty has long attracted the gaze of admirers from all over the world. From India to Italy, discover nine destinations that are definitely worth a cultural pilgrimage.
Gloriously opulent, Shwedagon Pagoda is the main landmark of Yangon city
The entrance to Shwedagon Pagoda is guarded by a humongous pair of gilded leogryphs – but what waits beyond is even more thrilling. A 100-metre tall stupa towers over Yangon’s skyline, glistening in gold and encrusted with 4,531 diamonds. Shwedagon Pagoda is more than a Buddhist place of worship. Its careful design also encapsulates over 2,500 years of culture and architecture. Housed in an opulent three-story Victorian building, The Strand, takes you back in time and offers beautiful views over Yangon River.
Sergiyev Posad, Russia
Founded in 1337, the Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius is home to over 300 monks
Sergiyev Posad is home to the magnificent Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius, the most important monastery of the Russian Orthodox Church. Founded in the 14th century, the blue, white and gold complex rises majestically over the city. Roughly 70 km northeast of Moscow, Sergiyev Posad is well worth a day trip for anyone visiting the Russian capital. Or if you prefer to spend the night, rest your head in one of the stately rooms at the Krasnaya Gora Boutique Hotel, just 500 metres from the monastery.
The iconic red torii gates are a must-see in Kyoto
Kyoto has over 1,600 temples – one more beautiful than the next – so planning an itinerary isn’t an easy feat. Must-do’s include the golden pavilion Kinkaku-ji, the famous red torii gates of Fushimi-Inari-Taisha Shrine, and Ginkaku-ji temple with its Silver Pavilion and exquisite zen gardens. The traditional Jeugiya guesthouse is just a short walk from Yasaka Shrine and Chion-In Temple and offers visitors a truly authentic experience.
Siem Reap, Cambodia
Angkor Wat is a mythical remnant of the ancient Khmer Empire
Siem Reap’s Angkor Wat is the world’s largest religious monument and one of Southeast Asia’s most important archeological sites. Built from an estimated 10 million sandstone blocks, it’s covered top to bottom in elaborate carvings and reliefs. Many of these illustrations depict mythical creatures like unicorns, griffins and dragons – and the overgrowing vegetation across the ancient site adds to the magic. Round off your trip with an indulgent overnight stay at the lavish Metta Residence & Spa hotel.
Kumbakonam, Tamil Nadu, India
A temple wall in Kumbakonam depicts hundreds of brightly coloured deities
Kumbakonam is often called ‘temple town’ – and it’s easy to see why. This popular Indian pilgrimage destination has over 188 multicolored and intricately decorated Hindu temples dotted across its municipality. One of Kumbakonam’s most important religious celebrations is the Mahamaham festival, which only takes place every 12 years and sees thousands of pilgrims bathe in the holy waters of the Mahamaham tank. After a busy day of touring temples, you can cool off in the Mayapuri Amira’s inviting outdoor pool.
Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya, Thailand
Wat Chaiwatthanaram, an ancient Buddhist temple in Ayutthaya National Park
Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya is a UNESCO World Heritage city dating back to 1350. One of the main attractions is Wat Chaiwatthanaram – its eight eye-catching chapels are connected to secret passageways and adorned with over a hundred Buddha statues. The 42-metre-long Reclining Buddha statue at Wat Lokaya Sutha is equally worth a visit, as is Ayutthaya Historical Park, home to over 67 temples and ruins. Nearby, the charming Phuttal Residence offers barbecue facilities, free bike hire and a lush green garden.
Agrigento, Sicily, Italy
The Temple of Juno, pictured above, was constructed in the 5th century BC
Located on Sicily’s southwestern coast, the Valley of the Temples is a sensational display of Greater Greek architecture, spread across 1,300 hectares of land. With temples and other ruins dating back as far as 510 BC, the archeological park is one of the island’s main attractions – and you’ll need quite some time to explore all of its nooks and crannies. Afterwards, enjoy a refreshment and change of perspective on the terrace of B&B Triskéles, which overlooks the valley and bay.
Shirdi, Maharashtra, India
The small town of Shirdi, located in the Indian state of Maharashtra, is the hometown of saint Sai Baba. Its Sai Baba Temple attracts a whopping 25,000 Hindu pilgrims every day – a number that rises even higher during important religious festivities. With such a large number of visitors, finding accommodation can be tricky, but Hotel G-Square offers excellent value for money and is just across the road from the temple.
Dambulla, Sri Lanka
Golden Temple of Dambulla - Photo by Martin Lamprecht @martinlamprecht.com
Beautiful beaches and exotic wildlife aside, one of Sri Lanka’s main attractions is the Golden Temple of Dambulla – a complex of caves covered in elaborate Buddhist murals and filled with 157 statues, many of them a staggering height. From here, you can also enjoy remarkable vistas of the surrounding countryside and awe-inspiring Sigiriya rock fortress. Round off your visit with a stay at The Green Edge, a family-run, eco-friendly bed and breakfast.