Ascetic monks withdrew from their monasteries sometime between the sixth and eighth centuries to pursue a greater union with God on these inaccessible sea crags rising from the Atlantic Ocean, about seven miles off the coast of County Kerry, Ireland. Although the monks moved back to the mainland in the 13th century, the island continues to lure pilgrims for centuries. This site is surrounded by one of Ireland’s most important sites for breeding seabirds.
Ascetic monks withdrew from their monasteries sometime between the sixth and eighth centuries to pursue a greater union with God on these inaccessible sea crags rising from the Atlantic Ocean, about seven miles off the coast of County Kerry, Ireland. Although the monks moved back to the mainland in the 13th century, the island continues to lure pilgrims for centuries. This site is surrounded by one of Ireland’s most important sites for breeding seabirds.
Photograph by Hartmut Krinitz, laif/Redux

Discover 22 of Europe’s most sacred sites

From Neolithic stone circles to monasteries clinging to cliffs, these awe-inspiring spiritual retreats stand the test of time.

Across the ages, people have traveled to the farthest reaches of the world in search of solace and enlightenment. During the Neolithic period, clusters of standing stones were erected—by moving monoliths weighing several tons over a hundred miles—for celebrations and rituals. Around the sixth century, a group of ascetic monks withdrew from society to crags rising from the ocean. Over the following centuries, other religious groups, aiming to be closer to the heavens, established precipitous monasteries hanging from cliffs aiming to be closer to the heavens.

Today, travelers of all faiths retrace these well-worn paths. The mystical places transport visitors back in time to explore mysteries and relics of past civilizations. Hikers set former mountain strongholds, such as Château de Puilaurens in France, as their lofty goal while pilgrims request a night’s stay inside cloisters of Greece’s Mount Athos to learn from monks the art of disconnection. Thousands from around the globe follow the footsteps of our Neolithic ancestors to England for dancing and drumming under the rising sun in a ring of sacred stones at Stonehenge and Avebury during summer solstice. (Are you a modern-day pilgrim? See 20 extraordinary cathedrals in Europe.)

These spiritual and historic destinations continue to capture our imaginations, underscoring their timeliness. Here are 22 of our favorite sacred spaces in Europe.

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