The Gothic style of architecture emerged in France and Italy in the 12th century. It was highly influenced by the Church, and it is most often associated with churches and cathedrals. But what about cities? What are some of the best gothic cities in the world to visit? In this article we will go over the medieval towns with the most beautiful gothic buildings.
What is Gothic Architecture?
The best Gothic cities in the world have incredible Gothic architecture and history.
What is gothic architecture? The architecture of Gothic buildings emerged in the Middle Ages at around 1140 A.D.
At this point, gothic design began to replace Romanesque as the prevalent style for churches throughout Europe. The time period lasted until around 1500 A.D., however, gothic architecture can still be seen today in some parts of the world.
The term gothic, historically, has had a negative connotation. To the early modern people who first used it to describe medieval art, architecture, and culture, gothic was seen as primitive and barbaric.
Today, however, the term is used to describe a popular style of architecture, art, and design. In this sense, gothic is seen as darkly beautiful and refined. Many of the best Gothic cities in the world have been shaped by gothic styles of all types.
Many people think of gothic cathedrals and castles when they think of Gothic architecture, but that is only one example. Gothic buildings could also include:
- Town halls and city halls
- Government buildings
Gothic buildings almost always have one main characteristic: pointed arches. These can be seen in the windows, doors, vaults of ceilings, and more.
Another Gothic characteristic are flying buttresses. These are exterior supports for archways. The reason gothic architects liked to use these arches and buttresses was to create the illusion of height, which is why gothic buildings seem taller than they are.
Gothic architecture is not just about looks; it has a very interesting history. Many historians believe that the term “gothic” derives from a German word that some scholars interpret to mean “barbarian.”
These historians believe that this is why some people associate the Gothic style with the Germanic tribes, who were considered barbarians by the Roman Empire. Others disagree with this theory, however, and think it may actually derive from an old French word for “Gaul.”
Best Gothic Cities in the World
The best gothic cities in the world mentioned below were chosen based on several different factors namely their history related to gothic architecture, the types of gothic buildings they have and their overall popularity as tourist destinations for people who are fans of gothic architecture.
Some notable examples of Gothic architecture include: Notre Dame de Paris (France), Cologne Cathedral (Germany), Burgos Cathedral (Spain), Rouen Cathedral (France), Zagreb Cathedral (Croatia), Milan Cathedral (Italy), Prague Castle (Czech Republic), Edinburgh Castle (Scotland), and more.
1. Prague, Czech Republic
The region where Prague stands has been continuously inhabited since the Paleolithic age. In addition to its historic architecture, it also features vibrant nightlife and many great restaurants.
Prague has some incredible gothic architecture that dates back to medieval times when its inhabitants were ruled by several different kings and queens who helped shape the history and cityscape in this area. The city has been named as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
This is one of the best gothic cities in Europe. Prague has some great examples of Czech Gothic architecture such as St. Vitus Cathedral, the Powder Tower and the towers of the Church of Our Lady Before Týn. Charles Bridge and the Old Town Bridge Tower, an impressive Gothic gateway.
2. Cologne, Germany
This German city is home to the largest church in Gothic style in northern Europe: Kölner Dom or the Cathedral of Cologne. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the cathedral is the seat of the Archbishop of Cologne.
Construction began in 1248 and lasted for several hundreds of years. A fine example of High Gothic style, the basilica has five aisles and The Shrine of the Three Kings, a gilded sarcophagus above the altar.
3. Cambridge, Great Britain
Cambridge has a long history of education, with the city dating back to medieval times. This means there are many gothic buildings in the area such as King’s College Chapel and Gonville & Caius College.
Cambridge has quite a few fine examples of medieval architecture including The Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Known as The Round Church, it was built around 1130.
4. Seville, Spain
One reason why there is such a high concentration of outstanding buildings in Seville is because it experienced the “Spanish Golden Age” after the Gothic period.
Seville has many examples of Gothic architecture, including the cathedral where Christopher Columbus’s tomb can be found. The interior of Seville Cathedral is very ornamental and serene, with lots of light streaming in through its stained glass windows.
The largest Gothic building in the world, the cathedral is spread over 124,000 square feet.
5. Milan, Italy
Milan often gets passed up as a city to visit because of its reputation for being crowded and having bad weather. However, this North Italian city is home to one of the most well-known gothic buildings in the world: Milan Cathedral.
Construction of this church started in 1386 and only finished in 1965. Known as Il Duomo di Milano, this gothic building is incredibly ornate on the outside.
You can actually take a tour of the cathedral rooftop. One of the largest cathedrals in Italy, the building is 515 feet long and 302 feet wide.
6. Burgos, Spain
This city in Northern Spain has an incredible cathedral that tops many lists for the best Gothic building of all time. Burgos Cathedral was built between 1080-1350.
The Cathedral of Saint Mary of Burgos is also the burial site of Spanish royalty which makes it a very important place to visit for any history buffs out there. This UNESCO World Heritage Site holds the tomb of El Cid and his wife Doña Jimena. The Spanish military leader ruled Valencia from 1094 to 1099.
7. Barcelona, Spain
The Catalan Gothic architecture in Barcelona features diaphragm arches, wide cathedral naves and simple decoration with relatively little stained glass.
Barcelona has gothic buildings dating back centuries like the church of Santa Maria del Mar. There’s actually a whole Gothic quarter, the Barri Gòtic.
Barcelona Royal Shipyard is another interesting example of Gothic architecture. Inside, you’ll find Barcelona Maritime Museum.
8. London, Great Britain
The sheer number of Gothic buildings in London almost rivals that of Paris. The English Gothic style became popular in England after Henry III came to power. He loved this form of architecture and spent a lot of time and money on building Gothic castles, churches and other buildings.
One of the most popular Gothic architectural styles in London is known as Perpendicular Gothic. It was developed in the fourteenth century and features lancet windows, intricately carved stonework on large buildings, turrets, buttresses and gargoyles.
Some examples of Gothic and neo-Gothic buildings in London include Westminster Abbey, Strawberry Hill House, the Royal Courts of Justice and the Houses of Parliament and The Elizabeth Tower (aka Big Ben).
9. Paris, France
Paris, the capital city of France is a beautiful Gothic city. Although it has been destroyed and rebuilt many times throughout history, there are still some gothic buildings that remain intact today.
Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral in particular is one of the most famous examples of French gothic architecture ever built. It took nearly two centuries to complete and is an iconic symbol of Paris.
Other Gothic buildings in Paris include The Basilica of Saint-Denis, The Louvre Palace, the Palais de la Cite, the Palais de Justice, Hotel Dieu, Le Grand Palais, the Gare du Nord train station, Les Invalides, the Sainte Chapelle and Pont Alexandre III.
10. Florence, Italy
Florence is the birthplace of Renaissance architecture, but it also has some truly beautiful gothic churches. The city flourished during the late Gothic period.
Construction of Florence Cathedral in the Gothic style began in 1296. However, the famous dome by Filippo Brunelleschi was completed in 1436 and is in the Renaissance style.
The Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, to give its full name, is one of the most famous gothic cathedrals in Europe and is surrounded by numerous basilicas, churches and towers.
11. Edinburgh, Scotland
The city of Edinburgh in Scotland is a popular tourist destination for people interested in the gothic style of architecture and history. Not only does it have many beautiful churches which were built during medieval times but also has underground vaults.
Edinburgh is home to one of the finest examples of gothic architecture: Edinburgh Castle. This beautiful castle is located on a volcanic crag and overlooks the whole city.
Another great neo-gothic building is St Giles’ Cathedral. This Edinburgh landmark contains some incredible stained glass windows and has a wonderful gothic spire.
12. Zagreb, Croatia
This Gothic city has an amazing gothic structure, Zagreb Cathedral. This monument was built in the 19th century and has two wonderful spires which are 341 feet high.
Unfortunately, one of the spires was damaged in an earthquake in 2020 so the other spire was also removed for safety and both are currently being restored.
The inside of this beautiful building contains some incredible stained glass windows and marble statues.
13. Salzburg, Austria
The birthplace of Mozart is also known for its gothic architecture and history. Nonnberg Abbey and St. Peter’s Abbey were both erected in the Gothic style. The latter was founded in 696AD and the oldest parts of the building are still standing today.
The city’s famous landmark is Salzburg Castle which was built in 1077, however, much of it has been renovated since then. This historic site is located high above the city, giving panoramic views of the surrounding area.
14. York, U.K.
York is one of the best Gothic cities in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was an important post due to its location on trade routes between England and Scotland by land and sea.
York has over 1,500 listed buildings, many of which are in the gothic style. Largely untouched by WWII bombing campaigns, the city has many gothic buildings that have remained relatively intact since medieval times. This includes York Minster which is one of England’s most impressive cathedrals.
15. Riga, Latvia
The skyline of Riga’s Old Town is dominated by magnificent gothic spires. The famous Riga Cathedral was built in 1211. This cathedral has survived many disasters through history, including fires and explosions caused by enemy attacks.
The House of the Black Heads is another famous example of Riga’s gothic architecture. It began as a chapel for the Brotherhood of Blackheads in 1334, but was eventually expanded into a guildhall, with guilds for bakers, butchers, coopers and others being established there. Nowadays it is a museum containing artifacts from the middle ages.
16. Munich, Germany
Munich is one of Germany’s best gothic cities because it has some wonderful examples of gothic architecture that date back centuries ago. Some great gothic buildings in Munich include Alte Hof, a medieval castle, The Old Town Hall and Karlstor Gate.
17. Segovia, Spain
Segovia has some of the best examples of Gothic architecture in the world. The city is home to many gothic buildings that were built hundreds of years ago like the famous Alcazar Castle and Cathedral of Segovia.
One of the buildings that best illustrates the evolution of Gothic is the former Monastery of San Antonio el Real. Now a hotel, it conserves the fortress features of the earlier construction.
18. Budapest, Hungary
Budapest is the capital of Hungary and a great example of gothic architecture. It lays on both sides of the Danube river and was created in 1873 when Buda, Pest and Óbuda united to one big city.
The Hungarian Parliament Building, Buda Castle and Saint Stephen’s Basilica are built in the Gothic style. Fisherman’s Bastion (Halászbástya), constructed between 1895 and 1902, was designed in the neo-Gothic style by architect Frigyes Schulek after a design by Miklós Ybl. Built to provide a dignified setting for the statues of patron saints of Hungary sculpted by Alajos Stróbl, the Bastion offers fantastic views of the Danube and Pest.
Another famous Budapest landmark, Matthias Church, was first built as a Romanesque basilica on the order of King Béla IV of Hungary after the Mongol invasion. The structure was enlarged and embellished with Gothic decorations during the reign of King Matthias Corvinus, after whom the church is named (he was known as ‘The Just’ for his leniency towards defeated opponents).
19. Oxford, Great Britain
Oxford is known as the best university town in Europe, but there’s also a lot to see outside of education. The city has some impressive gothic buildings like Christ Church College and plenty of museums focusing on archaeology and history.
Here are some more of Oxford’s greatest gothic structures: St Edmund Hall, Magdalen College Tower, All Souls College and the Divinity School at the Bodleian Library. Balliol College Chapel is a great example of Gothic Revival architecture, taking inspiration from medieval style.
20. Tallinn, Estonia
A small city with a rich history, the capital of Estonia has some of the most impressive gothic architecture in Europe. Tallinn is a good example of a Gothic city because it was part of Hanseatic League from the end of the 13th century.
The architecture here was influenced by Gotland island in Sweden. The city has many ancient structures built hundreds of years ago.
Some of the best include St Olaf’s Church which was constructed in 1227 and Toompea Castle that dates back to the 13th Century! Tallinn Town Hall is a beautiful medieval Gothic building, with an ornate Tristan and Isolde carved bench inside.
21. Vienna, Austria
This Austrian city boasts many famous Gothic buildings, including St. Stephen’s Cathedral and The Hofburg Palace, which contains the famous Spanish Riding School. Although The Hofburg has a mix of architectural styles, the Imperial Court Chapel (Hofburgkapelle) has a distinctly Gothic appearance.
As for buildings that aren’t churches, Vienna’s Town Hall (Rathaus) was built in Gothic style around 1400. The Rathaus stands out on the skyline as a masterpiece of Gothic art and is one of Vienna’s top tourist attractions.
22. Ghent, Belgium
Ghent’s most important Gothic building is its Cloth Hall and Belfry Tower. Built in the Brabant Gothic style, it shows up on many pictures of Ghent. This is the tallest belfry in Belgium, at 91 meters.
Ghent Cloth Hall was originally used to trade cloths, however the stalls have been removed now and nowadays it hosts various events. You can even take a tour if you want!
Another beautiful Gothic building in Ghent is Saint Nicholas’ Church (Sint-Niklaaskerk), which was built in the 13th century. It is constructed from rare Tournai bluestone.
23. Salamanca, Spain
Salamanca is one of Spain’s oldest cities, with buildings that are considered fine examples of Gothic architecture. Of particular interest are the architectural features found in old college buildings such as the University of Salamanca, the oldest in Spain.
Salamanca was an educational centre during the 12th and 13th centuries which is why these old college buildings are so well preserved. Other magnificent secular buildings in Salamanca include the City Hall and the New Cathedral.
The main element that characterizes Salamanca Gothic architecture is its rose window design. In addition to the rose windows, Salamanca also has many brick towers that are usually square-shaped. The House of Shells or Casa de las Conchas was built in the 15th century and has over 300 shells adorning its walls.
24. Ypres, Belgium
You could definitely class Ypres as a Goth city. It is home to the amazing St Martin’s Cathedral. Standing 102 meters high, the cathedral is one of the tallest buildings in Belgium.
Ypres also has numerous other incredible examples of Gothic architecture. The entire city was built during the Middle Ages, and everything within its walls is gothic (or neo-gothic), from the houses to the churches.
The Ypres Cloth Hall and its belfry tower are a reproduction of the original 13th century structure and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
25. Bamberg, Germany
Bamberg is one of the best gothic cities in Germany. It is home to some very beautiful gothic architecture that dates back centuries ago.
The city also played an important role during the Protestant Reformation, which took place from 1517-1648 A.D. Some wonderful Gothic buildings in Bamberg include Bamberg Cathedral and the Altes Rathaus – the Old Town Hall, now a porcelain museum.
26. Lisbon, Portugal
Searching for Gothic architecture in Lisbon? Here are three sites you simply must see.
Jerónimos Monastery is one of the greatest examples of late Gothic Manueline architecture in Portugal. It was built as a monastery for monks where they would pray and focus on God 24 hours a day. The site itself offers an amazing view over the city due to its location along the River Tagus.
Lisbon Cathedral, also known as the Sé de Lisboa, is one of Portugal’s most important buildings. Although there have been subsequent renovations since its construction began in 1147, you can still see the Gothic influence in this structure.
The Castle of São Jorge was taken over by Afonso Henriques in the 12th century, who turned it into a Gothic fortress. It is located on the highest point within Lisbon overlooking the rest of the city and offers some great views.
27. Bruges, Belgium
Bruges is one of Belgium’s best gothic cities. It has some great examples of gothic architecture that date back centuries ago.
Some cool gothic buildings in Bruges include: The Basilica of the Holy Blood, Bruges City Hall, and The Gruuthusemuseum. The Hospital of St. John dates from the mid twelfth century and is one of the oldest surviving hospital buildings in Europe.
28. Rouen, France
The great Gothic Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Rouen took hundreds of years to build. The outside of the church has been immortalized by French Impressionist painter Claude Monet in a series of artworks.
The northern French city was also home to the Rouen School, a circle of painters influenced by Flemish painting and Gothic manuscript illumination. Rouen Cathedral has three impressive towers: Butter Tower, Saint-Romain Tower and Lantern Tower and spire.
Saint-Ouen Abbey is another beautiful Gothic building. This large Roman Catholic church is currently being restored by the French State and the City of Rouen.
29. Dublin, Ireland
In the past, Dublin was a Gothic city that had some of the most beautiful architecture in all of Europe. Although much of that is gone, there still remains some beautiful Gothic architecture. Dublin is considered one of the best Gothic cities in the world because it has several styles of gothic buildings:
The Chapel Royal of Dublin Castle is a masterpiece of Gothic Revival.
Christ Church Cathedral is a blend of Romanesque and Gothic architecture.
The Long Room Library at Trinity College is an imposing Neo-Gothic structure with a wooden roof, containing 200,000 ancient books and manuscripts.
In Conclusion: Best Gothic Cities
If you love the dark, mysterious side of architecture, then this list of medieval cities is for you. Gothic buildings are some of the most awe-inspiring structures in the world – their spires reaching to touch Heaven’s clouds; their gargoyles looking like they could leap off at any moment.
This list of popular tourist destinations features what we think are some of the best examples that exist today (and yes, there may be a few surprises!). You’ll find information on both well-known landmarks as well as hidden gems across Europe.
Let us know if your favorite gothic city isn’t listed. Read our other travel features next!
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