Travel in and of itself is a spiritual experience. No matter if it's a quick weekend trip to the beach or a two-week vacation in the south of France, you're bound to discover something new about yourself. Perhaps it's something as small as a newfound love of lobster or as refreshing as a renewed perspective on life, but either way, you return home different than when you left.
Imagine then, the feeling you would get taking a religious or spiritually centered vacation, visiting the Holy Land, walking along the same streets as cherished religious figures, praying at a pew or altar just as millions before you have done for thousands of years. It's a moving experience not many people can explain. They return home, knowing that something within them has changed.
In fact, religious services are a part of many people's vacations. According to a survey by the Travel Industry Association, a nonprofit organization representing the travel industry, 28 percent of adult travelers in the United States went to a church, temple, mosque or other place of worship to attend a regularly scheduled religious service while on a trip of 100 miles or more (one way) in the past year. If you can count yourself among those 43 million people, it may be time to consider revolving your vacation around your religious or spiritual beliefs.
Italy's Vatican City and Israel's Jerusalem are two of the destinations that first come to mind when considering a religious vacation, but while there are plenty of travel options in both countries, there also are a variety of tours taking place in numerous cities across Europe and Asia that can provide you with the inspiration you're looking for on your next vacation.
Jerusalem is perhaps the most famous of all religious destinations. It is a very large city, so before you decide to vacation there, it's best to figure out which area offers the sights that you want to see. The Old City, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is home to many holy sites for those of the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths. West Jerusalem, also known as New Jerusalem, is quickly becoming a bustling modern section of the city and is also known as the secular Israeli part of the city.
Considerably smaller than Jerusalem is Vatican City, home to some of the most famous and extraordinary sightseeing in Italy. Easily accessible from Rome by taxi, bus, metro or foot, some of the more popular areas open to tourists are St. Peter's Basilica and the Vatican museums, including frescoes by Raphael and Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel. In St. Peter's Piazza, you can purchase rosary beads blessed by the Pope, as well as many other religious artifacts.
Beyond the Obvious
Beyond these two spiritual mainstays, there are other religious destinations in Europe that are worth exploring. In Alpine Germany sits the quaint village of Oberammergau, which is world-renowned for its "passion play," which the residents of the town put on just once every decade. The play, which is up for a performance in 2010, is a reenactment of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. As it is such a small town, you may want to extend your stay in the Germanic Alps by visiting one of Oberammergau's surrounding cities, which include Munich, Cologne and Frankfurt.
Greece, meanwhile, can provide a more historically religious vacation. The capital city of Athens offers a glimpse into the life of ancient Greeks and their mythology through the famed Acropolis and the ruins of the Parthenon, Erectheum and Propylea.
A good idea is to extend a visit to neighboring cities that provide historical context, like Thessaloniki and Kalambaka. Thessaloniki is where Paul wrote his letter to the Thessalonians and Kalambaka is home to many famous monasteries. Some even extend vacations to include nearby Istanbul in Turkey, visiting many of the churches, mosques and palaces there.
India is also a destination of choice for religious vacations that would delight the heart and soul of any Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh or Jain, or anyone interested in learning more about these faiths.
In addition to Varanasi, which more than 1 million pilgrims visit every year, Allahabad is considered to be one of the holiest spot in all of India. The latter is where Hindu mythology pinpointed that the Lord Brahma, the creator God of the Trinity, chose to land on earth during Prakrishta Yaina. Both cities are in the Uttar Pradesh state, where two of India's holiest rivers, the Ganga and Yamuna, flow.
With so many options for a religious vacation experience, you could be attending a prayer service in your destination of choice before you know it.