Traveling to holy sites can be an incredibly moving experience. From beautiful cathedrals in Italy to majestic temples in India, the world is filled with holy places that are important to the religions of the world. Taking a religious trip is an excellent way of making sure that you’re able to experience religious sites in all their glory, absorbing their history and significance, and taking time for both sightseeing and contemplation.
Whether you are traveling because you have a personal religious connection to your destination, or because you are interested in the historical and cultural impact of these sites, the world is full of moving, religiously-significant experiences. You may even be surprised by the opportunities available to travel and learn about the great religions of the world.
Where To Go
Italy and the Vatican
The Vatican is the seat of the global Catholic Church, and it’s an essential place to visit for devout Catholics and Christians of all denominations. Outside of the Vatican, Italy feature some of the most incredible churches and reliquaries in all of Europe. A religious tour of Italy can show you the highlights of the major religious sites, as well as the treasures of art history that reside in the country’s many churches and museums. The Vatican is also a popular destination for travelers of all faiths due to the stunning architecture and museums which house some of the world's most well-known artworks, like the Sistine Chapel.
Israel is filled with sites that are holy to three major religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. From Bethlehem to Jerusalem to the Dead Sea, taking a religious tour of Israel (self-guided or in a group) will bring you a wealth of information about the history and significance of the different holy sites. In addition, tours guarantee an ease of transportation between holy sites that could be difficult to achieve on your own.
India is a huge country, and it features numerous holy sites important to Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims, and Buddhists. A religious tour of India can help you navigate the sites that are most important to your faith while also helping you learn about the country’s rich and complex religious history.
The Camino de Santiago in Spain is one of Europe’s most beautiful and historic Catholic pilgrimage routes—so much so that the entire route is recognized by UNESCO for its importance for cultural heritage. Typically, people hike or bicycle for most of the route. The great advantage of taking a religious tour for this route is that, in addition to providing you with a wealth of local and historical information, a guide can arrange for your bags travel ahead by car to your stopping point for the evening, so that you don’t have to carry all your gear along the trail.
It's worth noting that there are markers across Europe which indicate a network of pilgrimage routes that originally comprised the Camino de Santiago. You can find these markers across France and Germany.
Japan features numerous Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples, as well as incredible Buddhist pilgrimage routes. Taking a religious tour through Japan can help you make the most of these beautiful sites. Some walking tours give you the opportunity to hike between major pilgrimage sites, and many tours also offer the opportunity to stay in Buddhist temples and experience the monastic life for a few days.
Planning Your Trip
What to Look for in a Religious Tour
When planning a religious trip, as with any organized tour, you should start by looking at the itinerary and make sure that it incorporates the religious sites or monuments that are most important to you. You should also look for a tour that has an established track record and knowledgeable guides.
If you’re planning on taking a walking tour or pilgrimage, you may wish to look for a tour that gives the option of sending your bags on a courtesy shuttle, so that you’re only walking with a day pack rather than with all of your gear.
Average Religious Trip Length & Cost
Most organized religious trips are about a week in duration, though you can also find shorter trips as well as multiweek tours. Pricing can vary quite a bit based on the destination and the length of the trip, but on average you should expect to spend $1,000-$2,000 for a one week tour.
Packing Tips & Gear Rental
The main thing to keep in mind when packing for a religious tour is that many holy sites have strict dress codes. Check with your tour operator ahead of time for the specifics of the sites that you’ll be visiting, but in general you should expect to cover shoulders, knees, and everything between. Some sites require arms and legs to be completely covered, and some require head coverings, so make sure that you pack options for whatever your holy sites require.
If you’re planning on a walking trip, you should invest in a good pair of broken-in hiking boots and a comfortable day pack to carry snacks, spare socks, and a bottle of water while you hike.
As with any other type of travel, make sure when preparing for a religious trip that you check the visa and immunization requirements for your destination. For religious tours in particular, you may also wish to brush up on the local etiquette, both for religious sites and activities and for day-to-day life.
Qualifications & Training
You don’t need any particular qualifications or training to take a religious trip. That said, a basic knowledge of and sensitivity toward the religion whose holy sites you’re visiting is a good foundation, particularly if you’re visiting holy sites of a religion not your own. For example, if you’re planning on visiting Shinto shrines while in Japan but don’t yet know anything about Shintoism, it’s a good idea to do a bit of advance reading and make sure that you know the dress code and etiquette for visiting the sites.
If you’re planning on taking a walking tour of religious sites, you may wish to do some physical training ahead of time to prepare. Check with your tour operator to determine the intensity of the walks/ hikes, and what level of physical fitness is needed.
For walking tours of religious sites, the risks are the same as for any hiking vacation. Blisters, sunburn, and insect bites can be common annoyances on most trails, and there are always the minor risks of slips and falls on rocky or uneven terrain.
You may wish to bring basic first-aid supplies with you on a walking trip, particularly if your religious tour is self-guided. Otherwise, following the instructions of your guide, practicing basic etiquette, and being mindful of your surroundings are pretty much the only safety tips you’ll need.