Whether you’re looking to better understand your own religion, want a glimpse into another religion, or just need some inspiration and self-reflection, a faith-based destination may be the perfect go-to — and believe it or not, America has quite the selection.
We searched hundreds of religious, sacred, and spiritual sites to find the 30 most inspiring faith-based destinations in America. Because we know that words like “faith” and “sacred” can mean different things to different people, we didn’t limit ourselves to a single religion, so our list is represented by destinations affiliated with Christianity, Mormonism, Buddhism, and Native American beliefs, to name but a few. While we are certain there are more than 30 places in the United States to find faith-based inspiration, we considered things like public access, religious significance, and historical significance to narrow our list down to the 30 most inspiring faith-based destinations in America.
Amish communities are all over the Midwest and Northeast, but if you’re really looking to understand the Amish, we have to recommend the small town of Menno-Hof, Indiana. More than 20,000 Amish live in the region of this inspiring faith-based destination. Besides the usual imagery that comes with visiting Amish country — horse-drawn buggies, playing children, busy farmhands — visitors will find in Menno-Hof a fascinating information center complete with exhibits, historical tableaux, and film presentations that provide a solid overview of the history and traditions of this community.
The Ark Encounter
The Book of Genesis comes to life at The Ark Encounter in Williamstown, Kentucky. The Encounter features a Noah’s Ark that is 510 feet long, 85 feet wide, and 51 feet high — the exact dimensions described in the Bible. The Encounter is a family-friendly interactive exhibit that is sure to answer questions common and not-so-common that people might have about the story of Noah and the flood.
Baha’i House of Worship
Only eight Baha’i houses of worship exist in the world, one of which is located in Wilmette, Illinois. As with other houses of worship like it, this inspiring faith-based destination boasts nine sides and is surrounded by stunning gardens and fountains. Interestingly, the Illinois Baha’i House of Worship is the oldest surviving one of its kind in the world, despite there being much larger populations of Baha’is in other parts of the world (most notably Central Asia).
Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary
One hundred forty-five years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, this stunning basilica was constructed in Baltimore — a place where Catholics had been persecuted by the Puritans after fleeing persecution in England. The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary is today a welcome place for people of all religions. It has been blessed by both Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II, the latter of whom called it “the worldwide symbol of religious freedom.” Indeed, while visiting the basilica, it is hard to remain unmoved by the thought of the many whose cruel persecution inspired the building of this place.
Basilica of St. Josaphat
Located in Lincoln Village in Milwaukee, the Basilica of St. Josaphat is one of only 62 minor basilicas in the country, and it is absolutely stunning! Modeled after St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, St. Josaphat features one of the largest copper domes in the world. Inside, the basilica’s interior includes a number of incredible and well-known murals painted by artists like Gonippo Raggi, Conrad Schmitt, and Zukotynski. Take a wander through this beautiful basilica and it’ll be easy to see why we’ve included it on our list of the most inspiring faith-based destinations in America.
Bighorn Medicine Wheel
It’s covered in snow for much of the year, and even when the snow has melted, it takes quite the trek to reach it. But if you’re game to travel the more than 10,000 feet to the summit of Medicine Mountain, you’ll be able to see just why we had to include the Bighorn Medicine Wheel on our list of the most inspiring faith-based destinations. The so-called wheel is actually a cairn — a ring-shaped pile of rocks. While we can only speculate about the wheel’s original uses, we do know that it has been a place of great power for the Crow, Lakota Sioux, and Cheyenne tribes for as many as 800 years. To fully experience the wheel, walk around the circumference on the man-made path and pay attention to the things you see and hear.
Billy Graham Library
Charlotte, North Carolina
Located on 20 acres near Charlotte, North Carolina is the Billy Graham Library, is an inspiring testament to the work of one of America’s best-known evangelists. The library is housed in a 40,000-square foot building styled after a dairy barn (Graham’s father was a dairy farmer). Enter through the cross-shaped entrance and you’ll find multimedia presentations, photographs, and various memorabilia items documenting Graham’s fascinating evangelical journey. Don’t leave without strolling through the memorial prayer garden and the restored home in which Graham lived as a child.
Chapel of the Holy Cross
When a local Sedona artist and rancher, Marguerite Brunswig, began having visions of a cross on New York’s Empire State Building, she set out to build this: the Chapel of the Holy Cross and one of the most inspiring faith-based destinations in America. This eye-catching chapel, which is associated with the Roman Catholic Church, was given the 1597 “Award of Honor” by the American Institute of Architects. Besides being an awesome addition to the local mountainscape, the chapel is also significant as the first Catholic Church to be built as a modern structure.
Christ in the Smokies Museum and Gardens
Gatlinburg, Tennessee’s Christ in the Smokies Museum and Gardens is a great faith-based destination sure to inspire anyone, especially young children or those just learning about the Bible. Through dramatic lighting, music, special effects, and life-size figures, the museum has recreated important scenes from the Bible so that visitors will actually feel as if they are standing with Christ and other Biblical figures. After your guided tour, be sure to check out the museum’s collection of ancient coins and gems, as well as the unique and inspiring merchandise in the gift shop.
Located only a half hour from Cincinnati is the Creation Museum, a two-story, 70,000-square foot museum with more than 160 interactive exhibits. Visitors to the museum can learn about important scriptural events such as The Fall and the mission of Christ, interact with animatronic dinosaurs, pet exotic animals, and even take a mile-long hike along a nature trail. For those with the time and interest, the museum even offers weekly workshops and programs over a revolving list of fascinating topics.
Garden Grove, California
You don’t need to tune into Pastor Robert H. Schuller’s “Hour of Power” broadcast each week to agree that the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California is one of the most inspiring faith-based destinations in America. The megachurch, which houses the 10,000 people strong Crystal Cathedral Ministries, has long been considered one of the country’s most impressive buildings. Designed by architect Phillip Johnson, the building consists of more than 10,000 panes of glass that both illuminate and provide a sense of intimacy in a way that only an inspiring church can.
El Camino Real
As if the entire Pacific Coast were not inspiring enough, California’s famed Pacific Coast Highway happens to run right along El Camino Real, one of the most inspiring faith-based destinations in America. The “Royal Road” was established by a group of Franciscan monks who built a new Spanish-style mission along the 600 mile road. The result is a collection of 21 missions, some in better shape than others, but all inspiring. You can follow the entire route (beginning in San Diego and ending in Sonoma, just outside of San Francisco), or just pick one or two.
El Santaurio de Chimayo
Chimayo, New Mexico
Spain has Lourdes, and New Mexico has El Santaurio de Chimayo — often called the “Lourdes of North America.” In 1810, a crucifix was miraculously discovered on what is now the floor of this simple adobe church. Since then, thousands of pilgrims have come to Chimayo each year to gather soil from that spot, soil which is said to have curative powers. Take a look at the hundreds of photographs, crutches, and other tokens left on the wall by those who credit El Santaurio for healing them, then add your own prayer to the prayer tee located just outside.
Festival of Faiths
If you really want to be inspired, head to Louisville, Kentucky in the spring time for its annual five-day inter-faith worship conference. Nicknamed the “Sundance of the Sacred,” the Festival of Faith draws thousands of people from all over the world. The goal is to nurture and promote interfaith cooperation, and the event — which has a different theme each year — has a calendar of events chock-full of well-known religious teachers and leaders (we’re talking Dalai Lama well-known), films and concerts, panel discussions, prayer group sessions, and meditation services.
Holy Land Experience
Everyone knows Orlando is home to places like Walt Disney World and Universal Studios, but for those looking for something more inspiring, the faith-based destination that is the Holy Land Experience is sure not to disappoint. Enter through the theme park’s gates, and you’ll feel as if you’ve been transported 7,000 miles and 2,000 years back to ancient Jerusalem. Each structure in the park brings to life scenes from the life of Christ to life. Look for the Garden Tomb, Great Temple and Plaza, Qumran Dead Sea Caves, and Wilderness Tabernacle, among others.
Hsi Lai Temple
Hacienda Heights, California
One of the largest Buddhist Temples in the Western Hemisphere is located right here in America, in Hacienda Heights, California. The Hsi Lai Temple (which means “coming west” in Chinese) serves as the North American headquarters for Fo Guang Shan, a Taiwanese Buddhist organization, and as such, attracts hundreds of visitors per year. The temple offers retreats, classes, Dharma services, and a pretty atmosphere for Buddhists and anyone else who may be interested in finding spiritual inspiration at the Hsi Lai Temple.
Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage
The Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage in Cleveland, Ohio is a fascinating faith-based destination whose mission it is to “foster the tolerance and understanding” of the “Jewish heritage through an American perspective.” Visitors can explore each of the seven themed areas — ranging from immigration to triumphs and tragedies — to enjoy the artwork, interactive exhibits, artifacts, and films on display. Interestingly, the building in which the museum is housed is made of golden Jerusalem limestone that was mined and hand-chiseled in Israel.
National Sanctuary of our Sorrowful Mother
Better known as “The Grotto,” the National Sanctuary of our Sorrowful Mother is an outdoor shrine and sanctuary associated with the Catholic religion. The sanctuary is visited by hundreds of people a year searching for inspiration. On your own visit, take a wander over and around the destination’s 62 total acres to find a clifftop meditation hall, a church, multiple trails, botanical gardens, and even trail of the Stations of the Cross.
Old North Church
Boston’s Old North Church has a long and inspiring past. On a visit to this National Historic Landmark, you’ll likely first recognize its tower, which once displayed lanterns (“one if by land, two if by sea”) signaling the approach of the British army. But Old North’s role in American history isn’t the only reason we’ve included it on our list of course. This church is the oldest in all of Boston, and its bells are the oldest to be consecutively used in any church in America.
Palmyra, New York
Those interested in the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) will find lots of inspiration in Palmyra, New York. This small town is known for some of the earliest events in LDS history, and includes such sites as Hill Cumorah, the Sacred Grove, the Smith Family Farm, and Peter Whitmer Log Home, and the Mormon Historic Publication Site. If you are visiting Palmyra during the summer months, try to catch the famous theatrical Hill Cumorah Pageant.
Shambhala Mountain Center
Fort Collins, Colorado
The famed Tibetan monk and author Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche founded this 600-acre center atop a mountain overlooking Fort Collins, Colorado. Visitors in need of some spiritual inspiration, or even just some R&R, can make their way to the center for one of its many retreats, classes, and programs, many of which are led by some of Buddhism’s best-known teachers. Day trippers will enjoy visiting the impressive gold-leaf stupa (a landmark designed to promote harmony) with its beautiful paintings and a large statue of Buddha, while overnight visitors can stay at the center’s retreat campus.
St. Patrick’s Cathedral
New York, New York
St. Patrick’s Cathedral is one of the most famous religious sites in America, and an easy addition to our list of the most inspiring faith-based destinations in America. As the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese in New York, St. Patrick’s is also the largest Catholic cathedral in the United States. It’s a stunning example of Gothic architecture, complete with marble stone columns, an altar designed by Paolo Medici of Rome, and an impressive collection of stained glass windows.
St. Paul’s Chapel
Manhattan, New York
This little chapel dates all the way back to 1766. Just to be one of the oldest places of worship in America makes it inspiring, but St. Paul’s is perhaps most famous because of a visit George Washington made just after his 1789 inauguration. If old age and awesome connections aren’t inspiring enough for you, consider this: the church, located only a block from the World Trade Center, was unharmed during the September 11 attacks, and provided meals and shelter for hundreds of Ground Zero recovery workers.
New York, New York
The world’s largest synagogue, Temple Emanu-El, can be found right here in the United States. Located in New York City, the temple was built in 1929 and can hold upwards of 2,500 worshippers. This inspiring faith-based destination includes a number of stunning architectural details that you won’t want to miss, including Art Deco elements, a mosaic-covered sanctuary, and symbols ranging from Byzantine to Moorish. As if the synagogue’s interior were not inspiring enough, there is also a museum that details the history of New York Jewish life, and has an impressive collection of Hanukkah lamps spanning from the 14th century.
Salt Lake City, Utah
Salt Lake City’s Temple Square is the instantly recognizable cornerstone of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons). It’s also one of the most inspiring faith-based destinations in the U.S. The square is home to the Salt Lake Temple, which was built in 1853. Only practicing Mormons are allowed in the Temple, but visitors will find plenty of inspiration while roaming the stunning grounds. If you’re really curious, pop into the South Visitors’ Center, where a scale model of the Temple can be found. A Family History Library, Beehive House, and Assembly Hall, among other things, will keep you busy and interested for quite awhile.
Eureka Springs, Arkansas
Spiritual inspiration and nature often go hand-in-hand, which is why we just had to include Arkansas’ Thorncrown Chapel on our list of the most inspiring faith-based destinations. The chapel is constructed of more than 425 windows and over 6,000 square feet of glass, offering worshippers and visitors stunning views of the surrounding wooded area. Besides being open to guests, the chapel hosts services and weddings, and more than six million people have witnessed its splendor since 1980.
Newport, Rhode Island
Famed colonial architect Peter Harrison designed the Touro Synagogue in 1759 for the Jewish population who had lived in Newport, Rhode Island since 1658. Everything about the synagogue is intensely symbolic. Enter into the building (the entrance faces east towards Jerusalem) and admire the synagogue’s interior which has been equated with an exquisite English palace. Look for all the different ways the number 12 (for the 12 tribes of Israel) has been incorporated into the design. Then be inspired by this faith-based destination that proudly represents the long history of Jewish Americans.
Manhattan, New York
Make a visit to Manhattan’s Trinity Church and gain a unique appreciation for what it was like to come to America in search of religious freedom. Though it is now surrounded by modern skyscrapers, the Trinity Church you see today was constructed in 1788 (the 1697 original had burned down) and its steeple remained the highest point in the city for around 80 years. Just standing for a moment in Trinity is sure to inspire, but don’t head out without stopping in the graveyard, where you’ll find the final burial spot of Alexander Hamilton (which isn’t so religious, but awesome none the less).
Washington National Cathedral
Memorial services after national tragedies have been held here, as have funerals for a number of senators and presidents. Head here on a Sunday, and you might run into your local congressman or the Vice President. The National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. is the spiritual home of all Americans, so it was a no-brainer for our list of the most inspiring faith-based destinations in America. The Cathedral was built in the early 1900s and is a stunning example of neo-Gothic architecture. But take a look at the Space Window in the Sanctuary; it contains a piece of lunar rock. And can you find Darth Vader among the gargoyles? Out back, take a moment to admire the Olmsted Woods. Designed by famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., this is one of the only old-growth forests left in the D.C. area.
Wycliffe Discovery Center
John Wycliffe, the 14th-century English scholar responsible for translating the Bible into common language, is the focus of this inspiring faith-based destination in Orlando, Florida. Visitors to the Wycliffe Discovery Center can explore the Bible’s history, plus a handful of interesting linguistic and cultural issues, through films, computer games, simulations, hands-on activities, and presentations. The center supports a number of missions around the world, and is a great place for faith-based groups to attend.