Christianity is the world's most prolific religion, with churches and other dedicated buildings on literally every continent, including Antarctica. Several sites built in the name of Christianity are on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
As Christian congregations have had a significant role in most communities where they are present, a traveller regardless of faith will learn much from visiting a local church.
Some main types of Christian buildings and sites are:
- Cathedral: A prominent church, and the seat of a bishop
- Church: A building dedicated to Christian prayer and ceremony, inaugurated by a bishop
- Chapel: A similar, non-inaugurated building
- Monastery: A place where monks live and worship communally
- Convent: A place where nuns live and worship communally
- Cemetery: Can be tied to a Christian congregation or be multi-religious
- See also: Holy Land
- Vatican City, Rome
- Jerusalem, Israel
- Bethlehem, West Bank
- Moscow, Russia, center of the Russian Orthodox church
- Salt Lake City, United States, center of the Latter Day Saints (Mormon) movement.
- Lourdes, France
- Way of St. James to Santiago de Compostela
- Aparecida, Brazil
- Saint Olaf's Way to Trondheim, Norway, to Nidaros Cathedral, where St. Olaf is buried
When attending a service or ceremony at a Christian place of worship, it is appropriate to dress conservatively and show respect; details vary by place. It is a very good idea to learn a bit about the local rules before visiting a place of worship. There is a vast difference between any expected behaviour during a service; for example, some may define behaving reverently as not eating or drinking or taking photographs, checking your mobile phone, and so on. On the other hand many churches are more like a modern concert in style where all of the above are welcome. Some even have the eating and drinking as the basis of the service sitting around in a 'Café Style'. In many Christian churches, a man should remove his hat, and in some, a woman is expected to cover her head. Depending on the church and what is going on at the time, voices should be kept down, and mobile phones and similar devices should be set to silent. You should avoid leaving the church while the service is in progress unless necessary; again depending on the type and style of service.
If you are visiting a place of worship that is a destination for travellers and are not interested in worship, it is better to wait for a service or ceremony to conclude before visiting. Alternatively, if you want to know more of the heart of the community, go to a service.
Churches tend to use the language of the country they are located. There are also many expatriate churches in many places using the language of a community's homeland.
The Roman Catholic church used to employ the Latin language widely, although this has been changed since the 1970's so that services are typically given in the language of the community. The Vatican is a place where Latin may still be observed in active use.
Many Christian houses of worship are spectacular buildings. On their exteriors, many churches have stone carving, for example in their tympana and niches. In their interiors, many have priceless works of art, in the form of frescoes, framed paintings, sculptures, stained glass windows, mosaics, and woodworking. They may also have relics - the remains of body parts or objects associated with saints or other figures holy to Christians - that inspired the original construction of a cathedral, or famous icons of the Virgin Mary, which are primarily responsible for making the building a place of pilgrimage.
In addition, cathedrals and other large churches may have lovely bell towers or baptisteries with separate entrances that are well worth visiting, and particularly old churches may have a crypt that includes artifacts from previous houses of worship the current building was built on top of, and associated museums that house works of art formerly displayed in the church.
Churches are places for:
- Personal meditation, contemplation and prayer between masses/services
- Worship services, which vary widely in style between different churches
- Confession of sins or/and counseling
- Religious education and spiritual direction
- Various sacraments, such as baptism, confirmation, weddings, and funerals
- Communal activities, such as shared meals or snacks
- Charitable giving and receiving
- Many also run concert series or other performances, some of which are world-famous, or/and are known for having a great organist, chorus, or/and solo singers and instrumentalists
Churches generally have pamphlets in plain sight of visitors, describing their spiritual mission, schedule of services, communal and charitable activities, what charitable and maintenance/restoration work needs contributions, who to contact to find out more information about all of the above, and often the history of the building and its artworks.
Some churches have a money box where visitors can pay for candles and booklets or give to the church or/and its various missions and charities. Others have cafes or/and gift shops. Some do not want you to give money unless you attend regularly, as their spiritual mission is to welcome all comers, but it is a rare church that wouldn't welcome a sincere donation.
Some churches offer wine (with alcohol) as part of a communion service. Others will offer a non-alcoholic replacement such as grape juice.
Some denominations of Christianity prohibit or restrict alcohol consumption, while others celebrate it. So whereas a social event organized by a Baptist church in the United States may be strictly alcohol-free, a Catholic church in Germany is likely to invite all members of the congregation to join the celebrants at a beer hall after a high mass. The beer hall may even be next to the church, and the beer they serve may be brewed by monks.
Different branches of Christianity have different attitudes to other activities on a Sunday. In some areas customs may demand that shops and entertainments shut on a Sunday.
Some monasteries offer accommodation to travellers.