World's Most-Visited Sacred Sites
Tokyo's Harajuku neighborhood is famous for its loud street fashion (embraced by singer Gwen Stefani, among others), but it’s most popular attraction is hardly a household name. The tranquil Meiji Shrine attracts roughly 30 million annually, as does the Sensoji Temple, making them the world’s most-visited sacred sites.
While each religion has its holy seasons, there’s always a reason to visit sacred sites, whether you’re intrigued by the history, art, or simply following a packaged tour. Whatever the day, you’ll find Catholics attending mass at Mexico City’s Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe (No. 3), among casual tourists and others who’ve traveled here expressly to pay their respects to an image of the Virgin Mary.
Pilgrimage is indeed one of the oldest motives for travel—and going strong. But that doesn’t mean pilgrims’ destinations are necessarily the most-visited sacred sites. Some of the popular spots may surprise you. And the huge number of visitors they attract will make you a believer in their power.
No. 1 Meiji Shrine and Sensoji-Temple
Annual Visitors: 30 million each
Built 100 years ago to honor the divine souls of Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken, the tranquil Meiji Shinto shrine is surrounded by a holy forest of 100,000-plus trees. Gardens feature spring azaleas, summer irises, autumn foliage on Japanese maples and gingkoes, and black pines dusted with winter snow. Sensoji, also in central Tokyo, was dedicated to Bodhisattva Kannon, the most compassionate Buddha, in 628. Its five-storied pagoda is dramatically lit at night. Continuing centuries-long tradition, stalls along the temple’s Nakamise Street sell food and goods to visitors—whose numbers swell around New Year’s.
No. 2 Kashi Vishwanath Temple
Annual Visitors: 21.9 million
This temple with its two golden domes sits along the western bank of the Ganges River and, with the Ganges, is the most holy site for all sects of Hinduism. Believers bathe in the river to cleanse their souls and reduce or eliminate the need to be reincarnated. Recently the government has worked to improve the quality of the water, where many millions also make offerings of flowers, food, and floating oil lamps.