13 Most Beautiful Temples

Travelers of all faiths will be touched by these stunning sites, many of which are at the heart of some of the world's major religions. See what divine inspiration can produce—from well-known temples like Angkor Wat in Cambodia to hidden gems like Kiyomizu-dera in Japan.

How to Go: Take bus number 100 or 206 from central Kyoto to the Gojo-zaka stop, then walk about 10 minutes uphill to the site. The temple is open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.; entrance is about $3.60 regularly, $5 when they have the lighting decorations. Note that various parts of the complex will be undergoing renovation through March 2013.

Ulun Danu Bratan Temple, Bali, Indonesia

Along with Tanah Lot, this water temple in central Bali is one of the most iconic and photographed spiritual sites in Bali—which is saying something on an island renowned for its pious destinations. (The temple even appears on Indonesian paper currency.) Built in 1633 on the western shores of Lake Bratan, for which it is named, the Balinese Hindu temple pays homage to the god Shiva as well as local lake and river goddess Dewi Batari, to whom the locals appeal to protect this important irrigation region. The lake and its goddess also watch over fertility, so many ceremonies are conducted at the temple in the name of fertility and prosperity. Set on a plateau and backed by views of the lush tropical mountains, the four-temple complex is centered around an 11-tiered tower, or pelinggih meru, that honors Shiva and his wife, Parvati. Elaborate ceremonies are conduced here every six and 12 months, based on holy days in the Balinese Hindu calendar.

How to Go: Also known as Pura Bratan, the temple is located near the village of Bedugal in central Bali, about 32 miles from capital city Denpasar and its international airport, and about a two-hour drive from Ubud. Driving or taking a taxi is the easiest way to find the serene site. Opening times are 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily; entrance is about $1. Sarongs are available for visitors who arrive with bare arms or legs.

Taoist Temple, Cebu, Philippines

Three separate, winding entries lead to this colorful, multi-tiered temple set 984 feet above sea level on the beautiful island of Cebu, one of the top vacation spots in the Philippines. Funded primarily by Cebu's Chinese community, the temple was built in 1972, and serves as a center for Taoist practices. Past an entrance designed to evoke the Great Wall of China, the complex includes a chapel, wishing well, library and shop, as well as elaborate dragon carvings and panoramic views over downtown. Once inside, you may spy worshippers following rituals like dropping two blocks of wood inside the chapel (if the blocks land face up you may make a wish) or, on Wednesdays and Sundays, climbing 81 steps (representing the number of Taoist scriptures) to have their fortunes read by the monks.

How to Go: Cebu is a 75-minute flight from Manila. The temple is located in Cebu City's Beverly Hills Subdivision, which is outside of the city center; taxis are your best bet. There is no entry fee, but depending on the crowds your visit may be limited to one hour.

Malibu Hindu Temple, California, United States

Spread out over 4.5 acres in the Santa Monica Mountains, this much-photographed temple has been serving Southern California's Hindu community since 1981. The temple was built in the traditional South Indian style, with a carved flat-topped tower, or gopuram; unlike many in India, though, this example is all-white instead of colorfully painted, giving it an elegant air and making for great photos against the blue SoCal skies. The upper part of the complex is dedicated primarily to the god Venkateswara and the lower to Shiva, though both sections also have shrines to a variety of deities. The rest of the property includes areas for meditation and picnics, performance and cultural event spaces, and housing for the priests. There is also a temple kitchen that serves a vegetarian lunch on Saturday and Sunday.

How to Go: The temple is located at 1600 Las Virgenes Canyon Road, a short drive from the town of Calabasas. It opens daily at 9 a.m. and closes between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m., depending on the season; note that on weekdays, it is also closed from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. Aarathi blessing ceremonies are conducted by the priests twice a day and cost $5. Admisson is free and all are welcome (Britney Spears even had one of her sons blessed here).


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