Despite the economic troubles that have made headlines on and off over the past few years, Greece remains one of the most popular Mediterranean destinations for American tour groups, and especially church groups. Stunning coastal scenery, millennia of classical history and a thriving religious heritage continue to draw groups to Greece year after year.
Many church groups that visit Greece spend a significant amount of their time there exploring its biblical sites. Footsteps of Paul tours take pilgrims to the places where Paul traveled and preached, such as Athens, Thessalonica and Philippi. Tours often also include boat excursions to Patmos, where the apostle John wrote the Book of Revelation, as well as scenic spots such as Santorini and Mykonos on the coast.
In the world of faith-based travel, Israel needs no introduction. The homeland of Abraham, David, Jesus, Paul and nearly every other major figure in the Bible, Israel has been attracting religious pilgrims for thousands of years. Many of the most significant historical and religious sites throughout the country are commemorated with chapels and churches, and Christians who have traveled to Israel with religious groups often report that seeing the Temple Mount, Garden Tomb and other sites in person awakened their faith in deep and meaningful ways.
In addition to seeing the religious sites, groups that make the long trip to Israel should take time to explore some of its other treasures. Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum and research center in Jerusalem, is one of the most moving institutions of its kind. And the region around Galilee offers plentiful opportunities for outdoor activity.
Year after year, major tour operators report that Italy is their most popular international destination for American travelers, and there’s little question as to why: World history, religion, cuisine and scenic beauty come together there in ways unmatched anywhere else on earth. Travelers can reconnect with their own heritage and enjoy cultural and culinary flavors that have become famous worldwide.
Of chief interest to many faith-based groups visiting Italy is the Vatican in Rome, where they can tour the unparalleled Sistine Chapel, see a museum full of priceless religious artifacts and even attend Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica. The city is also full of significant ancient historical sites, such as the Coliseum, the Roman Forum and the Pantheon. Beyond Rome, many tours also visit other famously scenic cities, including Pisa, Venice and Naples.
Often offered as an extension or option on trips to Israel, Jordan is a thriving destination in its own right that merits deeper exploration. The country boasts numerous significant biblical sites, as well as world-class archeological and natural attractions. It also offers American groups exposure to Arab culture and history in a peaceful and welcoming environment.
Church groups visiting Jordan will want to spend time at places such as Bethany Beyond the Jordan, thought to be the site of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River, and Mount Nebo, where Moses looked over the Promised Land. But a trip to Jordan isn’t complete without a visit to Petra, the famous Roman city carved in rose-red stone, and an afternoon of floating in the Dead Sea.
For all of the tumult it experienced in the 20th century, including control by both Nazis and communists at different points, Poland has emerged as one of the most beautiful and welcoming destinations in Europe. This country has much of the same tradition, natural beauty and Old World charm as other countries on the continent but is generally less crowded, more friendly and more affordable than some of its better-known counterparts.
Krakow rivals any European city for beauty, and its central square makes a peaceful place for shopping or whiling away the afternoon at a sidewalk cafe. Recently, Krakow has also become the epicenter of tours that trace the life of Pope John Paul II, who was born in Poland and worked extensively in the country before assuming the papacy.
Referred to in scripture as Asia Minor, Turkey straddles the border between Europe and Asia, marking the place where East meets West. This location has put it at the center of much of the world’s history and makes it an excellent place to explore religion, ancient culture and the contrasts of the modern world.
Turkey is most significant as the home of the seven churches of the Revelation, and groups can see the remains of each of the seven cities that John mentioned in his apocryphal text. Most complete among them is Ephesus, an intriguing architectural site in its own right. Travelers should also spend time in Istanbul, where they can visit the stunning Hagia Sophia and take a cruise on the Bosporus Strait, which separates Europe and Asia.