10 great places to mark Christianity's holiest day

Celebrate the sacred Christian holiday of Easter with a journey to a religious site where faith and history come alive. Kevin J. Wright, president of the World Religious Travel Association and author of The Christian Travel Planner (Thomas Nelson, $16.99), shares his recommendations worldwide with Kathy Baruffi for USA TODAY.

St. Peter's Basilica Vatican City

"One of the most iconic and recognizable Christian destinations worldwide is the Vatican," Wright says. "Serving as the spiritual headquarters for more than 1 billion Catholics, Vatican City welcomes more than 4 million pilgrims and tourists annually. Visitors can explore St. Peter's Basilica, the Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel, the catacombs, and even attend a General Audience with the pope." www.vatican.va; www.stpetersbasilica.org

Bethany Beyond the Jordan Jordan

"More than 1 million people come here every year to see where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist. Many get baptized themselves for the first time or simply wade in the same waters of the Jordan River as Jesus did 2,000 years ago," Wright says. "The Baptism Archaeological Park is also home to the area where the prophet Elijah ascended into heaven." baptismsite.com

St. Katherine Monastery Mount Sinai, Egypt

"The Old Testament comes alive in the southern Sinai Peninsula of Egypt. It is here on Mount Sinai where God appeared in a burning bush to Moses and delivered the Ten Commandments," Wright says. "Today, pilgrims can hike to the top of the summit (and witness the spectacular sunrise), explore St. Katherine Monastery at the mountain base, and visit the Chapel of the Burning Bush, built upon the site believed to be where God appeared to Moses." st-katherine.net

Great Theater Ephesus, Turkey

One of the most popular Christian trips is following in the footsteps of the Apostle Paul through Greece and Turkey. "In Ephesus, one of the Seven Churches of Revelation in Scripture, pilgrims can stand in the very theater where the apostle delivered sermons to the local population," Wright says. "In addition, visitors can explore the House of the Virgin, the home where Mary, the mother of Jesus, is said to have spent her last days." sacred-destinations.com/turkey/ephesus-theater.htm

Church of the Holy Sepulcher Jerusalem

According to many Christian traditions, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher was the site of Jesus' crucifixion and the empty tomb. But there's far more for the Christian traveler to see in this holiest of cities. "The Mount of Olives, Garden of Gethsemane, Via Dolorosa, Western Wall and Garden Tomb are among the other places here most often visited by the faithful," Wright says. goisrael.com

Cave of the Apocalypse Patmos Island, Greece

" 'Dear visitor, the place you have just entered is sacred.' These are the words that greet visitors at the entrance of the Cave of the Apocalypse," Wright says. "According to tradition, John the Evangelist wrote the Book of Revelation inside this grotto at the end of the first century. Today, the cave itself and the famed St. John the Divine monastery that lies atop the island are recognized as World Heritage Sites." travelinfo.gr/patmos/hsites.htm

The Grotto of Massabielle Lourdes, France

"More than 6 million people from around the globe travel each year to the renowned pilgrimage destination of Lourdes. It is here where in 1858 the Virgin Mary appeared to St. Bernadette Soubirous on 18 occasions," Wright says. "Today, Lourdes is best known for its reported miracles and healing waters. Pilgrims can explore the grotto where Mary appeared, the two basilicas, Bernadette's home, and join the evening Rosary Procession." lourdes-france.org

All Saints Castle Church Wittenberg, Germany

"Wittenberg is home to one of the best-known figures in Christianity — Martin Luther. It is here that the Reformer posted his 95 Theses on the door of All Saints Castle Church and forever changed Christian history," Wright says. "Travelers can visit the largest Reformation museum in the world, Luther's home, see the Reformer's tomb and, of course, view the famous door." www.wittenberg.de

Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe Mexico City

"The Virgin Mary is said to have appeared here in 1531 to St. Juan Diego and left an imprint of her image on his cloak," Wright says. "Visitors can still view the portrait to this day, which is on display next door at the new, larger basilica that opened in 1976." sancta.org/basilica.html

Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, Spain

During the height of the Middle Ages, the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela (aka the Cathedral of St. James) was a top pilgrimage destination, ranking with Jerusalem and Rome, Wright says. The shrine is still a major attraction (it contains the remains of St. James the Apostle), but so, too, is the arduous path in northern Spain that pilgrims travel along to get there. "Known as the Way of St. James, the route attracts tens of thousands of people who spend days or weeks walking, biking and even horseback riding to Santiago de Compostela — some for religious purposes, others for leisure, and many for both." catedraldesantiago.es