Those of you who’ve read a few of my posts, know that I’m a real sucker for old European churches. Those ancient cathedrals are more like museums to me, with their incredible size and unbelievably fine attention to details. In this post, I’ll share with you my list of 15 of the best cathedrals in Paris. A visit to one of these Parisian churches is more like a step back in time, to a period where all the architectural, monetary and spiritual resources – were put together to create the most lavish structures that mankind could conceive.
Whether those resources could have been put to better use is not for me to judge (though I do have an opinion on the matter). That’s probably the reason why so many of the cathedrals of Paris were desecrated during the French Revolution – where the people had just about enough of the tight royal grip, bound together with the church. Many of the churches mentioned here were partially destroyed or even converted to barns.
Though Paris is quite secular these days, there are still dozens upon dozens of fine cathedrals you can visit (most are completely free to enter). And though they mostly all follow the same pattern of massive organ above the entrance, lavish side chapels, stained glass windows, the main altar, and an underground crypt if they really like to live life on the wild side – every cathedral is different and unique in its own way.
So let’s head out to explore some of the finest cathedrals in Paris. I’ll be saving the best for last this time, so keep reading!
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Sainte Chapelle – Île Saint-Louis
Metro Stations: Cité, Ponte-Marie
It just might be the most beautiful of all Parisian cathedrals! The 13th century Gothic Sainte Chapelle is not very big, but what it lacks in size, it makes up for with immense beauty. The highlight that draws the crowds (€8.50 per adult, combo tickets available) is the upper chapel, which almost entirely consists of beautiful stained glass windows. If you come here at just the right time when the sun is shining directly above, you’ll think you’ve been swept away to some magical place that consists only of red, yellow, and blue!
Notre Dame – Île de la Cité
Metro Stations: Cité
UPDATE: due to the tragic fire that destroyed large parts of the cathedral in April 2019, it is highly unlikely that you’ll be able to enter the cathedral anytime soon. Expect major changes to pedestrian traffic around Notre Dame.
The flagship cathedral of central Paris, the Notre Dame is among the top things in Paris that every visitor should see. It took nearly 200 years to complete this Gothic masterpiece and when it opened in 1345, it became a sort of a ‘factory’ for creating future popes.
Let’s start on the outside – the signature towers cannot be mistaken with any other cathedral. If you’ve got enough patience and some spare cash, you can even climb the 387 steps to the top of the tower for some of the best panoramic views of Paris! Moving on to the facade, pay close attention to the beautiful masonry – with so much attention to detail, such as the depiction of ‘judgment day’. Lastly, look down to the ground and find the ‘kilometre zero’ – the marker from which all distances in France are calculated!
Now let’s head inside, which is totally free to enter. Things are pretty big over here, keeping in line with the Gothic style of French churches. The highlight is the massive stained glass rose windows. How on earth did they make these?
Back outside, head over to Square Jean XXIII, just behind the cathedral. You can snap a few ‘classic’ Paris photos around here or grab a spot beneath the cherry blossom trees during spring.
Plan your visit to Île Saint-Louis & Île de la Cité with this itinerary guide to the islands of Paris.
Sacre Coeur Basilica – Montmartre
Metro Stations: Abbesses, Anvers
Sitting comfortably at the summit of the highest point in Paris, the Sacré Coeur is not to be missed! Its signature tower and baby-bottle like domes can be seen from almost any point in town. The basilica is new by Parisian standards, opening for business only in 1919 and the reasons behind its construction might make you laugh. The first is said to be as atonement for the post-French Revolution ‘sins’ that eventually led to the grave French defeat to the Prussians. The second reason is to atone for the ‘sins’ committed by the neighborhood rebels during the famous uprising known as the ‘Commune’ in 1871. Either way, the Sacré Coeur is a beauty so let’s head inside.
Built in classic French & Byzantine style, the church is as beautiful and free to enter. If the view from the outside terrace is not enough for you, then for a few Euros, you can climb the 300 steps to the top of the dome for spectacular panoramic views of Paris.
Montmartre might be the most romantic part of Paris. Here’s a Montmartre itinerary guide to help you plan your visit.
Eglise du Dome – Eiffel Tower District
Metro Stations: École Militaire, Varenne
Sharp eyes will notice a golden dome in the Paris skyline. That would be the Eglise du Dome, also known as Le Tombeau de Napoléon. That’s of course because the great military leader Napoleon Bonaparte rests here for eternity in a massive sarcophagus beneath the golden dome. For a very worth it €9.50, you’ll get to visit one of the prettiest buildings in all of Paris and get to experience its sheer size for yourself. The church is located in the Invalides Quarter, a part of Paris that was built by Louis XIV for wounded soldiers. There’s actually another church adjacent to the Eglise du Dome and it’s free to enter. This church was for the ‘common’ soldiers and other Parisians, while the dome church was for the nobles. Your ticket will also include admission to the Army Museum, which was a real pleasant surprise.
There’s more to the Eiffel Tower district than just the tower. Have a look at this itinerary guide to the 7th arrondissement.
Église Saint-Gervais – Marais
Metro Stations: Hôtel de Ville, Pont Marie
Located in one of the best secret spots in Paris, Rue des Barres, the St-Gervais-St-Protais church is actually one of the oldest in Paris. There’s been a church on this very spot ever since the 6th century, but the present church was only completed in the 17th century. Influenced by both Gothic and Classical styles, the church has some of the finest stained glass windows you’ll come across. I found it to also have the weirdest vibe amongst all the Parisian churches I visited. Have a look at the pictures below of the nuns kneeling down in the chapel. They were completely still, without moving an inch for quite a while. The church’s organ is one of the oldest in town, and still, blasts out tunes as if it were brand new!
The Marais is best visited on Sundays when many parts of Paris take a break. Check out this guide to the Marais and plan your Sunday in Paris.
Eglise St-Severin – Latin Quarter
Metro Station: Saint Michel
The church of St-Severin is one of the best cathedrals in Paris that you can visit. The reason for that is an appealing combination of low visitor amounts and one of the most interesting interiors of all Parisian churches. Step inside this 13th-century Gothic cathedral and behold the twisting columns that are its signature mark. The stained glass windows aren’t too shabby either, with some of the brightest colors around. On the outside, you can peek into what looks like a cloister, where parish members were buried centuries ago.
Continue to the next page for more of the best cathedrals in Paris, including a grand first place!