Last updated on March 9th, 2022
Metro Station: Cardinal Lemoine
Overshadowed by the mighty Pantheon, is another one of the best cathedrals in Paris. The Saint-Étienne-du-Mont sits on a centuries-old holy site honoring Saint Genevieve. The tower is all that remains of the original structure, but not to worry – the ‘new’ cathedral from the 17th is not too bad! The cathedral’s interior is quite revolutionary by design, having the choir sitting below a balcony that wraps its way along the walls. Beautiful stained glass windows emit a kaleidoscope of colors and there’s a curious-looking chapel over by the right side. The church is not a major tourist hotspot, which is good. I found it to be one of the nicest in all of Paris.
Metro Station: Saint-Sulpice
Located in one of the most pleasant squares in Paris and in the chic Saint Germain neighborhood, the Saint Sulpice Church is a real beauty. Its bright twin towers overlook a Classical style fountain and you could spend hours in one of the cafes that line the square (my favorite is Café de la Mairie). Sharp eyes will notice that one of the towers was left unfinished but that’s not the only mystery that Saint Sulpice holds….
Step inside and immediately be treated to beautiful wall paintings by the one-time neighborhood resident Eugene Delacroix. Considering that a lot of his work is at the Louvre, consider yourself lucky and spend some time in the Delacroix chapel. As you walk towards the altar, look behind you and catch a glimpse of the massive organ. You might even get to hear this beast in action if you visit at the right time.
As for the interior mystery – one of the main attractions for visitors to the Saint-Sulpice church is owed to the bestselling book and Hollywood blockbuster The Da Vinci Code. Inside the church are the remains of an old solar observatory, where back in the day, a lens was used to cast light on a brass ball in order to measure the winter and summer solstices (and with that the exact dates of key religious holidays). If you look down, you’ll see a line running the length of the floor towards the instrument and this is the famous ‘Rose Line’, depicted in the Da Vinci Code. Fact or fiction?
Metro Station: Saint Germain des Près
You cannot miss the Church of Saint Germain simply for the fact that it’s smack in the middle of one of the classiest areas of Paris. The beating heart of the chic neighborhood of Saint Germain is Place Saint Germain, lined with legendary cafes like Les Deux Magots & Cafe de Flore. Parts of the church date back all the way to the 6th century and it actually started out as an ancient Benedictine monastery. Built, destroyed, and rebuilt over the centuries, the church is influenced by both Gothic and Roman styles. Between the marble columns and colorfully painted plastered walls, walking along the perimeter of the church reveals some of these layers in time.
Metro Station: Saint-Augustin
Located smack in the middle of a busy intersection, the Saint Augustin church is pretty new by local standards. Completed in 1868, the church was designed to catch the eyes of onlookers from the Arc de Triomphe to the west and La Madeleine, just down the road. With its impressive dome, Saint Augustin is one of my favorites. Not many tourists venture here like they do to Notre Dame but if you just happen to be in the neighborhood, step inside and you might have the place all to yourself!
Metro Station: Madeleine
Originally built as a grand monument to Napoleon’s army, la Madeleine was converted to a church following the loss to the Prussians. What else could you do with a building that was modeled after the great Parthenon of Athens, back in those days? You really don’t want to miss stepping inside this m-a-s-s-i-v-e structure. But before that, have a look at the great view from the top of the staircase. Everything is so well planned and so symmetrical around here. You can look straight down at Place de la Concorde and the National Assembly, the church’s twin sibling.
Inside the church, you will feel super tiny. This place is simply massive! If you’re lucky, there might even be a free concert inside, accompanied by one of the world’s largest organs. On a rainy Sunday in April, I was treated to this wonderful performance – give it a listen!
Metro Station: Les Halles
The underground shopping center of Les Halles is a real monstrosity, but the Saint Eustache cathedral is a real beauty. This area used to be the center of downtown Paris, back in the day. The Gothic church was completed in 1637 after 100 years of construction and was considered to be one of the most important cathedrals in Paris at the time.
Metro Station: Saint Lazare
Proudly towering at the edge of Rue de la Chaussée d’Antin, the Eglise de la Trinité is overshadowed by the popular cathedrals of Paris. It’s by no means in the same class, but like Saint Augustin, you just might have it all to yourself.
Metro Station: Notre-Dame-de-Lorette
A cute-looking church in one of the busiest spots in town, its stairs are a favorite lunch spot for nearby office workers on a sunny day. The church was completed in 1836 and was even the church of choice for Claude Monet’s baptism. I came here once during my own lunch break and was really impressed by its exquisitely decorated ceiling. Together with the Trinity Church, it’s worth stopping by if you’re around.
Metro Station: Basilique de Saint-Denis
The best cathedral in Paris is actually a 20-minute metro ride from the center of town, in the suburb of Saint-Denis. The Basilica of Saint-Denis is the most important in all of France. It not only sits on what is believed to be the burial site of the patron saint of Paris, but it’s also where French kings and queens have been crowned and buried since the 7th century.
A good time to make this special trip is on Tuesdays, Fridays or Sundays. That’s when the plaza just outside the church hosts a lively market. For the past few decades, Saint-Denis has been a pretty rough ethnically mixed suburb. Though the most important cathedral lies here, you might think you’ve landed somewhere in the Middle East or Africa. Nonetheless, it’s totally worth the trip, and the colorful market will give you a true taste of the neighborhood.
A church has existed here since the 5th century, some 200 years after the death of Saint-Denis, but the basilica we see today has been around since the 12th century. It was the first to be built in Gothic style and in fact, made such an impression on opening day – that all other cathedrals built in the coming centuries, were actually modeled after this one (including many of the ones mentioned in this post). It is essentially the ‘mother of all French Gothic cathedrals’.
It’s free to enter the cathedral but the real highlights lie inside the nave, known as the ‘royal necropolis’, visited for a totally worth it €8.50. Scattered throughout this area are the tombs of kings, queens, and their families – locked for eternity inside beautifully sculptured marble.
Especially interesting, are the massive tombs of Henri II & Catherine of Medici and Louis XII & Anne de Bretagne. The former tomb was inspired by German & Italian styles in the 16th century and includes multi-colored marble. The latter tomb is a very interesting one, portraying the couple kneeling in prayer during their younger years, and lying down in pain at the twilight of their lives.
Although buried in the crypt below, have a look at the praying statues of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. The statue was commissioned by Louis XVIII, following the return of the couple’s ashes after the French Revolution, which cost the royal couple their lives.
Aside from the royals, have a look at the beautiful chapel. The work here is simply exquisite and the stained glass rose windows are even more impressive than the ones at the Notre Dame in the center of town.
It’s always best to end on a high note so I’ll wrap things up here. With so many cathedrals spread across town, you’ll surely visit a handful of these 15 best cathedrals in Paris. Keep in mind that only some are worth their own special visit. But if you’re like me and look at these marvelous cathedrals more like architectural wonders, just keep them in mind when you’re exploring each neighborhood – step inside for a quick glimpse.
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