Notre Dam Paris stained glass rose window Cover Photo

15 Of The Best Cathedrals In Paris

15 Of The Best Cathedrals In Paris

Last updated on March 9th, 2022

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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Quick Finds

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!

sainte chapelle paris alter - the best cathedrals in Paris
sainte chapelle paris stained glass
sainte chapelle paris holy figurines

Notre Dame – Île de la Cité

Metro Stations: Cité

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.

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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 and check the official website for update on re-opening.

Notre Dam Paris

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!

Notre Dam Paris art judgement day

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?

Notre Dam Paris interior

Notre Dam Paris stained glass rose window

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.

Notre Dam Cathedral paris spring cherry blossom

Romantic Paris photo - notre dame
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Pro Tip

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.

Sacre Coeur montmartre paris

Sacre Coeur closeup montmartre paris

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.

Sacre Coeur Basilica

Sacre Coeur crypt montmartre paris

Sacre Coeur Paris view from dome
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Pro Tip

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.

Eglise du Dome Le Tombeau de Napoléon Chruch
Eglise du Dome Le Tombeau de Napoléon Altar
Eglise du Dome Le Tombeau de Napoléon Fresco
Eglise du Dome Le Tombeau de Napoléon Open Pit
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Pro Tip

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!

Inside St-Gervais-St-Protais church Paris
St-Gervais-St-Protais church Paris Marais
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Pro Tip

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.

Church of St-Severin Paris
Inside Church of St-Severin Paris

Continue to the next page for more of the best cathedrals in Paris, including a grand first place!

Saint-Étienne-du-Mont – Latin Quarter

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.

Saint Etienne du Mont Latin Quarter Paris Church
Inside Saint Etienne du Mont Paris Church
Chapel at Saint Etienne du Mont Paris Church
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The Medieval Latin Quarter is one of the highlights of a visit to Paris. Here’s a Latin Quarter itinerary guide to help you plan your visit.

Église Saint-Sulpice – Saint Germain

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….

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Place saint Sulpice saint germain Paris

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.

Inside church of saint sulpice

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?

DaVinci code rose line saint sulpice church paris

Église de Saint Germain des Prés – Saint Germain

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.

Church of Saint Germain des Prés Paris
Inside Church of Saint Germain des Prés
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Plan a perfect day in Paris with this Saint Germain des Prés itinerary guide.

Église Saint-Augustin – Grands Boulevards

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!  

Église Saint-Augustin de Paris
Église Saint-Augustin de Paris

La Madeleine – Grands Boulevards

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.

la Madeleine Church Paris

La Madeleine Paris view from stairs

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!

Classical music concert at La Madeleine in Paris
La Madeleine Chruch Paris

Paroisse Saint-Eustache – Les Halles

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.

Paroisse Saint-Eustache Paris

Eglise de la Trinité – Grands Boulevards

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.

Trinity Church Paris

Association Notre-Dame de Lorette – Grands Boulevards

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.

Association Notre-Dame de Lorette
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There’s a ton of things to see in central Paris other than churches. Have a look at this Guide to the Paris Grands Boulevards.

Basilica Cathedral of Saint-Denis – Saint-Denis

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.

Basilica Saint Denis Paris

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.

Basilica saint Denis panoramic view

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’.

Basilica saint Denis rose window

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.

Basilica saint Denis royal kind burial

Basilica saint Denis royal grave

Basilica saint Denis royals

Basilica saint Denis Parying statue

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.

Basilica Saint Denis Henri II & Catherine of Medici and Louis XII & Anne de Bretagne

Basilica saint Denis Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette

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.

Basilica saint Denis Paris crypt

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.  

Basilica saint Denis Patis altar

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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Plan the perfect trip to Paris with free and in-depth Paris travel guides, including the Best of Paris collection and a guide to all major Parisian neighborhoods.

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