Last Updated on: 22nd August 2021, 01:39 am
Paris has captivated visitors for centuries with its soaring basilicas and quietly elegant chapels. Famed for its religious traditions harkening back all the way to before Charlemagne, no trip to Paris is complete without stopping by one (or ten) of Paris’s magnificent churches.
Whether you choose to drop in on a Catholic cathedral, Huguenot temple, or even a Russian Orthodox church, here are my pick for the top ten churches in Paris you absolutely can’t miss on your next Parisian adventure.
Sacre Coeur Basilica
The Basilica of the Sacred Heart is a minor Basilica standing atop butte Montmartre, the highest point in the city. Because of its vantage point, a journey to the top affords the visitor some amazing views. Even after a long day of sightseeing in the city, I found that a trip up the stairs to the summit (in the middle of a rainstorm!) was one of the highlights of my last trip to Paris.
While the current Romanesque-Byzantine church was built beginning in the 1870s, the hill has been utilized for spiritual purposes at least as far back as the age of Gaul when Celtic Druids used it as a sacred site for worship. The first Christian chapel built there was in the fifth century to honor St. Denis, Paris’s first bishop, who was beheaded as a martyr.
The site became a place of pilgrimage, and the name of the hill and the surrounding neighborhood, Montmartre or the Mount of Martyrs, comes from the martyrs who gave their lives in the time before Christianity was adopted in Paris.
Even if you have just one or two days in Paris, this is a must-see.
You can visit Sacre Couer daily from 6 am until 10:30 pm. For more information about visiting, check Sacre Couer’s official website.
Perhaps the most iconic cathedrals in the world, the Notre-Dame de Paris began construction in 1163, with parts and embellishments added over the next 100 years. A cathedral of this size and scale was a major feat of architectural achievement at this time, and it was not completed until 1345. Considered one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture, no trip to Paris is complete without at least a glimpse of Our Lady of Paris. A massive cathedral to explore, its two Gothic towers are 223 feet high, while the interior measures 427 by 157 feet.
The church has a storied history over its nearly thousand-year-long reign as the official cathedral of Paris. Famous chapters of cathedral history including the coronation of King Henry VI of England during the Hundred Years War, the French Revolution’s disdain for religion included damaging the building and the removal of heads of some of Notre-Dame’s religious statues, and Napoleon’s decision to be crowned in the cathedral and restore its position of prominence kicking off decades of restoration work.
Notre-Dame has also become a major cultural touchstone, influencing Victor Hugo’s novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame and its subsequent adaptations. While you won’t find Quazimodo in its rafters, today tourists from all over the world visit the cathedral for its cultural, historical, and religious significance. Those who love traveling the UNESCO World Heritage Site list will be happy to know that the cathedral is part of the larger site “Paris, Banks of the Seine.”
You can visit it from 7:45 am to 6:45 pm. from Monday to Friday and until 7:15 pm during the weekend. For an overview of the rules for visiting the Cathedral (including their famous “no baggage allowed” rule) visit Notre-Dame’s official website.
I’ll never forget the feeling of joy I had when we turned the corner walking to the train station, and my eyes turned to the beautiful Saint-Eustache. Unlike Notre-Dame and Sacre Couer, I had never heard of Saint-Eustache, so it was this moment when the sheer vastness of Paris’s beauty hit me. If Paris could have churches this large and beautiful that I, an avid traveler, had never even seen in pictures, then what else did the city have in store for me?
Sainte-Eustache, located in the luxurious 1st arrondissement, was built during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, though the spot was the site of a previous church all the way back to the thirteenth century.
Over the years the church has been the site of many historic events, including the spot for the mass for King Louis XIV’s first sacrament of Holy Communion and the location for the funeral of Mozart’s mother. Make sure to find the paintings by Peter Paul Rubens during a visit and pick up the onsite tourist literature which highlights other important events in the church’s past.
Visitors can see the church from 9:30 am to 7 pm on weekdays and from 9 am to 7 pm on weekends. For more information, check their official website (French only).
Don’t mistake the Panthéon in Paris with the Pantheon in Rome – these are two different buildings, although the former takes inspiration from the latter. The Panthéon in Paris began construction in 1757, although the spot it was built on has been important to Christians in France since the sixth century when King Clovis first converted to Christianity and decided to build a Basilica where the Pantheon stands today.
In the subsequent centuries, the place became associated with Saint Genevieve, one of France’s most important saints. When King Louis XV recovered from serious illness, he determined it was due to intervention by Saint Genevieve and decided to build a large, beautiful church in this place associated with her and dedicate it to her. It was designed by architect Jacques-Germain Soufflot. While the church was secularized during the French Revolution and used as a place to bury important national figures, it was turned back into a church after Napoleon took control of France.
Like its namesake near the Roman Forum, the exterior of the cathedral features tall columns holding up a triangular pediment. Both have domes, although the Parisian cathedral has a high dome with a tower on top of it. Located at the Latin Quarter of the city, you can tour the inside of the church, the crypt, and Foucault’s pendulum.
You can normally visit it from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm, although the church is open slightly later during the summer months. For more information on visiting, check the Pantheon’s official website.
Sainte-Chapelle is located within the medieval Palais de la Cité, where the Kings of France lived until the 14th century. The cathedral was consecrated in 1248 and has since collected sacred relics such as Christ’s crown of thorns, which was acquired by Saint Louis. Aside from its breathtaking Gothic style architecture and collection of religious relics, Sainte-Chapelle is also popularly known for its beautiful collection of stained glass windows that depict more than a thousand scenes from the Old and New Testaments. Its fifteen windows are each about 50 feet high.
For those who want to visit, Saint-Chapelle is open from 9:00 am to 7:00 am. from April until September 30, and until 5:00 pm from October through March. For information about the church’s holiday closures, check the official website.
La Madeleine (or Église Sainte-Marie-Madeleine) is a church in Paris that was designed by Pierre Alexandre Vignon in 1806. It was inspired by Roman temples and was originally ordered by Napoleon I to turn Paris into an imperial capital, along with the Arc de Triomphe and Vendôme Column. However, after the fall of Napoleon, King Louis XVIII determined that the existing building would be turned into a church and the name comes from the King’s decision to dedicate the chapel to Mary Magdalene.
Other important episodes in the church’s history include hosting the funeral for famed composer Frederic Chopin and the capture and execution of the church’s cure, Abbé Deguerry, during the Paris Commune in the 1870’s.
Today, the chapel is surrounded by shops and restaurants; the plaza, named after the church as Place de la Madeleine, is now a popular spot amongst locals and tourists.
To visit, the chapel is open from 9:30 am to 7 pm. For more information, check the church’s official website.
Saint-Germain des Prés
Saint Germain des Prés is located on an abbey of the same name. The abbey was founded by King Childebert I in 558 AD, and the original church was built around the same time after the king had returned to Paris. It served as the burial grounds for the Merovingian Kings. During this time it was one of the richest abbeys in France. The church as it is today wasn’t restored until the 17th century through the 19th century after hundreds of years of attacks and floods had taken their toll on the structure.
During the French Revolution, the abbey’s prison, famous for its abhorrent conditions, was the site of one of the September massacres.
The abbey has become a favorite shopping spot among locals and tourists. You can go on a walking tour of Paris to explore the Saint-Germain des Prés and the Latin Quarter of Paris. You can also find great restaurants and jazz clubs in the area, which are perfect for a night out.
For information about visiting hours, check the official website (French-only) or stop by mid-day when it’s a safe bet that most churches in the city will be open.
Longtime readers know my obsession with Orthodox monasteries and churches, so it should come as no surprise that Paris’s historic Orthodox church makes my list of must-see churches in Paris. The Saint-Alexandre-Nevsky Cathedral is a Russian Orthodox church in Paris that was established and consecrated in the 19th century. It is the first of its kind in the city, built after Tsar Alexander II gave 200,000 francs to the government of France.
Because it is a Russian Orthodox church, it looks significantly different from the Gothic churches that you’ll mostly find in Paris, making this a truly special stop during your time in the city. Its pointed towers with gold embellishments are stunning after so many gothic buildings.
Alexandre-Nevsky was the scene of famous historical events for Russians living in France, like Pablo Picasso’s wedding to Olga Khokhlova in 1918 and Wassily Kandinsky’s funeral in 1944. You will also spot the Saint-Alexandre-Nevsky Cathedral in the 1956 film Anastasia about the (fictional) escape of Russian Princess Anastasia to France after the Russian Revolution.
To visit the church, go during visiting hours on Tuesdays to Fridays from 3 pm until 5 pm or on Sundays from 10 am to 12:30 pm and 3 pm to 6 pm. The official website is only in Russian and French, but you can also find information about opening times here.
Dôme des Invalides
Dôme des Invalides was built from 1677 to 1706 to glorify King Louis XIV and his armies. It is considered to be the finest church in France of its time. It is even considered to be a perfect example of European Baroque architecture. Aside from being an architectural masterpiece, Dôme des Invalides is also the resting place of Napoleon I, the infamous French general, first consul, and emperor who lost power before he died in 1821. Here, you’ll also see beautifully painted ceilings, marble sculptures, and tall columns.
The chapel and the museum are open from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm daily except during the winter when it closes at 5 pm. For more information about exhibits and times, check the official website.
Situated in the 8th arrondissement near Saint-Augustine station, this church looks entirely different than the city’s medieval gothic churches. Saint-Augustin’s was built in the 1860’s as a fusion of Romanesque and Tuscan-Gothic, and it is the outstanding cap at the end of Malesherbes avenue. The unusual architecture of the church was created to form a counterbalance to the Roman-inspired La Madeleine at the other end of the boulevard, and the tall dome was created so that the church would be visible from the Arc de Triomphe.
The church’s stained glass windows and statues depict historic images from Paris’s Christian history, including bishops, martyrs, and saints.
Visiting hours are Mondays through Fridays from 10 am to 4:30 pm and on Saturdays from 10 am until 12p pm. For holiday hours, check the official website (French-only).
Regardless of which of these Parisian churhes you put on your Paris itinerary, you can’t go wrong!