• Leslie

15 Must See Churches In Paris

Updated: Aug 14, 2020

Aerial view on a Paris cityscape, as seen from Montmartre, with the Church of St Vincent de Paul, in the 10th arrondissement of Paris

Fancy a visit to the most beautiful churches in Paris? Some of Paris' most popular and iconic attractions are its beautiful religious buildings. Notre Dame may be closed for the foreseeable future, but Paris is overflowing with both magnificent and quaint churches. There's a wide range of architectural styles, which you'd expect from a cosmopolitan city like Paris.

Many of Paris' churches fell into near ruin during the French Revolution, but were restored in the 19th century. Some were -- oh horror -- converted into barns. I'm a secular person (like Paris itself). But that still seems shocking.

If you're traveling in winter and it's rainy or dreary, popping into a church is a great way to escape Paris' winter weather. Plus, most of them are absolutely free. Free is hard to beat in an expensive city like Paris.

What are the best churches to see in Paris? Well, here are my 15 favorites -- imposing and tiny, Gothic and grand, and all with special features like stunning stained glass or paintings by revered French artists.

my last photo and last look at Notre Dame in June 2018 before the fire

The Best Churches To Put On Your Paris Itinerary

1. Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris

Located on the Île de la Cité in the middle of the Seine River, the famous Gothic cathedral with dramatic flying buttresses is 859 year old. The first stone of the Notre Dame was laid in 1163. Paris' flagship cathedral was completed in 1345. Since then, Notre Dame has been the toast of Europe, a utopian symbol of western civilization, literature, and culture.

Notre Dame has a storied history. Louis IX deposited the crown of thrones there in 1239. Henry VI was crowned king there in 1431, after the 100 Year War. Mary Queen of Scots was married there. Napoleon was coronated as emperor and married there. In 1909, Joan of Arc was beatified by the pope.

After the French Revolution, the cathedral was an eyesore, crumbling and half ruined. When Victor Hugo published the Hunchback of Notre Dame, in 1831, things changed.

The Hunchback was a bestselling potboiler, but it was also a historical-sociological event. The novel set in motion a massive rescue operation. History pours from its now charred limestone.

Notre Dame's Gallery of Kings on the western facade

the rear facade and garden of Notre Dame in Paris

It's now been over a year since a fire gutted Notre Dame. It's not yet saved. There's months of conservation ahead before restoration and rebuilding can start. In the meantime, you can stroll along that Seine, taking in the tranquil sentinel.

Or, if you have Notre Dame on the brain, here's my guide to five other spectacular cathedrals, also named Notre Dame, that are easy day trips from Paris. And there's a plethora of other churches in Paris you can see while Notre Dame is being restored.

Address: 6 Parvis Notre-Dame | Place Jean-Paul II, 75004 Paris

Status: closed

Metro: Cité, Line 4

Eglise Saint-Sulpice, with its mismatched towers

2. Eglise Saint-Sulpice

If you're in the chic Saint-Germain-des-Pres area, take in the 17th century Saint Sulpice, with its mismatched towers that seem to float over a quasi-Greek temple. It's right next to the Luxembourg Gardens.

Saint Sulpice is a vast church, a massive hodgepodge really, second in size only to Notre Dame. Victor Hugo, who disliked "pretentious" neoclassical architecture, derided Saint-Sulpice's two towers as "two giant clarinets."

Part of the movie The Da Vinci Code was set in Saint Sulpice, though filming was prohibited inside the church. The church doubled as the headquarters of the Priory of Sion.

Eugene Delacroix, Jacob Wrestling the Angel, 1854–61

Eugene Delacroix, The Expulsion of Heliodorus from the Temple, 1855-61

But the real beauty of Saint-Sulpice lies inside. There, you'll find three gorgeous murals by famed Romantic Period painter Eugene Delacroix in the Chapel of Holy Angles. His masterpiece Liberty Leading the People draws crowds at the Louvre.

The murals were restored in 2015. They may be the most famous mural paintings in Paris. The irony is that Delacroix was a religious skeptic and possible atheist; art was his religion. Just a few minutes away is the small and quirky Delacroix Museum in Paris, housed in the artist's former atelier on the pretty Rue de Furstenberg.

Address: 2 Rue Palatine, 75006 Paris

Hours: Open daily 7:30 am to 7:30 pm

Entry fee: free

Metro: Saint-Sulpice, line 4

Eglise Saint-Séverin

3. Eglise Saint-Séverin

Set on a charming square in the Latin Quarter, Saint-Séverin is one of my favorite Paris churches. It's a quirky ancient church, dating from the 6th century. It was rebuilt in 13th century and named after a devout hermit. It once served as the main church of the Left Bank.

Saint-Séverin was badly damaged by fire during the 100 Years War, but was restored. It's free to visit and has glowering gargoyles (added by Viollet-le-Duc) and impressive stained glass. While you're there, stop into the adjacent Eglise Julien Le Pauvre, another rather stout but truly ancient edifice.

Saint-Séverin was the subject of a series of paintings by French artist Robert Delaunay. Delaunay's studio was near the church. He depicts the church's cavernous interior.

Robert Delaunay, Saint Severin No. 3, 1909 -- a modern rendition of an old medieval church

4. The Pantheon

The Pantheon is a grand neoclassical basilica dominating, rather ironically, an artsy area of Paris, the Latin Quarter. It was built after a king's near death experience and celebrates the greatest dead heros of France. Though initially disliked, the building is now a fixture on the Paris skyline. The dislike was transferred to Montparnasse Tower.

The Paris Pantheon was modeled, rather obviously, on the Roman Pantheon. With its doughty 272 foot dome, it also resembles St. Paul's Cathedral in London. While the exterior is Romanesque, the gigantic interior resembles a Gothic cathedral. The overall design is that of a Greek cross, with Corinthian columns and elaborate marble floors everywhere.

the Pantheon in Paris' Latin Quarter, a massive edifice that almost looks like a war memorial

People tend to glide by the Pantheon and just snap a photo. That's a mistake. Despite the disappointing lack of windows inside, the interior's the most fascinating part of the Pantheon. You can see a copy of Foucault's Pendulum. As an added bonus, the rooftop boasts one of the best viewing points in Paris.

The French state rather schizophrenically converted the Pantheon back and forth from basilica to temple. But when the esteemed Victor Hugo was Pantheonized in 1885, it remained evermore a mausoleum for France's greatest heroes and martyrs.

You'll also find the tombs of Alexandre Dumas, Emile Zola, and Marie Curie on your tour of the crypt. But I like to commune with Hugo's tomb the most. It's like a transmitter broadcasting his appealing Romantic ideals -- he was a hero of the downtrodden and battled against misery and slavery.

the Pantheon's frescoed triple dome

Jules Eugene Lenepveu, Joan of Arc at Reims for the Coronation of Charles VII, 1886-90

Be sure to admire the Pantheon's beautiful paintings. They honor the rulers and religious leaders of France, telling the tempestuous history of France in the 18th and 19th centuries. Though sometimes called murals, they're actual oil paintings glued to the walls.

For more details, read my guide to the Pantheon.

Address: Place du Panthéon 75005 Paris

Hours: 10:00 am to 6:30 pm from April to September. Closing at 6:00 on from October to March

Entry fee: €9, €3 extra to access the upper parts of the Panthéon from April to October

La Madeleine Church in the 9th arrondissement

5. La Madeleine Church

If you're in Paris' Opera district, take in the Madeline Church, which has seen many incarnations. The church you see today dates from 1806. That year, Napoleon took charge. He sought to build a "Temple to the Glory of the Great Army." As a result, Madeleine has a military feel, and is different from other churches you'll see in Paris.

It's based on a Greco-Roman temple design, with 52 massive Corinthian columns. On the pediment, there's a sculpture of the last judgment. The bronze door reliefs represent the 10 commandments. The interior of the church is dark, almost foreboding.

the interior nave and domes of La Madeleine Church

There's a single nave with three domes. There are very few decorative elements, although there is a nice statue of Joan of Arc. The Madeline's claim to fame is its dramatic pipe organs, designed by Aristide Cavaille-Coll and one of the best organs in Paris. The church regularly holds classical music concerts.

Address: Place de la Madeleine, at the end of Rue Royale

Hours: Daily 9:30 am to 7:00 pm

Entry fee: free

Metro: Madeline, line 8, 12, and 14

vaulted cloisters of the Collège des Bernardins, in pale beige limestone

6. Collège des Bernardins

Tucked away on a little side street on Rue de Poissy in Paris' Latin Quarter, lies the the 13th century Collège des Bernardins. The college was first founded as a part of the prestigious University of Paris by the abbot of Clairvaux, Stephen of Lexington. It's a former residence of Cistercian Monks, who were trained there for centuries until the French Revolution.

In 2008, the college was the last medieval building to be renovated in Paris. Now, it's used as a cultural and spiritual center. I visited this edifice on my Paris Walks French Revolution tour of the Left Bank.

Address: 20 rue de Poissy, 75005 Paris

Entry fee: free self-guided tour of nave and sacristy, guided tours at 4:00 pm for €6

Hours: Mon to Sat, 10:00 am to 6:00 pm, Sunday 2:00 pm to 6:00 pm

Eglise Saint-Eustache in Paris' Les Halles neighborhood

7. Eglise Saint-Eustache

Located in the heart of Paris' Les Halles neighborhood, Saint-Eustache is one of the most visited churches in Paris. It's renowned for its unusually large dimensions. It took 100 years to build, constructed between 1532 and 1632. It was the last Gothic church built in Paris.

The outside predictably looks late Gothic, while the inside is Renaissance, being built and restored in different centuries. But what Saint-Eustache is known for (like La Madeleine) is its pipe organ, the largest in France. The church was frequented by French celebrities, including Louis XIV who took communion there.

Address: 2 impasse Saint Eustache, 75001 Paris

Hours: Monday to Friday: 9:30 am to 7:00 pm, Saturday: 10:00 am to 7:15 pm, Sunday: 9:15 am to 7:15 pm

Entry fee: free

Pro tip: There are organ recitals on Sundays from 5:30 pm to 6:00 pm

Notre Dame de la Lorette in the South Pigalle neighborhood of the 9th arrondissement

8. Église Notre-Dame-de-Lorette

At the bottom of the Rue des Martyrs in the 9th arrondissement is a graceful Paris hidden gem, the Notre-Dame-de-Lorette church. Built between 1822-36, it was classified as a historic monument in 1984. Don't let the name fool you. It's not Gothic like it's namesake. It's a more classical Romanesque style.

If you walk down Rue Laffitte, you'll see Notre Dame-de-Lorette with the Sacre Coeur as a backdrop. It's a gorgeous view.

view of Notre-Dame-de-Lorette and the Sacre Coeur from Lafitte Street

colorful domed ceiling of Notre Dame-de-Lorette

Notre Dame-de-Lorette is somber and monumental on the outside. But on the inside, it's richly decorated and beautiful. It has a sumptuous dome and a highly detailed ceiling with floral accents.

Address: 18 bis rue de Châteaudun 75009 Paris

Hours: Mon to Fri 9:30 am to 7:30 pm, Sat & Sun 9:00 am to 7:30 pm

Entry fee: free

Metro: Notre-Dame-de-Lorette

Saint-Étienne-du-Mont, on the right

9. Eglise Saint-Étienne-du-Mont

If you're visiting the Pantheon in the Latin Quarter, don't miss this secret spot next door. Saint-Étienne-du-Mont is the final resting place of Paris' patron saint, Saint Genevieve. The exterior has an asymmetrical design, with a tall belfry on the left side. It was originally just extra space for an abbey founded by Paris' first king, Clovis.

But the French revolutionaries didn't like abbeys and targeted established religion, so the abbey was suppressed. The abbey was demolished except for the Clovis Tower, which can still be seen from the church grounds.

the elaborate and lacy rood screen in Saint Etienne du Mont church

tomb of Saint Genevieve in Saint Etienne du Mont church, to the right of the altar

Inside, there's an elaborate and rather unique rood screen, which separates the chancel from the nave. It's flanked by two distinctive spiral staircases and is the only one of its kind in Paris. The stained glass dates from the 16th and 17th centuries. The church was heavily damaged during the French Revolution, like so much else, but was restored in the 19th century.

Address: Place Sainte-Geneviève, 75005 Pari

Entry fee: free

Hours: Tuesday-Friday: 8:00 am-7:45 pm; Saturday: 8.45 am to noon, & 2:00pm-7:45pm; Sunday: 8:45 am-12:15 & 2:00 pm-7:45 pm.

Metro: Sorbonne

the iconic gold dome of Les Invalides

10. Cathédrale Saint-Louis-des-Invalides

Les Invalides' fabled glittering dome is an unmissable landmark in Paris. The dome is spectacular, both inside and out, with an otherworldly opulence. You cannot help but feel awed. To ensure continuing adoration, Paris re-gilded the dome in 1989. 12 kilograms of gold were required for the new coat of gold.

In 1677, Louis XIV commissioned the architect Jules Hardouin-Mansart to build the dome and the royal chapel, known as the Cathedral of St. Louis des Invalides. It was built between 1679-1708. The cathedral was Paris' tallest building until the Eiffel Tower was erected in 1887.

You enter the royal chapel through monumental bronze doors decorated with fleurs-de-lys and Louis XIV's initials. Inside, the decoration is sumptuous -- painted cupolas, pilasters, columns, low-relief sculptures, and stained glass windows.

the dome of Les Invalides with a painting by Charles de la Fosse from 1692

Napoleon's Tomb under the dome of the royal chapel of Les Invalides

Inside St. Jerome's Chapel, you'll find the tomb of Napoleon I under the spectacular dome. Napoleon, of course, was one of the most important and colorful alpha men in French history. His tomb contains a nest of six concentric coffins.

It's fashioned from red Finnish porphyry and purple quartzite, and set on a green granite pedestal. On the floor, a polychrome mosaic illustrates key battles of the Empire. In the circular gallery, 12 marble statutes of winged women in classical garb represent Napoleon's military victories.

Here's my complete guide to Les Invalides and the Army Museum.

Address: 129 rue de Grenelle, 7th arrondissement

Hours: Open daily from April 1 to Oct 31 10:00 am to 6:00 pm, and from Nov 1 to March 31, 10:00 am to 5:00 pm. From April 1 to Sept 30, on Tuesday evenings it's open until 9:00 pm.

Entry fee: Full price: €12, audio guide €6 (you need ID for the audioguide), €10 after 4:00 pm, Paris Museum Pass is accepted

Metro: Varennes La Tour Maubourg or Invalides

Buy tickets online

Eglise Saint-Germain-des-Pres, with its single remaining tower

11. Eglise Saint-Germain-des-Pres

Paris' mythical Saint-Germain-des-Prés district is rich in history, culture, and architecture. And it's home to Paris' oldest church: Eglise Saint-Germain-des-Pres. It dates from 542, when King Childebert built a basilica and abbey to house ancient relics. Saint-Germain was an immensely powerful abbey until it was suppressed during the French Revolution.

The abbey was torn down. All that remained was the church. Saint-Germain was rebuilt in the 11th century and restored in the 19th century. Only one of the three original towers survives, housing one of France's oldest belfries. Inside, the somber church is mostly Romanesque, with some Baroque flourishes such as the 1840 murals.

columns in Saint-Germain-des-Pres

Until the 7th century, luminaries were buried in Saint-Germain. But King Dagobert changed that when he built the Basilica Saint-Denis, which became the new royal necropolis.

Address: 3 place Saint-Germain-des-Prés 75006 Paris

Hours: Monday to Saturday: 8:00 am to 7:45 pm, Sunday: 9:00 am to 8:00 pm

Entry fee: free

Metro: Saint-Germain-des-Prés

Pro tip: On Tuesday & Thursday there are guided tours at 3:00 pm

the pointy twin towers of the Eglise Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Bellville

12. Eglise Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Bellville

Tucked away in the 19th arrondissement, where tourists don't typically venture, is a lovely Gothic edifice, the Saint-Jean-Baptiste Church of Belleville. The church was build in 1548, with major restoration in 1635. It's one of Paris' oldest Neo-Gothic churches.

And the interior is stunning, rather reminiscent of Notre Dame. Admire the beautiful stained glass. It's definitely worth a quick stop, especially if you're paying a visit to the brilliant minds of France in the nearby Pere Lachaise Cemetery.

Address: 139 rue de Belleville, 75019 Paris

Hours: Mon 9:30 am to 8:30 pm; Sun, Tues, Wed, Thurs, & Sat, 8:15 am to 7:45 pm; Friday, 8:15 am to 8:30 pm

Entry fee: free

Metro: Belleville

The lopsided Basilica de Saint-Denis on a cloudy day in April. As you can see, the front facade was recently cleaned.

13. Cathedral Basilica de Saint-Denis

Saint-Denis is a completely overlooked hidden gem in Paris and one of its most underrated churches. Perhaps because it's off center, in a northern suburb of Paris. Though it's easily reached by metro.

Saint-Denis has a serious pedigree. It's the birthplace of Gothic architecture. It heralded Europe's transition from a clunky Romanesque style to a more elegant Gothic one. It's one of the most historic and religiously important buildings in Paris and, indeed, all of France.

Saint-Denis is essentially a museum of monumental French religious sculpture. As the world's first Gothic church, the basilica is even on the tentative UNESCO list. If it still had its north tower, it might already be listed.

he central entry door to the Basilica de Saint-Denis with ornate wrought iron strap hinges

The funerary statues of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette in prayer. They were guillotined in 1793. In 1815, the effigies were commissioned by Louis XVIII, to put an exclamation point on the restoration.

Saint-Denis is a veritable treasure trove of French history. Its namesake is a 3rd century decapitated saint. Saint-Denis is the preferred burial site of French royalty, showcasing the death styles of the rich and famous. There, you'll find the tomb of Marie Antoinette, among others.

For the complete scoop, check out my guide to Saint-Denis. If you're interested in the controversial French queen, I have a guide to all Marie Antoinette sites in Paris.

Address: 1 rue de la Legion D Honneur, 93200 Saint-Denis, France

Hours: Open Apr 1 to Sept 30: Mon to Sat from 10:00 am to 6:15 pm & Sun from noon to 6:15 pm. From Oct 1 to Mar 31: Mon to Sat from 10:00 am to 5:15 pm & Sunday noon to 5:15 pm

Entry fee: Entry to the main nave is free. Access to the tombs and crypt is adults 9 €, under 26 7 €, under 18 years 3 €, audioguide, 4.50 €

Metro: Gare Saint-Lazare and the Champs-Élysées

paintings in the Eglise Saint-Louis-en-L'Île

14. Eglise Saint-Louis-en-L'Île

This little Catholic church is located on the Île Saint-Louis in the 4th arrondissement. It's a jaunty mix of Baroque and Classical styles. Contruction lasted almost 80 years, beginning in 1664 and ending in 1726. When finished, it was dedicated to Saint-Louis.

It was largely built by architect François le Vau, brother of the architect of Versailles. The city of Paris purchased the church in 1817 and launched a frenzy of gilding. Hence, inside it's luxuriously decorated. You'll find some serious art, including a rare Fra Angelico painting.

unique pointy tower of Eglise Saint-Louis-en-L'Île

Address: 19 bis rue Saint-Louis-en-l'Île 75004 Paris

Hours: Mon-Sat, 9:30 am to1:00 pm & 2:00 pm to 7:30 pm; Sunday, 9:00 am to1:00 pm and 2:00 pm to 7:00 pm.

Entry fee: free

the front entrance of the Palais de Justice and Sainte-Chapelle chapel in Paris

15. Sainte-Chapelle

I've saved the best for last: the stunningly beautiful Sainte-Chapelle on the Île de la Cité. Sainte-Chapelle is an extraordinary example of medieval architecture and an absolute must see site in Paris. It's embedded in a cluster of government buildings. And it's a glistening jewel box inside.

Sainte-Chapelle was built in the 13th century. Louis IX commissioned it to house one of the world's greatest reliquaries, the Crown of Thorns. Because the relic was so important in medieval culture, building was expedited and the chapel was finished in just 6 years. The outsize spire was later added by Viollet-le-Duc.

The upper chapel is a kingdom of light, and one of the world's most dazzling Gothic interiors. Saint Chapelle boasts 15 panels of vibrant stained glass. The windows are densely decorated, depicting scenes from the old testament, the new testament, and the aquisition of the relic. The walls are essentially just window holder-mullions, whose sole purpose is to display the showy stained glass.

the original 13th century stained glass windows of Sainte-Chapelle

azure ceilings of Saint-Chapelle studded with golden flour-des-lis

And that's not all. The visual sensory overload continues. Golden fleurs-de-lis shimmer down from azure vaults. There are sculptures of apostles, quatrefoils, angels in the spandrels, and vivid painted surfaces. It just doesn't seem like a building made of stone.

During the Christmas season, there are also classical music concerts held at Sainte- Chapelle. I can't imagine a more perfect venue.

Address: 8 Boulevard du Palais, 75001 Paris

Hours: Daily Jan 2 to March 31: 9:00 am to 5:00, April 1 to Sept 30: 9:00 am to 7:00 pm, Oct 31 to Dec 31: 9:00 am to 5:00 pm

Entry fee: 10

Pro tips: Buy a combined ticket at the Conciergerie for both the Conciergerie and Sainte-Chapelle. This way, you'll save time and have a much shorter line. Sainte-Chapelle accepts the Paris Museum Pass. But it isn't a no-queuing option.

If you're wondering why I haven't mentioned Sacre Coeur, it's because I don't like it. It's a study in gracelessness, a mastodon trampling a hilltop. I consider it an overcrowded tourist trap in Paris.

If you'd like to visit the best and most beautiful churches in Paris, pin it for later.

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