15 Must See Churches In Paris
Updated: Aug 14, 2020
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.
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.
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
Metro: Cité, Line 4
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.
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
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.
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.
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.