Who can think of Paris without thinking of Notre Dame? Few cathedrals have inspired more in the popular imagination, and few have inspired more grief than when Notre Dame de Paris burned in 2020.
The cathedrals and churches in Paris go far beyond Notre Dame. Although Notre Dame is – technically – Paris’s only cathedral, its churches and basilicas are so majestic and beautiful they inspire awe and repeat visits. In fact, France is one of the best countries in the world for church lovers – there are beautiful cathedrals and pilgrimage sites throughout France!
Paris is home to 197 churches – and many of them are worth a visit! With so much to do on any trip to Paris, it’s important to know what each major church in Paris offers so you can choose the best churches in Paris and cathedrals in Paris for your trip!
April 2021 Update: While many of us cannot travel right now due to the ongoing situation, enjoy this post for inspiration and to help you plan a safe and wonderful trip in the future.
Notre-Dame de Paris – The Greatest Church in Paris
6 Parvis Notre-Dame – Pl. Jean-Paul II 75004
Nearly synonymous with Paris itself, the Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris is still a gorgeous and unique church that should be #1 on your Paris itinerary. In fact, historically, Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris was Europe’s most visited monument.
Notre-Dame sits right between the left and right banks of Paris (it’s literally on an island), making it a great central starting point as you get your bearings on your trip to Paris.
I think we all know by now about the devastating fire at Notre-Dame de Paris in April of 2019. As of this writing, tourists and worshippers are not allowed inside. However, the beautiful stonework on the outside of Notre-Dame, and its iconic flying buttresses are still visible – making it every bit as worth a visit!
Notre Dame de Paris was built at the height of the Gothic period. Begun in the 12th century and completed in the 14th century. Walking up to Paris’s greatest Cathedral on the Île de la Cité, one can easily tune out the noise of modern traffic and imagine oneself in Medieval Paris. It was Victor Hugo’s Novel (not necessarily the Disney movie that followed) the Hunchback of Notre-Dame that reignited interest in Notre-Dame and made it the immensely popular landmark it is today.
Saint-Sulpice – The “Cathedral of the Left Bank”
12 Place Saint-Sulpice
75005 Paris, France
Saint-Sulpice in Paris lies in the Latin Quarter of Paris. Much newer than Notre-Dame de Paris, Saint-Sulpice was built in the 17th century – and the current structure is actually the second church to be built on the site. You’ll recognize it as you walk up to it by its mismatched towers that end in round turrets instead of spires. Saint-Sulpice is the second largest church in Paris, after Notre-Dame. A baroque church, it’s a very different style from Notre Dame!
Saint-Sulpice is famous for a number of reasons, the first being its organ. The grand organ at Saint-Sulpice is considered by many the greatest organ in existence, and its organists – now and through history – some of the greatest to have lived. The best way to visit Saint Sulpice: attend a service and hear the organ played! After the 10:45 am service [check times, especially with the ongoing situation] the organist usually gives an encore and mini-concert.
Saint-Sulpice is also famous for having mismatched towers. And lately it’s famous because Dan Brown used it for scenes in his famous novel, The DaVinci Code.
Sainte-Chapelle – St. Louis’s Chapel
10 Boulevard du Palais, 75001 Paris, France
For pure wonder and amazement, head to Sainte-Chapelle, very near Notre Dame. Not a cathedral or even a “church” in the traditional sense, Sainte-Chapelle is actually a Royal Chapel, commissioned by King Louis the IX (later Saint Louis) to house important relics that he acquired (including the purported crown of thorns of Christ.) Sainte-Chapelle was built in the 13th century originally as a part of the Royal Residences on the Ile de la Cité in Paris.
Sainte-Chapelle is famous on Instagram and with all kinds of photographers for very good reason! The upper chapel is adorned in 618 square meters of incredibly intricate stained glass – that equals 1,113 stained glass windows in 15 glass panels and a Rose Window. The chapel is built in a high Gothic style – making it feel high and sweeping! It is truly one of the finest religious buildings you will ever visit – a church in Paris no one can miss.
Montmartre – The Basilica of Sacré-Cœur
35 Rue du Chevalier de la Barre, 75018 Paris, France
The Basilica of Sacré-Cœur is unique amongst the churches in Paris because it is the only true Basilica. Second only to Notre-Dame in popularity, Sacré-Cœur is an icon in its own right, perched hilltop in Paris’s famous arts district: Montmartre.
One of the best things to do in the Basilica of Sacré-Cœur is to climb the towers for the most incredible view of Paris imaginable!
The Basilica was begun after France lost the war between France and Germany that began in 1870. Many people believed that the loss was due to spiritual poverty in the country, and leaders vowed to build a new Basilica to bring spiritual fervor back to France.
The all-white Basilica was not completed until 1919, also making it one of the newest churches in Paris. It is built in the Roman-Byzantine style. Inside the Basilica in the apse is a stunning mosaic, Christ in Majesty, one of the largest mosaics in the world. You can also visit the crypt at Montmartre if you are brave!
L’église de la Madeleine – Church or Grecian Temple?
Place de la Madeleine, 75008 Paris, France
L’église de la Madeleine doesn’t look like a church at all: in fact it looks like a Greek temple!
The Madeleine church, named for Mary Magdalene in the Bible, doesn’t particularly look like a church because in fact it didn’t start out as one! The current Greek temple style building is the third attempt at building a church on the site, the first two were torn down after the builders were dissatisfied with the attempts. This building was actually begun as a temple by Napoleon to honor the French navy. Only later was is consecrated as a church.
The result is a neoclassical church with 52 Corinthian columns. On the pediment, the triangle part of the roof, the relief depicts the last judgement with Mary Magdalene praying to intercede for those who are lost (this was completed after it was decided to turn the building into a church!).
Inside the church are three domes that aren’t visible from outside and a particularly celebrated altar with a statue of Mary Magdalene. The organ is also highly celebrated – not quite as much as Saint-Sulpice. If you are lucky like I was someone will be practicing when you visit!
Bonus: Cluny Museum
For any lover of religious art and architecture, the Cluny Museum in Paris is a must-stop! While not technically a church in Paris, it’s close to one and sure to inspire your imagination and be educational. Also known as the “National Museum of the Middle Ages”, the Cluny Museum is home to much artwork, including its most famous “Tapestries of the Lady and the Unicorn.”
I spent a wonderful afternoon wandering around the 5th Arrondissement in Paris and just happened upon the Cluny Museum. I know what you are thinking: someone as obsessed with churches and cathedrals as I am didn’t head straight there when I got to Paris? Nope! I didn’t even know about it! Stumbling upon the Cluny Museum (which I loved!) rates as the happiest “stumbleupon” in my travels to date!
The Cluny Museum is on the site of third century Roman baths and has two building, the “Hotel de Cluny” houses the actual collection. You enter through a beautiful courtyard and the go into the museum. The museum collections include incredible Romanesque art, Byzantine art, Capitols and carvings from famous Cathedrals around France and the world, work from Limoges, and more! The Cluny Museum is not too big, so it’s a good size to enjoy in a few hours – on either a hot, cold, or rainy day in Paris it’s a perfect stop!
The museum is currently closed for renovations. Visit the official website of the Cluny Museum for information on their re-opening in 2022!
I hope you are excited to see these incredible churches in Paris and take in all that Paris churches have to offer! If you are including Paris in a broader itinerary on a pilgrimage to France, check out my guide on planning the perfect Pilgrimage to France! Visiting Paris is, to this day, one of my favorite travel memories because of the incredible cathedrals and churches in Paris that captured my heart!
Travel Insurance – It’s so important to travel knowing you are covered for accidents, delays, lost-baggage and the works! I always use World Nomads Travel Insurance. The best part? They cover your electronics too!
Want to brush up on your French before heading to Paris – I’ve made huge progress with my French using private tutors through italki. With rates as low as $4 per hour (seriously!) and friendly, highly experienced tutors you can make quick progress and have fun while doing it. Sign up for italki here to check out their teachers. It only takes a few lessons to learn enough French basics to get around Paris confidently!
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