Despite it’s secular reputation, France was for many centuries a Catholic country. This heritage is visible everywhere in daily life (most catholic holidays are public holidays), but also in the architecture. Because of course, religion implies places of worship. And there are many : up to 100,000 in all of France, including around 40,000 churches !
In Paris alone, there are around 160 churches & chapels !
160 churches is a lot, so we made a list of our 5 favorite churches in the city. We hope this will help you pick which church to see during your stay in Paris !
Our first pick is the most important of all the churches of Paris, Notre-Dame cathedral. You might have heard about it recently because of the tragic fire on the evening of April 15th, 2019. If you want to know more about the fire, you can read about it here. Since then, we have been following the long & difficult process of its rebuilding. The cathedral will supposedly reopen exactly five years after the day of the fire, on April 16th, 2024. But another project will make it close down again shortly after, that we’ll detail below.
Indeed,the city of Paris decided to use the fire as an opportunity to renovate the surroundings of Notre-Dame Cathedral. The project, led by landscaper Bas Smets, will begin right after the Paris Olympics and will end sometime in 2027. It focuses mostly on planting a lot of trees : 131 to be exact. Behind the cathedral, the plan is to built a new park. The landscaper also plans to transform the former underground parking lot into an interior promenade. The access will be possible directly from the Seine river bank, and to the archeological crypt.
In the meantime, is the cathedral accessible ? Although you can’t go into the building of course, it is still possible to walk up in front. From there, you can still admire this jewel from the Middle Ages. You can also walk around the north side of the cathedral. If you want to know more, you can book our Notre Dame & Sainte Chapelle Private Tour !
A block away from Notre-Dame Cathedral, on the same island, you will be able to see the awe-inspiring Sainte-Chapelle. It was king Louis IX (or Saint-Louis) that built the Sainte-Chapelle between 1242 and 1248. Saint-Louis built the Sainte-Chapelle to house one of the most famous relics in Christian history : the Crown of Thorns. According to the New Testament, the Romans placed it on the head on Jesus-Christ.
Unfortunately, since the French Revolution, Notre-Dame Cathedral is the new home of the Crown of Thorns. And yes, the firemen of Paris saved it during the fire of April 2019 !. But what is left to admire will leave you breathless. On the Upper Chapel, aligned accross 15 windows, over 1,000 stained-glass windows depict scenes from the Old and New Testaments. They detail the history of the world until the arrival of the relics of Christ in Paris. 60% of these sainted-glass windows are original, and offer a great example of the wonders of Gothic-style architecture.
The Sainte-Chapelle is open every day except some national holidays, from 9am to 7pm (5pm in the fall & winter). We highly recommend you book tickets in advance (you can get them here). If you want to see the Sainte-Chapelle at night, there is another way though. You can attend a classical music concert on the weekends in the summer (you can get tickets here). And of course, you can also book our Notre-Dame & Sainte-Chapelle Private Tour !
The Basilica of the Sacred-Heart of Montmartre
One of the most famous landmarks in the city, the Basilica of the Sacred-Heart of Montmartre started being built in 1875 and was inaugurated in 1919. It is dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus-Christ, meaning to the worship of the heart of Jesus, seen as a symbol of God’s love for mankind. It has been a basilica since the inauguration of the church (you can read a previous article we wrote about it to learn more here).
Contrary to Notre-Dame cathedral – closed until 2024 -, and the Sainte-Chapelle -now a museum -, the Basilica of the Sacred-Heart of Montmartre is an active church, open every day from 6.30 am to 10.30 pm. Entrance is free, and reservation is neither needed nor possible (which means that on the busiest days there is a line to go in).
And since it’s a functioning church, it means you can attend mass, that happens 3 to 5 times a day (details here). You can also visit the dome for a unique, panoramic view over the city of Paris, even if it comes with a price : 300 steps (and no lift !) ; tickets can only be bought on location. Finally, you can participate in the continuous adoration of the Eucharist, an uninterrupted prayer relay since August 1st, 1885 (details for registration available here).
The Church of Saint-Germain-des-Prés
Built outside the walls of medieval Paris (hence its name, which can translate to Saint-Germain of the fields), it is know the center of one of the most famous neighborhoods of Paris, to which it gave its name. Until the French Revolution, it was an important abbey complex, where the first kings of France were buried.
After being transformed into a storage and manufacturing factory for gunpowder and arms during the French Revolution, it was re-established as a church in 1803, and remains an active church today.
Founded in the year 543, the church has lived through a lot of major events of French history, including the Viking invasions of the late 800s, which led to the destruction and rebuilding of the church. However, if you take a right after entering the church, you will enter a chapel dedicated to Saint Symphorian, whose stones date all the way back to the original building. The rest of the interior of the church of Saint-Germain-des-Prés was restored in spectacular fashion in 2020, as illustrated by the picture above, and looks as good as it did 200 years ago !
Saint-Germain-des-Prés is open every day, from 8.30am (9.30am on Sundays & Mondays) to 8pm. Masses take place twice a day, at 12:15 am (except on Sundays) and 7pm. You can also attend concerts, by purchasing tickets the day before at the church. Each last Sunday of the month, there is a free organ recital in the early afternoon. And if you want to discover the church and the neighborhood around it, you can request a private Saint-Germain-des-Prés tour (see contact details at the bottom of the page).
The Church of Saint-Eustache
Our last church is located in the heart of Paris, next to the site of the medieval marketplace, Les Halles, and close to one of the most charming streets in Paris, rue Montorgueil.
Built between 1532 and 1637, Saint-Eustache’s architectural style is a remarkable mix : the structure is mostly Flamboyant Gothic, but the decoration and interior feature a lot of Renaissance and classical elements. It has been the site for a lot of famous events, from the first communion of Louis XIV to the funeral mass for Mozart’s mother. The church proudly displays paintings by Rubens, Lemoyne, and Luca Giordano.
The church is open every day of the week, from 10am to 7pm. Mass is celebrated twice a day from Monday to Friday, at 12.30am and 6pm, at 6pm on Saturdays, and at 9.30am, 11 am and 6pm on Sundays. Every Sunday, at 5pm, there is a free organ concerto. If you are in the neghborhood, don’t miss it : the organ of Saint-Eustache is the largest in France, with almost 8,000 pipes. It was almost entirely rebuilt in 1989, and was even visited by the queen Elisabeth II of the United Kingdom shortly after it was inaugurated !
If you want to know more about these churches, book our Churches of Paris Private Tour !
We hope this short list of our favorite churches in Paris made you want to come see us ! If that’s the case, you can plan your next visit with us here !
Article written by Lucien