Paris is filled with churches and it’s sometimes hard to see everything during your stay in the French capital. We’ve selected 22 churches to visit, filled with history and works of art. Architectural wonders you don’t want to miss!
Paris 1st arrondissement:
You can’t stroll Les Halles area without having a look at the big Church of Saint-Eustache taking center stage at the end of the Jardin Nelson Mandela. Built from 1532 to 1633, the Church of Saint-Eustache is a church that manages to stand out thanks to its strength. During your tour, you shouldn’t miss: the large sundial on the southern part of the church, the 25 chapels inside the church beautifully decorated with paintings, murals, statues and illuminations; the stained-glass windows full of details and colorful and the big organs, the biggest in France! The latest work of New-York artist Keith Haring, a triptych called “Life of Christ” decorates the third chapel.
Set just across the Louvre, the Church of Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois is one of the oldest churches in Paris and one of the biggest gothic buildings in the French capital. Yet, it was by the narrowest of margins, but the church underwent many works and has been destroyed and then re-built many times. From the 14th century, the church becomes the parish of the Kings of France because of how close it is with the Louvre which was the kings’ residential palace. But it’s a grim episode that will mark the history of the Church of Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois since it’s its tocsin (this sound of the alarm supposed to inform the people of an immediate danger) that will ring out in the night from August 23 to 24, 1572, triggering the massacre of protestant civilians during the Saint-Barthelemy.
126-m long featuring a plan inspired by Notre-Dame, the Church of Saint-Roch is one of the biggest churches in Paris. Short before the French Revolution, works of art by the period’s major painters are added to the building. But the Revolution explodes and with it, pillaging and destructions of religious monuments. Diderot’s tomb, buried in the Church of Saint-Roch, will be emptied and we’ll never find his body ever again. After the French Revolution, the Church of Saint Roch is adorned with new paintings and sculptures and even works of art from destroyed buildings are repatriated making it a real museum of religious art.
Paris 4th arrondissement:
The Church of Saint-Paul-Saint-Louis in Paris Marais neighborhood is a place making us dive in Paris history. Built between 1627 and 1641, this church is Paris first Jesuit church built thanks to the financing of Louis XIII and the first church to abandon the traditional gothic style for a more baroque style. Inside, the imposing Dome, that has been one of the firsts and one of the biggest ever built in Paris, bathes us in its light. Later on, it inspired the construction of other domes like the one of the Sorbonne, the Val-de-Grâce and the Invalides and those of Jesuit churches in a general way. Also note that the presence of a painting by Eugène Delacroix, Christ in the Garden of Olives and the statue by Germain Pilon, Mater Dolorosa are absolutely to be seen.
If you are taking a walk on the lovely and small Île Saint-Louis in Paris 4th arrondissement, you should stop by the Saint-Louis-en-Île Church. You can’t miss it, it covers a large part of the Île! While the outside and the inside of the Saint-Louis-en-l’Île Church are voluntarily pared-down in the beginning. Its style has been heavier in the 18th and 19th centuries to turn it into a baroque church. The inside is breathtaking in its beauty: woodworks, sculptures, gildings galore, stucco, marble, murals and many works of art are to be discovered once you’ve walked the door. A luxury church that is worth its weight in gold!
The Church of Saint-Gervais-Saint-Protais is famous for its different architectural styles that make it, in a certain light, look like a gothic church and in another light look like a classic church. Its impressive 3-level façade created by Salomon de Brosse and Clément II Métezeau is considered as a masterpiece of French classicism. Inside, a rich decoration adorns the building. Don’t miss the Chapel of the Virgin beautifully decorated with its 2.5-m diameter pending keystone and especially the magnificent stained-glass window of Book of Wisdom. Dating from 1531 it’s in an incredible conservation status. Finally, for the record, a German bomb fell in 1918 on the church during the service and killed about a hundred faithful. A commemorative chapel has been built later on in tribute to the victims.
With its 13 million visitors per year, Notre-Dame de Parisis one of the finest monuments in Paris. Like the place in the front that houses the Île de la Cité archeological crypt, holding the vestiges of a past Paris, a testimony of the history of one of the world’s most visited cities.
Paris 5th arrondissement:
Going to the Church of Saint Severin is like going back in time to the old Paris. To join the building, you have to walk small and sinuous streets of the 5th arrondissement. And the church in itself, reminds us of a bygone era, bathing in a medieval atmosphere with its square bell tower and its numerous gothic gargoyles. During your visit don’t hesitate to take a walk in the garden that was already used in the 15th century as a cemetery for Parisian notables and thingummybobs. Archaeologists even found tracks of sarcophaguses from the Middle-Age proving the existence of a cemetery in situ even before the 15th century! Don’t miss either the double ambulatory and the beautiful twisted column inside the church.
The Church of Saint-Etienne-du-Mont has been built between 1492 and 1626 near the former Church of Saint Geneviève that became too small to welcome everyone who came to confess and listen to the mass. Since the Church of Saint-Etienne-du-Mont required three centuries to be built, we observe several architectural styles used during its construction: gothic art and Renaissance art. During your visit, don’t miss the wonderful jube built in the 1540’s and that resisted to the parishioners’ request to have it demolish in the 18th century arguing that it hides the choir. This jube, as beautiful as fine lace, is the last one in Paris and one of the last 9 in France!
Paris 6th arrondissement:
The Church of Saint-Sulpice is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful churches in Paris and the second biggest Parisian church, behind Notre-Dame. Its original façade with arches, designed by Florentine Servandoni, and the two towers of 70-m high, higher than Notre-Dame’s are fascinating. Speaking of these towers, you can see the right tower remained unfinished because of the French Revolution. During your tour of the Church of Saint-Sulpice, don’t miss: the Chapel of the Virgin, a small rococo marvel, the statue of Mary, the three paintings by Eugène Delacroix in the Saint Angel’s Chapel, and the gnomon, this brass thread representing the meridian line, referred to in Dan Brown’s critically acclaimed novel, Da Vinci Code.
It encountered countless destructions and reconstructions, the beautiful Church of Saint-Germain-des-Prés. Luckily, today, it’s still standing. It’s one of the last remains of Roman art in Paris! Until king Dagobert and the building of the Saint-Denis Basilica, the Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés is the necropolis of the Merovingian kings and their wives. In 1794, tons of powder stocked in the church explode and finish destroying the beautiful building. But it’s without counting on architects Etienne-Hippolyte Godde and Victor Baltard who, in the middle of the 19th century, are entrusted with its restoration. Helped by other artists of the time era, is inspired by Byzantine art, Roman art and primitive Italian painters to dress the walls of the Church of Saint-Germain-des-Prés. Paintings we can still admire today!
Paris 7th arrondissement:
The Hotel des Invalides gathers a bunch of museums (including the Musée de l’Armée) and monuments, among which not one but two churches: the Dôme des Invalides and the Cathedral of Saint-Louis des Invalides. This chapel has been built between 1677 and 1706 for the exclusive use of the royal family. Under Napoleon Bonaparte, the Dôme des Invalides becomes a military pantheon. In 1840, the Dôme des Invalides houses the body of Napoleon I, 19 years after his death on Saint-Helena. On the command of Louis XIV and the War Minister de Louvois, the construction of the Cathedral of Saint-Louis des Invalides starts to welcome soldiers in an annex of the Dôme. This very sober and pared-down building remains today the cathedral of the French armies.
Paris 8th arrondissement:
The Saint-Agustin Church has undergone works for the past few years and Parisians and tourists rediscovered it in a new light in early 2018. The occasion to return to the history of this church with a rather surprising architecture. Les Halles famous architect Victor Baltard is entrusted with the project. Baltard is used to renovating churches in Paris but that’s his very first project to build a church. Back in the day, metal was seen as the material of future. The Saint-Augustin Church becomes then the first big church to be built with a metallic framework covered in stones. Inside, the framework is seen at the level of the vault. The church pillars are made of golden cast iron and adorned with polychromic angels. All these details dive the Saint-Augustin Church a strange and messy look, between industrial style and more classic style.
The Eglise de la Madeleine as we know it today is the one thought up by Napoleon I. Except that at that time, the building wasn’t supposed to be a church, but a Temple of Glory devoted to the Great Army. With its 52 and 65.61-ft high Corinthian columns, the Eglise de la Madeleine doesn’t go unnoticed. But after the fall of Napoleon, Louis XVIII orders to give the building its religious function back. As an outcome, the Eglise de la Madeleine is an odd pagan temple inspired by the Greek-Roman architecture with no cross nor bell tower. Before leaving the place, have a moment to admire the panorama in front of you as soon as you leave the Eglise de la Madeleine. without anything to disturb your look, we can see the Place de la Concorde, the Assemblée Nationale and even the Invalides.
Paris houses a wonderful Russian Orthodox Cathedral in the 8th arrondissement, the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. A building we’re not used to see in the streets of Paris and which inside, richly decorated, can be visited three times a week! Of neo-Byzantine Moscow style, it’s the main place of Orthodox cult in Paris. Inside, a heavy indoor decoration typical of Orthodox churches: gildings galore, frescoes, apses richly decorated by Alexey Bogolyubov’s paintings and beautiful iconostases. For the anecdote, it’s in this very church that Pablo Picasso married Russian dancer Olga Khokhlova in 1918 under the witnessing eyes of Jean Cocteau, poet Max Jacob and Guillaume Apollinaire!
Paris 9th arrondissement:
Church Saint-Eugène Sainte-Cécile is absolutely charming. It’s the first church to be built with a metallic structure instead of with stone! At the time, iron was all rage and using it ensures a considerable trick to save time and money in addition to make sure the building is solid. Once you’ve walked the door, you discover a very sophisticated and colorful indoor. Walls and fine columns made of cast iron are entirely painted, so are the vaults, with a starry pattern. Everywhere, wonderful stained-glass windows (48 of them!), fine and full of colors. During your visit, don’t miss the organs made on the occasion of the World Fair in 1850 especially the choir and it glass roof, their beauty is breathtaking. Church Saint-Eugène Sainte-Cécile is unquestionably the Sainte-Chapelle’s little sister!
Paris 11th arrondissement:
The Church of Saint Marguerite is a small church in the Charonne neighborhood, rather unknown by tourists and Parisians themselves. In 1760, architect Victor Louis is entrusted with the creation of the Chapel of the Souls of Purgatory. In it’s this very chapel we can find a sublime trompe-l’oeil, a neo-classic master piece by Italian artist Paolo Antonia Brunetti and French Gabriel Briard. Outside, the Church of Saint Marguerite still owns its cemetery, which is very rare for a church within Paris. According to the legend, Louis XVII has been buried in the cemetery of the Church of Saint Marguerite after he died on June 10, 1795 at the Tower of the Temple. Despite the refutation, the tomb keeps on being decorated with flowers.
Paris 14th arrondissement:
From the outside you simply can’t imagine the incredible indoor structure of this Roman church in Paris 14th that actually looks quite simple. Built by architect Godefroy Astruct in lieu of the Church of Notre-Dame-de-Plaisance that became too small, the Church of our Lady of Work – or Notre-Dame-du-Travail – is the only work church in Paris, opened in 1902. A spectacular metallic structure gives the Church of Our Lady Of Work an incredible charm: the whole steel and iron framework is visible, so are the girders of the structure. A church different from the other Parisian churches, listed as Historic Monument and you don’t want to miss it!
Paris 18th arrondissement:
The Church of Saint Peter of Montmartre is one of these jewels nestling in the Butte Montmartre. It has been built in 1134, making it one of the oldest parish churches in Paris. Listed as historic monument since 1923, its architecture evolved a lot since its creation. we must say its history has been filled with unexpected turns. In the past, in lieu of this church, we could find a Merovingian basilica built in tribute to Saint Denis. Still today, we can admire the five original capitals as well as four marble columns that are the remains of an Antique temple. Following the Hundred Years’ War, the church is damages and undergoes reparations adding a new architecture. It explains why the nave and the crossing you can now admire display a flamboyant gothic style. These many renovations contributed to the building’s surprising architecture.
Bright white, Sacré-Coeur Basilica shines all year round and amazes the one observing its complex Romano-Byzantine architecture. Its dome is impressive because it’s 83-m (272.30 ft) high and features a 360° view over Paris. Its distinctive cupola has a diameter of 16 meters (53 ft) and is 55-m (180.44ft) high. When we come inside, it’s hard to look something other than the ceiling and for good reason, we find the biggest mosaic in France covering about 480-sqm (5166.67 ft²). It’s even one of the biggest in the world! Sacré-Coeur also houses the biggest bell in France: not less than 19 tons for 3 meters (9.84 ft) of diameter and 9 meters (29.52ft) high. Another treasure: the Crypt.
Paris 20th arrondissement:
Do you remember the last scene in Georges Lautner movie “Crooks in Clover”? The one where the five crooks are kneeled at the church while outside, in front of the stairs, a car blows up? Well this church is no other than the Church of Saint-Germain de Charonne in Paris 20th arrondissement! This religious building was in the middle of the former Charonne village. It was even the culminating point, offering at the time one of the nicest panoramas of Paris and its surroundings. Built on an instable layer of clay, the church met several stability issues. Since 2016 only, after years of works, we can visit it again! The Church of Saint-Germain de Charonne is now listed as Historic Monument. It’s a church that managed to keep its charm of a small country church of yesteryear on the village square!