As a result of the fire that ripped through Notre Dame last month, the cathedral will be closed to visitors for the foreseeable future. It’s a sad thought for sure, but I’ve decided to try and look at the situation with a glass half full mindset. With Notre Dame now closed, it’s the perfect time to visit the many other beautiful churches throughout the city. And there’s a lot to choose from! If you will be visiting Paris in the near future and you’re looking for an alternative to Notre Dame, here’s six of my favourite churches to visit while Notre Dame is being rebuilt.
Saint Sulpice is the second largest church in Paris after Notre Dame, and therefore it’s a great place to start exploring. The Grand Organ (pictured above) is worth a visit alone, as it is considered to be a masterpiece of organ maker Aristide Cavaillé-Coll. Specifically, this organ is one of the few by the legendary designer to have never been electrified, meaning it still retains its 19th century composition. Additionally, inside Saint Sulpice is where you will find an authentic 18th century gnomon. This sundial is still used to determine the date for Easter each year through the changing of the Equinoxes, and is a must see in my books.
This beautiful basilica is already on most visitors’ to do lists, and for good reason. Perched on top of the beautiful neighbourhood of Montmartre, the views from the entrance of this building are worth the trip alone. The Sacre Coeur was consecrated in 1919, so it’s one of the “newer” buildings on this list, and it is famous for its tiled mosaic ceilings and travertine stone exterior. If you’re feeling extra energetic, you can climb to the top of the dome to get closer to the largest bell in Paris, weighing in at 19 tonnes!
Saint Eustache is probably the most seen but least visited church on this list. Located right in the heart of Paris on the north side of the massive Forum Les Halles shopping centre, millions of people walk by this building every day but few venture inside. As far as I’m concerned, that’s a shame. The sheer height of its vaulted ceiling gives it a vastness that is unmatched in my humble opinion. This is the church where Cardinal Richelieu was baptized. This was the location of Molière’s wedding. This was where Mozart held the funeral for his mother. And last month, this was the church that hosted Notre Dame’s Easter services less than a week after the fire. This is a particular favourite of mine of the churches to visit in Paris.
Saint Denis Basilica
The Basilica of St. Denis will require a bit of a journey outside of Paris, as it’s located in the northern suburb of St. Denis, but it’s worth it for the architecture alone. Older than Notre Dame, St. Denis is considered to be the first of the great gothic churches, and I always say that when compared to Notre Dame, St. Denis looks very much like a first draft. A beautiful first draft. St. Denis is also the burial ground for the kings and queens of France, so if you’re looking for the final resting place of Clovis, Henri IV, or Louis XIV, this is where you have to go.
For those of you with slightly more morbid tastes, be sure to visit this beauty in the first arrondissement of Paris. Located next to the Louvre, this church was once the personal parish of the kings and queens of France who lived next door. Because of this, Saint-Germain L’Auxerrois played a pivotal role in one of the more infamous episodes of Parisian history. On the evening of August 23rd, 1572, the bell tolling from this church signalled the start of what later became known as the Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre. Never heard of it? Let’s just say that the Red Wedding didn’t just come from George RR Martin’s imagination.
Sainte Chapelle may be small in comparison to the rest of the buildings on this list, but what it lacks in size it more than makes up for in beauty. Built in just seven years, Sainte Chapelle is famous for its (mostly) original 13th century stained glass windows. It was built by Saint Louis to house the holy relics he brought back from his crusades in the Holy Lands, and even though the relics are no longer there, his reverence for them still shines through. Just a five minute walk from Notre Dame, Sainte Chapelle is an absolute must see.
So Many Churches, So Little Time…
There are nearly 200 churches to visit in Paris, so even with Notre Dame out of commission for the foreseeable future, there’s still lots to see and visit. It doesn’t matter if you’re looking for architecture, history, organ recitals, or even scientific measurement, the churches of Paris have it all. While I’m sad that I won’t be able to lead visitors through Notre Dame anytime soon, I hope you’ll take this opportunity to explore the many other beautiful churches Paris has to offer.
Laura Moore is a professional storyteller who loves history and the many stories that make Paris one of the most fascinating cities in the world. Join one of her signature tours to learn the story of a city.