Each trip to Paris brings new insights into traveling. Both for traveling in general and for traveling specifically to Paris. This recent January trip was perfect! How could it not be? It is Paris, after all.
We were greeted with snow, then with rain on and off for a few days. The nights were chilly with low clouds, but then the sun shone through at times making the city sparkle. Generally, the weather does not affect my enjoyment of Paris, but it does determine how to pack and how to plan.
In addition to all of the information on traveling to Paris on this site, such as this packing list, here are a few recent observations. Also, a little tattle on myself for not following my own suggestions!
Map and Guidebook for Traveling
I forgot a map of Paris!!! And, a guidebook. I always bring them. Not this time. I completely forgot them while I was trying to get the dog to camp before starting to pack (so she wouldn’t be stressed). I always pack the night before or the day of the flight (not suggested), but I have always done it that way. As the trip approaches, I usually make a pile of things to put in my suitcase. But this time, I just forgot a map and guidebook. It is on the list I use to pack – but I misplaced my list the day before leaving! Not a good idea. Keep your list for packing with your suitcase!
G7 is a taxi service in Paris. A little while back, I downloaded the G7 app. It was terrific. It is quick and easy to enter the destination. Meaning no fumbling with using the wrong number in French or mispronouncing street names – all while the taxi driver speaks faster and faster French to you. Besides, it explained, in English, what kind of car was coming with contact information. Then, I could see the car on its way with an estimated time of arrival and more. Just like popular ride sharing apps.
One of my friends tried Uber and it was a 30 minute wait. Same when I tried it. In the past it has worked well, but not so great this time. Do not know the reasons why, but it is great to have options. Also, if you link the G7 app to a credit card that doesn’t charge a foreign exchange fee, even better. (Lyft is not in Paris yet.)
The Métro is always easy and super-efficient transport. As you work your way through the underground maze, make sure to look for the signs leading you in the right direction at each intersection. And, double check yourself each time. I missed a sign at one cross path, but Jennifer caught it. Of course, it wouldn’t have been terrible, but catching the right one saved time and kept us on track to our next destination.
Without my hard copy of a map, I used a map application on my phone a couple of times. I needed to confirm we were going in the correct direction. (I felt like I was cheating, but it was pretty useful!)
Although I advised my bank that I would be in France ahead of time, I still got a fraud call after using my debit card. Plus, I wasted time and had a lot of aggravation talking to a fraud person who was not really connected to my local bank. The big banks did not have these problems. And of course, American Express already knows you are there (somehow??) and knows you are spending money – so no problems with AmEx.
Poncho in Your Satchel
It rained on this visit, but it is Paris, so who really cares? I had ponchos in my satchel for everyone. One time it was really raining hard by Parisian standards so I broke out the ponchos. BUT, make sure the poncho in the little bitty sack from the drugstore is big enough to fit over you!!! Each of us had on a coat, some with sweaters underneath, and I was carrying my satchel. None of the ponchos fit over me. Another was so flimsy, and the wind was so strong, that it was constantly being turned inside out! Anyway, I was glad to have a little cover, but will be restocking with a little higher quality and checking the sizes before purchasing more.
Hiking Boots – Who Knew?
I was very happy that I brought lightweight, waterproof, hiking boots. I have never thought of bringing hiking boots to Paris before. But, it is lots of walking, sometimes on cobblestones, sometimes in the rain, and sometimes with a little slush on the ground. They were excellent. I even wore them when it wasn’t raining. So, I was very happy to have them.
Walk a Mile
Jennifer left her iPhone connected to internet service the entire time. And, if it is correct, we walked 7-8 miles each day. I was really surprised by that number! If it was a long way to dinner, we took a taxi. Most of this was really just walking in the day from Métro stops and in and around neighborhoods and a few museums. No wonder Parisians are fit looking!
Now, THIS is an Observation
And, one more….
Know When to Rest ‘Em
Everyone else took a rest in the afternoon, but I went to see more and walk around more. I have a hard time sitting still in Paris. However, the important part of this is that they NEEDED a rest so that the rest of their day would be enjoyable. IT IS REALLY IMPORTANT TO UNDERSTAND WHEN TO REST. On this trip, I was fortunate to need only about 15 minutes with my feet up before changing clothes for dinner. And, for all the places we ate dinner, I wore jeans, collared shirt and a sports jacket. Also, an outer coat and scarf for traveling to and from dinner.
Louvre Museum Shop Moved
The Louvre moved its ticket stations from right under the pyramid into the space where the gift shop used to be. Now, the museum shop is on the same underground level as before, but two parts, one either side of the wide hall leading to the inverted pyramid. It still has all of the great books, interesting gifts and walls of post cards.
Angelina on rue de Rivoli
Angelina has an outpost on the rue de Rivoli, next door to Hotel Le Meurice. The line was about 75 people long waiting to get in on a drizzly and cold afternoon. (Hint: Go to Café de Flore, instead. Or try practically any café with seating and you may be surprised by the hot chocolate.)
Stand Up Cafés Disappearing?
Cafés where one stands at the bar and orders coffee and a croissant in the morning seem to be fewer and farther between. Don’t know for sure, but we were having trouble finding them so we could duck in quickly for a shot of espresso. Will have to research more on this and be more observant. Maybe it is only the tourist areas that are filled with to-go shops.
Walk and Drink and Eat
Meanwhile on the streets of Paris, more and more Parisians seem to be walking around with cups of coffee in their hands. Quelle horreur! That is so un-Parisian to walk on the street and drink coffee. And, certainly completely unacceptable to eat while walking. Neither of these used to ever be seen.
Exercise Fanatics – In Style
Another interesting observation is that more and more joggers are all over the place – another sight that used to never be seen. They thought I was from the moon when I jogged in the mornings back in the 90s. Of course, Parisians have on matching running outfits (not just shorts and t-shirts) so they look good while jogging. The runners are everywhere, especially through the gardens and along the quais of the Seine.
January = Fashion Weeks
No wonder the hotels were not at a deep discount in January. Paris Fashion Week, both womens’ and mens’ are in January. Back-to-back. And, mens fashion week was happening when we were there. Another time to put on the calendar to check before booking.
Organ concerts at historic churches are an absolute must. They only last an hour and you don’t have to stay for the whole thing. They are a great opportunity to see magnificent architecture, and the sound from the organs can rattle your bones and the rafters. I saw/heard them at Saint-Sulpice, Saint Séverin and Saint Eustache. (I wrote more on awe-inspiring churches here.)
All incredible, but Saint Eustache may be a little more fun because the keyboard is on the ground floor. That means you can see the organist perform while listening to the music. At the others, the keyboard and the organist are way up by the pipes. At the end of the performance, they kind of peep out from the organ for their final applause. Choir organs, which are also beautiful, are played during many church services. But do not mistake them for the grand organs. The grand organs are the ones where you see the massive pipes above the main doors to the church.
For jet lag, I kind of tried the “not eating on the flights” way of thinking. On the way to Paris, the meal on the plane leaving Atlanta was at about the time I would normally have dinner, so I ate. I did not eat again until lunch in Paris at Cafe Nouvelle Saint Marie. On the way back, I ate a baguette sandwich at the airport terminal that I had bought near the hotel. Then, not again until dinner in Atlanta. Generally, my jetlag is really bad coming back from Paris. But this time, it was practically non-existent. Will try the not eating on flights again in a few months and report back.
Paris is chock-a-block with awe-inspiring churches. Many of the grandest are newer replacements built on ancient Christian sites. But “newer” is a relative term. Like many other buildings in Paris, some of these churches are many hundreds of years old with long and interesting histories.
France is overwhelmingly Roman Catholic – whether in name only, or more. The churches listed here began, and most remain, Roman Catholic. Only those that have been deconsecrated are no longer under the Pope of Rome.
The awe-inspiring churches listed here are in no particular order. Of course you know some, but others are definitely worth the effort to visit. Also, the names of the churches are listed in French. English may seem easier for now, but in Paris, only French will be written on signs, maps and plans of the quarter at Métro exits.
If you plan on visiting the awe-inspiring churches that are still maintained as active Roman Catholic institutions, please be respectful of the religion. Some churches have been known to deny entry to those without long pants or covered shoulders.
So, here they are, 13 awe-inspiring churches in Paris:
1. Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris
Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris is the most well known of the awe-inspiring churches in Paris. It is amazing to behold and it is an incredibly beautiful feat of engineering. The plaza out in front provides plenty of space to admire this marvelous creation.
Inside is a working Medieval masterpiece. Mass is said regularly. Step inside for a view to the Middle Ages. Smell the incense, hear the homily (over loudspeakers now) and enjoy the soft light coming in through the stained glass.
Make sure to walk around the entire cathedral. The shady side close to the river is a sweet little park. On the opposite side, stand close to the sides and look up to see the gargoyles overhead. Beware the gargoyles during a rain storm. They deliver the water out and away from the church – onto the sidewalk. Also, take a look in the back. Inside the fence surrounding the church, little storage areas protect stone pieces and parts from the cathedral.
Notre-Dame de Paris is the perfection of French Gothic architecture. Some may declare cathedrals in other cities to be the best example, but … seemingly everything is perfection. From the arches above the doors, the towers, and the ornate flying buttresses. And that is not even considering the spectacular interior.
During the Revolution, Notre-Dame de Paris was used as a warehouse.
Notre-Dame de Paris celebrated 850 years in 2013. It has witnessed 80 kings, two emperors and five republics.
Address: 6 Parvis Notre-Dame, on the Place Jean-Paul II, 75004 Nearest Métro and RER: Saint-Michel – Notre-Dame Official website: http://www.notredamedeparis.fr/en/ Admission fee: No, but, there is a charge to enter the treasury, the crypt and to climb the towers.
From a distance, Sacré-Cœur could compete for the best of the awe-inspiring churches. Its gleaming white stone sitting atop the city like a jewel makes it one of the most recognizable places in Paris.
The complete name is Basilique du Sacré-Cœur de Montmartre (Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Montmartre), but generally the name is shortened to only, “Sacré-Cœur.”
Besides the church itself, one of the strongest draws to visit Sacré-Cœur is the view from the steps overlooking Paris. Beautiful at day or night, morning or evening, blazing hot or rainy. The expansive vistas are adored by many Parisians and visitors.
Sacré-Cœur’s architectural style is Romano-Byzantine. It was consecrated in 1919. And, at nearly 100, this is the youngest of the awe-inspiring churches.
The ceiling above the alter is covered by one of the largest mosaics in the world. Beautiful blue and gold tiles create a lovely canopy drawing you all the way into the basilica to see the powerful mosaic.
Address: 35, rue du Chevalier de la Barre, 75018 Nearest Métro: Anvers or Abbesses, then walk to the funiculaire. If you are looking up to Sacré-Cœur, the funiculaire is to the left at the bottom of the hill. Taking the funiculaire will take one regular Metro ticket. Official website: http://www.sacre-coeur-montmartre.com/english/ Admission fee: No, but there is a charge for visiting the crypt and climbing the dome.
3. Église de Saint-Germain-des-Prés
“Prés” is the French word for grassy areas or fields. So the translation of the name from French is, “Church of St. Germain of the Fields.” Of course, it doesn’t look like it now, but when Paris was beginning as a village, this area was only fields.
In the early Middle Ages, the Merovingian King, Childebert I commanded the creation of an abbey (which includes a church) in these fields. And in 558, St. Germain, the bishop of Paris, consecrated the first church on this site.
As time moved on, a large, wealthy and important royal abbey grew on the fields. So large that it encompassed much of the area that is now referred to as the St. Germain neighborhood. And, so important that royalty was buried here until Dagobert I was buried at Basilique Cathédrale de Saint-Denis in 639.
That original church is long gone, but the existing building it is the oldest of the big churches in Paris with parts dating from the 1000s and before.
The architectural style of Église de Saint-Germain-des-Prés is described on its website as “primitive Gothic.” However, after many years and reconstructions, elements and details of other styles can be found.
Inside, the painted interior from the 1800s may be a little surprising. The walls and columns are covered with interesting designs and beautiful scenes painted in many colors. Up above, the ceiling is dotted with thousands of gold stars on a deep blue background. Around back you can see the flying buttresses. Compared to the ornate flying buttresses on the Gothic churches that would be built in the future, these may seem rather utilitarian.
In 1650, the philosopher, mathematician and scientist René Descartes died. After his body was moved a few times, finally in 1819 his cremated remains were interred in Église de Saint-Germain-des-Prés. But, his head is preserved in the Musée de l’Homme.
Pretty much everything that Louis XIV commissioned is over-the-top. And, his chapel at Versailles is no exception. From the multi-colored marble floor to the exuberant ceiling paintings, everything is magnificent.
It is the fifth royal chapel at Versailles. And, this last one, is one of the awe-inspiring churches in Paris (or, very close to Paris).
According to its official website, “Every day the Court attended the King’s mass, which were usually held in the morning at 10. The sovereign sat in the royal tribune surrounded by his family. The ladies of the Court occupied the lateral tribunes, while the Officers and members of the public were seated in the nave.”
The Chapelle Royale (or Royal Chapel) is considered a masterpiece of the architect, Jules Hardouin-Mansart. He designed it in the French Baroque architectural style and it was completed in 1710, two years after his death.
Intertwined script Ls adorn the chapel. These represent Saint Louis and Louis XIV. Louis XIV commanded the chapel to be built. The chapel is dedicated to Saint Louis.
One of the best things about this awe-inspiring church is that you can enjoy it with practically no one else in sight. Even though it is right in the middle of the busy 4th Arrondissement, it does not seem to be visited by many tourists. Take advantage of the solitude to really enjoy its beauty.
Of course, like many other awe-inspiring churches, the grand organ is mesmerizing when played. It is also one of the oldest in Paris. Concerts are not common events, so attending mass may be the best time to experience the organ.
Église Saint-Gervais-et-Saint-Protais is the first church with a French Baroque facade. Most of the interior is Late Gothic with fine examples of Gothic stained glass and some from modern times as well.
Don’t miss the choir stalls and the incredible wood carvings from the time of Francois I and Henri II (1500s and 1600s). Although beautifully carved, some of the reliefs can be quite disturbing.
During the Revolution, it was the Temple of Reason and Youth.
Around the year 250, St. Denis was beheaded on Montmartre (the hill of martyrs). St. Denis did not die there. He picked up his head and walked North and eventually collapsed on the spot where the current cathedral is located. The way to find St. Denis in any line up of saints is to look for the one carrying his head, that is St. Denis.
Since St. Denis’ death, some type of shrine or memorial for the dead has been occupying the site. Because of its long history as a burial ground, many archeological excavations have taken place over the years. Around the church, many sarcophagi have been excavated with some dating from as early as the 300s and 400s.
Inside the cathedral, tombs are arranged throughout the main chapel. A map illustrates who is where. Along with containing the remains of the French royalty, the collection of funerary sculpture from the 12th to the 16th centuries is the largest of its kind. Life-like effigies adorn the tombs. On some, symbolic animal sculptures sit at their feet.
This church is held out as the first truly Gothic cathedral. In 1144, the apse was consecrated with King Louis VII and Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine leading the procession.
Along with Louis XIV, the remains of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette are in the crypt.
Louis IX (later Saint Louis) commanded the construction of this chapel to house holy Christian relics, including Christ’s crown of thorns. In 1248, Sainte-Chapelle was consecrated as a Roman Catholic church. Eventually, in 1842, the French government designated it a National Monument.
Sainte-Chapelle is truly one of the most awe-inspiring churches in Paris. The upper chapel is mind blowing. Walls of stained glass soar toward the ceiling. Every inch of surface is painted. It is kind of like being inside a jewel box. This magnificent chapel was reserved for worship exclusively by the king and his family. (The photo at the beginning is of the stained glass in Sainte-Chapelle. Fit for a king, no?)
Staff and others would worship in the lower chapel. It is fascinating to visit and also extremely beautiful. Also, the oldest fresco in France is within the lower chapel.
Looking at the Île de la Cité, there is a spire that seems to stick up out of nowhere. It seems to be kind of near Notre-Dame de Paris, but then if you are walking, it kind of disappears. It reappears while looking into the courtyard of the Palais de Justice – and – looking up. That spire belongs to Sainte-Chapelle. The front of Sainte-Chapelle is hidden behind the walls of the Palais de Justice, fronting the street. If there is no line, you can walk right by and miss it.
Sainte-Chapelle is definitely in the Gothic style. More particularly, it is in the Rayonnant Gothic style. Rayonnant comes from the French word for radiating, as in the famous rose windows.
Sainte-Chapelle was built in ONLY 7 YEARS!!! Incredible.
Le Panthéon is one of the most awe-inspiring churches that is no longer a church, but a temple to many of the worthies of France.
In 1744, Louis XV was suffering an illness so horrible, that he vowed, should he recover, he would direct a church be built to Ste. Geneviève. After he recovered, he kept his word and the church of Ste. Genevieve was built.
However, once the structure was completed in 1791, the French revolutionaries changed the use of the building to a mausoleum for French dignitaries. A pantheon, or temple to all gods. During its history, it served as a Christian temple again. But, when Victor Hugo died in 1885, Le Panthéon was once and for all converted to a temple honoring French men and women who provided France with great service.
The crypt is a fascinating trip through history. Tombs and crypts fill the lower floor. Look for the names of Voltaire, Rousseau, Victor Hugo, Émile Zola, Marie Curie, and Alexandre Dumas.
According to its publications, Le Panthéon is a mix of Classical and Gothic styles. Its design by the architect Soufflot was based on St. Paul’s in London and St. Peter’s in Rome and includes a tremendous dome. That dome is easy to see from many parts of Paris.
In 2018, Simone Veil was the most recent addition to Le Panthéon. Veil was a holocaust survivor and politician who broke barriers for women in French politics.
Climb to the top for beautiful views. Also, Foucault’s pendulum is suspended from the ceiling.
Address: Place du Panthéon, 75005 Nearest Métro: Maubert-Mutualité or Cardinal Lemoine (both are several blocks away) RER: Luxembourg Official website: http://www.paris-pantheon.fr/en Admission fee: Yes No longer a consecrated church
9. Église Saint-Séverin
Detail of Saint-Séverin. Look at the fine stonework and extraordinary gargoyles.
Séverin was a hermit living by the Seine in the 5th and 6th centuries. In 504, he cured King Clovis of a disease for which his doctors had no remedy. Along with that good deed for the royalty, he also performed other healing miracles that brought him enough admiration to dedicate a church to him.
Since the 500s, there has been a St. Severin church on that spot. That’s right, 1,500+ years ago. Parts of the building date back to the end of the 11th century, making it one of the oldest churches in Paris. Most of the current structure is from the 1200s – 1400s. Like other awe-inspiring churches, it has an organ. Much of the works are from the 18th century with even earlier pipes.
If you are in near Place Saint-Michel trying to find some street food, walk down Rue Saint-Séverin to find this church. Take a look at the gargoyles on the exterior, the flying buttresses and go in to see the interior. Some of the stained glass windows are from as long ago as the 14th century! Not as tall, or as big, or as grand as Notre-Dame de Paris, but it is still impressive.
Late Gothic. It is in middle of a busy neighborhood, so maybe it doesn’t get as much attention as it should?
The oldest bell in Paris rings from its tower.
Address: 3, rue des Prêtres Saint-Séverin, 75005 Nearest Métro: Saint-Michel – Notre-Dame Official website: https://saint-severin.com Admission fee: No
10. Église de la Madeleine
Église de la Madeleine ends the straightaway leading from the Place de la Concorde between the massive buildings flanking its north side. It is always startling to merrily trip around the obelisk, look to the side and then see a temple at the end of the street.
Nearly continuously from the 13th century, a Roman Catholic parish has been in charge of the site. And like so many of the sites for other awe-inspiring churches, various buildings have been built and torn down through the centuries. The current structure, however, is definitely unique among them.
Église de la Madeleine has an amazing organ and concerts are held regularly. Check the website when planning your trip for upcoming concert dates.
Down around back are stalls filled with beautiful flowers. And, across the street in the back you can find Fauchon – an incredible purveyor of delicacies. Then across from Église de la Madeleine in other directions, you will find Ralph Lauren, Bulgari, and other posh shops.
It looks like a Roman or Greek temple, and in fact, its architectural style is not surprisingly, Neo-Classical. The symmetrical columns, huge pediment and expansive stairs may make you feel as though you are in an ancient land.
The current building is the result of Napoleon I’s desire for a Temple to the Glory of the Great Army. So, it really was built as a temple. But, as history would have it, Napoleon I was exiled before it could be used as a secular temple. The monarchy was restored (the Restoration), and that is when King Louis XVIII declared the building would be a Roman Catholic church. And, since its consecration in 1842, a Roman Catholic church it remains.
Église Saint-Eustache began as a small chapel in 1213. The first stone of the current awe-inspiring church was laid on August 19, 1532. And, on April 26, 1637, the church was consecrated. (Those Roman Catholic churches keep some meticulous records.)
The open expanse of the former Les Halles markets provides plenty of room to back way up and really see the church. The interior of the church seems vast, maybe because the ceiling is over 100′ high.
Saint-Eustache’s organ has 8,000 pipes. The church regularly holds organ concerts on Sundays at 5:30pm (except for special days). When planning your trip, check the website to confirm concert times.
The current awe-inspiring church is generally in the late Gothic style with Renaissance features.
Here in 1649, Louis XIV received his first communion.
Hector Berlioz’s “Te Deum” premiered here on April 30, 1855.
La Fontaine, the famous fable writer, is interred in Saint-Eustache.
During the Revolution, it was designated the Temple of Agriculture and used as a barn.
Super Cool Extra:
Église Saint-Eustache created a video of the church filmed by a drone – really interesting to watch. See the columns, organ – everything – up close here.
Address: 2 impasse Saint-Eustache, 75001 Nearest Métro: Les Halles RER: Chatelet – Les Halles Official website: http://saint-eustache.org/ Admission fee: No
12. Église Saint-Sulpice
Église Saint-Sulpice is one of the awe-inspiring churches of Paris. One, because it is one of the biggest in Paris. Two, because it looks different from the others. Three, because the South tower remains incomplete due to a stop in construction during the French Revolution – and it never resumed. Four, because the grand organ, well, is pretty grand. And, five, because the square out in front is so relaxing and such a good place to admire the church and listen to the water cascading in the huge fountain in the middle.
Like nearly all of the other awe-inspiring churches, this site has a long history with the Roman Catholic faith. The current church, which was begun in 1646, is built on earlier foundations. It is also home to three murals by Eugène Delacroix. Look for them on the right, in the first side chapel.
Check for organ concerts on the website. Each Sunday the church gives mass at 11:00am and 6:45pm. For 10-15 minutes before the each of those masses, the great organ is played. (There is a choir organ as well.) Also, the great organ is played during mass and for 30 minutes after the 11:00am mass.
Across the square, just off the right corner if you are looking out of the front door of the church, is a great place for a macaroon. Stop in at the famous patisserie, Pierre Hermé, at 72 rue Bonaparte, 75006.
Kind of a combination of Neo-Classical and Baroque with an Italianate facade.
13. Église du Dôme (or Église Royale) at Les Invalides – the Boulanger’s Dozen of the Awe-Inspiring Churches in Paris
Louis XIV commissioned Jules Hardouin Mansart to design and build this royal chapel that qualifies as one of the awe-inspiring churches of Paris. The Église du Dôme was built between 1677 and 1706 and it is a stunner inside and out.
Yet, the monarchy did not survive. During the Revolution, this grand building became the Temple of Mars. Later, while Napoleon I reigned as Emperor, the building was a pantheon to military greats and many military officers are interred here.
Napoleon I was exiled and died on St. Helena. But he would again leave a permanent impression on the Temple of Mars. King Louis-Philippe decided that Napoleon I’s body should be given a place of honor beneath the great dome. After many years of extensive work, the magnificent space was ready to hold its intended imperial remains. When everything was ready, Napoleon I was given a state funeral and placed in his eternal tomb under a golden dome.
Along with Napoleon I, his son, Napoleon II (also known as l’Aiglon), the King of Rome, is interred here – without his heart or intestines. And, Napoleon’s brothers, Joseph Bonaparte and Jérôme Bonaparte can be found as well.
Beyond the royal chapel, you can see the Cathédral of Saint-Louis des Invalides, which is also known as the Veteran’s chapel. Through a glass partition between the two churches, look for flags (or trophies) taken from the vanquished that now hang from the gleaming white stone walls.
The amount of gold on the dome is enough to make this qualify as one of the awe-inspiring churches of Paris. In 1989 it took more than 26 pounds of gold for leafing that glistening dome.
If you do not believe in an almighty creator, visiting Notre-Dame may change your mind. Begun nearly 900 years ago, back when the world was flat, and on the site of a previous Christian temple, the famed Notre-Dame rises to soaring heights on the Île de la Cité.
Wonder of the World?
Marvel at the ingenuity and skill it took to create this temple – at anytime – even today. Outside, the flying buttresses support the massive walls. Inside, the vaulted arches soar overhead. The organ fills an entire end of the nave with its pipes. Take a look at the stained glass and stand in awe of the ones who imagined, and created, those tremendous windows. No computers involved.
Rose window in Notre-Dame.
Rayonnant Gothic rose window (north transept), Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral. https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=60404628
Check out the hardware. Even the hinges on the magnificent exterior doors are a mystery. How did anyone fabricate those? Or, how did anyone dream up the design for those massive doors in the 1100s? And, at Easter, the doors open, light floods into the cathedral, incense wafts through the air inside and out, and throngs of faithful (and plain visitors) experience a rare event at Notre-Dame. It is breathtaking and soul-stirring.
There are no tickets to buy to visit the cathedral interior. The line snakes around and around on the plaza in front of Notre-Dame. Jump in and patiently wait to enter. Or, go early or late and avoid the line altogether.
While milling about in front of Notre-Dame on the plaza, you may find a brass marker of Point Zero – the center of Paris. It hasn’t been a grand plaza for very long. Until the houses around it were razed in the 1860s, the cathedral was surrounded by 2-3 story houses across the street from it. Making for a surprise discovery up close, but not a very grand appearance from out front.
Also on the plaza, on the side closest to the Seine, Charlemagne stands guard on his horse. The Frankish king is resplendent in bronze with a beard and helmet worthy of cinema. A great photo op.
Once inside, allow a moment for your eyes to adjust to the darkness. Then, walk the perimeter of the nave and visit the side alters or chapels. Look toward the rows of seats and the choir and alter. That is where Napoleon crowned himself emperor right there in the big middle of it all.
Church and Organ
The Hunchback of Notre-Dame is not there to ring the bells. But, the bells do ring. This means that it is a working cathedral and deserves the respect of all who enter. Near silence is expected and only use whispering voices. When visiting, wear long pants and women cover your shoulders.
Masses are held regularly and are wonderful to attend. Even though it is in a foreign language, observe the quietness and the choir singing and enjoy a few moments of reflection. Religious or not, it can be a welcome calm hour or so in a magnificent man-made creation.
Organ concerts in Notre-Dame are eery and beautiful. Strangely, the light is directed on the audience rather than toward the organ. One has to turn around in the seats and glare into the light to see the organ master and pipes. Maybe this encourages focus on the ears, rather than the eyes.
Back outside, on the Seine side and in the back, Notre-Dame has an inviting and quiet garden. Yes, even though in the front and the other side is crazy with tourists, the garden is generally a quiet retreat for a rest on a bench. Soak up the beauty of the trees, critically eye the flying buttresses and also choose your favorite gargoyle downspout.
Want to have a close look from on high? Climb the towers of Notre-Dame de Paris. The stairs are crazy narrow and barely large enough for one person. It is a little dizzying looking at your feet and spiraling around and around.
Gargoyles and cage on Notre-Dame tower
Even off the stairs, the passageways are very narrow. Outside on the towers, a cage surrounds visitors, but the famous gargoyles are only inches away. Walk through the belfry while the guards are telling you to keep moving. The views are spectacular from even the mid level of the towers, but just wait until the top. A feat of engineering up close and very personal.
There is so much history who knows if it can all be written. But, here are a couple of interesting tidbits.
The cathedral is a French National Monument. While the building is owned by the French State, the Roman Catholic Church has the perpetual right to use it for religious purposes.
Begun in 1163, construction lasted 200 years. In 2012, it celebrated its 850th anniversary.
The cathedral has 10 bells. Emmanuel is the largest and it is from 1681.
The holy relics now housed in the treasury of Notre-Dame include the Holy Crown of thorns, a piece of the cross, and a nail of the Passion.
A Little More
Notre Dame is inspiring from every angle – believer or not. The sheer design of the builders is inspiring. How could they envision such an awe-inspiring and ambitious church??? Astonishing in all respects.
Can you imagine being a peasant from the countryside, rowing your boat up the Seine in the year 1300, rounding the bend and seeing Notre-Dame? They probably wanted to know what god was responsible for such a structure and immediately converted!
Notre-Dame (Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris)
Nearest Metro: Cité or Saint Michel Arrondissement: 4th Admission: It is free to visit the cathedral. Admission is charged to enter the Treasury. No bags are allowed. Official website: http://www.notredamedeparis.fr/en/
The Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Montmartre (Basilique du Sacré-Cœur de Montmartre) or more commonly – Sacré-Cœur – can be seen from nearly any place in Paris. It sits atop the Mount of Martyrs (Montmartre), the highest point in Paris. White travertine quarried in France makes the basilica shine like a light from the hilltop, beckoning the faithful, or the curious.
An Ancient History
Like all temples, it is filled with symbolism and depictions of historical figures of religious importance. Its architectural style is Romano-Byzantine. That is kind of a mishmash of influences that create an interesting whole.
After beginning the foundation in 1875, the basilica was finished in 1914 while World War I was raging. For this reason, the basilica was consecrated in 1919. The history of why the basilica was built is interesting and the cause somewhat changed over the course of its construction.
However, the site of the basilica is historically important. The official site of the basilica states, “From the dawn of time Montmartre has been a place of worship: from the Druids of ancient Gaul, through the Romans with their temples dedicated to Mars and Mercury, to the Church of Saint Peter, the oldest in Paris, rebuilt in the 12th century next to the Royal Abbey of Montmartre by Louis VI and his wife Adélaïde de Savoie…” So, it sounds like since anyone can recount, those who died for a cause, or actually the ones burying them, wanted their heroes buried as close to the sky as possible.
Wait for It
After climbing to the top, venture inside Sacré-Cœur. You will find what you would expect in an old Catholic church. There are wooden benches, stained glass, statues and side chapels. But, rather than a painting, or bare stone, on the ceiling above the alter, this ceiling is covered by one of the largest mosaics in the world. Beautiful blue and gold tiles laid to create a lovely canopy drawing you all the way into the basilica to see the beauty.
Yet, the real draw of Sacré-Cœur is the view. That is the reason for making the trek. Travel to the top of Montmartre. First, walk around the inside of Sacré-Cœur if you want. Then, after a brief visit, go onto the steps and take in the view across all of Paris. Beautiful at day or night, morning or evening, blazing hot or rainy. Here, you will find views that are truly heavenly.
What makes it special: Heavenly views across Paris. Nearest Métro: Anvers or Abbesses, then walk to the funiculaire. If you are looking up to Sacré-Cœur, the funiculaire is to the left at the bottom of the hill. Taking the funiculaire will take one regular Metro ticket. Address: 35, Rue du Chevalier de la Barre, 75018 Paris Arrondissement: 18 Open: Everyday from 6am to 10:30pm Challenges: Lots of steps, especially if you do not take the funiculaire. Special considerations: If visiting inside Sacré-Cœur, wear long pants and please keep voices to a whisper. Dome view: Yes, if you really want, you can climb into the dome of Sacré-Cœur for a view from the tippy top. Official website: http://www.sacre-coeur-montmartre.com/english/
Funiculaire on Montmartre
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