5 Amazing Paris Cathedrals & Churches

There are definitely more than 5 amazing Paris cathedrals or churches to include in your pilgrimage journey. Paris contains a wealth of history and beauty, both secular and religious.  

Pagan Rome’s imprint is here as inspiration for Chalgrin’s design of the Arc de Triomphe, just as Catholic Rome’s influence shows up in a wealth of Christian architecture in a range of styles. There are around 138 Catholic Paris cathedrals and churches alone—even more when Eastern Orthodox and Protestant ones are added in!

But these are five big ones—amazing and varied—a couple of them not on the typical lists. There are so many grand Paris cathedrals and churches, it’s simply easy to miss a lot of good ones that add their story to the larger one of Paris and the Christian faith.  

These are a mixture of Paris cathedrals and churches from different traditions and histories, and they’re all easy to get to (or near) via metro. 

A (Kinda Different) Big 5 for Pilgrimage

Notre Dame Cathedral

Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris avant le feu

The 12th century Notre Dame Cathedral is one of the greatest examples of French Gothic architecture and is the best-known of the Paris cathedrals. It is located on the eastern part of the Île de la Cité in the Seine River and was built on the ruins of two other churches. 

The nave is flanked by double aisles and several side chapels you can go into to pray, light a candle, or just quietly admire the beauty of the stone and abundant artwork. It's very quiet inside ... even with the periodic loudspeaker reminders to be quiet, which was kind of funny.

I didn’t realize it when I was there just a week before the fire, but: Right in front of this UNESCO World Heritage Site is the stone marking the center point for all distances to Paris! 

Unfortunately, Notre Dame de Paris remains closed for restorations following the April 2019 fire. Luckily, much of the art and holy relics were saved. 

The square out front is currently open, so it’s still possible to take pictures of the outside and visit the gardens behind the cathedral to ponder and wander. The plan is to have restorations for the whole cathedral finished by the 2024 Olympic Summer Games, which will be held in Paris. At the time I went, the cathedral was free, but there was a 10 euro fee for the tower and crypt. 

Public transportation options: Metro line 4 & RER lines B & C (Station Cité or Station Saint-Michel). Notre Dame is about a four-minute walk from one of these stops, then across one of the graceful bridges to the isle.

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

Street view of the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Paris

The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in the 8th arrondissement near the Arc de Triomphe is built in a Russo-Byzantine style very different from most of the other famous Paris cathedrals. It has five pyramid-style spires capped with golden cupolas and an incredible painted dome interior. It was commissioned by Napoleon III and largely paid for by Tsar Alexander II. 

There is a rib of Saint Alexander Nevsky here, and this cathedral is where Picasso married his first wife, Olga Kholkhlova. The Sunday choir is incredible. There are also Russian shops and restaurants in the surrounding neighborhood that make this seem like a slice of Russia right in the middle of Paris.

Metro line 2, Courcelles station, stops near the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral.

American Church in Paris

The interdenominational American Church in Paris is the first American church established outside of the United States. Before the American Church in Paris was created, Americans worshipped in the Oratoire du Louvre, right across the street from the Louvre museum, as guests of the French Reformed Church. 

It's not typically listed among great Paris cathedrals and churches, but it's a beautiful part of English-speaking Paris's history many famous people have visited. Several American presidents attended services at the American Church in Paris, and Martin Luther King, Jr. preached from its pulpit. 

Sanctuary design is modeled after 15th century Gothic architecture, and the Tiffany windows—the only Tiffany church windows anywhere in France—are designated as national monuments by the French government.

Today the American Church in Paris is the faith home to an increasingly multicultural English-speaking community. Worship is every Sunday at 11am and 2pm. There are hour-long atelier concerts Sundays at 5pm.

English-speaking community: If you're going to be in France very long, I highly recommend doing your best to speak French & mix with locals. But ... if you get lonely or just want to stop trying so hard at the tollbooth or restaurant or shop, it's good to have people around who know what that's like. The American Church in Paris is great for that for English speakers from around the world!

Church of Saint Merri

Saint Merri Church and Stravinsky Fountain in Paris

The 13th-century gothic-styled Church of Saint Merri is named for the 8th century pilgrim to the City of Light and patron saint of the right bank, Saint Medericus. There are remarkable stained-glass windows, an organ built by master builder François Henri Cliquot, and the oldest church bell in Paris. 

Most unusually, the church shares some walls with neighboring Hotel Saint Merry—meaning some with rooms at the hotel will find gargoyles staring back at them when they look at the window!

It is one of the liveliest of the Paris cathedrals and churches, although it is the oldest church in Paris. Saint Merri frequently hosts a number of cultural events, including free weekly baroque, classical, and gospel concerts Saturday nights and Sunday afternoons (except for August). It also hosts visual arts exhibits from around the world, including favorites such as Henry Hua’s Japanese origami display. 

The Church of Saint Merri is open daily from noon to 7pm. Daily mass is at 12:15, Monday – Friday, 6:30pm Saturday, and 10 and 11:15am weekend mornings. There are also a number of eateries and activities surrounding the adjacent Centre Pompidou square.

You can get there via Metro stops Hôtel-de-Ville (lines 1 or 11) or Rambuteau (line 11).

Saint Eustache Church (Église Saint-Eustache)

Too often overlooked, the Les Halles neighborhood’s St Eustache is one of Paris’s finest churches, both inside and out. Its structure is gothic, while the interior is decorated in Renaissance and classical styles.

It featured in the lives of many of France’s famous, including Cardinal Richelieu, playwright Molière, Madame de Pompadour, Mozart, and at least a few French kings.

There are a number of beautiful side chapels, including the famous Chapel of the Virgin, the largest pipe organ in France (with an unbelievable 8,000 pipes), and famous sculptures, including the modern Keith Haring’s triptych piece “The Life of Christ.” 

The name of the church honors Saint Eustace, a 2nd century Roman general who was burned with his family for converting to Christianity. 

The metro stop at Les Halles is the closestMass is held daily at 12:30pm and 6pm Monday – Friday, 6pm Saturday, and 9:30am, 11am, and 6pm on Sundays. There are free organ recitals on Sunday 15 minutes before mass starts.

Saint Eustache is also open for visiting 9:30am – 7pm Monday – Friday, 9am – 7pm weekends.

Paris Cathedrals: Things to Know

  • Paris doesn’t have a lot of religious guesthouses, but it does have a few: the Ephrem Guesthouse at Sacré-Cœur de Montmartre, the Auberge Adveniat youth hostel in the 8th arrondissement, and the membership-based Maison Eymard. These could be great choices for those on pilgrimage to Paris cathedrals and churches.
  • There’s a fair selection of secular hostels for budget travelers, plus a horde of hotels and B&Bs. (It’s Paris.)
  • The metro and trains can help you get just about anywhere you need to go in Paris. (I’ve found the train system going to/from Paris from other places less helpful. Vive les gares allemandes!)
  • There are a lot of beautiful places of worship in the City of Light. But ultimately, whether Paris is a place of pilgrimage or one of tourism for you depends on how you approach it. Regardless, it’s great for walking...
  • ...unless you happen to encounter one of the smellier sets of steps down to the Seine, as we did en route to Notre Dame. Beware: Clearly many people spend time "pissing the night away" near here.

Other Pilgrimage Destinations in Paris

  • Montmartre Pilgrimage: Montmartre, or Mountain of the Martyrs, has a long religious history for different faiths. It is currently the site of three noteworthy churches—the Église Saint-Jean de Montmartre, Église Saint-Pierre (one of Paris’s oldest surviving churches), and the awe-inspiring Basilique du Sacré-Cœur (Sacred Heart Basilica ... another of the great Paris cathedrals).
  • The Louvre: The Louvre is a veritable Mecca of art and history—worthy of a pilgrimage in its own right. Wander through the art, but also take time to stop and let the beauty soak into you. Visit the L’Oratoire du Louvre church right across the street while you’re in the neighborhood. Metro line 1 goes by here.
  • The Pantheon: Many of the greatest minds of France are buried in this neoclassical mausoleum, including Victor Hugo, Voltaire, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. 1 November – 31 March, admission is free the first Sunday of the month.
  • Père-Lachaise Cemetery: Paris has many lovely cemeteries. Perhaps one of the loveliest is Père-Lachaise, which is easy to get to by metro lines 2 & 3. Molière, Oscar Wilde, and the Doors’ Jim Morrison are buried here. There are also war memorials.
  • Picpus CemeteryFor a short pilgrimage with a quiet garden and chapel in which to walk and pray, Picpus is a good choice. Here are buried many of those guillotined during the Great Terror, as well as patriot of the French and American revolutions, the Marquis de Lafayette and his wife, Adrienne de Noailles.

Inspiration for the journey...

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