Visiting the Sacre Coeur basilica in Paris

Paris has dozens of beautiful churches, but the Sacre coeur is surely one of the best known and most beloved. This basilica can be found in Montmartre, the popular painter's district in the French capital. This gigantic building stands on a hill, giving you a beautiful view of Paris in good weather. The view and the exterior of the church are beautiful, but also the inside of the Sacre Coeur is worth a visit!
I'll tell you all about it.


A bit of history

Bishop Fournier saw the loss of the French in the Franco-Prussian war as a punishment from God, because the French had enjoyed themselves too much in the last century and neglected their religion. In the period that the first plans for the Sacre Coeur were revealed, there was a lot going on. Wars, the feud between Catholics and royalists, Napoleon and secularism all played an important role in ‘the downfall of the French Empire’, as he called it There was a lot of bickering, but in 1873 the decision was finally made: a new church would be constructed. Not so much to give the French a boost of their faith, but more to revive the French culture. The plans of the construction also stated that it was a “matter of public interest”. In 1875 the first stones were laid and -after difficulties financing the building and endless wars- the basilica was finally completed in 1914.

sacre coeur

Isn’t it a gem ?!

Visit the Sacre Coeur

From the metro stations Anvers, Abbesses, Pigalle and Jules Joffrin you can walk to the foot of the Sacre Coeur. There you immediately get a nice view over the facade of the Sacre Coeur, but if you want to get even closer you have to climb 90 steps. People who’re not able to climb that many stairs can use the cable car of the Sacre Coeur.

Once you’ve arrived at the top of the hill, you really see how gigantic and how beautiful this Romanesque Byzantine church is. The beautiful domes and the snow-white exterior are really impressive from so close. At the foot of the basilica you also get a phenomenal view of Paris. In good weather you can easily look out for a few miles.

sacre coeur inside

The inside of the Sacre Coeur, with one of the largest mosaics in the world!

The inside of the Sacre Coeur

Don’t forget to pay a visit to the inside! Before you can enter you’ll be checked for prohibited weapons and such, but the actual entrance to the basilica is free. The inside of the Sacre Coeur is quite dark, but nonetheless beautiful. The first thing you notice is perhaps the golden ceiling painting just behind the dome. You may very well find it impressive, because this is one of the largest mosaics in the world! The great Christ thereupon beckons you kindly and guides you through the basilica. At the back you’ll find some small chapels that are all overloaded with beautiful artwork.

What also immediately struck me, were the many machines for pressing souvenir coins from the Sacre Coeur and the large souvenir shop at the entrance. Sacre Coeur is one of the most visited sights in France, and it’s therefore logical that they also want to earn a (pretty) penny from their popularity…

interior sacre coeur

The back of the Sacre Coeur.

The crypt and the gardens

When you’ve left the basilica, you can also visit the crypt of the Sacre Coeur. The entrance is on the left side of the basilica. To get in, you pay €5. If you would like to visit the dome and the crypt, you pay a special rate of €8.
Surprisingly high vaults lead you to some treasures hidden under the basilica. A lot of statues (pay attention to the statue where Saint Denis still keeps his severed head in his hands), a small chapel and a few graves of prominent clergy are on display here.

After your visit, I recommend to also sit in the gardens around the Sacre Coeur. It’s nice to stay here for a bit, and with such a breathtaking view over Paris you can easily spend a couple of hours here!

The funicular to the Sacre Coeur

If you really don’t like to climb the 90 steps, you can fortunately also count on the funicular of the Sacre Coeur. For the price of one metro ticket (€1.90 in 2018) you’ll be dropped off in less than a minute.
Don’t forget that you’ll be exiting near the basilica. If you still want to visit the dome of the Sacre Coeur, you have to climb these stairs yourself.

funicular sacre coeur

Do you find the climb to the Sacre Coeur too difficult? Then take the funicular!

The dome of the Sacre Coeur

If you can’t get enough of the views from this place, then I recommend to climb the dome of the Sacre Coeur. From 83 meters (272 ft) altitude you get a panoramic view of the French capital. This is the second highest viewpoint of the city, after the Eiffel Tower.
After a steep climb of about 300 steps in a revolving and narrow staircase, you can finally enjoy the beautiful view of Paris. From here you can see many other attractions, such as the Eiffel Tower and the Tour Montparnasse. Just like the Notre-Dame (before the fire of 2019) you’ll also be accompanied by a lot of beautiful gargoyles that decorate the roofs of the Sacre Coeur.
Pay attention to the many messages carved in the stones. At first sight it looks like vandalism, but I thought it gave some sort of charm to the building…
To climb the dome you pay €6 per person. If you want to visit the dome and the crypt, you pay €8.

In this dome you can also see ‘La Savoyarde’, a gigantic clock of no less than 19 tons and 3 meters (10 ft) high. This is one of the heaviest bells in the world! To get this monstrosity on the top of the hill, 28 horses were needed! You can already imagine how difficult it was to get the clock in the tower…
If you look very closely, you also see detailed decorations on the clock. Beautiful!

view sacre coeur dome

You’re standing at the highest point in Paris. So the view can’t be anything other than phenomenal!

Some fun facts about the Sacre Coeur in Paris

  • The construction of the Sacre coeur cost 7 million French francs at the time, and all that money was collected by means of private donations. Converted in today’s money, that would be almost 35 million euros!
  • Air pollution affects the color of many buildings in Paris, but you’ll notice that the Sacre Coeur is still quite white! That’s not because it has recently been cleaned, but because this basilica was made with a special type of stone: travertine. This type of rock separates a type of chalk that ensures that the outside remains so white.
  • The basilica stands on a hill of 130 meters (426.5 ft) high. The Sacre Coeur measures 83 meters (272 ft). Together this is 213 meters (699 ft). As a result, this is the second highest viewpoint in Paris, after the Eiffel Tower (324 meters or 1063 ft) and just before the Montparnasse Tower (210 meters or 689 ft).
sacre coeur gargoyle

In bad weather the beautiful gargoyles do their job well!

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