Visiting Sacre Coeur Image of Sacre Coeur Basilica Paris at night

Visiting Sacré Coeur Paris: All you need to know

Visiting Sacré Coeur Basilica Paris? My guide covers everything from the best vantage points to climbing the dome and even spending part of the night in the church.”

“Visiting Sacré Coeur Basilica Paris is a must-do. This gleaming white domed church on Montmartre hill is one of Paris’ most remarkable buildings and has inspired countless paintings.

Sacré Coeur was a rather exotic and elegant addition to the Paris skyline around a decade after the Eiffel Tower. It’s right next to the village-like squares and lanes of Montmartre, and if you venture up the hill to this part of Paris, Sacré Coeur is one of the first places you’re likely to visit.

So what’s it like inside? Is it as beautiful as its exterior? In this article, I’ll show and tell you everything you’ll need to know about visiting Sacré Coeur – from its history and architecture to what to see inside, when is best to visit, and the all-important business of getting there.

Visiting Sacré Coeur – Why You Should Go

Image of Sacre Coeur basilica Paris
Sacre Coeur in its hilltop setting
Image of Sacre Coeur basilica and carousel Paris
Sacre Coeur from the Carousel de St Pierre

Sacré Coeur is one of the great landmarks of Paris, a shining white neo-Byzantine basilica visible from many places across the city. It’s also one of the best-known Paris icons, and the second most-visited building in Paris after the Eiffel Tower.

Prior to the tragic Notre Dame Cathedral fire in 2019, it was also the second most-visited church in France. It’s a different experience to many other Paris churches, a relatively recent church with ancient inspiration, especially in the form of its golden mosaics.

History of Sacré Coeur Church

Image of Sacre Coeur Basilica Paris at night
Sacre Coeur at night

The Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ of Montmartre (La Basilique du Sacré Coeur de Montmartre) was first suggested by the Bishop of Nantes, Felix Fournier in 1870. This was at a time of soul-searching, introspection and tumult for France, as it faced defeat in the Franco-Prussian War.

The building of the basilica of Sacré Coeur was intended as an act of atonement for what were perceived to be France’s sins during the Second Empire under Napoleon III. 

Image of Sacre Coeur dome from Rue St Rustique Montmartre Paris
The dome of Sacre Coeur from Rue St Rustique

It was built on the hill or butte of Montmartre, the traditional site of the martyrdom of St Denis, the patron saint of Paris, and the highest point and one of the most prominent places in the city.

Montmartre was also the place where the Paris Commune rebellion of 1871 broke out, and the location of Sacré Coeur on the site has long been the source of resentment among supporters of the Commune and the French left wing. 

Architect Paul Abadie was chosen to design the new Paris basilica, and the foundation stone was laid in 1875. Abadie died in 1894 with le Sacré Coeur nowhere near completion – it wasn’t finished until 1914, and was finally dedicated in 1919, after the end of the First World War.

What To See At Sacré Coeur

Image of Sacre Coeur basilica from Galeries Lafayette Paris
Sacre Coeur from the rooftop of Galeries Lafayette

The exterior of Sacré Coeur is more striking than the interior, but I would still make time to venture inside and decide for yourself. It’s one of the most famous landmarks in France, a very distinctive church partly inspired by Romanesque architecture, but also with Near Eastern Byzantine influence.

Sacré Coeur’s exterior and façade bears some resemblance to the Cathedral of St Front in Périgueux, which was rebuilt by the architect of Sacré Coeur, Paul Abadie, between 1852 and his death.

Sacré Coeur maintains its brilliant whiteness because of a high level of calcite within its stones, which has the effect of cleaning them when rainwater falls on them.

Image of the apse mosaic ion Sacre Coeur Basilica Paris
The apse mosaic in Sacre Coeur

Inside, the first thing you’ll notice is how dim the lighting is, in stark contrast with the bright exterior – visitors to the Duomo in Florence will have experienced something similar.

The most striking feature you’ll notice inside when visiting Sacré Coeur is the vast (475 square metre) apse mosaic. The Byzantine-style mosaic is one of the largest in the world and depicts Christ in Majesty.

The figures surrounding Christ include the Virgin Mary, St Michael (St Michel) and Joan of Arc (Jeanne d’Arc), the three saints that traditionally protect France.

Image of mosaic in the nmorthern dome of Sacre Coeur Paris
Golden mosaics in the northern dome

Although nowhere near the scale of the apse mosaic, it’s also worth seeking out the golden mosaic in the northern dome of Sacré Coeur. It depicts the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, surrounded by angels. Soon after you enter the church, also look out for the mosaics in the niche of the baptismal font.  

The Crypt of Sacré Coeur was closed during my recent visit, but I saw it on my first two visits to the Basilica. It’s unusual in that it’s not quite underground – the church is built on elevated ground, with steps leading up to it.

As a result, there are stained glass windows in the crypt, which is a little disconcerting! It’s well worth a look when you are visiting Sacre Coeur. There is also a reliquary in the Crypt purportedly containing the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

How long do you need at Sacré Coeur

Image of mosaics in Sacre Coeur Basilica PAris
Sacre Coeur mosaics

Visiting Sacré Coeur church should take no more than an hour – add an extra half an hour if you’re climbing the dome.

Photography In Sacré Coeur Basilica

Image of a dome mosaic in Sacre Coeur Basilica Paris
A dome mosaic in Sacre Coeur

In the past, photography inside Sacré Coeur has been forbidden, but the rules had been relaxed when I visited in July 2022.

Photography is now permitted within designated areas, so there plenty of places from which you can photograph the most impressive subject, the apse mosaic, as well as other features including the stained glass windows and side chapels.

Best Time To Visit Sacré Coeur

Image of the main apse mosaic at Sacre Coeur Basilica Paris
The Christ in Majesty mosaic

Early morning is the best time for visiting Sacré Coeur. Most visitors to Paris are still in bed or having breakfast, so you’ll have the church largely to yourself.

I have also visited Sacré Coeur late in the evening, around 9 pm, and it’s very atmospheric at this time, with low lighting and the mosaics illuminated.

Sacré Coeur Tickets

Image of the interior of the main dome in Sacre Coeur basilica Paris
The interior of the main dome

You don’t need tickets to visit the interior of the Basilica – entry is free, you just have to go through a security check.

You don’t need a reservation when visiting Sacré Coeur – just turn up and go through security. The only Sacré Coeur ticket you’ll need is for the climb up the dome, which is one of the highest viewpoints in Paris.

Sacré Coeur Opening Hours

Image of Sacre Coeur church Paris at night
The domes of Sacre Coeur

Sacré Coeur is open between 6.30 am and 10.30 pm daily.

Visitors staying at the Guest House adjacent to the Basilica can access the Basilica between 10.30 pm and 6.00 am as part of the Night Adoration. This is an all-night vigil, during which prayers are offered continuously through until morning.

Sacré Coeur Mass Hours

Image of the font and mosaic at Sacre Coeur PAris
The baptismal font at Sacre Coeur

On weekdays (Monday to Friday) Mass is held at 7 am, 11 am, 6.30 pm and 10 pm. It is also held on Fridays only at 3 pm.

On Saturdays, Mass is held at 7 am, 11 am and 10 pm.

On Sundays, Mass services are at 7 am, 11 am, 6 pm and 10 pm.

Other services in Sacré Coeur are held each day, observing parts of the ancient tradition of seven fixed prayer times each day.

These include lauds (morning prayer), sext (midday prayer), vespers (evening prayer) and compline (night prayer). The Divine Offices page on the Sacré Coeur website has up-to-date service times.

How to get to Sacré Coeur

Image of the number 40 bus near Sacre Coeur Paris
The number 40 bus also stops outside Sacre Coeur

There are several ways to get to Sacré Coeur. One of the most popular is the Montmartre funicular, which terminates just below Sacré Coeur. You can reach it via Anvers, on Metro line 2. From there, it’s a 5-minute walk up Rue de Steinkerque and around the corner to the left.

Alternatively you can walk up the staircases of Place Louise Michel, which lead directly to the Basilica.

Bus 40 is another useful way of getting to Montmartre. It follows a circular route between Le Peletier, calling at Pigalle and Abbesses en route to Sacré Coeur. You can also get to Sacré Coeur on the 40 bus from Lamarck-Caulaincourt Metro. This bus also stops at some of the steep Montmartre backstreets, including the picturesque Rue de l’Abreuvoir.

You can find more information on the number 40 bus in Montmartre on the RATP site.

Image of Abbesses Metro station Paris
Abbesses Metro station is also close to Sacre Coeur

The walk up to Sacré Coeur from Abbesses Metro station (on line 12) is considerably shorter than that from Anvers. You can take a short-cut via Rue Berthe and the stairs of the Escaliers du Calvaire to the corner of Place du Tertre.

If you prefer not to walk, there is also Le Petit Train de Montmartre, which runs from Place Blanche (close to the Moulin Rouge) to the Place du Tertre. You can take the return journey back to Blanche after some time exploring Montmartre for yourself.

Safety tips around Sacré Coeur

Image of people outside Sacre Coeur at sunset Paris France
Crowds on the steps below Sacre Coeur at sunset

The Parvis du Sacré Coeur, the area in front of the main façade of the Basilica, and the steps below are often packed with visitors. It’s a popular spot for watching Paris sunsets, hanging out and enjoying a drink and the view over the city.

It also attracts many Paris pickpockets and petty criminals. Sacré Coeur is one of the main places they operate, so if you’re going to hang out there, take a few precautions. If you’re going to carry cash or cards, do so in a concealed money belt.

Don’t walk around with your phone in your back pocket, and don’t carry handbags with thin straps which can easily be cut.

That bottle of cold beer from an ice bucket you enjoy may well have been bought from an illegal street hawker.  But this is pretty harmless compared to being relieved of your wallet.

The bottom line: if you don’t want to be pickpocketed in Paris, don’t carry anything that can be stolen.

Views of Paris from Sacré Coeur

There are fine views of Paris from Sacré Coeur, both at ground level and from the dome, 300 stone steps above. Either place is great in summer to watch the late evening light glow on the city before setting off to the right.

During the summer, the foliage on the trees blocks some Eiffel Tower views, but you can see more of it in the winter months, when the trees are bare.

You see more of the city from the gallery, in the upper row of arches in Sacré Coeur dome. It’s worth a look, but I wouldn’t say the dome is one of the best viewpoints in Paris because it’s so high above the city.

However I’d suggest the steps below Sacré Coeur and some of the other staircase streets in Montmartre offer better views of Paris.

Places to visit near Sacré Coeur

Image of Sacre Coeur from the Place du Tertre Paris
The Place du Tertre is very close to Sacre Coeur

Sacré Coeur rather overshadows its neighbour, the 12th century St Pierre de Montmartre, once the church of Montmartre Abbey. Along with St Germain des Pres and St Julien le Pauvre, it is one of the oldest churches in Paris, and retains much of its early medieval core.

The Place du Tertre, one of the most famous squares in Paris, is around 100 metres from Sacré Coeur. It is crammed with overpriced restaurants, but is wonderfully atmospheric in the evening, when dusk descends and the lights come on around the square and on Sacré Coeur.

Image of La Maison Rose restaurant Montmartre Paris
La Maison Rose restaurant

The rest of Montmartre is within a few minutes’ walk. You could follow Rue des Saules downhill to the picturesque La Maison Rose restaurant, passing the Clos de Montmartre vineyard along the way. It’s a little further down to Au Lapin Agile, one of the oldest cabarets in Paris.

Further down the hill, you’ll find some of the best streets in Paris to explore, including Rue Lepic and Rue des Abbesses. Follow Rue Lepic down to Boulevard de Clichy, and turn right to find the ever-turning wheel of the Moulin Rouge, the most famous cabaret in Paris.

Visiting Sacré Coeur – Final Words

Image of Sacre Coeur basilica Paris
Sacre Coeur
Image of stained glass windows in Sacre Coeur
Stained glass windows in Sacre Coeur

Sacré Coeur has always divided opinion, and I have to say my opinion is divided too.

I’ve always loved the exterior of Sacré Coeur. It’s a slightly exotic feature of the Paris skyline. Some websites cite St Mark’s Basilica as an inspiration, but it has always reminded me as much of another of the most famous churches in Venice, the white domed church of Santa Maria della Salute, on the Grand Canal.

Some views of Sacré Coeur are wonderful, particularly from across the city (especially the Arc de Triomphe) and, closer in, from Rue de l’Abreuvoir, Rue St Rustique and the Place du Tertre. I even had a print of Sacré Coeur from the latter on my bedroom wall during my teenage years.

However, my three visits inside Sacré Coeur have left me with mixed feelings. Before my recent third visit, I struggled to recall my previous visits to the church other than a feeling of emptiness and disappointment.

Some of the mosaics – particularly the main apse mosaic of Christ in Majesty – are impressive, but I feel there’s a lack of soul to the place. Every time I’ve visited, large crowds have been milling around, which doesn’t help.

Much is made of it being open for many hours every day as a house of prayer, but then you’re asked to fork out for the cost of lighting a prayer candle – either 3 or 10 euros – which is exorbitant.

Visiting Sacre Coeur is definitely worthwhile – just set the alarm clock and go very early in the morning to appreciate it most.

Check out these other famous churches in Paris:

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David Angel is a British photographer, writer and historian. He is a European travel expert with over 30 years’ experience exploring Europe. He has a degree in History from Manchester University, and his work is regularly featured in global media including the BBC, Condé Nast Traveler, The Guardian, The Times, and The Sunday Times.  David is fluent in French and Welsh, and can also converse in Italian, German, Portuguese, Spanish, Czech and Polish.