When you think of France, one of the first things you might think about is its beautiful churches. After all, the country is home to the world famous Notre Dame de Paris! But it’s also home to the Cathedral of Saint Lazarus of Autun, the Cathedral of Saint Stephen in Metz, and the Cathedral of Saint Cecilia in Albi — all less famous, perhaps, but none less beautiful than the more famous Parisian example.
In this article, we rank and highlight the 30 most beautiful churches in France. Because beauty is subjective, our ranking came down to a comprehensive consideration of the following factors:
- Exterior architectural significance
- Interior architectural significance
- Historical significance
- Interesting or impressive features (stained glass windows, carvings, etc.)
Keep scrolling for the 30 most beautiful churches in France.
Note: We’ve introduced each church with its accurate, French name. In the description of each church, we refer to it by its common English name.
#1. Cathédrale Notre Dame de Strasbourg
Topping our list of the most beautiful French churches is Strasbourg Cathedral. One glimpse of this stunning architectural gem, and you’re bound to know why its nickname is the Pink Cathedral. Completed in 1439 after more than 400 years of construction, Strasbourg Cathedral’s pink hue is because it was built from sandstone. About half of the church’s architecture is Romanesque, while the other is Gothic. The interior of the cathedral is as stunning as is expected, but the highlight is actually the astronomical clock that dates back to the 1800s. Goethe described Strasbourg Cathedral as a “sublimely towering, wide-spreading tree of God.” Victor Hugo called it a “gigantic and delicate marvel.”
2. Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres
Chartres Cathedral is often referred to as France’s most beautiful church. And we must say, we agree! Ranking second on our list, Chartres was constructed in the early 13th century in the Gothic style. While most Gothic cathedrals of its era boast just one impressive spire, Chartres actually has two — one typical Gothic and the other more Flamboyant. A number of exterior architectural highlights draw crowds from far and wide. Most notable are the hundreds of sculpted figures decorating the cathedral’s three facades, and in the interior, dozens of relics and works of art.
3. Cathédrale Primatiale Notre-Dame de l’Assomption de Rouen
Third on our list of the most amazing churches in France is Rouen Cathedral. When looking at Rouen Cathedral from the front, it’s easy to notice the three different architectural styles. The church was consecrated in 1063 (in the presence of William the Conquerer, no less), but built and rebuilt over 800 years. The cathedral has beautiful examples of Renaissance, Early Gothic, and Flamboyant styles. Its towering spire is the tallest in France, and can be seen from miles away. Other highlights include:
- the 56-bell carillon
- the impressive sculpture galleries
- the detailed column work in the cathedral’s interior.
4. Notre-Dame de Reims
Reims Cathedral has a history as amazing as its architecture. Built in the 1200s, the cathedral is where the first Frankish king to become a Christian, Clovis, was baptized. Granted, much of Reims Cathedral has burned and been rebuilt since then. Today, it’s a gorgeous example of High Gothic architecture. It consists of multiple chapels, and is France’s oldest cathedral to have used the bar tracery.
5. Mont-Saint-Michel Abbey
Perched atop its island just off the coast of Normandy, Mont Saint Michel Abbey is easily one of France’s most recognized sites. Started in the 10th century, but completed in 1523, the Abbey is an example of both Roman and Gothic architectural styles.
6. Basilique du Sacré-Coeur
There is no doubt Sacré-Coeur is one of the most beautiful churches in France. It is also one of the most recognizable, thanks in large part to its spot on the highest point in Paris, in the Montmartre neighborhood. With its many Romano-Byzantine features, Sacré-Coeur bears a remarkable resemblance to the Hagia Sophia. Architectural highlights include the Christ in Majesty mosaic covering the entirety of the dome above the apse, and the three arches of the portico symbolizing nationalism. Sacré-Coeur was consecrated in 1919, just after World War I. As such, it is considered both a religious site and a political and cultural monument.
7. Notre Dame de Paris
With little doubt, Notre Dame de Paris is the most famous and recognizable church on our list. With its classic Gothic architecture, Notre Dame is one of Paris’s most famous sites. The flying buttresses supporting the high sloped roofline were some of the first in the world. Though Notre Dame caught fire in 2019, its architectural highlights remain. These include the large rose window of stained glass, and the supportive, yet functional, gargoyle sculptures lining much of the roofline.
8. Cathédrale Saint-Étienne de Bourges
Completed in 1230, Bourges Cathedral took somewhere around 35 years to construct. It is a gorgeous example of High Gothic architectural style, as evidenced by its towers, ornate facade, and flying buttresses. Arguably, the most impressive exterior features of Bourges Cathedral are the elaborately sculpted portals. Over the central portal is carved the Day of Judgement, while other portals feature the stoning of Saint Stephen (for whom the cathedral is named) and the punishment of sinners. The interior of Bourges Cathedral is typical of early-Christian churches. It is simple, with double aisles and a double ambulatory, but with a distinctive cross-section that influenced a number of later cathedrals built throughout Europe.
9. Notre-Dame d’Amiens
Amiens Cathedral boasts many beautiful features, including its location. Perched atop a ridge overlooking the River Somme, Amiens was built over 50 years in the mid-1200s. Despite its “rapid” construction, it’s a stunning example of High Gothic architecture. Highlights include the larger-than-typical stained glass windows in the choir, and the intricate 13th-century Gothic sculptures situated throughout the facade and south transept portal. Interestingly, the UNESCO World Heritage Site is also France’s largest cathedral.
10. Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Laon
If there is a textbook French Gothic cathedral, then Laon Cathedral is it. The Roman Catholic Church was built in the 12th and 13th centuries. It remains the most stylistically unified example of its architectural style on the continent, with towers, portals, and other frontal features that look mirror-like. On the interior, the cathedral boasts four especially impressive collections of stained glass, including the large rose window on the church’s west side.
Though it tends to be overshadowed by nearby Notre Dame de Paris, Sainte-Chapelle certainly shines on its own — almost literally. The chapel was a royal one until the 14th century, and it certainly looks the part. Its high walls are lined with floor-to-ceiling stained glass windows, which make the rest of the chapel — most notably the gilded details and painted blue ceiling — glow.
12. Cathédrale Sainte-Marie-Majeure
The Marseille Cathedral is a Roman Catholic cathedral and a basilica minor. Although originally built in the 12th century, the building we see today was constructed in the late 19th century. But while it may be comparatively newer than the others on our list, it’s no less impressive. Most notable is the church’s distinctive striped exterior, a typical feature of its Byzantine-Roman Revival architecture style. Other highlights include its 70-meter-high main cupola and its long main aisle — one of the longest in France!
13. Notre-Dame de la Garde
The second Marseille-based church to make our list of France’s most beautiful also happens to be the city’s most famous. In fact, Notre-Dame de la Garde is Marseille’s best known site. The basilica was consecrated in 1864 after being constructed on the highest point around. With the exception of the crypt, Notre-Dame de la Garde is built in the Byzantine Revival style. This is perhaps most evident by the basilica’s arches and “striped” look. Interior highlights include a copper sculpture of Madonna and Child, to whom local Marseillais have prayed to the patron saint of sailors for nearly two centuries.
14. Cathédrale Saint-Gatien de Tours
Located in Tours in the Loire Valley, the towering and ornate Tours Cathedral is easily one of France’s most impressive churches. Dedicated to Saint Gatianus, the church was constructed beginning in 1170. From there, it took roughly 400 years to complete. One look at its intricately carved facade, and suddenly its lengthy construction process makes sense. Inside, highlights include:
- a long and tall nave
- a 15th-century organ
- multiple stained-glass windows.
15. Église Saint-Étienne-du-Mont
Located near the Pantheon in Paris is the severely underrated, yet absolutely beautiful Saint-Étienne-du-Mont. Construction began on the church in 1494. It wasn’t finished until 1624. For this reason, it’s a bit of a mash-up of architecture styles and features. Architectural highlights include the curved, and highly decorated, axis of the nave to the transept. Other notable features include:
- the rood screen (the only one in Paris)
- the shrine of St. Genevieve
- the tombs of Blaise Pascal and Jean-Paul Marat.
16. Basilique-Cathédrale de Saint-Denis
Though it almost looks as if it’s missing something, there is something undoubtedly beautiful about the Basilica of Saint-Denis that not even a missing tower can reduce. Completed in 1144, Saint-Denis was the first major structure to be designed and built in the Gothic style. As such, its architectural highlights include:
- three portals on its western front
- a rose window of stained glass
- an ambulatory and cheviot of nine radiating chapels.
Interestingly, a project was initiated about 30 years ago to build Saint-Denis’s “missing” tower.
17. Église Saint-Sulpice
The Church of Saint-Sulpice is Paris’s second largest church, after the Notre Dame de Paris. Constructed in the 17th and 18th centuries, Saint-Sulpice is best known for its elaborate gnomon, or sundial. Other, more traditional architectural highlights include the bright and airy inner choir with its ornate pilasters and the elegant south transept.
18. Basilique-Cathédrale Sainte-Cécile d’Albi
Albi Cathedral has a history as unique as its architecture. Started in 1282 following the Albigensian Crusade, the cathedral is said to resemble a fortress. Indeed, the Southern French Gothic church is apparently the largest brick building in the world. In 2010 it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Highlights of Albi Cathedral include:
- the interior lavishly decorated with art and sculptures
- the 78-meter bell tower
- the incredibly ornate carvings on the various portals.
19. Cathédrale Saint-Pierre-et-Saint-Paul de Nantes
If you try to picture a cathedral in a fairy tale, you may very well be picturing Nantes Cathedral. Begun in 1434, this Roman Catholic church was built on the site of an earlier Romanesque cathedral. Though undeniably Gothic in style, it contains enough features to suggest it was inspired by the Romanesque style. Architectural highlights include:
- an interior that is described as looking “polished”
- the five elegant portals of the exterior a number of impressive tombs housing the bodies of some of France’s earliest royalty.
20. Basilique Saint-Sernin de Toulouse
The Basilica of Saint-Sernin may not be as tall or as imposing as some of the other churches on our list, but it is no less beautiful. Constructed beginning in 1180, Saint-Sernin remains France’s largest surviving Romanesque building. As such, it is listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Highlights include:
- the chapels which radiate off of the main ambulatory
- the unique multi-tiered bell tower
- the church’s two portals with their elaborate carvings of Biblical stories.
21. Cathédrale St-Julien du Mans
Le Mans Cathedral has a history that dates back to the 4th century. The big beautiful building we see today has parts that were actually constructed as early as the 500s, though most of it is from the 1300 and 1400s. As such, it features elements matching the Romanesque, High Gothic, and French Gothic architectural styles. Specific highlights include:
- the High Gothic choir
- the impressive collection of stained glass windows
- the unique bifurcating flying buttresses on the eastern end of the exterior.
22. Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Bayeux
Bayeux Cathedral is another beautiful French cathedral that dates back to Western Civilization’s earliest times. It was here that William, Duke of Normandy is said to have forced Harold Godwinson to take the famous oath. Though the cathedral was consecrated in 1077, very little of the 11th and 12th century construction still exists. Most of what we see today was started in the 1400s and some of it wasn’t completed until the 1800s. Architectural highlights include the unique crossing tower and the colorful murals located throughout the interior.
23. Cathédrale Saint Étienne de Metz
Metz Cathedral, known also as the Cathedral of Saint Stephen, is a Roman Catholic Church located in the town of Metz, in Lorraine. Though the cathedral we see today has been pieced together throughout the centuries, its oldest sections date as far back as the 1300s. Highlights of this stunning French church include the third-highest nave in all of France, and the impressive treasury which has been compiled over 1,000 years. However, most impressive is the 69,920 square foot expanse of stained glass which gives the cathedral its nickname of La Lanterne du Bon Dieu (“the Good Lord’s Lantern”).
24. Cathédrale Saint-Maurice d’Angers
Angers Cathedral is so stunning, it’s been declared an official national monument of France. This is in recognition of its unique mixture of architecture styles, namely Romanesque and Angevin Gothic. Architectural highlights include:
- the spire topped towers
- the grand organ
- the stained glass windows in the transept.
The transept is considered to be a masterpiece of French 13th-century glasswork.
25. Cathédrale Saint-Pierre de Poitiers
Much of Poitiers Cathedral dates back to the 12th and 13th centuries. Despite its long history, the cathedral’s exterior remains unfinished, with side towers that remain only partially built. This gives the exterior a “heavy,” yet no less beautiful appearance. Still, most of the traditionally beautiful architectural highlights can be found inside the church. These include:
- the central vaulted roof
- the 12th- and 13th-century stained glass windows
- the choir stalls.
The stalls, carved sometime between 1235 and 1257, are the oldest in the country.
26. L’église Saint-Eustache
Situated in the heart of Paris’s medieval marketplace, the Church of St. Eustache was built in the hundred years after 1532. As such, it is an astounding mix of architectural styles. While its exterior looks traditionally Gothic, its interior details lean towards the classics and the Renaissance. Architectural highlights include the Chapel of the Virgin (built in 1640) with its the ribbed cul-de-four vault, and the Chapel of the Butchers with its stained glass window depicting pork butchery.
27. Cathédrale Saint-Lazare d’Autun
Autun Cathedral is a Roman Catholic church located in the Burgundy region of France. Ground was broken for the national monument in 1120 and construction was completed in 1146. The ground plan of the church is in the shape of a Latin cross, as is typical of Gothic architecture of the time. Other Gothic touches include the 15th-century spire and the collection of interior sculpture. Other elements of the church are Romanesque, including another series of sculptures and the since-rebuilt western towers.
28. Saint-Michel d’Aiguilhe
St. Michael of the Needle is hard to miss. Perched (almost literally!) atop an 85-meter-high volcanic plug, this ancient church is simply incredible, if not traditionally beautiful. It was built in 969, and enlarged 150 years later to include a nave, ambulatory, and two side chapels. Some frescoes and a bell tower were also added. If you find yourself near Le Puy-en-Velay, a close-up look at St. Michael of the Needle is a must. You’ll just need to climb 268 steps around the volcanic plug to get there!
29. Cathédrale Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Lyon
It would make sense that one of France’s most beautiful cities is home to one of its most beautiful churches. Lyon Cathedral is a Roman Catholic Church built in the typical Gothic and Romanesque architectural styles of the time. Ground was broken for the cathedral as early as 1180, though it wasn’t completed until 1480. Highlights of the church include the Romanesque choir and apse of the interior, and the exterior Gothic facade.
30. L’église Sainte-Marie-Madeleine
Known simply as La Madeleine, this beautiful church is one of the gems of Paris. But interestingly, it doesn’t really look like a church. Built in the early 1800s, it was originally designed to be a temple to the glory of Napoleon’s army. It was built in the Neo-Classical style and was inspired by a well-preserved Roman temple. Its exterior consists of 52 Corinthian columns. Its interior is centered around a single nave with three domes and widely arched bays.