Although the soaring 11th century tower of Église Saint-Germain-des-Prés makes the church a familiar landmark in Paris's chic 6th arrondissement, much of its appeal comes from its diverse architectural styles, its spectacular newly-restored interior, and the popular events it hosts:  concerts, a summer crafts fair, and a large Christmas market.

Église Saint-Germain-des-Prés is the oldest church in Paris, and thanks to a recent top-to-bottom cleaning, one of the most beautiful.

Built 990 and 1014, Saint-Germain is considered the best example of Romanesque style among Paris churches, which you can specifically see in the architecture of the bottom part of its striking tower.  Thanks to significant 12-century additions such as the massive flying buttresses (among the earliest in France), the vaulted choir area at the back, and the pointed medieval roof of a belfry built on top of the tower, the church also has some of the earliest Gothic features still in existence in Paris.

Walk inside the church, and you'll see a huge quantity of art, ornamentation, and decorative details spanning a millennium: thousand-year old stained glass windows, 11th and 12th century frescoes, stone carvings, numerous paintings, and an unadorned modern altar.

But what you may find the most stunning are the colors.  Look around and you'll see spectacular 19th century murals, elaborately decorated columns, and overhead, a deep-blue vaulted ceiling covered with 3,000 golden stars.  Everything now practically vibrates with color after a recent cleaning removed layers and layers of grime to bring this 11th century gem back to life.

This article describes a variety of different ways for you to experience Saint-Germain-des-Prés Church including classical concerts, free guided tours (in French), and what to look for if you visit on your own.  Guided tours of the Latin Quarter give you a fun way to see the church and other top attractions in the neighborhood.  The Saint-Germain Christmas market and summer craft fair along the side of the church provide an entertaining mix of food and shopping. 

And finally, we include a short history timeline for the church if you want to know more about its beginnings and its role in one of the Reign of Terror's bloodiest massacres.

Table of Contents:  How to Get Skip-the-Line Tickets  |  Guided Tours  |  Sainte-Chapelle Concert Schedules & Tickets  |  Hours & Location  |  Fun Facts  |  Stay Nearby  |  Dine & Drink Nearby  |  Map  |  More to See & Do 

Top photo:  Newly restored colors in Saint-Germain-des-Prés's Lady Chapel

How to Visit Église Saint-Germain-des-Prés:  Concerts, Self-Guided Visits, & Mass

Rose window at west end of Sainte Chapelle
Rose window at west end of Sainte Chapelle - note the gold stars on the dark blue ceiling

What's the best way to experience Sainte Chapelle? 

You have two excellent options:  explore on your own or with a guide during the day, or enjoy a memorable candlelight concert of classic or baroque music during the evening.  Even better, do both!

If you visit during the day, remember that as a top Paris attraction, Sainte Chapelle attracts numerous visitors throughout much of the year.  You can save time when you book a skip-the-line ticket or tour online in advance. 

If you want to attend one of the evening candlelight concerts at Sainte Chapelle, book early.  This is the city's most popular historic concert venue and tickets frequently sell out, especially during May-September and for special event concerts on Christmas Eve, Mother's Day, etc.

Classical Concerts at Saint-Germain-des-Prés Church:  Schedules & Tickets

For a memorable experience as well as the chance to see by this beautiful medieval venue by candlelight, attend a classical music concert on Saint Chapelle's second floor chapel, surrounded by the sumptuous stained glass. 

Concerts usually take place 2-3 times each week.  You can see the complete Sainte-Chapelle concert schedule and get your tickets here.  To maintain the intimate feel of this unique space, most concerts seat only 200 - so don't wait to get your tickets, as availability is often limited.  Tickets are provided through ClassicTic, Sainte-Chapelle's official ticket partner.

 

Eglise Saint-Germain-des-Prés offers a free organ concert on the last Sunday of each month at 3:30pm.

Interested in concerts at other Paris churches and other venues?  You can find schedules here.

Saint-Germain-des-Prés Tours

Saint-Germain-des-Prés Church parishioners conduct free guided tours in French on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 2pm-5:30pm and on the third Sunday of most months at 3pm.  Tours do not take place during July and August.

What if you don't understand French very well?  Should you still consider taking one of these tours?

If you're interested in seeing the lovely Chapelle Saint-Symphorien, located on your right after you enter the church but normally used only for prayers and therefore closed to visitors, then the answer is "yes."  Begun in the 6th century and once the burial site for Childebert I and other early kings, the chapel is famous for an arch with a soffit containing bits of 11th and 12th century frescoes. 

To get a different type of experience, join a tour of the Latin Quarter or the Saint Germain neighborhood to see the church exterior and other attractions plus learn more about this fascinating part of Paris's Left Bank.

 

 

Visit Saint-Germain-des-Prés Church On Your Own:  What to See

In addition to joining a guided tour in French, you can also visit (with free admission) Eglise Saint-Germain-des-Prés on your own to experience the beauty of the architecture and get close-up views of the art. 

Enter the church through the door under the tower and as you walk across the early 16th entrance porch, look up.  You'll see a 12th century lintel over the door depicting the Last Supper.

But what you may feel stunned by are the richly vibrant colors and intricate details of elaborate wall paintings, murals, and 3,000 golden stars across the vaulted ceilings created by Hippolyte Flandrin, a student of Ingres, as part of the 1840s restoration.  Now, in the most recent renovation, the dazzling original paint and gilding have been uncovered simply by removing layers and layers of grime.

 

Mass at Église Saint-Germain-des-Prés

 

Christmas Market at Église Saint-Germain-des-Prés

This is Saint Chapelle's ground floor - here, you'll see fleurs de lis (symbol of French royalty) on the ceiling
Saint Chapelle's ground floor - here, you'll see fleurs de lis (symbol of French royalty) on the ceiling

 

Attending Mass at Saint-Germain-des-Prés

Saint-Germain-des-Prés holds two daily masses and three, including one in Spanish, on Sundays.  An early Sunday mass is also held on Saturday afternoon.  Please consult the church's website to confirm times.

Special masses and confessions also occur on other occasions such as Holy Week, Easter, Christmas, Epiphany, and other Roman Catholic religious days.  

Saint-Germain-des-Prés Church Hours, Location, & Map

Open:  Daily
Schedule:
   
Monday:  9:30am - 7pm
    Tuesday - Friday:  7:30am - 7pm
    Saturday:   8:30am - 7pm
    Sunday:  9:30am - 7pm

Location:  3 Place Saint-Germain-des-Prés, 6th arrondissement  
Metro:  Odéon

Map of Église Saint-Germain-des-Prés Location


Things to Know Before Your Église Saint-Germain-des-Prés Visit

  • Due to security considerations, the maximum allowed bag size is 40 x 40 x 20 cm (7.9 x 7.9 x 15.7 inches).   No onsite storage facilities are available for bags of this size or larger.
  • Sainte Chapelle is not wheelchair accessible.  Also, if you have mobility or balance issues, be aware that there are no hand rails on most of the circular marble staircase from the ground floor to the second floor chapel containing the magnificent stained glass windows.  In some places, the marble is worn, making the height and surface of the steps a bit uneven.
  • Immediately to your right after you enter is the lovely Chapelle Saint-Symphorien, begun in the 6th century and once the burial site for Childebert I and other early kings.  closed - see during tour
This is Saint Chapelle's ground floor - here, you'll see fleurs de lis (symbol of French royalty) on the ceiling
Saint Chapelle's ground floor - here, you'll see fleurs de lis (symbol of French royalty) on the ceiling

Église Saint-Germain-des-Prés History Timeline

543 - Childebert I, son of the first King of the Franks (roughly the area later known as France) established a royal Benedictine abbey on a large swath of the Left Bank of the Seine River and ordered the construction of a wooden basilica to house a stole and a few other holy relics of Saint Vincent of Sargossa that he acquired while waging war in Spain. 

558 - Eglise Saint-Vincent, as the church was first named, was consecrated by Bishop Germain of Paris (who later became a saint) on December 23.  On that same day, Childebert died.

850 - Invaders from Viking settlements in Normandy burned down the wooden church, by now renamed Église Saint-Germain-des-Prés.  During the next 100 or so years, at least two replacements met the same fate. 

990-1014 - A new church was rebuilt in the exact footprint of the original church, with the stone tower you see today completed in the year 1000, and the nave and transept completed in 1014. 

1600s - The abbey had become a major intellectual center of France, with a library containing thousands of rare manuscripts hand-copied by monks.

1790 - As a result of the French Revolution which had begun a year earlier, the monks were expelled; two years l

September, 1792 - During the Reign of Terror, extremists instigated the murders of about half the prison population in Paris, a 4-day period now called the September Massacres.  The killings started at Saint-Germain-des Prés,

 

Built 1000 and 1004 on the grounds of aestablished in 543, the current church occupies the exact footprint of a much older wooden basilica completed in 558 to by Childebert I, son of the first King of the future France.  After in 850, a couple of replacements quickly met the same fate.

Fun Facts about Église Saint-Germain-des-Prés

  • Église Saint-Germain-des-Prés gave its name to the once bohemian, now ritzy neighborhood surrounding it.
  • Enter the church through the door under the tower and as you walk across the early 16th entrance porch, look up.  You'll see a 12th century lintel over the door depicting the Last Supper.
  • Église Saint-Germain-des-Prés's original name, Abbaye Sainte-Croix-Saint-Vincent, lasted only a couple of hundred years before becoming Saint Germanus by around the year 750.  The "Prés" part at the end refers to the meadows surrounding the abbey at that time.
  • Why was the Abbey built?  While conducting war against Spain in 542, Childebert I stopped his seige of Zaragoza after discovering that the townspeople had placed themselves under the protection of Saint Vincent.  In gratitude, the Bishop of Zaragoza gave the saint's tunic to Childbert.  After returning to Paris, Childebert built the church to house the relic but then happened to die on the same day in 558 when it was dedicated by Bishop Germain d'Autun, who was sainted after his death.
  • All of the Merovingian kings covering three centuries of rule from about 456 to 751 were buried at Saint-Germain-des-Prés Abbey, although the remains at least five were exhumed and reinterred at a new "royal necropolis" at the Basilica Cathedral of Saint-Denis to the north of Paris.
  • When Philippe-Auguste (King Philip II) built a wall around Paris in 1200-1215 to protect the city while he was away fighting in the Third Crusade, he did not include the abbey within it - which meant the abbey's residents had to fend for themselves. 
  • The Abbey built an onsite prison during the Middle Ages and despite becomining known for its inhumane conditions, it continued to be used until finally being destroyed in 1855 to make way for the creation of Boulevard Saint-Germain.
  • As the idealistic first few years of the French Revolution morphed into the Reign of Terror in 1793, radicals closed Saint-Germain-des-Prés Church and turned the building into a place to manufacture saltpeter, then used as an ingredient in gunpowder.  Not surprisingly, a huge explosion occurred and destroyed most of the outbuildings, with only the church remaining.  It finally resumed its religious role in 1803 but extensive damage from the explosion caused it to be condemned.  That's when novelist Victor Hugo, famous for The Hunchback of Notre-Dame and Les Miserables, stepped it and successfully lobbied for it to be renovated in the mid-1800s.

3.  Pope Boniface VIII canonized Louis IX as a saint in 1297, the only French king awarded this distinction.  Île Saint-Louis, the small island in the Seine River next to Île de la Cité where Sainte-Chapelle is located, is named after him (as is Saint Louis, Missouri, along with many other places around the world). 

4.  The king ordered the best stained glass craftsmen from the recently-completed Chartres Cathedral to create Sainte Chapelle's windows, and if you visit both places, you can see similarities: brilliant colors surpassing the simplicity of the windows' designs.

5.  Although Sainte Chapelle sustained heavy damage during the French Revolution and required extensive renovation, much of the stained glass escaped destruction.  About two-thirds of what you see today is original, dating back to the 13th century and making it the oldest surviving stained glass in Paris.

6.  To protect the priceless treasures from destruction by the Nazis during World War II, workers removed and carefully labeled every piece of glass prior to the German invasion, and then replaced them after the war.

7.  Sainte Chapelle's 275-foot spire dates back only to 1853.  The chapel's previous four spires burned down.

8.  A 7-year project to clean and restore Sainte Chapelle's stained glass completed a few years ago, leaving the windows more sparkling and beautiful than ever.

9.  The Rose Window is most brilliant right before sunset as almost-horizontal streams of light shine through the glass. 

10.  As a French cultural site, Sainte Chapelle offers free admission for all visitors under 18 (photo ID required) and EU/EEA visitors 18-25 (photo ID required). 

Saint Chapelle's exterior - you can't really see it from the street because it's behind Palace of Justice buildings, so the only place to get a good view is inside the courtyard after you pass through the entrance and security check
Saint Chapelle's exterior - you can't really see it from the street because it is located behind Palace of Justice buildings, so the only place to get a good view is inside the courtyard after you pass through the entrance and security check

Where to Stay near Saint-Germain-des-Prés

This is Saint Chapelle's ground floor - here, you'll see fleurs de lis (symbol of French royalty) on the ceiling
Hotel Madison, directly across the plaza from Saint-Germain-des-Prés

Staying near Eglise Saint-Germain-des-Prés puts you in the heart of the posh Saint-Germain-des-Prés neighborhood, with its bohemian past and today a favorite of Paris visitors due to its luxury boutiques, historic attractions, Luxembourg Garden, and its many excellent bistros and restaurants.  Here are several excellent choices within the church's immediate vicinity:

  • Hotel Artus (34 Rue de Buci) - Located on the lively Rue de Buci market street, this 4-star hotel features 25 guestrooms and two suites, art-inspired mid-century modern decor, and bright cheery colors - Book Now
  • Hotel de Buci (22 Rue de Buci) - This charming small 4-star, 24-room boutique hotel on the Rue Buci market street features furnishings with a romantic Louis XV 18th century très-Parisian vibe - Book Now
  • Hotel Madison
  • Hotel Bel Ami
  • Au Manoir Saint-Germain

Want more ideas?  Check out:


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Where to Eat near Saint-Germain-des-Prés Church

Les Deux Magots, across the plaza from Eglise Saint-Germain-des-Prés
Les Deux Magots, across the plaza from Eglise Saint-Germain-des-Prés

Here are some suggestions to get you started, starting with a cluster of three famous cafes just a few steps from Eglise Saint-Germain-des-Prés:

Les Deux Magots (6 Place Saint-Germain-des-Prés) - Walk across the plaza from the church to visit Les Deux Magots, the famous 6th arrondissement cafe where writers and intellectuals such as Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre hung out in the 1940s-1950s.  Enjoy a coffee or glass of wine and order one of the cheese platters or perhaps a light meal.

Cafe des Flore (172 Boulevard Saint-Germain) - Soak up the 1940s vibe in the red Art Deco interior, unchanged from when Sartre, Beauvoir, and friends gathered here to work socialize, eat, and drink.  Order onion soup with a slice of quiche and glass of wine.

Brasserie Lipp (151 Boulevard Saint-Germain) - When this brasserie across the street from Cafe des Flore and Les Deux Magots opened in 1880, Alsacian sausage dishes paired with the finest beers at cheap prices drew appreciative crowds and charcuterie continues to be the focus, along with other choices such as beef tenderloin and duck leg confit.  For a special treat, go on Thursdays when cassoulet is the plat du jour.  Also check out the tile wall murals and painted ceilings dating back to the 1920s when American novelist Hemingway stopped by for potato salad and beer one day when he had more money than usual.  A few decades later, he featured Brasserie Lipp in his memoir A Moveable Feast.

Le Relais de l'Entrecôte (20 Rue Saint-Benoît) - Steak-frites famous for their secret sauce and a walnut-topped green salad are the only main-course choices at this popular restaurant just one short block from the church - but they're also the reason long lines form here for lunch and dinner.

Mariage Frères Tea Emporium & Tea Room (13 Rue des Grands Augustins) - Located just a block to the east of the Eglise Saint-Germain-des-Prés church grounds, you can choose from over 1,000 teas to try at home or sip in their tea room with tea-infused pastries.  On weekends, go for the brunch or substantial "Afternoon Tea."  Visitor Tip:  Their distinctive black and gold tea tins make nice gifts, especially if you get them filled with Paris Breakfast Tea or French Breakfast Tea.

Rue de Buci Market Street - Food stalls, market stands, and cafe terraces mingle on this traditional mostly pedestrian-only market street where restaurants stay open until late at night.  Find yourself a table and enjoy excellent people-watching with your meal - just two very short blocks behind the church grounds.

Cour de Commerce Saint-André - A few blocks from Saint-Germain-des-Prés Church, you'll find this historic hidden passage containing Paris's oldest restaurant, Le Procope, and several other places to enjoy a meal a few blocks beyond Rue Buci.  More information


More Places to Explore near Sainte Chapelle

Almost next door is the Conciergerie - a medieval palace used as a prison called the "antechamber of the guillotine" during the Reign of Terror where Marie Antoinette spent her final days.  It's a fascinating place to visit and explore, and you can save on the entrance fee when you get a combo skip-the-line ticket for both Sainte-Chapelle and the Conciergerie.

To explore the rest of the ancient area behind Sainte Chapelle, continue walking west (ie, away from Sainte Chapelle). 

Statue of Henry IV near Sainte Chapelle
Statue of Henry IV near Sainte Chapelle

You'll see a magnificent statue of King Henry IV on horseback, and below that, a lovely park called Square de Vert Galant at the very tip of Île de la Cité. 

Parisians relaxing on Square de Vert-Galant overlooking the Seine River near Sainte Chapelle
Parisians relaxing on Square de Vert-Galant overlooking the Seine River near Sainte Chapelle

Walk down the stairs (they're easy to spot) to Square de Vert Galant, and find a spot on the grass or a nearby bench to relax for a bit after your Sainte Chapelle tour and watch all the sightseeing boats as they cruise down the Seine River.



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Stained glass windows in Sainte Chapelle, Paris
Stained glass windows in Sainte Chapelle, Paris
Sculpture of a saint and stained glass in Sainte Chapelle
Sculpture of a saint and stained glass in Sainte Chapelle

More to See & Do near Sainte Chapelle