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Sacré-Coeur Basilica

Basilica of Sacré-Coeur, Paris Montmartre

ABOVE: Tourists and local teenagers hang out on the steps below the Basilica of Sacré-Coeur in Montmartre. INSET BELOW: A side view of the Basilica and its Campanile, or bell tower, which was added in 1904.

The Basilica of Sacré-Coeur is probably the second most popular tourist church of Paris after Nôtre-Dame Cathedral. It's far less important historically (or in terms of architecture) than either the cathedral or the former royal chapel of Sainte-Chapelle, but if you're visiting Montmartre--as you should do--it would be a mistake not to wander through the basilica and enjoy the views from its steps.

By Parisian standards, Sacré-Coeur isn't very old: It was begun in 1875 and consecrated in 1919, following a long struggle with unstable subsoil and problems caused by Montmartre's underground gypsum quarries.

The mock Roman-Byzantine church is made of a stone from outside Paris that whitens and hardens upon exposure to air. It still engenders resentment among Parisians who regard Sacré-Coeur as a whitehead on the face of Paris and a slap at the Communards who were buried alive in Montmartre's gypsum mines during the uprising of 1871. (See Wikipedia's article for more on the basilica's history.)

If you're devoted to the cult of the Sacred Heart, a visit to Sacré-Coeur will be a moving experience; if you don't, you may feel that the church is a monument to your great-grandmother's brand of Catholicism and an over-the-top expression of religious theme-park architecture.

Still, the basilica is too large and visible to ignore, and the views from the platform in front of Sacré-Coeur and the base of its dome are hard to beat.


Planning your visit

Rue Steinkerque, Paris

ABOVE: Tourists head up the Rue Steinkerque from the Anvers Métro station. INSET BELOW: The Abbesses Métro station and the Montmartre Funicular.

How to reach Sacré-Coeur:

The basilica is in the 18th arrondissement, to the west of the Gare de Nord and north of the Opéra Garnier.

The closest Métro stop is Anvers, on the #2 line that runs between Porte Dauphine and Nation with a stop at Charles De Gaulle/Etoile by the Arc de Triomphe.

From Anvers, it's a two- or three-minute walk up the Rue Steinkerque to the hill at the foot of  Sacré-Coeur.

photoIf you're coming from the city center, you may find it more convenient to take the #12 line toward Porte de la Chapelle.

Get off at Abbesses, in the center of Montmartre, and work your way uphill to the Place du Tertre and Sacré-Coeur. (A good map will come in handy.)

Buses also serve the area; consult the RATP's transit maps and apps to see bus, Métro, and RER lines.

Getting up the hill:

If you can't cope with steep streets or long flights of steps, you have two options, either of which will cost you one Métro ticket:

photoThe Montmartrobus operates on a circular route from Place Pigalle (near the Pigalle Métro stop) to the top of the Butte, where you can get off for the short walk to Sacré-Coeur. Or you can stay on the bus until it goes down and around the other side of the hill, then passes Sacré-Coeur on its way back to Pigalle.

photoThe Montmartre Funicular, a.k.a. Le Funiculaire de Montmartre, runs from the Place Suzanne-Valadon to the Place Willette below Sacré-Coeur. It'll save you from climbing the staircase alongside the tracks, but you may feel like a wimp unless you're over 80 or walk with a cane.

Visiting the basilica:

Sacré-Coeur is open for sightseeing from 6 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. daily, and admission is free. If you're ambitious, look for the entrance to the Dome and Crypt on the left side of the basilica.

Buy a ticket, climb a steep spiral staircase to the base of the dome, and enjoy views from the second-highest point in Paris after the Eiffel Tower.

For more visitor information, including a schedule of church services, see the basilica's official Web site. (The site has pages in English and 13 other languages.)

Warning for weary or unwary travelers:

Pickpockets frequent popular tourist areas, so watch your wallet or purse.


More photos

Montmartre Carousel and Sacre-Coeur Basilica steps

Walking to Sacré-Coeur: From the Anvers Métro stop, take the Rue Steinkerque to the base of the sacred hill.

The distance is only about two blocks, and the busy little street has a certain gritty charm with its mixture of cheap clothing stores, discount fabric merchants, and souvenir shops.

At the base of the hill, you'll find a merry-go-round and a flight of steps leading up to the next level.


Carousel in Square Willette, Montmartre

If you've got kids with you, they'll probably want a ride on the carousel in the Square Willette, just beyond the wrought-iron fence at the Place St-Valadon and the Place St-Pierre.


'String men' near Sacré-Coeur

Don't be intimidated by the "string men" who may approach you and try to wrap your wrist in a string bracelet. Just say "Non, merci" firmly and keep moving (unless, of course, you want a string bracelet and are willing to pay whatever the scammer demands).


Sacré-Coeur and lawns

From the Square Willette, staircases lead up to a sidewalk with benches; from there, curved steps on either side continue up to the platform in front of Sacré-Coeur.


Montmartre Funicular

Another way up the hill is on the Montmartre Funicular, which costs one Métro ticket in each direction. You'll still need to climb a flight of steps to enter the Basilica of Sacré-Coeur.


Montmartre steps or staircase near Sacré-Coeur

If, like us, you're too thrifty or proud to ride the Montmartre Funicular, you can walk up--or down--the staircase that parallels the steep tracks.

The steps are especially convenient when you want to bypass the Sacré-Coeur crowds on your way to the neighborhood on top of the Butte.


Sacré-Coeur park with view of Paris

Sacré-Coeur and the park below it offer views to the Seine and beyond.


Sacré-Coeur in April, photo by Richard Rogers

This April view of Sacré-Coeur was taken by Richard Rogers.


Sacré-Coeur and Montmartre from Musée d'Orsay, photo by Ogen Perry

Ogen Perry took this photo of Sacré-Coeur and the Butte Montmartre through a window of the Musée d'Orsay on the Left Bank of the Seine.


Doors of Musée d'Orsay, photo by Mike Harrison

Close-up of Musée d'Orsay dome, photo by Mark Jensen

Mike Harrison shot the picture of Sacré-Coeur's massive doors; the detail photo of the dome is by Mark Jensen.


Interior of Sacré-Coeur, photo by Michel Mory

Sacré-Coeur mosaics, photo by Michel Mory

Michel Mory's two photos show the interior of the Basilique du Sacré-Coeur de Montmartre.


photo

In spring, the slopes below Sacré-Coeur are covered with flowers and blossoming trees.

Café-restaurant suggestion: From the right side of Sacré-Coeur, head downhill through the park to a little square where you'll see a café-tearoom named L'Eté en Pente Douce (after the French movie of the same name).

In warm weather, you can enjoy drinks, ice cream, or snacks at the handful of small tables beneath the large tree in front of the café--and at any time of year, the sheltered entrance foyer and handsome interior are a great place to enjoy a reasonably-priced and interesting meal served by a friendly staff.


Related article:
Paris Scams: 'String Men' of Sacré-Coeur

More about Montmartre:
Hotels in Montmartre

Photo 13: iStock.com/Richard Rogers.
14: iStock.com/Ogen Perry.
15: iStock.com/Mike Harrison.
16: iStockphoto.com/Mike Jensen.
17, 18: iStockphoto.com/Michel Mory.