Sacré-Cœur (officially the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris) stands atop the highest point, the hill named Montmartre, in the city of Paris. Many people believe that the basilica is older than it actually is. However, construction began in 1875 and was completed in 1914. The church is built as a dedication to the 58,000 soldiers who lost their lives during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871, and as an act of repentance for the sins that many believed caused France to suffer misfortunes and lose that war. Funds for Sacré-Cœur’s construction came entirely from private donors, who paid for elements as small as a single brick or as large as a giant column. The church was designed by an architect who actually beat out 77 others in a competition but didn’t live long enough to see its completion. Built in a Romano-Byzantine style, the creamy whiteness of the basilica comes from the fact that it was constructed out of travertine stone that contains a high degree of calcite which essentially bleaches the structure in wet weather. Following its construction, the church was designated as a basilica, or a pilgrimage destination. Today, over 11 million people still visit Sacré-Cœur each year, some for religious reasons and others just as tourists. Entrance to the the inside of the basilica is free and absolutely worth a visit. For me, the highlight of the church’s interior is the extraordinary mosaic, named “Christ in Glory”, in the apse. The mosaic is one of the largest in the world and features a 60 ft. tall Jesus surrounded by the Virgin Mary, Saint Michael, Joan of Arc, the Holy Trinity, a host of other saints, a pope offering the Sacred Heart of Jesus to the entire world, and representations of events from French history. Another site worth seeing is the Grand Organ, which is considered to be one of the most remarkable in Paris and, such, was designated a national monument. To hear the organ in all of its glory, attend mass on Fridays at 3pm or Sundays at 11:00am, 6:00pm, 10:00pm, or for Vespers on Sundays at 4:00pm.
While at Sacré-Cœur, you also need to take in the extraordinary views from this highest point in Paris. You have two choices: (1) For a fee, climb the 300 steps to the top of the dome, which is the second tallest structure in Paris, to see the surrounding countryside for over 60 kilometers, or (2) Take in the free views from the steps of the outside of the basilica, where you’ll see tourists taking photos and selfies, people trying to identify the various monuments and buildings of the Paris skyline, and lovers holding hands and stealing kisses. Either way, you’re have remarkable city views. And if you come at sunset, you’ll have an even grander treat.
Since Sacré-Cœur and its city views are such popular tourist destinations, the location and the basilica can get extremely crowded. The best times to visit are on weekdays or before 9:30am on weekends. Sundays are the busiest day of the week, so I would advise avoiding that day altogether, unless you’re attending mass.
To get to Sacré-Cœur, the closest metro stops are Anvers, Abbesses, or Pigalle. Once there, if you’d like to avoid climbing the hill, you can take the funicular, which costs one metro ticket and is located near the Anvers metro stop. Alternatively, there’s a city bus, called the Montmartrobus, that starts next to the Place de Pigalle metro station (along Boulevard de Clichy) and has a stop close the basilica. For more information about the bus, click here.