If you think the only church you need to visit on Paris’ Île de la Cité is Notre-Dame, you’re wrong! Sainte-Chapelle is a 13th-century royal chapel with a magical interior of golden Gothic arches and 1,113 stained glass windows, plus a storied history you won’t soon forget. Here’s everything you need to know about how to visit Sainte-Chapelle.
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Visiting Sainte-Chapelle: What We’ll Cover
The Sainte-Chapelle or Holy Chapel is a Gothic-style treasure box of exquisite stained glass, sculpture, and paintings. Built for Louis IX as a royal chapel around A.D. 1238, it’s located on the premises of the Palais de la Cité where French kings ruled for centuries.
Much smaller than other famous Gothic cathedrals, this dazzling structure still makes a big impression. In this article, I’ll cover all of the key information you need as you plan your visit to Sainte-Chapelle.
- Opening hours and tickets
- How much time to budget
- How to get there
- What to see
- Guided tour options
- Facts and history of Sainte-Chapelle
- Places to eat nearby
Sainte-Chapelle: Hours and Tickets
April 1 to September 30: Open daily, 9 am – 7 pm
October 1 to March 30: Open daily, 9 am – 5 pm
The last admission each day is 40 minutes before closing time. The chapel is closed on May 1, December 25, and January 1.
Adults (18+): €11.50
Under 18 and disabled persons and their companions: Free entrance
Free entry days:
- On European Heritage Days, which happen the 3rd weekend of September
- The 1st Sunday of the month from November 1 to December 31 and January 1 to March 31
I strongly encourage you to book your tickets online to avoid the extremely long admission lines. Booking at least a couple of days in advance is best. You’ll have a choice between “Visit of the Monument” alone or “Guided Tours: Two Monuments, a Palace.” (Read more about the guided tour below.)
Reserving your ticket ahead of time means you can join the shorter line that matches your entry time (11 am or 2:30 pm, for example). Otherwise, you have to wait for those people to get through security before any others are admitted.
The combined ticket for Sainte-Chapelle and the Conciergerie palace across the river is €18.50, which is a great deal if you want to see more medieval places.
Things to know:
The royal chapel is located in the same complex as the Palais de Justice. The chapel staff take security very seriously. You can bring your small backpacks and purses but keep in mind there is no cloakroom. You may also bring in a stroller as long as it is foldable and can fit into the X-ray machines.
If you are unable to climb the narrow, winding stairs from the lower chapel to the upper chapel, an elevator is available. You must email in advance to arrange for elevator use and an escort. Assistance dogs are welcome.
Public toilets are not available at the monument, and sometimes the security line is long so plan ahead! You are allowed to take photographs for personal use without tripods or selfie-sticks.
Address: 10, boulevard du Palais
How Much Time to Budget at Sainte-Chapelle
Short Answer: 30 minutes to 1.5 hours
If you use the Sainte-Chapelle Windows app that zooms into the paintings so you can learn about them, you will need at least an hour to see everything. Visitors to the royal chapel often go directly to the admission entrance but I recommend taking some time to look at the exterior of the structure from the interior grounds.
Once inside, you’ll first visit the Lower Chapel, which includes a small but impressive gift shop. You’ll enter the Upper Chapel via a rather narrow, winding staircase in the medieval style that you definitely want to take slowly. These stairs make it easy to imagine living in the 13th century when Sainte-Chapelle was built!
When you exit the Upper Chapel, you’ll return to the gift shop and Lower Chapel before leaving the building. You will exit to the northeast through an impressive gate where you should stop to take your last photos of Sainte-Chapelle’s steeple!
How to Get to Sainte-Chapelle
Visiting Sainte-Chapelle is easy since it’s located on the Ile de la Cite, the larger of the two islands in the Seine River that also holds Notre-Dame. The island is the heart of Paris, so it’s easy to get there by public transportation, taxi, or bicycle. If you plan to drive, you will have to contend with parking and high traffic in the area. That means it’s best to take a taxi if going by car is your preference.
You can get anywhere you want to go in Paris using inexpensive public transit. Paris has buses, trams, subway lines, commuter trains, and more! The official website for the local and regional transit system, RATP, is informative and thorough.
The easiest way to get around Paris is by metro. The closest stations are:
- Cité (Line 4), which is on the island.
- Saint-Michel RER B or C, which is south of the island on the Left Bank.
- Châtelet 1, 7, 11, 14. This is a huge station, so look for exits 15 through 19. They will get you to the street level and close to the river. Then you will cross a bridge south to the island: either the Pont au Change or the Pont Notre-Dame. Note: “Pont” means “bridge.”
Taking the bus in Paris is very easy. You will use the same tickets (billets) you use for the metro. Consider the bus ride a low-cost tour of the city! The nearby bus lines are 21, 24, 27, 38, 81, 85, and 96.
The Paris bike share program is called Vélib’. Tourists can use these bikes using their app. A word of caution is in order, though. Unless you’re an experienced city cyclist, you may not want to bike in the city as the traffic is usually quite heavy. While there are an increasing number of bike lanes, cars still dominate the streets.
Pro Tip: I recommend buying the Paris Visite travel pass, which you can purchase for a specified number of days for all transit options aside from the airport and special express buses. You can also buy individual tickets, which work for most transit options. Buying in bulk (such as a pack of 10) saves money though!
What to See and Do at Sainte-Chapelle
Since the stained glass of Sainte-Chapelle is indescribably beautiful and the main attraction, it’s ideal to see it on a sunny day if possible. The colored glass (70% of which is original!), is at its absolute shimmering best with the sun’s help.
Sainte-Chapelle was built around 80 years after Notre-Dame Cathedral, which is on the same island and just a block away. Notre-Dame is a High Gothic-style church whereas Sainte-Chapelle was designed in the later Rayonnant style. Here’s what to look out for on your visit. For our full list, check out the top things to see at Sainte-Chapelle.
The arched rib-looking structures up on the roof keeping company with the fantastical gargoyles are signature features of Gothic architecture. Here and there are stone sculptures of the Crown of Thorns, which was the first holy relic Louis IX brought to Sainte-Chapelle.
Typical of medieval churches, the half-circle space over the porch of the royal chapel represents the Last Judgment. It’s meant to remind anyone who enters the sacred space that they will ultimately be judged by God. The current spire of Sainte-Chapelle was built in 1853, according to historian Helen Henderson. It rises 246 feet above the street level!
The Lower Chapel:
Sainte-Chapelle consists of two levels: the lower and upper sanctuaries. The lower chapel was intended as a place of worship for the people who lived and worked in the palace, including the King’s personal staff. The deep blue ceilings seem to be dotted with countless stars.
Look closer, though, and you’ll notice the stars are actually fleur-de-lys, golden lilies, the symbol of royalty. There are four bays or quadrants that divide the space. The vaults of the ceilings made up of pointed arches are also Gothic features.
The Upper Chapel:
On the side of the entrance opposite the gift shop, is the narrow, winding stairway leading to the more spacious upper chapel. When you enter this colorful, ethereal space, you’ll understand why it was the sacred space created for the King himself.
He and his family and close friends and advisors would enter the upper chapel through an outdoor terrace that connected Sainte-Chapelle and the palace. This chapel also has four bays but the walls are much taller to accommodate the huge windows.
The Stained Glass Windows:
The stained-glass windows at Sainte-Chapelle are the oldest ones in Paris. They tell stories from the Bible, starting with Genesis and ending with the Resurrection of Christ. There are a total of 1,113 scenes and 15 windows, according to Meredith Cohen. The dominant colors are red and blue but other colors as well as black, white, and gray are present.
The Rose Window:
This is where the story of Revelation is told in full, glorious color. Christ returns in splendor at the center of the circular window. It was a later addition to Sainte-Chapelle in the 15th century. At the end of the day, it is the very last window in the exquisite chapel to catch the sun’s light.
The Apostle Statues:
The nave, which is the main hall of a church, is bordered by life-size statues of the 12 apostles. Also known as the “Pillars of the Church,” these figures seem to support the structure. Six of the statues are originals while the remaining six can be seen in the Cluny Museum, Paris’s medieval art museum located near the Luxembourg Gardens.
The Apse, Reliquary Platform, and Canopy:
In the section at the east end of the upper chapel, the apse, 22 relics of the Passion of Christ, including the Crown of Thorns, were kept safe and displayed for the public on special occasions. On either side of the altar platform were niches with seats for the king and queen, Louis IX on the left and Margaret on the right. The canopy is called a “baldachin.” They can be quite elaborately decorated like this one and, for example, the one in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
Not ready to book a tour? Check out our Paris Guide for more resources.
Sainte-Chapelle Tour Options
As you plan how to visit Sainte-Chapelle, there are several options to experience the site with either guided or self-guided tours. Visiting Sainte-Chapelle with a guided tour of any kind will definitely elevate your experience here!
On the ground floor in the lower chapel, you can rent a 30-minute audio guide for just €3. It’s a great, budget-friendly option for anyone.
If you want to visit Sainte-Chapelle on your own, you can download (and print) a guide booklet using a link on their website. Click on Prepare for Your Visit and then on Practical Information. Scroll down until you see “Guide Booklet.”
Sainte-Chapelle Windows App:
You can also download the Sainte-Chapelle Windows app on your phone or tablet through the App Store and Google Play. For a guide to all of the windows, you’ll pay €0.99. For just the rose window, it’s free of charge. The app lets you scan windows to access detailed information of what you’re seeing. It’s available in English, German, Italian, Spanish, and Japanese.
Join a free 1.5-hour guided tour in English, offered daily between 11 am and 3 pm. Or reserve a guided tour (in English) to two important sites: Sainte-Chapelle and the Conciergerie! Only a half-block north in the same complex is the Conciergerie—the remains of a once-splendid medieval palace.
The Kings of France lived there until the 14th century when they moved to the Louvre and the Chateau de Vincennes. One of the towers of this palace became a prison and the most famous prisoner was Marie-Antoinette. Her cell has been recreated and you’ll also see a real guillotine blade there!
Ages 7-18: €10
Under 7: free
Duration: 2 hours 30 minutes (allow 20 minutes for security checks).
Facts and History of Sainte-Chapelle
According to Paris cathedrals expert, R. Howard Bloch, Sainte-Chapelle was the project of a lifetime for Louis IX, who was known in his day as a “great builder.” No other building could hold a candle to the sublime royal chapel.
For the pious Louis IX, it was like a gateway to heaven. To get you excited, here are just a handful of fascinating facts about this relatively small Gothic chapel with a huge, storied history:
- Sainte-Chapelle was built specifically to hold and display sacred relics from the Passion of Christ, including the Crown of Thorns.
- Louis IX, better known as Saint Louis, paid more for the Crown of Thorns than it cost to build Sainte-Chapelle!
- It only took seven years to build Sainte-Chapelle. In comparison, it took almost 200 years to build Notre-Dame.
- Classical and sacred music concerts are held in the chapel. Check schedules on the official Sainte-Chapelle website.
- Over 900,000 people visit Sainte-Chapelle each year.
- The so-called “Passion relics” were kept safe in an elaborately decorated silver chest called the Grand-Chasse.
- The relics brought tremendous prestige to the city of Paris. Louis IX desired to make his city into a “New Jerusalem,” second only to Rome itself.
- Up until the late 14th century, coronations and royal weddings were held at Sainte-Chapelle.
- During the French Revolution, Sainte-Chapelle was invaded by revolutionaries. They took the shrine and melted it down. Miraculously, they didn’t touch the windows!
Places to Eat Nearby
There are several restaurants within close walking distance of Sainte-Chapelle if you’re in need of refueling before your next adventure. Most of the cheaper eateries on the island, especially the ones near Notre-Dame, tend to be tourist traps with uninteresting offerings.
Here are a few suggestions on Île de la Cité. For our full list of suggestions, check out the best restaurants near Sainte-Chapelle.
- Brasserie Les Deux Palais | €+ | Serves traditional French food like omelets, French onion soup, escargot, and so forth. Prices are reasonable.
- Maison Paul | €€ | An upscale experience with traditional French fare like filet de boeuf (steak filet) and Salade Gourmande de Chèvre Chaud au Miel (gourmet salad with warm goat cheese and honey).
- Le Dauphin | €| For a lighter, inexpensive meal after your tour, have a seat outside and enjoy savory or sweet crepes. I recommend that you try both!