Here is for you, history buffs: what was the first Gothic-style religious edifice built in Paris? Answer: the Basilica of Saint-Denis of course! Located in the north of Paris, in the town of Saint-Denis, this church was the last residence of the kings and queens of France.
Access, visit, prices… Stay with us to know everything about this place of pilgrimage which linked its destiny to that of the royalty.
- More than 1000 years of history
- A masterpiece of Gothic art
- A place where many historical figures are buried
- Small number of visitors
We Don’t Like as Much
- A monument which is rather far away from the city center of Paris
- Rough neighborhood
The Basilica of Saint-Denis is a must for history lovers. It also makes up for Notre-Dame, which is no longer accessible due to restoration works.
However, we recommend this visit to people staying in Paris for a long period of time as the basilica is a little far from the center of Paris.
So if you are not a history buff, this is not an unmissable visit but rather a visit to be made if you have time.
A Little Bit of History
Do you know the story of this first monumental masterpiece of Gothic art?
The basilica was built on the site of an ancient Gallo-Roman cemetery where Saint Denis, martyred around 250, is now buried.
In the 5th century, Saint Geneviève (current patron saint of Paris) had a first church built on this tomb to pay tribute to the courage and devotion of Saint Denis.
An Always Evolving Building
In the 7th century, Dagobert I decided to build an abbey church on the site of the church founded by Saint Genevieve.
Over the centuries, the different dynasties of kings of France put their mark on the basilica. The basilica has undergone several extensions, including two that bear witness to the evolution of the religious architecture: Suger’s luminous radiating chapel built in 1144 and the abbey church rebuilt at the time of Saint Louis.
A Royal Necropolis
From the death of King Dagobert in 639 to the 19th century, it was the burial place of the monarchy. A total of 43 kings and 32 queens are buried there.
You can see the tombs and the recumbent statues of many historical figures such as Pépin le Bref, Louis VIII Le Lion, Philippe IV Le Bel, Isabelle de Bavière, Anne d’Autriche, Henri II, Catherine de Médicis, François I and Marie-Antoinette.
This place also houses some tombs of servants of the monarchy such as Du Guesclin or Louis de Sancerre.
What is a Recumbent Statue?
A recumbent statue is a sculpture representing a lying figure. Its purpose is to remind the deceased to the memory of the living.
Depending on the period, these representations can take a certain political turn.
In the Middle Ages, there were generally three sorts of recumbent statues: for the entrails, for the heart, and for the body. The king was thus honored with three tombs.
In the Basilica of Saint-Denis, there are the so-called “noblest” recumbent statues, i.e. the recumbents of the body.
How to Visit the Basilica of Saint-Denis?
If you are interested in visiting the Basilica of Saint-Denis, here is some information that can be useful for your visit.
- from January 2nd to March 31st
- from Monday to Saturday 10am – 5:15pm
- Sunday 12pm – 7:15pm
- from April 1st to September 30th
- from Monday to Saturday 10:30am – 6:45pm
- Sunday 12pm – 6:15pm
- from October 1st to December 31st
- from Monday to Saturday 10am – 5:15pm
- Sunday 12pm – 5:15pm
Duration of visit: about 1h30.
At 5 km north of Paris, the Basilica of Saint-Denis stands in the centre of the town of the same name.
Address: 1 rue de la Légion d’Honneur, Saint-Denis.
By metro: line 13 (Basilique de Saint-Denis stop).
By RER: access by RER D (Saint-Denis station), then Tramway T1 or a 15-minute walk. Access by RER B, then bus 153 or 253.
Is the Basilica Free?
The cathedral is free of charge but the archeological crypt and the tombs of the recumbents are not.
It is imperative to book your ticket in advance as no tickets are sold on-site.
The full rate ticket costs €9.50.
- under 18 years old
- 18-25 (locals of European Union countries and regular non-European residents on French territory)
- disabled people and their companions
- job seekers (on presentation of a certificate less than 6 months old)
Please note: suitcases are not allowed within the site.
Is the Tour Suitable for Children?
The tour is suitable for children but we do not necessarily recommend it because it is rather long and very rich in historical information which could quickly bore them.
Nevertheless, it can be a good way to interest the most curious in History but be careful not to make the visit indigestible.
What About Disabled People?
Access facilities are available for people with disabilities. There are adapted visits and activities as well as a loan of wheelchairs.
An adapted pathway is provided inside the basilica and a lift provides access to the crypt.
However, the radiating chapel is inaccessible for people with reduced mobility.
Visit of the Basilica
Several options are available for those who want to unlock all the secrets of the Basilica of Saint-Denis.
First of all, an audio guide is available for €3 per person in French, English, Spanish, German and Italian.
We also recommend that you download the app concerning the stained glass windows of the Basilica. With your smartphone in hand, you will be able to explore the stained glass windows of the nave and discover more about the history of the construction of the basilica.
The app is available on Google Play Store and on the App Store.
And to complement your visit: the virtual tour of the basilica www.basilique360.fr
It offers many historical answers, a presentation of the façade and its sculptures and even access to areas closed to the public such as the sacristy or the high chapels. It is possible to use a VR visor.
What Can Be Seen in the Basilica?
- The tombs
With its 70 recumbents statues and sculpted tombs, the necropolis of Saint-Denis is one of the greatest funeral complexes in the world.
Come and discover this testimony of funerary art from the 12th to the 16th century.
- The archaeological crypt
In 1859, Viollet-le-Duc undertook the first major excavation which uncovered a series of sarcophagi.
Nearly a century later, about sixty tombs were excavated and today their vestiges remain around the grave of Saint-Denis.
Fancy a Breath of Fresh Air?
Come for a walk in the Parc de la Légion d’Honneur which is located just behind the Basilica of Saint-Denis. This well-appointed green space offers you a moment of relaxation outside the city so close by.
You will find benches, playgrounds for children, sculptures, flower beds…
It is an ideal place for a quiet walk or a picnic with the children.
Our Recommended Restaurants Near the Basilica of Saint-Denis
Address: 54 rue Gabriel Péri.
This bar-restaurant is a charming and lively place in Saint-Denis. You will be seduced by the pleasant atmosphere, the variety of the dishes of the day and the relaxed evenings.
Bonus: the prices are pretty correct. The starter+main course+dessert menu costs €15!
Learn more about Le Pavillon (in French)
Address: 20 rue Gabriel Péri.
This restaurant offers a perfect balance between local and gastronomic cuisine. With fresh and good quality products, this cosy restaurant is an address to remember in Saint-Denis.
The excellent prices make it a very popular place for regulars.
The starter+main course+dessert menu costs €16.
Learn more about Chez Rochette (in French)
Address: 18 rue de la Légion d’Honneur.
For all those who love traditional cuisine: go to this warm and friendly restaurant.
Delicious home-made dishes, freshness, quality, a friendly atmosphere… You will find all of this in this surprising little restaurant where the starter+main course+dessert menu costs €18,50.
Learn more about O’Grand Breton (in French)
If you have time and want to learn more about the History of France, we highly recommend a visit to the Basilica of Saint-Denis.
Don’t be discouraged by its location, History and Art lovers will be delighted!
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