Basilique Sacre Coeur de Montmartre ☆☆

The steps up to Sacre-Coeur (Photo by Pearlsa)
The steps up to Sacre-Coeur

The Sacred Heart Basilica atop Montmartre

The steps in front of the Basilica du Sacre Coeur in Montmartre make for an excellent spot to take in the sunset over the city of Paris.

This meringue confection atop Montmartre hill shimmers in the sunlight like a church built of clouds. Actually, it's built of gypsum, and therein lies both its unearthly white glow and the ticket to its own rapid demise.

You see, when they designed this neo-Byzantine shrine in an effort to convince God to hold back the Prussian army back in 1875–1914 (didn't work; the Germans invaded and they couldn't even consecrate the thing until 1919), they decided to coat its exterior in this frangible gleaming white stone so that regular rainfall would slowly dissolve microlayers of the surface, leaving it always beaming white like someone who just got back from a good teeth-cleaning at the dentist.

Problem is, they never banked on (a) the pollution levels of the latter-20th century, and (b) acid rain. The church is literally being eaten away at an amazing clip, and though it will be decades before it's gone (assuming they don't intervene—which you know they will), unlike most major churches in Europe, this one was decidedly not built to last.

Sunset over Paris
Sit on the steps of this meringue confection of a church on Montmartre at dusk and watch the great wash of Paris filling the valley below you live up to its nickname as the City of Lights twinkles to life at your feet. The romance, unfortunately, is somewhat spoiled by the daily crowds of backpackers and their, ahem, unwashed Parisian counterparts (plus the accompanying beer hawkers wandering around with plastic buckets full of Heineken), so perhaps find a more secluded spot down the railing a bit to watch the spectacle.

For an aural treat, tour Sacre Coeur from 9:45 to 10:45am on a Sunday morning while the choir is rehearsing for the 11am mass; if you want to blow out your eardrums, be around when they toll the bell tower's 18.5-ton "Savoyard," one of the largest bells in the world (sounds it, too).

You can climb 300 steps to the top of the dome, the second highest point in Paris after the Eiffel, for views that, on a fine day, stretch 50km—though you pay for the privilege.

The steps in front of the church are one of the best (and most popular) places to watch the sunset over Paris (see sidebar).

The Ephrem guesthouse

The church also runs a cheap guesthouse called Ephrem of 53 room, nine with private bathrooms for the handicapped (Tel. +33-(0)1-53-41-89-09).

It's wonderfully cheap (around €15)—and the rates include breakfast, lunch, and dinner—but it really is desgined for pilgrims who want to pray and reflect, not tourists (among other things, curfew is an unreasonably early 9pm).

Sacre Coeur Tours
 

Tours of Montmartre that might also include Sacre Coeur

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Tips

How long should I spend at Sacre Coeur?

Takes just a minute to see the church. Tool around inside in about 20 minutes. Climb the dome in another 20 minutes.

Attend Mass at Sacre Coeur
  • Sunday services: 7am, 11am, 6pm, 10pm.
  • Saturday services: 7am, 11:15am, 10pm
  • Weekday services: 7am, 11:15am, 3pm (Fridays only) 6:30pm, 10pm
Useful French phrases

Useful French for sightseeing

English (anglais) French (français) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
Where is?... Où est? ou eh
...the museum le musee luh moo-ZAY
...the church l'eglise leh-GLEEZ
...the cathedral le cathédrale luh ka-teh-DRAHL
When is it open? Quand est-il ouvert?  coan eh-TEEL oo-VAIR
 
When does it close? A quelle heure est-ce que cela ferme? ah kell eur es kuh suhla fair-MAY
ticket billet d'entrée bee-YAY dahn-TRAY
two adults deux adultes dooz ah-DOOLT
one child un enfant ehn ahn-FAHN
one student un étudiant uh-NETOO-dee-YON

Basic phrases in French

English (anglais) French (français) pro-nun-see-YAY-shun
thank you merci mair-SEE
please s'il vous plaît seel-vou-PLAY
yes oui wee
no non no
Do you speak English? Parlez-vous anglais? par-lay-VOU on-GLAY
I don't understand Je ne comprende pas zhuh nuh COHM-prohnd pah
I'm sorry Je suis desolée zhuh swee day-zoh-LAY
How much does it cost? Combien coute? coam-bee-YEHN koot
That's too much C'est trop say troh
     
Good day Bonjour bohn-SZOURH
Good evening Bon soir bohn SWAH
Good night Bon nuit  bohn NWEE
Goodbye Au revoir oh-ruh-VWAH
Excuse me (to get attention) Excusez-moi eh-skooze-ay-MWA
Excuse me (to get past someone) Pardon pah-rRDOHN
Where is? Où est? ou eh
...the bathroom la toilette lah twah-LET
...train station la gare lah gahr

Days, months, and other calendar items in French

English (anglais) French (français) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
When is it open? Quand est-il ouvert? coan eh-TEEL oo-VAIR
When does it close? Quand est l'heure de fermeture?   coan eh lure duh fair-mah-TOUR
At what time... à quelle heure... ah kell uhre
     
Yesterday hier ee-AIR
Today aujoud'hui ow-zhuhr-DWEE
Tomorrow demain duh-MEHN
Day after tomorrow après demain ah-PRAY duh-MEHN
     
a day un jour ooun zhuhr
Monday Lundí luhn-DEE
Tuesday Maredí mar-DEE
Wednesday Mercredi mair-cray-DEE
Thursday Jeudi zhuh-DEE
Friday Vendredi vawn-druh-DEE
Saturday Samedi saam-DEE
Sunday Dimanche DEE-maansh
     
a month un mois ooun mwa
January janvier zhan-vee-YAIR
February février feh-vree-YAIR
March mars mahr
April avril ah-VREEL
May mai may
June juin zhuh-WAH
July juillet zhuh-LYAY
August août ah-WOOT
September septembre sep-TUHM-bruh
October octobre ok-TOE-bruh
November novembre noh-VAUM-bruh
December décembre day-SAHM-bruh

Numbers in French

English (anglais) French (français) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
1 un ehn
2 deux douh
3 trois twa
4 quatre KAH-truh
5 cinq sank
6 six sees
7 sept sehp
8 huit hwhee
9 neuf nuhf
10 dix dees
11 onze ownz
12 douze dooz
13 treize trehz
14 quatorze kah-TOHRZ
15 quinze cans
16 seize sez
17 dix-sept dee-SEP
18 dix-huit dee-SWEE
19 dix-neuf dee-SNEUHF
20 vingt vahn
21* vingt et un * vahnt eh UHN
22* vingt deux * vahn douh
23* vingt trois * vahn twa
30 trente truhnt
40 quarante kah-RAHNT
50 cinquante sahn-KAHNT
60 soixante swaa-SAHNT
70 soixante-dix swa-sahnt-DEES
80 quatre-vents  kat-tra-VAHN
90 quatre-vents-dix  kat-tra-vanht-DEES
100 cent sant
1,000 mille meel
5,000 cinq mille sank meel
10,000 dix mille dees meel


* You can form any number between 20 and 99 just like the examples for 21, 22, and 23. For x2–x9, just say the tens-place number (trente for 30, quarante for 40, etc.), then the ones-place number (35 is trente cinq; 66 is soixsante six). The only excpetion is for 21, 31, 41, etc. For x1, say the tens-place number followed by "...et un" (trente et un, quarante et un, etc.).

‡ Yes, the French count very strangely once they get past 69. Rather than some version of "seventy,' they instead say "sixy-ten" (followed by "sixty-eleven," "sixty-twelve,' etc. up to "sixty-nineteen.") And then, just to keep things interesting, they chenge it up again and, for 80, say 'four twenties"—which always make me thinks of blackbirds baked in a pie for some reason. Ninety becomes "four-twenties-ten" and so on up to "four-nineties-ninteen" for 99, which is quite a mouthful: quartre-vingts-dix-neuf.