Skip to Content

15 Incredible Cathedrals in France: Gothic, Renaissance & Romanesque Buildings

Last Updated on 26th May 2023 by Sophie Nadeau

Birthplace of the Gothic and where the first stone cathedrals were constructed, France is a country with well over a hundred cathedrals, many of them dating back to the Middle Ages. Here are the very best cathedrals in France, plenty of which are some of the best examples of Gothic architecture in the world!

The term ‘Cathedra’ comes from the Latin word meaning ‘Great Chair’ for the seat of the Bishop and is what gives a cathedral its name. From the 12th-century onwards, the age of Great Cathedrals began, starting with the stone cathedral of that in Notre Dame. And from that point onwards, around 80 cathedrals were built in just 150 years.

Metz Cathedral: three days in Lorraine, France

Limoges Cathedral (Cathédrale Saint-Étienne de Limoges)

Architectural style: Gothic, Renaissance, Romanesque

Limoges is a highly underrated city in South West France that’s often overlooked in favour of its more popular neighbours (Poitiers and La Rochelle among others), Limoges is famed for its Middle Ages historic centre and porcelain of the same name.

Although Limoges Cathedral itself dates back to the 13th-century, it wasn’t actually completed until 1888! As such, the cathedral is home to a beautiful blend of architectural styles. Other notable highlights of the cathedral include the Renaissance Rood Screen and the frescoed walls of the Romanesque crypt.

Why You Must Visit Limoges: The Hidden Gem of Southern France

Poitiers Cathedral (Cathédrale Saint-Pierre de Poitiers )

Architectural style: Gothic

Bells have been ringing out in Poitiers since the 11th-century. One of the grandest churches in town is the impressive Saint Pierre (Saint Peter Cathedral), which was constructed in 1162 on the ruins of a former Roman basilica. The cathedral is free to visit.

Cathédrale Saint-Pierre de Poitiers (Poitiers Cathedral)

Reims Cathedral (Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Reims)

Architectural style: Late/ High Gothic

Pronounced ‘ranz’ (I know, confusing!), construction of the beautiful Cathedral at Reims began during the 13th-century. Built on the site of some Roman Baths, once upon a time, this is where the Kings of France chose to be crowned.

Other highlights of Reims, the gateway to the Champagne region, include a fine art museum, as well as a 17th-century Episcopal Palace. For even more inspiration for the capital of Champagne, be sure to check out our guide to the best of Reims.

Médiathèque Jean Falala top floor view, Reims, France

Narbonne Cathedral (Cathédrale Saint-Just-et-Saint-Pasteur de Narbonne)

Architectural style: Gothic

The beautiful city of Narbonne was first founded as a Roman port city. During the Classical Era, ports up and down what is now France were used to transport a whole range of goods from olive oil to pottery.

Today, the Aude has built up silt and sand to such an extent that the city now lies around 15 km from the sea. Narbonne Cathedral itself is easily the main attraction in this French city and construction first began during the 13th-century.

However, a changing balance of power, lack of funds, as well as an unwillingness to demolish the now-gone medieval walls meant that the cathedral was never completed. Today, all that exists of the Cathedral is the choir, which is nonetheless still impressive!

Where o Find the Best View of Narbonne: Donjon Gilles Aycelin, Narbonne, Languedoc, France

Amiens Cathedral (Cathédrale Notre-Dame d’Amiens )

Architectural style: Gothic

The tallest complete Gothic cathedral in France, as well as the largest by interior volume, today the ecclesiastical structure remains the seat of the Bishop of Amiens. Although the building’s façade appears to be just stone in appearance, at some point during the Middle Ages, the Western side was painted in a whole array of colours.

Amiens Cathedral (Cathédrale Notre-Dame d'Amiens )

Metz Cathedral (Cathédrale Saint-Étienne de Metz)

Architectural style: French Gothic & Gothic Revival

Situated in the Grand-Est Region of France, just half an hour from the border of Luxembourg via car, the city of Metz is a seriously beautiful and underrated city which is worthy of a venture through on any trip through this part of the world. The current cathedral was built between the 13th and 16th-centuries.

Metz Cathedral itself is home to plenty of stunning stained glass windows, including several by the world-famous artist, Marc Chagall. So expansive is the set of stained glass within the cathedral that it’s often referred to as la Lanterne du Bon Dieu (the Good Lord’s Lantern) and is home to the largest area of stained glass windows in the world.

You should also note that, with an impressive 70,000 foot squared worth of stained glass windows, Metz Cathedral boasts the largest surface area of stained glass windows in France.

Metz Cathedral: three days in Lorraine, France

Bourges Cathedral (Cathédrale Saint-Étienne de Bourges)

Architectural style: Gothic

The city of Bourges can be found in the very heart of l’Hexagon and is the capital of the French department of Cher. The area has been inhabited for well over 1500 years and highlights of Bourges today include a beautiful 15th-century palace and several lovely landscaped gardens.

Bourges Cathedral is unique among 12th-century cathedrals in that it was completed in just 35 years. Constructed on the former town walls of a Gallo-Roman settlement, the cathedral has been listed as a UNESCO world heritage site since the 1990s.

Bourges Cathedral (Cathédrale Saint-Étienne de Bourges)

Notre Dame de Paris Cathedral (Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris)

Architectural style: Gothic

Located in the very heart of Paris, Notre Dame Cathedral may well be the most famous of cathedrals in France. Made famous (and probably also saved) by Victor Hugo’s book, the Hunchback of Notre Dame, this medieval structure is often cited as the best example of French Gothic architecture.

Open on a daily basis and free to visit (the queue to enter looks much longer than it actually takes to wait in line), highlights of Notre Dame include grotesque Gargoyles, the Holy Crown of Thorns (alleged to be the crown of thorns which was placed on Jesus during the crucifixion), and several ornately carved wood pieces. Please note that due to the terrible fire of Notre Dame in April of 2019, the French cathedral is closed until further notice.

Notre Dame

Albi Cathedral (Cathédrale Sainte-Cécile d’Albi)

Architectural style: Late Gothic

The fortified cathedral of Albi is often claimed to be the largest brick building in the world. However, this title is often debated and is more likely to be Malbork Castle in Poland.

Nevertheless, groundbreaking of this UNESCO world heritage was at the end of the 12th-century and highlights of the ecclesiastical building include a 78-metre tall bell tower, as well as the widest Gothic nave in France. Of all the French cathedrals listed here, this is certainly not one to miss!

Albi Cathedral (Cathédrale Sainte-Cécile d'Albi)

Rouen Cathedral (Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Rouen)

Architectural style: Late Gothic

Gothic and imposing, Rouen Cathedral sits among a whole host of timber-framed houses in the heart of the capital city of Normandy, Rouen. Final resting place of Richard the Lionheart and Rollo, a prominent Viking leader, Rouen Cathedral was also once the tallest building in the world. Of all the cathedrals in France, this truly is a must-see!

rouen cathedral in the daytime

Laon Cathedral (Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Laon)

Architectural style: Early Gothic

Rather confusingly pronounced ‘Lon’, the city of Laon is located in Northern France. Although no longer an ‘official cathedral’ as the Bishopric was suppressed at the turn of the 19th-century, this doesn’t mean that the structure isn’t worth a visit. In fact, it’s a major destination on the pilgrimage route through France to reach the Camino de Santiago in Spain.

Constructed in the 12th-century (building began 8 years before that of Notre Dame in Paris), some of the best things to see in the cathedral include some stunning medieval stained glass windows, including an impressive Rose window, and high vaulted interior.

Albi Cathedral (Cathédrale Sainte-Cécile d'Albi)

Meaux Cathedral (Cathédrale Saint-Étienne de Meaux)

Architectural style: Gothic & Romanesque

The pretty French town of Meaux can be found under an hour away from Paris. And with its own brand of mustard and its very own cheese, Brie de Meaux, it’s a must visit for any French cuisine loving foodie. Today, the city is home to the largest WWI museum in the world, as well as a cathedral which mixes several styles of Gothic, as well as Romanesque architecture.

Best things to do in Meaux, Île de France, day trip from Paris, France: meaux cathedral

Bordeaux Cathedral (Cathédrale Saint-André de Bordeaux)

Architectural style: Gothic & Renaissance

Best-known for its full-bodied wines, the city of Bordeaux is the capital of a French region of the same name which can be found in South-West France and is well worth visiting over the course of a long weekend. Today, some of the best things to do in the city include admiring the stunning architecture, as well as visiting the 11th-century Bordeaux Cathedral.

Bordeaux Cathedral, A Girls Getaway Weekend in Bordeaux Itinerary. How to spend three days in Bordeaux; what to see, where to go, what to eat, and the best day trips from Bordeaux, South West France

Béziers Cathedral (Cathédrale Saint-Nazaire-et-Saint-Celse de Béziers)

Architectural style: Romanesque

Situated in Southern France, Béziers is home to several UNESCO heritage sites and is where the tragic massacre of Béziers occurred during the Albigensian Crusade. Béziers Cathedral itself was built from the 12th to 15th-centuries and a previous building onsite includes a Roman Temple.

Today, should you opt to visit the off the beaten path French city of Beziers, be sure to enter the cathedral, climb its bell tower (which offers stunning views of the Languedoc region), and enter into the Jardin des Eveques (Bishop’s Garden) where you’ll find a beautifully manicured space which presides over the rest of the fortified town.

Here’s a quick guide on where to find the best view in Beziers, a beautiful city in the Languedoc, Occitanie, France

Beauvais Cathedral (Cathédrale Saint-Pierre de Beauvais)

Architectural style: Late Gothic

The unfinished cathedral at Beauvais is styled in the Late Gothic and sits in the very heart of a Northern French city in the Oise Department. Consecrated in the 13th-century, the church is home to several impressive clocks, including a 19th-century astronomical clock and a medieval clock.

Beauvais Cathedral (Cathédrale Saint-Pierre de Beauvais)

Chartres Cathedral (Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres)

Architectural style: Early Gothic

On the fringes of the Loire Valley, Chartres is steeped with history and filled with timber-framed houses. Gateway to the various French Châteaux which litter the region, the city is home to the likes of art museums, as well as an impressive cathedral.

Today, Chartres Cathedral is at least the 5th castle to sit on site and the current building was constructed during the 12th-century. Highlights of this ancient Medieval building, which is free to visit and open on a daily basis, includes flying buttresses, as well as an ornately carved exterior.

chartres cathedral

Enjoyed reading about the best cathedrals in France? Pin it now, read it again later:

French Cathedrals/ 15 Incredible Cathedrals in France: Gothic, Renaissance & Romanesque Buildings
14 Incredible Cathedrals in France: Gothic, Renaissance & Romanesque Churches, Basilicas, and ecclesiastical buildings in l'Hexagon, Europe

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Joanne @ Travel Visa UK

Monday 30th of July 2018

Your pictures are wonderful! I have been there too and I can say that all the cathedral is really impressive!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.