Sainte-Chapelle: When to visit and what it looks like when it’s totally empty

We were lucky enough to visit the Sainte-Chapelle early in the morning, before it opened to the public. Here’s how you can do the same, plus some tips for making the most of a regular visit.

The Earful Tower podcast episode

The podcast episode below features some insight from Sainte-Chapelle guide Amber Minogue, plus my own thoughts on the chapel. You can listen below, or wherever you get podcasts. 

But first, what is the Sainte-Chapelle?

King Louis 9th, better known as Saint Louis, built the Sainte-Chapelle in the 13th century as a reliquary to house the crown of thorns. This chapel is one of the few vestiges that remain of the original royal palace of Paris. The chapel was built in seven years, between 1242 and 1248, record time for that period. Just think – Notre Dame was being constructed at the same time and it took almost 200 years to build.

The reason people flock to the Sainte-Chapelle is for its stained glass windows. We spoke to with local tour guide and host of the Paname podcast Amber Minogue, who pointed out that “it has the biggest collection of 13th century stained glass. When you go upstairs, it’s almost like there are no walls, it’s such an incredible feat of engineering – even today it would be remarkable.”

How best to visit the Sainte-Chapelle?

There is always a line out the front of this chapel. The later in the day, the longer the line. Your best bet is to get there early, before it opens at 9am, and then you have a chance to have the chapel to yourself.

In the podcast episode we visited as part of a VIP “Alone in the Sainte-Chapelle” tour, but that is unavailable for the foreseeable future. The same company, Walks, also offers a Sainte-Chapelle skip-the-line tour on this link.

You can also book a timed entry to the cathedral to avoid waiting in long lines.

When is the best time to visit the Sainte-Chapelle?

Ideally, you want to go on a sunny day. This way you can appreciate the breath-taking effect of sunlight streaming through the stained glass windows. If you can’t manage to swing a sunny day – no matter. As you can see from our above photos we visited on an overcast day and it was still awe-inspiring.

If you’re wanting to make sure every single window is well lit: get there early in the day. Depending on where the sun is, some of the windows don’t have as much light coming through. Basically: make sure you’re there during daylight, and the earlier the better.

What’s the deal with Sainte-Chapelle’s stained glass windows?

Louis the 9th built the Sainte-Chapelle to be his private chapel within the grounds of the royal palace, because of this, it is much smaller than regular churches. This means that the 15 cosmic stained glass windows entirely dominate the space.

These stained glass windows depict numerous biblical episodes as well as scenes from the 13th century including Louis IX wearing the crown of thorns. However, as the windows rise so high, it is almost impossible to get a good look at the scenes depicted. In comparison to other churches, at the Sainte-Chapelle it’s less about analysing the stories in the panes and more about soaking up the dazzling light streaming in through them.

As we said about on the podcast, it is entirely acceptable to visit the Sainte-Chapelle and just have your “wow” moment. Yes, eventually you can get into the details with a guide, but remember that it was designed to be breathtaking, so let it take your breath away.

Practical details

Address: 10 Bd du Palais, 75001 Paris
Hours: 9am – 5pm during autumn and winter, 9am – 7pm during spring and summer. See the official website for details.
Cost: €11.50
Tips: Book a timed entry to the cathedral to avoid waiting in long lines.
Download the app: You can use this app to look at the stained glass windows in more detail.

The Earful Tower podcast episode

Here’s The Earful Tower’s podcast episode again in case you missed it, with new episodes every Monday. The next one will be all about “T is for…”, you’ll have to tune in next week to find out what it is.

Do you like this channel? Become a Patreon member of The Earful Tower here to support it and to unlock extras.

Want to do a Paris walking tour? Find out more here. The music in this episode is from Pres Maxson, find his Substack here. Photography by Augusta Sagnelli, find her on Substack here.

4 thoughts on “Sainte-Chapelle: When to visit and what it looks like when it’s totally empty

  1. Saint Chapelle was the first church I ever visited in Paris as it is walking distance to where I stay … I went early morning and was in there in 5 minutes of arrival… I was taken aback by its beauty as being from Australia we have nothing to compare… I remember standing there and there was a guide doing a tour in French and I kept thinking to myself… I wish I could understand what he is saying about this magnificent place… I walked past often and always wanted to go back in but so much to see I have always just thought never did

    1. I’ve lived in Paris for 20+ years and only recently visited Sainte Chapelle – and I was as amazed and moved as if I had just arrived in the city! Hope to attend a concert there soon – just missed Vivaldi’s four seasons that took place there recently.

  2. On my visit when I reached the last curve in the stairwell and looked up to see the stained glass windows, the intense blue took my breath away. Though there were a lot of people around me, there weren’t too many to prevent taking in the spectacle of it all. Don’t miss the floor. I agree with you Oliver, the floor deserves attention for all the reasons you state. A different kind of beauty than the stained glass windows, I was very aware of the history of all those who walked before me. After your podcast I have decided to visit a second time.

  3. Thank you for all these stunning photos – when last we visited Sainte-Chapelle a few years ago, it was under renovation and it was very hard to gauge the full effect of those amazing windows.

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