Notre Dame de Paris

A fabulous example of gothic architecture, Notre Dame de Paris may not be the tallest, the oldest or the biggest cathedral in the world but it is certainly most well known.

Beating la Tour Eiffel to the title of most visited site in Paris (with over 10 million visitors a year), Notre Dame has long been the heart of the city.

Since its conception in the 12th century and its completion in the 14th, it has been immortalized in literature, art and film.

Built on a site occupied by earlier churches, Notre Dame Cathedral was the idea of a Bishop called Maurice de Sully, who in 1160 decided enough was enough and tried to rival the shining abbey that had just gone up in St Denis.

The cathedral suffered through plundering (during the Revolution) and neglect until finally in the 19th century, a campaign for restoration began after the huge success of Victor Hugo’s novel ‘Notre Dame de Paris’. The renovations, done by architect Viollet-le Ducan, included the addition of the gargoyles, and made the structure we see today a reality.

We recommend to approachNotre Dame from the Rive Gauche, crossing at the Pont au Double from quai de Montebello

The square in front of the cathedral, place du Parvis, is kilomètre zéro in France. All distances to and from Paris are measured from here. The specific spot is marked by a polished brass circle on the ground not far from the cathedral's main entrance.

These days it is hard not to stand in open-mouthed awe as you enter through the majestic doors. The doorway looks like two hands joined serenely, the sculpted kings form a regal column, and the west (front) rose window gleams with what light that looks as if it has come straight from God..

Notre Dame

The spectacular rose window and the window on the northern side of the transept are pretty much unchanged since the 13th century. Notre Dame has a 7,800-pipe organ which takes your breath away.

It would be a crime to visit without climbing the 400 odd spiral steps to the top of the 75m North Tower.

You’ll find yourself the possessor of a spectacular view of Paris as well as some rather impressive gargoyles and the 13 tone bell Emmanuel.


There is no charge to enter the cathedral, but you do have to pay a little to to visit the towers and treasury. It is open from 8am but if you visit and climb the tower in the evening you might find yourself blessed with shorter queues and a view of the sun setting over Paris.

The cathedral is open daily from 8am to 6.45pm but the opening hours of the towers change depending on the season. From April to June and during September it's open daily 10 am-6:30; July and August weekdays it opens 10-6:30 whilst weekends is 10 am-11 pm; October to March it opens daily 10-5:30.

Beware that the towers close early when overcrowded (read:at weekends in peak season).

Down the stairs in front of the cathedral is the Crypte Archéologique, Notre Dame's archaeological museum which is worth a look.

There is also a beautiful garden behind Notre Dame which serves as the perfect place to rest tour-weary feet whilst admiring the stunning architecture.