Notre Dame de Paris, or Our Lady of Paris, is one of the most famous cathedrals in the world. The subject of a Victor Hugo novel “The Hunchback of Notre-Dame” and later the Disney movie based on its adaption, it is considered one of the must-see destinations for any visit to Paris.
Located on the eastern half of the Île de la Cité (Cité Island), the Notre-Dame Cathedral is widely considered one of the best examples of French Gothic architecture in existence. Some of the most distinguishable and famous features of the cathedral are the stained glass and gargoyle sculptures.
What to see there
While just spending time walking around and inside the cathedral could seem like an awe-inspiring experience, make sure you check out some of its most impressive attributes:
The Two Towers measure approximately 61 meters in height and provide an excellent view point of Paris and distinctive sights such as the Arc de Triomphe at the top of the Champs-Elysées to the west, the towers of St-Suplice and the Panthéon to the south and Montmartre to the north. To reach the Tower, the entrance is located outside of the cathedral, on the left side of the façade on Rue du Cloître Notre-Dame. In total there are 387 steps to the top of the South Tower (and no elevator provided), so just make sure there is no physical limitations for you or your party because you will definitely have to wait in a long line before entering. Inside the Towers, you can experience the upper parts of the western façade, which dates back to the 13th century.
Another highlight of the cathedral, where the largest, Emmanuel is seen from the South Tower is the Ringing Bells. These range in weight from 13,271 kg to 782 kg. The oldest one, Emmanuel has been in the building since 1681, ringing on the hour and for special occasions. Fun fact: signaling the end of World War II, Emmanuel also rang in 1944 as a symbol of celebration and triumph by the French troops and allies.
Also visible from the Tower are the gargoyles and chimera, built by the famous architect Viollet-le-Duc in the 19th century. While the original purpose of the gargoyles was as a drainage system, the chimera is solely for decorative purposes. Both have become symbols of the cathedral, however, and should not be missed!
The organ, known as The Great Organ, is the largest in France and one of the most famous in the world. It was installed in the 13th century, making it nearly original to the cathedral and has undergone many restorations and improvements.
Also don’t forget to check out the Crypte Archéologique down the stairs in front of the cathedral. This archeological museum offers stunning underground views of this area of Pairs from the 1st century through medieval times.
When to visit
As with any monument so famous, you can always expect to wait to enter the Notre-Dame. For the best experience, try going as early as possible on a weekday, beating the crowds and getting to see the inside of the cathedral at its brightest in the morning sun. The tour busses usually arrive at 9am, so anytime after that expect to be waiting for hours.
When we were there we saw a group of young girls stealing a cell phone from someone, we tried to find a police officer, but the girls ran away too quickly. They had a clipboard and were trying to lure tourists close to them and then steal their belongings. If anyone comes up to in that area especially, with so many known tourists, makes sure all your belongings are in sight and politely decline.
You may work up an appetitive waiting in line and walking around the huge cathedral. Head across the river to the Café Panis for some delicious Croque-monsieur (baked or fried ham and cheese sandwich), Croque-Madame (baked or fried ham and cheese sandwich WITH a fried egg on top), or really anything else they were serving looked totally amazing. Finish off the meal with the best dessert I’ve had in my life, the Red Fruits Tiramisu, all while enjoying one of the best views of the Notre Dame money can buy.