The gothic façade of Paris’s principal place of worship is one of the city’s most recognisable landmarks.
Notre Dame Cathedral dates from 1163 and took almost two centuries to complete, undergoing major restoration in the mid-19th century. Its twin towers dominate the Ile de la Cité, the larger of two islands in the River Seine, and many people catch their first glimpse of this famous Parisian landmark from the observation deck of a river cruiser.
As you approach the imposing west front from the Place du Parvis, you can admire its three famous doorways, each carved with religious scenes, while the views of the huge Gothic flying buttresses from Square Jean XXIII on the south and east sides are particularly impressive.
Follow in the footsteps of Victor Hugo’s famous hunchback to learn some of the secrets that lie behind this imperious façade. One-hour guided tours in several languages take place throughout the day, or you can pick up an audio guide and brochure to explore at your own pace. Don’t miss the ancient stained glass windows, one of which dates back to the 13th century, or the grand organ which has been played by some of the best musicians in the world.
Admission to the cathedral is free, but there is a charge to visit the world-famous towers where the hunchback had his lair. The tour lasts around 50 minutes and takes you right to the top, where you can meet the stares of the gargoyles head-on and view the massive Emmanuel bourdon bell in the south tower that gave Hugo some of the inspiration for his fictional creation.
Another fascinating part of the cathedral is the crypt, which contains Gallo-Roman remains, including part of a house from Lutèce, the ancient name of Paris during the Roman era. The crypt is open daily except Mondays and public holidays.
Notre Dame Cathedral is easily accessible by public transport, and street parking is available nearby, although limited. Most tour buses make a stop at the cathedral as part of a sightseeing itinerary, and these can be booked at hotels and tourist agencies. Sightseeing tours are a convenient and relaxing way to take in the major sights without having to navigate your own way around the public transport network, and are particularly popular with first-time visitors as a great way to get your bearings in a new city.