Notre Dame Cathedral
Notre Dame Cathedral sits on the natural island called Île de la Cité. This is the central point of the city, where distances from Paris to all parts of France are measured. The cathedral is the result of a massive effort in construction, which started in 1163 and ended in the mid-14th century. A grand restoration project began in 1845 and lasted two decades.
For a dramatic introduction to the cathedral, approach from the Place du Parvis. From here you’ll see the grand west façade, famous for three doorways framed by intricately carved religious scenes. From Square Jean XXIII on the south and east sides of the cathedral, you’ll see the massive flying buttresses at their best. The Seine River is also an excellent vantage point for admiring the cathedral’s architecture, and boat tours of the city pass right by here.
Admission to the cathedral is free and there are informative guided one-hour tours in various languages throughout the day. If you prefer a self-guided wander, an audio guide and brochure are both excellent options.
There is a charge to see the world-famous Notre Dame towers, which are both a historic treasure and known for the association with Victor Hugo’s classic novel, The Hunchback of Notre Dame. A 50-minute tour takes visitors through the upper sections of the west façade to get a closer look at the gargoyles and the colossal Emmanuel bell, weighing more than 13 tons.
Other highlights inside the cathedral include the three ancient stained-glass windows, including the north window dating back to the 13th century, and the impressive Grand Organ.
Beneath the cathedral lies another layer of intrigue. More than 260 feet (79 meters) below Notre Dame is the eerie Archaeological Crypt. It contains fascinating Gallo-Roman artifacts, including the ancient remains of a house from Lutèce, the name given to Paris in the Roman era. Except Mondays and public holidays, the crypt is open daily.
Notre Dame Cathedral, located on Île de la Cité, is accessible by public transportation or car, and street parking is available. Another option is to sit back and relax in a tour bus, available by reservation at many hotels and tourist agencies as part of a tour of the city.