First built in 1163 near the center of the the Île de la Cité — and revised and expanded over the subsequent centuries — the Notre-Dame Cathedral likely is the best known landmark in Paris after the Eiffel Tower and one of the most famous churches in the world.
Notre-Dame's fame is at least partially due to Victor Hugo's 1831 novel, Notre-Dame de Paris, which was translated into English as The Hunchback of Notre Dame. No doubt, the subsequent Disney interpretations of the novel have had even more to do with the church's popularity as a tourist attraction.
The Notre-Dame Cathedral is open every day from 7:45 AM until at least 6:45 PM. By mid-morning, and certainly by the afternoon there is a long queue, but travelgasm.com would suggest that you arrive first thing in the morning, when you may be able to stroll right in after the security check. Note that luggage and backpacks are not permitted at all. The cathedral itself is free to enter, but a well-regarded guided tour is available for advance purchase. There also is a charge for most visitors to go to the top and a charge to go down into the crypt.
If you would like to skip the line to go to the top, you might want to consider buying the Paris Museum Pass. The Paris Museum Pass will allow you to skip the line at the Notre Dame towers and crypt as well as at the Louvre, Centre Pompidou, and the Panthéon, along with many other attractions. Two, four, and six-day options are available.
The entrance to the tours — which is French for "towers," a grammatical "false friend" that confuses some English speakers into thinking that it is for organized tours — is on the outside to the left of the cathedral when facing it from Parvis Notre-Dame – Place Jean-Paul-II, the main square. The entrance to the crypt is toward the far side of the same square away from the cathedral itself.
The opening days are more restrictive — the crypt always is closed on Monday, for example — and the hours are shorter for both the towers and the crypt than the cathedral. Access to the towers changes depending on the time of year, as well. Also note that the towers are reachable only via stairwell — the cathedral website says it has 387 steps and the national monuments website says 422 steps. Either way, it's a lot of steps and you will feel the burn.
The official website says that the organizers stop allowing tourists to line up to go to the top of Notre-Dame 45 minutes before the stated closing time, but it also notes that the opening hours are subject to change. When we visited, the queue was closed a bit earlier than 45 minutes before the official closing time, so we would suggest showing up at least an hour and a half before the listed closing time to avoid potential disappointment. We also witnessed young female pickpockets — posing as charity workers collecting signatures — brazen enough to target those standing in this queue. The staff made an effort to shoo them away, but be particularly mindful of pickpockets in this entire area.
If you would like to attend mass at Notre-Dame, the "International" mass on Sunday at 11:30 AM is spoken in French, but a printed missal is available in English as well as a handful of other major languages.
While you're visiting Notre-Dame, be sure also to walk around to the back of the cathedral and enjoy the nice garden — formally Square Jean XXIII — which is far less crowded than the square in the front. If nothing else, Square Jean XXIII has free benches, Wi-Fi, and bathrooms.
If you don't have time to make it to a less touristed neighborhood, the Latin Quarter to the south — what Parisians refer to as the Rive Gauche or Left Bank — has a number of cheap takeaways selling pizza, kebabs, falafel and the like as well as often charming restaurants targeted toward tourists with dishes like beef bourguignon and escargot that tourists want to try but locals likely don't eat often if at all. As long as you stick to the plat du jour (plate of the day) — which typically is fresher and more affordable — and have modest expectations for a tourist heavy location, you can do well enough in this neighborhood with a €10-€20 lunch. If you want better food — and have the budget for it — the Michelin starred Le Relais Louis XIII and Ze Kitchen Galerie are in the neighborhood and are excellent choices, no doubt.
We've mapped out one of our favorite walks through Île de la Cité and the Latin Quarter below. It starts at Cité station — which has one of the most attractive platforms in Paris — and stitches together some of the best walking streets — most notably the people-only Rue de Lutèce near Notre-Dame and Rue Saint-Séverin in the Latin Quarter — in a logical path that provides a nice view of the famous Pont Neuf — the oldest bridge in Paris — as well.
How to Get Here: There are many metro stations near Notre-Dame. Cité station on Metro Line 4 is the closest and the only station on Île de la Cité proper. However, depending on where you are coming from, other stations may be more logical as it almost will certainly be quicker to walk above ground than to take a closely located transfer station to Line 4. Other options within a reasonable walk of Notre-Dame include Metro Line 1 or 11 to Hôtel de Ville station; Metro Line 1, 4, 7, 11, or 14 to Châtelet station; Metro Line 10 to Cluny - La Sorbonne station; or Metro Line 4, RER Line B, or RER Line C to Saint-Michel - Notre-Dame station. Hôtel de Ville and Châtelet stations are on the Right Bank (Rive Droite) to the north and Cluny - La Sorbonne and Saint-Michel - Notre-Dame stations are on the Left Bank (Rive Gauche) to the south.
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