Notre-Dame sits on the Île de la Cité, one of two tiny islands cut off from Paris by the Seine. There are lots of things to see in the area, including the oldest bridge in the city, a well-loved flower market, and Sainte Chapelle, another Gothic-style chapel. Despite its colourful neighbours, Notre-Dame remains the highlight of the area for many obvious reasons.
If you’re planning a trip to Paris, whether you’re staying for a weekend or a little longer, make sure you see this unique Gothic landmark. Considerable progress has been made in the cathedral’s restoration since the fire in April 2019, which sadly destroyed the 19th-century oak-and-lead spire, the intricate wooden roof, and the vaulted ceiling.
Although you can’t go inside the cathedral, head there to see its still-impressive skeleton and pay your respects to one of the most famous monuments in France.
Getting to Notre-Dame by train
If you're travelling from within France to Paris, the capital is served by plenty of high-speed SNCF lines from all corners of the country. These are some of the most popular services to Paris, most of which arrive into Gare du Nord or Gare de Lyon stations:
|Avignon to Paris||2h 41m||Yes|
|Bordeaux to Paris||2h 09m||Yes|
|Lyon to Paris||1h 55m||Yes|
|Marseille to Paris||3h 12m||Yes|
|Nice to Paris||5h 44m||Yes|
|Strasbourg to Paris||2h 23m||Yes|
Which metro station is nearest to Notre-Dame?
There are a couple of stops that are a stone’s throw from the cathedral. If you’re taking the Metro, get on a line 4 service to Cité, the only stop on the Île de la Cité itself. You’ll have no trouble spotting Notre-Dame when you jump off the Metro here.
Alternatively, you can take an RER B or C service to Gare De Saint-Michel Notre-Dame, on the banks of the Seine. Then, stroll across the beautiful bridge, Pont Saint-Michel, taking in views of the cathedral as you approach.
The trains around central Paris run very often, so you won’t need to plan your departure before heading out. Just arrive at any Metro or RER station and wait a couple of minutes for your service to pull up. RER prices are determined by zone, so the cost of your fare will depend on where you’re getting on. Notre-Dame is in fare zone 1.
If you’re travelling from central Paris, your ticket will be around €1.90. However, it could be more if you’re visiting from further away.
Things are a little different at the Notre-Dame today. The cathedral has been closed to visitors since the fire to allow space for restoration. This means, sadly, lots of the most exciting historical features inside aren’t available for visitors to enjoy. Thankfully, most of the architecture, stained-glass windows, and statues survived the blaze and can be seen from the street.
Here are some Notre-Dame must-sees, although you might need to wait a while for some which remain closed inside.
We’ll look at:
- The façade
- The flying buttresses
- The bells
The cathedral is built on rectangular foundations, which means it has four main sides or façades. The western façade is what we recognise as the front of Notre-Dame, beautifully symmetrical in design and made up of three parts. The construction of the iconic façade was developed between the years 1200 and 1250.
Look out for the gallery of Old Testament kings, a row of statues representing 28 kings of Judah and Israel. The original sculptures were added in the 13th century. However, these were mistaken for kings of France, torn down, and beheaded during the French Revolution. The gallery was replaced in the 19th century.
Another key feature of the western façade is a rose window, which has held onto its original stained glass.
The flying buttresses
These towering archways support the cathedral walls from the outside. They’re a testament to the ingenuity of the 13th-century architects who designed Notre-Dame. The feature is common in medieval cathedral designs and can serve a couple of essential functions.
Notre-Dame’s flying buttresses support the top of the walls, preventing the façade from collapsing under the weight of the roof. As well as this, they keep rainwater from running down the stone and damaging it over time. Look out for them around the sides and back of the cathedral, they’re impossible to miss!
How can we talk about Notre-Dame without mentioning its gargoyles? An iconic feature of Gothic architecture, these intricate creatures lean away from the building to help prevent rainwater from running along the stone walls, which can cause damage.
As well as their practical purpose, the Gargoyles of Notre-Dame provide the site with symbolic protection, thanks to their scary appearance keeping demons and other nasty forces away. There are hundreds of these sculptured guardians on the cathedral; see how many you can spot!
The bells of Notre-Dame have a vibrant and turbulent history, being recast many times, and even melted into cannons during the French Revolution. Only the largest survived, Emmanuel, which is considered one of the most beautiful bells in Europe and is known for its excellent deep sound. These gigantic instruments chime on notable occasions, like Christmas and Easter, and when something important is happening in the cathedral or city.
Notre-Dame’s stained-glass windows are masterpieces of Gothic art and, thankfully, survived the 2019 fire. The windows cover nearly a thousand square metres of the cathedral. While some have been restored throughout history, many remain in their original condition. The high quality of the original stained-glass windows reflects how much money went into the building of Notre-Dame since the pigments used at the time were very rare and expensive.
Notre-Dame History and Facts
When you’re visiting one of the oldest Gothic cathedrals in the world, you’ll want to learn a little about its construction and history. Here’s everything you need to know about the Notre-Dame’s past.
The inspiration behind Notre-Dame
Notre-Dame was built between 1163 and 1245 on the Île de la Cité in central Paris. The fascinating series of events which lead to the construction of Notre-Dame start with a local religious martyr, St. Denis.
According to traditional stories, St. Denis was carried to Montmatrte and decapitated for his faith. After execution, the corpse of Denis is said to have walked several miles with his head in his arms. This led to the construction of the Basilica of Saint-Denis, where many kings of France are now buried.
The Basilica was designed in the new Gothic style, with soaring ceilings and large windows. During its construction, the 12th century Bishop of Paris, Maurice de Sully, became inspired to create a rival structure in the heart of the city. You guessed it, the Notre-Dame.
Construction of the cathedral
The foundation stone for Notre-Dame was laid by Bishop Maurice de Sully himself during a very grand ceremony in 1163. Sully chose an unknown architect to design the cathedral. These were some people responsible for the emergence of Gothic religious style, which has been admired throughout history.
Notre-Dame was designed with ambitious dimensions. The structure is 127 metres long, 40 metres wide, and 33 metres high, making it the largest religious monument in the Western World for over a century after its completion. Its construction meant knocking down some houses in the packed medieval neighbourhood, as well as two churches that already existed on the Île de la Cité.
Renovations and destructions
The Notre-Dame cathedral has been renovated several times throughout its life, with the most significant changes happening in the 18th century. However, this dramatic makeover is often thought to have done more harm than good. A sculpture-studded screen was pulled down, stained-glass windows were replaced with clear glass, and a central pillar was removed to make way for large carriages.
More changes were seen during the French Revolution, when the cathedral, a representation of monarchy and religion, was ransacked and largely destroyed.
Thankfully, the Notre-Dame made a comeback in the mid-19th century. This was partly thanks to the work of the romantic novelist Victor Hugo, who famously wrote The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. The charming story of the hunchbacked bell ringer encouraged Parisians and city authorities to see the building as a treasure worth saving.
Adding the square
In the 1850s, Napoleon III hired Baron Haussmann to redesign Paris, which meant clearing many old buildings to make way for broad boulevards and open squares. Haussmann ordered many houses and other structures to be removed around Notre-Dame during this time, creating space for a new square in front of the cathedral.
Restaurants, Bars, and Shops near Notre-Dame Cathedral
We’re sure by now you’re excited about your visit to Notre-Dame. While you’re hanging out in the bustling centre of the city, be sure to check out some of the area’s other exciting offerings. There are lots of excellent restaurants, cafés, and bars on the Île de la Cité, as well as some great shops to browse.
Because it sits at the very heart of the city, Notre-Dame borders the 1st, 4th, 5th, and 6th arrondissements. This means you have lots of options when it comes to eating and shopping. Here we’ll look at some of the best spots you can find close to the cathedral itself.
The best places to eat and drink near Notre-Dame
- Le Trumilou – a quaint bistro with a terrace overlooking the cathedral
- Brasserie de l’Ile St-Louis – authentic Parisian food and winning views
- Café Saint Regis – the epitome of a classic Parisian café
- Maison Blanche – a varied menu and plenty of space for groups
- Berthillon – legendary ice cream. Need we say more?
- Le Caveau du Palais – traditional French gourmet with excellent service
- Restaurant Paul – a local’s favourite lunch spot
- La Rose de France – for old-school Parisian options
- Au Bougnat – a bistro with great food and medieval charm
- La Réserve de Quasimodo – one of the oldest wine bars in Paris
Before you head out of the Île de la Cité, why not take a look around some local shops? The area is dripping in history and charm, with lots of exciting places to pick up a souvenir or a treat for yourself.
Shopping near Notre-Dame
First off, we recommend heading to the Marché aux Fleurs, the famous flower market on the edge of the island. Weave between bouquets and enjoy some sweet-scented air as the perfect way to refresh yourself. As well as colourful flowers, many stalls sell souvenirs like music boxes and bags of French lavender. Wandering around here is always a treat.
While most of the city’s shopping is spread across leafy boulevards and avenues, like the world-famous Champs-Élysées, there are some quirky spots to discover around the Notre-Dame. When you’re done visiting the cathedral, enjoy a stroll around the surrounding streets and see what you can find.
Notre-Dame Opening Times and Prices
Following the fire in April 2019, the Notre-Dame cathedral is still closed to visitors. This includes the building and some of its surroundings, which means you won’t be able to enjoy the full experience for a few years.
However, visitors are still welcome to come and look at the cathedral from a distance, whether it’s from a nearby street or a beautiful neighbouring bridge. If you’re in Paris, we think this is well worth your time.
The cathedral has seen a lot in its long lifetime. Pay your respects and take a look at the construction underway. Then, next time you visit Paris, you’ll be able to see the progress that’s been made and enjoy the fully restored Notre-Dame in all its glory.
Visiting Paris from further afield?
Europe is so well connected by rail that you can get to Paris on the train easily from mainland Europe and the UK. Not only is it the scenic way to travel, you'll be doing your bit for the environment, too. These are just some of the journeys you can take to get to Paris from Europe:
|London to Paris||2h 16m||Direct|
|Barcelona to Paris||6h 38m||Direct|
|Amsterdam to Paris||3h 20m||Direct|
|Brussels to Paris||1h 22m||Direct|
|Zurich to Paris||4h 06m||Direct|
|Munich to Paris||6h 37m||1 change|
|Stuttgart to Paris||4h 13m||Direct|