Located in the heart of historical Paris on Île de la Cité, Notre-Dame de Paris is considered as the cradle of medieval Christianity. There is no shortage of things to do in Notre-Dame de Paris. With 13 million visitors each year, its fame is not overrated since it’s probably one of the masterpieces of Gothic architecture.
More than a historical monument, this cathedral is above all “the House of God and the House of men” that still hosts a vivid religious life. Fallen into disrepair after the Revolution, then saved by Victor Hugo whose novel the Hunchback of Notre-Dame stirred excitement for Gothic aesthetics, the Cathedral offers a stunning view on the City of Lights and features an archaeological crypt, where remnants of medieval times await exploration.
The fire that happened on April 15, 2019 impacted not only Notre Dame de Paris but also the entire Ile de la Cité. You can learn more at the end of the article and here.
1.) Top of Notre-Dame
You want to experience an astonishing panoramic view of Paris? And you think the view from the Eiffel Tower is too mainstream? The top of Notre-Dame is for you! Climb the 387 steps (without elevator) to reach the top of the South Tower and visit all the upper arts of the western facade dating from the XIIIth century. Among all the things to do in Notre-Dame de Paris, this is the best spot to contemplate the chimeric gargoyles, grotesque sculptures inspired by medieval architecture that were added by Viollet-le-Duc in the nineteenth century.
Also, you could not wish of a better way to see the XVIIth century Bourdon nicknamed Emmanuel and rung only on special occasions such as the liberation of Paris in 1944 or the death of Jean-Paul II in 2005.
A visit of the top will also enable you to admire the spire of Notre-Dame: dominating copper statues of the twelve apostles (including Viollet-le-Duc represented as Saint-Thomas who seems to contemplate his “Great Work”), the top of the spire (rooster-shaped) contains the relics of the Crown of Thorns, the relics of Saint Denis and Saint Geneviève, thus constituting a “spiritual lightning rod”. Finally the top of Our Lady will offer you an incredible 360° view of the city of lights: the Latin quarter, Châtelet and Hotel de Ville, the Seine as well as the gardens of the cathedral.
Practical details: The towers are open daily April through September from 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., and 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. October to March. Adults must pay €8.50 EUR (approximately $11 USD) to ascend, and children younger than 18 get in for free.
2.) Inside the Cathedral of Our Lady
Unlike the top of the Cathedral, the inside of Notre-Dame is a free treasure for tourists. The first thing to see is undoubtedly the three rose windows, considered to be one of the greatest masterpieces of Christianity. The South Rose (Rose du Midi), offered by King Saint Loouis, is dedicated to the New Testament. It symbolizes triumphant Christ reigning in Heaven, surrounded by his disciples and companions as well as the four prophets (Isaïe, Jérémie, Ezéchiel et Daniel) and the four evangelists (Matthieu, Marc, Luc et Jean).
The Cathedral hosts the relics of the Passion, including a piece of the Cross and the Holy Crown of Thorns. The latter being the most precious, it’s been the subject of more than sixteen centuries of fervent Christian prayer.
Practical details: open Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 6:45 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 7:15 p.m. You do not have to pay an entrance fee if you’re touring the main cathedral.
Entrance to the crypt is €4 EUR (about $5 USD) for adults and children 13 and younger can enter for free.
3.) Archaeological crypt of Notre-Dame de Paris
For those interested in history, architecture and archaeology, a thing to do is to visit the archaeological crypt of Notre-Dame de Paris. It hosts the remains found during excavations carried during the 1960’s by the Commission of Old Paris. Situated under the parvis, the crypt offers a unique panorama on the urban and architectural evolution of the Île de la Cité considered as the historical heart of Paris.
Go back in time as you discover antique ruins such as the quay port of ancient Lutetia or a gallo-roman bathhouse of the early fourth century, medieval remains and the layout of XIXth century Haussmanian sewers. Reviving the memory of one of the oldest neighborhoods in Paris, the crypt will give you an overview of 2000 years of Parisian history and will be a good example of the capital’s constant evolution.
Practical details: Open from Tuesday to Sunday from 10 am to 6 pm. Closed on Sunday. Entrance fee: 4€.
On April 15, 2019 the spire and the oak room collapsed after a spectacular fire that destroyed a large part of Notre Dame. This catastrophic fire burned for several hours and it took more than 400 firemen to contain the blaze. A very sad day for France.
However, Notre Dame is not dead and a plan to renovate the French symbol has already been announced by the French government. A few days after the fire, more than €900 million were already raised.
Milliped [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons