Even if you only have two days in Paris, you have to make time to see Notre Dame. I had been on previous trips, but this time I wanted to experience Notre Dame differently. I wanted to climb the 400 stairs to the top to get a close up view of the gargoyles and the bells. Since Notre Dame is very centrally located on the Ile de la Cite (an island in the Seine), I figured the view of the city would be incredible.
First, I went inside the church, which does not cost anything to do. Sometimes you think of Notre Dame as a tourist attraction and forget it is an active Catholic church. It was a Sunday morning, so there was a service going on but you could still walk around. The music playing was beautiful.The church is very impressive, it took almost 200 years to build. It was the largest religious building in Western Europe until the mid 13th century. My favorite thing about the inside is the stained glass windows, which are really stunning. The columns are also very impressive.
After spending a little time inside, you should head up to the top. While there are a lot of steps to the top, you shouldn’t be intimated. You don’t have to do all the stairs at once, there are some scenic breaks built in. There is no elevator. And also no toilets (so go before you get in line).
Climbing to the Top of Notre Dame
There is a line on the south side of the church to climb the stairs. We arrived at about 10 am on a Sunday and ended up waiting about an hour. When I saw the line, I was tempted to skip it, but my boyfriend insisted we wait. I am glad we did. They let you enter in groups of 20 or so about every 10 minutes, so the line moves a lot and then will be completely stopped for a bit.
When you first enter there is a bag check (for security purposes), then a short climb up spiral stairs to the gift shop. At the gift shop, you buy your ticket – 8.50 euro each. They request exact change but they do also take credit cards. After everyone in the group has gotten their tickets, you can climb the steps to the next level.
On this level, you have a great view of the city and also of the gargoyles. You can go in one of the towers and climb some stairs and be eye to eye with one of the bells. While we were on this level the bells on the other side starting chiming and it was pretty loud (so you can understand how the bells made Quasimodo deaf).
In total there are five large bells that can be seen at Notre Dame, but the one in the South Tower, known as the bourdon bell Emmanuel, is the most prominent weighing in at over 13 tons. The other four bells are located in the North Tower. The cathedral’s bells were traditionally rung by hand until electrics motors were installed in the 20th century.
There are some parts of the viewing areas that had an annoying net that made getting good pictures difficult. You can either put the camera right against the netting or try to squeeze the camera around the edges. After you get some pictures of the view and the bells, it is time to climb the last bit of stairs to the top of Notre Dame. You might have a slight wait because this set of stairs is used to go both up and down since it is not wide enough for two way traffic.
Once you get to the top, it is another great photo opportunity. You have a great view of the Seine and its bridges. You can see the Eiffel Tower and even Sacre Coeur. We also saw the Pantheon and Saint Sulpice where we would be heading later that afternoon. Also (as on the lower level) there was a quote from Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame. I have not read this book but have now added it to my reading list. The passages were beautifully written, for example:
“He therefore turned to mankind only with regret. His cathedral was enough for him. It was peopled with marble figures of kings, saints and bishops who at least did not laugh in his face and looked at him with only tranquility and benevolence. The other statues, those of monsters and demons, had no hatred for him – he resembled them too closely for that. It was rather the rest of mankind that they jeered at. The saints were his friends and blessed him; the monsters were his friends and kept watch over him. He would sometimes spend whole hours crouched before one of the statues in solitary conversation with it. If anyone came upon him then he would run away like a lover surprised during a serenade.”
We did have to wait a little bit before we were able to come down. Going down there are no breaks, but of course going down is much easier. After we finished, we decided to reward ourselves with a crepe from one of the shops across the street. But really, any excuse is a good excuse for a crepe, especially when you are in Paris.
Have you climbed to the top of Notre Dame or any other churches? Was it worth it? I would love to hear about your experiences.
- Use the restrooms before climbing the stairs to the top.
- Be sure to go into the tower to see the bell.
- Reward yourself with a crepe after your climb.