What you should know before visiting Notre Dame Cathedral

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I first wrote this post way back in 2013, about a year after visiting Paris. For now, Notre Dame Cathedral is essentially closed for tours while they complete the reconstruction after the devastating fire that almost destroyed it. For up to date information about visiting Notre Dame, especially if you hope to see it during the Paris Olympics, this is a great resource.

We visited Paris in 2012, a dream trip for our family that inspired this website! We spent an incredible week in this beautiful city, enjoying baguette, climbing the Eiffel Tower (yep, took the stairs) and seeing all the sites. 

And, we went to Notre Dame. YEARS before the fire that almost destroyed this glorious place.

I fell in love with Paris’ uniquely Parisian essence. (I haven’t blogged about the trip before, because I hoped I’d be better able to describe it by now. I can’t. Paris simply is… well…. Paris!)

Notre Dame Bell Tower Tour: Tips to visit the Notre Dame Cathedral

Photos of the Notre Dame Cathedral spires
Notre Dame Cathedral — Rear View
Notre Dame bell tower tour with kids
Notre Dame Cathedral Bell Tower

Notre Dame Cathedral history

Notre Dame Cathedral is located the Île de la Cité in the heart of Paris. Construction on this exquisite French Gothic building began in 1163 and was essentially completed by 1250. The stained glass rose window, stone sculptures and bell tower inspire wonder in more than 13 million visitors each year. Notre Dame Cathedral is also an active Catholic church, a place of pilgrimage, and the heart of the Catholic Church in France. The Cathedral was seriously damaged in the French Revolution and rebuilt a century later.

And here we are in 2024, watching Notre Dame Cathedral be rebuilt again.

Notre Dame Cathedral facts and history

  • Victor Hugo wrote “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” to raise awareness and appreciation for the cathedral after it had fallen into disrepair and was considered too hideous to be worth saving. 
  • Much of the cathedral was destroyed during the French revolution in 1793. Restoration was begun by architects Jean-Baptiste-Antoine Lassus and Eugene Viollet-le-Duc and lasted 23 years.
  • Napoleon was coronated here in 1804.
  • The largest bell in the towers is known as the bourdon bell Emmanuel and weighs over 13 tons.
  • Visitors who wish to climb the towers should wear comfortable shoes and be in reasonably good health. You’ve been warned! It’s 347 steps to the top!
Notre Dame Cathedral circular stairs
Just a few of Notre Dame Cathedrals 347 stairs to the bell tower

Not sure those 347 steps are worth the trouble? Maybe these will convince you!

Notre Dame gargoyles

Not only would you “meet” a Notre Dame gargoyle up close, you would also experience sweeping vistas of historic Paris, France. The Seine River, centuries of architecture, the Eiffel Tower and the golden dome of Les Invalides in the distance. Simply breath-taking.

Of course, you also get to see this (adorable girl not included) tiny door that leads to the immense Notre Dame bell tower and the Bell Emmanuel.

A tip for parents: If you share some facts about Paris for kids before travel, they’ll be really excited to see those places come to life during the trip. A little background history gives them an “anchor” to better appreciate where they are.

Teach facts about Paris for kids before travel.

Yes, that’s our resident photo-bomber, Ben, peeking through the doorway. Obviously, we had fun at Notre Dame Cathedral.

Notre Dame Visit: Know before you go.

  • Exploring the main cathedral is free and open to the public every day. I do not know if this will be the policy once the Cathedral reopens.
  • Allow an hour for your climb and exploration at the top. That does not count the wait in line! (See next point)
  • Arrive EARLY! Because the number of people who can climb the Tower at one time is limited, the wait is very long.
  • Notre Dame tower hours vary by season. I assume this will continue, because weather and lighting make it unsafe to climb the stairs after dusk.
  • If you get stuck in line like we did, enjoy some of the nearby street food, get to know your neighbors, and/or practice your best gargoyle impression. Make the wait fun!
  • Nearby food includes Berthillon Glacier, the best ice cream in Paris.
  • Closest Metro Lines to Notre Dame Cathedral are St-Michel Notre Dame – RER B Train Line, St-Michel Notre Dame – RER C Train Line, and Cité – Line 4.

Our visit to Notre Dame Cathedral was both interesting and challenging. Those stairs proved tough, but the view, the sense of history and the sense of accomplishment were well worth it!

Have you climbed Notre Dame? Would you?