UPDATE: We were heartbroken when Notre Dame Cathedral was devastated by fire in April 2019, and look forward to the restoration of this magnificent 12th Century cathedral.
Visit Notre Dame's official website at http://www.notredamedeparis.fr/en/ for up-to-date visitor information.
Keep reading to see photos of what Notre Dame looked like before the fire.
Click the button below to read about other Paris destinations for families on my France page.
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Notre Dame Cathedral is a favorite destination for many visitors. This gorgeous gothic church on the banks of the Seine has welcomed visitors since the Middle Ages. Its iconic bell towers offer panoramic views of the city.
My family visited Notre Dame Cathedral on a Sunday morning in June. We arrived during Gregorian Mass – a little after 10 AM. We found a long line into the cathedral and a long wait for tower access, but these inconveniences turned out to be fairly minor and we had a good experience.
Here's what we learned during our visit to Notre Dame Cathedral.
Touring the Cathedral
It costs nothing to walk inside Notre Dame Cathedral and tour the nave on your own. The long line moved steadily and we stepped inside within 10 minutes. I loved the ornate carvings, the stained glass windows, the small chapels and nooks, and the rich history of Notre Dame. It was exciting to see this famous building in person.
Tourists are welcome during worship services. The line of sightseers looped around the edges of the nave, while Mass continued in the center. Visitors are welcome to participate in worship services. We considered attending Gregorian Mass, but limited ourselves to a walkthrough of the cathedral this time.
Notre Dame Cathedral does not have a posted dress code. Casual attire is acceptable every day. Expect a security screening as you enter Notre Dame. Large bags will not be allowed inside. Flash photography and tripods are not allowed.
Plan to walk all the way around the outside of the cathedral. You'll want to see it from every angle. There is a small park next to Notre Dame, which has a playground for preschool-age children.
My family was satisfied with a simple walk around the inside of the ornate cathedral. It was free, and we finished in under 30 minutes, which was about right for my kids (ages 11 and 14). However, I felt that I was missing some interesting information and stories about Notre Dame.
There are several ways to learn more about the history and architecture of Notre Dame Cathedral during your visit.
- Audio Tour – Pick up a 35-minute audio tour in eight languages as you enter the cathedral.
- Free Guided Tour – Young volunteers lead tours in nine languages every week. Learn more at www.notredamedeparis.fr/visites-2/visites-offertes-par-la-cathedrale
- Other Tours – Several reputable companies offer skip-the-line private and group tours of Notre Dame with professional guides. These may include tower and crypt access, and may be combined with other top Paris attractions. Click the red button to see Notre Dame tour options from Viator.
Climbing the Tower
If you have the time and energy to climb to the top of Notre Dame Cathedral, definitely do it. I'm overweight, so I was worried about climbing 400+ steps to the top. It was tough, but I'm glad I did it. My husband and kids climbed with no problem. Another family with children – probably ages 5-8 – climbed it at the same time and seemed to do fine.
Tower tours are managed by the National Monuments Center. It currently costs 10 Euros per adult to climb the tower. There is no charge for anyone under 18 years old. Additional discounts may apply. Learn more at www.tours-notre-dame-de-paris.fr.
Space is limited on the tower, so you must reserve a tour time on the day of your visit. Tours begin at 10 AM. Tours may fill completely by early afternoon during peak season. There are two ways to save your place in the virtual line.
- Download the free JeFile/Duck the Line mobile app. This will allow you to reserve your time starting at 7 AM on the day of your visit.
- Reserve your time at a kiosk near the entry point for the tower.
We used the kiosks after we walked around Notre Dame – around 11 AM. The next available reservations were about 2 hours away. We picked a time in the afternoon, left for awhile, and returned just in time for our tour.
If you find yourself with extra time before your tower climb, there are lots of interesting things to do nearby. Centre Pompidou and Sainte Chappelle are both a couple of blocks away. You can get gelato at Amorino or Berthillion. You might enjoy walking along the Seine or riding the Batobus. There are many shops, cafes and creperies in the neighborhood.
You'll climb the tower in three stages, so you don't have to take on all 400 steps at once. There are a couple of additional places with space to stop, but not many. They are enclosed circular staircases, which is mentally challenging as well as physically. Once you reach the top, you'll get a good look at the gargoyles and enjoy panoramic views of Paris. It was absolutely worth it – especially on our first day in Paris.
Touring the Crypt
The crypt under Notre Dame Cathedral preserves more than 2,000 years of archeological history under the streets of Paris. It is managed by the City of Paris. Family and youth tours are available. Tickets are currently 8 Euros for adults and free for children under age 18.
My family did not tour the crypt, but it looks like a fascinating experience. Learn more about touring the crypt under Notre Dame Cathedral at www.crypte.paris.fr.
Ways to Save
Since touring the nave is free, and kids can tour the tower for free, Notre Dame Cathedral is pretty affordable. However, there are still ways that you can save on your tower tour.
- Free First Sundays – There is no charge to visit the towers of Notre Dame (and many other museums) on the first Sundays in the off-season, November-March. Expect crowds.
- Paris Museum Pass – The Notre Dame towers are included in the Paris Museum Pass. Skip-the-line access is not included, so you will still need to reserve a tour time. If you plan on visiting other museums during your stay in Paris, the Paris Museum Pass may save you money on admissions. Learn more at www.parismuseumpass.com.
- Paris Pass – The Notre Dame towers are included in the Paris Pass, which includes a few more attractions than the Paris Museum Pass. Skip-the-line access is not included, so you must still reserve a tour time. If you are interested in a Big Bus Tour and other top Paris attractions, the Paris Pass can save you money. Learn more at www.parispass.com.
My family enjoyed our visit to Notre Dame Cathedral. The Cathedral was beautiful and the climb to the bell towers was truly memorable in (mostly) good ways. We recommend this family-friendly destination. Happy travels!
Good to Know
Where: 6 Parvis Notre-Dame – Pl. Jean-Paul II, Paris. Notre Dame is easily accessible by Metro, bus and taxi.
When: Notre Dame Cathedral is open every day of the year. The tower and crypt are closed on select holidays. Get details on hours and closures at www.notredamedeparis.fr/en/visites-2.
How Much: It costs nothing to enter Notre Dame Cathedral. Tower and crypt tours will cost 8-10 Euros per adult. There is no charge for children under age 18.
How Long: Our visit was about 2 hours. Yours may vary depending on how much time you spend inside the cathedral, and whether you tour the tower and crypt.
Amenities: A few souvenirs are sold near the cathedral's exit. There is a gift shop in the tower, in the same place you purchase your ticket. No food is sold, but there is plenty of dining nearby. There are no public bathrooms at Notre Dame Cathedral, but there were several free public restrooms nearby. We found that wait times for these can be long.
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