Cathédral Notre-Dame de Paris ★★★

The cathedral of Notre-Dame of Paris (Photo by Giorgos~)
The cathedral of Notre-Dame of Paris

Our Lady of Paris cathedral in Paris, France

On April 15, 2019, Notre Dame caught on fire. I am writing this as it is happening, and the roof is completely engulfed in flames—and now the spire just collaped into the church. Clearly this magnificent monument will be closed for some time to come. I will update as soon as I can (and when I have recovered enough to write about it sensibly). 

"Our Lady of Paris" is the heart and soul of the city, a monument to Paris' past slung in the cradle of the city's origins.

The cathedral, built between the 12th and 14th centuries on one of the islands in the middle of the Seine River, is a study in gothic and gargoyles, at once solid with squat, square facade towers, and graceful with flying buttresses around the sides.

It's been remodeled, embellished, ransacked, and restored so often that it's a wonder it still has any architectural integrity at all (during the Revolution, it was even stripped of its religion and re-christened the Temple of Reason).

The facade of Notre Dame

Today you're more likely to run into long entry lines than Quasimodo, but at least while you wait to get in you have time to admire the Bible stories played out in intricate stone relief around the three great portals on the facade.

Much of the facade was (poorly) restored once in the 18th century, and then again (as well as could be done) in the 19th. If you're keen to see some medieval originals, the upper tier of the central portal is ancient, and much of the sculpture on the right-hand portal has also survived from 1165-75.

Inside Notre Dame

In the high, airy gothic interior, the choir section has a gorgeously carved and painted stone chancel screen from the 14th century on its outer flanks, and 18th-century wooden choir stalls along the inside.

The main draw, though, are the three enormous rose windows, especially the 69-foot diameter north window, which has retained almost all of its original 13th-century stained glass. Save Notre Dame for a sunny day and the best light effects.

Climbing the towers of Notre Dame

And no visit to Notre Dame is complete without tackling the 387 steps up the North Tower and then across to the South Tower to admire the views and examine those grotesque, amusing, or sometimes downright frightening gargoyles. » more

The exterior of Notre Dame

One last thing you shouldn't forget to do is simply to walk around the thing.

Those famous flying buttresses at the very back, holding up the apse with 50-foot spans of stone strength, are particularly impressive. Cross the Seine to admire the entire effect from the quai on the Left Bank.

At the opposite end of the square from the cathedral, a flight of steps leads down to the Archeological Crypt.

You share your panoramic views of Paris from the Notre-Dame towers with the gargoyles (Photo )
Towers of Notre-Dame
Paris: Hôtel de Ville

The towers and flying buttresses of Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, France

Photo gallery
  • The cathedral of Notre-Dame of Paris, Notre-Dame, Paris (Photo by Giorgos~)
  • Notre Dame seen from the Seine at sunset, Notre-Dame, Paris (Photo by Robin Horn)
  • Central portal of Notre-Dame, Notre-Dame, Paris (Photo by Gary Ullah)
  • Looking up at the main portal of Notre-Dame, Notre-Dame, Paris (Photo by Elwin van Eede)
  • Detail of sculptures from the facade of Notre-Dame, Notre-Dame, Paris (Photo by Philippe)
  • The nave of Notre-Dame, Notre-Dame, Paris (Photo by Luc Mercelis)
  • The main crossing of Notre-Dame using a fisheye lens, Notre-Dame, Paris (Photo by Scott Boylan)
  • A rose window in Notre-Dame, Notre-Dame, Paris (Photo by Dorgan)
  • A gargoyle on Notre-Dame, Notre-Dame, Paris (Photo by Florian Siebeck)
  • The flying buttresses on the apse of Notre-Dame, Notre-Dame, Paris (Photo by Lusitana)
  • The back side of Notre-Dame, Notre-Dame, Paris (Photo by Senior Airman Sarah Gregory)
  • A view of Notre-Dame and the Seine from the Pont de Sully, Notre-Dame, Paris (Photo by Julian Fong)
Notre Dame Tours
More tours


How long should I spend at Notre Dame?

Give Notre Dame at least 45 minutes, preferably an hour,

Plan on at least two hours if you plan to climb the towers.

Dress respectfully and act respectfully

As with most major churches in Europe, visitors are asked to dress appropriately for, well, for a church:

  • No short-shorts
  • No tank tops
  • Make sure you cover your shoulders and have shorts or a skirt that go down at least to the knee (preferably longer).
  • Popular solution: carry a light shawl or broad pashmina to wrap around bare shoudlers or serve as a makeshift skirt for going into chuches.
Free tours of Notre Dame

There are free guided tours of Notre Dame, in English, Wednesday and Thursday at 2pm, Saturday at 2:30pm.

Tours last about an hour and leave from under the great organ just inside the main doors to the church.

(For the hours of free Notre-Dame tours in French, German, Spanish, Italian, Japanese, Russian, and Chinese, see the website.)

Attend mass at Notre Dame

Services—all in French—are held Sundays at 8:30am, 9:30am (Lauds), 10am (Gregorian chant), 11:30am (International mass, with some readings and prayers in English), 12:45pm, 5:45pm (Vespers), and 6:30pm (the biggie of the day, usually said by the Archbishop himself and broadcast live). 

Weekdays services are at 8am and 9am (in the choir; 9am mass suspended July–Aug) and again at noon and 6:15pm (at the main altar), plus a popular 5:45pm Vespers service.

Saturdays there is a 5:45pm Vespers service and a 6:30pm mass.

There's also a special Veneration of the Crown of thorns and the relics of the Passion on the first Friday of every month (every Friday during Lent) at 3pm.

Useful French phrases

Useful French for sightseeing

English (anglais) French (français) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
Where is?... Où est? ou eh
...the museum le musee luh moo-ZAY
...the church l'eglise leh-GLEEZ
...the cathedral le cathédrale luh ka-teh-DRAHL
When is it open? Quand est-il ouvert?  coan eh-TEEL oo-VAIR
When does it close? A quelle heure est-ce que cela ferme? ah kell eur es kuh suhla fair-MAY
ticket billet d'entrée bee-YAY dahn-TRAY
two adults deux adultes dooz ah-DOOLT
one child un enfant ehn ahn-FAHN
one student un étudiant uh-NETOO-dee-YON

Basic phrases in French

English (anglais) French (français) pro-nun-see-YAY-shun
thank you merci mair-SEE
please s'il vous plaît seel-vou-PLAY
yes oui wee
no non no
Do you speak English? Parlez-vous anglais? par-lay-VOU on-GLAY
I don't understand Je ne comprende pas zhuh nuh COHM-prohnd pah
I'm sorry Je suis desolée zhuh swee day-zoh-LAY
How much does it cost? Combien coute? coam-bee-YEHN koot
That's too much C'est trop say troh
Good day Bonjour bohn-SZOURH
Good evening Bon soir bohn SWAH
Good night Bon nuit  bohn NWEE
Goodbye Au revoir oh-ruh-VWAH
Excuse me (to get attention) Excusez-moi eh-skooze-ay-MWA
Excuse me (to get past someone) Pardon pah-rRDOHN
Where is? Où est? ou eh
...the bathroom la toilette lah twah-LET
...train station la gare lah gahr

Days, months, and other calendar items in French

English (anglais) French (français) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
When is it open? Quand est-il ouvert? coan eh-TEEL oo-VAIR
When does it close? Quand est l'heure de fermeture?   coan eh lure duh fair-mah-TOUR
At what time... à quelle heure... ah kell uhre
Yesterday hier ee-AIR
Today aujoud'hui ow-zhuhr-DWEE
Tomorrow demain duh-MEHN
Day after tomorrow après demain ah-PRAY duh-MEHN
a day un jour ooun zhuhr
Monday Lundí luhn-DEE
Tuesday Maredí mar-DEE
Wednesday Mercredi mair-cray-DEE
Thursday Jeudi zhuh-DEE
Friday Vendredi vawn-druh-DEE
Saturday Samedi saam-DEE
Sunday Dimanche DEE-maansh
a month un mois ooun mwa
January janvier zhan-vee-YAIR
February février feh-vree-YAIR
March mars mahr
April avril ah-VREEL
May mai may
June juin zhuh-WAH
July juillet zhuh-LYAY
August août ah-WOOT
September septembre sep-TUHM-bruh
October octobre ok-TOE-bruh
November novembre noh-VAUM-bruh
December décembre day-SAHM-bruh

Numbers in French

English (anglais) French (français) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
1 un ehn
2 deux douh
3 trois twa
4 quatre KAH-truh
5 cinq sank
6 six sees
7 sept sehp
8 huit hwhee
9 neuf nuhf
10 dix dees
11 onze ownz
12 douze dooz
13 treize trehz
14 quatorze kah-TOHRZ
15 quinze cans
16 seize sez
17 dix-sept dee-SEP
18 dix-huit dee-SWEE
19 dix-neuf dee-SNEUHF
20 vingt vahn
21* vingt et un * vahnt eh UHN
22* vingt deux * vahn douh
23* vingt trois * vahn twa
30 trente truhnt
40 quarante kah-RAHNT
50 cinquante sahn-KAHNT
60 soixante swaa-SAHNT
70 soixante-dix swa-sahnt-DEES
80 quatre-vents  kat-tra-VAHN
90 quatre-vents-dix  kat-tra-vanht-DEES
100 cent sant
1,000 mille meel
5,000 cinq mille sank meel
10,000 dix mille dees meel

* You can form any number between 20 and 99 just like the examples for 21, 22, and 23. For x2–x9, just say the tens-place number (trente for 30, quarante for 40, etc.), then the ones-place number (35 is trente cinq; 66 is soixsante six). The only excpetion is for 21, 31, 41, etc. For x1, say the tens-place number followed by " un" (trente et un, quarante et un, etc.).

‡ Yes, the French count very strangely once they get past 69. Rather than some version of "seventy,' they instead say "sixy-ten" (followed by "sixty-eleven," "sixty-twelve,' etc. up to "sixty-nineteen.") And then, just to keep things interesting, they chenge it up again and, for 80, say 'four twenties"—which always make me thinks of blackbirds baked in a pie for some reason. Ninety becomes "four-twenties-ten" and so on up to "four-nineties-ninteen" for 99, which is quite a mouthful: quartre-vingts-dix-neuf.