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For an 850-year old church, this Paris must-see attraction still looks pretty good. So good in fact, the crowds keep on coming to Notre Dame. It’s amazing that daily religious masses still happen here with the constant circulation of tourist traffic, but with those rose stained-glass windows, classic Gothic architecture and flying buttresses, who can resist?
To get the most out of your visit, here are a few tips to save you time and frustration.
There’s no entrance fee, but go early if you can
The church itself is free to enter, but by 10 AM or so, the crowds already begin to form. Try to get in line early in the morning to be able to move around the church without bumping into someone at every turn. You’ll want to go around the entire interior to see all of the stained glass (tip: don’t miss the south rose window). You might want to avoid Notre Dame on major Catholic holidays like Easter, when every Catholic in Europe seems to come out of the woodwork. Official hours are 8 AM -6:45 PM with a 7:15 PM closing time on Saturdays & Sundays.
Walking up the bell towers for a small fee and a view
The bell towers are a separate visit with an entrance on the site of the church. A fee of €8.50 is charged for adults. If you’re an early riser, you should try get to the front of the line before the doors open. Only a limited amount of people are allowed up at a time, so you want to get there around 9 AM (doors open at 10 AM). Start your day nice and early with some gargoyles and views of the historic rooftops. It’s a wonderful way to experience the church if you can brave the 387 stairs. That’s not a misprint—there are no elevators!
Watch your valuables
Even though there is no fee to enter the cathedral, you still need to think about your wallet. Like other touristy locations, the area around Notre Dame can be rich with pickpockets. Be wary inside the church as well. Since there’s no charge, any one of those tourists bumping into you could be a pickpocket who just made off with your stack of Euros!
There are no bathrooms in the church, but just in front and to the left, when you exit, there is a public restroom that is usually working.
Metro line 4 will drop you off at Cité, on the island where Notre Dame is located. Otherwise, the line 1 station Hotel de Ville is just across the river, making it convenient for anyone on the Right Bank. On the Left Bank, the line 10 station Maubert Mutualité is a short and lovely walk to the cathedral.
Notre Dame from a different angle
While most of the cafés and restaurants directly in the area cater almost exclusively to visitors, take a few steps away behind the church, and you’ll be on the Ile Saint-Louis—still touristy, but it feels much quainter. This also offers a great way to see why the cathedral is such a Gothic architectural treasure. The flying buttresses and details on the backside are some of the most fascinating exterior features, so don’t spend all of your time in front of the towers.