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Notre Dame Cathedral Towers

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ABOVE: The north and south towers with the Grand Gallery in between. INSET BELOW: Notre Dame and its towers from across the Seine.

The north and south towers of the Cathedral of Notre Dame stand 69 meters or 226 feet high, not counting the lancets that project from their rooflines. If you're "fine fettle" (to borrow a phrase from the cathedral's Web site of several years ago), you can walk up a spiral staircase to a gallery that offers close-up encounters with the gargoyles that played supporting roles in Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre Dame. From there, you can explore the cathedral's belfry and climb another 147 steps to the top of the south tower.

photoThe total climb is 387 steps, and there aren't a lot of places to rest along the way, so we recommend climbing the towers only if you're in reasonably good shape. We also suggest wearing comfortable walking shoes, since high heels are likely to be a hazard on the fan-shaped steps.

Climbing the Towers

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ABOVE: Ceiling inside the north tower.

photoYour ascent begins at a doorway in the north tower, to the left and around the corner from Notre Dame's main entrance. After you've bought your ticket, you'll trudge up an enclosed stone staircase. (The staircase is narrow and the steps are fan-shaped, so skip the climb if you're claustrophobic or wearing high heels.)

About halfway up the 387 steps, you'll reach the gift and book shop, which occupies a high-ceilinged stone chamber  inside the tower. Take a look at the plaque near the steps leading up to Esmeralda's Cell, which includes an excerpt from The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

photoSoon, a guard will open the door to the upper staircase, and you can resume your climb to the open gallery of the north tower, where a narrow walkway leads across to the south tower. (Don't worry about falling over the balustrade: A protective wire structure keeps tourists and wannabe jumpers from flattening the visitors below.)

photoYou'll probably want to take snaphots of the chimera (ornamental statues of imaginary creatures) and gargoyles (statues that function as drainspouts) before visiting the belfry, where a wooden staircase offers a good view of the 13-ton Emmanuel bell in the south tower.

After leaving the belfry, you can squeeze your way up a two-way corkscrew staircase to the viewing platform on top of the south tower. You'll exit through the south tower, on the opposite side of the cathedral from the towers' visitor entrance.

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ABOVE: A chimera poses with the Left Bank as a backdrop.


Visiting hours

April 1 to September 30: Open daily from 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. (to 11 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays in July and August.)

October 1 to March 31: Open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Closed: January 1, May 1, December 25.

Notes:

  • Last admission is 45 minutes before closing time.

  • Visitors are admitted in groups of 20 every 10 minutes, so there's usually a waiting line by the entrance in the north tower. Arrive early or toward the end of the day to minimize waiting time.

  • Occasionally the viewing platform on top of the south tower will be closed (a sign will be posted), but a visit to the main gallery level and belfry is still worthwhile.

  • The hours above are subject to change, so check ahead if you plan on visiting at the beginning or end of the day.

Admission fees

Ticket prices are reasonable; see the cathedral's Web site (link below) for current rates. Children under 18 are free. Admission is free with the Paris Museum Pass, but you'll still have to wait in line with ticket buyers.

Location

Notre Dame is on the Ile de la Cité, the oldest and most central part of Paris. The closest Métro stop is Cité, on Line 4, and the closest RER stop is St-Michel (Lines B and C). Other Métro stations and bus stops are nearby; consult your Paris map for details.

Web sites

Cathédrale de Paris
Notre Dame's official Web site has information on tours, concerts, religious services, and other topics in English, French, and German. For English-language information on climbing the tower, see this page at the Centre des Monuments Nationaux Web site.


More photos:

Chimera Gallery

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ABOVE: A goatlike chimera, or ornamental figure, overlooks the city. (The chimera were added during the cathedral's renovation in the 19th Century.)

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ABOVE: Two more figures--one resembling a bird, the other a man--are shown with the towers' stonework behind.

Views from Notre Dame

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ABOVE: This photo of the square in front of the cathedral was taken from the chimera gallery, near the entrance to the belfry. Lines on the pavement show where the city's walls once stood.

At the far end of the plaza is the entrance to the Archaeological Crypt of Notre Dame, a museum with building foundations, streets, and other underground remnants of Paris from the Roman era through the 19th Century.

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ABOVE: A sightseeing boat passes the Ile de la Cité.

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ABOVE: The Dome Church of the Invalides (gold-domed church on left) and the Eiffel Tower loom above the rooftops of Paris.

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ABOVE: To the northwest, the basilica of Sacré Coeur faces Notre Dame from its hilltop site in Montmartre.