One of the highlights of my recent trip to Paris was climbing to the towers of the famed Notre-Dame Cathedral. The views from the top are truly breath-taking so do not let the 387 steps dissuade you! I’ll help you make this adventure bearable with a few tips, and it will be well worth the effort!
But first a little history because I’m a nerd like that! The gargoyle was originally used on Gothic structures in a functional way. The word itself comes from the French word gargouille which literally means throat or “gullet”. Architects used gargoyles like these found all around Notre-Dame to route rainwater away from the building’s stone and mortar to prevent erosion:
Pretty cool huh? The gargoyle structures we actually think of thanks to movies like “The Hunchback of Notre-Dame” don’t have this sleek design, but they are considered gargoyles nonetheless.
Thanks for humoring me on my history 😉 So here’s the lowdown on how to make this work for you: The only way to get tickets, is to access an app called “JeFile”. You cannot do this ahead of time, only the morning you want to go. The app is also known as “ducktheline”, and this it how looks like in your app store:
When I checked the app from our apartment the morning we were touring Île de la Cité, it said we could start queuing for the tower in the next 10 minutes, but we would not have been able to get there within 10 minutes. I waited to check the app again until after we were at Notre Dame, then it put us “in line” via the app – 90 minutes from then! But it was all good, because this gave us time to check out the cathedral interior and a few other stops nearby. I’ll do a blog post at a later date of all of our site seeing for the entire day on Île de la Cité, so keep checking back.
Anyway, back to the towers! Once your app notifies you that it’s time to get in line, head over the north side of Notre Dame to find the roped off queuing area. [If you do not want to use the app, there are little machines near the queuing area you can use, but I would do this as soon as you get there, in case it tells you 90 minutes and you end up with time to kill] We eventually found a young man in charge, although he was not wearing anything that distinguished him as an employee, just a black rock band T-shirt and jeans, but luckily we noticed that others were showing him their app on their phone screens, then he would open up the rope to allow entry into the line-up. Kinda quirky, but the French are not known for their organizational prowess! We did stand in this line for nearly a ½ hour, and I was starting to get annoyed (what’s the point of the app then?) There was another line directly opposite from us that were let in before us (why is that? Whine, whine…) It didn’t help that it was quite warm and it was now approaching lunch time (we were getting “h-angry”), and we almost foolishly gave up our spot in line to go find some food. But we stuck it out and persevered! Finally, they let us through after a quick security check with a wand on either side of our bodies and up we went on the lovely, worn, stone spiral staircase – first stop a few flights up was a gift shop – lol! The French do know how to get tourists to spend money! They give the group about 5 minutes at this shop, then finally check your app again to be sure you’ve paid to go up (included in your Paris museum pass, which I highly recommend, OR it’s 8.50€ on the app). Back into the spiral for many, many more steps to the main gallery level. Check out this video where we were lucky enough to have the bell toll while climbing the steps:
There is now a chain link fence to prevent people from jumping, which of course makes photos a bit tricky, but safety first. You have to put the lens of your camera between the links. The details of the gargoyles paired with the views are truly astounding!
This one seems to be forever keeping watch over Église Saint Suplice.
This gargoyle seems to have lost his nose…er beak?! At least he has an eternal view of the Eiffel Tower.
There are some slightly more creepy creatures facing southeast!
There are more steps to the Belfry which we found to be interesting, and it allowed views of the actual spire and roofs of Notre-Dame…
You can actual see the top of the cathedral’s steeple from this level – quite beautiful! See those green guys on the roof of Notre-Dame? Each of them represents one the 12 Disciples. These copper sculptures were added by Viollet-le-Duc during a restoration in the 1800’s. There are three disciples descending each of the four sides of the spire.
One last tip…the benefit on the way up is that the climb is accomplished in three levels: the gift shop, the gallery level, and the belfry – breaking up the elevation and alleviating any vertigo. However, on the way down there really isn’t anywhere to stop to rest/breathe, so try not to get into the stairwell with a lot of people. We had a large group of young soccer players behind us, so we felt like we had to advance quickly, and the spiral had us quite dizzy by the end, not to mention our legs felt like noodles!! 😛
There you have it! You won’t regret those 387 steps, I promise you! You can do it! And you’ll never forget seeing these mystical creatures up close!