When I visited Paris this June, mainly for a long-awaited first ever visit to Disneyland, I spent a day in the city and smashed all my deepest feelings of Wanderlust. I mapped out a crazy day of all the attractions I wished to visit and I planned it all for less than 10 hours. It was marvellous.
I’m a huge Disney fan and of course The Hunchback of Notre Dame holds a special place in my heart. I think it does with anyone who feels even slightly different or on the outside of a crowd. Naturally this means that Notre Dame Cathedral has been high on my list of things I would love to see in Paris for some time now.
So I went. And I lit a candle. It was everything and more.
I arrived at 8.45am which, although very early, was actually perfect timing. I didn’t have to queue and was able to walk around inside with plenty of space to look at everything I wished to see without hordes of tourists blocking my view and irritating me. It was so serene just walking around and soaking in the history and atmosphere with the quiet hum of mass from an area in the middle of the cathedral completely separate from the tourists and solely for religious observance.
The cathedral is almost cavernous. Like you would expect, there’s an altar with row on row of pews down the centre of the building. It kind of stretches from the entrance to around two-thirds back. Then around the outside of this area there are several smaller altars with various saints for you to pray with quietly. In each area you were able to, and encouraged to, make a donation and light a candle. I lit one for Joan of Arc because, I mean, there’s a feminist if ever I saw one. But seriously, it just felt like the right thing to do, to pay respect. I kind of feel a little uncomfortable with the whole ‘using a church as a tourist attraction’ thing because it’s a religious building and it feels disrespectful in some way so that was my way of quieting my conscience. I loved being there anyway. There’s something very beautiful about an almost empty cathedral.
I spent about forty-five minutes inside and by the time I left there must have been around four-hundred people queued outside. It was insanity. This was the first time I’d seen the famous tourist lines in Paris and it really made my early start worth it. They were snaked from the front of the building all the way back to the road and there were definitely a few school groups in there…I’m not sure I would’ve waited in thirty-two degree heat when it was still climbing towards lunch time. Sweltering wasn’t even the word.
I planned to climb Notre Dame too and have a look around the famous bell towers. The first visitors are allowed to make the over four hundred stair climb to the top at around 10am. Thanks to my early start strategy there were only about thirty people waiting at the entrance to the tower (down the left hand side of the building), meaning I only had to wait about twenty minutes instead of more than two hours like the internet promised me.
Pro-tip for Notre Dame: be the first visitor (i.e get there at 9am on a weekday when the children are all at school)
Being up in the bell tower really was stunning. It was a bloody long climb up there but the views were more than worth it. I would say to give it a miss if you’re not fond of heights because you are very exposed to the elements up there – there’s no kind of encasing just a rope net type thing with huge holes that a child’s head could easily fit through (that sounds more morbid than I intended) and a wire cage of sorts at the very top. You can see from my pictures below just how large Notre Dame is on account of my awful photography skills and being unable to fit the entire cathedral into one full photo from a Samsung Galaxy S7. You can actually see the wire cage tunnel on the very top of the right hand tower so that’s how high up it is. Also wouldn’t recommend this for anyone who is claustrophobic. The climb up and down again consists of one very narrow spiralling staircase with troughs worn into the stone from hundreds of years of feet traipsing through. There’s no elbow room, limited head height and once you’re up there, that’s it. You’re in a one way system with only one way down. It’s a long old climb especially if you’re in front of someone who seems to be in some kind of race to get up there. Anyhoo, the views are breathtaking. You can even see both the Eiffel Tower and Sacra-Coeur in the distance. I loved seeing the bells too. Brother and sister bells just up there to ring out over Paris. Basically just living out everyone’s secret favourite underrated Disney film.
This ended up being the highlight of the day for me. Even more so than the Eiffel Tower, which I didn’t expect to be honest.
Take a look at some of my favourite pictures I managed to take whilst I was there.