This historical cathedral is world-famous for its gothic architecture, looming towers and intricate stained-glass windows. It was the largest religious building in the West, until the Amiens cathedral toppled it in the 13th century. Climb up the belfry, which houses the 13-tonne Emmanuel bell, then step inside to admire the radiant rose windows and incredible stonework. The archaeological crypt is worth seeing for the Roman ruins as well as getting a deeper insight into the history of Paris.
Limber up in preparation for the 422-step ascent to the top of the Cathedral. The climb is richly rewarded with grotesque grape- and chicken-munching gargoyles and chimeras, plus city skyline views to rival the local birdlife’s. You’ll need to book a visit time (using an app or on site) before you can join the queues. Come post-croissant if you can; the crowds swell after 10am.
From highs to lows: go beneath Paris’ streets by exploring the Crypte Archéologique, converted in 1980, under the square in front of the cathedral. Visitors can admire Gallo-Roman artefacts and the remains of a house from Lutèce (Paris’ precursor). There’s also a recreated settlement of the Parisii, the Celtic Iron Age people who occupied the banks of the River Seine.
Treat your eyes, ears and soul by catching a magnificently atmospheric concert at the cathedral. Notre-Dame has inspired musicians since its beginnings. Its choir school, Maîtrise Notre-Dame de Paris, grew with the building, and composers have written music for it since the Middle Ages. Be serenaded by soloists or catch an organ or choir recital; avoid disappointment by booking in advance.
For a near-religious ice-cream experience, visit this diminutive family-run glacerie, which sells a rainbow-bright array of sorbets and gelatos. Intriguing flavours to try include wild strawberry and grapefruit, all free from chemical preservatives and sweeteners.
Bless choux! Odette does a fine line in moreish cream puffs – aka choux à la crème – served salon de thé-style from a prime perch in Saint Michel. Try praline- or caramel-flavoured delicacies and people-watch while you nibble.
Jewish butcher Michel Khalifa makes the average sandwich look wimpy. His full-throttle bready creations include pickle-and-pastrami-stuffed numbers served on the hefty bread of your choice. There’s not much space at the bar, so take your lunch with you to Square Jean XXIII, a peaceful park behind the cathedral.
Take your ankle-biters to the top of the South Tower, so that they can pull faces at the gargoyles and marvel at the vista. (Simultaneously tapping into their inner Quasimodo: optional.) Inside the cathedral, they can admire the diorama, which showcases Notre-Dame’s majestic Gothic architecture. The playground on the south side of the church is equipped with slides and climbing frames. Frazzled parents can rest up on the park benches and admire boats pootling along the Seine.
Follow in famous writers’ footsteps – Ernest Hemingway, F Scott Fitzgerald, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Anaïs Nin and their ilk – to this ramshackle indie bookstore. Shakespeare & Co first opened in Paris in 1919 in a different location, providing a bohemian hub (and sleeping quarters) for the city’s literary crowd.
Wander through flower-festooned pavilions dating back to the 1900s at this characterful market on Île de la Cité, which has open-air and covered sections. On Sundays, there’s also a bird market – a real people-pleaser when you have little ones in tow.
Have a picturesque picnic in this pocket-sized public garden on the western tip of the Ile de la Cité. The park takes its name from playboy Henri VI’s nickname: ‘Vert Galant’ (green gallant) – so pucker up for a romantic smooch in his honour.
The Cathedral is open every day of the year from 8am to 6.45pm (7.15pm on Saturday and Sunday). No luggage is allowed inside.
Zip here on the Métro: Cité and St Michel are the closest stations. The Batobus river bus docks right beside the cathedral.
Admission to the cathedral’s nave is free, but charges apply to popular attractions. It costs €10 to climb up the towers. EU nationals under 26 get in free, as do under-18s of all nationalities. Other under-26s are charged €8.
There’s no line as such for the cathedral’s main nave, but allow plenty of time for security checks. Arrive early – before 10am – to avoid the worst crowds. To join the ticketing queue for the Towers, you’ll need to reserve a visiting time by downloading the free JeFile smartphone app, or by getting a paper (or mobile) ticket onsite from the terminals.