Most trips to Paris include visits to the Big Three: the Louvre Museum, the Eiffel Tower, and Notre Dame Cathedral. All three of these places are known, among others things, for being the biggest of their kind.
Notre Dame Cathedral, to be more exact, may be the biggest well-known Catholic church building in the world. Larger churches that are lesser known certainly exist, some of them even in France, and of course in Vatican City. But Notre Dame’s features keep it at the forefront of history buffs, architecture fans, and faithful travelers. Those features include:
Bells: The cathedral has nine of them, and they’re huge. In fact, they are big enough to have their own names, like Emmanuel, Marcel, and Maurice, and also have their own specific musical note to ring. These hang in the bells towers (see Disney movie as a reference), and can be seen for a fee as part of the otherwise free Cathedral tour. You’ll wonder how they got the bells in place back in 1345: they weigh several tons each.
Religious Relics: Notre Dame Cathedral houses some of the most important relics of the Catholic religion, including the Crown of Thorns, and a piece of the Cross of the Crucifixion. These are found in the church’s treasury at the far end of the church. The church has also hosted significant crownings and coronations over the years, including King Henry VI, Queen Mary Stuart, and Emperor Napoleon (see painting of the Napoleon event at the Louvre).
Architectural Features: These are everywhere inside and outside the building, and even in the courtyard leading up to the entrance. Just the decorative detail around the three main entry doors is impressive enough. Each entry door, in fact is telling a story with its’ carvings. Other features of the building include giant stained glass windows, and the one of the first uses of the “flying buttress” (braces holding up the building from the outside).
Unlike the other two attractions in the Big Three, tours of the Cathedral are free – unless you want to climb up the bell tower like Quasimodo (there’s an extra fee for that). Waiting lines to enter and tour the cathedral are short, even at peak times. There’s no huge gift shop here, but instead a small kiosk where visitors can buy small souvenirs and postcards.
The Cathedral is open daily from 8:00 am to 6:45 pm. Actual church service times occur Monday to Saturday at 8:00 am, 12:00 pm, and 6:15 pm. Sunday services are 8:30 am, 11:30 am (international) and 6:30 pm.