Notre Dame is my all time favourite landmark in Paris. I know the Eiffel Tower is the usual favourite for most people, and the Arc de Triomphe is never far behind, but I first really appreciated how fabulous it is in April 2014 when we visit in the Spring. It was so pretty with the pink blossom and the padlock bridge, and I was really looking forward to going back just before Christmas. This time though the padlocks were gone (this makes me sad) and so were the pink petals, and instead it was a force of wintery gothicness in almost negative temperatures that made it impressive in a totally different way.
I think I’d harped on enough about going to see it that on our first full day in Paris we made it the priority. We got the batobus from the Musee D’Orsay along to Notre Dame, under all the bridges and past the beautiful buildings. Why would you get the metro when you could take the scenic route? The first glimpse of the cathedral is from the river, and it looms right above you as you chug alongside it in the boat. Hey there Quasi!
Truthfully, nearly everything I know about Notre Dame and the island it is stood on is from the Disney film. You can even see the famous gargoyles if you go up to the top. The batobus stop is right next to it, where the river splits up and becomes narrow, and you find yourself between the big stone walls that line the Seine. Getting off the bus, the bank of the river is all cobbled, and you can guarantee there will be street art and musicians to entertain.
Going up the steps to the main road, again the street artist paintings and souvenirs fill the wooden huts along the bank of the river. What I noticed straight away was they were no longer selling the padlocks, and I was so sad to see the famous padlocks of the Notre Dame bridges have been removed. They’re now covered with plastic to stop people attaching the padlocks again, and even though they were obviously going to damage the bridge with their weight, it is a shame as they looked so pretty.
We crossed the bridge and head up to Notre Dame, where you walk alongside the full length of the cathedral to the two towers and entrance at the front. The trees that were full of colour in Spring a couple of years ago were now bare, so you could clearly see just how big and detailed it is, and how many stained glass windows there are around the whole structure.
At the front of the cathedral there is a big open square, full of people taking photos, the homeless come to beg, and the tourists line up to get inside Notre Dame. There is a police presence, but they are subtle and blend in. The big space is great for taking photos, and for admiring the incredible detail of the cathedral architecture. I swear all those statues stare straight at you when you pass – they’re more intimidating than the police.
We joined the queue to go inside, which was pretty big and wound its way around the square. Despite looking really long it moves quickly. There is no charge to go inside but you can’t take any baggage, and you are allowed to take photos without the flash. As we were there in December I was expecting it to be quite elaborately decorated inside, but there was actually only one wreath with candles at the back. I suppose in church it’s not about the decoration and the elaborate decorations. They light one candle on the wreath every week in the run up to Christmas.
We walked around, passing the coves and archways that run the full length, with confession boxes, treasures of the church and huge grand artwork hanging on the walls. There are opportunities the whole way round to light candles in memory in exchange for a small fee (between 1-5 euros). The giant round stained glass windows are my favourite (the ones Esmerelda warbles too in the film), they’re so detailed.
Inside of the cathedral is a big display detailing the history of Notre Dame, and all the information on how it was built and developed over 100 years. It’s fascinating to see how it originally looked, and how much it changed over such a long period of time into what it is today.
Good to know…
Both guided and audio guided tours are available in multiple languages
You can pay for a tour of the towers which will take you up to the higher level, and to see the gargoyles
You can also undertake a tour of the archaeological crypt which lies under the square at the front of the cathedral.
We didn’t do a tour, or go up to the towers as it was blady freezing, so instead we walked back outside and around the local streets. There are plenty cafes to grab a croissant and a coffee, as well as some little shops and lots of artists selling their work on the streets. The nearby buildings are as ornate and intricate as the cathedral itself, with rows of french windows and wrought iron balconies.
I really love spending time in this part of Paris, Notre Dame is so impressive and the cafes and streets make it a really beautiful condensed area of the city.
Shakespeare and Company Bookshop
A two minute walk back across one of the bridges will take you to the famous Shakespeare & Co. bookshop, that first opened in 1951. The shop used to be a monastery, and was renamed after the famous English writer on the 400th anniversary of his death.
You can’t take photos inside, and trust me you will really want to! It’s the smallest oldest shop, with the tiny rooms overflowing with books (all in English), but it hasn’t been changed or altered. The doorways are low, the stairs are rickety and unsteady, the floors are uneven and the tiny windows and coves take you back hundreds of years until you basically feel like you should be wandering them with a candle. I half expected Edmund Blackadder and Baldrick to leap out at me.
Since its opening thousands of literary fans and specialists have visited the store, with writers even staying overnight on the little wooden benches among all the works it holds. I’m not really a big book reader anymore, I was as a child but if you are then it would literally be your heaven. I really love the modern section, with photo books on Paris that cover anything from fashion to it’s sights and my favourite one – a photo book entirely on Paris rooftops.
The staff are complete characters as well, one of the guys honestly sounded like he thought he was Geoffrey Chaucer himself and if you asked him a question he would answer it to the entire room and make sure you were all listening. Hilarious but part of the charm of the place.
Because it’s so small they only let so many in at one time, as you wouldn’t be able to move if they let it free for all. So move through, buy anything that takes your fancy and then go outside the opposite door.
When you’ve spent enough time in this really quaint and charming area of Paris, then make your way back to the batobus stop. In the summer the banks of the river are filled with people just enjoying the view and the musicians, but on a cold day it was a lot quieter. I did buy a cute little canvas from one of the artists.
The batobus will take you around the back of the island, so make sure you’re out on the back of the boat to get the view of Notre Dame as you sail off down the river to explore the rest of Paris.
From getting on the batobus at Musee D’Orsay to getting back on it after visiting Notre Dame, and spending some time in the area and the Shakespeare bookshop it probably took the best part of half a day, a bit longer if you stop at a cafe for some food. We went further in the batobus on to the Eiffel Tower, and back round the circuit to the Louvre which is near to where we were staying.
The batobus is a great way to see the central sights of Paris, as a one day or two day ticket allows you to hop on and hop off as much as you like. You can buy tickets at every stop or online in advance for 17-19 euros.
Read more on Paris:
For how to fit Notre Dame into a 3 day trip – Itinerary for 3 Days in Paris
Where to stay near the batobus route – Royal Saint Honore – Hotel Review
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