Climbing the Notre Dame Cathedral Towers is an absolute must-do while in Paris, especially if you don’t make it up the Eiffel Tower or Arc De Triomphe (ie: me).
After going through the cathedral, Clarrie had fallen asleep in Elyse’s carrier, so it was decided I would go up the Notre Dame towers alone. As you’ll find out, I am heartily glad we made this decision.
The Queues to enter the Notre Dame Cathedral Towers
The queues for the tower climb are a different story to our freakishly rapid experience entering the cathedral.
One lines up along the northern wall of the cathedral, with 25 people being let in every 10 mins. In our experience, it was definitely more than 10 minutes between tranches, but it’s still a good measure to estimate your waiting time. We guesstimated I’d be inside within three clusters of people, which I was, but it was more like a 45-minute wait, rather than 30.
There is no queue jumping here, and many tried. There are no special passes and no tour groups that get priority access. Everyone lines up, and I think that’s a really good way of doing it.
There are some after hours tours, which although pricey, would be well worth it if time and queues are your enemy.
The door crew were excellent and friendly, and more than happy to explain to anyone that asked how the queuing and entry process worked.
How long does it take to climb the Notre Dame Cathedral Towers?
Not including the queueing time, it takes just under an hour from the point you enter the base of the northern tower to when you exit the base of it’s southern counterpart.
Tickets for Notre Dame Cathedral Towers
Entry is €10 per adult, with children under the age of 18 entering for free.
Entry is also free if you have pre-purchased a Paris Museum Pass, which is highly recommended if you’re planning on seeing a few museums while in Paris. Note that the museum pass does not let you skip the queue.
All that time lining up allowed us to do the maths of 25 people every ten minutes at €10 each. That’s €250 every ten minutes, which is €1500 per hour…. which equates to well over €10,000 per day.
You’d think they could afford to put an elevator in.
Here’s a crude image I’ve made showing the different areas covered in this article:
Climbing the first level
Once inside, you’re straight up a reasonable flight of stairs to the ticket office, which is also the gift shop. Here is where you buy your €10 ticket, and any souvenirs you may require.
There’s the usual fare of replica models, erasers, and T-shirts. I found it interesting that the gift shop was at the beginning of the adventure, not the end.
There is a beautifully ornate spiral staircase in one corner of the gift shop too. I have no idea where it goes but it was nice to look at.
That first set of stairs up to the gift shop is fairly steep and reasonably narrow. It was at this point that I started to realise that leaving Clarrie behind was probably an exceptionally good idea.
The next climb is part way up the north tower as far as the Chimera Gallery. A path leads past many a chimera and gargoyle as you walk from the north to the south tower. In the image above, this is the bit that looks like a balcony where I’ve written “Chimeras and gargoyles.” The view across Paris, facing northwest is pretty fantastic.
In effect, you’re looking down on the people who are lining up to get into the church space below.
The space is covered in mesh which is a little odd but understandable. You’ll need to find yourself a good patch of ripped netting to poke your camera through to get your best photos.
The Notre Dame Belfry
Inside the belfry, you climb some wooden staircases to behold one of the cathedral’s 10 bells. This one, named Emmanuel, weights just over 13 tons and is original to 1681.
The bells did ring when I was up there. It’s loud.
Climbing to the top of the south tower
The narrowest staircases are kept until last. The steep and narrow route to the top of the south tower is almost as far as from the ground to the belfry.
The views from the top are exceptional and worth all of the climbing.
For the last part of the journey, there’s a fair bit of waiting around as you wait for a subsequent tour group to clear the stairwell. It can get reasonably claustrophobic up there, as everyone starts to move toward the exit stairwell and bunch up.
I shudder to think what would happen here if an emergency evacuation were required.
In that time I got to chatting to a couple who also turned out to be Australian, and were from Canberra.
The journey down
The journey down from the from the top of the south tower is obviously as long as the journey up, because, science.
Should I go up the Notre Dame towers?
Yes, absolutely- but be aware that it is a hard slog.
The total stair-count to the top of the south tower is 387. It is a very long climb, with quite a bit of stopping and starting while in quite narrow spiral stairwells with fan-shaped stairs (see the pic above). There are limited places to stop and rest at your leisure, and there are no toilet facilities.
This is not for those who are in any way claustrophobic or with fitness issues.
As with everything in life, wear comfortable shoes.
Should I take my kids up the towers of Notre Dame Cathedral?
I would say absolutely not for any child under the age of about 7 or 8. Maybe at a stretch a baby could go up, as generally speaking, they don’t really care where they are, so long as they’re with you. This is also dependent on how happy you are carrying them up hundreds of steps in narrow passageways. A carrier or sling would definitely be required.
In an odd sort of way I would relate heading up Notre Dame towers to when we trekked up Manoa Falls in Hawaii when Clarrie was 6 months old. In that instance, it all got too hard and we turned back. If you’re climbing the Notre Dame towers you do not have the luxury of turning back.
Any bigger toddler (1 year or older) is going to be an absolute nightmare. I know in Clarrie’s case (15 months), he would have insisted on walking himself, and then going up and down the stairs too.
We wouldn’t have even made it to the ticket office.
Notre Dame towers opening hours
The Notre Dame towers open at 10am daily.
From April 1 and September 30 the towers close at 6:30pm.
From October 1 to March 31 the towers close at 5:30pm.
On Saturday and Sundays through the longer days of July and August, the towers remain open until 11pm.
Note that the towers are closed on New Years Day (January 1), May Day (May 1) and Christmas Day (December 25).