My husband and I had been to Notre Dame before. However, we included a visit to Notre Dame in our recent itinerary with our kids because it is an iconic Paris site. Just by accident, we ended up entering the cathedral right before mass, and it was an incredibly happy accident. We saw Notre Dame as we had never seen it before.
Now, the facade of the Notre Dame is a masterpiece. And really, you have to visit this cathedral MANY times before you could be bored with all of the detail. And who are all of those people? I need to have a guide give me the scoop on that next time.
Once inside, the stained glass and the architecture are always amazing…the COLOR of the glass is striking.
But, experiencing the cathedral as a place of worship instead of a tourist attraction really changed my whole perspective. The organ music, the worshippers/choir singing, the ceremonial entry with the incense…all of it created this 4-D drama for us that completely brought Notre Dame to life and took our breath away.
Now if you are clever, you might have thought we were out of breath because we climbed the 387 steps of the tower. You can climb the top of the South Tower, Hunchback of Notre Dame style, and be face-to-face with a gargoyle. We actually missed this because we stayed for the first part of the 5:45pm Sunday mass. By the time we exited, they had closed the access. Here is the timetable/information from the website so that you don’t miss it!
I suppose it is for the best that we didn’t do the climb. My younger daughter wasn’t feeling well and instead we went to a delicious dinner. And, it’s always good to leave something to look forward to for next time! 🙂 But we did make sure to walk around the outside of the cathedral and look up. We recommend you do that…the view upward is amazing.
We are back from our European adventure with so much to tell. I tried to Instagram every day to keep people up to speed. I’ve also done a lot of reviews on TripAdvisor, which is one my favorite research sites. Here is my profile page of TripAdvisor so you can see my reviews.
I think the best place to start is with the Eiffel Tower because I have so much specific feedback to give here. Also, I have friends going to Paris soon, and these are all of the things I would tell them anyway!
First step: You need to make advanced reservations online. If you want to go to the top, make sure you are buying a ticket to the top (“Sommet”). Here is the official website. We had our tickets delivered via email and printed them in advance. We walked right up to the entrance while these people stood in line.
If you regret taking the stairs by the time you reach the first floor, you can buy a supplement ticket for the elevator at the kiosks in the South corner on the first floor.
Don’t get confused with tour groups that want to give you a “first in line” ticket. There really doesn’t seem to be a need. As I mentioned, we walked right in on a Saturday in August. I saw some people on tours and while the guide can tell you the history of the tower, there are also apps you can download in advance and listen to. I overheard one guide who was basically just pointing out things people could see from the tower…not overly impressive. Also, following a group around the tower on a crowded day would get old…really fast. But just know, I’m a bit anti-tour group; I pick and choose my tours opportunities very carefully.
So I was totally gung-ho on walking UP the stairs to the second floor. In my Le Tour Eiffel post in May, I wrote about that being the plan. However, when I arrived, I showed my ticket to one of the employees and she said, “Well you bought a ticket for the elevator, so I suggest you take the elevator UP to the second floor and then you can always walk DOWN.” That seemed like good advice. My family was very happy with that choice. Unlike me, you may want to pay extra attention to the tickets you have and what exactly you’ve paid for before you arrive. If you buy online, they are only elevator tickets…stair tickets can only be purchased at the tower (according to the website).
So, based on this modification, we suggest you do the following:
Enter through the elevator on the West side (North side is probably just as good as they have an elevator too…but we just didn’t try it). Take the elevator to the second floor.
Once on the second floor, get directly in line to go to the top. The earlier in the day, the shorter the line is for the “Sommet” elevator. We made the mistake and took our time on the 2nd level on the way up. By the time we finished with the 2nd floor, the queue for the “Sommet” was quite long. We would have been better off to either arrive earlier or just take time on the 2nd floor on the way down.
Once at the top, you will want to look at all of the views, because, of course, you are at the top of the Eiffel Tower. Remember to go up the mini staircase to really be at the top top! The famous Parisian buildings and attractions are basically at edge between the East (best) and South corners.
When you are ready, take the elevator down to the second floor. Go to the EAST corner and take those stairs down to the first floor. Those stairs will give you a view of the famous Parisian buildings and attractions. The other stairs (like the ones I went down in the West corner) give you pretty views, but not of anything anyone will recognize in photos.
On the first floor, take a break. There are snacks, a gift shop and lounging areas. The views are cool and the atmosphere is nice. We just ate the snacks we brought, but enjoyed the people watching. We saved room for the food stalls on the Champ de Mars outside of the Tower (see below). We do recommend using the restroom on the first floor. They are clean and the lines were MUCH shorter than at the bottom. And the toilets are red!
Continue descending the East stairs to the bottom. While underneath the tower, be sure to appreciate the architecture…the view up is super cool!
When you exit on the East side, you will walk right into the Champ de Mars. In the summer they had a very large variety of food stalls set up. You may want to research if this is a year-round thing. We ate crepes, homemade potato chips and kabobs. Delicious! See our Instagram @thefuntrips for a fun crepe video. When the weather is nice, this is definitely a good place to relax.