Our three-hour Notre Dame tour will unveil the tenets of the medieval Gothic architectural style, known for its soaring vaults, flying buttresses, intricate stonework, and shimmering expanses of stained-glass. Accompanied by a medievalist or art historian, we’ll explore Île de la Cité, the city's central island, and its surroundings to encounter the principal masterpieces of Gothic Paris: the majestic Church of Saint-Séverin, the famous Notre-Dame Cathedral, the Sainte Chapelle, the Conciergerie, the Saint-Jacques Tower—the only remaining vestige of the church of Saint-Jacques-le-Majeur (Saint James The Great).
At the outset of the tour, we’ll learn about the background and context for this iconic architectural style with our guide. Born in 1144 at Saint-Denis, Gothic became the architectural style of Europe for the next four centuries. Fittingly, the Gothic wonders of Paris are—of course—the Cathédral Notre-Dame (closed today for restoration after a devastating fire on the night of April 15th, 2019) and the Sainte Chapelle. Starting with one of the oldest churches in Paris, the Eglise Saint-Séverin in the Latin Quarter, we will discuss the ribbed vaults and walk down the church’s double aisles which, as inside Notre Dame lead to a famous ambulatory. With a better understanding of the main Gothic features, we’ll walk towards the parvise of Notre Dame de Paris. Here, our expert guide will help us unravel the elaborate symbolism of Notre-Dame's sculptural decoration from the exterior, understand the development of the rose windows, and trace the evolution of the Gothic style. We will discuss the meaning of the iconic gargoyles and slender flying buttresses that represent the height of medieval engineering.
With its unified composition of architecture, stained glass, painting, and sculpture, the magnificent Sainte Chapelle still takes our breath away. We’ll spend considerable time here, however, due to strict rules prohibiting group lecturing in the upper part of the chapel, we’ll do most of our conversation from the exterior before heading inside. Next, we’ll explore King Louis IX's chapel, where we’ll explore the vestiges of this former residence at the neighboring Conciergerie. Here, we will focus on the impressive feast hall designed for the royal guard, which is the largest surviving Gothic hall in Europe. Time permitting, we may also visit the former prison building where Marie Antoinette and countless others were held before being sent to the guillotine (discussed further on our French Revolution Tour Paris
We will end the tour with a flamboyant style represented in the Gothic architecture of the emblematic Saint-Jacques Tower. This curious Gothic belfry stands alone in the heart of Paris and has long been the departure point on the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela. Its enduring architecture offers compelling evidence of resistance to change. As our time together comes to a close, we will come away from the walk with a clear understanding of the main characteristics of Gothic Architecture and be able to identify them. We will also have a basic sense of the major landmarks of the Île de la Cité, once the epicenter of Medieval Paris, and grasp how these sites represent religious and secular authority in France's medieval capital.
Does this tour include climbing the bell towers of Notre Dame and/or a visit of the interior? Will we be visiting the crypt as well?
Our tour does not include the towers or the interior of the Notre Dame cathedral. The Archeological crypt is not included in the tour either, but your expert guide can direct you to the ticket office following the tour.
Does this tour include climbing the Saint-Jacques Tower?
No! But your expert guide can help you purchase your ticket at the end of the tour if you'd like to climb the tour on your own.
Is this tour wheelchair accessible?
Notre Dame Cathedral and Sainte-Chapelle are wheelchair accessible, but the Conciergerie is not. Please contact us with any questions; we are also happy to design a private, customized tour for visitors with mobility concerns.
Where do we meet? Where does it end?
Generally speaking, the walk begins near Place Saint-Michel. Your confirmation email will have the exact meeting point details along with a map, and 24/7 phone number. The walk typically ends on the Ile de la Cité.
What if it’s raining?
Tours operate rain or shine, but in the case of inclement weather, your docent will modify the tour so more time is spent indoors. It never hurts to have an umbrella on hand.
Will you pre-purchase tickets?
Yes. If you've selected the tickets at the time of your booking we will purchase the combined Sainte-Chapelle+Conciergerie ticket in advance of your tour. Your guide will have them on hand. Please note that we don't visit the towers or the interior of Notre Dame, nor the Saint-Jacques Tower.
Can I use the Museum Pass?
Unfortunately, not. Tickets are mandatory and can't be canceled or modified. The Museum Pass is accepted at both the Sainte-Chapelle and Conciergerie but doesn't guarantee a skip-the-line access. Due to the long waiting lines at the Sainte Chapelle we need to use the E-ticket instead.
Is this tour good for kids and teens?
Yes! We have some excellent family-friendly docents who can appeal to the learning styles of children. We have a separate Notre Dame and Gothic Paris for Families walk
just for families with children 12 and under. When booking, please provide us with information about your children such as favorite school subjects, and hobbies. This way we can match you with the best possible guide.