Cathedral Notre Dame in Reims, France

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Cathédrale Notre Dame

Top choice in Reims

Imagine the extravagance of a French royal coronation. The focal point of such pomposity was Reims’ resplendent Gothic cathedral, begun in 1211 on a site occupied by churches since the 5th century. The interior is a rainbow of stained-glass windows; the finest are the western facade’s great rose window, the north transept's rose window and the vivid Marc Chagall creations (1974) in the central axial chapel. The tourist office rents out audio guides for self-paced tours.

Among the other highlights of the interior are a flamboyant Gothic organ case (15th and 18th centuries) topped with a figure of Christ, a 15th-century wooden astronomical clock, and a statue of Joan of Arc in full body armour (1901); there’s a second statue of her outside on the square, to the right as you exit the cathedral.

The most famous event to take place here was the coronation of Charles VII, with Joan of Arc at his side, on 17 July 1429. This is one of 25 coronations that took place between 1223 and 1825.

The cathedral was seriously damaged by artillery and fire during WWI, and was repaired during the interwar years, thanks, in part, to significant donations from the American Rockefeller family.

A Unesco World Heritage Site since 1991, the cathedral celebrated its 800th anniversary in 2011. To get the most impressive first view, approach the cathedral from the west, along rue Libergier. Here your gaze will be drawn to the heavily restored architectural features of the façade, lavishly encrusted with sculptures. Among them is the 13th-century L'Ange au Sourire (Smiling Angel), presiding beneficently above the central portal.

Feeling as strong as Goliath? (Look for his worn figure up on the west façade, held in place with metal straps.) Then consider climbing 250 steps up the cathedral tower on a one-hour tour. Book at the Palais du Tau.

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