It’s official: the Notre Dame Cathedral, an icon of Paris, will reopen its doors in December 2024.

Along with marking the beginning of a new era in its 860-year history, the reopening will invite visitors to marvel anew at a feat of architectural achievement powered by the human imagination. Visiting before the reopening? You’ll still be able to experience the majesty of the Gothic monument thanks to new exhibits and immersive cinematic virtual-reality productions.

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What you should know about Notre Dame before your visit

Before a fire ripped through the cathedral on April 15, 2019, destroying its roof and spire, Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris was the most-visited historic monument in France, attracting an average of 12 million visitors a year. A monument of religious, cultural and historical significance, Notre Dame is where kings were crowned, royals married and where Emperor Napoleon I threw himself an epic five-hour coronation. It famously inspired Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame, whose popularity rescued the cathedral, near-abandoned at the time, from decay and disinterest. 

But more than the monument’s stunning stained-glass rose windows, gargoyles and artworks, its most valuable treasures are its religious relics: the crown of thorns, a piece of the cross and a nail all said to have been used in the crucifixion of Christ. Before the fire, the relics were presented to worshippers on the first Friday of every month and on Good Fridays. The relics were all saved from the fire. 

Another interesting Notre Dame factoid: in France, all road distances measured from Paris use the cathedral square as the starting point.

People sit on bleachers in a historic area of Paris.
Get a view of the cathedral from the bleachers in front of its facade © Vivian Song / Lonely Planet

When is Notre Dame reopening?

The cathedral will reopen to visitors and resume church services in December 2024, missing French President Emmanuel Macron’s initial target of Paris Summer Olympics by four months. 

Following the fire, it took two years just to secure and stabilize the structure so that restorers could work safely within the church. The rebuilding project is now fully underway, with 1000 artisans and craftspeople across France working on bringing the cathedral back to life in time for the five-year reopening deadline. The full restoration of the cathedral is expected to be completed in 2025.

What will I see at Notre Dame if I visit Paris before December 2024? 

Though the cathedral may be closed, it’s still worth adding the site to your itinerary. While you may have limited interest in the underground exhibit discussing the restoration efforts, the sheer grandeur of the monument, which still stands largely intact (if surrounded by scaffolds and cranes), still astonishes.

New bleachers set up at the far end of the cathedral square offer visitors a terrific vantage point of the monument, since the perimeter of the church is obstructed by a wraparound enclosure.

Nearby, visitors can also venture behind the scenes and learn more about the herculean efforts to save the church in a new exhibit called “Notre Dame de Paris: In the heart of the restoration,” which opened in a former underground parking garage behind the bleachers. The exhibit is free, with no advance reservations required.

A VR image of Notre Dame cathedral during its construction.
Try a VR experience of Eternal Notre Dame © Orange/Emissive - Eternelle Notre-Dame 2021

For a more immersive experience, there’s also “Eternal Notre Dame,” a 45-minute cinematic VR show that takes viewers back in time, introducing them to major players behind the cathedral’s construction over its 860-year history. The VR experience is available in the same underground venue at Notre Dame, as well as at the Cité de l’Histoire at the northwest end of the city, at La Défense. Tickets are €31.

The Archaeological Crypt of the Île de la Cité offers another subterranean experience beneath the cathedral square, including an exhibit that explores how novelist Victor Hugo helped save the monument and the ensuing restoration project led by architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc. Tickets are €9 and the exhibit runs until December 31, 2023.

And starting October 19, the Louvre will also exhibit some of Notre Dame’s accumulated treasures, including paintings, manuscripts, gold pieces and engravings that were saved from the fire. The exhibition runs through February 19, 2024; tickets are €17.

The colorful stained glass windows inside of a gothic French church.
The nearby Sainte Chapelle in Paris is a sight to behold © maziarz / Shutterstock

What’s an underrated but equally stunning and historic church that I can visit in the meantime?

Also on Île de la Cité and less than a 10-minute walk from Notre Dame, Sainte-Chapelle is another Gothic masterpiece, commissioned by King Louis IX to house his personal collection of Christian relics. At its peak, it was home to 22 relics – including the crown of thorns (before it was moved to Notre Dame).

Built between 1242 and 1248, Sainte-Chapelle’s 15 stained-glass windows depict 1113 scenes from the Old and New Testaments in a dazzling kaleidoscope of colors. Whereas Notre Dame impresses with its scale and size, Sainte-Chapelle overwhelms the senses, with its soaring, reverential 50-foot tall windows bathing visitors in a near-mystical blue light. The entrance fee is €11.50.

A view of the Gothic nave of Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris, Île-de-France, France
The rebuilding efforts at Notre Dame seek to restore the glory of the monument (pictured here before the devastating 2019 fire) © Manjik photography / 500px

What will Notre Dame be like when it reopens? 

Not long after the fire, architects around the world threw out design proposals that ranged from the interesting to the outlandish (memorable details from the designs included a roof made entirely of stained-glass windows, an indoor greenhouse and even a fire-proof rooftop swimming pool). Yet in the end, officials decided to stick with tradition and stay as faithful to the original design as possible.

The same applies to the interior of the church. Plans to replace chairs with modern, moveable benches with built-in light and audio systems and proposals for light projections were scrapped after 100 notable French figures signed an open letter in Le Figaro calling the redesign “kitsch” and disrespectful to architect Viollet-le-Duc’s vision. Plans for the indoor furnishings will be finalized later this year.

As part of the unprecedented restoration process, the cathedral is undergoing a major deep clean that will eliminate not only debris from the fire, but also a century’s worth of dust and pollution. Visitors will return to find brighter, whiter stone walls, more-vibrant colors on wall paintings and stained-glass windows that gleam.

By 2027, the transformation of the cathedral’s surrounding area will also be complete, bringing a tree-lined square and a cooling feature that will release a trickle of water during periods of extreme heat. 

The park south of the cathedral will be expanded into one continuous green space, while the underground parking garage will be transformed into an indoor promenade that opens onto the Seine.

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