A Tour of France's Best Cathedrals

  • 01 of 08

    Start Planning Your Cathedral Tour

    Cathedral Tour Map
    Mary Anne Evans

    Click here for a map and key of the Cathedral tour

    France boasts some of the world's most ancient, stunning and captivating cathedrals. Each one is a work of art and has its own personality, marked by exquisite carvings and spires reaching to the sky.

    Follow this suggested itinerary for your own tour of France's best cathedrals, which stops in Paris, Amiens, Laon, Rouen, Reims, Chartres and Strasbourg. Along the way, you'll also see a tapestry of France's big cities and beautiful villages. You'll get a chance to sample French regional cuisines. You can take in the whole tour, or just do a few of these cities. If your time is very short,  just pick one of them. But they are concentrated in the north of France, so it is possible to visit them all in a few days.

    If you are taking a car, check out the car hire companies. If you are in the country for 21 days, it's well worth looking at the Renault Eurodrive Buy Back Car Leasing scheme for great value. 

    Consider using a French Rail Pass. Since your trip will span longish distances in France, this is sure to be a bargain over point-to-point tickets. You can also consider getting a Rail 'n Drive pass, which will provide vouchers for car rentals.

    Since you will be moving around a lot (and probably dragging your luggage in and out of train stations), be sure you pack light.

    Click through each page for a description of each stop, a background on each cathedral and what makes it unique, as well as tips for these destinations.

    Be sure to have a good road map. You can also tailor make your itinerary with ViaMichelin. Put in your starting point and destination and it comes up with detailed maps of several routes, and includes journey time, distance and costs. 

    Continue to 2 of 8 below.
  • 02 of 08

    Cathedral Tour Stop One: Notre-Dame de Paris

    Notre-Dame Cathedral
    Getty/ espiegle

    Notre-Dame de Paris is probably the world's most famous cathedral; it features in everything from classic books to modern-day movies. During a visit to Paris, you will probably get a better view of the whole city from the cathedral, rather than from the Eiffel Tower (because the Eiffel Tower is too tall to see details).

    The Gothic cathedral dates from the 12th century. Building started in 1160 and was finished in 1345. It  was one of the glories of Gothic architecture, its huge flying buttresses holding up the massive structure; the tower is 68 metres (223 feet) high, reaching into the skies and offering that superb view. The tower is  best known for its intricate gargoyles, but it has passed into popular legend as the haunt for Victor Hugo's Quasimodo, the Hunchback of Notre Dame.

    If you visit the cathedral, be sure to hike up the seemingly endless spiral stairs to the top to get a close-up look of those extraordinary gargoyles and a grand view of the city and the Seine River. You can also see the historic hunchback's bell at the top. Outside the cathedral is the markation point from which the distance to all cities in France is measured.

    Check out the Cathedral in more fascinating detail here.

    Lodging options

    Good hotel choices include the Hotel Notre Dame and Hotel Jeu de Paume, both of which are very close to the cathedral.

    For more information about Paris, see the Paris Travel Guide.

    Travel time to next stop: Reims in Champagne

    By train: From Paris Gare de l'Est, trains run regularly through the day and take 45 minutes.

    By car: Take the autoroute for the quickest journey time, around 1 hr 45 mins. The distance is 145 kms (90 miles); there are tolls on the route.

    Be sure to have a good road map. You can also tailor make your itinerary with ViaMichelin. Put in your starting point and destination and it comes up with detailed maps of several routes, and includes journey time, distance and costs. 

    Continue to 3 of 8 below.
  • 03 of 08

    Cathedral Tour Stop Two: Notre-Dame de Reims

    Reims Cathedral
    Getty Images/Jozsef Godony /EyeEm

    Notre-Dame de Reims (pronounced 'Rance') is another of the great Gothic cathedrals in France. It was the place for the crowning of many dynasties of French monarchs, including that of Charles VII, courtesy of Joan of Arc in 1429. 

    You enter via the west front with its lovely statues. Some are original; others are in the Palais du Tau, the bishop's palace next door to the cathedral. Inside the building is filled with colours from the stained-glass windows. Go to the east end for a fabulous set of windows by Marc Chagall.

    Lodging options

    A good central option is the Best Western Hotel de la Paix right in the middle of the town and about a 6-minute walk from the train station. It has a good bar and a swimming pool.

    For a real treat, book at the Château des Crayères in a restored 18th-century mansion that belonged to Pommery.

    Find out more about Reims

    Reims is the capital of Champagne and a lovely city of historic interest.

    Guide to Reims

    Top Attractions in Reims

    Where to Dine in Reims

    Visiting a Champagne house in Reims and the surrounding countryside

    Hidden Treasures of Champagne

    How to get from London the UK and Paris to Reims

    Reims Tourist Office

    Travel time to the next stop: Laon in the Aisne

    By train: Direct trains from Reims to Laon take from 40 minutes and depart at regular intervals. 

    By car: Take the autoroute and the journey will take you around 50 minutes. The distance is 68 kms (42 miles).

    Be sure to have a good road map. You can also tailor make your itinerary with ViaMichelin. Put in your starting point and destination and it comes up with detailed maps of several routes, and includes journey time, distance and costs. 

    Continue to 4 of 8 below.
  • 04 of 08

    Cathedral Tour Stop Four: Notre-Dame de Laon

    Laon Cathedral
    Getty Images/LECLERCQ Olivier hemis.fr

    If you want to see one of the first of the great Gothic cathedrals, go to Laon (pronounced 'Lon'). It's a beautiful cathedral built in the second half of the 12th century. It set the style for many of the cathedrals that followed, including Chartres, Reims and Paris. 

    It stands high above the countryside inside the fortified walled city, today a jumble of old winding cobbled streets.

    Lodging options

    If you want to stay in Laon, one of the best choices is La Maison des Trois Rois (The House of the Tjree Kings). This charming bed and breakfast is in an old house, and it's like stepping back to the Middle Ages - with 21st century comforts.

    If you want to combine a cathedral tour with a round of golf, try the Hotel du Golfe de l'Ailette. It's in Chamouille, just south of Laon, but you will need a car to get there. Once there, enjoy the sport or sit looking at the lake.

    Laon Tourist Office Website (in French)

    Travel time to the next stop: Amiens in Picardy

    By train: There are no direct trains from Laon to Amiens and if you want to travel by train you will have to go back to Paris. The train from Laon to Paris Gare du Nord takes1 hr 37 minutes and there are regular departures. The train to Amiens also leaves from Gare du Nord and you will have a waiting time of around 51 minutes before the departure for Amiens. From Paris to Amiens takes 1 hr 12 minutes. Total journey time from Laon to Amiens will be from 3 hours 14 minutes.

    • Details of how to get to Amiens

    By car: Take the autoroute. the journey lasts 1 hr 28 minutes and the distance is 135 kms (83 miles). 

    Be sure to have a good road map. You can also tailor make your itinerary with ViaMichelin. Put in your starting point and destination and it comes up with detailed maps of several routes, and includes journey time, distance and costs. 

    Continue to 5 of 8 below.
  • 05 of 08

    Cathedral Tour Stop Three: Notre-Dame d'Amiens in Picardy

    amienscathlit
    © L. Rousselin, Amiens Metropole

    Ntotre-Dame d'Amiens is the largest Gothic cathedral in the whole of France and quite rightly one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of France. It's also an architecturally important building for its harmony of style. Unlike many cathedrals that took centuries to build, Amiens was constructed between 1220 and 1288. Don't miss the sound and light show in the summer and at Christmas, when the facade comes alive with glorious vibrant shapes and colours. Climb the tower for a great view. 

    Lodging options

    For a taste of the past, book at the charming Le Prieuré, located in a former priory. It's beautiful and stylish.

    An excellent modern choice is the centrally located Mercure Amiens Cathedrale, just opposite the cathedral.

    More about Amiens

    Top Attractions and Things to Do in Amiens

    Travel time to the next stop: Rouen in Normandy

    By train: There is no direct train from Amiens to Rouen so you will have to go via Paris. The journey time from Amiens to Paris takes 1 hr 12 minutes. Then you have to change station to St Lazaire for a train that takes 1 hr 10 minutes. The total journey time is from 3 hrs 37 minutes. 

    ​By coach: This is the simplest and cheapest option. Take Flixbus from rue Paul Tellier in Amiens to the train station in Rouen. The journey takes 1 hr 40 minutes and costs around $10.

    By car: The autoroute option takes from 1 hr 20 minutes and the distance is 145 kms (90 iles). The route has tolls.

    Be sure to have a good road map. You can also tailor make your itinerary with ViaMichelin. Put in your starting point and destination and it comes up with detailed maps of several routes, and includes journey time, distance and costs. 

    Continue to 6 of 8 below.
  • 06 of 08

    Cathedral Tour Stop Five: Notre-Dame de Rouen

    Rouen Cathedral
    Getty Images/Marc Dozier

    Rouen's Notre-Dame cathedral is a Gothic masterpiece, built in the 12th and 13th centuries, then rebuilt in the 15th and 16th centuries. Known for its now glorious white west facade, painted by Monet  over 30 times, the interior is just as wonderful where your eye is carried upwards to the soaring columns. Make your way to the ambulatory and crypt where various monarchs lie and where the heart of Richard the Lionheart is buried.

    If you can, be there in the evening in summer for a great light show which projects Monet's wonderful paintings onto the actual facade. giant colours, used by Monet onto the images of 28 times, the capital of Normandy, is one of France's oldest cities. 

    Lodging Options

    The top choice is the historic Hotel de Bourgrethoulde, a luxury hotel housed in an ancient building in the centre of town. But the rooms are thoroughly up to date and there's a spa and swimming pool.

    The Hotel de la Cathédrale is a pretty hotel in a pedestrianised lane and just beside the cathedral. 

    Rouen Tourist Office

    Travel time to next stop: Chartres in the Loire Valley

    By train: Again there are no direct trains from Rouen to Chartres and you will have to change in Paris. You arrrive in Paris St Lazaire and leave from Gare Montparnasse. The train from Rouen to Paris takes 1 hr 10 minutes and the train from Paris to Chartres takes 1 hr 18 minutes.

    Details of how to get from Rouen to Paris

    Details of how to get from Paris to Chartres

    By car: Take the route nationale for the 138 km (85 mile) journey taking around 1 hr 50 minutes.

    By bus: autoroute A13 for the quickest journey time, around 1 hr 50 mins to 2 hours.  There are tolls on this route.

    Be sure to have a good road map. You can also tailor make your itinerary with ViaMichelin. Put in your starting point and destination and it comes up with detailed maps of several routes, and includes journey time, distance and costs. 

    Continue to 7 of 8 below.
  • 07 of 08

    Cathedral Tour Stop Six: Notre-Dame de Chartres

    Chartres Cathedral
    Getty Images/Julian Elliott Photography

    Notre-Dame de Chartres is one of the must see sights. It's a glorious edifice right in the centre of a town that climbs up from the river. You can see the cathedral from miles around. It's pretty impressive today but to the medieval peasant it must have been nothing short of a miracle.

    Its stained glass is one of the wonders of the world, and remarkably intact. Walk around the cathedral and look up to the panels that tell stories long forgotten, and also touch on the medieval trades and guilds of France. 

    Lodging options

    Try the Jehan de Bauce hotel for a comfortable, good value hotel in a historic building near the train station.

    Or stay at my favourite bed and breakfast. Run by the friendly, English-speaking Sylvie Menard, Les Conviv'hotes is near the river. 

    Find out more about Chartres

    Chartres is a lovely small city that makes an ideal base for exploring Paris, Versailles or the Loire Valley chateaux. 

    Travel time to the next stop: Strasbourg in Alsace

    By train: My last stop, Strasbourg is in the east so you will have to go via Paris.

    Details of how to get from Chartres to Paris

    Trains from Paris leave from the Gare de l'Est and the journey takes arund 1 hr 45 minutes.

    How to get from Paris to Strasbourg

    Be sure to have a good road map. You can also tailor make your itinerary with ViaMichelin. Put in your starting point and destination and it comes up with detailed maps of several routes, and includes journey time, distance and costs. 

    Continue to 8 of 8 below.
  • 08 of 08

    Cathedral Tour Stop Seven: Notre-Dame de Strasbourg

    Strasbourg cathedral
    Getty Images/Museimage

    Strasbourg Cathedral, located in France next to the German border, is the heart of this charming town which serves as the seat of the Council of Europe and of the European Parliament.

    The orange-colored cathedral features detailed spires and carvings, as well as stunning stained glass windows. Inside, visitors can watch the clock change time, which is a lengthy show of the many movements of pieces including cuckooing birds and Jesus blessing his disciples. Climb the spire for a spectacular view of the surrounding countryside out to the Vosges mountains.

    Lodging options

    The Cathédrale Hotel is not for everybody but it does tick a lot of boxes. It's very well located just opposite the cathedral, is friendly and has good WiFi. 

    Find out more about Strasbourg

    Get more information with my Strasbourg Travel Guide and check out the Top Attractions in Strasbourg.