The Notre-Dame Cathedral in Rouen, France, is a spectacular example of Gothic architecture at its highest art form. Originally built in the 12th century, the building was heavily damaged during WW II and restored in a such a way that the damage has been repaired but not invisibly. I find it a haunting place, as many visitors do, as much of the original stained glass is missing.
It’s one of my favorite places in France to visit and our family has been there a few times. It’s only about 90 minutes from Paris by train and makes an excellent day trip, as do many of France’s great cathedrals. The city of Rouen and the Normandy region are also beautiful, rustic areas of France to explore, providing a nice contrast to the touristic flash of Paris.
Exploring the cathedral. Be sure to explore the intricate staircase in the north transept, and in the choir are the ornate tombs of the Dukes of Normandy, once France’s richest men. The heart of Richard the Lionheart is also kept here, who was a Duke of Normandy as well as a King of England.
Beyond the cathedral. The cathedral is the focus of a beautiful, medieval historic city core with half-timbered houses, another historic church and abbey and a market square famous for a rather grisly event. The Place du Vieux Marche is where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake in 1431.
If you’re in Rouen, the best place to eat is the two-Michelin-starred Restaurant Gill, run by Chef Gilles Tournadre. It’s a small place, only a few blocks from the cathedral, serving what I think is some of the best cuisine in France. It’s been open for more than twenty years and my son just had a meal there and confirmed it still retains its magic.
Normandy. Rouen is in Normandy and the whole region of France is filled with wonderful things to see, do, eat and drink. The area is also about 90 minutes from the sobering D-Day beaches and related memorials and historic sites.
Visitor information. Admission to the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Rouen is free and donations are always accepted. From April through November, the cathedral is open Mondays from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m., from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays and holidays. During the rest of the year, the cathedral closes from noon to 2 p.m. and also closes an hour earlier every day at 6 p.m.
Getting to Rouen The city is easily reached by train from Paris and is a great day trip. Frequent trains leave Paris’ Gare Saint Lazare station and the journey takes about 90 minutes. Tickets, which can be purchased at the station, are around $50-$75 roundtrip, depending on time of travel.
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