The world was shocked earlier this year as the treasured Notre-Dame catheral in Paris went up in flames. Notre-Dame in Paris was a key component of the Paris World Heritage Site: Banks of the Seine, and visiting is currently out of the question. But if you’re interested in seeing French Gothic cathedrals, there are several others in France – most of them not too far from Paris. So read on, for our World Heritage Alternatives to Notre-Dame!
This World Heritage Alternative to Notre-Dame is located in the city of Amiens, about 120 kilometres north of Paris. Interestingly, it’s also named Notre-Dame, though the full name is Notre-Dame d’Amiens (Our Lady of Amiens). Construction started here slightly later than the other cathedrals on our list, so the Gothic building techniques were more refined and understood. This allowed its designers and architects to push boundaries even further. As a result, Amiens Cathedral is the largest on this list both in footprint and in volume. In fact, it’s the tallest completed cathedral in France! Aside from the size, Amiens Cathedral is also noted for its incredible sculpture and artistic work on the outside, particularly the main entrance facade (shown above in the video thumbnail).
Next of our World Heritage Alternatives to Notre-Dame is Bourges Cathedral, situated a few hundred kilometres south of Paris in the Loire Valley. It’s the most distant from Paris of all these Gothic cathedrals, and that means it’s probably the best preserved. It survived both World Wars largely unscathed, not to mention the French Revolution and the Wars of Religion. Bourges Cathedral has an interesting design as it lacks a transept, and the flying buttresses outside are more slender than elsewhere. The west facade is particularly spectacular, and inside much of the stained glass is still original from the 13th century.
Next in our World Heritage alternatives to Notre-Dame is the cathedral in Chartres. Like Bourges, Chartres is also located in the Loire Valley south of Paris, and was built at roughly the same time as Bourges. Chartres is probably the most “authentic” and original of the French Gothic cathedrals, and has suffered the fewest changes since it was originally finished. UNESCO refers to Chartres as the “high point of Gothic art”, and after visiting it’s quite hard to disagree! The sculpture and architecture on display is absolutely phenomenal, and the stained glass (almost entirely original from the 13th century) is also fantastic!
Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Reims
Finally in our World Heritage alternatives to Notre-Dame is the cathedral in Reims, north-east of Paris. Reims is particularly rich in history. French kings and queens were traditionally crowned here: all but seven French kings were crowned in Reims. Joan of Arc also visited Reims, attending the coronation of Charles VII following her victories over the English in the Hundred Years War. And perhaps most importantly of all, the cathedral sits on the site where Clovis I converted to Christianity in 508 AD. Clovis was the first King of the Franks; the king of what eventually became France. Not to mention, the cathedral is very close to World War I’s Western Front, and was damaged by artillery fire on multiple occasions.
So there you have it! Four incredible World Heritage alternatives to Notre-Dame in Paris. All are magnificent buildings and well worth visiting in their own right, but with the damage to Notre-Dame in Paris these cathedrals stand out for their authenticity (and lack of crowds!).
Not a fan of Gothic architecture? Maybe check out some Indian Mughal architecture instead, with this list of the World Heritage Sites of Delhi. Or dream of an Italian adventure, with our guide to World Heritage Sites in Tuscany!
And for all World Heritage Sites in France, look no further than our YouTube Playlist!