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Amiens – the biggest Cathedral in France

Highly ornate facade of Amiens Cathedral

The first stone of Amiens Cathedral was laid in the year 1220. It is a monumental medieval masterpiece of Gothic art, 145 metres long and 70 metres wide at the transept.

Though there is plenty to see and do in Picardy’s historic capital, the number one visit is the Cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage monument. It is the biggest cathedral in France and its soaring majesty can only really be appreciated in person.

A little over an hour and a half’s drive from Calais, the bustling and dynamic town has buckets of charm and plenty to see and do after you’ve explored the must-see Cathedral.

History of Amiens Cathedral

Inside Amiens Cathedral, soft light through ancient stained glass windows

More than 800 years ago, builders toiled to create an incredible structure. They had no machinery. The enormous stones which fuelled its walls were dragged miles to the building site by man and beast. The creation of the Notre-Dame Cathedral of Amiens was an almost miraculous undertaking. Even more so when you consider it took jut 50 years to complete. The famous 19th century essayist John Ruskin venerated its beauty in his book The Bible of Amiens. It is quite simply breathtaking and to this day, a popular destination for pilgrims.

There are vaulted doorways, statues of kings, apostles and saints. 126 pillars support the soaring vaulted roof. The 16th century wood carved choir stalls are magnificent, stained glass windows cast soft light on the ancient walls and floor. There are gargoyles galore, turrets and towers and listening to the majestic bells gives your goose bumps.

You can climb to the top, 307 narrow steps for stupendous views over the town. It’s well worth the effort though probably not for those with vertigo or claustrophobia.

Look out for the weeping angel, a wonderful statue which forms part of a 17th century mausoleum behind the High Altar. It was featured on a popular postcard sent by soldiers in the Somme during WWI.

Amiens Cathedral Sound and Light show

Amiens Cathedral lit up by a sound and light show

In summer and December, you’ll see Amiens Cathedral in a different light as the façade is lit up, an ingenious fete of engineering in itself. At night the exterior of the cathedral is smothered in a technicolour light performance in a show that makes audiences gasp.

The Chroma immersive night-time light show at the UNESCO listed Gothic Cathedral of Amiens, the biggest in France, is exquisite.

This free 50 minute show runs throughout the summer, as well as in December during the Christmas market, and is an absolute must-see. State of the art projection technology creates a truly magical experience under a night sky. As dusk falls, take your place in the cobbled Cathedral square and prepare to be amazed by a whirlwind of sound and light which bring the magnificently encrusted façade and sculptures to life. Get there at least 15 minutes before to be sure of a good spot for the best views.

Discover more of Amiens

Flower stalls and cafes at the St-Leu riverside district in Amiens

Enjoy the colourful old district of Saint-Leu, perfect for relaxing at a café along the quayside of the River Somme which runs through the town, before discovering its masterful gems. Sitting here, watching the world go by, as the cathedral bells chime, is one of life’s true pleasures.

Another must-see is the authentically restored home of French writer and visionary, Jules Verne. He was inspired to write “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” whilst living here.

Explore the ancient floating gardens known as Hortillonages. In the shadow of the great Cathedral, this watery labyrinth has been cultivated since Roman times. Now maintained by market gardeners and locals, to this day they apply the same know-how of bygone days to make use of natural resources to water the land. You can explore this lush latticework of wetlands in a flat bottomed boat from April to October. And, if you ‘d like to taste the delicious produce, head to the Saint-Leu district on Saturdays to buy direct at the water market. Read more about the Hortillonages

Practical information

A train station in the centre of Amiens is within walking distance of the Cathedral.

There’s plenty of parking available in the town.

The Tourist Office is located next to the Cathedral in Place Notre Dame: visit-amiens.com

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