Strasbourg’s Cathedral: Don’t Miss The Famous Clock Or Views

Whether you’re in Strasbourg for the Christmas markets or at any other time, don’t miss two highlights at Cathedrale Notre-Dame: the renowned astronomical clock presentation and the stunning city panoramic views from the upper platform. Tickets are available at the church and you can get discounted tickets using the Strasbourg City Card.

Cathedrale Notre-Dame de Strasbourg

Strasbourg Cathedral Notre-Dame
Strasbourg Cathedral and Christmas market
Cathedrale Notre-Dame de Strasbourg

From the mid-1600s and for the next 227 years, Strasbourg Cathedral, also called Cathedral Notre-Dame de Strasbourg, held the title of the world’s tallest building, with its spire reaching 466 feet (142 meters). It was built in 1439 and in 1988, was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site, in large part, due to the Gothic architecture.

In 1789, during the French Revolution, many of the statues and religious artifacts were destroyed and 7 church bells were melted to make cannons; however, a few statues from the portal were saved. Although damaged during the Franco-Prussian War, World War I, and World War II, many stained glass windows were stored and protected and numerous restorations, particularly on the tower, have taken place to repair the damage done to Notre-Dame over the centuries.

Tympanum of the central portal-Strasbourg Cathedral

On the exterior of the church, the 3 portals show statues and sculptures from the 13th century. The tympanum (the area over a doorway and the arch above) is elaborate. Strasbourg Notre-Dame Cathedral is a beautiful church to visit but don’t miss going to the top platform for the views or seeing the Astronomical Clock.

1. Strasbourg Cathedral Platform: Panoramic Views

View from Cathedrale Notre-Dame de Strasbourg
Strasbourg view at night
Compass showing the direction of the Vosges and Black Forest

I’m so glad I decided to visit the top of the Cathedral at night, during the Christmas markets in December. It was less crowded and the nighttime views of the Cathedral’s flying buttresses, spires, sculptures, and gargoyles as well as the city rooftops and the Christmas market from the viewing platform were wonderful. If you go during the day, you can possibly see as far as the Black Forest or Vosges mountains as indicated on the large compass on the platform.

Strasbourg Cathedral platform
View on the way up to the platform at Strasbourg Cathedral

The Notre-Dame tower climb up the spiral staircase has a lot of stairs—332 to be exact. Even on the way up, I got great panoramic views. Once at the top of the platform, I could see the Christmas market, down below, in front of Notre-Dame.

Platform guards-Strasbourg Notre-Dame Cathedrale

There was a small exhibit inside showing how the cathedral was built. In the 14th century, there were guards, compass points, and sundials at the top of the tower on this platform and the guards would set the clocks to ring the bells. By the 15th century there was a guard’s house and the position was advantageous as the guards could see buildings on fire and sound the alarms.

2. Presentation Of The Astronomical Clock-Strasbourg Cathedral

Cathedrale Notre-Dame de Strasbourg -Astronomical Clock
Comput Ecclesiastique-scale model of the Schwilgue computer

The star attraction at Notre-Dame Cathedral has to be the Astronomical Clock. What makes this clock so special is that the one currently on display was the third to be constructed in this church.

(a) History Of The Clock

  • The first clock was built in the 14th century.
  • The second clock was built in the 16th century.
  • The current clock was built in 1842.

The numerous cogs, celestial globe, and mechanisms were created as a result of watchmakers, artists, sculptors, and painters collaborating to create an automated clock that was both ornate and decorative, but also scientifically accurate.

It is a masterpiece where the date and time are calculated and displayed and shown with paintings on the clock. But more than just the time is shown. The sun and the phases of the moon and the respective positions show the planetary calendar. There are also representations of solar and lunar eclipses, stars, zodiacs signs, and a perpetual calendar.

The gold hands on the clock show the solar time and the silver hands show Central European time (public time). This third clock was created by French engineer and inventor, Jean-Baptiste Schwilgué.

To be honest, all the scientific descriptions and astronomical vocabulary were a bit beyond me as I’m not a scientist. But, it’s a beautiful piece of history to gaze upon.

(b) The Astronomical Clock Presentation

Crowds at Astronomical clock
Parade of the Apostles-Atronomical Clock
Rooster by Astronomical clock
  • At 11:30 I entered the church. It gets crowded in the area in front of the clock. To the left is where the 30-minute video presentation about the history and automation of the clock takes place. The best place to stand is between the clock and the screen so you can see both.
  • At 12:00, the video presentation begins. While the commentary is in French, there are English and German subtitles.
  • At 12:30—in line with what is considered solar noon in Strasbourg—a bell rings and one watches the clock begin its automation. 18-inch high figures emerge from behind and make their way across the front, similar to the workings of a cuckoo clock. First, there is the Parade of the Apostles and they pass in front of Christ, who blesses them. Then the mechanical rooster, that is to the left of the clock, crows three times. The sounds and the automations are what I enjoyed the most.

(c) Tickets For The Astronomical Clock Presentation

While you can “see” the clock when you visit the Cathedral (before 11 am and after 2 pm), you need a special ticket to attend the presentation which takes place at 12:30 Monday to Saturday.

I recommend you buy your ticket in advance.

  • 9:30-11:00 am: tickets are available from the counter inside the Cathedral.
  • 11:30 am: you can walk right in with your pre-purchased ticket, bypassing those who are lining up to buy their tickets.

Cost: 3 € reduced rate with the City Card—for same day presentation only
Entrance: via Place du Château, the Saint-Michel entrance is on the right of Notre-Dame Cathedral.
Time to enter: 11:30
Clock show: 12:30

Strasbourg City Card

Strasbourg City Card

You might consider getting the Strasbourg City Card when you visit Strasbourg. The 7-day card can be picked up at the tourist office for only 6 € (or 5 € online). The prices for many attractions are reduced when you use the Strasbourg City Card, including:

  • your visit to the Cathedral’s platform for panoramic views: a reduced rate of 4 €
  • the astronomical clock presentation: a reduced rate of 3 €

For more insight into the other experiences I had during this trip, check out this Itinerary: Trip #38: Paris and Strasbourg In December.

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