Notable for the largest gothic cathedral in France, Amiens makes an excellent day-trip from Paris, combined with an extension to Rouen, a city with the country's most half-timbered historic structures. An easy day-trip by train north of Paris will bring you to the cathedral towns of Amiens and Rouen, the gem of Normandy.
Amiens has an attractive pedestrian zone running through the modern downtown, and an interesting, if small, Old Town, but it is the cathedral we have come to see - the largest gothic cathedral in France, the land that invented this enduring form. Not only large, but perfect in form with all the standard gothic design you could hope for.
it's really quite easy to get to Amiens from Paris. It's just about one hour and 10 minutes by train, and there are direct trains that go straight there, so it's simple and you'll be there in the morning. A delight to explore on foot, start out from the train station and keep on going through one historic lane after another.
Here too you will find a famous cathedral but in this case the town itself is the main attraction, its narrow streets lined with thriving shops and historic monument, including the place where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake. Photographed during the Christmas season when tykes are skating in the main square and colorful lights line the shop fronts, this is a special time and place to enjoy.
Upon arrival we’re walking down the main pedestrian mall of the modern part of the city, which is lively with Christmas spirit in our December visit. We’re heading into the old town and in particular we've come here to see the great cathedral.
The Amiens Cathedral is the largest Gothic cathedral in all of France and France is where the Gothic style originated so this is really one special Cathedral. It has the typical Gothic façade with the three main portals with of rich abundance of statues lining each of those three portals with typical Gothic arches.
It is 42 meters high, 70 meters across at its widest point (220 feet), and the length is 145 meters, more than a football field in length. The total area is 7700 square meters is just phenomenal.
There are some Baroque elements inside, but primarily we are looking at a Gothic cathedral. First construction began around the year 1220 A.D. so it's quite early in the Gothic.
It has beautiful stained glass windows on the front and on the transepts. One of the real artistic treasures inside the church is this series of high relief wooden carvings depicting the life of John the Baptist. These were carved in the 1530s and there still show the original painting and the tent there's also the head of John the Baptist as a relic inside this cathedral.
And you get this great feeling of light and air on the interior. St. Sebastian is one of the many saints depicted inside in sculpture and in paintings beautiful pulpit from which the priest could reach out to all of the congregation.
The exterior mirrors the interior in its grand style. And the apse, the rear part of the church, is also spectacular, as seen from the park nearby. Adjacent to the Cathedral is the old town of Amiens.
The old town of Amiens is called St-Leu, or the little Venice of the North, with a series of canals and branches from the river. In the middle ages, this was an industrial town with watermills for the weavers and the dyers and the tanners and the millers.
Some buildings from the Middle Ages are still standing, so it makes a nice little diversionary walk, and then back down through the modern part of town along a pedestrian promenade that will lead you back to the train station.
All in all your visit to Amiens will take you 2 to 3 hours, primarily for that great cathedral, and while you're there have a look at the old town and the modern pedestrian downtown.