Look up. Way, way up. If you are standing in front of the big, beautiful church called Notre Dame de Reims in France, you will see a building that seems to be reaching for the sky. Helping children to appreciate the carved statues, gargoyles and incredible stained glass art will be easy, considering the abundance and scale of it all. With a little pre-trip reading, traveling with kids to Reims can become one of the highlights of a trip to France that the entire family will always smile about.
Do a little prep work in a book
Checking out your local library or order from your favorite book source “Cathedral: The Story of Its Construction” by David Macaulay. With amazing clarity and detail, this book spells out the challenging work that went into creating these soaring buildings that have lasted more than 800 years. And seriously, do you know a child that would not giggle at the first time upon hearing the term ‘flying buttress’, ‘monstrance’, or ‘pilaster’?
See all the ugly faces
Do you know the difference between a gargoyle and a grotesque? Locating sculpted figures on the exterior of the church that protrude out from the building can inspire some intense inspection of the structure. The gargoyles that seem to have open mouths act as rain gutters. Channeling rainwater away from the building through these sometimes frightening, but always interesting, figures makes them both decorative and functional. Grotesques are similar figures without the rainspout. Look for rams, griffins, goats, cats and combinations of several in the ‘chimera’ figures.
There are stories in the windows
The stained glass windows at Reims are an interesting mix of old and new with a few in between. Again, learning a bit about the glassmaking process ahead of time gives kids a great foundation for appreciating all of the incredible windows in the Reims cathedral. A quick peek at the PBS video from the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago gives a solid, helpful rundown of the process. Stained glass windows are not just pretty faces—medieval windows usually tell a biblical story. Since most of the population at that time did not know how to read, the windows taught the people important religious stories through pictures.
Come back at night for a real treat
The night display of lights on the façade of the cathedral is still another highlight; it is set to music in a stunningly beautiful 11pm performance. The show incorporates classical choir songs and Gregorian chants—as well as more modern music—and the light matches the music as pretty shades are projected onto the façade changing to a clever neon that stylishly outlines the structure; brilliant flashes accompany some of the more dramatic music. It lasts about half an hour and can be chilly, so bring jackets.
There is so much to do in Reims from museums to the planetarium to the Bibliotheque Carnegie. Charming shops and cafes line the main streets of the city as well. The Café du Palais offers delightful hot cocoa and a variety of sweets, and La Tabla Anna offers authentic French food café-style, although it can be a bit upscale. Waida offers some of Reims most delicious chocolates, and La Maison Fossier is a terrific spot for the wonderful confections known as the pink biscuits of Reims. The shopping district near the center of town, close to the cathedral and where these shops are also located, offers a variety of national and international sellers worth exploring.
Traveling with Kids to Reims
Reims is only 45 minutes from Paris by train. Whether you go for a day, or spend the night in one of Reims’ beautiful hotels and soak up an additional day in the Champagne region, it is a trip about bubbles, caves and clocks that children are certain to remember fondly.
K. L. Turner is a freelance writer with roots in Illinois, Colorado, Idaho and Florida’s left coast. She writes with academic authority on all things water and with 3D experience about travel, wine and sailing. Follow her on Twitter @turnerkat