Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon – A complete guide

Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon, standing in the heart of bustling Ho Chi Minh City, is a beacon of historical and architectural grandeur. Constructed during the French colonial era, this cathedral is not just a religious symbol but a testament to the city's rich cultural tapestry. Recently, it has undergone significant restoration, reviving its majestic allure and continuing to captivate both locals and tourists with its timeless elegance.
Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon - A complete guide
Table of Contents

Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon - Overview

Location & accesibility

The Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon, officially known as the Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of The Immaculate Conception (or Nhà Thờ Đức Bà Sài Gòn in Vietnamese), is a distinguished landmark located at No. 1 Cong Truong Cong xa Paris St, in District 1, Ho Chi Minh Minh City, Vietnam. The cathedral occupies a prime position in the city’s urban landscape.

The cathedral is strategically placed in the downtown area of Ho Chi Minh City, making it easily accessible to both locals and tourists. Its location at the Paris Square, near the historic Post Office and other colonial-era buildings like Independence Palace, places it at the epicenter of the city’s cultural and historical district. The area surrounding the cathedral is well-connected by various modes of transportation, including buses, taxis, and motorbikes, which are common means of transport in the city.

Estimating travel times to the Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon from various popular hotel locations in Ho Chi Minh City:

  • From District 1 (City Center): If your hotel is in the central part of District 1, it typically takes about 5-10 minutes to reach the Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon.
  • From District 3: Hotels in District 3 are relatively close, and it usually takes approximately 10-15 minutes to get to the cathedral.
  • From District 5 (Chinatown): Traveling from District 5, expect a journey of around 20-30 minutes to the cathedral, depending on traffic conditions.
  • From District 7 (Phu My Hung): From the Phu My Hung area in District 7, it can take about 30-40 minutes to reach the cathedral.
  • From Tan Binh District (Near Tan Son Nhat International Airport): If you’re staying near the airport, the travel time to the cathedral is typically around 30-45 minutes, depending on traffic.
  • From Binh Thanh District: From Binh Thanh District, it usually takes about 15-20 minutes to get to the Notre Dame Cathedral.
  • From District 2 (Thao Dien area): Staying in the Thao Dien area of District 2, expect a travel time of approximately 30-40 minutes to the cathedral.

Do you need entry tickets for the cathedral?

You don’t. The Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon is free to access for any visitors. However, as the church is under renovation, visiting inside the church may be limited. 

Will the renovation be finished in 2024?

No, you won’t be able to see the finished Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon until 2027. The church has been under construction since 2017 and was supposed to be done in 2023. However, the pandemic Covid-19 messed up the plan and made the process much longer. To learn more about the process of Notre Dame Cathedral Saigon’s renovation, read this article:

Notre Dame Cathedral Saigon is under construction till 2027

Meanwhile, you can still visit the outside of the church, and other landmarks nearby.

Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon is under renovation until 2027
Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon is under renovation until 2027

Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral History

Mid-19th century

Post the French takeover of Cochinchina, a burgeoning Catholic community necessitated a place of worship in Saigon. The initial efforts led to a modest structure on Ngo Duc Ke Street, inadequate for the growing congregation. This led to the construction of a wooden church in 1863 on the Charner canal bank, under the auspices of Bishop Lefevre. This temporary solution set the stage for a grander vision.

The original Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral in 1863
The original Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral in 1863

Late 1870s-Early 1880s

The inception of the iconic Notre-Dame Cathedral marked a significant chapter in Saigon’s architectural history. The groundbreaking ceremony in 1877 by Bishop Isidore Colombert heralded the construction of a monument that was not just a place of worship but a symbol of French influence. The cathedral, completed in 1880, was a marvel of Gothic architecture, with its materials, including the distinctive red bricks, imported from France, signifying the global connections of the era.

Inauguration Ceremony of new Notre Dame Cathedral Saigon in 1880
Inauguration Ceremony of new Notre Dame Cathedral Saigon in 1880

20th century

The cathedral’s evolution continued with the addition of two majestic bell towers in 1895. These towers, crowned with six bronze bells from France, not only enhanced the cathedral’s skyline but also echoed the spiritual resonance across Saigon. Interestingly, the towers initially lacked roofs – a feature added later under architect Gardes’ guidance, pushing their height to an impressive 57 meters.

In 1959, a pivotal transformation occurred. Bishop Joseph Pham Van Thien’s commissioning of the Our Lady of Peace statue from Rome and its subsequent installation rechristened the cathedral as Notre-Dame Cathedral. This event marked a deepening of local devotion, intertwining the cathedral’s identity with the city’s spiritual life.

The cathedral’s significance was further cemented when Pope John XXIII elevated it to the status of a basilica in 1962, following the establishment of Roman Catholic dioceses in Vietnam.

Notre Dame Cathedral Saigon before the bell tower addtition in 1895
Notre Dame Cathedral Saigon before the bell tower addtition in 1895
Notre Dame Cathedral Saigon during the built of bell towers
Notre Dame Cathedral Saigon during the built of bell towers

21st century phenomena

A remarkable event unfolded in 2005 when the statue of Our Lady of Peace was reportedly seen shedding tears. This phenomenon drew thousands, transforming the cathedral into a pilgrimage site overnight and exemplifying the deep-rooted spiritual connection the locals have with the edifice. To learn more about this event, read this article:

The “Weeping Virgin Mary” Phenomenon at Notre Dame Cathedral in Saigon

Recent developments

Since 2017, the Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon has undergone restoration efforts to preserve its historical and architectural integrity. These efforts reflect the broader movement in Ho Chi Minh City to conserve cultural heritage amidst rapid urbanization.

As this is the guide to Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon, we will only go briefly into the history of the cathedral. To learn a deep understanding of this topic, you can read our detailed article here:

Full history of Notre Dame Basilica Saigon: 1863 till present days

Architecture of the Notre Dame Saigon

Architectural style and structure

The cathedral’s architecture uniquely combines Roman and Gothic elements. The building’s layout follows the Basilica form, featuring a main central nave, a semicircular apse, and five small chapels. It measures 91 meters in length and 35.5 meters in width, with the roof reaching a height of 21 meters. The two bell towers, a prominent feature of the cathedral, soar to a height of 57.6 meters, including the spires added in 1895.

Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral follows Gothic and Roman architecture style
Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral follows Gothic and Roman architecture style

Exterior features

The exterior of the Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon is as striking as its interior. The façade is symmetrically designed, with the front bell towers being the highest point. The entire surface of the cathedral is built with exposed bricks and Bien Hoa greenstone, giving it a distinctive pink hue that has remained vibrant over the years without the need for plastering.

The cathedral from the outside
The cathedral from the outside

Bell towers and main entrance

The two bell towers are not only a visual highlight but also historically significant. Each tower houses six bells, with a combined weight of 28.85 tons. The main entrance is adorned with a large clock, made in Switzerland in 1887, which, despite its age, still functions accurately.

Bell towers and the clock of Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon
Bell towers and the clock of Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon

Statues and surroundings

In front of the cathedral, a statue of Our Lady of Peace, carved in Italy and brought to Vietnam in 1959, adds to the spiritual ambiance of the site. The cathedral’s location, in the heart of Saigon, without fences or enclosing walls, makes it an integral part of the city’s urban landscape.

Statue of Peaceful Notre Dame in front of the church
Statue of Peaceful Notre Dame in front of the church

Interior design

Inside, the cathedral’s Roman style is evident in its simple outer walls and minimal decorations. The high ceilings and broken arches are characteristic of classical Gothic architecture, creating a sense of grandeur and tranquility. The main altar, crafted from a single marble block and supported by six angels, is a focal point of the interior.

Interior design of the church
Interior design of the church

Stained glass windows

The cathedral houses 56 stained glass windows, 31 round rose windows, and 25 bull’s-eye windows. These elements not only allow for ample natural light but also contribute to the serene and sacred atmosphere within the cathedral.

Glass windows of the Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon
Glass windows of the Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon

Materials and construction

Most of the materials used in the cathedral’s construction, including bricks, tiles, steel, and stained glass, were imported from France. The foundation was designed to bear a load ten times the weight of the structure, ensuring its stability and longevity.

Visitor guide to Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon

Transportations to Saigon Notre Dame

Here are some means of transportation that you can use to travel to the Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon from your hotel/ place:

1. Taxi

  • Most Convenient: Taxis are readily available throughout the city.
  • Reliable Companies: Look for reputable companies like Vinasun or Mai Linh.
  • Cost-Effective: Reasonably priced, especially for short distances.

2. Motorbike Taxi (Xe Ôm)

  • Local Experience: A popular and authentic way to travel around the city.
  • Negotiate the Price: Always agree on the fare before starting your journey.
  • Availability: Easily found on street corners or through ride-hailing apps like Grab.

3. Public Bus

  • Economical Choice: The cheapest way to travel.
  • Bus Routes: Several bus routes stop near the cathedral. Check the latest city bus routes and schedules.
  • Experience Local Life: A great way to immerse yourself in the daily life of locals.

4. Ride-Hailing Apps (e.g., Grab, Go-Viet)

  • Convenient and Modern: Book a ride through your smartphone.
  • Options Available: Choose between a car or a motorbike ride.
  • Transparent Pricing: Fares are fixed and shown in the app.

5. Bicycle

  • For the Adventurous: Rent a bicycle if you’re staying nearby and enjoy a leisurely ride.
  • Environmentally Friendly: A green way to explore the city.
  • Rental Shops: Available in many tourist areas.

6. Walking

  • Ideal for Nearby Tourists: If you’re staying in the city center, the cathedral is within walking distance.
  • Explore at Your Pace: Walking allows you to explore the surrounding areas like the Saigon Central Post Office and other nearby attractions.

Opening time

  • Visiting hours (outside): 24 hours
  • Visiting inside: only mass time
  • Recommended visiting time: early morning or late afternoon

Since 2017, the opening time of Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon has changed, visitors can only have a look at the church from the outside, and can go inside only when the masses are operated.

Mass time schedule

Here is the weekly mass schedule of Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon. Keep in mind that the English Mass only takes place at 9:30 AM every Sunday. The rest of the masses will be in Vietnamese.

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
5:30 5:30 5:30 5:30 5:30 5:30 5:30
8:00 17:30 17:30 17:30 17:30 17:30 17:30
Official Mass Schedule - Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon - Photo in 2024
Official Mass Schedule - Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon - Photo in 2024
A mass at Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon
A mass at Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon

What to expect

As the Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon is now under construction, here is what’s in there for you to expect if visiting the place:

  • A look at a famous historical site
  • Not being able to look into details
  • Take some close-up photos, otherwise, they will be blocked by the construction
  • Spending 5-10 minutes and go to the next attractions

Our advice? Don’t put your expectations too high when visiting the church before 2027. Just consider it as a quick look, then ready to go on and wait until your next trip when the renovation is finished.

Best practices when visiting

Here are the best tips for your smooth visit to Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon:

  • Dress Code: Dress modestly as a sign of respect in this religious site.
  • Behavior: Maintain a respectful demeanor, especially if you visit during a mass.
  • Choose the right time: If you want to attend an English mass, choose the 9:30 AM time on Sunday
  • Ready being denied: Some travelers may be denied when trying to enter the church, even when a mass is taking place. This may be because the security guard misunderstands that you are just visiting, not attending the mass

Attractions near Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon

Here’s a list of nearby attractions you can explore:

1. Saigon Central Post Office

  • Distance: Directly across from the cathedral.
  • Highlight: A stunning example of French colonial architecture, still functioning as a post office.

2. War Remnants Museum

  • Distance: About 1 km from the cathedral.
  • Highlight: Offers a poignant look at the Vietnam War through exhibits and photographs.

3. Reunification Palace (Independence Palace)

  • Distance: Less than 1 km away.
  • Highlight: A landmark of historical significance, known for its role in the fall of Saigon.

4. Saigon Opera House (Municipal Theatre)

  • Distance: Approximately 1.5 km.
  • Highlight: A beautiful example of French colonial architecture, hosting various performances.

5. Ben Thanh Market

  • Distance: Around 2 km from the cathedral.
  • Highlight: A bustling market and a great place to shop for local handicrafts, textiles, and souvenirs.

6. Ho Chi Minh City Museum

  • Distance: Roughly 1 km.
  • Highlight: Exhibits on the city’s history, culture, and the revolution.

7. Nguyen Hue Walking Street

  • Distance: About 1.5 km.
  • Highlight: A vibrant pedestrian street lined with cafes, shops, and often street performances.

8. Bitexco Financial Tower – Saigon Skydeck

  • Distance: Around 2 km.
  • Highlight: Offers panoramic views of the city from its observation deck.

9. Museum of Vietnamese History

  • Distance: Approximately 2 km.
  • Highlight: Showcases Vietnam’s history with a vast collection of artifacts.

10. Tao Dan Park

  • Distance: Less than 1 km.
  • Highlight: A serene park, perfect for a relaxing stroll or observing local life.

11. Vincom Center

  • Distance: About 1 km.
  • Highlight: A modern shopping mall with a variety of international and local brands.

Travelers' opinions

Here are some websites you can visit to read detailed reviews of the Saigon Notre Dame:

However, if you are visiting the Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon but are too confused about the reviews on the internet, you can read our summary and analysis of traveler’s reviews here:

Architectural splendor and historical significance

A common thread in many reviews is the admiration for the cathedral’s architectural grandeur. Visitors are often awestruck by its striking red-brick facade, twin bell towers, and intricate stained glass windows. The cathedral’s design, a blend of Romanesque and Gothic styles, is not just a visual treat but also a symbol of the city’s colonial past. History enthusiasts and architecture buffs alike find the cathedral a compelling visit, offering a glimpse into the rich tapestry of Saigon’s history.

Spiritual and peaceful ambiance

Many reviews emphasize the cathedral’s serene and spiritual atmosphere. Despite its location in a bustling city, the cathedral provides a peaceful escape. Visitors appreciate the quiet and reflective environment, whether they are attending mass or simply soaking in the tranquility. This aspect of the cathedral makes it a unique destination for those seeking a moment of calm in the busy urban landscape.

Impact of renovations

However, a significant number of reviews mention the ongoing renovations, which seem to have impacted the visitor experience. While some express disappointment over restricted access and obscured views, others understand these measures as essential for the preservation of this historic landmark. The renovations, though temporarily detracting from the cathedral’s full glory, are seen as necessary for maintaining its structural integrity and aesthetic appeal for future generations.

Newest photos updated in 2024

Best tour to Saigon Notre Dame

As you reach the concluding part of our comprehensive guide, “Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon – A Complete Guide,” it’s only fitting to recommend the best way to experience this iconic landmark and its surroundings. For those looking to delve deeper into the wonders of Saigon, including the Notre Dame Cathedral, the “Ho Chi Minh Sightseeing Tour: Highlights & Must-see” by AN Tours Vietnam stands out as an exceptional choice.

This tour is not just a visit; it’s an immersive journey through the heart of Ho Chi Minh City. It skillfully combines the historical grandeur of the Notre Dame Cathedral with other must-see attractions like the Central Post Office and the War Remnants Museum. The convenience of motorbike transfers and the expertise of an English-speaking private driver enhance the experience, making it both comfortable and enlightening.

Ho Chi Minh Sightseeing Tour: Highlights & Must-see

This article is written by:
AN Tours Vietnam – Best chosen Vietnam traveling experiences  – An expert Vietnam travel company that gives the best advice and insightful tips & tricks for your trip to Vietnam.

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