Paris, France is known as The City of Light and The City of Love which is probably why it’s the most visited city in the world. With over 3,000 monuments and overflowing with character the city has something for everyone. After all, all human beings need light and even more so: Love. You will fall in love with Paris, if you haven’t already. And a romantic city like this one, will absolutely love you right back!
The austere Basilica has all the gargoyles, spires and grotesque features you would expect from this iconic Gothic structure which was built over the course of 200 years until it’s completion in 1345. Among the highlights of a visit to Notre Dame are the stunning stained glass 13th century Rose Window; the Upper Chapel and the Gallery of Kings featuring the likenesses of 28 Judean Kings. Kids will know of the Cathedral from the story of The Hunchback of Notre Dame written by Victor Hugo who also influenced the history of the Cathedral by bringing attention to the building’s architecture through his book “Notre Dame de Paris”. The cathedral is also where Napoleon crowned himself emperor in 1804.Kept in the cathedral’s treasury are the Crown of Thorns, a nail from the cross and a piece of wood from the original cross used to crucify Jesus. These relics have been verified by the Vatican and to prevent hordes of tourists their location is not widely advertised.
For a great view of Paris climb the 400 stairs up the southern tower where you can see the 13 ton bell called “Emanual”.You can reach the Basilica at metro stop Saint-Michel-Notre Dameon Ile de la Cite Island where you can also find 13th century Sainte Chapelle in the Palais de Justice compound. This church is very brightly colored and decorated with exquisite paintings and stained glass windows. Also on the IIe de la Cite Island is the 13th century Gothic La Conciergerie which gained infamy as a prison during the French Revolution when it played host to doomed prisoners such as Marie-Antoinette.
This recognizable monument is visible from almost where ever you are in Paris, standing at over 300 meters tall it’s a free standing structure held together by over 7 million nails. It was completed in 1889 and named after the architect Gustave Eiffel. The Eiffel Tower stands on 4 pillars. To reach the Eiffel Tower go to Metro stop Bir-Hakeim, if you go to the Ecole Militiare Metro stop you can approach the tower through the Champ de Mars a park with Trocadero Fountains and banks of lawn where you can often see the French doing what they do best! Also on this approach to the Eiffel tower you’ll pass by the Palais de Chaillot and see the dare devil skateboarders and performers.
Your first site of the Louvre will be of the controversial glass I. M. Pei pyramid above the museum’s entrance. You either love or hate the positioning of this modern structure against the classic architecture of the Louvre. Once inside the Louvre can be mind boggling to navigate there is just so much to see so either decide before hand which of the exhibitions interest you or take a guided tour. There are three guided tours daily as well as audio-guides. Most people go to the Louvre primarily to get a glimpse of Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo but the museum has artifacts from every era and every country. Another easier entrance is from Porte des Lions. To reach the Louvre exit the Metro at Palais Royale, Musee du Louvre which is one of the most impressive of the metro stations.
This museum is housed in the renovated Gare d’Orsay train station with high ceilings and lots of space, the fine art on display is uplifting and you may recognize some of your favorites. See work by Gauguin, Monet, Cezanne, Van Gogh, Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec and more. Perhaps it is more appealing than the Louvre because you can cover it all within a few hours. To avoid the long lines buy your tickets in advance online alternatively buy a Museum Pass which gives you free entry to over 70 Paris museums and attractions. There is also a combined ticket valid for one day to both the Musee d’Orsay and the Rodin Museum. Nearby is the Musee du Quai Branly displaying African, Asian and American art in a unique building.
This incredible monument stands in the middle of an enormous traffic circle, Place Charles de Gaulle, on the Champs-Elysees. Built in the 1800’s on Napoleon’s orders originally to honor his soldiers it became a tribute to all French soldiers. The names of 128 battles are engraved on the Arc. Thus the Arc de Triomphe has deep patriotic significance to the French and is a focal point during most national ceremonies. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is beneath the Arc and every day at 18:30 a flame is rekindled. It’s possible to admire the Arc from afar or reach it through an underground tunnel on Avenue de la Grande Armee. You can also climb the 40 steps to the top of the Arc for8 Euros. From the top you can look all the way to the skyscrapers in La Defense. From the Arc de Triomphe the Avenue des Champs-Elysees runs towards the Place de la Concorde, the largest plaza in Paris famed for the 3,300 year old Egyptian Obelisk of Luxor. Just off of the Place de la Concorde L’eglise de St-Marie-Madeleine is a church which resembles a Greek Temple from the outside but within murals cover the ceiling and beneath is a statue Mary Magdalene ascending to heaven.
The extremely elegant avenue of super exclusive stores is always included in a trip to Paris yet most tourists cannot afford to buy anything here. A stroll down the avenue and a photo with one of the street signs is about all most tourists can afford! Originally home to only the most luxurious brands like Vuitton and Guerlain today you can find Nike, Zara and even Gap lining the avenue. If you’re done with shopping (window shopping) take a stroll down to the Place de la Concorde and cross into the Tuileries Garden which runs all the way to the Louvre. This enormous expanse of green includes some outstanding sculptures; fountains; playgrounds and terraces. The Jardin des Tuileries has featured in many famous French paintings such as Manet’s “Music in the Tuileries”.
This beautiful white Basilica stands atop the Butte Montmartre, the highest point in Paris and the “Sacred Heart of Jesus” looks down on the most bohemian neighborhood in Paris. Constructed between 1875 and 1914 the building is in the Romano-Byzantine style and the combination of symbols of nationalism like the statue of Joan of Arc and King saint Louis IX on horseback with the more traditional religious symbols are meant to represent the unity of church and state. Sacre Coeur is extremely beautiful with three large pointed domes, stained glass windows and three arched entrances. The neighborhood of Montmarte has been a popular meeting point for artists since the beginning of the 20th century even Picasso, Renoir and Monet spent time here. Today the painters on Place du Tertre wait in line to grab you out of the crowd and produce a portrait for a whopping sum. Rather spend your time strolling up and down the narrow cobbled lanes on the hill and visit the many specialty stores and art galleries. Sain Pierre de Montmartre is a quaint church on the hill and see the Moulin de la Galette windmill which has been previously painted by many famous artists.
The bones of 6 million bodies were moved to this subterranean ossuary in 1788 after the graves yards became over packed. Conveniently the old stone mines were vacant and so the “quarries of Paris” became the new location for neatly stacked and arranged bones. A sign above the entrance reads “Halt! This is the Empire of the Death”. Once you pass the 130 steps you are faced with a wall of sculls. In other parts the bone arranger got bored and started making heart shapes out of leg bones and amusing himself by becoming a little too creative! Even Napoleon was fascinated by the underground burial ground. Go to Metro Denfert-Rochereau.
This is a tourist attraction you can visit at night, in fact it’s preferable although even during the daytime the Moulin Rouge’s large windmill turns on the roof of the nightclub building. Surprisingly this cabaret venue dating back to 1889 has kept its classic charm and not turned sleazy, some of the dancers perform topless but the dancing, music and presentation are extremely professional. It’s also where the Cancan was born. Apart from the performance the tables with little red lamps on them and plush red velvet seats make you feel like you are part of a film set. Entrance is between 95 – 200 Euros and the club can be found at 82 Boulevard de Clichy.
Take a break from the crowded tourist attractions to see a little of the local, but not indigenous, people’s way of live. One of two covered passages dating back to 1828 this is the Little India of Paris with ethnic restaurants and stores selling Saries and Bollywood films. Indian and Pakistani music is in the air as well as the aroma of curry coming from the restaurants. You can also get Ayurveda treatments here and visit the Ganesh Temple. The closest Metro stop is La Chapelle.
The American Statue of Liberty was a gift from the French in the 1880’s and not to be outdone the American expats in Paris gave one in return! Many are surprised to come across the Statue of Liberty’s baby sister on Ile des Cygnes near the Grenelle Bridge. The 11.5 meter high statue has an even smaller sister of human proportions in Jardin du Luxembourg. The Luxembourg Garden has a large body of water surrounded by statues, paths and flower beds. The Medici Fountain and Fountain of the Observatory are two of the better known water features. There is also an orchard and on the northern side of the garden and the Palais du Luxembourg was once home to Napoleon’s senate and later the occupying Nazis .The sweetest smelling part of this palace is the Orangery abundant with orange and lemon trees. Adjacent to the palace is the Musee du Luxembourg which displays temporary exhibitions. Reach the Luxembourg Gardens from Metro stop Odeon.
Les Puces flea market (Les Puces de Saint-Ouen) covers 70,000 square meters and opens on weekends and for shorter hours on Mondays. From the Porte de Clignancourt metro follow the shoppers towards Rue des Rosiers. You’ll find all manner of items here as it is really a melting pot of several diverse markets. Marche de Montreuil on Avenue de la Porte de Montreuil is more of a jumble sale and great for those who like to hunt down hidden gems. The Marche Biologique Raspail on Boulevard Raspail is the place to go for fresh produce and organic goods in a fancy Rive Gauche neighborhood. On Rue Dejean you’ll find Marche Rue Dejean a market selling brand name rip-offs as well as authentic ethnic goods. African and Asian vendors sell food, clothing, jewelry, textiles and more all with an exotic twist. On Rue du Faubourg St-Denis you’ll find a mixture of ethnic and traditional stalls and cuisine. For textiles and fabric try the Marche Saint-Pierre on Rue Charles Nodier. Rue Mouffetard holds one of the oldest markets in Paris and is in a fascinating neighborhood. Marche aux Fleurs et aux Oiseaux on Ile de la Cite at Place Louis-Lepine overflows with fragrant flowers. Try visiting on a Sunday when birds join in completing the colorful cacophony.
On Pont de l’Alma you’ll find a rather unusual Paris attraction – the Paris sewers. For just 4.2 Euro you can descend into a complete city beneath a city. From around 1850 the sewage system in Paris has been growing even as recently as 1977 additions were being made. Now the underground city runs 2,093km. The sewers feature in The Phantom of the Opera and in Les Miserables. The sewers are high enough and wide enough to walk through comfortably although the smell may put some off. You venture into the bowels of Paris includes an audiovisual presentation, an exhibition and then the sewer walk on walkways hovering above the fresh flowing human refuse.
Being so famous for “Love” inevitably there is a museum in Paris dedicated to it! The Musee de l’Erotisme on Boulevard de Cliché may be the only museum that stays open till 02:00. The museum covers sex and erotica through the ages as used by different cultures. You can also see some 1920’s erotic movies and the infamous Jean Marc Laroche skeletons. The museum is a good giggle and the subject matter is handled tastefully. Find this museum at Blanche metro stop. Close by is the Musee de la Vie Romantique a museum dedicated to another aspect of love – romance. The museum is down a narrow cobbled lane and housed in a classic home with ivy dripping off the walls. On display are paintings and sculptures in the romantic style and mementos of famous romantic characters. For example you can see here a caste of Chopin’s hand! In the same vicinity is the “Wall of I Love Yous”, a 40 square meter wall with I Love You written in every possible language. The wall is in the Square Jehan Rictus and is reached from Metro stop Abbesses.
The museum is in what used to be August Rodin’s home, Hotel Biron, and his sculptures and bronze work can be seen on 2 floors of the building. The well groomed garden of the Rodin Museum contains some of the artist’s sculpture as well as a small lake and café. The most well known of Rodin’s works – The Thinker and The Kiss – are also on display here. Reach the museum from the Varenne or Invalides Metro stops and entrance fees depend on your age (18-25 year olds from the EU go free) but the adult entrance fee for all exhibitions is 10 Euro.
Many tourists like to visit the final resting places of their heroes, well in Paris you can find sculptors, painters, prime ministers and other famous figures of the past. The residents here include Simone de Beauvior, Emile Zola, Samuel Beckett, Joelle, Jim Morrison, Edith Piaf, Bernard Lacoste and many more in the 190,000 square meters. In the same area of Montparnasse is La Tour Montparnasse this 231 meter high skyscraper has 59 floors with a restaurant and observation terrace on the top floor for the public.
Take the metro to Les Halls and aim for Rue Rambuteau behind the futuristic contemporary art museum of the Pompidou Center where you’ll find the Gothic Saint Eustache dating back to 1637. The church was once used by farmers who would bring their produce to the adjacent food halls, when the food halls moved the “Gardener’s Church” got its present name. It was also where Louis XIV took his first communion. The 8000 pipe church organ is renowned ands recitals are held here regularly. Between the church and Les Halles is a work of public art by Henri de Miller, it’s an enormous white face lying on its side called The Hearing. In the nearby Square des Innocents is one of the last renaissance fountains and Cimetiere des Innocents will be familiar to those into the Vampire Chronicles as Armand’s home. Not far from here is the Medieval Tour Jeans sans Peur on Rue Etienne Marcel.
This impressive neo-Renaissance building has long been the administrative center of Paris where the city council meets, although what we see today is a newer version of the original 17th century building which burnt to the ground in 1871. The square in front of the building has a public ice rink in winter and in summer you can enjoy exhibitions and concerts although a guillotine stood here during the French Revolution! There are daily tours of the luxurious interior of the building but they must be booked in advance. Find the Town Hall at 29 Rue Rivoli.
This quarter of Paris is dominated by the student life of the famous Sorbonne. Visit the Chapelle de la Sorbonne. Also in the Latin Quarter is the Pantheon, intended as an Abbey it became a mausoleum for Voltaire, Ruosseau, Marie Curie and others. You can also find here the Institut du Monde Arabe, the Museum of Natural History and the Musee de Cluny.
From the Champs Elysees it’s a short walk across the Alexadre III Bridge and the Esplanade des Invalides to one of Paris’s finest monuments dedicated to France’s military past. Intended to be a hospital for soldiers the classic building became much more than that. The dome of the Chapelle Saint-Jerome shines with gold while beneath it Napoleon’s ashes are incased in a tomb of red quartzite. The Musee de l’Armee shows you medieval arms and other violent apparatus and you can also visit the Musee d’Histoire Contemporaine and the Musee des Plans-reliefs at the expansive Invaledes.
This is not just for those who enjoy opera the opera house is a masterpiece in opulence and grandeur. It has chandeliers, 1,979 plush red seats, wide staircases and gilded details on the walls. For 9 Euros you can visit the public areas during the day or there is an option of a more in depth look at the theatre with a guided tour for 13.5 Euros. The Palais Garnier is on Rue Scibe.
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