Most people in Paris live in apartments and these apartment blocks can be seen all over Paris. In a way it feels like there are two cities in Paris – the old City in the centre where all the most amazing buildings can be found, and then the rest of the City, which spreads out around it. When you travel from Charles de Gaulle Airport into the city centre, you will pass through the outer parts of Paris, but then as you get closer in to the centre of Paris the charm and beauty of Paris becomes apparent. Even the apartments change too from the modern square box designs to beautiful buildings with their mansard roofs and ornate windows, doorways, facades and wrought iron balconies. You will constantly find yourself looking up to take in the beauty of your surrounds. This is Paris, and you could well for in love with this city.
Safety can be an issue in some of outer suburban areas, and even in central Paris you will be warned about pickpockets. It is best not to wear lots of expensive jewellery and you should keep close watch on where your passport, wallet and handbag are when walking or travelling on the Metro.
You must remember that Paris is a big city of over 8.6 million people, and if you add in the number of tourists who come here at all times of the year, that number skyrockets.
One of the hardest things to do in Paris is deciding what you want to see and do relative to the time that you have.
In my view the three best things to do are – 1. Take a boat ride on the River Seine, which will give you a feel for the city, the fabulous bridges - many of them works of art in their own right and the different great buildings on each side of the River; 2. Visit the Louvre – and take the time to see as much as you can here, and 3. See the Eiffel Tower.
Then it is a question of what other places you want to spend time seeing – be that seeing Galleries, Museums, Churches, Parks, Theatres, Gardens, Shopping, having coffee, lunch, learning to speak French or just wandering the streets to pick up on the atmosphere. There are lots of things to do and places to visit and it is hard to do everything, so maybe make a short list of the things you really want to see and go from there.
THE EIFFEL TOWER – and area nearby – Nearest Metro, Champ de Mars/Tour Eiffel
Almost everyone who comes to Paris has seen pictures of the Eiffel Tower and everyone who comes to Paris as a tourist wants to see it – from the ground and looking up, or actually going up the Eiffel Tower to see the views from top, first or second floor or head to one of the restaurants that are in the Eiffel Tower too. No doubt you will want your photo taken here and you can even get an expensive glass of champagne at the Champagne Bar up top!
Alexandre Gustav Eiffel (1832-1923) is the French Engineer who designed the Eiffel Tower for the 1889 Exposition Universelle (Universal Exposition) – an Exposition to showcase the best of French artistry, its Empire, machinery, engineering and industry. This Exposition was held on the 100th Anniversary of the 1789 French Revolution that began with the storming of Bastille. Bastille Day is still celebrated on the 14th July each year.
Eiffel was also the engineer who completed the Structural Engineering design work using iron for the Statue of Liberty, designed and built in France and then shipped to New York where it was erected in 1886. The massive head of the Statue of Liberty was first located on the Champ de Mars (Field of Mars) in 1878, the green parkland beside the Eiffel Tower, the statue created to look like the Roman Goddess of Freedom, 'Libertas' before being packed up and shipped to New York. The Statue of Liberty stands 93 metres high, compared to the Eiffel Tower's 301 metres, and there are 354 steps to the top of the crown of the Statue of Liberty, versus 704 steps to the top floor of the Eiffel Tower. You can with a Ticket walk up the steps, just down the steps or take one of the three Elevator lifts up to the top or to level one or level two of the Eiffel Tower.
There is a replica of the Statue of Liberty still in Paris and this is located in Beaugrenelle. Use the Batobus to get there – see below.
No doubt, Alexandre Gustav Eiffel used some of his engineering experience in the use of iron for structural purposes from the construction of the Statue of Liberty, when he designed the Eiffel Tower but he also went on to build many bridges in iron, and in later years wrote books on structural engineering and aeronautics, being one of the pioneers in the use of wind tunnels to calculate the effect of wind on a building's method of construction.
At the base of the Eiffel Tower, you will be able to buy tickets and usually join a queue of people doing the same and there are lots of people selling souvenirs too. There is almost a festive feel to the crowd at the base, just enjoying the whole atmosphere. At night the Eiffel Tower also comes alive too, and the tower is lit up and most nights there is also a colour light show too. Ask to see if and when it is happening. At night you probably get the best views of Paris and you can then understand why the City is called "The City of Lights".
The Champ de Mars is a large green parkland area – and at one end of the Champ de Mars you will see the Wall of Peace Memorial and the large building at the end is the Central Ecole Militaire Building, a Military Academy that was founded in 1750 and opened in 1760. This is where Napoleon Bonaparte graduated from in 1784, later becoming the Emperor of France.
Close by to the north side of the Eiffel Tower is the Musée du Quai Branly – a Museum that has a collection of over 3500 artefacts from Asia, Africa, Oceania and the Americas. See www.quaibranly.fr/en
In the opposite direction, over the Pont d'lena (Bridge) are the Gardens of the Trocadero where you will see the Warsaw Fountains and some great statues with the big arc shaped building being the Palais de Chaillot where there is the Paris Aquarium and also an Architecture Museum and the Maritime Museum (Musée de la Marine)with ship models and other maritime items that date back to the 1700's. From the Palais, looking back over the Trocadero Gardens, you can see the symmetry of the Gardens to the Eiffel Tower and beyond. It makes for a good picture. There is also a café in the Palais de Chaillot too.
Just near the Pont d'lena (Bridge) on the Eiffel Tower side you will find a Batobus wharf stop on the Seine River. The Batobus scenic glass top boat– see www.batobus offers 1 and 2 day tickets that allow you to hop on and off at any of their 9 stops along the River – Eiffel Tower, Musée d'Orsay, St Germain de Pres, Notre Dame Cathedral, Jardin des Plantes/cite de la Mode and Design, Hôtel de Ville, Louvre, Champs Elysées and Beaugrenelle. This is a good way to get to any and all of these 9 attractions travelling there via the river.
There are also the many Tour boats next to the River too – and these are also good to catch and hear a commentary about what you are seeing around you. As you will see, there are walkways next to the River itself as well as above the walls on each side of the river, and there are also trishaw bikes that will take usually 2 passengers from one location in the city to another. This is a fun way to move from one location to the next.
There are also buses,Taxis and Segway tours and lots of Tour Parties as you move around the City Centre. You will most certainly spend a lot of time walking, but that is also part of being in Paris, and in the city centre there are no hills to climb, though if you catch the Metro you will be climbing stairs.
The Musée du Louvre and Palais Royal – Metro station – Palais Royal – Musée du Louvre (right at the Louvre).
Note: the Louvre is not open on Tuesdays.
The Louvre is more than a Museum and more than an Art Gallery - it is huge, amazing and it is the biggest, most popular and therefore busiest Museum and Gallery complex in the world.
Yes, the biggest in the world, with around 10 million people visiting the Museum each year. There will be crowds of people, but this will mainly be in the entrance to the Museum area (below ground level) under the Glass Pyramid (designed by Ieoh Ming Pei) where the Information desk is also located. Here too there are shops and cafes in the arcades.
You can also pre-purchase tickets on-line – See www.louvre.fr for where and how to do this. You can also buy a Museum Pass that enables you to visit some or all of the 60 or so museums in Paris. It would be a daunting task to visit them all!
IN MY VIEW – before even going into the Louvre, take some time to see the buildings from the outside. The buildings of the Louvre are built around large central rectangular squares (Cour Napoleon) near where the glass pyramid (built in 1989 and designed by I M Pei) rises above the ground, the Cour Carrée and Place du Carrousel. From within the squares you can see the grandeur of the stone buildings that surround you with their many decorative sculptures, windows, rooflines, columns and archways. It is a great space right here in what feels like the centre of civilisation.
On a fine summer's day, the buildings, sculptures, sky, the people, glass pyramid and a pools of water, designed as pyramid triangular pieces where people take off the shoes and dabble their feet in the water, all add to the atmosphere of this great space in the centre of Paris. It is equally beautiful at night too when the buildings are lit up. It is hard to believe that it was in this space that a Guillotine once operated following the French Revolution.
On the southern end of the of the Place du Carrousel you will see gardens and the Arc du Triomphe du Carrousel built in 1806-1808 as the entrance to the original Tuileries Palace that once stood here. This is not the famous Arc de Triomphe which is much bigger. Beyond the Arc du Triomphe de Carrousel, is the vast Jardin des Tuileries gardens that lead all the way to the Place de la Concorde.
On the northern end of the plaza area, there are also three smaller garden spaces – the Jardin de l'Infante, Jardin de l'Oratoire and the Cour Carrée. All are beautiful to see, so even before entering the Louvre Museum itself, you get a real feel for the Louvre and what you are about to see.
The Louvre History dates back to the year 1190 when a fortress was first built here for the French King, Philippe Auguste (1180-1223) and some of the foundations of this fortress can still be seen in the lower hall in the Louvre western Hall (the Salle Basse).
Since that time, there has been a succession of buildings and Palaces built here for French Kings, up to the time of the French Revolution, and then by Napoleon, with parts of the buildings first being used as a Museum in 1793. From that time onwards, the Louvre has both grown in physical size and in the significance of the collections that are to be found here. Much of the collections are priceless and here you will be able to see through the many galleries some 35,000 artworks, everything from the famous Mona Lisa Painting by Leonardo Da Vinci and other masters to Egyptian, Greek, Etruscan, Roman antiquities, Islamic Art, marble sculptures, Asian and African and Oceania artefacts, paintings, real Egyptian mummies and much more. It is not just the objects on display- it is the decoration of the galleries that you walk through. There are also the special rooms of the Palace where Louis IV and later Napoleon once lived and displays of some of the most beautiful clothing, ceramics, silverware and gold. You could easily stay here the whole day and not see everything.
Musée d'Orsay – Closest Metro station, Musée d'Orsay.
Musée D'Orsay is located across the River Seine opposite the Louvre and this Museum is more of an Art Gallery than a Museum in the traditional sense. The building, built in 1900 was once a train station, at the time when Railways Stations were being built as grand structures, but it was only used as a station until 1939, falling into disuse until in 1986 when it opened as a Galley Museum. Here you will find paintings by the Masters, including Renoir, Degas, Monet, Toulouse-Lautrec, Van Gogh, Rodin, Gaugin and others.
The Tuileries Garden –
The Jardin des Tuileries extends from the Louvre to Place de la Concorde and then beyond that to the Avenue des Champs- Elysées and the Arc de Triomphe where 12 Avenues radiate outwards from the ring road that surrounds it. This is geometric design on a grand scale, designed to allow the eye to travel in a straight line with beauty on both sides and directly at both ends of the viewing distance.
The Tuileries has the wide pathways, lawn areas, an ornamental lake where toy boats are sailed, manicured shaped trees, flower gardens, garden seats, children's play areas, numbers of statues and it is free to just wander, walk, lunch or just people watch. The best times are certainly in the early springtime when the flowers are at their best, but all year round, this is a garden on a grand scale.
The Grande Roue de Paris (Ferris wheel) is also here in the Tuileries and here you can take a ride to get a bird's eye view of Paris.
The Place de la Concorde – nearest Metro, Concorde
The Place de la Concorde is the large square at the end of the Tuileries that you come to, designed between 1754 and 1763. Here you will see the 3300 year old Obelisk from Egypt with hieroglyphic writing that has stood here since 1831. Originally it was in Luxor, Egypt and it must have taken a huge effort to get it here. This square was where King Louis XVI was guillotined in 1793, and also Marie Antoinette and Robespierre along with over 1100 others between 1793 and 1795. The Guillotine almost became synonymous with the French Revolution, named after Dr Joseph Ignace Guillotin (1738-1814), who proposed the method as being the best and most humane way for a person to be executed. In France the last person to be executed by Guillotine was in 1977, with the Death Penalty abolished in 1981.
Also see the fountains and the 8 statues here that represent eight cities in France – Strasbourg, Lyon, Marseilles, Bordeaux, Nantes, Brest, Rouen and Lille.
Grand Palais and Petit Palais – nearest Metro, Champs-Elysées Clemenceau
The Grand Palais and Petit Palais (opposite) are both close to the Place de la Concorde near the Pont Alexandre III bridge. The Grand Palais has a massive glass roof over a large open space which is where various large Exhibitions are held – See www.grandpalais.fr Behind it on Avenue Franklin D Roosevelt you will also find a Science Museum for Children, called the Palais de La Découverte.
The Petit Palais is one of my MUST SEE favourite places in Paris, both for the building and its ambience, as well as for the displays, bookshop and café that are here. The building, like the Grand Palais was built in 1900 for the Paris World Fair that year. Inside you will see the Exhibits with the building structured around a square central garden with covered walkway seating areas around it. The café also overlooks this garden square creating your own special view of the gardens. It is a magical space to just sit, have a coffee or glass of wine. See www.petitpalais.paris.fr The garden has an almost serene feel, seemingly locked away from the outside world.
Avenue des Champs- Elysées –
The Champs-Elysées leads from La Place de la Concorde to the Arc de Triomphe – one of the most famous avenues in the world. It is just over a mile long (almost 2 kilometres) so quite a long way to walk, but there are bus stops and metro stations along it too, if you wanted to walk part way. This is the grand avenue first commissioned by King Louis XIV in 1667 some 70 metres wide enabling traffic to flow in four lanes both ways with 2 rows of avenue trees on both sides, which are lit with fairy lights at night. There are shops, cafes, restaurants and offices on each side of the Avenue and on Bastille Day (July 14th) the Champs-Elysée is closed to traffic and becomes the centre of Bastille Day celebrations. This is also where the Tour de France cycling finish line is located too and on big occasions such as New Year's Eve it also becomes a place for celebration.
Arc de Triomphe -
The Arc de Triomphe (built between 1806 and 1836) sits at the top of the rise on the Champs Elysées, creating a majestic sight at the end of this grand avenue, particularly when it is lit up at night. The Arc is located at the centre or a large roundabout with 12 Avenues radiating out from it, including the Champs -Elysée, and directly on the other side of the Arc de Triomphe, the Avenue de la Grande Armée leads on to the Avenue Charles de Gaulle and Grande Arch de la Défense (built in 1982).
The Arc de Triomphe was commissioned by Napoleon Bonaparte as a celebration of Grande Armée battle victories and you can see Fresno and sculpture depictions of these battles and lists of soldiers who have died in service to France. The 'Tomb of the Unknown Soldier' from World War I is here too and you can buy a ticket here to take you to a museum and then stairs to the top of the Arc de Triomphe parapet where you get great views over Paris. The Arc de Triomphe is 50 metres high, so you can get a great view looking down and see the 12 Avenues and traffic that head into and outwards from here. This has to be one of the world's biggest roundabouts.
The Grande Arche de la Défense (See www.grandearche.com ) is 5 kilometres (3 miles) further on in a straight line from the Arc de Triomphe. It stands 110 metres high, so over twice the height of the Arc de Triomphe and it was opened ceremonially on Bastille Day (14th July) in 1989 by President Mitterrand (1916-1996). The arch is designed and completed as a massive cube shaped box covered in white marble, and inside you will find offices, a Museum of Computers, a restaurant and a glass lift that will take you to the top to see over Paris from here. The nearest Metro is La Défense. The completion of the Grande Arche saw the completion of the 'L'axe historique' – a historic design vision for the city – linking the Louvre in a straight line all the way to this point.
Île de la Cité – nearest Metro Station is Cité
The Île de Cité is the island in the middle of the Seine River where Notre Dame Cathedral is located, with the Pont Neuf (bridge) with its series of arches crossing over the Seine from the island to the banks of the River on each side. The island has been the centre of Paris since the time of the Parisii tribe were here somewhere about the 3rd Century BC. Paris is named after this tribe, and even today road distances from Paris in France take their distance from the square (Point Zero)on the west side of Notre Dame Cathedral. When you travel on a Tourist Boat on the Seine you will pass under one of the bridge arches on one side of the island and return via the other side. The Pont Neuf (New Bridge) was built in 1607, making it the oldest bridge in Paris, but it was new at the time!
The most famous landmark on the island is certainly Notre Dame Catholic Cathedral, which is stunning Gothic architecture, both inside and outside.
Construction of a church here began in 1163, with most of the Cathedral completed in 1330, with a lot of restoration undertaken between 1841 and 1864. No matter what part of the Cathedral that you look at, you can see the artistry and genius of what has been created here – the 3 Portals (Doorway entrances at the front), arches, statues, windows, the towers, gargoyles, flying buttresses, roofline and the list goes on.
Inside is equally stunning – with the incredible round Rose stained glass window ( 9.6 metres in diameter) and other stained glass windows , a massive pipe organ, said to have 7800 pipes, the High Altar with its sculptures and cross above it, the towering ceiling height, paintings, wall hangings, enough pews to enable 1000's of people to sit, and just the whole ambience making it a MUST SEE in Paris. They also have a Tour of the Cathedral that will provide an insight into the stories and symbolism reflected in the Cathedral's creation, and there is also a Tour that will take you to the towers up top, climbing 422 steps to see the 13 Tonne Bell, gargoyles and a view from the rooftop.
If you are lucky you might hear the organ being played, and it is worth asking to find out when any services, choirs or music are happening.
Behind the Cathedral there is the small square Park where you can get great photos looking up at the Cathedral, a small monument and also if you walk to the tip of the island here you will see the Memorial to those French Jews and others who were taken to German Prisoner of War camps in the Second World War- over 160,000 people.
From here you can see across to the Îlé de Saint Louis, which you can get to via a small bridge, Pont Saint-Louis that crosses to the island. If you do cross over, then head to the Eglise Saint-Louis en L'Îlé. This church dates back to 1622, and is also very beautiful. You will also find nice cafes here too on this island.
In front of Notre Dame Cathedral look for the Crypte Archaelogique (Foundations of former Roman buildings) and off the roadway beside the Cathedral you will find places to sit and have a coffee and buy souvenirs.
On the other end of the island there are Sainte Chapelle and the Palais de Justice de Paris Law Courts, Conciergerie Royal Palace with its round conical towers and the square shaped Tour de l'Horloge (Clock Tower). The clock in on the second level above the street, and is the oldest clock in Paris dating back to 1370.
Sainte Chapelle is walking distance from Notre Dame and faces Rue de Lutèce . This is the Chapel where King Louis IX in the 1200's placed his collection of Holy Relics. Inside you will see the most amazing Stained Glass work with the Chapel holding great statues and religious works. If you can listen to a commentary to explain the stories in each of the stained glass windows and what they represent. Sainte Chapelle is next to the Palais de Justice. You may well have to queue to see inside, but it is worth the wait. The Chapel itself was built between 1246 and 1248, and there are two chapels here – one on ground level built for servants and the one on the Upper level built for Royalty.
Conciergerie is the Palace building with the square tower on one end with the Tour de l'Horloge on one end and great conical towers on top, with masses of windows overlooking the Seine. It was built in the 14th century but during the French Revolution it became a prison, its most famous prisoner being Marie Antoinette, prior to her being Guillotined in 1793. You can still see her prison cell here, along with many other rooms, courtyards and other interesting parts of the Palace building from the time that it was a prison.
If you have been to one end of the 'Ile de la Cité' island where Notre Dame is located, also head to the small park (Square du Vert-Galant) at the other end of the island near the Pont Neuf bridge. It is a great little park with the Seine on both sides, gardens and trees and the small circular pathway with park benches to sit and the Statue of King Henry IV mounted on his horse near the entranceway.
Special Street area –
If you would like to see a really beautiful area of Paris, head to this street and the square here. The street is Rue des Francs-Bourgeois, where the Carnavalet Museum is located at #16. See www.carnavalet.paris.fr with a massive collection of over 600,000 exhibits in around 100 rooms in these former town houses. The closest Metros (walking distance away) are Chemin Vert or St Paul. Also the Picasso Museum is close by at 5 Rue de Thorigny (See www.museepicassoparis.fr ) but also look for the Place des Vosges square with its fountain surrounded by great Parisienne houses – a really beautiful area.
As much as we want to see as much as possible in the time that we are in Paris, you also need time to relax and just soak up the atmosphere – and that might mean having a quiet lunch in one of the thousands of restaurants that are here, or going shopping, or just sitting next to the Seine River and watching the boats go by.
You need to pace yourself.
Travel should always be fun to do, but if the crowds of people are getting to you, or your feet hurt, it's cold, wet or too hot in the middle of summer, then look for things that you will find relaxing.
There are many great parks in Paris, and park benches to just sit. There are also the bars and restaurants and of course shops and of course you could just sit on one of the buses and see Paris from the top of a bus, or if it is cold, this is a good reason to stay indoors and visit museums.
In my mind – one of the best ways to see Paris is from the water – on one of the cruises, or from the Batobus, but equally there are cruises that will take you on one of the two canals that are in Paris – the St Martin Canal and St Denis Canal as well as on the Marne River. These canals run through the heart of Paris and on the St Martin Canal that first opened in 1825, you even travel through a 2.1 kilometre long tunnel under Paris, as well as under bridges and through locks. It's a great way to experience Paris.
The two main companies that take people through the canals and locks can be found at www.canauxrama.com and www.pariscanal.com Also see www.greenriver-paris.fr