explore Paris, France

Explore Paris, France

Explore Paris the “City of Light” and the capital of romance that has been a travellers’ magnet for centuries and a real must-see. Of course, no visit would be complete without a glance at its world famous landmarks. The Eiffel Tower is hard to miss, especially when it is lit beautifully at night, but the Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame and Sacré Coeur are both famous and stunning sights too. With no less than 3,800 national monuments in and around Paris, history is literally around every corner. Stroll through the city’s spacious green parks, with the Luxembourg Gardens as one of the favourites, and make sure to spend some time on the famous banks of the river Seine. Also, don’t miss the magnificent Palace of Versailles, the grandest reminder of the Ancient Regime located just 20km away from the capital.

Paris, the cosmopolitan capital of France, is one Europe’s largest cities, with 2.2 million people living in the dense, central city and almost 12 million people living in the whole metropolitan area. Located in the north of France on the river Seine, Paris has the well-deserved reputation of being the most beautiful and romantic of all cities, brimming with historic associations and remaining vastly influential in the realms of culture, art, fashion, food and design. Dubbed the City of Light (la Ville Lumière) and Capital of Fashion, it is home to the world’s finest and most luxurious fashion designers and cosmetics. A large part of the city, including the River Seine, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city has the second highest number of Michelin restaurants in the world (after Tokyo) and contains numerous iconic landmarks, such as the world’s most visited tourist site the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, the Notre-Dame Cathedral, the Louvre Museum, Moulin Rouge, and Lido, making it the most popular tourist destination in the world with 45 million tourists annually.

Paris is served by three international airports – for more information, including arrival/departure times, check the official sites.

The best and cheapest way to get around Paris is on foot, and secondly, using the Métro.

Walking in Paris is one of the great pleasures of visiting the City of Light. It is possible to cross the entire city in only a few hours (only if you can somehow keep yourself from stopping at numerous cafés and shops).

To get a great orientation of the city on foot while seeing many of Paris’ major sights, you can do a West to East walk from the Arc de Triomphe to Ile de la Cite (Notre Dame). This walk takes about 1-2 hours without any stops. Start at the top of the Champs Elysees (at the Arc de Triomphe) and begin walking down the Champs Elysees towards Place (‘square’) de la Concorde.

On the way towards the obelisk on the square, you’ll see the major stores and restaurants of Paris’ most famous avenue.

Once you’ve passed the main shopping area, you’ll see the Petit Palais and the Grand Palais to your right.

At Place de la Concorde, you’ll be able to see many of Paris’ major monuments around you. In front of you is the Tuileries, behind you is the Champs-Elysees and Arc de Triomphe, behind you to your right is the Tour Eiffel and Musee d’Orsay, and finally, to your left is the Madeleine.

Continue straight ahead and enter the Tuileries Gardens passing by fountains, flowers, and lovers in the park.

As you continue straight ahead, and out of the garden, you’ll see the pyramid entrance to the Louvre directly in front of you.

With the pyramid directly in front of you, and the Tuileries directly behind you, turn to your right and walk towards the Seine.

Now you can walk along the Seine (eastwards) until you reach Pont Neuf. Cross Pont Neuf and walk through the Latin Quarter, cross the river again to reach Notre Dame Cathedral on Ile de la Cité.

Another interesting walk in the city let you discover the top sights of Montmartre in a few hours. This includes the Sacré-Coeur, Place du Tertre, the Bateau Lavoir, the Moulin de la Galette and all the sights that made Montmartre world famous. The smartest travellers take advantage of the walkability of this city and stay above ground as much as possible. A metro ride of less than 2 stops is best avoided since walking will take about the same amount of time and you’ll be able to see more of the city. That said, pay attention to the Métro stations that you may pass by on your journey; the Métro network is very dense within the city and the lines are virtually always located directly underneath major boulevards, so if you become lost it is easy to regain your bearings by walking along a major boulevard until you find a Métro station.

It’s always fun to experience the city by foot, and there are numerous walking tours around Paris, whether self-guided (with the help of a guidebook or on-line guide) or with a touring guide (booked through your travel agency or hotel). The city is best explored by foot, and some of the most marvelous memories you will have of Paris is walking through secret found places.
The nice thing about Paris is that (at least inside the Boulevard Peripherique) there are no unattractive areas (like ugly housing or industrial sections) to cross while going from one interesting district to another.

One of the best value and most convenient ways to see the sights of Paris is with the Paris Museum Pass, a pre-paid entry card that allows entry into over 70 museums and monuments around Paris (and the Palace of Versailles) and comes in 2-day , 4-day and 6-day denominations. Note these are ‘consecutive’ days. The card allows you to jump lengthy queues, a big plus during tourist season when line can be extensive, and is available from participating museums, tourist offices, and all the main Métro and RER train stations. You will still need to pay to enter most special exhibitions. To avoid waiting in the first long queue to purchase the Museum Pass, stop to purchase your pass a day or more in advance after mid-day. The pass does not become active until your first museum or site visit when you write your start date. After that, the days covered are consecutive. Do not write your start date until you are certain you will use the pass that day and be careful to use the usual European date style as indicated on the card: day/month/year.

Plan your visits: Several sites have “choke points” that restrict the number of visitors that can flow through. These include: The Eiffel Tower, Sainte-Chapelle, The Catacombs and the steps to climb to the top of the Notre Dame Cathedral. To avoid queues, you should start your day by arriving at one of these sites at least 30 minutes before opening time. Otherwise, expect a wait of at least an hour. Most museums and galleries are closed on either Monday or Tuesday. Examples: The Louvre museum is closed on Tuesdays while the Orsay museum is closed on Mondays. Be sure to check museum closing dates to avoid disappointment. Also, most ticket counters close 30-45min before final closing.

All national museums are open free of charge on the first Sunday of the month. However, this may mean long queues and crowded exhibits. Keep away from Paris during Easter week due to crowding. People have to queue up at the Eiffel Tower for several hours even early in the morning. However, this wait can be greatly reduced, if fit, by walking the first two levels, then buying an elevator ticket to the top. Entry to the permanent exhibitions at city-run museums is free at all times (admission is charged for temporary exhibitions).

These listings are just some highlights of things that you really should see if you can during your visit to Paris. The complete listings are found on each individual district page.

Good listings of current cultural events in Paris can be found in ‘Pariscope’ or ‘Officiel des spectacles’, weekly magazines listing all concerts, art exhibitions, films, stage plays and museums. Available from all kiosks.

Landmarks

  • Arc de Triomphe exudes grandeur and offers a central view of the city
  • Catacombsused to store the exhumed bones of about 6 million people from the overflowing Paris cemeteries. They fill a section of caverns and tunnels that are the remains of old stone mines underneath the city. There is a limit to the number of visitors allowed within the Catacombs at one time (200 persons). So, if you arrive just after opening, you must wait until someone exits, approximately 45-60 minutes, before anyone is admitted.
  • Château de Versailles must be seen. France’s most exquisite chateau, on the outskirts of the city, easily visited by train. Once the home to Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.
  • The Eiffel Tower. No other monument better symbolizes Paris.
  • Grand Arche de la Défense. A modern office-building variant of the Arc de Triomphe.
  • Notre Dame Cathedral. Impressive Gothic cathedral that was the inspiration for Victor Hugo’s novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Climb to the top!
  • Opera Garnier. Masterpiece of theatre architecture of the 19th century built by Charles Garnier and inaugurated in 1875 housing the Paris Opera since it was founded by Louis XIV.
  • Underneath, the final resting place for the great heroes of the French Republic including Voltaire, Victor Hugo, and Marie Curie; above, a marvellous view of the city.
  • Père-Lachaise Cemetery. Unlike any cemetery in the world. Ornate grave stones, monuments set among tree lined lanes. See the graves of Jim Morrison, Oscar Wilde, and Frederic Chopin, amongst many others.
  • Sacré Coeur. A church perched on top of the highest point in Paris. Behind the church is the artists’ area, in front are spectacular views of the whole city.
  • Sainte Chapelle. Exquisite stained glass chapel. More beautiful interior than the gloomy Notre Dame Cathedral.
  • Place de la République. Since it’s renovation in 2014 it’s become a pedestrianized open space. Ideal for strolling or people watching. It’s also a place for demonstrations. This is where the crowds gathered in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo shootings.

Museums and galleries

All national museums and monuments are free for all every first Sunday of the month. Most public museums, as well as many public monuments (such as the Arc de Triomphe or the towers of Notre-Dame), are also free for citizens of the European Union or long term residents (over three months), if they are under 26 years old.

  • The Louvre, One of the finest museums in the world. Home of the Mona Lisa and innumerable others. Enormous building and collection, plan at least two visits.
  • Musée d’Orsay, incredible collection housed in a former railway station. Works by the great artists of the 19th century (1848-1914) including Monet’s “Blue Water Lilies, Renoir’s “Bal du moulin de la Galette”, van Gogh’s “Bedroom in Arles”, Whistler’s “The Artists Mother”, etc.
  • Rodin Museum, His personal collection and archives, in a charming home with garden.
  • Picasso Museum, Contains the master’s own collection
  • Musée Marmottan-Monet, Over 300 paintings of Claude Monet. Also, the works of Berthe Morisot, Edgar Degas, Édouard Manet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. “Impression Soleil Levant” by Monet is on display.
  • Musée de l’Orangerie, Jardin des Tuileries] Houses “The Water Lilies” (or “Nymphéas”) – a 360 degree depiction of Monet’s flower garden at Giverny. Also, impressionist and post-Impressionist paintings by Cézanne, Matisse, Modigliani, Picasso, Renoir, Rousseau, Soutine, Sisley and others.
  • Musée Delacroix— Housed in the home of painter Eugene Delacroix.
  • Centre Georges Pompidou, The museum of modern art. The building and adjoining Stravinsky Fountain are attractions in themselves.
  • Les Invalides, Very impressive museum of arms and armor from the middle Ages to today. Also contains the tomb of Napoleon Bonaparte.
  • Cluny, A medieval museum exhibiting the five “The Lady and the Unicorn” tapestries, housed in a part Roman, part medieval building.
  • Le Musee des Arts Decoratifs, Showcasing eight centuries of French savoir-faire.
  • Carnavalet, Museum of Paris history; exhibitions are permanent and free.
  • Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie – La Villette, Science museum primarily for children.
  • Mémorial de la Shoah, Paris’s Holocaust Memorial Museum, in the heart of the Marais on rue Geoffroy l’Asnier. Free Entry, weekly guided tours. Second Sunday of the month there is a free tour in English.
  • Jacquemart-Andre Museum , Private collection of French, Italian, Dutch masterpieces in a typical 19th century mansion.
  • Musée du quai Branly, indigenous arts and cultures of Africa, Asia,the Americas and Oceania.

Events

It seems like there’s almost always something happening in Paris, with the possible exceptions of the school holidays in February and August, when about half of Parisians are to be found not in Paris, but in the Alps or the South or the West of France respectively. The busiest season is probably the autumn, from a week or so after la rentrée scolaire or “back to school” to around Noël (Christmas) theatres, cinemas and concert halls book their fullest schedule of the year.

  • Maison & Object
  • Chinese New Year
  • Salon international de l’Agriculture
  • Valentine’s Day with the ‘I love you’ Wall
  • Spring Fashion Week.
  • French Tennis Open
  • Rendez-vous au Jardin
  • Fête de la Musique
  • La Fête Nationale(Bastille Day
  • Cinema en Plein Air
  • le Tour de France
  • Rock en Seine
  • Nuit Blanche
  • Le Beaujolais Nouveau

For information on theatre, movies and exhibitions pick up the ‘Pariscope’ and ‘L’officiel du Spectacle’ which is available at newstands for €0.40. For (especially smaller, alternative) concerts pick up LYLO, wich is also a small, free booklet available in some bars and at FNAC.

Photography

Paris is considered by many as the birthplace of photography, and while one may debate the correctness of this claim, there is no debate that Paris is today a photographer’s dream. The French capital offers a spectacular array of photographic opportunities to the beginner and the pro alike. It has photogenic monuments (e.g., Arc de Triomphe, Eiffel Tower, the obelisk at Concorde, and countless others); architecture (the Louvre, Notre Dame and the Museum of the Arab World, to name just a few) and urban street scenes (e.g., in the Marais, Montmartre and Belleville). When you tire of taking your own photos, visit one of the many institutions dedicated to photography (e.g., European Museum of Photography, the Jeu de Paume Museum or the Henri Cartier Bresson Foundation). At these and other institutions, you can learn the about the rich history of Paris as the place of important developments in photography (e.g., the Daguerrotype) and as the home of many of the trade’s great artists (e.g., Robert Doisneau, André Kertész, Eugene Atget and Henri Cartier

Cabarets are traditional shows in Paris. They provide entertainment, often towards adult audiences, with singers and dancers or burlesque entertainers. The most famous ones are at the Moulin Rouge, the Lido, the Crazy Horse and the Paradis Latin. They fill up quickly so you might want to book before. The tickets usually cost from €80 to €200, depending if you have dinner before the show.

Flea Markets

Paris has three main flea-markets, located on the outskirts of the central city. The most famous of these is the Marché aux Puces de St-Ouen (Porte de Clignancourt) Clignancourt Flea Market a haven for lovers of antiques, second-hand goods and retro fashion. The best days to go are Saturday and Sunday. Note that there are particular times of the week when only antique collectors are allowed into the stalls, and there are also times of the day when the stall owners take their Parisian Siesta and enjoy a leisurely cappuccino for an hour or so. The best times to visit the flea markets are in the spring and summertime, when the area is more vibrant. In and around the metro station, you may find the area a little wild but still safe.

A very attractive antiques market in the Marche aux puces de Saint-Ouen is the “Marche Dauphine” on 138 rue des Rosiers,Saint-Ouen. This market is covered so you can go there by all weather and you’ll find a large selection of goods, as many as 200 dealers under the same roof. The biggest store of vintage luggage is there selling fabulous vintage Louis Vuitton and Goyard trunks as well as aviation furniture, 1930’s ocean liner wardrobes and fabulous chandeliers. In this market, there are specialized jewelers, classic French antiques dealers, paintings dealers, and textile dealers. It’s the most versatile market inside the flea market.

Paris is one of Europe’s main culinary centers.

The restaurant trade began here just over 220 years ago and continues to thrive. It may, however, come as a surprise that Paris isn’t considered the culinary capital of France; rather some people prefer the French cooking found in small rural restaurants, outside of the city, closer to the farms and with their focus on freshness and regional specialties. Even amongst French cities, Paris has long been considered by some people as second to Lyon for fine dining.

Today you can find hundreds of beautiful restaurants with thoughtful (or just trendy) interior design and well-planned and executed cartes and menus 

offering a creative mélange of French and exotic foreign cuisines.

It’s safe to say that Paris is once again catching up with or edging ahead of its Anglophone rivals.

Of course there are also some traditional offerings and for the budget conscious there are hundreds of traditional bistros, with their pavement terraces offering a choice of fairly simple (usually meat centered) meals for reasonable prices.

Trendy restaurants often require reservations weeks, if not months in advance. If you haven’t planned far enough ahead, try to get a reservation for lunch which is generally easier and less expensive.

If one of the aims of your trip to Paris is to indulge in its fine dining, though, the most cost-effective way to do this is to make the main meal of your day lunch. Virtually all restaurants offer a good prix-fixe deal. By complementing this with a bakery breakfast and a light self-catered dinner, you will be able to experience the best of Parisian food and still stick to a budget.

Be warned that many restaurants like the rest of France close during August for the holidays. Be sure to check out the website of your restaurant of choice or to give them a call.

Some specialities

For seafood lovers, Paris is a great place to try moules frites (steamed mussels and French fries) (better in fall and winter), oysters, sea snails, and other delicacies. 

Meat specialties include venison (deer), boar, and other game (especially in the fall and winter hunting season), as well as French favorites such as lamb, veal, beef, and pork.

Best top attractions in Paris, France

  • Chartres – The 12th century cathedral of Notre Dame at Chartres is one of the highlights of Gothic architecture. (60min train ride from Gare Montparnasse)
  • Versailles – On the SW edge of Paris, the site of the Sun King Louis XIV’s magnificent palace. (20-40min train ride by RER, just make sure you get the right ticket covering zone 1-4!)
  • Saint Denis – On the northern edge of the metropolis, site of the Stade de Franceand St Denis Abbey, burial place of French royalty.
  • Chantilly– Wonderful 17th century palace and gardens (and the birthplace of whipped cream). (25min train ride from Gare du Nord)
  • Giverny The inspirational house and gardens of the Impressionist painter Claude Monet are but a day-trip away. The gardens and its flowers are the most interesting part of the visit, so avoid rainy days.
  • Disneyland Resort Paris – In the suburb of Marne-la-Vallée, to the east of Paris, from where it can be reached by car, train (RER A), or bus (the train is probably your best bet).
  • Mont Saint-Michel – An island commune in Normandy, France. Its unique position of being an island only 600 metres from land make it readily accessible on low tide to the many pilgrims to its abbey.
  • Fontainebleau – A lovely historical town 55.5km (35 mi) south of Paris. It’s renowned for its large and scenic Forest of Fontainebleau, a favourite weekend getaway for Parisians, as well as for the historical Château de Fontainebleau. (35min train ride from Gare de Lyon)
  • Maisons-Laffitte – Best known as the “Cité du cheval”, as it’s home to various écuries (stalls). A 1 hour walk there will enable you to see many cavaliers (horsemen) and the castle founded by Louis VIX. It is 25 mins with RER A from central train station “Chatelet les Halles”). If you plan well, you can even attend some horse races at the Hyppodrome.

Official tourism websites of Paris

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Useful Travel Tips

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