There is so much to see and experience in Paris, my favorite city to visit in the world. Depending on how long you plan on staying, from a couple days to a couple weeks, there are many highlights to try to experience. If you haven’t been, here but a few highlights that might help you plan your visit to this marvelous place.
The Eiffel Tower is probably the number one place to visit. It is so tall, you can see it from anywhere in the city. Reaching it you experience the enormity of the structure built for the 1889 World’s Fair. At 1,063 feet tall, it is about the size of an 81 story building. To reach the top, you can climb the stairs up one of the 4 legs, or you can take an elevator.
While there are several landings, but make sure to go all the way to the top for the best views. Those views are incredible during the day as they are at night with the whole city under lights.
If you stay overnight in Paris make sure you are near it (or where you have a good view) after sunset for a great light show. But really the best place to watch it, photograph or video it at night is from across the river in the Trocadero Esplanade. There are some beautiful fountains in the gardens as well as the Palais de Chaillot, the architectural, naval & ethnographic museums at the top of the Trocadero Esplanade.
In Paris you might hear a reference to the Left Bank or the Right Bank. They refer to the two sides of the Seine River. The Left Bank, or La Rive Gauche, was once associated with artists, it is the smaller of the 2 sides. The North was once where the wealthier people lived, thus the magnificent Louvre Museum which was originally the royal palace is located there as is the classy Champs Elysees Boulevard.
Regardless of the two sides, Paris actually was started on the 2 small islands in the middle of the Seine River. The Isle de Cite and the smaller Isle of St. Louis. The most famous Notre Dame Cathedral is located in the Isle de Cite.
Every distance in Paris is measured from a marker on the ground near the front of the medieval Catholic cathedral. Again, try to go inside, or take in the facade. There are long lines to climb to the top of one of the 2 towers, but it is must easier to just go inside to see one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture and stained glass windows.
Just west in the same island is the Sainte-Chapelle church with even more stained glass than Notre Dame. It was built in the mid 13th century by Louis IX, at the heart of the royal residence. It has 2 levels from where they worshiped, one for the royals and one for the common folks.
Nearby is The Pont des Arts pedestrian bridge, where you used to be able to add a “love lock”. It is a lovely walkable one where sometimes artists set up their easels and paint. At one end of the bridge is one of my favorite views, the impressive Institut of France, a lovely domed building.
If you’re into art museums (or even if you’re not) make sure to stop at the Louvre Museum. It is the world’s largest art museum, and you can spend anything from a couple hours to all day there and still not see everything ( I spent 8.5 hours one day). There are hundreds of paintings, some of the most famous of all include Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, a small painting; and Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People, a quite large painting.
There are similarly hundreds of sculptures, including the armless ancient Greek statue Venus de Milo, and the Winged Victory (or Nike) at the top of a large staircase with a big skylight above. The museum houses a collection of items covering the full spectrum of art through the ages.
But even if you don’t go inside, take time to get some photos by the large glass pyramid in the central courtyard where the entrance down to the museum has been located since finished in 1989. There are actually five pyramids throughout the museum, try to catch the Inverted one inside.
The beautiful Tuileries Gardens are just to the west of the museum as is the small but ornate Arc de Triomphe du Carousel with a chariot on top. The Rue de Rivoli street to the north side features many hi-end boutiques both on it and in the surrounding blocks. On the Rue de Rivoli there’s a life-sized golden statue monument to Joan of Arc on a horse.
Across the Seine River from the gardens is the smaller Museum d’Orsay. The lovely art museum is located in a remodeled train station. It features many 19th & 20th century French masterpieces both paintings and sculptures, including many Impressionist works of art by Manet, Van Goth and Monet.
Outside the museum’s esplanade are six allegorical statues of females created for the 1878 l’Exposition Universelle (Paris’ third World’s Fair). They are known as The Six Continents.
The Museum d’Orsay is a great alternative if you don’t want to visit the larger Louvre. Try to buy tickets to any museum prior to the actual day of visit to avoid the much longer lines.
The magnificent Arc de Triomphe is another masterpiece not to miss. If you have time to go to the top it offers a pretty cool view of the dozen streets that meet at its roundabout circle. Remember you have to go underground to access it. But even if you don’t go to the top, make sure to go stand next to it, you won’t believe the size of the sculptures at the base.
Afterwards walk up and down the enchanting Champs-Elysees, a wide avenue with lots of outdoor cafes, many high-end stores and the famed Lido de Paris cabaret. The boulevard is a beautiful, tree-lit sight to see at night.
Try to make it all the way to the southeast end of the boulevard, the Place de la Concorde Plaza which has the Fontaine des Mers (two amazing ornate fountains) and a tall ornate Egyptian obelisk nearby.
Make sure you take time to visit the Sacre-Coeur (Sacred Heart) Basilica, located in the highest point of Paris. It is incredible to see and the views from the stairs & gardens of Paris are stellar. The large Catholic church done in Roman-Byzantine style in white stone features a tall circular dome with horse riding sculptures of King St. Louis and Joan of Arc on the front.
Just to the left side are the cobblestone streets of Montmartre, the famed artist handout neighborhood. It’s a great place to see street artists, and to eat, be it a crepe for lunch or dinner at one of the outdoor restaurants.
Further down the hill is the Moulin Rouge cabaret. I recommend to visit at night when it’s all lit up, during the day its just ordinary. The Clichy area around it with other cabarets and nightlife is a bit seedier.
The Opera Garnier (of Phantom of the Opera fame) is an incredibly ornate Italian-style building inside and out. It’s main theater ceiling features a Marc Chagall fresco. Try to visit, if not inside the at least outside and the lobby and check out the large stairway which is free.
Nearby west is the incredibly huge Church of la Madeleine, conceived as a pantheon in honor of Napoleon’s armies, it has a Roman temple facade with columns lining all sides. You can walk from the Opera to the church, they’re only about 4 blocks apart. Just behind the Opera you’ll find the Galeries Lafayette, a large French department store worth a visit.
Paris has lots of bridges over the Seine River. Some people like to take a river dinner cruise, you see places from below, not bad if you’re into that.
The most beautiful bridge over the Seine is Pont Alexandre III. It features ornate golden bronze sculptures and lamps throughout. It’s a must visit!
On the north end of the bridge, two palatial buildings line the Winston Churchill Avenue. Featuring Beaux-Arts architecture, the Grand Palais and Petit Palais, are both palaces are now museums and exhibiting halls.
On the south side of the river you’ll find a grassy esplanade and Les Invalides building. It was once an army hospital, it’s now a military museum. You’ll see a golden dome behind it, it’s the Cathedral of St. Louis, besides the church you’ll find Napoleon’s tomb, a large casket on display.
Next to Les Invalides is the small Rodin Museum, it houses Rodin’s many famous bronze sculptures. The Thinker in the gardens, and The Kiss inside the small museum, which was once a large mansion.
Modern Art fans should check out the Pompidou Art Center, which was designed to have the exterior feature all those usually hidden pipes and ductwork on the outside. You ride an escalator to the top level and work your way down as you visit different exhibits. The six story museum is located near Les Halles and the Marais, it offers great views from the top.
Paris has lots of other smaller specialized museums, like the Picasso Museum, the Dali Museum, the Musee de l’Orangerie, and the Musee d’Art et d’Histoire du Judaisme. You can also visit locations where many artists lived and worked in Paris over the years, like Van Goth, Matisse, Picasso and Toulouse-Latrec. For artists and art lovers, Paris is a feat for the eyes and soul.
Other interesting places to visit if you have the time are ornate The Hotel de Ville (city hall), where they often hold special events in the front courtyard.
You can spend some time in the Les Hales neighborhood, just east of the Louvre. Visit St. Eustache Church and the large underground Forum Les Halles which features hundred of stores, restaurants and cinemas. The Park above & mall were recently completely remodeled after years of work.
Another lovely area features The Luxembourg Palace, once home to Queen Marie de’ Medici, mother of Louis XIII of France, it now houses the French Senate. The beautiful large Luxembourg Gardens, featuring a central fountain, is a great place where many Parisians go to relax.
Just east of the gardens in the Latin Quarter is another interesting area featuring the Sorbonne University. Also there you’ll find the Neoclassic Pantheon. The large structure was originally built as a church dedicated to St. Genevieve. The 18th-century mausoleum with colonnaded facade, housing remains of many notable French citizens.
Near the Pantheon is the large Saint-Étienne-du-Mont church built in a Gothic & Renaissance design housing the shrine of Paris’ patron saint. Any of the 3 old Art Nouveau Metro subway entrances left standing are extraordinary to visit, one of the best is at Paris-Porte Dauphine Metro.
In Paris there are many monuments, some are located in traffic circles, like Place de la Bastille, the Place des Victories, the Place Vendome, and others at the end of streets, like the Fountain to Saint-Michel.
There are numerous incredible churches like Saint-Sulpice and Saint-Eustache to name just two others. There are many parks all over Paris, from the enormous Bois Boulogne forest to the west, and the Bois de Vincennes to the east; to smaller neighborhood parks like Square Louise Michel and many other small squares with green spaces.
Also there are some terrific Cemeteries with ornate tombs of many famous people located in Paris. If you can, visit either Montparnasse Cemetery or Pierre Lechasse Cemetery. If you must choose just one, the larger Lechasse has some better know tombs, like that of Oscar Wilde and the rather simple one of Jim Morrison of the 60’s rock group The Doors fame.
Then there’s the crazy deep underground Catacombs, where bones and skulls line the small tunnels you walk through. Once located in mines outside the city, now they lie just under it. They hold the remains of more than six million people, and I warm you, it is not for the faint of heart.
La Defense is the modern area of Paris, with lots of high rises and modern sculptures every few yards. You’ll see the huge Grande Arche cube building; you can fit Notre Dame in its center opening. It’s amazing to visit if you happen to get a chance to go, a Metro subway line stops at La Defense.
All the convenient Metro subway lines make traveling around the city quite easy, but you should walk as much as possible since there’s so much not to miss on almost every block. Paris also has some large train stations, each serves an area of travel around Europe. The large Gare du Nord is the busiest train station in all of Europe.
In Paris, be sure to grab a meal at a sidewalk cafe and people watch. The little round tables always face the sidewalk. By all means visit any bakery for breakfast, try a fresh warm croissant or pan-de-chocolate and a cappuccino. Paris is a treat for anyone who appreciates pastries and sweets.
And although more and more Parisians in the service industry now speak English, please don’t be rude. Always remember to say “Bonjour” (good day) first upon entering any small business, and add “S’il vous plait” (please) upon ordering, also “Mercie” (thank you) afterwards. Using those simple French words will go a long way towards having a more pleasant and enjoyable trip! Try to engage the people, not be abrupt and rude.
One place just outside of Paris many add to their visit is Versailles. If you can, use a day to take a train to the Palace of Versailles. It was the principal royal residence of France from 1682, under Louis XIV, until the start of the French Revolution in 1789. The luxurious main palace with its hall of mirrors, incredible immense gardens and the smaller, more intimate royal residences: the Grand Trianon and Petit Trianon are all definitely a must see. From Paris the train from near the Eiffel Tower takes just about an hour to reach the town, and the palace entrance is but a short walk away.
Anyhow, this just a little descriptive hint of all this incredible city has to offer, there are many others I haven’t even mentioned. But I’m sure as I did, that once you visit the first time, you’ll want to be back to Paris again!
Here area few more photos of areas you might enjoy visiting…
® All Photos property of Ray Raposo