To say that Paris is a city of art and culture, of high fashion and haute cuisine, is to understate the case. For Paris is not only the premier tourist destination of France, but among the most popular destinations in the world. It is visited by more than 30 million people every year, and is filled to the gills with visitor attractions, including several world-famous, iconic landmarks, which, collectively, are enough to overwhelm even the seasoned tourist.
So, what, you might ask, should you see in Paris? Well, to do the city justice, you must, absolutely must, take in the following.
1. Eiffel Tower
The Eiffel Tower is the foremost attraction in Paris. It is both a symbol of the city and one of the most recognizable landmarks in the world. Designed by Gustave Eiffel, it was built in 1889 for the Universal Exhibition held in Paris in 1900. The tower features 15,000 sections of iron, held together with 2.5 million rivets, and rises 324 meters into the Paris sky. There are several elevators here, as well as a flight of stairs that goes to the second platform at 115 meters. There is a stair entrance fee of 4.50 euros per person, and to ride the elevators it’s 8 euros to the second floor and 13 euros to the top platform, from where you can enjoy 360-degree views of Paris! There is a restaurant on the first floor, 58 Tour Eiffel, and another on the second floor, Jules Verne.
2. The Louvre
The Louvre is easily the world’s most famous art museum. It has four extensive galleries, housing hundreds of monumental works of art from the world’s greatest artists. The Richilieu Wing has the Flemish, Dutch, German and other North European masters such as Vermeer, Rembrandt and Durer; Objets d’Art is bursting with French sculpture from the Middle Ages, as well as Renaissance tapestries and ancient Mesopotamian art; the Sully Wing is devoted to the French masters of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries; and the Grande Galerie is home to Italian paintings from the 13th to 17th centuries, including the famous ‘Mona Lisa’. The Louvre is not cheap at 9 euros a pop, but what would a visit to Paris be without a visit to the Louvre!
3. Champs Elysees
Champs Elysees is that broad avenue in the heart of Paris that all things grand and illustrious (and even not so grand and illustrious) must travel down: the French president’s motorcade travels down the avenue; the Tour de France ends here; Bastille Day parades make their splash here. Lined with majestic trees, shops and restaurants, it runs from Place de la Concorde to the ornate, 18th-century Arc de Triomphe, tours of which are available for 7 euros each.
4. Notre Dame
Notre Dame is one of the oldest Gothic cathedrals in Europe, and a veritable tourist draw. The three-storey cathedral, with its large, stained glass medieval windows, dates from 1163 and offers in it a classic example of a Gothic cathedral facade. It has three portals: the Coronation Portal, where Mary is shown being crowned by an angel; the Portal of the Last Judgement, where Jesus is depicted as judge of the world; and the Portal of Saint Anne which leads into the cathedral. The medieval influence here is huge, from the piers and vault shafts in the interior, to the massive flying buttresses on the outside. The cathedral is located on the larger of the two islands in the Seine, Ile de la Cite, and is open daily. Oh, and this one’s a freebee.
Montmartre is that Parisian quarter that is inextricably linked with Bohemian artists, particularly those from the late 19th century, such as Renoir, Monet, Gaugin, Degas, and others, who lived and painted here at one time or another. Today, at Montmartre, you can sip ‘chocolat chaud’ at any of several garden restaurants on ‘La Butte’, have your portrait done on Place du Tertre, and also visit the Basilica of the Sacre Coeur, a gleaming white Paris landmark built between 1873 and 1914, incorporating a variety of architectural styles and periods, including Neo-Romanesque, Byzantine, Moorish and Renaissance, which offers sweeping views of the city.
6. Place Vendome
Place Vendome, or the ‘Jewelers’ Square’, is virtually synonymous with luxury shopping in Paris. It is home to the likes of Van Cleef & Arpels, Chaumet, Boucheron, Armani, and even Cartier which is actually on Rue de la Paix, just off the square. Window shopping is the order of the day, with the windows at Cartier the high point of any visit here. The 100-year-old Ritz, perhaps Paris’ most famous hotel, is also located here. In the vicinity, too, is Rue du Faubourg Saint Honore, which goes off Place Vendome, and which forms the heart of Paris’ legendary fashion district. Some of the world’s most famous fashion houses are to be found here, among them Chanel, Cardin, Givenchy, Versace and Hermes.
7. Musee d’Orsay
Musee d’Orsay, situated on the other side of the Seine from the Louvre, is the ‘Museum of the 19th Century’. As an art museum, it is second only to the Louvre. It has over 6,000 exhibits, covering the period between 1848 and 1914. Impressionists, in particular, are well represented here, as are all the other important art movements of the 19th and 20th centuries. The museum, which opened to the public in 1986, is housed in the old train station, Gare d’Orsay, located in the Saint-Germain des Pres quarter of Paris. Admission here is 7 euros.
8. Le Marais
The Marais is quintessential Paris, with colorful cafes spilling onto sidewalks, surprising little boutiques, charming, albeit pricey, small hotels and bed and breakfast inns, art galleries that run the gamut, bookshops in nooks and crannies… It is a place given to strolling around, where you can enjoy cafe au lait and croissants, poke around in quaint stores, and literally breathe in Paris. The principal attraction here is Place de Vosges, which dates from 1604 and was once regarded as the most beautiful square in Paris. The 19th century home of author Victor Hugo is also located here, at the southeast corner of the square. Place de Vosges is now brimming with arcades, fashion shops, restaurants and art galleries, with live music in the air.
9. Quartier Latin
Quartier Latin, or the Latin Quarter, is ‘the scholars’ quarter’, where the Sorbonne University, ‘the intellectual cradle of Paris’, founded in the 13th century, is located. Also of interest in the quarter are the historic Place Maubert which gives visitors a glimpse of the original Paris, with its haphazard jumble of crooked houses and dark courtyards; Tour d’Argent, a 16th century restaurant; Boulevard Saint-Michel which has Roman ruins and a historic square; and Jardin des Plantes, an historic botanical garden that was originally laid out in the 17th century and where you can now stroll through ancient trees, including a cedar planted in 1734.
Versailles, which lies just to the southwest of Paris, is the locale of Louis XIV’s elaborate 17th century residence, the Chateau de Versailles. Best seen on a day trip from Paris, highlights of any visit to the royal residence include the Galerie des Glaces (Hall of Mirrors), a 70-meter-long hall with long rows of mirrors that reflect the light from the high windows; and the rambling park of Versailles which, divided into two by the Grand Canal, is perhaps the most perfect example of a French garden. The Versailles Chateau is open to the public for self-guided tours. Admission fee: 7.50 euros.