Paris, France, nicknamed “The City of Lights”, is a place of exceptional beauty and romance. With so many things to do and places to see, make use of your limited time by visiting the most memorable places.
Start your visit by exploring the oldest part of Paris, the Latin Quarter. There are several métro (subway) stops for that area: St. Michel, Cluny-La Sorbonne, or Cardinal Lemoine. The Latin Quarter’s 17th century buildings, narrow cobblestone streets, old stone fountains, and sidewalk cafes, will make you feel like you are lost in time, and in some ways you are, as life here has stayed the same for hundreds of years. Everywhere you walk, you are surrounded by history. Many famous writers, such as Ernest Hemmingway, Albert Camus, Jean Paul Sartre, and James Thurber frequented its bars and cafes. Take time to visit the Pantheon, an immense neoclassical church where Voltaire, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Victor Hugo are buried; take a tour of the Sorbonne, one of the world’s oldest and most famous universities; and visit the Cluny Museum of Medieval Art where you can view the famous 15th century Lady and the Unicorn tapestries, and other medieval masterpieces of art. Of course, you must also visit Notre Dame Cathedral, located beside the Seine River. It is famous for its beautiful stain glass windows and majestic architecture. Visit the Bell Tower, made famous by Victor Hugo’s novel “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”. This amazing church is over 800 years old and still standing!
As the day ends, have a seat at one of the many sidewalk cafés. Relax and enjoy a cup of coffee (a “café au lait” or a “café crème” in French) and have a delicious freshly-made pastry, preferably filled with the famous Chantilly whipped cream. If you are a visitor from North America, you will notice that the French coffee has a different (but nice) taste, as it comes from the Arabian peninsula, not from South America. Later go for dinner at any of the many restaurants along Rue Mouffetard. The nearest métro stop is “Place Monge”. The French cuisine is excellent—try the charbroiled steak with garlic butter and herbs and a roasted asparagus salad topped with balsamic vinegar. And, of course, try the French wine with your meal. It’s wonderful and very inexpensive. Believe it or not, but ordering water will cost you more than wine! Only in France!
Later in the evening, walk down to the nearby Seine River. Paris was built on both sides of it, and thankfully most of the major monuments such as Notre Dame Cathedral and the Eiffel Tower were built near the river. At night all of the major monuments are lit up by huge spotlights. Take an evening cruise down the Seine River to experience first-hand why Paris is called “The City of Lights”. Some cruises even offer dinner and drinks.
The next day take the métro to “Abbesses” and explore Montmartre, a huge neighborhood atop a hill overlooking all of Paris, famous for its bohemian lifestyle and village-like atmosphere. Beginning in the 1860’s, Montmartre started to attract artists, especially painters, who wanted to experience first-hand its alternative lifestyle, its incredible architecture and its awesome views of the city. It quickly became the haunt of many well-known 19th century artists. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec made this area famous when he painted many of the beautiful women who danced the can-can at Montmartre’s scandalous nightclubs, such as the Moulin Rouge. His lively and colorful images immortalized a part of Paris’ history, an era when people lived for the moment and enjoyed life to the fullest. Take the time to experience how many of these artists lived by going for lunch or dinner at Le Consulat Restaurant in Place du Tertre on Rue St. Rustique. It was the hangout for Renoir, Monet, Toulouse-Lautrec, and Cezanne. It still serves traditional French cuisine and the restaurant itself hasn’t changed in over 100 years!
Strangely, in the midst of such a bohemian area like Montmarte is one of the world’s most beautiful and impressive churches: the Basilique du Sacre-Coeur. It’s on top of the hill, and overlooks all of Paris for a distance of 50 kilometres (30 miles). Visit this church and then spend the afternoon walking around the neighborhood. In some parts, you may come across huge gardens with vineyards full of grapes. These gardens are remnants of when Montmartre used to be a small village and made its own wine. Everywhere you go you will see many artists outdoors sketching and painting—life here still remains the same, much as it did over a century ago.
The next day, visit the Hotel des Invalides (the métro stop is “Invalides”). It is famous for its collection of military artifacts, such as the displays of uniforms worn by Napolean’s soldiers. You will be surprised how short men were in the early 1800’s. Of major interest, however, is the Tomb of Napoleon, the former famous emperor of France. He is buried here in a majestic domed building, befitting his regal status. The impact that this man had on history was immense, as he nearly conquered all of Europe. As you walk about Paris you will notice on the sides of many bridges and buildings a carved “N”, which stands for Napoleon. Everywhere you go there is some reminder of him.
Two museums that you must see are the Louvre (the métro stop is “Louvre Rivoli”) and the Musée d’Orsay (across the river from the Louvre). The Louvre has been described as the world’s most famous museum, housing an art collection in a palatial setting that is so immense you could spend the entire day there—it has 35,000 pieces of art. Its three most famous pieces of art are the Mona Lisa, the Winged Victory of Samothrace, and the Venus de Milo. After your visit, treat yourself to hot chocolate at Café Angelina at 226 Rue De Rivoli (across the street from the Louvre). This café dates back to 1903 and is famous for its elegant surroundings, its African style hot chocolate (“Chocolat Africain” in French) served with chantilly cream, and its huge selection of pastries, more than you can ever imagine! It is an experience you will never forgot.
Devote at least half a day in order to visit the Musée d’Orsay, a world-class museum housing an immense collection of impressionist paintings. The métro stop is “Solferino”. Its collection includes the works of Renoir, Manet, Degas, Monet, Vincent van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec, Cezanne, and Pissarro. You may even recognize some of the places in the paintings, as many of the scenes were painted in Montmartre.
In addition to its art and architecture, Paris is also famous for its fashion industry. For fabulous shopping, visit the two department stores Galeries Lafayette and La Samaritaine. Galeries Lafayette is set in a beautiful palatial building with a glass-domed roof that has a rooftop café, offering a spectacular view of the city. Its métro stop is: “Chaussée d’Antin” or “Opéra”. The building is an architectural masterpiece. You will marvel at its dome with its hundreds of stain glass windows. Shopping in this luxurious setting is an experience you will never forget. La Samaritaine has less grandeur, but this Art Déco building has an amazing selection of clothes and gifts to buy, and it has a rooftop café with a 360 degree view of Paris. The métro stop is “Pont-Neuf”. Check first to see if it is open, as it has been closed for renovation for several years. It is expected to re-open in 2011.
Of utmost importance is to take time from your sightseeing to just relax and walk along the tree-lined banks of the Seine River and explore this city. As you discover Paris’ incredible beauty, your most memorable moment may be the sense of peace and calm that this city has given you. It truly is one of the most elegant and beautiful cities in the world! Your only regret will be the day that you have to leave it!
About the author:
Eric Alexander Hamilton lives in Vancouver, Canada. He loves travelling and has lived in several cities such as Paris, London, and Zurich. His passions in life are photography and writing, particularly about travel, self-help and spiritual topics. To him, writing and photography are a natural match, as witnessed in his web site, www.lifedestiny.com. With each passing day, he is trying to follow the advice of the famous American writer, Jack London:, who said: “The proper function of man is to live, not to exist.” It’s advice we should all follow.