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Things to Do in France - page 2

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8th Arrondissement
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16 Tours and Activities

The 8th arrondissement (neighborhood), one of Paris’ 20 districts, is probably best known for the famous boulevard Champs-Élysées. With sidewalks lined by trees, high-end shops, and fashion boutiques, the boulevard is also home to the Arc de Triomphe and the Place de la Concorde, as well as the Élysée Palace (the official residence of the President of France). On one end of the Champs-Élysées is the Arc de Triomphe, which offers sweeping views of the city from its top. On the other end of the Champs-Élysées is the Grand Palais, an historic building dedicated “to the glory of French art.” The Grand Palais is now a museum and an exhibition hall that is home to an impressive art collection. The 8th arrondissement is probably best known as a retail district, where posh shoppers come to sip a beverage at one of the area’s numerous cafes or restaurants, then browse name-brand boutiques like Chanel, Christian Dior, and Louis Vuitton.

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Pont Neuf
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The white stone spans of Paris' oldest bridge, ironically called 'New Bridge', have linked the Île de la Cité with both banks of the Seine since 1607. That's when Henri IV inaugurated the bridge by riding across on a white stallion.

The Pont Neuf and the nearby place Dauphine were used for public exhibitions in the 18th century. In the last century the bridge itself became an objet d'art on at least three occasions: in 1963, when School of Paris artist Nonda built, exhibited and lived in a huge Trojan horse of steel and wood on the bridge; in 1984 when the Japanese designer Kenzo covered it in flowers; and in 1985 when the Bulgarian-born 'environmental sculptor' Christo famously wrapped it in beige fabric.

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Neptune Fountain (Bassin de Neptune)
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Versailles’ chateau gardens are vast, laid out in formal French style and famed for their geometrically aligned terraces, tree-lined paths and, notably, their ponds.

Of all the lovely fountain pools gracing the Versailles gardens, the Bassin de Neptune is the largest.

Designed by famed landscape artist Le Notre and laid out between 1661 and 1700, the fountain features three groups of statues, including Neptune and Amphitrite.

A new fountain installed by Louis XV in the 1730s was acclaimed for the force and variety of its jets water playing over the sculptural groups. In all, the fountain boasts 99 water effects and is fronted by the lovely Dragon Fountain.

In summer, Bassin de Neptune is a focus for a display of choreographed fireworks, spectacularly reflected in the fountain’s expansive pool.

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Place de la Concorde
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The Place de la Concorde is between the Tuileries Gardens and the Champs Elysées on Paris's famous axis. It was laid out between 1755 and 1775. The 3,300-year-old pink granite obelisk with the gilded top in the square's centre was given to France in 1831 by Muhammad Ali, viceroy and pasha of Egypt. Towering 75 ft (23m) over the cobblestones, it once stood in the Temple of Ramses at Thebes (modern-day Luxor).

The 8 female statues adorning the 4 corners of the square represent France's largest cities. In 1793, after the French Revolution, Louis XVI's head was lopped off by a guillotine set up near the statue representing the city of Brest. During the next two years, another guillotine was used to behead 1343 more people, including Marie-Antoinette and the Revolutionary leader Danton. The square was given its present name after the Reign of Terror ended in the hope that it would be a place of peace and harmony.

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Latin Quarter (Quartier Latin)
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The Quartier Latin (Latin Quarter) in Paris is commonly thought to be synonymous with the fifth arrondissement, but it actually stretches to the sixth as well. It's also known as the epicenter of Parisian academic life, as it is home to no less than six universities and technical schools. In fact, it's how the Latin Quarter got its name; back in the Middle Ages, area students commonly spoke Latin, - conversationally!

The Roman ruins make the Latin Quarter, also known as Quartier Latin in French, one of the oldest parts of Paris, while the Sorbonne University gives it an intellectual and existential air. The district is tailor made for walking, its legendary cafes, historic jazz clubs, boulevards and narrow lanes capturing the essence of Paris. Today, the Latin Quarter welcomes students from all over the world, and the shops, restaurants and bars reflect this international vibe.

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Hall of Mirrors (Galerie des Glaces)
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Built during the reign of Louis XIV in the mid-17th century, the Palace of Versailles nearly emptied the kingdom's coffers as 30,000 workers and soldiers toiled to flatten hills, move forests, and drain marshes to create the fantastical palace and gardens that so effectively projected the absolute power of the French monarchy at the time.

The opulence of Versailles reaches its peak in the central gallery known as the Hall of Mirrors — a 75-meter-long ballroom with 17 huge mirrors on one side and, on the other, an equal number of arcaded windows looking out over the formal gardens. Designed by architect Jules Hardouin-Mansart and decorated by painter Charles le Brun, construction of the Hall of Mirrors began in 1678, and it has quite the history: this was the setting for 17th- and 18th-century royal ceremonies, and it was also the location for the signature of the 1919 Versailles Treaty that formally ended WWI.

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Place des Vosges
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Paris has been around for millennia; but it wasn't until 1605, when King Henry IV built what was then-called Place Royale, that a public square was planned into the city's landscape. It's now known as the Place des Vosges, and to this day remains largely unchanged since its inauguration in 1612.

It's easy to call any public area in a major city an “oasis,” but Place des Vosges truly lives up to the description. It's in Le Marais, which is already a relatively quiet arrondissement; but once you step through the arches, the stately residences seem to absorb any city noise and the arcades that cover the sidewalks add to its hushed ambiance. It's a good place to go to take a load off after trekking around the city all day.

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More Things to Do in France

Hotel de Ville

Hotel de Ville

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With its spectacular Neo-Renaissance frontage presiding over the Place de Grève in the city center, the Hotel de Ville is among Paris' most impressive architectural works. Reconstructed in 1873, the prestigious building kept much of its original style and its exteriors remain a celebrated example of 16th-century French Renaissance architecture, inspired by the Châteaux of the Loire Valley. Designed by architects Théodore Ballu and Édouard Deperthes, the arresting façade features a central clock tower and 136 statues representing historical figures from Paris and other French cities. The interior boasts the grandest makeover, though, with the ceremonial rooms -- including a long Salle des Fêtes (ballroom) - lavishly decorated and featuring wall paintings by a number of key 19th-century artists.

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Centre Pompidou

Centre Pompidou

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The Centre Pompidou is a museum dedicated to European contemporary and modern art. Featuring a music hall with live performances, films, theatre, literature, spoken word, and visual art, the Centre Pompidou is one of the most culturally significant and visited attractions in Paris.

A brilliant piece of post-modern architecture, the Centre Pompidou was designed by the Italian architect Renzo Piano and the British designer Richard Rogers. The design of the museum has an ‘open-approach’ with all of its functional systems (plumbing, electrical, circulation, and climate control) visible and color coded from the outside.

Featuring the artwork of legends like Matisse, Duchamp, Jackson, and Picasso, the museum provides a thorough history of modern art. With the New Media Collection and Film Center, the Centre Pompidou also showcases the talents of Europe’s fines installation, film, video, and sound artists.

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Galeries Lafayette

Galeries Lafayette

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When in Paris, do what the French do and head to Galeries Lafayette to shop. Here you’ll find ten floors full of designer fashion, plus accessories, shoes, perfumes and nearly a whole floor of lingerie. Well, what did you expect? This is Paris. And all of it enclosed under a 1900s Belle Epoque dome. Riding the escalators through the middle of that glass and steel glowing-golden dome, you feel special. As you will climbing the Art Nouveau staircases. This is not just shopping, this is an experience.

If you want some true French fashion guidance there is a free weekly fashion show on Friday afternoons (you need to book ahead). But it’s that dome which just continues to give the whole place a sense of luxury and opulence; this could well be the most elegant department store in the world.

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Palais Bourbon

Palais Bourbon

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Built in 1722 as a private mansion for the duchesse de Bourbon, a legitimized daughter of Louis XIV, the Palais Bourbon has served as the meeting place for the Assemblée Nationale (the lower house of the French parliament) since 1798 when it was called the Council of Five Hundred.

Today, the government building is easily recognizable by the colonnaded facade commissioned by Napoleon to resemble the portico of the Madeleine across the Seine. On display within the Palais Bourbon are cupolas painted by the French Romantic artist Eugene Delacroix, as well as several works by contemporary artists.

By reservation only, visitors can observe a live session of the National Assembly or participate in guided tours focused on the building’s art, architecture and the workings of the French parliament.

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Place Vendome

Place Vendome

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One of the most striking of Paris’ public squares, Place Vendome's historic architecture meets luxury shopping in a large octagonal space located in the 1st arrondissement of Paris. The majestic ensemble of early 18th-century buildings designed by architect Jules-Hardouin Mansart encircles the plaza. At its heart, the 43-meter Vendome Column towers overhead, topped with a regal statue of Napoleon perched on a white marble pedestal.

The landmark statue was erected by Napolean himself, replacing the previous monument to King Louis XIV that had once dominated the square. Today a cluster of luxurious hotels, including the Bristol and Park Hyatt, have joined the Ritz, lending the square an air of grandeur and the surrounding buildings dazzle with exclusive jewelry showrooms.

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Pont des Arts

Pont des Arts

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Paris’ Arts Bridge, or Pont des Arts (sometimes known as the Passerelle des Arts), runs across the Seine River, linking the Cour Carrée (central square) of the Palais du Louvre on the North Bank with the landmark Institut de France on the South Bank. The famous pedestrian bridge was first erected in 1802 under Napolean I, but today’s design dates back to 1984 when it was rebuilt following a series of boat collisions and collapses.

Designed by Louis Arretche, the metal arched bridge has not only become an important landmark of old age Paris, but a popular vantage point, affording spectacular views along the Seine. With its wide walkway and picnic benches, the bridge has long been used as more than just a crossing point – artists, photographers and painters flock to the area, and the bridge is regularly used for small-scale open-air art exhibitions.

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Caen Memorial Museum (Mémorial de Caen)

Caen Memorial Museum (Mémorial de Caen)

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The Mémorial de Caen, a museum and war memorial, is one of the city’s most popular attractions and a must-see for anyone visiting Normandy to pay respects to the heroes of World War II. While the site specifically commemorates D-Day and the Battle for Caen, it is the overall sentiment that provides the perfect primer for those planning to see multiple memorials in the area.

The museum's exhibits take visitors through life in the 1940s during the war while specifically noting the D-Day landings and the Battle of Normandy before continuing with coverage through the fall of the Berlin Wall. The many personal accounts, artifacts and multimedia segments work to bring the war out of the past and into sharp focus. In addition, there are British, Canadian and American gardens on the grounds for strolling and picnicking.

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Ile Saint-Louis

Ile Saint-Louis

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Of the two islands in the Seine River within the city center of Paris, Île de la Cité is the more famous; it's the one that has Notre Dame and the Pont Neuf. But Île Saint-Louis is nothing short of a Parisian dream. It's hard to believe it was once for cattle grazing! Connected both to the Right Bank and Île de la Cité by five bridges, Île Saint-Louis has tiny, quiet streets that all end with great views. It's also home to Berthillon, the famous ice cream maker whose creamy flavors are also sold in cafes on the island, unique and surprisingly affordable gift shops, galleries and a small-neighborhood vibe that doesn't feel like anyplace else in the City of Light.
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French National Library (Bibliotheque Nationale de France)

French National Library (Bibliotheque Nationale de France)

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The French National Library (Bibliotheque Nationale de France) is a major research and conservation library that dates back to the Middle Ages. The library’s collections contain 14 million books and printed documents, and nearly 150,000 documents are added to the collections every year. The library is comprised of four main buildings: Site François-Mitterrand, the center for digital projects and collections; Site Richelieu-Louvois, which houses the departments of manuscripts, prints, cartography, music, theater, coins and medals; Site de L’Arsenal, containing the library of the French arsenal (more than a million books are in this building alone); and the Bibliothèque – Musée de l’Opéra, with collections related to the National Opera of Paris and the Comic Opera Theater.

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Conciergerie

Conciergerie

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With its castle-like turrets and dramatic riverfront location, La Conciergerie is an imposing sight, stretching along the west side of the Île de la Cité. Once part of the Palais de la Cité, along with the neighboring Palais de Justice and Sainte Chapelle, the former medieval palace is best known for its role in the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror, when it served as a prison.

An estimated 3,000 prisoners were held at the Conciergerie prior to being taken to the guillotine during the Reign of Terror, among them Charlotte Corday, Madame Élisabeth, poet André Chénier and Marie Antoinette, and it continued to serve as a prison until it was decommissioned in 1914. Today, La Conciergerie is preserved as a National Monument and visitors can discover its dark legacy on a tour of the grounds.

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Carnavalet Museum (Musée Carnavalet)

Carnavalet Museum (Musée Carnavalet)

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Visitors shouldn’t let the somewhat enigmatic name fool them into thinking this is a peculiar museum; the Carnavalet Museum is indeed one of Paris’ finest. Initially an idea of Baron Haussmann, who carried out extensive renovation works all around Paris in the late 1800s, the museum retraces Paris’ history all the way from the Lutèce Roman village it once was to the vibrant metropolis it has now become. Located in two 16th-century lavish townhouses – formerly known as Hôtel de Carnavalet (where an icon of French literature, the famous marquise de Sévigné, lived) and Hôtel d’Orgeval – in Le Marais, the architectural setting of the museum is just as captivating at the collection it houses.

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Tuileries Garden (Jardin des Tuileries)

Tuileries Garden (Jardin des Tuileries)

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Bisected by the Axe Historique, the 70-acre (28-hectare) formal Jardin des Tuileries are where Parisians once paraded their finery. The gardens were laid out in the mid-17th century by André Le Nôtre, the green thumb behind the Palace of Versailles. Trees are capped at a height of 7ft (2.2m) and rigorously trimmed so the gardens maintain their formality. Flowers are planned to certain heights and color schemes with up to 70,000 bulbs planted each year.

Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the paths, ponds, and old-fashioned merry-go-round here are as enchanting as ever for a stroll. At the Louvre end, twenty sculptures by Maillol hide amongst the yew hedges.

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Place du Tertre

Place du Tertre

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Place du Tertre is a famous square in the Montmartre neighborhood of Paris known for its artists and bohemian crowd. It is located just a few meters from Basilique du Sacré-Coeur and close to where painters like Picasso and Modigliani used to live and work; at the time, Montmartre was called the capital of modern art in the early 20th century. In fact, there is a museum dedicated to the works of Salvador Dali a few steps from Place du Tertre. Its other claim to fame dates back to 1898, when Louis Renault’s first automobile was driven up the steep Montmartre hills, kickstarting the lucrative automotive industry in France.

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