Things to Do in Île-de-France
The Eiffel Tower isn't just a symbol of Paris but a symbol for all of France. Erected by Gustave Eiffel to commemorate the centennial of the French Revolution in 1889, the 1,050-foot (320-meter) tower once held the title of the world's tallest structure. Despite having been dwarfed by Dubai's Burj Khalifa and The Shard in London, the Eiffel Tower remains one of the most recognizable landmarks on the planet. View the architectural icon from afar, or stop in at the three observation levels for stellar city views.
Primarily associated with the steady gaze of Leonardo Da Vinci's famous Mona Lisa, Paris' Louvre museum is home to a 35,000-strong collection of paintings and sculptures considered one of the greatest in the world. The contemporary glass Louvre Pyramid heralds the museum's entrance, which millions of tourists flock to every year to feast their eyes on masterpieces that span from antiquity to the 20th century.
Expect bright lights, extravagant costumes, and raucous music at the world-famous Moulin Rouge. Opened in the Belle Epoque of 1889 to celebrate Paris' thriving creative scene and the end of the civil war, the windmill-cum-cabaret hall has never stopped basking in fun and frivolity. As a staple of Parisian nightlife, an unforgettable evening at the Moulin Rouge is a must on any traveler's France itinerary.
From riding Space Mountain to flying with Peter Pan and snapping a selfie with Mickey Mouse, few theme parks serve up as much fairy-tale magic as Disneyland®. With some 14 million annual visitors, Disneyland® Paris is Europe’s biggest and busiest theme park, boasting adrenaline-fueled rides, state-of-the-art movie sets, and spectacular shows and parades that make it a fantasyland for kids and adults alike.
The lifeblood of Paris, the River Seine acts as a dividing line between Paris’ historically sophisticated and bohemian halves; it provides transportation via riverboat and plenty of opportunity for romantic strolls; and its riverbanks are a UNESCO World Heritage Site lined with the city’s top landmarks, including the Eiffel Tower, Notre-Dame Cathedral, Musée d’Orsay, Jardin des Tuileries, and the Louvre.
Formerly a humble hunting lodge, the Palace of Versailles (Chateau de Versailles) is the extravagant creation of Louis XIV, also known as the Sun King. Embellished to epitomize royal decadence, Versailles features 700 rooms replete with frescoed ceilings and carvings, plus the Versailles Gardens (Jardins de Versailles), which brim with geometrically designed walkways and fountains. No visit to France is complete without experiencing the grandeur.
The Paris Catacombs (Catacombes de Paris) date back to the 1700s, when the ossuary was formed from an old underground quarry. Over the years, more and more remains were brought here from overcrowded cemeteries to make room for the city's development, up until 1860. For those with an interest, it’s a fascinating look at a former burial practice.
Second only to the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame Cathedral (Cathedrale de Notre Dame de Paris) is one of Paris' most iconic attractions, a marvel of medieval architecture that was immortalized in Victor Hugo's classic novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Today, the Gothic grandeur and stained-glass windows of the UNESCO World Heritage site continue to reign supreme from Ile de la Cite, an island in the middle of the Seine River.
(UPDATE: Notre Dame Cathedral is currently off-limits due to fire damage.)
Rivaling the Louvre as Paris' favorite art museum, the Orsay Museum (Musée d'Orsay) is known for its impressionist, post-impressionist, and art nouveau works from 1848 to 1914. Equally impressive as what’s inside the museum is its exterior: a former Beaux-Arts railway station with an enviable location on the banks of the Seine River. Both architecture and art buffs will want this museum on their Parisian itineraries.
Home to the Opera de Paris, ballet performances, and the fictional Phantom of the Opera, the grand 19th-century Palais Garnier—also known as Opera Garnier—recalls the splendor of France’s Second Empire, an era synonymous with elegance and extravagance. Beyond its opulent exterior and foyer, the 2,000-seat auditorium is a riot of red velvet, gold, and bronze, with a massive chandelier and a colorful ceiling painting by modernist master Marc Chagall.
More Things to Do in Île-de-France
One of many bridges that cross the Seine, Pont Alexandre III was officially unveiled in 1900. Widely considered the city’s most beautiful and opulent bridge, it connects the Champs-Élysées and Grand Palais on the Right Bank with Invalides on the Left, making it a popular thoroughfare for tour groups and amblers.
Though it translates to “New Bridge” in French, the Pont Neuf is in fact the oldest bridge in Paris, built in 1607 to connect the banks of the river Seine to Ile de la Cite. Known in the 18th and 19th centuries for its unsavory street vendors and pickpockets, Pont Neuf is now a tranquil pedestrian bridge and meeting place for visitors and locals alike.
Crowned by the Sacré-Coeur Basilica, historic Montmartre in Paris’ 18th arrondissement is famed for its cobblestone streets, artsy past and present, and central hill. Visitors flock here to imagine what life was like during the Belle Epoque—when artists such as Dalí, Renoir, Van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec, and Picasso lived and worked in Montmartre—as well as get their portrait sketched in Place du Tertre.
With a history dating back to the 1940s and a prime location on the glittering Champs-Élysées, Lido de Paris is one of Paris’ most famous and celebrated cabarets. The legendary show is a feast for the senses, with mesmerizing choreography, dazzling costumes, a medley of foot-stomping show tunes, the famous Bluebell Girls—and, in true French fashion, Champagne.
Paris’ Latin Quarter is a popular, historical area of the Left Bank. Home to the main Sorbonne campus, this dynamic, student-filled neighborhood was once frequented by Ernest Hemingway, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, and other revolutionaries. Today it’s distinguished for its buzzing cafés, lively restaurants, and must-see landmarks.
The Grand Palais is one of Paris’ most beautiful and recognizable structures. Debuted in 1900 in time for the World’s Fair, the architectural marvel is famed for its colossal nave, Beaux-Arts architecture, and immense glass roof. Today, the Grand Palais houses several gallery areas and also hosts tournaments, Chanel fashion shows, and other major events.
Situated on the right bank of the Seine River and flanked by the idyllic Tuileries Garden and the grand boulevard of Champs-Élysées, Place de la Concorde is the largest square in Paris. The infamous guillotines of the French Revolution were located here, but today the square is best known for striking monuments, elegant hotels, and elaborate fountains.
An instantly recognizable symbol of Paris, the colossal Arc de Triomphe stands at the epicenter of Place Charles de Gaulle, where 12 of the city’s busiest avenues converge. The Napoleon-commissioned monument, adorned with high-relief sculptures depicting sword-wielding soldiers and inscribed with the names of generals and battles, celebrates French military victories and remembers all those who have fought on behalf of France. The top of the arch, accessible via 284 steps, affords superb views over all of Paris.
The Pont des Arts—also known as the Passerelle des Arts—is one of central Paris’ most romantic bridges. Famed for the “love locks” that couples once clipped to its railings, the bridge has shed some weight in recent years, but not its amorous associations. These days, the pedestrian-friendly bridge is perfect for sightseeing or picnicking.
Glass-sheathed, modern towers house a world-class book collection at the French National Library in Paris. More than 15 million volumes are here, including royal book collections that date back to the Middle Ages, and the library hosts rotating exhibitions that range from artistic masterpieces to historic manuscripts and artifacts.
Known less for its name and more for the lily ponds that inspired Claude Monet's iconic paintings, Giverny is a provincial gem just a short train ride from Paris. The tiny bucolic village—home to only 500 inhabitants—is known for its ponds smothered in water lilies, picturesque weeping willow trees, and quaint painted bridges which will especially charm fans of impressionism.
The Panthéon, which dates back to 1790, is one of Paris’ most striking monuments. A fine example of early neoclassical architecture, the mausoleum houses the remains of some of France's most revered artists and writers, among them Rousseau, Voltaire, Zola, and Dumas.
The Arc de Triomphe looks down upon the grand tree-lined boulevard that is Avenue des Champs-Élysées: one of Paris’ most memorable sights and one of the world’s most famous avenues. It’s not just the striking architecture that captivates visitors—the shopping street is lined with designer boutiques, luxury hotels, and fine restaurants.
Fashioned from the blueprint of London’s world-renowned Madame Tussauds, the Grevin Museum (Musée Grevin), Paris’s own waxwork museum, has been sculpting famous faces since it was founded back in 1882. Today over 500 waxwork figures—including politicians, movie stars, and historic icons—are on display.
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