Things to Do in Paris
In 1785, Paris decided to solve the problem of its overflowing cemeteries by exhuming the bones of the buried and relocating them to the tunnels of several disused quarries, leading to the creation of the Catacombs, basically corridors stacked with bones. They are 65 ft (20 m) underground and contain the remains of six million Parisians. During WWII, the tunnels were used as a headquarters by the Resistance.
The route through the Catacombs begins at a small, dark green Belle Époque-style building in the centre of a grassy area of av Colonel Henri Roi-Tanguy, the new name of place Denfert Rochereau. The exit is at the end of 83 steps on rue Remy Dumoncel, southwest where a guard will check your bag for 'borrowed' bones.
An idyllic stretch of greenery encircling the iconic pinnacle of the Eiffel Tower, the Champs de Mars is one of the most popular of Paris' parks. Named after Rome’s Campus Martius, a tribute to the Roman God of War, Champs de Mars was originally designed as a military training area for the nearby Ecole Militaire (Military School), but became an important arena for national events when it opened to the public back in 1780. Many key moments throughout the French Revolution took place here - including the first Fête de la Fédération (Federation Day or Bastille Day) in 1790, the legendary Festival of the Supreme Being in 1794, and it was the site of the 1791 Champs de Mars massacre - a bloody demonstration against King Louis XVI.
Pont de l’Alma is a Parisian bridge built in 1854 in commemoration of the Franco-British alliance’s victory over the Russian army during the Crimean War. The bridge underwent complete rebuilding in the 1970s in order to accommodate the rapidly increasing road and river traffic – only the statues were retained from the original structure. The arch bridge is now 42 meters large and 153 meters long, and links the right and left banks of the Seine River.
Pont de l’Alma offers splendid views of the Eiffel Tower and is often the go-to location for photographers wanting to capture Paris. What made the bridge a household name worldwide, however, is the role it played in Lady Diana’s death; indeed, she perished in a car crash at the entrance of the bridge’s tunnel in 1997. The Flame of Liberty at the bridge's north end has become an unofficial memorial to her memory.
The Jardin des Plantes isn't just a pretty place to spend an afternoon. From its “humble” beginnings as King Louis XIII's herb garden, it has grown to well over 7,000 plants. In addition to being home to four museums and a zoo, it's also a working laboratory for a highly respected botanical school.
The gardens feature native French as well as worldwide species of decorative plants. Of particular note is the Rose Garden, at 22 years old, it's the “newest” garden in the collection; its heavenly view is bested by the heavenly scent of thousands of roses.
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.
Place de la Bastille is one of the more well-known squares in Paris and occupies an important place in French history. This is where the Bastille Prison stood until 1789, when this 'symbol of royalist tyranny' was stormed on July 14 during the French Revolution. No trace of the Bastille prison remains but the square is still a place where Parisians go to raise their voices in political protest.
In the middle of the square stands the July column, commemorating the three-day July Revolution of 1830. yet another overthrowing of a French king.
These days the Bastille is a large traffic roundabout and the surrounding area is known for its bars, cafes, and nightclubs. It is home to the Opera Bastille, a marina for pleasure boats and the Canal Saint Martin.
The Pigalle quarter is located in Montmartre and has long nurtured its reputation for the risqué, even taking its name from the 18th-century artist Jean-Baptise Pigalle - famed for his nude sculptures. Pigalle is Paris' red light district, a lively area crammed with neon-lit sex shops, peep shows, expensive strip clubs, and of course, the city's now-legendary cabarets. Leave the kids at home and head out for an evening of adult entertainment, or at least, the opportunity to gasp and giggle at the outrageous displays of tongue-in-cheek erotica.
Don’t be put off by the area's seedy reputation -- a number of hip music clubs and less provocative venues are slowly revolutionizing the area. Many tourists simply want to peek at the infamous shop fronts or pay a visit to the fascinating Musee d'Erotisme (erotic museum), so there's no reason to stay away.
Built from 1969 until 1972, this building was the tallest in France, from the moment it was built up to the year 2011. Tour Montparnasse may not be much to look at from the outside. After all, it shares the skyline with the Eiffel Tower and is in the same city as architectural gems like the Louvre, Notre-Dame, Sacre Coeur and the Panthéon. And the SNCF train station in its foundation doesn't have much to admire, either.
It's not until you get to the 56th observation floor that visiting Tour Montparnasse becomes entirely worth it. The view from the Eiffel Tower is wonderful, sure – but the view from Tour Montparnasse has the Eiffel Tower in it! And on a nice day, the rooftop terrace on top of all 59 floors has a 360-degree view of Paris that is nothing short of breathtaking.
More Things to Do in Paris
Tucked behind the Bastille in Eastern Paris, the Marché d’Aligre is one of the capital’s liveliest markets, mixing the traditional and the bohemian with plenty of rustic French charm. The market is split into two parts: the Marche Beauvau, one of the few remaining covered markets in the capital, and an outdoor flea market where everything from antiques and crafts (including many African and Asia works), to clothes and fresh flowers, is on sale. Seasonal fruits, vegetables and meat line the indoor stalls, alongside huge slabs of local cheeses, fresh oysters and delicious baked goods, and there are plenty of free samples available to challenge your taste buds.
The market is open Tuesday-Saturday from 9am-4pm, as well as Sunday mornings; although many stallholders take a break for lunch around 1pm. The surrounding streets are packed with bijou cafes and charming eateries where you can watch the world go by while sampling some fine cuisine.
Les Invalides began as the army hospital, initiated by Louis XIV in 1670 and finished six years later. These days, it is a complex of buildings including a collection of museums, a hospital and retirement home for war veterans, and a chapel which is a burial place of war heroes including Napoleon Bonaparte. The museums include Contemporary History, Maps, as well as Military History.
As is the way with French Kings and their projects, a simple idea to build a place for war veterans to retire grew into a massive and grand statement with fifteen courtyards, a chapel - the Eglise Saint-Louis des Invalides, and then a royal chapel - Eglise du Dome. Based on St Peter's Basilica in Rome, this latter became the prime example of French Baroque architecture.
The streets of Paris are filled with romance and excitement, but for travelers looking to escape the hustle of the city, a wander along the scenic Canal St-Martin, located near the River Seine, offers a welcome respite from the typical urban energy.
Visitors can stroll along the picturesque waterway where quaint storefronts and tiny homes nod to another era. Travelers can relax at one of the numerous café tables and sip on glasses of fine wine under a quiet city sky or float along the waterway in one of the city’s famous riverboats. Travelers agree that some of the best shopping is to be had along Canal St-Martin, making it an ideal place to spend a late afternoon in the open air.
It's easy to pass by the Palais-Royal in Paris's first arrondissement; there is so much around it of note, and visitors are either rushing past to get to the Louvre, or wiped out after an afternoon at that world-famous museum. But its gardens, which are free and open to the public, are an oasis in this otherwise tourist-heavy neighborhood that's practically hidden in plain sight – so keep it in mind when you want to take a load off after trekking through the Louvre.
Originally the home of Cardinal Richelieu, it was built in the 1630s and after the Cardinal's death fell into the hands of King Louis XIII. Today it is the location of the Ministry of Culture and a branch of the National Library.
The Panthéon was originally meant to be the final resting place of the relics of Ste-Genevieve, but it now serves as a deconsecrated, non-denominational mausoleum of some of France's most revered artists and writers, such as Rousseau, Voltaire, Zola and, most recently after an exhumation and the moving of his coffin, Dumas. It also has a tribute to the French Jews who survived the horrors of World War II.
But visitors often find their gaze divided between the final resting places of these distinguished Frenchmen and the stunning, vaulted open space that remains from its construction, completed in 1790. The Panthéon is one the world's best examples of early Neoclassical architecture. Don't forget to stay a moment on the exterior stairs and enjoy the view of the Eiffel Tower.
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.
Grands Boulevards is an area in Paris situated in close proximity to Opéra Garnier and Grands Boulevards metro station. The plural form is not a coincidence; these lavish avenues and boulevards all exemplify the Parisian style created by the Baron Haussmann, whose work completely changed the city’s allure during the second Napoleonic empire in what is now considered a primitive form of urbanism. The grand scale, transformative works saw Paris welcome wider avenues, numerous fountains, intricately ornate buildings, and plentiful green spaces. But Haussmann did not create those spaces out of thin air; most of the Grands Boulevards now stand on what used to be the Louis XIII wall, which explains their remarkable size, uncommon for Paris at the time.
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.
Gare du Nord is one of the six major train stations in Paris, with service to London, Brussels, Amsterdam and other destinations north of the French capital. Strictly speaking, Gare du Nord is the busiest railway station in Europe and the busiest in the world outside Japan with over 700,000 passengers every day for a grand yearly total of 190 million. Because of the role it plays in Paris’ daily transports, Gare du Nord was featured in many movies, including Ocean’s Twelve, the Bourne Identity and The Da Vinci Code.
The train station itself was built in the 1860s and comprises 36 platforms, including a separate terminal for the Eurostar trains which require security and customs checks. The U-shaped terminal is made out of cast iron and stone, including the statues that decorate the main entrance – each representing destinations outside of France.
Few places offer travelers the unique shopping experience of Viaduc des Arts. This restored railway station in the heart of Paris is home to a wide variety of local artisans, from cabinet-makers to textile artists, fashion designers to painters. Dozens of one-of-a-kind shops are tucked beneath the picture-perfect arches of this old-world train station, providing travelers with one of Europe’s most idyllic shopping experiences.After combing through the oddities and artwork of Viaduc des Arts, visitors can wander the gardens of nearby Paris’s Promenade Plantee—an elevated park just above the shops. Travelers agree this quintessential Paris walk is a must for anyone visiting the City of Lights.
Nearly a dozen streets converge at Place de la Republique—a popular square in the heart of Paris. This historic town center may measure fewer than 10 acres but was once home to impressive military barracks. Though the grounds are relatively small, there are numerous points of interest including intricate fountains, monuments paying homage to the grand republic and artistic relief-panel depicting some of the city’s most impressive political feats.
Legendary for harbouring some of Paris’s most iconic artists and intellectuals, Montparnasse lies on the city’s Left Bank, in the 14th aggrandisement, and remains a popular tourist attraction. Taking its name from the Greek Mount Parnassus, home to ‘the Muses’ (the nine Greek Goddesses of the arts and sciences), Montparnasse was the central hub of Paris’s creativity throughout the 20th century. Home to a vibrant population of penniless artists and grass roots intellectuals, the area was a meeting ground for the era’s burgeoning arts scene. Future icons like Pablo Picasso, Jean Cocteau, Ernest Hemingway and James Joyce were among the immigrants who flocked to the area, along with a number of key French figures, many of whom are now buried in the Montparnasse cemetery. While the golden era might be long gone, the neighbourhood retains much of its gritty charm, with its many traditional cafés and creperies (pancake houses) recreating some of the vibe of historic Paris.
The Petit Palais, as you can imagine, is the smaller of the two museums on Avenue Winston Churchill, between the Champs-Élysées and the Pont Alexandre III. Unlike many museums in Paris, it was built (in 1900) specifically as an exhibition space, as evidenced by its abundance of soft natural light and open spaces. It is now home to the Musée des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris.
Its collection covers a wide range of styles and eras, from medieval paintings to 19th-century sculpture. Fans of Monet and Cézanne will enjoy their lesser-known works, and there's plenty of Rubens, Rembrandt and Rodin to go around.
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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