Things to Do in Paris
The Basilica of the Sacred Heart, or Basilique du Sacré-Coeur, perched at the very top of Butte de Montmartre (Montmartre Hill), was built from contributions pledged by Parisian Catholics as an act of contrition after the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. Construction began in 1873, but the basilica was not consecrated until 1919. The basilica's domes are a well-loved part of the Parisian skyline.
A 234-step climb up narrow spiral staircases takes you up to the dome, which affords one of Paris' most spectacular panoramas. It is, however, outside on the steps where the action takes place - lovers, buskers, locals and foreigners all converge to take in the vistas and each other.
The Palais de Chaillot is located on the Place du Trocadéro in Paris’ 16th neighborhood (arrondissement). Because it is just across the river Seine from the Eiffel Tower, the terrace of the Palais de Chaillot provides one of the city’s best views of the tower — it is a great place to snap photos of the famous landmark. Visitors can easily spend an entire day visiting the Palais de Chaillot, the Eiffel Tower, and walking or taking a cruise along the Seine. The Palais’ surrounding gardens (Jardins du Trocadéro) are ten hectares surrounding Paris’ largest fountain, which is well worth viewing at night while lit up.
The Palais de Chaillot was originally built for the 1937 World’s Fair/Universal Expo, and today houses the national theater (Théâtre National de Chaillot) and a number of different museums: the Musée de la Marine (Naval Museum), the Musée de l'Homme (The Museum of Man), and a museum of architecture (Cité de l'architecture et du patrimoine).
Of France’s 62 million residents, it’s estimated that as many as 7 million of them have Arabic roots. In appreciation of this multiculturalism, France partnered with 22 Arabic nations to found the Museum of the Arab World (Institut du Monde Arabe) in Paris in 1980. Housed within a contemporary building designed by renowned French architect Jean Nouvel, the museum houses a collection of Arabic art, scientific objects, textiles and other items spanning thousands of years.
Spread across four floors, the newly renovated museum’s collection includes everything from pre-Islamic ceramics to modern Palestinian art. The building itself is noteworthy, as the intricate latticework on the building’s southern exterior was inspired by a traditional Moorish screen. The museum regularly hosts large temporary exhibitions, with past topics such as contemporary Moroccan art, silks of al-Andalus and hip-hop in the Bronx Arab streets.
When the weather is warm Parisians of all ages flock to the formal terraces and chestnut groves of Luxembourg Gardens, the lung of the Left Bank located in St-Germain. There are art galleries, activities, and plenty of room to run about.
At the Grand Bassin, model sailboats can be rented, while at the pint-sized Théâtre du Luxembourg, visitors are treated to a complete theater experience in miniature: in a hall filled with child-sized seats, marionettes put on shows whose antics can be enjoyed even if you don't understand French. Just north of the theater, kids of up to 35kg (75lbs) can ride Shetland ponies. Less rider-friendly, you can visit the 'ruches' (beehives), established here in 1856. There are also numerous sporting fields and facilities. For higher-brow visitors, the early-20th-century Musée du Luxembourg at 19 Rue de Vaugirard is dedicated to presenting the work of living artists. The Palais du Luxembourg is worth a look.
Paris’ most eye-catching modern theatre is the Opéra Bastille, located in the 12th Arrondissement of Paris and cutting a striking silhouette against the city’s many traditional baroque theatres.
It was the 20th century composer Pierre Boulez who spearheaded the campaign for a new government-built opera house, initially intended to replace the historic Opera Garnier, or Palais Garnier, and encourage a new generation of concertgoers to enjoy classical music. The two theatres now compete for the title of Paris' most prestigious classical venue, with the original Opera house remaining the home of the Paris National Ballet and the celebrated Opéra National de Paris moving to the contemporary Opéra Bastille. Designed by the previously unknown Canadian-Uruguayan architect Carlos Ott, who beat 1,700 other design proposals submitted via an international competition in 1983, the Opéra Bastille was inaugurated in 1989 on the 200th anniversary of the storming of the Bastille.
Europe’s largest science museum and one of Paris’ most visited exhibition spaces, La Cite des Sciences et de L'lndustrie, or the City of Science & Industry, has been fascinating visitors with its hands-on exhibits since its inauguration in 1986.
An innovative edifice of glass and iron masterminded by architect Adrien Fainsilber, the museum’s shimmering façade sets the scene for a journey into the high-tech world of modern-day science. Set in the modern parklands of Parc de la Villette, Paris’ largest park, the City of Science & Industry is renowned for its pioneering exhibitions, covering everything from genetics to audio technology, and including an inventive Space exploration exhibit. Most impressive is the Cité des Enfants, aimed at children from 2-12 years, where an incredible range of child-friendly installations offer interactive demonstrations allowing children to operate robots, experiment with water conductivity and broadcast ‘news’ footage on a live television.
Once a port for industry and trade, the Bassin de la Villette is now a Parisian hub for travelers looking to explore the arts and culture that make the City of Lights so unique. A popular youth hostel, three-star hotel, famous restaurants and plenty of live performance venues draw travelers to Bassin de la Villette, where it’s possible to escape the hustle of Paris streets and relax into the scenic waterway.
While this destination is worth a visit any time of year, the summer’s month-long Paris-Plage festival is among the best reasons to make a stop. Seaside banks become almost resort like as local rolls out deck chairs and floating wooden cafes pass by selling strong coffees and warm pastries. Public picnic areas and classic dance floors draw locals and tourists out of doors to pass summer nights swaying in the ocean breeze.
The park is characterized by its modernist sculptures and installations, including around 35 fire-engine red follies dotted along the canal banks, a striking sight against the futuristic silhouettes of the park’s buildings. Three concert halls reside in the park – the Zenith Concert Hall and the Cite de la Musique, both important music halls, and the striking Grand Hall, a former livestock showground transformed by architects Bernard Reichen and Philippe Robert into a popular cultural center and performance arena.
The City of Science and Industry, Europe’s largest science museum, is also on-site, fronted by the iconic Omnimax cinema, La Géode - a building constructed inside a giant silver ball. Film and music fans can even enjoy alfresco entertainment during the summer months, when the nearby Prairie du Triangle is transformed into an open-air cinema, and a number of music concerts and festivals are held in the park grounds.
Promenade Plantée’s well-manicured gardens, flowering shrubs and romantic views make it one of the most popular destinations for budget conscious travelers visiting the City of Lights. Athletic visitors jog along the 2.9-mile scenic pathway as the sun rises, and dozens of couples in love gather to watch in the evening as the sunsets over Paris streets.
The greenway winds through Viaduc des Arts, where interested travelers can explore high-end shops and exquisite galleries, or comb through handmade arts and crafts booths before relaxing into the urban oasis of Promenade Plantée’s incredible gardens.
More Things to Do in Paris
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.
Like most museums in Europe, the Musée de l'Orangerie in Paris wasn't always an art space. As its name would imply, its original purpose in the 19th century was to house the orange trees away from winter weather. Later, it was used for just about everything from soldiers' quarters to sports to one-time exhibits. But it wasn't until 1922, when Nymphéas – known to the world as Monet's Water Lilies – found a permanent home in their specially designed, softly lit room.
But the Water Lilies aren't the only reason to stop in here on the way to Place Concorde after a stroll through the Tuilieries. There are also works by Picasso, Matisse, Modigliani, Cézanne and many others.
Located in the center of Paris in the 2nd arrondissement, Rue Montorgueil is a pedestrian-friendly neighborhood where, within a three block radius, you’ll find some of Paris’s best bites. The market street was once the home of the iconic Les Halles wholesale market, and while that was disbanded in the 1970s, its foodie culture remains in the form of fish and meat markets, restaurants, bistros, food shops, chocolatiers, pastry shops and kitchen supply stores.
For many a traveling foodie, the crowning jewel of the Rue Montorgueil neighborhood is La Maison Stohrer, a patisserie that opened in 1730, making it the oldest still-standing pastry shop in the city.
Les Halles began as a central covered food market, nicknamed “the stomach” of Paris for its winding, tightly packed networks of vendors selling, fish, meat and produce for eight centuries. In 1971 the market was dismantled and relocated to the Parisian suburb of Rungis, and in 1979 the partially underground Forum des Halles shopping center and a connecting metro station opened at the east end of the site.
While Paris’s iconic, beloved market exists only in memory, the neighborhood remains a popular destination for both locals and visitors. Points of interest include the sixteenth century Saint Eustache Church (home of the largest pipe organ in France) and the Pompidou Centre, home of the Musee National d’Art.
Transformed from a medieval cellar into an atmospheric music venue, Le Caveau de la Huchette opened its doors in 1946, and quickly became a mainstay of the city’s post-WWII jazz scene, hosting some of the world’s greatest jazz musicians over the years. Jean-Paul Amouroux, Wild Bill Davis, Sidney Bechet, Lionel Hampton, Memphis Slim, Duffy Jackson, Nancy Holloway and Marcel Azzola have all taken to the stage at Le Caveau de la Huchette, among countless others.
Today, Paris’ oldest jazz club remains at the epicenter of the capital’s still-thriving jazz scene, and it’s renowned for its electric live shows, which draw an equal measure of locals and tourists, and are held almost every night of the week.
A rock music temple if there ever was one, the Hard Rock brand doesn’t require an introduction; not with 170 establishments worldwide! Both a restaurant, a bar and a museum, this peculiar Paris attraction has been drawing in rock music aficionados for over two decades now, thanks to an impressive collection of authentic memorabilia and mouth-watering American-themed menu (something seldom found in grands chefs-driven Paris). Loud rock music, a relaxed atmosphere, original cocktails and humongous quantities of food await at Paris’ most American institution.
Golden records, guitars, costumes and other iconic memorabilia can be found at the restaurant’s two-floor museum. Some of the most popular items include Jimmy Hendrix’s paisley jacket, Whitney Houston’s gown, AC/DC’s Angus Young’s iconic school boy costume, John Lennons’s fox coat, Trent Reznor’s broken Gibson Les Paul guitar, Eminem’s overalls, to name a few.
Fashioned from the blueprint of London's world famous Madame Tussauds, Paris's own waxwork museum, the Musée Grévin (Grevin Museum), has been sculpting famous faces since it was founded back in 1882. A collection of some 500 waxwork figures are on display, alongside an exhibition on the making of the waxworks and the renowned 'Hall of Mirrors,' where deforming mirrors and a bizarre lightshow add to the curiosities.
The waxworks feature an array of famous faces, with American film stars like Brad Pitt and George Clooney, political figures like Barack Obama and legendary singers like Celine Dion and Michael Jackson, posed alongside homegrown heroes like French rally driver Sebastian Loeb. There are plenty of unique celebrity photo opportunities, too: cuddle up to Bridget Bardott's sultry statuette, pick Albert Einstein's brains or compare your moves with Elvis Presley (though his might seem a little stiff).
Place Dauphine is an iconic public square wedged between lavish townhouses on the western tip of Ile de la Cité in Paris. The square was the second project of the “royal squares program” instigated by Henri IV – the first one being what is now known as Place des Vosges – and was named after his son, soon-to-be Dauphin of France Louis XIII. To this day, it remains one of the most prestigious areas in the city.
The square’s – which is actually triangular in shape – westernmost corner connects to Pont Neuf, linking the right and left banks of the Seine River. Although the houses surrounding Place Dauphine were built in the early 1600s, only two have preserved their original features, i.e., the two located on either side of the narrow entrance leading to Pont Neuf. Nowadays, the oddly three-sided square is popular with both locals enjoying apéro and photographers searching for a quintessential Paris atmosphere.
A sea of high-rise office towers and modern skyscrapers encompassing 1.6 square kilometers at the western tip of the city, La Défense is Paris' purpose-built business district -- a modernist showcase of Paris in the 20th century.
La Défense was developed back in the 1960s by then President Charles de Gaulle, in an effort to minimize the detrimental effect of office blocks taking over downtown Paris. Restricting building heights across the city center, the business district was pushed to the western end of the city’s 10km-long Historical Axis, which stretches between the Louvre, the Champs-Elysees and Arc de Triomphe.
A towering district of glass and steel structures and the largest dedicated business district in Europe, La Défense boasts a number of striking buildings, including the GAN Tower -- Paris' tallest skyscraper at 179 meters -- and one of Europe’s largest shopping malls, Les Quatre Temps.
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