As I mentioned in my last post about Barcelona
, I spent most of my trip in Paris. Throughout my life I've been fortunate to visit France 6 times. Most of those times have been spent in Paris, but one time I spent the majority of my trip in Clermont-Ferrand (located in the middle of France) visiting one of my best friends growing up, and another time visiting Nice and Monaco (southern France). So needless to say, France has a very special place in my heart. But since my sister and brother-in-law are moving this summer, I know it will be a very, very long time till I make it there again. Which I'm okay with. There's a whole big world to discover, right?!
So for my posts today I wanted to talk about some of my favorite places to visit while in France (in no particular order).
Second to the Eiffel Tower (which we'll get to next), Paris is known for The Notre Dame cathedral. It was originally constructed in 1163 to 1240, but after it was desecrated in the 1790's during the French Revolution, it was then restored to its original state by local architect Eugene Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc (the bell is named Emmanuel after him!). I can't really express how much I love this building. There was a time in my life that I wanted to be an architect, and that desire started after seeing a picture of this amazing Gothic cathedral while I was in middle school. There was something about all those amazing flying buttresses that really made my heart soar :). And yes, speaking of flying buttresses (the arched support beams on the outside of the building), as much as I love the front of the Notre Dame, the back is definitely my favorite view. So if you ever make the trek over to Paris, make sure you don't just go to the front and straight inside... take a walk all the way around the building. Its totally worth it. Also, its worth a trip to the top to see the bell as well (but of course, that costs money)!
The Eiffel Tower takes the cake for being one of the most recognizable structures in not only Paris, but in the world. Its named after its design creator, Gustav Eiffel, who submitted the idea for the Eiffel tower to be built for the 1889 World's Fair. This amazing wrought-iron structure stands the equivalent to an 81 story tall building, and is the tallest structure in Paris (and at one time, the world). Its definitely safe to say this is the most visited site in Paris, and with good reason. You can see it poking out through the buildings from all over the city (and the sight of it never loses its magical impact), but you obviously need to go see it up close to get a feel for the magnitude of it. You can go up to three different levels in the tower (you can either walk or take an elevator to the first two levels, and you have to take an elevator to the top) to get a view of the city. Even if you choose not to do that, make sure you still take a walk underneath it. Yes underneath is swarmed with people either buying tickets or waiting in line to go to the top, but dodge them and take a minute to just look up through the middle of the building. Its very cool. Also, you should see the Eiffel tower not only during the day, but at night as well. When it startes getting dark they turn on the lights, and starting at 7pm (I believe) on the hour every hour the whole Eiffel Tower sparkels for ten minutes. Which is a magical sight.
The Louvre is one of the biggest museums in the world. If you walked through this whole museum spending 30 seconds to look at each piece with no break you'd spend 3 months there! Yeah, there is a lot to see. The Louvre originally started as a fortress (which you can still walk through a section of that in the basement of the museum), then was expanded into a palace. Louis the 16th and Marie Antoinette decided to move 12 miles away to Versailles (takes about 45 minute by train from paris, or a 15 minute car ride... definitely worth the trip), which was sort of beginning of the end. The French Revolution happened and the palace was quickly turned into a museum and opened to the public in 1793. In 1983 the French President proposed a renovation happen to the building, which would relocate certain areas and create a new grand entrance into the museum. I.M. Pei, an American Chinese architect won out, creating a glass pyramid as the entrance in 1989. The glass pyramid has sparked some controversy around the world... some people love it, while others don't like it because it seems too out of place. Me personally? I love it. The pyramid shape goes back to ancient Egyptian times, but the glass makes it completely modern and amazing. I just love the juxtaposition of the pyramid against the original Baroque palace. This is definitely a must see. When you go inside, do some research before hand to see what pieces you want to see so you know where to go inside (cause I think its safe to say you don't have 3 months to be able to see everything :). It most famously houses the Mona Lisa and the Vinus de Milo statue, among many other amazing gems.
Designed in 1806 by Jean Chalgrin, the Arc de Triomphe is still one of the most visited sites in Paris. It stands at the end of the famous Champs-Elysees (which is a great walk) and is surrounded by what has to be one of the busiest (and craziest) roundabouts. I believe 12 roads all funnel into the roundabout and I've heard, though I'm not positive I fully believe it, that an accident happens about every 30 minutes... so if you have a car and are unfamiliar with driving in Paris, you might want to avoid this roundabout! There are underground tunnels that take you to the Arc so you can walk underneath it and go up to the top. I'm not sure about all the significance of the statues and engravings, but know this was constructed to honor the soldiers that fought in the French Revolutionary war and the Napoleonic wars and set the trend for constructing monuments with patriotic themes. There have been many historic events that have included the Arc de Triomphe, including the Nazi's parading through it after the surrender of France in WW2. This is definitely an amazing site to see, and I think my favorite is seeing it lit up at night, its very beautiful.
Located in Mont Martre, the "poor artist" area of Paris and home to the Moulin Rouge, the Sacre-Coeur sits at the top of a hill overlooking the city. I've learned that I love getting arial views of the cities I visit. Like I've mentioned above, you can go to the top of Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe to get that view. Or, you can weave your way up the cobble stone streets and stairs to the Sacre-Coeur and get that amazing view (obviously from a father away perspective) for free. It was designed by Paul Abadie and construction started in 1875 and was completed in 1914. We didn't go inside (again, it costs money so we had to pick and choose) but still make sure you go walk around the building up close, it really is amazingly beautiful.
So there you have it. My top 5 things to see in Paris. Although they are all very touristy, they are all must-sees for France. But, I wanted to add a few more places, which I've listed below.
Other great sites to see -
- Musee D'Orsay
: once a railroad station turned into an amazing Museum. This houses works from famous artists such as Van Gough, Renior, Monet, and Manet to name a few. The inside of the building really is amazing. Make sure to check out the cafe (we had some delicious waffles with ice cream while we rested our feet and had the view outside from the amazing giant clock.
- Napoleon's Tomb
: this building is hard to miss as the gold dome shines visible through the city. Known as Les Invalides
, which now houses a museum showcasing the history of war in France, but originated as a hospital and place for retirement for war veterans. You can check out the Rodin museum
(less than a 5 minute walk away) and should definitely walk down the street to see the Petit Palais
(free entrance) and the Grand Palais
before hitting the Champs-Elysees.
- Luxembourg Gardens
: this beautifully landscaped park is the second biggest in Paris. While roaming the gardens, make sure to spot out the famous Medici Fountain
, as well as all the other beautiful sculptures. And hey, if you love Les Miserables, you'll be interested to know that in the book, Marius and Cosette first meet... starting their love story in these gardens.
- If you visit the Luxembourg gardens, you should take a walk up to the Pantheon
. Its neoclassical design was inspired by the Parthenon in Rome. The details on the interior of the building are amazing, and it houses the graves of some well known French like Voltaire, Victor Hugo, and Rousseau. Walk around the left hand side of the building to see a really beautiful church across the street.
If you are planning a trip to Paris, I'd recommend getting this
map (it also has a subway map included). My sister who lives there uses it and love it. Its great because its lamenated so you can mark on it with a waterproof white board marker to map out your stops for the day.
Do you have any favorite Paris spots that I've missed? I'd love to hear what you think.