1. Classical highlights that you mustn’t miss


 

visiting Paris - Notre Dame

There are a few places that visiting Paris implies absolutely. The first is Notre-Dame. If this could look as an arbitrary assertion, it is in fact historically, architecturally and artistically justified. Notre-Dame is a roman medieval cathedral, which means that it’s at the same time a very old building born 900 years ago, a masterpiece of artwork made of sculptures and rose-windows, a huge and massive stone building, a great example of the gothic architectural style, and a testimony of an old era, the Middle Ages.

The location is also of a great interest: Notre Dame is located on one of the two main islands of Paris, named l’île de la Cité (the isle of the city). This place located in the very-centre of the capital is also its birth place: Paris used to concentrate on this island, the rest of the actual city being fields and countryside. This place is thus at the core of the city, its art and history.

Parisian tip: there are two waiting queues: the one in front of the church is to enter it, the one on its left side is to go on its top. You should favour the first one over the other: on the one side, because entering the church, with its windows, pillars and lights, is a really stunning and humbling experience; on the other side, because the line for the top is very long, not well organized – and there are 422 stairs!

How to go there: it is located at the very centre of Paris; you can take the metro with line 1 or 11 (station Hotel de Ville), line 4 (station Cité or Saint Michel), line 10 (station Maubert-Mutualité or Cluny-La Sorbonne), or line 7, 11 or 14 (station Châtelet). You can also take the RER with line B or C, on the station Saint-Michel-Notre-Dame.

Another main spot which is almost an obligation while visiting Paris is the Arc de Triomphe, or triumphal arch. This monument is also a great trace of history in Paris. It was built by Emperor Napoleon as a way to celebrate his victories and to pay tribute to his army, named “la Grande Armée” – the great army. Beyond the historical one, the Arc de Triomphe has also a symbolic dimension: underneath it lies the Tomb of the Unknown Solider with its eternal flame, a tribute paid to the 1914-1918 soldiers.

arc-de-triomphe

These two strong military pasts from the 19th or the 20th, Napoleonic Wars and World War I, make the Arc de Triomphe a real emblem of French patriotism. You can still see it today, as it’s the central place for national celebrations such as Armistice Day (November 11th) or Bastille Day (July 14th).

Parisian tip: the Arc stands in the centre of the Place Charles de Gaulle, which is a road junction: often, tourists only stand at its borders, taking selfies with the monument without approaching it. You should really admire the monument from a closer point of view: you can indeed cross the place thanks to an underground passage, named the Passage du Souvenir – the “memory way”. Its entrances are located at the top of the Avenue des Champs-Elysées Avenue or the Avenue de la Grande-Armée.

How to go there: it is located on the right bank, in the 16th arrondissement, which means in the northwest of the city; you can take the RER with the line A or the metro with the lines 1, 2 or 6: for all these lines, the name of the station is Charles-de-Gaulle-Etoile.

Visiting Paris, you cannot miss its very symbol, represented on every map and every cliché: the Eiffel Tower. The historical dimension is less important as for the two previous monuments, since the tower was built more recently: for the 1889 World’s Fair. It was supposed to be a symbol for the new modernity, but also a commemoration for the 100-year anniversary of the French Revolution.

eiffel_sunset

But this giant iron tower was supposed to be torn down: firstly, because it had been built for a temporary exhibit, secondly because many inhabitants didn’t appreciate the tower, considering it an eyesore wasting the skyline and as structurally unsound. If the aesthetic and the historic dimensions were not its assets, the tower was saved by its pragmatic dimension. It acquired indeed a major role in telegraph then television and radio broadcasts, succeeding in intercepting enemy radio communications during World War I.

How to get there: you can take the metro, with line 9 (station Trocadéro) or line 6 (station Bir-Hakeim). You can also take the RER with line C, on the station Champs de Mars-Tour Eiffel.

Parisian tip: line 6 of the subway runs above ground. If you take it, you will get a wonderful view of the Tower: between the station Passy and the station Bir-Hakeim, the metro runs on a bridge, facing the Tower in all its splendor!

2. Other spots, less famous but worth visiting

Apart from these three masterpieces of the city’s landscape, visiting Paris an also allow you to go to other spots, less famous but really worth visiting.

The first of those places is the Place de la Concorde – Concorde square. This place is steeped in French revolutionary history: it was the main execution site during the 1789-Revolution, renamed Place de la Révolution for the occasion. In particular, it’s is known for having guillotined King Louis XVI and Queen Marie-Antoinette in 1793, paving the (long) way to Republic and Human Rights.

concorde_square

Today, the square is linked to an older history: at its centre stands a 3,300 year old Egyptian monument decorated with ancient hieroglyphics, the Luxor Obelisk. It’s one of the two obelisks that the Egyptian government offered to France in 1829, placed at the centre of the square by King Louis Philippe in 1836. Finally, the square is also famous for its two fountains: the Maritime Fountain and the Foutain of the Rivers, remaining the passers-by of Rome, its Piazza Navona and their fountains.

How to go there: the Place de la Concorde is located at the eastern end of the Avenue des Champs-Elysées. You can take the metro with line 1, 8 and 12 on the station Concorde.

Parisian tip: standing at the centre of the square, you are standing at the centre of the Axe historique – historical axis – of Paris, the line of the main monuments and great buildings of the city. If you find the right view angle, you can see the alignment of these buildings.

To the west, you can see the Avenue des Champs Elysées, the Place de l’Etoile with its Arc de Triomphe, and finally the Arche de la Défense in the business district. To the east, you can see the Tuilerie Garden, the Place du Carrousel with its Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, and finally the Louvre. You just have to find the right view angle to have this feeling of being on the greatest axis of Paris!

Visiting Paris, another great place of history and patriotism is the Hotel des Invalides. It was first built with a pragmatic purpose: King Louis XIV wanted a place to house wounded and homeless veterans who had fought for France. Built in 1670-1671 according to the plans of Jules Hardouin-Mansart, it became a hospital and a retirement home for war veterans.

Les-Invalides

It explains the name: “invalides” is the French word for “disabled”. This military purpose still exists today: it houses the Musée de l’Armée (the Army Museum), but also the Musée de l’Ordre de la Libération, the church named l’Eglise du Dôme, which is the burial place of war heros, such as Napoleon Bonaparte. But beyond this military dimension, the building it also of a great interest and beauty, a mix between the French classical style for the northern façade and the baroque style for the golden dome.

How to go there: you can take the metro with line 8 (station La Tour Maubourg or Invalides), line 13 (station Invalides, Varennes or Saint François-Xavier)

Finally, another less famous but remarkable spot, that you absolutely must go to while visiting Paris, is the Sacré-Coeur basilica. The important thing to know is that the church has a very heavy past, both political and cultural.

sacred_heart

Political, since it was built in the aftermath of La Commune, the 1871-revolution and deadly civil war, as a way to atone for it; cultural, since, being built by the State and the Church, it embodies the conservative moral order. For these two reasons, the basilica was not – and still is not – appreciated by all Parisian people. But the church has also an artistic and architectural background and complexity.

Firstly, the architecture is a mix of the Roman style and the Byzantine style, which makes it a really unique masterpiece. Secondly, its white colour, obtained from the self-whitening stones, is very particular and makes the church recognizable among all others. This is what makes the church beautiful and unique and transcends its murky past.

How to go there: the Sacré-Coeur basilica is located on the top of the Butte Montmartre, in the 18th arrondissement, which means in the north of Paris. You can take the metro with line 2 (station Anvers) or line 12 (station Abbesses).

3. Cool neighbourhoods to walk through

Instead of going to one highlight to another, visiting Paris can also mean just walking through its narrow streets and big avenues and enjoy the neighbourhood.

The Marais district is one of the most highly frequented neighbourhood in Paris. It gets its name from its location: it used to be a marshland, the French word for it being a “marais”. For centuries, the place was thus inhabited. Today, it attracts a lot of people, thanks to its architectural heritage: there are many private mansions from the 17th and 18th centuries, and well-proportioned squares, such as the Place des Vosges.

marais-streets

It is also its artistic side that attracts people: the district hosts many great museums, such as the Picasso Museum, the Carnavalet Museum or the Victor Hugo’s House. Finally, the neighbourhood has a special vibe, a spirit modern and vintage at the same time: it has become the home of art galleries, gay bars, fashion houses, falafel restaurants, street art and thrift shops. This mix between the LGBT culture, the Jewish culture and the new trendy culture really makes this place unique in Paris and in France.

How to go there: the Marais spreads across the 3rd and 4th arrondissements, on the Right Bank. You can take the metro with line 3 (station Arts et Métiers, station Temple) 11 (station Arts et Métiers, station Rambuteau), line 8 (station Chemin Vert, station Filles du Calvaire), or line 1 (station Hotel de Ville, station Saint Paul).

The Latin Quarter is another great district where you should take a walk while visiting Paris. Back to the Middle Ages, this place was the home of many universities and colleges, and attracted many students and teachers. This gave the name to the place, since this academic dimension led to an intensive use of Latin.

latin_quater

Today, it is still a place of studies and students, as you can find there the main French universities (La Sorbonne, Les Beaux Arts, L’Ecole Normale Supérieure…), but also many cafés, restaurants and theatres, as the Théâtre de l’Odéon, one of the main national theatres.

There is also a very strong historical past, dating back to the Middle Ages with the Hotel de Cluny (a 13th century mansion house which is also the Museum of the Middle Ages), or even back to the Gallo-Roman era with the Arenas of Lutecia (the ruins of an amphitheatre from the 1st-2nd century) or with the Thermes de Cluny (the ruins of thermal baths from the 3rd century).

How to go there: the Latin Quartier is located in the 5th arrondissement, on the Left Bank. You can take the metro with line 4 (station Saint-Michel, station Odéon) or line 10 (station Odéon, station Cluny-La Sorbonne). You can also take the RER with line B or C (station Saint Michel-Notre Dame).

The Montmartre hill is a beautiful and picturesque neighbourhood of the north of Paris. Visiting Paris, you have to swing by this place which is steeped with history of art. It’s indeed the birth place of impressionism, having hosted Monet or Renoir, but also of cubism, since you can find the ancient workshop of Picasso.

montmartre-neighbourhood

You can still find this artsy spirit today, with a lot of street art on its walls, with painters and caricaturists in its streets, and with many art galleries. Beyond this artistic dimension, you also have a special spirit, a spirit of freedom, of being yourself and of partying.

Thus Montmartre is the place of cabarets, such as the Moulin Rouge or the Lapin Agile, but also the place of grapevines (you can still find a vineyard up the hill), of saucy streets and of sex shops. So Montmartre is not just about the Sacré-Coeur basilica and about its magnificent view of Paris: it’s also about a neighbourhood separated from the rest of the capital, both geographically – it’s a hill – and culturally.

How to go there: the Butte Montmartre is in the 18th arrondissement, which means in the north of Paris. You can take the metro with line 2 (station Anvers, station Pigalle or station Blanche) or line 12 (station Abbesses or Station Jules Joffrin).

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