Paris: our guide to the French capital – part one

posted in: France | 27

The most visited city in the world is Paris and dam right it holds that honour. From its history, culture, cuisine, beautiful buildings, river cruises, museums, theatres and shopping, it has everything. Blended in with people coming from all over the world to live here as well as the locals (like our home city of London ), then the vibrancy of the city is one which sparkles and dazzles twenty-fours a day. Here is our guide to Paris and the top sights which visitors should do on their first visit.  

Paris, France
Cheers to Paris and all it’s charm

Ile de la Cite – the heart of Paris

The heart of Paris, where it all began for Europe’s most visited city is here on the island in the river Seine. This was a typical small village on an island when Julius Caesar was passing through with his Roman Empire but eventually kings made the area the political power of France. Over the years beautiful buildings were built, no more than the Gothic masterpiece known as the Notre-Dame. The island itself is pretty small and can be explored within a few hours and here is a few things to do and see which we highly recommend.

Notre Dame - Paris, France
The Notre-Dame with a view from Pont au Double

The Notre-Dame

One of France’s most famous landmarks, the Notre-Dame was first built way back in 1163 when Pope Alexander III laid the first stone. It took over 170 years to build this amazing cathedral, many of those involved were Gothic architecture and medieval craftsmen. Standing on a former Roman temple, the cathedral is around 130m long and has two 69m high towers which dominate the main entrance. Below that is the West Rose Window which is huge but more importantly depicts the Virgin in a medallion of blues and rich reds.  

Notre Dame - Paris, France
The square outside the western entrance of the Notre-Dame

The cathedral can be visited when there is not a service on (if you are lucky, visitors maybe able to attend a service), and check out the amazing transept.

Notre Dame - Paris, France
Inside the Notre-Dame
Notre Dame - Paris, France
One of the amazing windows from inside the cathedral
Notre Dame - Paris, France
Lovely Gothic feature on the northern side of the Notre-Dame
Notre Dame - Paris, France
The Notre-Dame from the south side

However most visitors will usually queue up on the northern side street (Rue du Cloitre Notre-Dame), and take the 387 steps up the north tower which leads onto the balcony. Here the famous gargoyles can be found but more truly, the views overlooking central Paris is truly amazing. I felt the view from here is better than that from the Tour Eiffel and the Sacre-Coeur cathedral, overlooking rooftops, seeing the other famous landmarks and I could see for miles and miles. Even looking down below over the river was a beautiful sight.

Notre Dame Gargoyles - Paris, France
and here are some views from the balcony…….

Notre Dame Gargoyles - Paris, France

Notre Dame Gargoyles - Paris, France

Notre Dame Gargoyles - Paris, France

Notre Dame Gargoyles - Paris, France

Notre Dame Gargoyles - Paris, France

Views from Notre Dame - Paris, France
a view out towards the Eiffel Tower overlooking the River Seine
Views from Notre Dame - Paris, France
Looking to the north with the beautiful Sacre-Coeur cathedral in the background
Views from Notre Dame - Paris, France
A close up view of the Eiffel Tower from the Notre-Dame

Outside the cathedral on the eastern end, outside attached to the cathedral is a structure known as ‘The Flying Buttresses’ which have a span of 15m. Not sure why this is here but to me it’s a beautiful piece of art and gives the Notre-Dame a more spooky feel in the winter months.

Notre Dame - Paris, France
The Flying Buttresses on Notre-Dame’s eastern end of the cathedral.

Point Zero

On the main square outside the western entrance of the Notre Dame is a slab of stone on the ground which is known as Point Zero. It is here where all distances within France are measured from. In England (my home country) we call this ‘Mile Zero’.     

France, Paris
Point Zero

Other sights to see –

Don’t forget to include a visit to nearby Sainte-Chapelle cathedral which is known for is stained glass (not as famous as the Notre-Dame but can be more beautiful in my eyes), a walk through the quaint streets of Ancien Cloitre Quartier (to the east of the island) which was once homes for students and medieval clergymen and behind the Notre Dame is the beautiful square of Jean XXIII which is so close to the river.

Ile de la Cite - Paris France

Tips:

Unless you got a bank account which is financed by Credit Agricole with you, try avoid eating and drinking in the restaurants and cafes on this island, it is very expensive and will leave you with open wallet surgery. I stupidly made the mistake of going to a cafe on the corner of Rue d’Arcole and Palais du Parvis-Notre Dame (can’t miss it, it is the big one on the corner), ordering two hot drinks and a litre of beer and came away feeling €30 lighter.

Ile de la Cite - Paris France
The bill from ‘that’ cafe!

There are two good ways to get here by metro and RER. The Metro passes underneath the island and stops at CITE (line 4) and to the south of the island (a few minutes walk), St Michel (line 4). However the RER stops at St-Michel Notre-Dame and Lines B (north to south) and C (west to east) stop here.

Notre Dame - Paris, France
River Seine

Tuileries Quarter

The beautiful area of the Tuileries is surrounded by the huge Place de la Concorde to the west and the Grand Louvre to the east. With palaces, expensive shopping streets on the Rue de Rivoli and Rue St-Honore and luxury hotels, this area is tolled with cash but anyone can enjoy the delights of the main attraction, Jardin des Tuileries (the Tuileries Gardens).

Jardin des Tuileries - Paris, France
Jardin des Tuileries

The main sight has to be the Louvre museum, one of the most famous art galleries in the world because it is known for having the world-famous Mona Lisa portrait by Leonardo da Vinci (which is not as big as people think, it’s tiny!). For us it has to be the outside (or should I say ‘street level’) as the main entrance to the museum is underneath glass pyramids in the middle of the Napoleon Courtyard. The surrounding buildings started of as a fortress back in the 12th century to protect Paris from those nasty Vikings from Norway. After that, the French Royal Family kept expanding the buildings and has stayed the same ever since until the glass pyramids were constructed back in the late 1980s.

Musee du Louvre - Paris, France
The glass pyramids at the Louvre museum

Musee du Louvre - Paris, France

Musee du Louvre - Paris, France

Walking westwards away from the museum, go through the beautiful Jardin des Tuileries which used to be part of the gardens of the nearby palaces. The good thing about walking through the gardens is that it is parallel with the River Seine so river views are also taking in. In the summer there are plenty of people relaxing on the grass, sitting by the water fountains and is also a romantic place to come, there are plenty of lovers holding hands and taking in the blissful surroundings, away from the traffic of the Paris streets.

Jardin des Tuileries - Paris, France
Jardin des Tuileries
Jardin des Tuileries - Paris, France
Jardin des Tuileries
Jardin des Tuileries - Paris, France
Jardin des Tuileries
Jardin des Tuileries - Paris, France
Jardin des Tuileries
Jardin des Tuileries - Paris, France
The western end of the Louvre from the garden

However at the western end of the Jardin des Tuileries is the Place de la Concorde, which is one of Europe’s most historic and magnificent squares. The square was known as Place Louis XV as it had a statue of the king way back in the 18th century. Then the square got a revamp which somehow opened up as an octagon ship with the north side of the square having some impressive mansions. After a while the square became known as the Place de la Revolution, the statue of the former king being replaced by a guillotine (nice!). Here over 1,000 people got beheaded including famous people like  Marie-Antoinette and Louis XVI. Eventually the square got renamed to Concorde and got a grand refit and also a 3,200 year old obelisk which came all the way from Luxor in Egypt now stands in the heart of the square. Along with two fountains, eight statues which personalities French cities, it certainly has a touch of glass these days.

Place de la Concorde - Paris, France
Place de la Concorde
Place de la Concorde - Paris, France
Place de la Concorde
Place de la Concorde - Paris, France
Place de la Concorde

This area, we say once again, is stunning and has class but is one of the best places to go for an afternoon stroll. Who needs the metro to get between points around here when there is plenty to see. (For those interested, the nearest Metro stations are Louvre-Rivoli, Tuileries, Pyramides, Madeleine and Concorde).     

Place de la Concorde - Paris, France
Place de la Concorde

Eiffel Tower Quarter

The Eiffel Tower Quarter and the Invalides Quarter makes up most of the south bank of the River Seine in Central Paris. As you can guess, the Eiffel Tower Quarter doesn’t has much to do there apart from, oh, you know, I say, to see one of the most historic landmarks in the world, Le Tour Eiffel (Eiffel Tower).

Eiffel Tower - Paris, France
No introduction needed for the world’s tallest climbing frame.

Built way back in 1889 to impress visitors to the 1889 World Expo (Universal Exhibition), the tower was only meant to be a temporary addition to Paris landscape but for reason has stood here ever since, with locals in two minds about whether if they like or not like the world’s largest climbing frame in the centre of their city.

Eiffel Tower - Paris, France

Designed by an engineer named Gustave Eiffel, the tower became the world’s tallest building until 1931 when New York ’s Empire State Building came along and took the number one spot.

Eiffel Tower at night - Paris, France

In recent years the tower has had a makeover with a coat of fresh paint and there is a beautiful light show that plays every single night, with sparkling flashlights glowing off the tower while a white solid beam goes flickers through the night sky across the rooftops.

Here are some handy tips which will help visitors visiting the number one landmark in France:

If possible, buy your tickets online so you don’t have to queue for ages just to buy a ticket! If queuing for a ticket, this could take anything from 30 minutes to two hours and is even worse in July and August. If not buying a ticket online, get there really really early to avoid the queues.

Eiffel Tower - Paris, France

At the first level which is 57 meters high (after walking up the first flight of stairs or taking the elevator), there is a small museum which tells visitors of the history of the tower and the stories of when Charlie Chaplin and Adolf Hitler came to town. There is also a post office and visitors can also see the Hydraulic lift mechanism which is still in working use to this very day.

Eiffel Tower - Paris, France

On the second level (115 meters high) there is ‘Le Jules Verne Restaurant’ which is suppose to be one of the best restaurants in Paris which also offers fantastic views (of course, but remember to bring lots of cash!). From this level there are Double-Decker elevators which takes visitors right to the top of the tower. However in busy times queues to get on and off takes a very long time.

View from Eiffel Tower - Paris, France

At the top the viewing gallery is the place to be and on  a clear day visitors can see maybe up to 45 miles (72km). The views are absolutely amazing and one not to be missed.

View from Eiffel Tower - Paris, France

The nearest RER station to visit the Tour Eiffel is Champ de Mars which is a five minute walk away to the west and the nearest metro is Bir Hakeim.

View from Eiffel Tower - Paris, France

To the south of the Tour Eiffel is the Champ-de-Mars which is a huge garden stretching from the tower to the Ecole Militaire building. This is a great place to chill out on the grass in the summer months but also take in the views of the beautiful tower.

Tip: Try and avoid all the African immigrants who are trying to sell goodies and selfie sticks at bargain prices. They are knocked off goods and don’t last long. Just say ‘non-merci’ when they approach you and walk on. If they become aggressive just shout out ‘police’ or ‘au secours’ – at the major tourist sights there are police everywhere. Not trying to scare visitors off but they are becoming a nuisance over the last twenty years.

Paris, France
Au revoir…until next time!

This is the first part of our guide to Paris, don’t forget to check out part two very soon!

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Paris, France

27 Responses

  1. Goodness gracious Danik! 30 for that? Quite crazy. I have been there though. Sometimes I grab a bite to eat or drink in a major city tourist area and pay out the wazoo LOL. I recall dropping 60 USD on a simple meal that would cost 20 USD a few miles Uptown in NYC. Fabulous post as always!

    Ryan

  2. Some really beautiful photos you took of Paris skyline, from the top of Notre Dame. I have been to Paris three times, and have yet entered the Notre Dame. The long queue always turned me off. I really should visit it the next time I’m in Paris.

  3. I now have added Open Wallet Surgery to my vernacular, which is a feeling I have had before eating in both Paris and London (and Oslo – damn!). It has been a while since I have been to Paris and it feels like it’s time to return. The light show on the tower is new. Your post helped me realize why I didn’t recognize the glass pyramids at the Louvre. They were built after my first visit when I internalized the layout. I always just assumed that I missed them, but no, they really weren’t there. Nice post, I love the pacing of your story.

  4. Love your photos, especially those taken from the Notre-Dame roof. 🙂
    Good guide, some very useful tips here. Given the fact that there is so many out there about Paris, it can be overwhelming to give something new. But I like your angle, it has everything a first-timer would need.
    And how about African immigrants selling frippery on the street. Haven’t been to Paris recently, but it wasn’t such a problem back then. When I read this, it reminded me of Middle Eastern markets. I mean, really?!

  5. Would love to go back to Paris again & see more of it. I’ve only been once & for way too short of a time. Completely agree with you about not taking the metro & just walking between places, I always think you get a better sense of a city that way. P.S. Love your photos of the gargoyles!

  6. This is great! We’re thinking about doing a winter trip to Paris so this is very helpful.

  7. Oh the city of lights and love, just one visit and Paris will touch your heart. A vacation is never enough time. But if you try the things you recommend above it is certainly a good start and a good time. There is just so much great history, art, culture and cuisine it makes you want to see, feel, experience and eat it all!

    Thanks for sharing. Keep travel blogging. Adventure is better shared with friends!

  8. I love Paris, particularly the Tuileries in this guide. I think a flying buttress is just an architectural feature – you’ll find them in other cathedrals too;)

    I haven’t been up the Eiffel tower for years. Reminds me to go again soon!

  9. Paris has so many iconic sights! I agree with you that you can’t visit Paris without seeing Notre-Dame, the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre. You could spend hours…or even days…in each one of them.

  10. This is such a helpful and informative guide to Paris. Also, love the pictures. I’m blown away by the lovely architecture especially of the Notre-Dame. Paris has been on my bucket list since long and I hope to visit soon. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  11. This is one for my childhood. Hunchback of Notre Dame was one of my favorites! And I would love to go to Notre Dame. Of course, Paris is in everyone’s bucket list. What a lovely city it is and this is a great guide! Your bird’s eye view shots of the city is just amazing!

  12. Lovely write up of the beautiful city for Paris! I can’t believe 2 beers and a liter of beer costs you 30 euros – but that’s Paris for you. When we were last there we accidentally bought an €8 bottle of water…ugh. And good tip about buying Eiffel Tower tickets online in advance. The queue around Paris can be absolutely insane – particularly in the summer.

  13. I’m a Catholic and I personally think that visiting Paris’ churches is definitely a must when I get to visit. 🙂 Love the architecture of the buildings at the Ile de la Cité. Nice tip regarding the expensiveness of food here though. Will definitely keep it in mind. 🙂

  14. You have some excellent photos. I remember visiting Paris as a child and Notre Dame cathedral was my favourite memory. There is so much to see and do in Paris you are spoilt for choice

  15. Very well presented with huge pictures. Paris can never be boring. It is so interesting to read about its iconic sights and historic monuments again and again. We missed buying the tickets in advance. So, that regret remains.

  16. Wonderful memories of our own visit to Paris came flooding back while reading this post. The Notre Dame, Louvre, Eiffel Tower, all seemed to have come alive in front of my eyes once again. The pictures from the Notre Dame are really wonderful and give such a different perspective of Paris from various directions.

  17. I’ve only been to Paris once when I was a child. I’d like to go back and see it again to get a fresh perspective of the city. Thanks for the guide, it’ll come in handy when I plan my trip.

  18. It’s funny reading about Paris for the new tourist – it’s one city I’ve been to so many times I can no longer count. You’ve highlighted some beautiful areas, I love Île de la Cité and Notre Dame. I love the views from up at Sacre Coeur and the cafes away from the river down towards the Pantheon for cheaper beer than the Seine prices 😉

  19. Those are some wonderful shots from up on the rooftop! I don’t think I’ve ever seen it captured from that view/perspective before! Great guide. I think it’s high time I get myself back to Paris 🙂

  20. You hit some of the main tourist haunts in Paris. There’s a lot of great things to do other than the main sights though. One of my favorite Parisian experiences was taking a macaron making class. There’s also the only remaining vineyard just behind Sacre Couer that you can visit by popping to to the Monmarte Tourist Office to arrange the visit. And there’s so many great places to eat that aren’t tourist traps.

  21. I visited Paris for the first time last summer. I love your photos from the top of Notre Dame! This was something I really wanted to do but missed.

  22. These days, my wife and I are virtually exploring Paris for we have decided to celeberate our 10 anniversary in Paris. Would love to read more on Julius Caeser’s connection with Ile de la Cite. I am sure Notre-Dame is the best example of Gothic Achitecture, at least I think so. Appreciate this complete travel guide on Paris. Have bookmarked it.

  23. Very comprehensive post on Paris. I love this city. We have been thrice already and I know if we go the fourth time, we will still be able to find new experiences. The pictures are lovely.

  24. Paris is one of our dream destinations and we are waiting to visit it at earliest. Hopefully soon now! Your these guides are going to help us a lot in planing our days and thanks for adding all the tips on where to eat and how to travel. Your pictures are beautiful. Thanks for compiling this up.

  25. We have yet to visit Paris, but I am so thankful for this guide. Notre Dame is so intriguing to me. Woud love to see it in person. And a stroll through Jardin des Tuileries sounds ideal. I really enjoyed reading about Point Zero. What a fun way to measure the city. Your pictures from the Eiffel Tower are stunning. What a view.

  26. Hahhahaa loveeeee how you described the open wallet surgery. I studied abroad in Lyon during university and would often ride the train up to Paris. This definitely brings back fond memories and I can for sure attest to the expensive cafes!

  27. Somehow, my Paris visit is incomplete. I could not finish seeing the Louvre and I definitely regret missing Notre Dame. Your post is a reminder to me to complete it. I would add some more from this list and also, those famed catacombs…eerie but interesting.

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