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