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Attractions and things to do in Paris
With 45 million tourists visiting the French capital annually, Paris is one of the most popular and recognizable cities in the world. The largest city in France has a population of 2.2 million inhabitants, with a history stretching back to Gallo-Celtic times where the Parisii were known to have settled on the Île de la Cité where Notre Dame Cathedral stands today. Also known as the “City of Light” and the “Capital of Fashion”, Paris offers something for everyone: whether you want to explore the boutique shops of the Champs-Élysées, go on a culinary adventure at one of the many Michelin Star restaurants, take your other half on a romantic cruise along the Seine or take the whole family to Disneyland.
The center of Paris is divided into 20 districts or arrondissements with each containing its own unique highlights from the Jardin des Tuileries in the 1st to the Parc de Belleville in the 20th. It is also quite easy to travel around using public transport especially on the underground Metro. With 16 lines and trains passing at frequent intervals, it is one of the quickest and most convenient wzys of getting around the city. Although take care especially at some of the more popular tourist stops where vendors posing as ticket salesmen will try and sell you counterfeit tickets.
Sightseeing in Paris
Don’t Miss the Eiffel Tower
For any first time visitor to the French capital, your experience just would not be complete without visiting the main landmark of the city. Nothing is more iconic to Paris than the 324 m high Eiffel Tower which was once the tallest man made structure in the world until 1930. It is recommended to travel to Trocadero Metro Station where you get an excellent view of the tower in all its glory before descending down the steps and making the 5 minute walk to the Champ de Mars to see the imposing structure itself.
Sightseeing Tours in Paris
The Champs de Mars is also a key location where hop-on hop-off bus tours operate. The tours cover a broad area on both sides of the Seine including Île de la Cité where you will find Notre Dame Cathedral built in the 12th century. From the upper deck, you can also see the famous monuments and the columns from Place de la Bastille, Place Vendôme and the Luxor Obelisk from La Place de la Concorde. You will also likely ride through the Champs-Élysées which runs for nearly 2 km and ends at the Arc de Triomphe commemorating the lives lost during the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars. It also contains the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
As Paris is also a popular destination for a romantic break, it is also highly recommended for couples to take a boat cruise along the Seine. Not only will you travel through picturesque bridges, you will also get a great view of the palaces and museums along the shore and at night, the city is bathed in bright lights which leaves a lasting impression on visitors.
It is also recommended to participate in a guided walking tour where you can explore the landmarks or different arrondissements of Paris in greater detail. One of the other great advantages is fast track access inside popular attractions such as the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre where otherwise you would expect to queue for at least half an hour before entering.
Paris is also a bike friendly city and bike tours allow you to cycle through a greater number of arrondissements including through Montparnasse where you can go through the Jardin de Luxemburg or through the Montmartre neighborhood where you will find the spectacular Sacré-Cœur Basilica which provides a stunning view over the whole of Paris.
Museums & Galleries
Paris has more than its fair share of world renowned museums exhibiting famous collections of artifacts. The Louvre Palace is arguably the most famous having also been popularized by the Dan Brown novel “The Da Vinci Code” and contains one of the most recognizable paintings worldwide – Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa”. This is not the only highlight however as the museum boasts a collection dating back to 4,000 BC where you will find Ancient Egyptian art. Furthermore, if you go to the Apollo Gallery, you will find the crowns worn by French kings and the Emperor Napoleon I. Discover also works by Caravaggio, Raphael, Michelangelo and Eugene Delacroix’s “Liberty Leading the People” painting.
The Musée d'Orsay houses a fantastic collection of 19th century artwork from mostly French artists including Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, Paul Cezanne, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and also includes the work of Vincent van Gogh and James McNeill Whistler. The building used to be a railway station and outside you can find sculptures created for the 1878 Exposition Universelle.
Les Invalides is also worth seeing for its collection highlighting France’s military history. Not only does it display armor and weapons from the Middle Ages up to the present day but also contains the tombs of French war heroes including most notably Napoleon Bonaparte and several members of his family including his son Napoleon II plus Marshal Foch who was instrumental in the Allied victory of the First World War.
Leisure Activities in Paris
There are plenty of leisure activities to keep everyone of all ages entertained in Paris. Whether it is visiting a park with amusement rides and puppet shows or trying some new unfamiliar French dishes such as tête de veau (better not ask what it is first!) and enjoying a coffee at an outdoor café, there are a variety of things to do.
Excluding Disneyland based just outside the city, you will find plenty of parks including the Jardin du Luxembourg with its merry-go-round, puppet theater and pony rides. The Jardin d’Acclimitation is an amusement park with a zoo and also contains a mini-golf course. The Parc Zoologique contains lions, tigers, goats, pumas and other exotic animals. For football fans, you can also watch the leading French team Paris St. Germain at the Parc des Princes.
As a fashion capital, there are no shortage of high-end options. The Champs-Élysées has famous brands such as Adidas, H&M and Disney occupying large spaces as well as luxury brands including Cartier and Louis Vuitton. Le Marais was traditionally the aristocratic district of Paris and today it has a cosmopolitan feel where you can find boutique shops. The Carrousel de Louvre shopping center contains a gourmet food court with specialities from all over the world. You can also find familiar stores including Swarovski, L’Occitane en Provence and Lalique.
You will certainly be spoilt for choice given France’s culinary reputation plus Paris boasts over 70 Michelin Star restaurants. There are hundreds of bistros across the city that offer excellent food for reasonable prices especially if you select the fixed menu known as La Formule although naturally the choice will be limited.
Whether you want to enjoy steak haché avec des frites (steak and chips) and Boeuf Bourguignon (beef stew) or try something more adventurous like cuisses de grenouille steak tartare (raw beef), the culinary traditions of France will certainly leave a great impression. But like most other major internatioinal cities, Paris is also home to a variety of different cuisines including North African, Turkish, Korean, Indian, Kosher, Chinese and more.
Paris is of course famous for its traditional cabaret shows and its most famous venue is undoubtedly the Moulin Rouge where illustrious artists including Edith Piaf were able to achieve global fame. This venue is a tourist attraction in itself and offers entertainment in the form of singing, dancing and drama. Alternatively, there is the Lido in the Champs-Élysées or Paradis Latin in the Latin Quarter of the city.
As for the bar and club scene, there is a variety on offer. The Marais has a trendy bar district and popular with the LGBT community while the Latin Quarter has a student atmosphere where you can also find narrow streets with cafés. Oberkampf is one of the most popular areas especially with the locals and there are reasonable prices for drinks while those looking for something livelier are recommended to try the Bastille district suited to a young cosmopolitan crowd.
Things To Do Outside Paris – Versailles and Disneyland
Travelling Outside Paris
As the capital of France, Paris benefits from an extensive transport network that connects the city directly to other major cities across the country including the TGV rail service. There are also some attractions based in the Parisian suburbs worth visiting and offer something for the whole family.
The city of Versailles lies just outside of Paris and is famous for having been the official residence of the French monarchy from 1682 until 1789. From central Paris, you can take the train from Montparnasse or Saint Lazare Stations or alternatively use the suburban RER C5 line to Versailles Rive Gauche Station where it is only a 5 minute walk to the Versailles Palace.
It is recommended to arrive at the Versailles Palace very early in the morning (except on Mondays when it is closed) as the lines start to get very long for the rest of the day. You can also explore the wonderful gardens with meticulously designed and maintained lawns, sculptures, mazes and fountains. The Grand Trianon Castle which was built as a retreat for Louis XIV and was also later used by Napoleon during the First French Empire is also worth visiting. Other sites of interest include St. Louis Cathedral, Notre Dame Church, Chapelle Royale and the Temple of Love.
This world renowned attraction park is based in the suburb of Marne-la-Valle and is accessible from all the major railway stations in central Paris takes only 35 minutes to get to Marne-la-Vallee Chessy station. Otherwise it is also possible to travel directly from Charles de Gaulle Airport in just 10 minutes.
Every year Disneyland Paris attracts more than 15 million visitors and consists of 2 theme parks – Disneyland Park and Walt Disney Studios Park which each have their own series of fun rides aiming to capture the fantasy feel of the Disney franchise. Although it is aimed primarily for children, it is still fun for all the family and there are high-adrenlin fuelled rollercoaster rides for those looking for a more extreme experience.
Come and Visit Paris
With lots of things to do in Paris, you might find that even a long weekend is not enough to make the most out of your time in the city which is why it is important to plan ahead to make every minute count. Once you are in the city and become aware of the richness of French history and culture, it will soon become obvious why over 40 million tourists come and visit the city each year.