Paris has a way of turning the most cynical, bitter pragmatist into a fluffy, day-dreaming, esoteric cat-loving guru, and that’s even before setting foot anywhere near the Eiffel Tower! At the risk of sounding oh-so-cliché, the most romantic city in the world is simply sublime. Honeymooners, backpackers, overlanders, and retirees all make the pilgrimage to Paris at least once in their lives to experience the idealistic atmosphere. Indeed, if ‘love’ was a religion, then Paris would definitely be its Mecca. UP WITH LOVE we say! It’s just a pity so many lovers come here in the trillions every year…
Unfortunately, the most visited city in the world is, well, rather busy; so don’t be surprised if, by the end of your stay, you’ll feel that the most popular thing to do in Paris is waiting at the end of one queue or another. Don’t let this deter you! Usually, there is perfectly good reason behind the colossal crowds; all you need to do is to plan a little, pack copious amounts of patience in with your favourite little black dress and don’t let anything, or anyone, stand in your way. Marie-Antoinette did not become queen by playing a shrinking violet! She also had her head chopped off, so you know, be persistent…just don’t piss off any locals; they’re a rather irritable lot as it is.
Here’s our list of the vest best things to do in Paris. Now go forth and conquer!
The Eiffel Tower
Your first glimpse of this most iconic Parisian landmark may come as you emerge from the underground Metro at the start of the Champs Elysees, or it may be as you cruise along the Seine on your first day’s explorations. Whatever way you happen to first see it, you’re bound to hold your breath for just a second. We’re not quite sure if the’ steel asparagus’, as the locals love to call it, is really all that beautiful; perhaps it’s the romanticism of old-school films, or the picture-postcard perfect setting which makes grown adults swoon with nostalgia, but fact remains the Eiffel Tower is the single biggest drawcard in the whole country, and one of the most beloved and visited landmarks in the world. Photograph it, climb it or just picnic beneath it; take a look from every corner of town, at any time of day and night. Chances are this is one thing you may never tire of when in Paris.
Stroll down the Champs Elysees
Paris’ most fashionable strip runs from the Place de la Concorde all the way to the Arc de Triomphe and, even though it is home to some of the most expensive boutiques in existence, it needn’t cost you a fortune to experience it in all its glory. The 2km long chestnut tree-lined walk will see you go past grandiose buildings home to historic hotels, the gorgeous Champs Elysees Gardens (as heavenly as a city oasis can be), the Grand and Petit Palais as well as an enormous obelisk once belonging to the Luxor Temple in Egypt. Just next to the Place de la Concorde is where you’ll find the Musee de l’Orangerie with its most impressive display of impressionist paintings including Monet’s Water Lilies.
The Champs offers history, dining, shopping, architecture, art and nature; one couldn’t wish for any more out of a single, solitary avenue!
Take a glimpse of the Mona Lisa at the Louvre
Yes you’ll have to contend with crowds and yes, you’ll barely get a whole minute of ogling at the Mona Lisa (which is almost embarrassingly small), but YES! this is yet another attraction which should not be missed. Besides, the Louvre is so much more than just a single painting, not matter how famous it may be. Home to some of the world’s most priceless artworks, including an insane amount of sculptures by famed artists, the Louvre is simply one of the most splendid looking museums, and one of the most extensive collections of art ever known to man. Getting in may be a struggle, but once you’re in, it’s pure bliss.
Enjoy a cruise along the Seine
A river cruise along the Seine is quite priceless, and not just for box-ticking value alone. Considering some of the city’s premier attractions were built along the river’s edge, a cruise here will gift incredible and unique views of all the major landmarks, including the Louvre and the Notre Dame Cathedral. Be as cliché as you like exploring the watery ways of Paris; the Seine is one of only three UNESCO heritage listed sites in Paris (the others being the Left Bank and Marseilles) so at least you’ll know it wasn’t just carved out of nowhere for the sheer pleasure of tourists. Splurge on a sunset dinner cruise, or take a 2-hour round canal trip during the day.
Climb to the top of the Notre Dame
The Notre Dame cathedral, complete with scary looking gargoyles and head spinning heights is one of Paris’ most adored architectural treasures. Built in the 12th century, this most imposing church is as subtle on the inside as it is elaborate on the outside and is a marvel to visit no matter what your religious denomination. Dubbed the true heart of the city, as this was where the first settlement of Paris began, the Notre Dame is of as much historical importance as it is a religious and cultural gem. Struggling with long queues to reach the top is a worthwhile activity as the uppermost platform gifts the most magnificent views of the best side of the French capital.
Get to the heart of Montmartre
The ‘Sacred Heart’ area of Paris, Montmartre, is our very own favourite, and a place we urge everyone to explore at great length. Not only is it but a few minutes’ Metro ride from the centre, but it is home to the sublime Sacre Coeur, or Sacred Heart, Basilica (right on top of Paris’ highest hill), it’s by far the city’s artiest hood and home to an infinite maze of cobblestone streets, cool little cafes’ and supreme eateries. Come see where Picasso and Dali used to hang out, and discover a groovy little district.
Catch a show at the Moulin Rouge
Most visitors will satisfy their desires by simply getting to the infamous Moulin Rouge cabaret theatre and taking a photo of the world-famous red windmill plastered on the wall outside; but if you do want to channel your inner cancan girl then book a spot for a late night show, and come see where the cabaret world began over 100 years ago. Some people argue that nowadays you get much better shows in Vegas and Sydney and, while this may well be true, the atmosphere of the Moulin Rouge just can’t be duplicated, no matter how many millions of dollars one invests.
(A tip for the ladies: if your long-suffering boring half is wining about all the window shopping you’re subjecting him to, you may be happy to know that the amount of bare-booby action he’ll get here will more than make up for a little more shopping indulgence on your part. Tit for tat, as they say, ball’s in your court :))
While waiting for what seems like an eternity in the queue, you may start wondering if an insider’s peek at the Sainte-Chapelle is worth your persistent effort. Rest assured that the only time you’ll need to wonder this in Paris is if there wasn’t a long line of people waiting to get in. Possibly the most exquisite church in the French capital, Sainte-Chapelle boasts one of the finest stained glass window collections in the world, and is an absolute sparkling treasure. The narrow spiral staircase to get in may be a challenge to some, but it actually heightens the view and the expectations tremendously.
Go M.I.A. in the Luxembourg Gardens
Grumpy old Parisians normally say that the moment foreigners take one look at the city’s former Royal Palaces they will understand why there was a revolution here; yet we think all one needs to do is spend a day lost in the maze of the Luxembourg Gardens instead. If this is how ‘Royalty relaxed in the backyard’ one could not even imagine the kind of opulence they maintained within their own four walls. Or four hundred walls.
The former Royal gardens, once a place for decadent aristocratic R&R was opened to the public soon after the 1788 revolution, and has been a beloved place for local Sunday picnics ever since. There are infinite shaded nooks you can retreat to with a good book and a bottle of red, or you can stroll along the pond in front of the Luxembourg Palais, and watch young boys race their toy speed boats. The innumerable statues, flower gardens and fountains distract from the people watching, but they’re gorgeous nonetheless. The most brilliant part about the gardens is that they are so extensive that they never feel overcrowded, no matter how many diverge here in search of a little quintessential Parisian afternoon.
Become a Parisian in an hour!
One of the quirkiest tourist attractions in Paris would have to be the one-man-show ‘How to Become a Parisian in an hour’ shown at the Theatre des Nouveautes. Olivier Giraud delves deep into Parisian eccentricities and highlights the major difference between them, and the rest of us mere folks in a hilarious and incredibly sarcastic way. A fantastic English-language show in Paris, this one comes highly recommended if you want to get to know the locals a little better, or if you want to learn the art of arrogance. A particularly fun night out if you happen to have spent a substantial amount of time in the French Capital. Things start to make a lot more sense after watching this show!
Guillaume Cattiaux via Flickr
Oh Paris via Flickr
Rictor Norton & David Allen via Flickr
BudgetPlaces via Flickr
Alessandro Prada via Flickr
Michelle Walz via Flickr
Phillip Capper via Flickr