You’re Visiting Paris, France: You’ll Want To Do This!!

By The Crazy Tourist / Posted on March 6, 2019

Even if you’ve never been to Paris you may feel like you already know the City of Light. And in most cities in the world you’d be scraping the barrel trying to find 75 genuinely worthwhile things to do. But that will never be the case in Paris.

Such is the amount of world-beating museums and sights we all know and love, there will never be a shortage of ideas. We reckon you could make another 75 with the rejects and still have the time of your life in Paris.

You can’t compose a list like this without having tried and trusted favourites like the Louvre or the Eiffel Tower, but we also have a few recherché places and experiences that merit the extra minutes on the RER or Métro.

Let’s have a look at the best things to do in Paris:

The Louvre

The world’s largest and most visited art museum has more than enough material for an article of its own.

The Louvre Palace started out as a medieval fortress, before becoming a gallery for artists to study antiquities and the works of Old Masters in the 1700s.

Fast forward 230 years and you have a museum that you’d need weeks to fully appreciate.

There are antiquities from scores of world cultures and a collection of Renaissance and Baroque art that puts every other museum in the world to shame.

If you are pressed for time, see the crème de la crème like the 2,200-year-old Winged Victory of Samothrace, Liberty Leading the People (Delacroix), the Portrait of François I (Jean Clouet), the enigmatic Gabrielle d’Estrées and one of her sisters (Unknown) and of course the Mona Lisa (Leonardo da Vinci).

Musée d’Orsay

In the astonishing confines of a Beaux-Arts railway station is a compendium of French art and culture from the mid-19th century to 1914. The Gare d’Orsay is on the left bank of the Seine and was completed in 1900 for the Exposition Universelle.

After becoming obsolete for modern rail travel the building sat idle before being listed and turned into one of the largest art museums in the world, filling the gap between the Louvre and the National Museum of Modern Art at the Pompidou Centre.

In this unforgettable environment are scores of iconic works of art by Impressionists and Post-Impressionists like Renoir (Bal du Moulin de la Galette), Cézanne (The Card Players and Apples and Oranges), van Gogh (Starry Night Over the Rhône) and Manet (Le Déjeuner sur l’Herbe).

Eiffel Tower

Even taking on board the queues and safety measures, how could you possibly come to Paris and not go up one of the world’s most famous landmarks? Built in time for the 1889 World’s Fair, the tower stands at 324 metres and was the tallest structure in the country until the Millau Viaduct was completed in 2004. As an attraction it hardly needs introduction.

If you’re in the city for the first time then it needs to be a priority, but if you’re returning after a few years you can spot the city’s new landmarks, like the Fondation Louis Vuitton, from the observation decks.

Close to 7 million people ascend the Eiffel Tower every year; most go up to the first two levels where there are shops and restaurants, while the third level is still the highest accessible observation deck in Europe at 276 metres.

Notre-Dame de Paris

Hands-down the most famous and beloved Gothic monument in the world, the Notre-Dame’s unmistakeable towers rise from the eastern point of the Île de la Cité in the Seine. In Paris’s Medieval core, the cathedral was begun in 1163 and completed just under 200 years later. After picking up damage in the Revolution this monument was revitalised in the 19th century by the master restorer Viollet-le-Duc.

There are many reasons to brave the crowds and see the Notre-Dame, from the peerless sculpture on the facades (including the famous gargoyles), to the rose windows, stained glass, bell (enshrined in literature by Victor Hugo) and the view that can be had from its towers.

Despite the Revolution the treasury still has relics like the Crown of Thorns, while you can peer into Paris’s distant past in the excavations at the Archaeological Crypt.

Palace of Versailles

The largest and maybe the most famous palace in the world isn’t something to take lightly.

A testament to the opulence and excess of the ancient régime, Versailles grew from a hunting lodge in the 17th century to the ultimate statement of power in the century that followed. André Le Nôtre, who perfected the French formal garden style, and the virtuoso artist and decorator Charles Le Brun are just two of the masters to leave their mark at Versailles.

You need a lot of time to get the most from the palace, its opulent apartments and the historic Hall of Mirrors that links them.

And the main palace is only one element, along with the bewilderingly large grounds, the Royal Opera House, Grand Canal, Neptune Basin, Grand and Petit Trianon, and not to forget Marie Antoinette’s own idyllic village, the Hameau de la Reine.

Arc de Triomphe

On Place de l’Etoile at the western end of the Champs-Elysées is the monumental astylar arch erected to celebrate the victories and remember the war dead of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars.

The Arc de Triomphe is also at the centre point of the Axe Historique, a long, straight line linking monuments from La Défense in the west to the Louvre in the east. And as for the arch its facades are carved with reliefs of key episodes from the 1790s and 1800s, like the Battle of Austerlitz and Fall of Alexandria.

On the pillars are sculptural groups, including the iconic Marsellaise, which has a winged personification of liberty leading the volunteers, to symbolise the Revolution’s 10 August uprising. And finally, the names of the military leaders of the day are etched in the pillars, and those who died in battle are underlined.

Sainte-Chapelle

Embedded within the maze-like complex of the Palais de la Cité, the seat of France’s Kings up to the 1300s, the Sainte-Chapelle is a royal chapel constructed in just ten years up 1248. This is one of the first and most important works of Rayonnant Gothic architecture, a style known for its lightness and sense of height as you’ll know the moment you look up at the blue vaults trimmed with gold and dotted with fleurs-de-lis.

The Saint-Chapelle was ordered by King Louis IX to contain the relic of Christ’s Crown of Thorns, which has since been moved to the Notre-Dame. And even though there was some damage in the Revolution the 15 breathtaking stained glass windows have survived almost unscathed since the 13th century and are held as some of the finest in the world.

Place de la Concorde

Paris’s largest square was plotted in 1755 and completed in 1772 between the Champs-Elysées and the Tuileries Garden.

Early on it was named Place Louis XV, while at the northern end of the square are a couple of splendid examples of the Rococo Louis Quinze architecture in fashion during his reign. But the times soon changed, and the equestrian statue of Louis XV was dismantled in 1789 when the square became known as Place de la Révolution. A guillotine was set up, and pillars of the French nobility, including Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, were executed here.

Today you have to see the fountains created during the reign of Louis-Philippe in the 1830s, and the 3,500-year-old obelisk at the centre, which once stood at the entrance to the Luxor Temple.

Musée Rodin

When August Rodin passed away in 1917 he bequeathed his works and personal collection to the French government, provided his workshop at the fine Hôtel Biron was converted into a museum.

This mansion dates back to the 1700s and is a fitting backdrop for some of the world’s most celebrated sculptures. Rodin’s greatest works like The Thinker, The Kiss, The Burghers of Calais and The Gates of Hell all await. Rodin’s muse, Camille Claudel is also represented, and there are thousands of sketches and photographs, many owned by Rodin himself.

Rodin was also an avid collector and gathered ancient antiquities from Egypt, Greece and Rome, as well as paintings by contemporary artists like Renoir and van Gogh.

Sacré-Coeur

At the highest point of the Butte Montmartre hill is a monument born out of a catastrophe.

Designed as a Romano-Byzantine basilica, the Sacré-Coeur is known the world over and was started in 1875 as penance for France’s defeat in the Franco-Prussian War.

The ghostly white stone is travertine quarried south of Paris at Château-Landon.

You have to battle up Square Louise Michel below to be rewarded by what might be the best view of Paris.

Head inside to see the apse, which has one of the world’s largest mosaics in its ceiling, named Christ in Majesty.

For an even more complete view of the city you can scale the church’s iconic dome.

Palais Garnier

As much a hallmark of Paris as the Eiffel Tower or the Louvre, the Palais Garnier may well be the world’s most famous opera house.

The venue was commissioned by Napoleon III to coincide with Baron Haussmann’s grand renovation of Paris in the 1870s.

In an exuberant Beaux-Arts style, Palais Garnier is named for its architect Charles Garnier.

The facade has busts of famous composers between its Corinthian columns above figurative sculptures embodying the arts.

You could experience the interior as it was intended at an opera performance (expect to queue at short notice), or take a tour to be overwhelmed by the splendour of the Grand Foyer and Grand Staircase.

Catacombs

In the final decades of the 18th century Paris was in dire need of extra cemetery space.

As grim as it sounds the mass graves at Les Innocents cemetery were quite literally overflowing at that time, so for the answer the city looked to a network of limestone mines dating back to medieval times. These are in the 14th arrondissement, 20 metres below street level where the temperature is a steady 14 degrees. Some six million bones were moved here up to 1810. At first these were stacked randomly, but the engineer Louis-Étienne Héricart de Thury decided to make the catacombs a visitable mausoleum, and had the femurs, skulls arranged in jaunty, decorative patterns.

People still get lost in this eerie, 1.7-kilometre maze of tunnels so remember to keep close to your guide!

Panthéon

On the Latin Quarter’s Montagne Sainte-Geneviève, the Panthéon looks out over the Seine and is where some of France’s most famous citizens have been interred.

Constructed between 1758 and 1790, it was originally intended as a church. But no sooner was it completed than France was in the midst of the Revolution and Mirabeau ordered it to be secularised and turned into a mausoleum for great Frenchmen. The Panthéon borrows from the Pantheon in Rome, and was one of the first Neoclassical buildings in France.

Among the burials in the necropolis are the cream of French science, thought and culture, like Marie Curie, Rousseau, Voltaire, Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas and Émile Zola.

Latin Quarter

In the days of Ancient Lutetia, the Roman elites lived on the Montagne Sainte-Geneviève, now capped by the Panthéon.

The name, Latin Quarter, doesn’t come from that time, but is related to the Paris-Sorbonne University: As Latin was the language of academia, lectures were held in Latin all the way up to the Revolution, so it was the main tongue in this part of the city.

Despite rising rents, the Latin Quarter still has a young feel on its tangle of alleyways. That’s down to the many institutions of higher education and research centres. And the high concentration of young people made it the nerve centre of the protest movements in the 1960s that shook France to its foundations. In May 1968 students took Place St. Michel and even declared it an independent state.

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