Paris France For all the Right Reasons!

Photo credit: © Paris Tourist Office/Jacques Lebar

Question Why would you want to visit Paris?

Answer There are actually millions of reasons. That would be the number of international visitors that visit each year. And each visitor comes for his or her own reasons.

Paris undoubtedly is one of the world’s greatest creations. But like they say “Rome wasn’t built in a day!” Paris has been a thriving metropolis and a center of intellectual and artistic achievement for centuries. The city’s roots reach to the 3rd century B.C., and influences as diverse as Celtic, Roman, Scandinavian and English are woven into the city’s rich heritage.

With upwards of 12 million inhabitants, the greater metropolitan area of Paris is home to almost nineteen percent of France’s total population (central Paris counts just under 2.2 million souls). Since before the Revolution, Paris has been what urban planners like to call a hypertrophic city – the enlarged ‘head’ of a nation-state’s ‘body’. The urban area of the next biggest city – Marseilles – is just over a third the size of central Paris.

As the capital city, Paris is the administrative, business and cultural centre; virtually everything of importance in the republic begins finishes or is currently taking place here. The French have always said ‘Quand Paris éternue, la France s’en rhume’ (When Paris sneezes, France catches cold).

Paris has a timeless quality. And while the cobbled backstreets of Montmartre, the terraced cafés of Montparnasse, the iconic structure of the Eiffel Tower and the placid waters of the Seine may all have some visitors believing that the city has been here since time immemorial, that’s hardly the case.

Hemingway famously found artistic expression through the city’s personality – there is the renowned romance that fills the air, the gentle flow of the Seine, the timeless beauty of the Eiffel Tower, and the lip-smacking cuisine…

The center of Paris is divided in 20 arron-dissements with the majority of the world known attractions (Eiffel Tower, Champs-Elysées, Louvre, Panthéon, Notre-Dame) situated in the first 8 arrondissements.

If you have been to Paris, you no doubt have visited the highlights. If you are contemplating your first trip to the “La Ville-Lumière” or the “City of Light”, you will certainly visit these iconic cultural attractions …

Eiffel Tower

The most celebrated landmark in Paris is also the best view in the city if you can tolerate the queues to the elevators or climb the stairs. More than any other landmark, the Eiffel Tower has come to represent an elegant and contemporary Paris. The iron tower, which was built for the 1889 World Exposition by Gustave Eiffel, was wildly unpopular with Parisians when it was unveiled, and was nearly torn down. It has since attracted over 220 million visitors, and it would be hard to imagine Paris now without it. The tower crowns the Paris night sky with its festive light, and glitters up a storm every hour.

The Louvre

The palace of the Louvre cuts a grand Classical swathe through the centre of Paris and houses what is nothing less than the gold standard of France’s artistic tradition. To learn the Louvre in and out, you might need a lifetime. Still, one has to start somewhere. The site of the world’s largest and most diverse collection of pre-20th century painting, sculpture, and decorative objects, The Louvre is definitely one of Paris’ best attractions. Not forgetting the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo bask in the works of Vermeer, Caravaggio, Rembrandt, and countless others.

Musée d’Orsay

Walk over the bridge from the Louvre to the Musée d’Orsay and see the bridge between classical and modern art. Housing the world’s most important collection of impressionist and post-impressionist painting, the Musée d’Orsay’s light, airy rooms whir you through three floors of modern wonders, from Degas’ ethereal dancers to Monet’s water lilies to Gaugin’s leafy jungles. Major works by Van Gogh, Delacroix, Manet, and others await your delight.

Notre Dame Cathedral

Photo credit: © Paris Tourist Office/Amélie Dupont

One of the most singular and beautiful cathedrals of Europe, Cathédrale de Notre-Dame’s dramatic towers, spire, stained glass and statuary are guaranteed to take your breath away, and is also one of the masterpieces of the Gothic age. No first, second or even third trip to Paris is complete without a visit to this marvel of gothic architecture. Witness firsthand the spot that was once the heartbeat of medieval Paris, and that took over 100 years of hard labor to complete. Climbing the North tower to see Paris from the hunchback Quasimodo’s vantage is essential. You’ll soon understand why Notre Dame is one of Paris’ top attractions.

Sacre Coeur and Montmartre

With its unmistakeable white dome, the Sacre Coeur sits at the highest point of Paris on the Montmartre knoll, or butte. This basilica, which was consecrated in 1909, is best-known for its garish gold mosaic interiors and for its dramatic terrace, from which you can expect sweeping views of Paris on a clear day. Be sure to take some time to explore the winding, village-like streets of Montmartre. And after expending all your energy climbing Montmartre’s formidable hills and stairs, consider a traditional Parisian cabaret at the legendary Moulin Rouge.

Arc de Triomphe and the Champs-Elysées

The Arc de Triomphe, commissioned by Emperor Napoléon I, does exactly what it was intended: evoke military power and triumph. It was built in an age when leaders erected monuments in their honor, and scaled to their egos. The arch’s beautiful sculptures and reliefs commemorate Napoléon’s generals and soldiers. Visit the Arc de Triomphe to begin or culminate a walk down the equally grand Avenue des Champs-Elysées. You can’t help but feel grand yourself. The Arc stone archway provides an amazing view on the Champs-Elysées that is well worth the climb.

Centre Georges Pompidou and the “Beaubourg” Neighborhood

The Pompidou Centre, one of the twentieth century’s most radical buildings, provoked mixed reactions when it opened in 1977. Since then, it has won over the critics and the public alike, and has become one of the city’s most recognizable and popular landmarks. The Centre attracts large numbers to its excellent modern art museum and high-profile exhibitions. Parisians consider the Centre Georges Pompidou to be the cultural pulse of the city. The Centre was opened to honor president Georges Pompidou. If wacky design isn’t your cup of tea, the permanent collection at the National Museum of Modern Art is a must and features works by Modigliani and Matisse. Rooftop views of the city are also a must see ….

Père Lachaise Cemetery

Père Lachaise Cemetery, which opened in 1804, is the largest cemetery in the city of Paris, France (110 acres) though there are larger cemeteries in the city’s suburbs. Père Lachaise is reputed to be the world’s most visited cemetery, attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors annually to the graves of those who have enhanced French life over the past 200 years. It is also the site of three World War I memorials.

The cemetery takes its name from the confessor to Louis XIV, Père François de la Chaise (1624–1709), who lived in the Jesuit house rebuilt in 1682 on the site of the chapel.

Countless famous figures are buried here: the most popular being The Doors lead singer Jim Morrison, whose tomb is kept constant vigil by fans. The French playwright Molière, Oscar Wilde, Edith Piaf, and Richard Wright are a few others. On a sunny day, climbing to the cemetery’s summit and looking down on the lavishly designed crypts can be surprisingly joyful.

Boat Tour of the Seine River

Seeing some of Paris’ most beautiful sites glide past as you drift down the Seine River is an unforgettable and essential experience. Companies offer tours along the Seine year-round. You can hop on near Notre Dame or the Eiffel Tower, or go at night to enjoy the shimmering play of light on the water. You can also take tours of some of Paris’ canals and waterways, which will allow you to see a semi-hidden side of the city of light.

Château de Versailles

Twenty kilometres southwest of Paris, the royal town of Versailles is renowned for the Château de Versailles, the enormous palace built for Louis XIV which is today one of the most visited monuments in France. It was inspired by the young Louis XIV’s envy of his finance minister’s Château at Vaux-le-Vicomte, a château which he was determined to outdo. Versailles is the apotheosis of French regal indulgence, and even if the extravagant, self-aggrandizing decor of the “Sun King” is not to your liking, the palace’s historical significance and anecdotes will enthral, and its park is a delight.

Paris, the world’s most popular city destination, has plenty of must-see places but make sure you spend at least a day strolling off the beaten path, as this is the only way to discover the real Paris: a lively cosmopolitan but undeniably French city.

While here, you will encounter the embodiment of the French ‘mode de vie’ – from Michelin stars to the Mona Lisa to gorgeous boutique-lined streets – and that special Parisian ‘je ne sais quoi’. But, there is much to Paris than the aforementioned, although famous, attractions. So … be prepared to explore the rest of the arrondissements.

Explore the Left Bank

The Left Bank has long been famous as the bohemian quarter of town where down and out artists, authors and poets have lived and created their masterpieces. There is plenty to be seen here, and just wandering the streets is a fascinating experience. While traversing this area head to Le Lapin Agile, the Leaping Rabbit in English, which is the city’s oldest cabaret and bar. It was a favourite hangout for Picasso, Modigliani, Apollinaire and Utrillo. Other sites on the Left Bank include the famous windmills of Montmarte and the the Moulin Rouge.

The Sorbonne and the Latin Quarter

Photo credit: © Paris Tourist Office/Marc Bertrand

The best place to begin your day is the Latin Quarter. The Sorbonne University is the historic soul of the Latin Quarter, where higher learning has flourished for centuries. Founded in 1257 for a small group of theology students, the Sorbonne is one of Europe’s oldest universities. It has hosted countless great thinkers, including philosophers René Descartes, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Simone de Beauvoir. Take some time and savour a glass of wine on the café terrace in front of the college before exploring the winding little streets of the Latin Quarter behind it. This is a great spot to find a place to sit and watch all the stylish people pass by. It’s also a meeting place: “Meet me at the fountain”. Then, facing the fountain, begin your wandering east and south into the neighborhood. The streets aren’t laid out in that mind-numbing way most modern-day developers lay out streets. These streets meander. They are crooked. They are charming and narrow, and there is always something photographic to be found around the next corner. There are plenty of great bookshops to explore. You will also find quick food from many nationalities here. You might want to end things at the Luxembourg Gardens, where you can cool off in a shady spot.

The 2nd arrondissement is located on the right bank of the Seine River. It is Paris’s smallest arrondissement. While its population falls short of twenty thousand, this district provides over sixty thousand jobs, the highest job density in the city. It is home to all of Paris’s remaining glazed commercial arcades; pedestrian passages open at both ends with a glass and iron roof. This Parisian invention, actually an adaptation of Oriental bazaars and souks, forms a miniature city free from the noise of horse-drawn carriages, speeding taxis, and inclement weather. Remember when these arcades were built mostly in the 1820s and 1830s sidewalks were a rare commodity. In these arcades window-shopping developed into yet another Parisian art form. Make sure to visit at least one arcade to get a taste of Paris in the good old days.

The Opera-Comique (Comic Opera) is a world-famous opera company located in the Place Boieldieu, near the Paris Stock Exchange. It was established in 1714 to promote French opera in competition with the prevailing Italian opera of the day. Despite its name, not all of its productions were comic opera, especially during the Nineteenth Century. The current building was built in 1898, making it the oldest standing opera house in Paris. The Opera-Comique was the site of the first production of Bizet’s Carmen in 1875 initially considered quite a failure.

Built on the site of the city’s old ramparts, the Grands Boulevards extend in a long arc from the Eglise de la Madeleine (Church of the Madeleine) in the west to the Bastille in the east. They were once the haunt for Paris’s upper crust and jet setters (more precisely Boulevard strollers) and still form a distinctive, often lively part of the city. The actual street name changes from Boulevard Madeleine, to Boulevard des Capucines, to Boulevard des Italiens, to Boulevard Montmartre, to Boulevard Poissoniere, to Boulevard Bonne Nouvelle, and finally to Boulevard St. Denis from west to east.

Of course you don’t want to be in Paris without sampling fine French wine and food. In my article I Love French Wine and Food A Red Beaujolais I reviewed such a wine and suggested a sample menu: Start with Andouillette (Pork Tripe Sausage). For your second course savor Poulet de Bresse (Bresse Chicken). And as dessert indulge yourself with Ile Flottante (Floating Island Meringue). Your Parisian sommelier (wine steward) will be happy to suggest appropriate wines to accompany each course.

Explore the History

If you are a fan of French revolutionary history or Les Miserables, then visiting the site where the guillotine executions of Marie Antoinette, Louis XVI and 3000 others took place during the revolution between 1793 and 1795 may be of interest. Place de la Concorde is located to the west of the Champs-Élysées. You can also visit the Conciergerie, the former prison where Marie and Louis were imprisoned along with thousands of others awaiting execution.

Romantic Paris

Photo credit: © Paris Tourist Office/Jacques Lebar

Dream Places to “French Kiss” 

Over the centuries, Paris has retained its image as “the world’s most romantic city”. Everything has been thought out to give loving couples unforgettable moments together:

This is especially so in February, the month of romance, when the capital is decked out in its finest for sweethearts visiting the city to celebrate Valentine’s Day.

Here is where you can practice the time-honured art of the French Kiss, and celebrate the Romance of Paris …

Parisian Bridges

Who knows why they are so evocative of romance … Could it be because their arches symbolize an alliance? Or because the water that runs through them carries with it the wildest of promises? Who will be the next lovers of the Pont-Neuf? Follow tradition by embracing on the Pont Marie, (nicknamed “Lovers’Bridge”) while making a wish. If it is kept secret, it will be granted.

The Passerelle des Arts is a must, early or late for more intimacy. If is really too crowded, then choose another footbridge, all are perfect for creating a romantic moment.

Quaysides and Canals

The capital offers many options for romantic walks along the waterside. The

Seine quaysides are the perfect places to tarry far from the public gaze and crowds that walk along the streets above. Along the Canal Saint-Martin, lined with plane and chestnut trees, footbridges offer the chance to change sides at will.

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