When in Paris . . . Must-See and Must-Do Attractions and Activities
By Paige Donner
Paris Local Expert
Paris embraces visitors from the moment they land in the City of Light. Iconic places like the Eiffel Tower, the Sacré-Cœur, anf the Arc de Triomphe all evoke feelings of familiarity and timelessness. These are images we’ve grown up with, in movies, magazines and luxury ads. And no matter where we’re from, Paris is a dream destination.
When you’re here, you’ll find that the French excel in adding doses of modernity to a city steeped in history. The glass pyramid in the courtyard of the Louvre, for example, was scandalous when first built but now is as emblematic of the museum as is the Mona Lisa housed within. Strolling Parisian streets is in itself a walk through the tomes of time as these are the same rues and passerelles (streets and alleys) where Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, both US Ambassadors to France at the dawn of our nation, and French greats such as Victor Hugo, Lafayette, General DeGaulle, Napoléon, King Louis XIV and Marie Antoinette each once lived, walked and breathed.
It also pays to just wander because many Parisian gems and treasures can be found along a meandering path. You can never get lost in Paris, either, the Seine always points you in the right direction, and even has a boat-bus service, the BatoBus, you can hop on and off to motor you from the Eiffel Tower to the Notre Dame by riverway, and back again, if you so choose.
Musée de Montmartre
The Bel Air house, the 17th c. mansion which houses the Mus�e Montmartre and the Renoir Gardens, is the oldest building in Montmartre. It once drew celebrated artists such as August Renoir, Suzanne Valadon and Emile Bernard, all of whom had their artist studios on rue Cortot, which served as a sort of central meeting place for the artists of the day. The museum itself was only recently re-opened (fall 2014) after extensive renovations. It was first established in 1960. The artworks housed at the museum recount the history of Montmartre including the cabarets of the Moulin Rouge and the animated Lapin Agile. There's even an entire room dedicated to the French can-can. Paintings, posters and drawings signed by Valadon, Utrillo, Modigliani, Kupka, Steinlen and, yes, even Toulouse-Lautrec make up the museum's permanent collection. (01 49 25 89 39)
Basilique du Sacré-Coeur
The Sacré-Coeur Basilica, also known as the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, is blessed with its location in Paris. At the top of a huge hill in Montmarte overlooking the city, large steps cascade down the hill on one side, the basilica's white domes looming up in magnificence behind them. Head inside the Sacré-Coeur to experience this sacred Catholic cathedral, built in 1876. With its high point at the top of the Montmarte hill plus its gleaming white stone exterior, Sacré-Coeur Basilica is an amazing sight to behold from a distance as well, and views of it can be seen from many different points in Paris. (01 53 41 89 00)
Le Musée de la Fédération Française de Tennis
The museum of the F�d�ration Fran�aise de Tennis, otherwise known as the Tenniseum, is a one-of-a-kind museum devoted to the sport of tennis. Other features that make it outstanding is that it is situated on the stadium grounds of Roland-Garros and also its media rich archives, with films and digitized historical documents about tennis. The old gatehouse that is visible above ground and which serves as the museum's entranceway is deceptive to the vast spaciousness underground that houses this museum. With its emphasis on interactive activities and digitally archived material, all ages find things to delight in here. Just prior to the annual French Tennis Open, known in France as Roland Garros, there are habitually outstanding temporary exhibits mounted. (01 47 43 48 00)
Originally built in the 18th c. as a sanctuary for the patron saint of Paris, Ste. Genevieve, the monument today is open to visitors and offers free guided tours (in French) several times a day. Classical architecture modeled on the Panthéon in Rome distinguishes this stately structure, which features both a dramatic portico and a colonnaded dome. Although "pantheon" originally referred to a temple for all gods, this building serves as the final resting place for some of France's most prestigious citizens, including Victor Hugo, Marie and Pierre Curie, Voltaire, and Emile Zola. The four people French President Hollande named to the honor of the Panthéon in 2014 are two men and two women, all who fought in the French Resistance to the Nazis during WWII. The women are Gen?vieve de Gaulle-Athonioz, a niece of Charles de Gaulle, and Germaine Tillion. METRO: Cardinal Lemoine (01 44 32 18 00)
This 13th-century royal chapel was built in 1242-48 by King Louis IX to house his religious relics brought back from the Holy Land. It is said that it once housed Christ's crown of thorns. Originally part of the royal palace complex on the Ile de la Cité, it is now incorporated into the administrative complex called La Conciergerie. That's part of the reason why you have to go through a security check by the gendarmerie upon entering. The stunning Gothic structure boasts two levels, including an upper section that's awash in light from gorgeous stained-glass windows, depicting scenes from the Old Testament and the Passion of Christ.The chapel is a perfect example of the Gothic architectural style called Rayonnant and its "jewel-box" structure, along with its acoustics within, are renowned worldwide. It has been a national historical monument since 1862. Not to be missed. METRO: Cité (01 53 40 60 80)
Boasting an impressive resume that includes being one of the tallest buildings in the world and a design that was lauded when it was built for the 1889 Exposition Universelle - a festival to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution - La Tour Eiffel, commonly known as the Eiffel Tower, originally served as a radio transmitter and a symbol of the innovations achieved during the industrial era. Today, the Eiffel Tower stands proudly amidst Paris and glimpses of it can be seen from all over the city. In reverse, the Eiffel Tower provides a view to the whole city; a ride to the top of the tower takes visitors 276 meters up for a panoramic view of the entire city, stretching out for miles in each direction. At night, the Eiffel Tower comes alive with a light show that increases its role as the city's most recognized feature. (01 44 11 23 23)
Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris
Gothic gargoyles (actually, chimeras, if truth be told) and a stately sunburst greet you upon setting your eyes on the Notre Dame Cathedral. The exterior by itself is enough to convince you that this is one important building. Enter the cathedral and you'll be even more drawn into Notre Dame's mystique as you're met with an impressive altar and a luminous glow in the congregation area from the high, stained-glass adorned ceiling and upper walls. Construction on Notre Dame Cathedral started in 1163 under the lead of bishop, Maurice de Sully. Over the years Notre Dame has gone through restorations that has kept it in good condition and it is still an operating church to this day, offering daily masses. On Christmas Eve, plan on arriving a few hours early for Midnight Mass! (01 42 34 56 10)
Batobus Louvre Stop
Though not strictly an attraction the Batobus is more than just river transportation along the Seine. A hop-on, hop-off shuttle between the major Paris monuments easily accessible from the Seine, I often find myself riding the Batobus just for the sheer pleasure of seeing the city from a different perspective. And while the Bateaux-Mouches and the other wonderful dinner and cocktail Seine river cruises are experiences many rave about, this little Batobus-that-could offers the same views at a fraction of the price, dinner and cocktails not included (of course). The eight stops it makes as it amiably motors along the Seine are : the Eiffel Tower, the Musée d'Orsay, Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Notre Dame, Jardin des Plantes, Hôtel de Ville, Louvre and Champs-Elysées. Honestly speaking, where you embark and disembark are in areas that make not just the named monuments accessible, but whole neighborhoods where much then becomes walking distance.
Arènes de Lutèce
This Roman-style arena was built between the first and the 2nd century A.D. Named after the city's name when it was still under Gallo-Roman rule in that era, the Ar�nes de Lut�ce are one of only two monuments that are still standing from that early historic time of the city, nearly 2000 years ago. It had been completely covered over and only in 1883, after the demolition of the Daughters of Jesus Christ Convent, that a third of the amphitheater was uncovered. Author Victor Hugo was one of the prominent citizens who headed up the preservation committee to save this archaeological site. The amphitheater was built initially to accommodate 17,000 spectators. Today you can still see the stage and wings where the actors stood when performing in front of the assembled crowd.
Fondation Louis Vuitton
Designed by architect célebre, Frank Gehry, this $143 million museum in Paris' west side is a cultural center as well as art museum sponsored by the Group LVMH, headed up by Bernard Arnault, Chairman. The building was designed as a yacht or a vessel; A glass shell covers the body of the building; An assembly of blocks known as the "iceberg", gives it its volume and a sense of movement. The choice of materials, guided primarily by an idea for transparency, helps the building to blend seamlessly with its natural environment. Families are invited to enjoy dynamic trails and workshop events. The trails provide a short course in the form of walks encompassing games and designated stops where children and adults can discover a work, an architectural detail, a building material. Ask for the special family pass that allows you to take advantage of these cultural activities. (01 40 69 96 00)
About Paige Donner
Paige is a transplanted Parisian. She first arrived as a young bride in the early 90s to live in Paris, having uprooted herself from her native California. From then on it has been an on-again, off-again love affair with the City of Lights, one that has grown fonder over time. Paige hosts Paris GOODfood+wine and World of Wine for World Radio Paris. When not in Paris Paige often travels visiting French vineyards. She's also producer of Paris Food And Wine. As a journalist, Paige also writes for the NY Times,LA Times, Michelin Guide, Fodor's, Blackbook, Variety
Read more about Paige Donner here.