Spectacular things to do and see in and around Paris

Beyond the obvious splendors of the Eiffel Tower, the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris and the Sacre-Cœur Basilica, Paris has a wealth of sites and experiences to offer. Some of these treasures, such as the covered passage of Galerie Vivienne, are found right under your nose as you walk the city's charming streets. And others, like the spectacular Château de Chantilly and its Grand Stables, are to be found just a quick 20-minute train ride away.

The Parc Rives de Seine is a popular destination for families and sporty types, or even just people looking for a nice outdoor walk along the Seine or a place to picnic by the river. On warm spring, summer and fall evenings, you'll find groups of friends enjoying a bottle of wine al fresco or ordering a beer at one of the many food installations there. 

Legend has it that one of our American presidents said to his French hosts, "Why have you taken me seven times to Versailles and only once to Chantilly?" The logic of this question becomes eminently and instantly clear once you visit this picturesque village just 20 minutes from Paris.

In Paris, it pays to just wander because many Parisian gems and treasures can be found along a meandering path. The Galerie Vivienne, for example, is one of these gems. Its main entrance is tucked in just behind the Palais Royal and once you enter into this covered passage, you feel yourself instantly transported through time. 

One last reassurance when exploring the city: It's difficult to get lost in Paris. The Seine always points you in the right direction. And there is even a boat-bus service, the Batobus, that 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. 


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The area along the Rive Droite (right bank) riverfront that was once a thoroughfare for cars, stretching from the Tuileries tunnel to the Henri IV tunnel, is now a pedestrian zone. You can either start at Hôtel de Ville and head east toward the Bastille, which is a shorter walk but will take you along the stretch where the eateries are, often packed with people on the weekends. Or you can head west, still along the Seine, towards the Pont des Arts which will take you along some of Paris' most beautiful sites such as the Conciergerie, the Pont Neuf and Île de la Cité. It's a win-win and, either way, will leave you refreshed. An equally beautiful walk awaits you on the Left Bank side of the Seine. Optimally, start from the Pont Alexandre III and walk towards the Eiffel Tower, allowing for plenty of pauses along the way.

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 that's easily accessible from the Seine, it's nice to ride Batobus 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 (rightly so), this little Batobus-that-could offers the same views at a fraction of the price â€" dinner and cocktails not included, of course.

Outside the City

Known as one of the most beautiful chateaus in France, there is more to see here than just a 14th-century French château. The 17th-century Le Notre gardens that surround the château are accessible on foot or by small, electric golf carts that you can rent at the entrance. The Grand Stables are just across the way and, as the largest stables in Europe, the size of a castle. The Château itself houses the largest collection of antique paintings outside of the Louvre, and the Reading Room houses 19,000 of the 60,000 books in the collection.

Galerie Vivienne
Photo courtesy of Galerie Vivienne Paris photo by Paige Donner copyright 2014

Paris is full of passages. And while, no, these aren't necessarily hidden nor secret passages, they are covered passages. Galerie Vivienne is one of the most beautiful and is still resplendent with quaint, if quirky, little boutiques. In a way, these passages of Paris are precursors to our modern-day indoor malls. There are many throughout Paris and to discover several of them in a day would be a pedagogic, as well as historical, way to discover the city. This one, just near the Palais Royal and Place Victoire, is especially beautiful and well-maintained. These shady and cool labyrinthian caverns between towering Haussmanian buildings are also dotted with celebrated restaurants, cafes and quiet little nooks where you can peacefully read a book while sipping your way through an afternoon. Once you get to know the city fairly well, these historic passageways offer a shortcut from one neighborhood to another.

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Choco-Story Paris
Photo courtesy of Musee de Chocolat

Statistics show that in France, the equivalent of 7 kg. of chocolate per year is consumed. So it's no surprise, then, that Paris has its own chocolate museum. This is a fun activity for the whole family and focuses more on the origin and 4,000 years of historical relevance of the food that was once revered as divine. A couple of nice perks: there is an audio guide provided free, you just have to download it onto your smartphone from the app. And seasonal ateliers (workshops) are offered for the holidays such as Easter and Christmas. One last secret: you are allowed to taste all the chocolate you want while touring the museum, except for the sculptures, of course!

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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 Montmartre 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 Montmartre 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.

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Named for Louis XIV's confessor, who once lived in the vicinity, this cemetery was established in 1804. It was planned as a repository for human remains when authorities sought to improve sanitation by moving graves from the center of the city to its outskirts. Now park-like in its appeal, Pére Lachaise is a much-desired place to be buried. Within its bounds are the graves of Moliére, Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison, Frédéric Chopin, Edith Piaf, Sarah Bernhardt, Marcel Proust and other famous figures. Stately trees and beautiful memorials add to the cemetery's present-day calm.

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This gorgeous architectural gem, completed in the 17th century, is located in the city's Faubourg Saint-Germain region. It was created by Louis XIV, the Sun King, as a home for aged soldiers and disabled/injured veterans. Among its prominent features are a sweeping esplanade, a series of gardens, and a striking domed church, where Napoleon I and other military heroes are interred. One of those military heroes is Turenne, one of the most famous marshals of France, whose tomb was installed in 1800 under the Dome. It wasn't until 1840 that Napoleon I's body was transferred to this site under the direction of King Louis-Philippe. Also at this location is the Musée de l'Armée: an outstanding art and military history museum, with extensive armament collections.

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First built in 1780, the Parc du Champ-de-Mars is a large green space that stretches from the Eiffel Tower all the way down to the École Militaire to the southeast. It is a favored place for leisurely strolls, rain or shine. It is also one of the best places in the city to stretch out a picnic blanket and while the afternoon hours away over a shared baguette, some French cheese and other treats. The freely accessed public space frequently hosts such events as International Yoga Day and fireworks for Bastille Day.

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This Roman-style arena was built between the first and the 2nd century A.D. Named after the city when it was still under the Gallo-Roman rule, the Arènes de Lutèce are one of only two monuments that are still standing from that early historic time of the city, nearly 2,000 years ago. It had been completely covered over and only in 1883, after the demolition of the Daughters of Jesus Christ Convent, was a third of the amphitheater uncovered. Today, you can still see the stage and wings where the actors stood when performing in front of the assembled crowd.


Meet Paige Donner

Paige's latest book, The Romantic Couple's Guide To The City of Love, Sexy Paris follows her earlier guidebook Paris On 4 Paws, A Dog Lover's Guide To The City of Light and her acclaimed...  More About Paige