Spectacular Things to Do And See In And Around Paris



Beyond the obvious splendors of the Eiffel Tower, the Notre Dame Cathedral and the Sacre-Coeur Basilica, Paris has a wealth of sites and experiences to offer. Some of these treasures, like the covered passage of Galerie Vivienne,  are to be found hidden underneath your nose while you walk the city's charming streets; And others, like the spectacular Chateau Chantilly and its Grand Stables, are to be found just a quick 20-minute train ride away, halfway between Charles de Gaulle airport and Paris city center. 

This season, the Parc Rives de Seine is the 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. A huge undertaking championed by the current Mayor of Paris, this former roadway has been transformed into a city greenscape for pedestrians and bicycles. The playground areas that dot the terrain have become instant hits with the kids and their parents. Added features are that there are (clean!) toilets along the way as well as fresh, potable water spigots. On warm spring, summer and fall evenings you will find groups of friends enjoying a bottle of wine either picnic fashion or ordering a beer at one of the many food installations here. The newest area of the Parc is on the Rive Droite side between Pont des Arts to down past Pont Louis Philippe (direction Ile St. Louis). And the more broken-in area now is from Musee d'Orsay to nearly all the way to the Eiffel Tower, Rive Gauche. 

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. The highlights are the Chateau, once owned by Duke of Aumale, fifth son to France's last king, Louis Philippe. It houses the largest collection of antique paintings outside of the Louvre, including several original Raphaels. Just nearby is the Grand Stables, the largest equestrian center in Europe. Every June Chantilly hosts the Prix de Diane, a much-anticipated horse race and one where all the attendees show up in their finery and fancy hats. This is also a very popular destination for newlyweds for photo-opps and the Auberge du Jeu de Paume offers one of the finest 5-star establishments to be found in the Paris environs, imparting the sense that you are actually staying at the chateau. The fact that Chantilly, famous for its whipped cream and lace, is halfway between Charles de Gaulle airport and Paris is another added plus to be considered as a resting point on your departure from the city. 

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. It's as if the 19th c. city planners first envisioned a covered mall. Though this is certainly the classiest, most ornate covered indoor "mall" you will have ever visited. Storefronts inside here offer things from collectible art to tea and brownies. It's a wonderful excursion and appropriate for the whole family.

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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Outside the City


 

Known as one of the most beautiful chateaus in France, there is, in fact, more here to see than just a 14th c. French chateau. The the 17th c. Le Notre gardens that surround the chateau 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. They were first built for Louis-Henri de Bourbon, the 7th Prince of Conde. The Chateau itself was inherited by the Duke of Aumale, the 5th son of King Louis-Philippe who established the Musée Conde here and opened its doors to the public in 1898. It houses the largest collection of antique paintings outside of the Louvre and includes the famous "Three Graces," by Raphael. The Chateau's Reading Room houses 19,000 of the 60,000 books in the collection.


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4th Arondissement - Beaubourg an

 

The area along the riverfront that was once a thoroughfare for cars, stretching from the Tuileries tunnel to the Henri IV tunnel, is now a pedestrian zone. After much effort by the current Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, this civic attraction has now been established and is already attracting large numbers of bicyclists, pedestrians, riverfront businesses such as barges serving bbq, beer, soft drinks and more. You can either start at Hotel 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 Concegerie, the Pont Neuf and Ile de la Cite. It's a win-win and either way will leave you refreshed.


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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 (rightly so), 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.


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Paris is full of passages. And while, no, these aren't necessarily hidden nor secret passages, they are covered passages. These are nothing if not the predecessor to what we now know as indoor shopping malls. It pays to spend some time discovering the passages of Paris. There are many. Some of the best ones are in and around the Bourse and Grands Boulevards ; the historical centers where the city's commerce once took place. Galerie Vivienne is one of the most beautiful and is still resplendent with quaint, if quirky, little boutiques. Jean-Paul Gaultier's boutique assures that this tucked away passage will not be forgotten, and Cave Legrand, the exquisite wine shop, gives you all the more reason to go. Bring a book so that when you stop at A Priori Th�, you have a good excuse to dawdle and simply sit and soak up the time and history of your surroundings.


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10éme Arrondissement
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 4000 years of historical relevance of the food that was once revered as divine. The Grands Boulevards location of Choco-Story puts you in the center of a lively shopping and cafe district which comes alive in the evenings with all its theaters as well. 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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18éme Arrondissement

 

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.


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5th Arondissement - Latin Quarte

 

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.


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20éme Arrondissement

 

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, Pere Lachaise is a much-desired place to be buried. Within its bounds are the graves of Moliere, Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison, Chopin, Edith Piaf, Sarah Bernhardt, Marcel Proust, and other famous figures. The very first burial at the cemetery however was Adelaide Paillard de Villeneuve, a five-year-old girl who was the daughter of a bell-boy. Her grave no longer exists today because it was a temporary concession. Stately trees and beautiful memorials add to the cemetery's present-day calm. METRO: Pere Lachaise, Philippe Auguste


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7éme Arrondissement


 

This gorgeous architectural gem, completed in the 17th century, is located in the city's Faubourg-St-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. The Emperor passed away on St. Helena in 1821. Also at this location is the Mus�de l'Arm� an outstanding art and military history museum, with extensive armament collections. METRO: Invalides, Latour Maubourg


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7th Arondissement - Eiffel Tower

 

First built in 1780, the parc du Champ-de-Mars is a large green space that stretches from the Eiiffel Tower all the way down to the Ecole 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 dawdle the afternoon hours away over a shared baguette, some French cheese and other treats. The freely accessed public space frequently hosts national and international events such as fireworks for Bastille Day, White Yoga Day and even at the turn of the last century, was the site of the Universal Exposition. It also hosted the reception and a gigantic banquet for the marriage of the Duc d'Orl�ans in 1837.


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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

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