Summer of 2014 was the first season people really got to enjoy this daring urban planning escapade undertaken by the city of Paris. What once was a freeway where speeding cars raced along the river embankment, is now a completely pedestrian zone. Moreover, to encourage its citizenry's and visiting guests'usage of the area dozens of fun and entertaining distractions have been installed along the embankment from the Eiffel Tower all the way to the Assemblée Nationale. There are water fountains that freely spout potable flat and sparkling water; there are lounge chairs on barges with generous greenery surrounding them; there are art installations; underneath a bridge is a disco mirror with dance music blaring; there is a big chalk wall where you can write whatever you feel. And more. Go and discover it all for yourself. If you have kids to bring along, all the better.
Stretching between the Louvre and place de la Concorde, this garden originally dates to 1564, when Catherine de Medici had it constructed as a reminder of her home in Italy. Historically, it marked one of the first times that Paris displayed beauty and elegance outdoors rather than only inside. It took its present layout by André Le Notre during the reign of Louis XIV. Boasting gravel paths, avenues of lovely trees and numerous sculptures, both historic and modern, the garden is a peaceful place to spend an afternoon, or to come for lunch when visiting the Louvre as there are several outdoor cafés and restaurants. In summer there is a big funfair.
One of the more surprising things to discover is that there is a Statue of Liberty in Paris, too. The Île aux Cygnes, which translates to Swan Island, is not far from the Eiffel Tower. Though the easiest access is via Métro Passy or Bir Hakeim. Enter onto the island from the middle of Pont (Bridge) Bir Hakeim. Once you are on the gravel path, it will take you all the way to the end, where you'll be standing on this island in the midle of the Seine with the Maison Radio France on your right and the Centre Beaugrenelle on your left. At this point you must keep going underneath the bridge. A 100m away is where the Statue of Liberty stands majestically. Yes she's smaller, a fraction of the size of her Ellis Island sister, but she is nonetheless, just as beautiful. And every bit as symbolic.
A more recent addition to Paris' quais, Les Docks has nonetheless quickly become a fixture here in this formerly infrequented area where the 5th arrondissement meets the 13th. Just near the Institut Monde Arabe, it was opened with great fanfare in 2012 and has become something of a fashion hub during Paris Fashion Week. Its full name is Cité du Mode et du Design and its shops, on-site museum and cute cafés reflect its aspirations to be a design showcase. The rooftop bar, restaurant and nightclub have been a hit from day one - since what's better than partying in the open air a few storeys above the Seine ? With happy hour pitchers of mojitos on special?
The building itself entices with its gilt-framed doors that open up from its sweeping entranceway there on Avenue Winston Churchill, just steps from the Champs-Elysées. Because its neighbor across the street, the Grand Palais, tends to get all the attention and the big name exhibitions and shows, it sort of just humbly waits to be noticed. One would never assume that entrance is free to the museum, but it is. Its temporary exhibits require a purchased ticket, but its permanent collections, featuring the history of the city as represented by French paintings and furniture, is a draw. As is, quite simply, the 1902 building that is flanked by the Seine and Pont Alexandre III on one side and the Champs-Elysées and the Grand Palais on the other.
In the late 18th century, Parc Monceau was created on the Monceau plain for the Duke of Chartres. It was filled with water features, statues and architectural elements from many other cultures, including a recreated pagoda and Roman temple. Visitors can take time to admire a windmill, a pyramid or simply wander through medieval ruins. The park became public domain after the French Revolution. In recent years it has become the default jogging track for well-heeled Parisians who live in the surrounding uppercrust neighborhoods of the 8th, 16th and 17th arrondissements. In the mornings and evenings the perimeter path turns into a jogging track and workout zone.
The Bois de Vincennes, Paris's largest park, was originally fenced off as royal hunting grounds. Today, scattered among its trees and lawns are peaceful lakes, bird reserves, a farm and even a castle completed in 1370 under the reign of Charles V. In past years, the castle has served as city fortress, barracks and prison. The Parc Floral botanical garden is a delight throughout the year, thanks to its hundreds of species of rainbow-hued flowers, and a place of entertainment with its children's playground and outdoor classical and jazz concerts in summer which sometimes are even free and perfect for accompanying outdoor picnic lunches and suppers.
The Pont des Arts, a pedestrian bridge across the Seine, connects the Louvre with the Latin Quarter while offering some of the city's most stunning views. It is also known as the Lover's Bridge since lovers have been coming here for centuries to gaze into one another's eyes. In recent years, the phenomena of Love Locks has swept not just Paris but romantic spots throughout the world. Alas, this bridge, however, became one of the epicenters for this cultural tradition and its 19th c. railings crumbled this past summer under the weight of all that love, with a few panels even falling into the Seine below. The city is currently replacing these with plexiglass panels along with a friendly but firm campaign urging people to celebrate their #LoveWithoutLocks.
This calm, park-like cemetery shelters many famous Parisians. A virtual city of tombstones, grave markers and mausoleums, Montparnasse is beautifully maintained. You'll often find visitors here, searching out the graves of philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, writer Guy de Maupassant, and composer Camille Saint-Saens. Also buried on the grounds are the iconic 60's era singer Serge Gainsbourg, photographer Man Ray, playwright Samuel Beckett, and philosopher Simone de Beauvoir.It's difficult to believe that such restful tranquility is to be found literally in the shadows of the Tour Montparnasse, Montparnasse Tower, Paris' tallest building which stands adjacent to the Montparnasse train station, "Gare Montparnasse."
One of Paris's most famous parks, Luxembourg was originally established in the 1600s surrounding the Palais du Luxembourg (now the French Senate). Not until the 19th century, however, were its grounds opened to the public. The park is known for its elaborate Médici fountain, ornamental statues and for its manicured design. While many folks come simply to enjoy its beauty, the park also invites people to play a game of tennis or chess or sail a model boat across the water. It's worth seeking out where the covered beehives are kept, on the rue Guynemer side of the park. You might just get a glimpse of the white-suited beekeepers. Kids love Luxembourg's puppet shows, playground and pony rides and everyone enjoys just sitting back and relaxing.