There’s so much to see in Paris that it’s very difficult to come up with a short-list for tourists. Having lived there for a few years in the past, I thought I’d put together a dozen suggestions. Some are obvious, but others are less well-known.
1. The Louvre
Originally a fortress, then a palace and now one of the biggest museums in the world with almost 35,000 objects inside, the Louvre is essential viewing when in Paris. It simply should not be missed, whether you’re a fan of history or not. A walk through in a single afternoon or a day is an eye-opener, but museum lovers will need several visits to take everything in. Be prepared for queues at the entrance – after all, it’s the world’s most visited art museum.
2. Tour Eiffel – École Militaire
The Eiffel Tower still stands as a remarkable feat of engineering. Instantly recognisable by almost anyone in the world, it houses a restaurant and has lifts. Behind the Tower is the Champ de Mars, a beautiful open area of grass where people relax, play frisbee and jog along the paths – it’s rather amusing to see the fully made-up bourgeois joggers amidst the more serious fitness types! At the other end of the Champ is the École Militaire, another impressive piece of architecture.
3. Pont de l’Alma
Not really a tourist spot until recent years, this bridge was previously known because the bateaux-mouches (the ones for boat trips down the river) stop just beside it for boarding. Now, though, the other side of the river is a spot that is remembered because Princess Diana died in the tunnel underneath. There was already a sculpture of a flame there, but it has become a place to pay tribute to her.
4. Arc de Triomphe
Napoleon’s famed triumphant arch, in remembrance of those who died in his wars. Beneath the arch is the Tomb of the Unnamed Soldier. Surrounded by one of the most insane roundabouts in the world – four unmarked lanes wide, with a dozen exits and notoriously bad French drivers changing lanes randomly – the arch stands at the beginning of one of the most famous shopping streets in the world. Which leads us nicely on to…
5. Les Champs Elysées
The place to see and be seen for every tourist. Although the Champs has gone downhill a bit in recent years with the arrival of more mainstream stores, it still houses some wonderful shops and restaurants. Prices are exaggerated, of course, but even just window shopping or sitting outside Fouquet’s and watching all the people go by is worth the time.
6. Place Vendôme
For people with too much money, this is the place to be. Home to Boucheron, Mauboussin, Cartier and a bunch of other expensive brands, the sheer value of the goods in these shops is staggering. See the beautiful people and their entourage of servitors as they shop for some of the most gorgeous pieces of jewelry ever created. Just remember not to spend all your traveller’s cheques in one place.
7. Jardins des Tuileries
I should have mentioned this one earlier, as it’s near the Louvre, but whatever. The gardens are lovely: a huge green space right in the middle of the city, with shady walks, beautiful landscaping and even a few cafes if you want to stop for an espresso. Les Jardins stretch from the Place de la Concorde up to the Louvre, making for a long, relaxing wander.
8. Montparnasse cemetery
Home primarily to the remains of the artistic and intellectual elite of France, the Cimétière de Montparnasse also happens to be just round the corner from where I used to live. Here are such luminaries as Baudelaire, Citroen, Gainsbourg, de Maupassant, Pialat, Sartre and Saint-Saëns. Bear in mind that it’s locked at night and unfortunately many of the graves are not in very good condition. Just up the road is Montparnasse itself, with the Tower (including a restaurant that’s quite expensive, but the view’s lovely), the Galeries Lafayette (shopping mall) and the Rue de Rennes, a street full of interesting shops (and a McDonalds).
9. Les Invalides
Another landmark of the city, Les Invalides is concerned with military history, rather than art. It houses museums and monuments, as well as a war veterans’ retirement home and a hospital. Napoleon’s sarcophagus is kept here, as are many of his family’s remains. The Emperor’s box is displayed prominently right under the big dome. Out front, there’s a wide green expanse which is popular with the student population of the city as well as tourists – it makes a lovely spot to stop for a sandwich if the sun’s shining.
10. Sacré-Coeur at Montmartre
This beautiful monument is situated at the highest point of the city and is reached by climbing a lot of steps. It’s worth visiting not only for the building itself, but also for the astounding view from just outside, with Paris spread out below. Around the area are tons of tiny shops and restaurants which, despite the massive amount of tourist trade, manage to maintain a feeling of being little local French places.
11. Notre Dame de Paris
The bells! They made me deaf, you know. Notre Dame is a wonderful piece of Gothic architecture famed as the home of Quasimodo in Victor Hugo’s classic and is also the official Cathedral of Paris. It houses a massive organ (with some 7,800 pipes) and five bells – the biggest of which weighs over 13 tons. It’s a very impressive building and a fully operational Catholic church, complete with priests who will quite happily sit and chat, the usual masses and so on.
12. St. Germain
A great spot to stop by at night. The St Germain area is extremely popular with the students of Paris and consequently buzzes with activity as the sun goes down. Cool restaurants, bars and clubs abound in the area. There’s always something going on around here. Just keep an eye on your wallet, as it’s also known for slightly higher crime rates.
One last thing, as well. When you’re down by the Eiffel Tower, I would suggest popping over to Avenue Bosquet, a couple of minutes’ walk away. There you will find three places to eat and a bar – all of which I would recommend.
First is my favourite restaurant: Le Bistrot de Papa. Offering menus from around 15 euros right up to a la carte spending in the 100 euro range and more (including wine) for two people, it’s perhaps not the most famed nor the best in Paris. It is, however, superbly run, very friendly and very reliable as far as quality is concerned. My partner and I used to eat there every six months or so and they never forgot us, which is quite a feat considering how many customers they get.
The other two are also very good. Pizza Tina will provide authentic Italian pizza, cooked to order in their stone oven, for sit-down or takeaway. They have a larger menu, of course, though I’ve rarely tasted better pizza so haven’t tried much else there. Le Jardin Imperial is a very classy Chinese restaurant with impeccable service, a very good menu and a friendly atmosphere, especially after you’ve been a couple of times. Yummy.
Finally, to round off the evening, the Master’s Bar. A very cool place, with a downstairs piano bar. The best time to visit is for the Fête de la Musique, though New Year or any other period of celebration can be great fun, too. A little too expensive to become a regular watering hole, but worth it for a special occasion!