Paris. The city of light. The city of love. Whatever you want to call it, I was very impressed during my time in the French capital and it now holds a special place in my heart as one of my favorite cities in the world. I loved everything about it. The café lined streets, the symmetric gardens, the beautiful architecture, the efficient metro system, the incredible food, the vibes of the different neighborhoods, the picnicking in the parks. There is just so much more to this city than the Louvre or the Eiffel Tower. It’s a city that you can visit countless times in your life and never truly see everything. I spent nearly three weeks there and feel that I still barely scratched the surface. Nonetheless I did manage to see some of the main tourist attractions as well as a few other hidden gems a little off the beaten track. Here are some of the highlights of my trip to Paris:
The Parks & Gardens
For such a big city, the parks in Paris are plentiful. Walk a few blocks and you’re bound to find a patch of green somewhere–from the small hidden neighborhood parks to the grander gardens decorated with fountains and symmetrically designed fauna. I really liked taking walks through the Jardin du Luxembourg. Popular with tourists and locals alike, it’s a great place find to people watch. There’s also a really good place to get macarons nearby at Dalloyau. Parc de Sceaux was another favorite park, which is actually located just outside of Paris in the southern suburb of Sceaux. It’s huge and consists of a large symmetric lake, woodland walking trails, grassy fields where people come to play sports and have picnics. There is also a small, but beautiful château on top of a hill. You won’t find many tourists here at all, only locals!
Picnicking is a popular French pastime. In Paris the parks were filled with people enjoying a meal on the grass. It’s very simple to go to the nearest store for bread, meat, cheese, and wine, grab a blanket, and simply find a place to hang out with friends and watch the life go by around you. One of my favorite ways to spend an afternoon.
The Eiffel Tower
Of course no trip to Paris is complete without a visit to the Iron Lady. If you think it’s amazing by day, it’s absolutely incredible at night when the tower is bathed in golden light and a beacon shines from the top like a lighthouse. And each night at every hour on the hour, it suddenly lights up with a dazzling display of shimmering lights; like moonlight sparkling across a body of water. Absolutely incredible. We never went to the top, but we did enjoy some nice picnics under the tower on the Champ de Mars!
The number of museums and galleries in Paris seem to be endless. The most famous of these of course, is the Louvre. To be honest, I got a little bored at the Louvre. Aside from seeing the Mona Lisa, the Egyptian Hall, and the famous painting depicting the French Revolution, I wasn’t really keen on spending a whole day there. Maybe I would have enjoyed it more if I had gone with a tour group, as it’s a huge museum that can really only be properly done after several visits. Even some of my Parisian friends haven’t seen it all and they grew up there! I did like the Musée d’Orsay however, which is known for its impressionist collections, including some pieces from Van Gogh. Sometimes the museums have free days during certain times of the month. It’s a good idea to find out when they are and just go to a random museum. You might be surprised at what you discover.
Paris is divided into 20 districts (arrondissements). I only visited a fraction of these, but my favorite was probably Montmartre, the historic and artsy area in the 18th. We came here twice and really did nothing but getting lost and wandering around the narrow winding streets up the hill to the Sacre Coeur, a huge and beautifully built white marble Catholic basilica (I like to call it the French Taj Mahal). In some ways, being in Montmartre felt like being in a small village in the middle of a metropolis.
Walks Along the River
Walking along the Seine is great by day and even better at night when the city lights dance across the surface of the river. My favorite place to start was from Notre Dame, through the streets on Île de la Cité, and then walk west from there ending at the Eiffel Tower. There are some famous bridges worth visiting along the way including the Pont des Arts (the famous “love lock” bridge), the elaborate and beautifully decorated Pont Alexandre III, and Pont de Bir-Hakeim, which was featured in the movie Inception and has some really nice views of the Eiffel Tower. The walk also takes you past other famous Parisian landmarks like the Louvre, Musée d’Orsay, Invalides, and Le Grand Palais.
I was fortunate enough to be in Paris for La Fete nationale, or Bastille Day, which is the national holiday that commemorates the beginning of the French Revolution on July 14 1789. The day starts off with a big parade down the Champs Elysees and ends with a huge firework display right at the Eiffel Tower. The streets and parks within view of the tower all become packed by late afternoon, so it’s best to get a good spot early. Champs de Mars is probably the best place to watch the show, but we ended up finding a nice spot by the river. One of my favorite memories from Europe!
Under the streets of Paris lay miles and miles of underground tunnels lined with the bones of 6 million people. The tunnels are actually the remains of an extensive system of limestone quarries, which were filled with the remains dug up from overcrowded and unsanitary graveyards around the city. It’s a grim, yet very interesting attraction well worth visiting.
Canal St. Martin
Another good place to get away from the tourist crowds is at Canal St. Martin in the 10th arrondissement in northeastern Paris. I only knew about this place after watching the movie Amelíe but apparently it’s a popular place where the locals like to hangout. The canal was built to link the Canal de l’Ourq in the north to the Seine and today you can climb the arched bridges and watch the boats go up and down the series of locks.
Palace of Versailles
The Palace of Versailles is another must do while in Paris. It’s actually located outside of the city to the southwest. It was really hot the day we went and since we were there in July at the height of the tourist season, it was a long wait to get in. Once inside, you’re free to roam about home of the former monarchs of France. It’s huge and we spent a few hours wandering beautifully decorated corridors and gardens. I also recall having the best baguette I’ve ever had from one of the local bakeries in the town of Versailles.