A city rich in treasures from it’s historic past, Paris boasts many modern attractions as well. Paris is known for its famous buildings and works of art, its chic fashion scene and its modern literary, artistic, and intellectual ideals, and is a must for anyone wishing to experience the best of both contemporary and age old European culture. Paris is family friendly and is a city that welcomes people of all ages and backgrounds with open arms.
The capital of the nation and of the historic Île de France region, Paris is located in northern central France, across the English channel from Britain; 165mi southwest of Brussels; and 315mi west of Stuttgart. The city center, known as Intra-Muros, (within the walls), is bisected by the River Seine. Paris is divided into twenty zones or arrondissements that fan out in a circular pattern with the Louvre as the center point. The last two digits of the postal zip code of each zone indicate its location.
The area north of the river, the Rive Droite (Right Bank), includes the tree-lined Avenue des Champs Élysées, running west to the Arc de Triomphe. East of the avenue is the Musée du Louvre, the Centre Georges Pompidou and a lively district of museums, shops, markets and restaurants. Immediately south of the Pompidou Centre on the Île de la Cité is Notre Dame Cathedral. South of the river, in the area known as the Rive Gauche (Left Bank), can be found the city’s trademark, the Eiffel Tower.
To the east, are the Saint Germain de Prés and Montparnasse districts, in which can be found Paris’s famous academic, artistic and intellectual enclave. The history of Paris has been both turbulent and exhilarating. From a shaky start, the kings of France gradually extended their control over their feudal rivals, centralizing administrative, legal, financial and political power in Paris as they did so. The autocratic Louis XIV made Paris into a glorious symbol of the preeminence of the State.
Napoleon I added to the Louvre and built the Arc de Triomphe. Napoleon III had Baron Haussmann tear down the extensive slums in the early 19th century and completely redesign the city center. Recent presidents have updated the skyline to include skyscrapers at La Défense, and have initiated projects such as the Tour Montparnasse, Les Halles shopping precinct, the space-age Parc de la Villette complex, the glass pyramid entrance to the Louvre, the Bastille opera house, the new National Library, and the conversion of the once closed railway station to the superb Musée d’Orsay.
Few cities can compare with the eclectic mix of cafés, bars and restaurants that line every street and boulevard of Paris. The city’s compactness makes it possible to explore on foot and experience the individual feel of the different quartier Paris is a real cinema capital, and the best Parisian music encompasses jazz, avant-garde, salsa and, currently, Europe’s most vibrant African music scene.
Parts of Paris don’t fit easily in any “category”. In fact, Parisians say that their city is just a collection of one hundred villages. Montmartre, rising up to the north of the center, has managed to retain an almost rural atmosphere with its colorful mixture of locals and artists despite the daily influx of tourists. Undisturbed by tourism, the dilapidated working-class quarters of eastern Paris offer a rich ethnic slice of Parisian street life and in direct contrast, technological wonder is paraded at the ground-breaking science museum constructed in the recently renovated Parc de La Villette.
Like most Parisians, you may find there’s enough in Paris to keep you from ever thinking about the world beyond. When you find you need a rest from the bustle of the city, however, there is the whole of the Ile de France to explore.
Things to do
French words frequently used: rue (street) jardin (garden) palais (palace) musée (museum)
Musée du Louvre
9 Rue du Rivoli
Tel.: 01 40 20 51 51.
Direct access from Palais Royale metro station through the underground complex of shops and attractions
linking the Louvre to the Jardin des Tuileries.
9-6 Daily. (Closed Tuesday) Wednesday to 9:45pm.
This enormous building was constructed around 1200 to serve as a fortress while the King was away on crusades in the holy land. It was rebuilt in the mid-16th century for use as a royal palace, and began its career as a public museum in 1793 during the French Revolution.
As part of President François Mitterand’s futuristic grands projets in the 1980s, the Louvre was revamped and enlarged with the addition also of a 67ft. glass pyramid entrance. The museum is divided into seven departments ranging from Egyptian, Greek and Roman and Oriental sections through collections of paintings and sculpture, prints and drawings.
Many visitors are unable to summon the energy it takes to walk through the miles of rooms and galleries, and head directly for the most famous pieces: Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo and Winged Victory. There is so much of immense value to see in the Louvre, that it is best to obtain a copy of the museum guide in advance and plan for several visits to specific areas over the course of one’s time in Paris. More info
Centre National D’Art et de Culture Georges Pompidou
Tel.: 01 44 78 12 33
Wed.-Fri. and Mon. Noon-10pm. Sat., Sun. 10-10.
The Centre Georges Pompidou, displays and promotes modern and contemporary art. It is the most visited sight in Paris. Built between 1972 and 1977, the building features an ultra modern design in which the structural elements provide the building’s outer face. The structure has recently begun to age, prompting face-lifts and closures of many parts of the center.
Woven into this restoration are several galleries in which to shop for works of art. There is also a free, three-tiered library with over 2000 periodicals, including English-language newspapers and magazines from around the world. A square just to the west attracts street musicians and colorful characters.
Notre Dame de Paris
6 Place du Paris de Notre Dame
tel: 01 42 34 56 10
Sun.-Fri. 8-7 Sat. 8-12:30 and 2-7
Towers daily 9:30-6:30 April-Sept. (9:30-5 rest of year)
RER St. Michel Metro St. Michel
Cathedral: No admission fee. Tower: Admission is charged.
The city’s cathedral ranks as one of the greatest achievements of Gothic architecture. Notre Dame (the Cathedral of Our Lady) was begun in 1163 and completed around 1350. It stands on the Ile de la Cité, the oldest part of Paris.
Notre Dame is the nucleus around which the capital city developed. The outside is as spectacular as the interior. The Cathedral is built to hold up to 9000 worshipers, but it is always packed with visitors during the times between church services. It is best to arrive early and allow enough time to walk around outside and inside in a leisurely way.
The interior is dominated by enormous rose windows and a 7800-pipe organ that was recently restored. From the base of the north tower, physically fit visitors can climb to the top of the west façade and look above the cathedral’s gargoyles, and out over the city of Paris. Under the square in front of the cathedral an archaeological crypt displays the remains of structures from the Gallo-Roman and later periods. www/.pitt.edu/”medart/menufrance/chartres/charmain.html
4 Boulevard du Palais
tel: 01 53 73 78 50
9:30-6 (winter until 5pm)
Admission is charged.
Access through the Palais de Justice
Metro: St. Michel
Lying inside the Palais de Justice (law courts), Sainte Chapelle was consecrated in 1248 and built to house what was reputedly Jesus’ crown of thorns and other relics purchased by King Louis IX earlier in the 13th century.
The vaulted roof was designed to be supported by thin pillars separated by long, narrow stained glass windows . A few buttresses reinforce the structure which appears to be all of stained glass with no walls. The expanse of 13th-century stained glass (the oldest in Paris), is best viewed from the law courts’ main gilded 18th century gate. Over 1000 scenes from the Old and New Testaments are depicted on the windows and give the impression of reading the Bible in pictures as one walks around the chapel.
Palais de Justice
4 Boulevard du Palais
9:30-4:30 (6 pm in summer)
This part of the old royal palace contains the courts of law and is under tight security. Following screening, visitors are free to walk along the long hallways and stop in quietly to observe the proceedings of cases that are in session. The matters being heard will, of course, be conducted in French. Civil cases are heard in the morning, while criminal trials begin in the afternoon after lunch.
1 Rue de Bellechasse
tel: 01 40 49 48 14
Closed Mon. Open Tues-Sun. 10-6 (Thurs. 10-9:45)
Spectacularly housed in a former railway station built in 1900, the Musée d’Orsay was reopened in its present form in 1986. Inside is a wealth of artistic treasures produced between 1848 and 1914. Most of the paintings and sculptures of the era of the Impressionists and post impressionists are found on the ground floor and the skylight lit upper level. The middle level has some magnificent rooms showcasing the Art Nouveau movement. For up to date programs of events: www.musee-orsay.fr
77 Rue de Varenne
tel.: 01 44 18 16 10
9:30-5daily. Closed Mondays.
This outstanding collection of bronze and marble sculptures by Auguste Rodin and Camille Claudel, is displayed in the Hotel Biron where Rodin lived from 1907-1917. Some of the works in bronze and marble are in the house, others are distributed around the shady sculpture garden in the back. The lovely setting is perfect for a sunny afternoon stroll. On the first floor of the house are casts used for Rodin’s most celebrated works – the statues of Balzac and Victor Hugo.
Champ de Mars
Tel: 01 44 11 23 23
9:30am-11pm daily. (until midnight in summer)
Métro: Trocadéro or Bir-Hakeim
RER: Champ de Mars Tour Eiffel
The tower was completed by 300 workers in just over two years from January 1887-March 1889. It contains over 12,000 metallic parts and two and a half million rivets! When it was completed, it was the tallest building in the world.
The occasion of its creation was the centenary of the French Revolution. Named after its designer, Gustave Eiffel, it stands 320m (1050ft) high.
Initially intended as a temporary structure to be displayed at the 1889 Exposition Universelle, it was slated for demolition in 1909. However, during the Exposition nearly 2 million visitors paid to see it, and by the end of the first year 3/4 of the building costs had been recovered. By 1909 it was playing a new role as a radio telephone tower.
In preparation for its 100th anniversary in 1989 the tower was repainted and illuminated by more powerful lights. On a clear day the viewing platforms offer visitors willing and able to wait in line for the elevators, a spectacular glimpse of the city and surrounding area. Just southeast of the tower is a grassy expanse that was once the site of the world’s first balloon flights and is now used by teens as a skateboarding arena www.tour-eiffel.fr
Avenue des Champs-Élysées
A popular promenade for the well to do residents and visitors of a bygone era, the Avenue des Champs-Élysées has long symbolized the style and love of life of Paris. Even though it is now lined with fast food establishments, car showrooms, and cinemas, the magic remains. It provides a stirring sight by day or in its night time illumination, to look down its broad expanse to the stately Arc d’Triomphe. The one mile long, 235 foot wide street makes an ideal place for evening walks and some window shopping.
Cimetière du Père Lachaise
Main entrance at Boulevard de Ménilmontant
Metro: Pére Laachaise
This is Paris’s largest and most visited cemetery. Within the manicured, evergreen enclosure are the tombs of over one million people including the composer Chopin; the writers Molière, Apollinaire, Oscar Wilde, Balzac, Marcel Proust and Gertrude Stein; the artists David, Delacroix, Pissarro, Seurat and Modigliani; the actors Sarah Bernhardt, Simone Signoret and Yves Montand; the singer Édith Piaf; and the dancer Isadora Duncan.
The most visited tomb is that of The Doors lead singer, Jim Morrison, who died in Paris in 1971. A site plan is available at the main entrance to help locate the graves.
The cemetery was once the site of a fierce battle between Communard insurgents and government troops. The rebels were eventually rounded up against a wall and shot, and were buried where they fell in a mass grave.
Place des Vosges
Musée Victor Hugo
6 Places de Vosges
tel.: 01 42 72 10 16
Daily 10-5:40. Closed Monday.
Metro: St. Paul
In 1605, King Henri IV decided to turn the Marais district into Paris’ most exclusive residential area. Flanked by the Pavilion du Roi (King’s Pavillion) and the Pavilion de la Reine (Queen’s pavillion), the area was named Place Royale. His son, Louis XIII completed the project. None of the royal family ever actually lived there.
The remainder of the square is configured with 36 symmetrical houses each with a ground-floor arcade, steep slate roof, large dormer windows and vine covered walls. The first of the houses were built of brick, the rest were built rapidly and given timber frames and faced with plaster. The plaster was later painted to resemble brick. Duels, fought with strictly observed formality, were once staged in the elegant park in the middle which contains a statue of Louis XIII.
From 1832-48 Victor Hugo lived at a house at No 6, which has now been turned into a museum. Cardinal Richelieu lived at No. 21. In 1800 the square was renamed Place des Vosges. Today, the arcades at street level are occupied by expensive galleries, shops, and cafes.
1 Place Denfert-Rocherau
tel.: 01 43 22 47 63
2-4 pm weekdays (closed Monday) also open 9-11am Sat., Sun.
In 1785, a solution was found to the overcrowded conditions in the city cemeteries. Beneath the city lay extensive remains of galleries that were associated with three ancient Roman stone quarries.
The quarries, all in excellent condition, were cleaned and consecrated. They became cemeteries and are open for guided tours. The bones of the deceased are stacked neatly along the galleries on stone shelves. The tunnels, which were used by the Résistance during WWII as a headquarters, are south of the Seine.
Tel.: 01 49 07 27 27
10-7 Daily (Grande Arche)
Admission fee for tour of the Grande Arche
Metro or RER: Grande Arche de la Défense
A short metro ride west of the center city, this entirely modern business district is surrounded by a ring road carrying through traffic, with underground linking roads leading to specific areas at various levels. A broad pedestrian avenue called the esplanade General de Gaulle, rises in steps from the Seine and gives access to several blocks of office buildings, apartment buildings, a huge shopping complex, IMAX theater and the CNIT international business center.
Development of this area began in the 1950’s with the intent of completely separating vehicular and pedestrian traffic. This was accomplished along with the creation of a model center in which business and commerce co existing with upscale residential properties. is faced with glass and white marble. A fast moving glass elevator takes visitors 35 feet to the top for a great view across Paris to the Arc d’Triomphe and the obelisk in the Place de Concorde.
Tel: 01 60 30 60 30
Open all year, but hours vary with the season
Admission charged. One two or three day passports available.
RER; Chessy – end of the line. Disneyland Paris is part of a huge resort that is one-fifth the size of Paris! There are six hotels, an area of wooded campsites, restaurants, shops, golf and tennis, and night entertainment.
The theme park offers five main areas: Main Street USA featuring exhibits and rides recalling America of the early 1900’s; Frontierland, a reenactment of the frontier days in the US; Adventureland which has a pirate and buried treasure theme; and Fantasyland with rides and exhibits based on Disney film characters; and Discoveryland which focuses on space exploration, rockets, and beyond earth planetary adventures.
Place d’ Armes
01 30 84 74 00
RER Versailles-Rive gauche
Daily (except Monday)
Admission free. Events every Sunday from May-October: telephone for details. The numerous fountains are turned on at 3:30p m on certain days.
Combined fountains and fireworks displays some Saturday nights in summer.
In 1661, Louis XIV, the Sun King, commissioned the building of a castle for himself on the site of a chateau built for his father in 1631. The project became the palace at Versailles.
It took 50 years to design, build and landscape the property. The King and his court of 3000 people moved there in 1682, and it became the political center of France for the next 107 years. In 1789, the French Revolution caused changes to be made. The furniture was sold and the chateau fell into disrepair. In 1837, Louis-Phillippe converted it into a museum of French history.
The castle was restored after World War I with the financial help of John D. Rockefeller. Versailles has slowly regained its original elegance.
The elegant rooms and apartments are decorated with fine works of art and many original furnishings of Louis XV and other royal occupants. The Opéra Royal opened in 1770 for the wedding of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI.
The gardens were designed geometrically with the canal and the various ponds, flower beds and sculptures all blending in a harmonious pattern. The tour of the palace, the Trianons (lesser palaces) and the grounds could easily take a full day. Be sure to bring a camera as you will want to remember the wonders of this enchanting place.
11 bis rue Scribe
01 42 66 62 06
Fax 01 42 66 62 16
Winter : 9-6
This award winning multimedia production shows the development of major cities and of Paris in particular. The 45 minute presentation uses 25 projectors and offers viewers headphones with a choice of translations in 11 languages. It is shown every hour on the hour.
Canal Saint Martin
The Saint Martin canal, running through the northeastern districts of the Right Bank, is one of Paris’s hidden delights. The 3mi waterway, parts of which are higher than the surrounding land, was built in 1806 to link the Seine with the much longer Canal de l’Ourcq. Its shaded towpaths specked with sunlight are a wonderful place for a romantic stroll or bike ride past locks, metal bridges and Parisian neighborhoods. It meets the River just south of the Bastille.
34 Rue du Chevalier de la Barre
01 53 41 89 00
Admission to church is free. Admission to dome: small charge.
Montmartre is the zone (village) occupying the highest hill in Paris, and Sacre Coeur is its dominant feature. There has been a prayer circle in place since the church was completed in 1914, so that there has never been a moment during those years when someone wasn’t in the church praying, day and night.
Place de la Bastille
Tel: 01 40 01 19 70
Admission charged for tour
The original use for the fortress known as the Bastille when it was built around 1370 was as a residence for Charles V. It was part of the fortifications just beyond the City Center on the Right Bank. During the reign of Louis XIII it became the state prison where both criminals and political dissidents were held. Some of the famous people once incarcerated there were the Man in the Iron Mask, the French finance minister, Fouquet and the philosopher, Voltaire.
On July 14, 1789 there were a total of only 7 prisoners in the whole building, only one of whom was even vaguely connected with politics. The storming of the Bastille by the revolutionary forces was mainly symbolic of the fight of the common people of France for freedom from tyranny and for equality with their rulers. The Bastille was destroyed, and the seven prisoners released. Its fall sparked the spirit of freedom throughout the country.
This event is celebrated annually on the square.
In 1989 the square was given a whole new lease on life with the opening of the Opéra Bastille, Paris’s second opera house. The date of opening was chosen to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution. The new addition brightened the whole square and has resulted in renovations throughout the bustling area around it. Art galleries, shops, craftsmen, and fashionable nightclubs are now found in the area.
Arc de Triomphe
Place Charles de Gaulle
Tel.: 01 43 80 31 31.
Platform and Museum open 10-5 daily.
The largest triumphal arch ever built in the tradition of Roman architecture was commissioned by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1806 as a tribute to his Grand Army. Construction stopped abruptly with the fall of Napoleon, but resumed eventually. The Arc was completed in 1836. In 1920 the unknown soldier was buried under it, and every evening at 6:30pm the flame is rekindled in memory of the war dead. A special service of remembrance is held each year on November 11.
The museum houses an exhibition explaining the construction of the arch. There is a video in French and English. At the base of the arch are the names of hundreds of generals. The arch is illuminated at night, as are many of the Paris attractions. One of the most popular tours of Paris is called “Paris Illuminations” and involves a magical bus ride around the entire city at night.
Paris’ s weekly entertainment pamphlets, Pariscope and L’Officiel des Spectacles, list up to date information in French on every imaginable outdoor activity. Look for listings on randonnées pédestres (hiking in groups), cyclisme (biking), escalade (rock climbing), parachuting, canoeing, squash, tennis and swimming, among others. Among uniquely Parisian activities, consider drifting lazily down the Seine or down one of the city’s canals in a boat. Rentals are available year round.
Publications Listing Activities and Events in English
The Paris Free Voice is a free monthly guide to Paris arts, entertainment and restaurants. Available at English-language bookstores and American restaurants and bars. www.parisvoice.com
Irish Eyes is a free monthly guide to Irish arts, music, restaurants, bars and other events in Paris. Available in English-language bookshops and Irish restaurants and bars. www.easynet.fr/irish-eyes
Pariscope, the weekly Paris entertainment guide contains a six-page English supplement by the staff of the British Time Out guides. http://www.sncf.fr
(Figaroscope, the free weekly supplement of Le Figaro, is in French, but fairly easy to decipher and an excellent guide to what’s going on in the city.)