Thursday, 5 May 2011

Tourist Tips on visiting Paris

A friend of mine has recently visited Paris and asked me for some tips on what to see, which took me back to all the things I did when I lived there. There are so many wonderful things to do in Paris, it would be impossible to list them all, but here are a few ideas to get you started. Let me recommend it as a very romantic destination!

Amazing views across Paris

You have several excellent options for some spectacular views over Paris. The most obvious is of course to go up the Eiffel Tower, which naturally is very well worth a visit. However, this is expensive and crammed with tourists and the downside is that you miss the most iconic point in the Parisian horizon - the Eiffel Tower itself!! So my advice would be to get the metro to Montparnasse and pay to go up the Tour de Montparnasse. This skyscraper is a gigantic office block monstrosity, but it has an open rooftop from which you get a wonderful view of Paris including the Eiffel Tower and NOT including the Montparnasse Tower - a definite bonus!

The Arc de Triomphe is not only a spectacular and iconic monument, but also boasts a very impressive view from the top, as the streets fan out from it in a star shape. My suggestion would be to go up at night when the city lights disappearing off in all directions are breath-taking, and if you go on the hour you get a perfect view of the Eiffel tower sparkling as it does for about 5 minutes every hour.

Sunset on the Steps of Sacre Coeur

The views from outside Sacre Coeur are also stunning - with the added bonus that they are free. One of my favourite things to do was to buy a crepe and sit on the steps of Sacre Coeur looking over the whole of Paris as the sun sets. Pretty romantic.

Boat trip along the Seine

A boat trip along the Seine is well worth the money. You get a unique Notre Dame, the Louvre, the Eiffel tower and many other magnificent buildings as you speed along the water. Look out for the barges of all the rich people who live on their boats, which are moored up along the banks. 

The Latin Quarter

For going out, bars, restaurants etc, the Latin Quarter is the place to go [metro St Michel]. Its just south of the river near Notre Dame and its the student area so it has a real buzz and a bit less pricey. It is a great place to wander through in the evening.
Time for Tea

If you fancy splashing out, why not pay an afternoon visit to "Angelina", possibly the most prestigious tea room in Paris. It is next to the Tuilleries Gardens, and their famous delicacy is the "Mont Blanc" cake. It is delicious!

Alternately, the Tuilleries Gardens, which are a lovely place to spend an afternoon, offer some lovely little coffee shops where you can sit under the shade of the trees and watch the world go by.

French Fashion

Les Galleries Lafayette is the most prestigious department store in Paris, and it truly beautiful inside.

If you are looking for jewels... and for a look at where I am reliably informed Lady Diana was last filmed leaving the Ritz ...there is a lovely square full of designer jewellers called Place Vendome. Walking from there along past the Tuilleries Gardens is the Rue de Rivoli, where you will fine Louis Vuiton and Dolce & Gabana among some of their other designer friends.

For slightly more affordable shopping, if you plan to pick up some cheaper souvenirs, Les Halles and all its surrounding streets going towards the Pompidou Centre are a great area for all sorts of shops.

Parisian Piquenique

And if you want to experience a bit of true Parisian culture, the young people in Paris often picnic on summer evenings on Pont des Arts, the pedestrian bridge across the Seine crossing over from the Louvre. Take a baguette, some wine and some smelly French cheese and join the fun. The view from that bridge looking downstream is actually my favourite view in the whole of Paris. 

Culture Galore

There are numerous brilliant museums and galleries worth a visit. For a gander at the disappointingly small, but enormously famous Mona Lisa, who definitely does not smile for photos, try navigating your way through the vast and impressive Louvre. My favourite part of the Louvre is actually the centre courtyard with the controversial contrast of ancient and modern architecture. 

For modern art the Pompidou Centre is fantastic, and the Musée d'Orsay also has a brilliant art collection, housed in a former railway station. For a spectacular circular room full of all the Monet lilies you could dream of, visit the Musée de l'Orangerie, found in the Tuilleries Gardens. 

And the good news is that entry is free for under 25's... so hurry if you are still young enough.

                                       If you are a fan of stained glass...

Notre Dame is, of course, spectacular inside. However, my favourite church to enter is the lesser known Sainte Chapelle, located on the same island as Notre Dame, just 5 minutes walk away. This chapel is on two levels, and as you enter the upper chapel, built as the King's private chapel, you are encircled by an immense array of stained glass windows, covering every wall. The Chapel has the most stained glass windows of any church in the world. Deep blues and purples and greens. Full of different stories from the Bible, if you can work out which they are each meant to represent. It is stunning.

Now, a word of warning for those who are harder to impress. When showing one of my friends round Paris, I decided to start with a flourish by taking her directly to the Eiffel Tower. We came out of the metro station, we walked down the steps, we reached the river, we crossed to the middle of the bridge and there before us stood one of the most iconic structures in the world. Her response? 

"Oh, well, that's disappointing. It's not very impressive is it."

Fear not. By the end of three days she left Paris won over by all its charms.


  1. “I cannot tell you what an immense impression Paris made upon me. It is the most extraordinary place in the World!” Charles Dickens

    “In Paris they simply stared at me when I spoke to them in French. I never did succeed in making those idiots understand their language.” Mark Twain

  2. Nearly making me want to go. Have explored lots of France and always made a point of missing Paris - apart from the dreadful ring road. Did once catch a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower from it but nearly ended the family holiday at the same time as the peripherique doesn't take prisoners or drivers admiring the view. But after such a wonderful run down on gay Paris (can I still say that?) the Eurostar beckons ....

  3. Tips about Paris Metro

    If you are always lost in Paris Metro and you don't want to use your iPhone while you are visiting Paris to avoid huge cost...a solution works offline (no roaming needed) and the only iPhone app that gives the exact location of each entrances and exits in Paris