Some tips and things to do when visiting Paris - some of Patricia's Favourites

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© Patricia Barry 2009

Get a Paris Visite card – enables you to do buses, metro and RER.  Can be bought at any Metro Station. Buses are great way to see things but take a long time if time is precious to you.  Bus line map is on metro map, which can be obtained at any metro station. You can get Paris visite cards for 3 or 5 days. It's not usually worth while spending lots of money to get the 5 zone pass as nearly all your trips will be within the 3 zone. If you need to go outside this, then get a ticket from the last station in zone 3 to your destination. You will save heaps doing this. Click here for some Metro background information.

On arrival in Paris buy a Pariscope for about € 0.40.  This is a Paris what’s on and gives you details of all monuments, their opening hours and charges, theatres, movies, restaurants, markets etc etc.  It also gives details of concerts which are held in churches during the day and evening. These are normally given by talented musicians, singers and orchestras.  Look for “gratuit” or free.  It’s worth spending a lunch time or an evening at a free concert! There are regular concerts at St Julien le Pauvre near Notre Dame. These are of world class standard and very cheap to go to.

Champs Elysees – very good tourist office  going down, from the Arc de Triomphe on the right hand side.  Get lots of info and special offers from here, also maps. Advisable not to be tempted to have a coffee on this boulevard. It will cost you heaps! The shops are good for browsing.
Click here for more about the Champs Elysées

Click here for a slide show of the Place de la Concorde.

Arc de Triomphe – climb up to the top, great views and also an exhibition on the way up – this changes every few months. Check out the days it is open in your Pariscope.
Click here for more about the Arc de Triomphe
Click here for a slide show on the Arc de Triomphe

Grande Arche de la Defense – the new CBD of Paris – Metro or RER La Defense.  See all the highrise, go up the Arche, admire the enormous thumb, go to the big shopping centre, get lost in the station (for metro, RER and regular trains). It is one of the biggest stations in Paris. It's a great starting point for visiting Paris as you get a wonderful overview of the Triumphal Way between the Louvre and Versailles.
Click here for a slide show about La Grande Arche

Eiffel Tower, can be visited at night.  Allow 2 – 3 hours because of queues. If you don’t fancy walking up 700 steps get the lift.  Great walk through the Champs de Mars and the Palais de Chaillot which was built for the 1937 World Expo.  It houses some interesting museums such as Maritime, Human history, French monuments etc. Watch out for gypsies and people trying to sell souvenirs. There are, however, some cheap souvenir shops around this area where you can obtain a good selection of "kitsch", and also special prices if you purchase more than one. There is a skating rink around Christmas at the Eiffel Tower which costs little or nothing to use. The cafés nearby are very skilled in upselling to tourists.
Click here for more about the Tour Eiffel.
Click here for a side show about the Tour Eiffel

Notre Dame – visit the Treasury quite interesting or better still climb the bell tower to see the famous gargoyles, see the great bell (400 years old) and then further up right to the top with great views over Paris.  Across the road there is a street where there are some great souvenir shops, well priced, lots of kitsch but hey who cares. The cafés are a little dear if you sit on the terasse to eat/drink (remember this always costs a lot more than propping up the bar!) There are some nice crepes going back up the street towards Sainte Chapelle.
Click here for more on Notre Dame
Click here for a slide show on Notre Dame

Close by is La Sainte Chapelle – the royal chapel and its decoration has to be seen to be believed.  Especially if it is a sunny day, with the light falling through the stained glass windows.  Next to this is the high court of France, the Palais de Justice.

Crossing the bridge back to the Quartier Latin from here, you will find the bouqinistes, the sellers of book, prints etc.  .  When you cross the bridge, try to find the Rue du chat qui peche – the road of the fishing cat – it’s the narrowest street in Paris – not even 2 metres wide!  Find the pedestrian quarter around the church of St Julien Le Pauvre Lots of good concerts here in the day and evening.  Lots of very cheap restaurants – though quality may not be wonderful, service is quick and food is OK but not exciting. 

Musee de Cluny – the medieval museum – in Boulevard St Michel.  Metro Bvd St Michel.  It is housed in a medieval house which was built on top of Roman baths!  You can do both at one hit!  There are sometimes free concerts of medieval music here too. This museum houses a very good collection of medieval artefacts from religous art to day to day items such as combs. "La dame à la licorne" is not to be missed - this wonderful collection of six tapestries shows the lady and her unicorn and depicts the fives senses.

Do a Bateau Mouche trip after dark – advantage – you can do this when other things are shut. Catch near Notre Dame.  Unsure if meals on board are worth the money.  Probably not. However, if you have already visited many of the famous places in Paris, this is a great way to see them in another way.

The Luxembourg Gardens are great for lunch, buy something nice from the boulangeries and delis nearby and take it into the park, like thousands of Parisians do.  You’ll always find some one interesting to talk to here.

Restaurant Le Chartier – dates from the Belle Epoque, has original décor, with racks for coats and little wooden pigeon holes where secret assignation notes were left for people.  Waiters write your order on to the table cloth!  Very different, very popular and not expensive but serves good food, plain and nothing fancy.  Metro les Grands Boulevards – in Les Passages off Bvd Montmartre.  These are interesting to visit with their little boutiques and specialist shops.  Cheap eateries on Bvd Montmartre, better more expensive ones in Les Passages.
Click here if you are interested in La Belle Epoque and the foundation of café concerts like Le Moulin Rouge.

Same sort of place, Restaurant Polidor in Rue Monsieur le Prince off Bvd St Michel.  Décor is Belle Epoque, plain wholesome food and wine at a good price.
Click here to find out more about Rue monsieur le prince.

Les Invalides built as a military hospital during reign of Louis XIV the Sun King and now the military museum.  Exhibits change on an annual basis.  Worth looking at the military chapel before moving on to see Napoleon’s tomb under the dome.
Click here to find more on Les Invalides.

n the same area, Rodin museum for lovers of his sculptures, and the magnificent bridge - Pont Alexandre III built to commemorate the Franco –Russian alliance between Tsar of the same name and French Government during  last part of C19.

Musee d’Orsay – Impressionism but really C19 Art so covers a lot of ground from furnture, to sculptures and paintings. Monet, Manet, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Toulouse Lautrec, Degas.......the list continues.   Used to be a train station.  Try to see the magnificent restaurant and station hotel ballroom upstairs as they are in the original decor and quite beautiful. .  Nearby 13 Quai Voltaire is one of the narrowest buildings in Paris!! Suggest an early morning visit – very crowded late mornings and afternoons.
Click here for a slide show of Musee D'Orsay.

Le Louvre – suggest 2 or 3 visits, try to plan where to go rather than wander aimlessly.  The Sumerian, GFreek, Medieval and Egyptian exhibits are excellent.  Worth a walk underneath to admire the original royal fortress that has recently been excavated.  Again, arriving early helps you to avoid the crowds. check in your Pariscope for the opening days and times. If you only have a short time, then check the Louvre website and plan your visit carefully to see only the most important items.
Click here for a slide show on Le Louvre.
Click here for a slide show on the Louvre Treasures .

Le Pont Neuf, and La musée de la Monnaie are both near La Conciergerie. >Le Pont Neuf bridge is the oldest in Paris in spite of its name meaning new bridge.  Along the quais are the bouqinistes – sellers of books, prints etcThe metro station here has giant coins on the roof and walls.

La Conciergerie is worth a visit since you can see the cells of the condemned prisoners, Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette as this was the revolutionary prison. There are the rolls of those who were guillotined - interesting reading to see just who got the chop.

In the area of Bvd St Germain, lots of eateries some of which are very famous, eg.  Brasserie Lipp (décor, historic monument, the place to go in the Belle Epoque and ever since.) Les Deux Magots famous for its café crème .  Café de Flore with art deco and famous for its intellectuals, artists, writers etc.  It's a very Parisian area to walk around.

For well off gourmets, the Tour d’Argent (silver tower) on the corner of quai de la Tournelle and Bd St Germain.  It is the oldest resto in Paris (1570 something) has menus on silver and its signature dish is duck.  Be warned, it will cost about $400 pp. plus wine.  But I’m told is worth every cent!

Shopaholics! We all need those kitchsy souvenirs to take home, so here are some places where you might find them. The road leading up to Sacré Coeur has lots of them, and all good value. Also, the Rue de Rivoli, opposite the Louvre, heading back to the Tuileries gardens. The road leading down to Notre Dame also has agood selection. There are a few near the Tour Eiffel. The bouqinistes on the Latin Quarter side of Notre Dame also sell some tourist "stuff" and you can snap up a few bargains here.
Click here for more information about Montmartre and Sacré Coeur
Click here for the slide show.

Le Marais – one of the oldest parts of Paris and needs to be done on foot.  The home of the rich in the Middle Ages,with lots of beautiful houses (salons) and squares.  Worth getting a tour from the Tourist Office for this area.  Of particular note, the Place des Vosges, dating from 1600 and Hotel Carnavalet which houses the museum of Paris.  This is a great museum – especially as it is free.  Covers Paris from pre-history to present day and has excellent material on revolution, Napoleon, etc.  I was very impressed with it.

Les Halles – big shopping centre, easy to get lost in - a bit tired but very sixties; also the Centre Georges Pompidou, still a controversial building but houses modern art.  Its inside out appearance makes it very different and the sculptures around it and Les Halles are interesting and cheerfully coloured. 

La Place Vendome and Le Rit> – we can all dream and there are all the big name shops in this area!  The column in the place Vendome was built from the cannons that Napoleon captured at the battle of Austerlitz.  He was obviously big on recycling too.  This is Haussmann’s Paris make-over area still very much as was.  Carry on to visit the Opera which looks superb following its clean. 

Go to Sacre Coeur – and the Place du Tertre to see the “artists” at work. (most pickpocketed  place in Paris so beware).  Good farmers market there on a Saturday, worth a look, but it gets very crowded.  Get the funicular up or down, the park shuts at dusk.  Walk through the streets and imagine all the famous and infamous artists. There is the vineyard on the slopes of Rue St Vincent .  The Place Pigalle is seedy and dirty.  Moulin Rouge is disappointing on the exterior but still worth a look.
Click here for more on Sacré Coeur.
Click here for a slide show on Montmartre.

Canal St Martin is revamped and offers interesting cruises – see Paris from a different angle. 

Two “insolite” or unusual visits:  Les Egouts – or the sewers – made famous in Les Miserables with chase of Jean Valjean – these are near Pont Alexandre III – interesting visit looking at social and infrastructural history of Paris.

Les Catacombes – not for the faint hearted – a 2km stroll underground – through the old quarry tunnels, you end up in a different place from where you start!  Mind boggling display of human remains excavated /removed from cemeteries over 200 years ago.  Suggest this is not done alone, the passages are empty, visitors are few.  Entry near Metro Denfort Rochereau. Exit somewhere quite different! Make sure you take your map of Paris with you so you can orient yourself on exit!

Versailles – during the summer months the fountains play on certain Sundays to music.  This is quite spectacular.  See your Pariscope for details.  Try to take the guided tour, costs a bit more, but you see more and there are fewer people.  The do it yourself one leads you through rather tired rooms.  Aim to get down to Le Hameau which is Marie Antoinette’s little farm.  It is beautifully presented and being reconstructed as it would have been during her life.  The Chateau is still suffering from the loss of 30 000 trees from the hurricane in 2000 but it has given the landscapers a chance to restore the parklands to their original design from the time of Louis XIV.  Catch the train out to Versailles – its about 45 minutes.  Don’t waste your money on a special bus tour. 

Fontainebleau – Another trip out that is worth doing if you have the time.

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