Things to Do in Paris

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What more can be written about Paris that has not already been scribed, spoken or filmed? It’s one of the foremost cities of the world, twinned exclusively and singularly with Rome, the only other city that the two feel are equals. For a large, sophisticated city, (population about 2.2 million), it has a surprisingly earthy feel, thanks largely to extensive parks and ample foliage, even on city streets. With the River Seine running through it, like most cities (rivers are key to cities), Paris has a unique charm, part all-French, part understanding how to live life well.

The main central areas of Paris are arranged in “arrondissements”, or municipalities. There are 20 of these and their layout helps make it easy for visitors to find their way around. The first arrondissement is right smack in the centre of Paris and the rest, going up to 20, are laid out in a clockwise spiral. Therefore, if you are at the tenth, you can fairly easily figure out where you are now and how to get to the arrondissement you want to reach.

Paris can be overwhelming; there is so much to see and do. Some attractions are expensive, like Disneyland Paris. Some are affordable, like some of the smaller museums (there are dozens!) and lots of Paris is free; this is place for those who enjoy exploring on foot. Take a stroll by the Seine, walk along the Champs-Elysées, climb the hill at Montmartre, burrow down into the Paris Catacombs, or wander the many lush parks.

Paris has something for everyone, from kids to romantics. It’s the centre for fashion, food and art. The capital of France, Paris can be daunting, but take your time, prioritize what you must see and what you might check out of there is time left over. This is not a city you can get to know well in a weekend getaway!

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Things to Do in Paris

Disneyland Paris

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What is different about Disneyland Paris? It’s in French! Disneyland is more than just an attraction in any location where it exists. The one at Paris serves the European market; gone are the days when a Parisian family has to travel to California to experience the fun of Disneyland.

Located in Marne-la-Vallée, and formerly known as Euro-Disney, Disneyland Paris is a resort, fully self-contained, that includes two theme parks: Disneyland Park and Walt Disney Studios Park. Expect to enjoy events, shows, rides, and the classic Disney logo castle. You can visit for a day, or make a week-long vacation of it, staying on site in themed accommodations.

Disney characters will be there to greet you and your children. Classics like Mickey Mouse and Snow White are joined now by Elsa and Anna from “Frozen”. They wander about the premises as well as star in musical theatre shows. While Disneyland Paris is oriented towards kids, adults will find happy memories of their childhoods resurrected. It’s a busy place, so pack your patience in your luggage.

Eiffel Tower

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A true icon of Paris, the Eiffel Tower almost got torn down soon after it was built. The Parisians hated the ugly structure, made of dull old iron. Once the 1900 Paris World Exposition was over, locals felt the structure, built the year before by Gustav Eiffel, should be ripped down and disposed of, out of sight, s’il vous plait!

Can you imagine Paris, or the Paris skyline without it? Virtually every visitor to the city at least goes to see the Eiffel Tower; most go up it, even if not to the top platform. It’s a Paris must-do.

Since its threat of removal the Eiffel Tower has hosted millions of tourists and in order to keep it in good working order, it has seen a great deal of retrofitting. It is a safe tower to ascend (adhering to the rules as posted). There are several observation platforms at varying levels. These days, the more modernized Tower from which Paris can be seen in all directions, utilizes solar power from its new solar panels. A relic that has morphed into the new age.

Notre Dame De Paris

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When fire hit this venerable cathedral in April of 2019, thousands quickly donated to its restoration. Thousands more criticized people for sending money to a church and openly suggested the parishioners (and insurance companies) pay for the repairs. The latter group had not done their research. Notre Dame de Paris is not owned by any governing church body, but by the Republic of France, and it is not a religious shrine, but a marker of art, architecture, history and culture. It belongs to every human being on the planet.

Taking more than 100 years to build, this 12th century Gothic building speaks not just to the chosen worship of the day, but to the history of western culture itself. It was viewed then as the heartbeat of Paris, so more than just a place to listen to masses and pray, but a community setting, a peaceful and serene place of gathering and individual reflection. It is, in and of itself, a work of art, resplendent with towers, a soaring spire, staggeringly beautiful stained glass, statuary and art treasures that mark the evolution of mankind. Priceless.

It will take time to restore the parts of Notre Dame that were destroyed in the fire (so, before you plan to visit, check the website for the cathedral and see where things stand in terms of public access), but like we humans, Notre Dame de Paris will prevail.

The Louvre

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You don’t have to be an art aficionado to love The Louvre. The building itself, a former (centuries old, from Medieval times) palace, could stand alone as a place of majesty and awe. That it contains vast collections of art is a bonus. It is a landmark, not just as it relates to Paris, but for world culture.

The Louvre contains the world’s most eclectic and extensive works of art, sculpture and decorative objects from the pre-20th century period. This is where visitors can view the Mona Lisa (prepare for line-ups or go as soon as The Louvre opens on a weekday) and the Venus de Milo. It would take about two weeks of daily access to completely tour the entirety of the exhibits, three weeks to do it properly.

As such, most visitors to The Louvre pick a section and concentrate on one collection at a time. The choices are tricky: Rembrandt (and many other Old Masters); Vermeer; or perhaps Caravaggio. Security is tight here, so be ready for your belongings to be checked upon entry.

Arc De Triomphe

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Erected in a time when male ego was top of mind, L’Arch de Triomphe (arch of triumph, or victory) was built as an extension of Emperor Napoleon I’s heightened sense of self. Nonetheless, we have that to thank for this magnificent monument, standing 50 metres (164 feet) at one end of the Champs-Elysées.

Emblazoned with stone reliefs and sculptures, L’Arch de Triomphe is a tribute to war, to France’s military prowess, and to the generals and soldiers who fought to win. Commissioned by Napoleon himself, L’Arch began construction in August 1806.

Like another Paris landmark, the Eiffel Tower, visitors are able to climb L’Arch de Triomphe. It has 284 stairs, a long hike, or tourists may take an elevator part way up and then climb the remaining 64 stairs to the top. A word to those not familiar with the chaotic traffic of Paris: use the underground walkway from the periphery of the traffic roundabout and do not cross it on the pavement.

Musee Dorsay

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For every classic work of art at The Louvre (just across the nearby bridge), the Musée Dorsay has one from the world’s greatest modern artists. Well, not one to one exactly (there are few galleries with as many pieces as The Louvre), but a vast collection.

Compared to the relative seriousness of The Louvre, the Musée Dorsay is light and bright, with airy, spacious galleries, a more modern mood than its classical counterpart. This sensibility makes for a less serious art appreciation experience, and tends to be favoured by the young. Monet’s gardens, Degas’s ballerinas; all a more upbeat beauty than pre-20th century subjects.

Spread over three floors are the Dorsay’s Impressionist and Post-Impressionist collections, including the international modernist works of Edgar Degas, Claude Monet, Paul Gaugin, Eugène Delacroix, Edouard Manet and Vincent Van Gogh. There is another art museum in Paris dedicated to Monet, but many of his great, famous works are hung here in the stunning Musée Dorsay.

Catacombs Of Paris

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Possibly the best-known catacombs in the world (there are seven major ones), the Catacombs of Paris are not the oldest nor the largest. Whereas the catacombs in Rome were established largely due to lack of land burial space, Paris catacombs provided a solution for desperately over-crowed cemeteries. Some six to seven million bodies were transferred from graveyards in the 1700s and 1800s.

Why didn’t cemeteries just pile bodies (or caskets) on top of one another? There is a minimum depth at which most municipalities and cities deem safe for underground burial, so stacking eventually results in corpses too near the surface, and dead bodies can be harbours for disease. Parisians at the time were concerned for health reasons.

While a little creepy, and definitely not for everyone, the Catacombs of Paris are extensive, but only a couple of hundred feet, about 60 metres, are accessible to the public. These have been “arranged” for general viewing, with artistic layouts of human bones and skulls. Another aesthetic form of expression from artsy Paris...

Grand Palais

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Still looking much as it did during the Universal Expo (aka World’s Fair) of 1900, the Grand Palais is still in use as a large venue for exhibits and events; it is also a science centre and museum complex. Continuing to function as per its original plan 120-odd years later, in 2000 it was declared a Designated Historical Monument.

Its most recognizable feature is its extensive glass roof. From the outside it looks for all the world like a giant greenhouse or solarium. As a result, the interior is light and airy, and feels like you are walking about outdoors.

Situated on the Avenue des Champs-Elysées, the Grand Palais is a substantial site, 70,000 square metres (753,400 square feet), its architecture a mix of classical and modern. Attendance at the 1900 exhibition was massive, and the Grand Palais is still very well attended today. Visit to to see a specific show or museum, or just enjoy a leisurely indoor stroll out of the rain on an inclement day.

Montmartre

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On the right bank of the River Seine, in the north section of the city of Paris is the popular tourist area of Montmartre. Think: Toulouse Lautrec sipping absinthe in a local café. Situated in the 18th arrondissement, Montmartre is on a hill, capped by the basilica, Sacre Coeur, and its glaring white dome; hard to miss!

This is an older neighbourhood, for sake of a better word, parts of which, such as Le Pigalle, have become rundown in recent years. But Montmartre is so full of character it has remained an area of on-gong public interest.

Funky cafés and bars dot the area, lined with close streets that suggest the intimacy of a small village. It’s very hilly, so pedestrians might prefer to take the funicular up the side of the hill before walking about Montmartre; there are also stairs to be climbed.

Drop in at the Parisian cabaret, famed Moulin Rouge, or the more down to earth venue, Au Lapin Agile. You’ll feel transported back in time.

Sacre Coeur Paris

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This Catholic basilica sits at the apex of the Montmartre knoll area in the 18th arrondissement of Paris, north of downtown on the right bank of the Seine. Sacre Coeur is the highest point in Paris, visible far and wide thanks to its white dome, resembling a solid cloud in the sky.

An old, long-established neighbourhood, Montmartre is a hugely popular site for tourists, many of which also visit the “statement” basilica. Consecrated in 1909, Sacre Coeur is known for its rather garish decor. While most houses of God are decked out with a few refinements, Sacre Coeur is famous for being over the top with an abundance of gold mosaic on its interior.

When we were there, a tourist said the interior reminded him of Liberace’s living room in Las Vegas. Despite its overkill, Sacre Coeur (sacred heart) has a beautiful, sweeping terrace with excellent views of Paris.

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