Paris – City of Light
If this will be your first visit to Paris or if you will be in the city of light for only a short time then I would suggest you start by reading our Paris Overview . This orientation to the city and its historic landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame should help you make the most of your visit.
Taking a boat cruise on the Seine allows you a different perspective of this beautiful city. It is the perfect way to the view parts of city that you may not have time to wander through on foot. Planning your cruise down the Saint Martin Canal is a peaceful way to spend the afternoon, while taking a cruise by the Eiffel Tower at night is breathtaking!
If you are visiting with children, try to plan only two major sites to visit each day. In between the two points of interest, take a boat ride or take time to enjoy one of the many parks. Luxembourg Gardens has a wonderful play-ground, a fountain for floating little rented toy boats and a puppet theatre. You can stop by a bakery (boulangerie) to purchase sandwiches and a bottled drink for a picnic if you want.
Parks, gardens,and cloisters are bountiful throughout the city if you know where to look. Who doesn’t need a quiet break from shopping or sight-seeing? If you want an afternoon away from the noise of the city, I suggest wandering along the Canal St Martin whose adjacent streets are closed to all but pedestrian and cycle traffic on Sundays. I consider it just one enormous park that follows the canal (even though it is not technically a park).
Take Metro line 1 to the end of the line, Chateau-Vincennes, and spend the morning exploring one of the largest and best preserved Chateau in Europe.
Getting Around Paris
I am a big proponent of walking in Paris because it allows me so much time to examine the minute details that make up this beautiful city. However, you can rent a bike at any of the Vélib stations. The first 30 minutes are free and the stations are placed 300 meters apart. Each station terminal has a map to help you find the next closest bike station to return your bike. There are also apps for your iphone and android that will help you locate the closest station.
Tickets, which are good for the Metro, bus and RER, can be purchased at a tabac or newsstand, when boarding the bus (you need exact change), and at the ticket machine when you enter the metro. Read here for more detailed information and to access a metro map to take with you.
Cruising the Seine for an hour in a tour boat, taking a romantic dinner cruise or just hopping on and off the batobus as you move from one sightseeing agenda to another are all great ways to see Paris from a different viewpoint.
The churches here share the collective memory and history of Paris. With each church we find biographies of the neighborhood (arrondissement), collections of art, miraculous objects and tombs. Architectural designs, similarities and differences, and the stories told by the stained glass are two of the factors that draw me into a church every time I see one.
Paris is a candy-land assortment when it comes to shopping. My favorite places to shop are the historic Passages and Galeries because you never know just what type of delightful little boutique you are going to discover! The Viaduct des Arts also offers some of Paris’ best artisanal works.
If you are a hardcore shopper and have room in your suitcase for the results of a major shopping spree then be sure to check out the major department stores. I have a list of these major department stores with their hours and location here. Even if you are just window shopping you won’t want to miss a chance to see the views from the top of Les Printemps on Boulevard Haussmann. Remember, most shops are closed on Sunday in Paris but you will find that in the Marais, many stores are open on Sunday since this is a predominantly Jewish neighborhood.
If you want a taste of one of my favorite street markets, follow me to rue Cler . This delightful little street is just a short distance from the Eiffel Tower.
Paris by Neighborhood
Paris neighborhoods are called arrondissements. Whether you know them by their number, 3rd (3 eme in French) or by a name such as Marais, you quickly learn that the best way to truly know the city of light is to choose one arrondissement and explore it on foot. If you need help deciding where to start your exploration you can look you can look at an overview of all the arrondissements in the City Intro. Below, you will find general information about some of the neighborhoods and links to a more in-depth look.
Latin Quarter (5th arrondissement) – home to students, writers and other intellectuals with plenty of winding side streets to explore. Here on the Left Bank take a bit of time to explore historical cafés such as Les Deux Magots where literary giants and artists have frequented. These cafés are good place to stop in for tea and a bit of people watching or to make your lunch destination. These are delightful cafés.
Marais (3rd and 4th arrondissements) – here in the historical center of the city you will find beautiful town houses called “hôtels” and Place des Vosges which was the center of French literary and social life in the 17th century. Notre Dame is also located in the Marais and if you happen to be visiting in May you will want to be sure to go explore the Festival of Bread which is held on the square in front of Notre Dame.
Montmartre (18th arrondissement) – wander cobbled streets, enjoy the fantastic views and learn about the flourishing artist community that thrived here at the turn of the century. Today when you mention this area people usually think of the beautiful Basilica of Sacre-Coeur or the cabarets which are found on Boulevard Clichy but I love this area because it has the feel of a village instead of a big city.
If you are wondering how to get that “Paris look” in your wardrobe, these suggestions will help you as you pack.
The catacombs are not a neighborhood in the true sense of the word. However, after checking out the sites above ground you might want to see what lies beneath the city by visiting the Catacombs.
Paris has several Arcs de Triomphe . Possibly the most well-known is the Arc de Triomphe d’Étoile which is located in the center of Place Charles de Gaulle. You will find the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel and two more Arcs in the 10th Arrondissements.