Gay Paris! What is there not to love about this historic, cultural, bohemian rich city? We struggled to find anything! Paris is more than a city. It's a feeling, an emotion that can't be put into words. Head there and soak up the experience!
The capital city of France, Paris is known for many of its cultural and iconic landmarks; do we even need to mention The Tower at this point? Famous as the home of many influential artists, painters, sculptors, musicians and writers, it has left its mark on all who visit. This means it holds a prominent and constant presence in the Zeitgeist as well as being firmly planted in world history for centuries!
As the city is pretty huge and full (literally at every turn) of landmarks, monuments and buildings of interest you will probably need the Metro to get from your hotel to the thick of it. However, it is also worth just jumping off at a station and then walking. There is so much to see thanks to the Royal families of France over the 16th and 17th centuries and the Napoleon influences of the 18th and 19th century.
Walking the banks of the Seine is also a must! It is a UNESCO World Heritage site and full of interesting sights including the booksellers and artists who peddle their wares here. There are a total of 37 bridges within the city with huge grand examples such as Pont Alexandre III to historic greats like the Pont Neuf. If you want a better view of this area getting a river boat cruise is worthwhile. We did this at night time, seeing Paris lit up and at its most alive! Catching the boat from beside the Eiffel Tower, we had an hour tour with audio narration for only €15 per person. Additional extras such as snacks and champagne could be added to your ticket. We saw parts of the city we may have otherwise missed and got a true feeling of the nightlife of Paris, which is so very different from back home.
Our visit to Paris was a special one; a surprise trip for Amy’s 30th birthday meant that there was limited time to pre-plan or organise a detailed itinerary. However, we had a map, a fantastic city guide courtesy of Eyewitness Travel and a pair of comfy shoes each. Our adventure could begin! We travelled via the Eurostar, spending 5 days in the city during the peak summer season. We stayed in a relatively budget hotel in Montmartre but knowing that we wouldn’t be spending much time there, it was more of a base camp than a relaxing place of leisure.
We arrived at the Gare Du Nord station in the early evening to be faced with a torrential downpour. In all honesty we had never experienced anything like it in our lives! Having travelled most of the day via trains and Eurostar and carrying a rather cumbersome load of luggage, the onset of an apocalyptic deluge wasn’t exactly what we were hoping to encounter first. However, as Audrey Hepburn says in Sabrina (1954):
"This is what you do on your very first day in Paris. You get yourself, not a drizzle, but some honest-to-goodness rain, and you find yourself someone really nice and drive her through the Bois de Boulogne in a taxi. The rain’s very important. That’s when Paris smells its sweetest. It’s the damp chestnut trees, you see."
So thinking ourselves to be the Northern English versions of Hepburn and Bogart, we set out to truly soak up Paris (quite literally) in all its glory.
Probably one of the most famous landmarks of all time and the definitive icon of Paris, the Eiffel Tower is relatively new when compared to many of the buildings and structures within the city. It was built as a means of entrance to the 1889 Universal Exhibition, and was originally planned to be dismantled in 1909.
Despite it's popularity in modern times, the tower has not always been a popular piece. Before it was even built it was rejected by Barcelona who were originally offered it. During its initial planning stages The Committee of Three Hundred was set up in an attempt to halt construction of an unnecessary piece of engineering that would humiliate a city which houses beautiful feats of architecture such as the Louvre, Notre Dame and the Arc De Triomphe. And once it was built, some objectors went as far as to only eat in the restaurant within the tower as it was the only place where you couldn’t see it!
Gustave Eiffel however triumphed. After all, this was the man who gave the world the Statue of Liberty in New York and the Maria Pia Bridge in Oporto. The response from the World Exhibition was highly positive with almost 2 million people coming to view it and 30,000 of these climbing the 1710 steps to the top as the elevators weren’t yet functioning - clearly the Victorian version of leg day. This was supposed to be a short term structure; its 130 year old age tag shows just how popular the tower is. Now with 7 million visitors per year it is one of the world’s most visited landmarks - Barcelona must be gutted!
The Tower turns on its lights at dusk, so if you are planning an evening visit try and aim to get there before then so you can see it turn on. You can sense a feeling of anticipation and electricity in the air in those 15 minutes before ‘lights on’ when walking in the area. Everyone is there for the same reason - an amazing joining of people for a common purpose. You can’t help but be swept along with the excitement and joy it creates!
For five minutes each hour there is a spectacular show of sparkling lights - keep your eyes peeled for this unmissable moment! Whilst the daytime is a perfect time to get one of those infamous selfies with the Iron Lady herself, evening time is when you will experience something far more beautiful.
The Champ-de-Mars park which stretches from the Tower to École Militaire is a key place for socialising after work. The grass was full of Parisians eating picnics, playing music and instruments, playing games, chatting and we even got to experience some impromptu opera singing from a very talented member of the public. Alcohol is permitted to be consumed on the streets in Paris but unlike Saturday nights back in Blighty, here there is a relaxed, enjoyment to drinking. We didn’t see any drunken, rowdy behaviour, just people enjoying the summer evening vibes. Wander through here at about 9.30pm in the height of summer for a true feeling of the city at night!
The Eiffel Tower stands at 324 metres tall with 3 different levels on a 125 metre square base. It took 26 months to complete the build. There are a total of 18,038 pieces of wrought iron with 2.5 million rivets making up the structure. It weighs in at 7,300 tonnes and 60 tonnes of paint is needed to keep it looking in tip top condition. It has been repainted 18 times so far and takes 18 months to do, but the tower remains open at all times. There are 20,000 light bulbs, 1710 steps and 5 elevators which travel 64,000 miles per year.
Around the Eiffel Tower are the names of 72 French scientists, mathematicians and engineers who Gustave Eiffel felt had made a significant contribution in their fields. These can be seen from ground level underneath the first floor balcony. Note all of these names are men - a fact that has not gone unnoticed especially as Sophie Germain, a French mathematician, had her theory of elasticity used within the engineering of the tower itself. Oh the irony and male dominance of the time!
During the two centuries that the Arc De Triomphe has stood firm in Paris, it has seen many victory parades and marches - not all by allies however. It was built after the Battle of Austerlitz, having been commissioned by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1806. Jean Chalgrin was given the task of designing and building the structure but unfortunately didn’t live long enough to see the finished monument thirty years later.
Huge in stature, the arch really is impressive. If you have ever seen it in pictures or on screen you aren’t able to get a true sense of its size until you are stood under its shadow. You feel tiny in comparison! It’s not surprising though, standing at 50 metres in height and almost as broad, at 45 metres. In fact, in 1919 the aviator Charles Godefroy flew his biplane through the primary arch of it! The friezes that adorn every side are magnificent. The sculptures depicting all French wars are of such high quality and fine detail that you are captivated from every angle. Many of the figures featured on it look as if they will come to life at any moment.
Getting to the arch, you will need to run the gauntlet around the clock-face that is the Place Charles de Gaulle roundabout and its 12 boulevards emanating from it. From a tunnel at the end of the Champs Élysées, you can gain access to the monument (see the photo below). You don’t need a ticket to walk around the outer ground floor, which is an absolute must even for those who are low on time. From here you will be able to see all sides of the arch and its amazing friezes and depictions, and also the grave of the Unknown Soldier and the eternal flame which burns here.
If you do have a little more time and money then purchasing tickets to climb up the 284 steps to the viewing gallery at the top of the arch is highly recommended. Pre-booking online will help you to avoid queuing for too long. If you’re not a fan of heights, it’s not as high as the Eiffel Tower, but the views are just as spectacular. Seeing so many long, straight boulevards stretching out from underneath you is a once in a lifetime experience.
It’s only €12 to get in here and not only will you get the 360 degree views of the city skyline, but it will also give you access to a museum and a gift shop (because who doesn’t love a magnet and a rubber)! The museum is small but informative, with sculptures and miniatures of the arch as well as interactive displays sharing information about triumphal arches from around the world. We were just glad of a break from climbing the stairs for a few minutes.
Once you are at the top you have as long as you want to explore the views and the photo opportunities are amazing. Whether you want a shot that is touristy, artistic or simply some unadulterated selfies, everyone’s doing it up here so you won’t be alone - how many can you photo bomb? The monument is open until 10.30pm every day and so if you want something a bit more romantic why not head on up for sunset? We headed back here a couple evenings after our initial daytime visit (although this time we only walked around the perimeter) and watched as the lights came on and lit up the faces of the soldiers and great men on every side. It was a perfect way to spend a summer evening, with the Eiffel Tower twinkling in the background, followed by a stroll down the equally illuminated Champs Élysées.
Notre Dame, or Our Lady of Paris, is a world-wide famous cathedral, if not the most famous. In fact, around 13 million people visit the Notre Dame each year, an average of 30,000 people every day! This is significantly more than the Colosseum, Niagara Falls, Sydney Opera House and the Great Wall of China, according to many statistics and tourist lists.
Even those who know little of architecture or church design will be able to identify this as an example of Gothic architecture at its best. It has high rib-vaulted ceilings and is most famous for its rose stained glass windows. These three examples are breathtaking. The detail and size (the south rose being 12.9m in diameter) are huge and take your eyes away from all of the other stunning features at every turn. For a better understanding of what is depicted here and the history and significance of each window, and in turn each panel, an audio guide, tour guide or downloading of the free app for tourists is highly recommended.
The building work was begun in the 1160’s and took 100 years to complete. The land on which it is built has housed a pagan temple and then a Romanesque church before the current incarnation. The King at the time, Louis VII, wanted a cathedral which represented Paris’ importance in France as the centre of culture, politics and economy. It used state of the art technology and architectural ideas for the time, using the ribs and buttresses to counter the weight of the building against each other meaning that the walls could be higher and the windows larger.
In the 1790’s the Notre Dame was hit hard by the French Revolution; it was desecrated and pillaged of many of its religious artefacts. However, popular interest was revived after the publication of The Hunchback of Notre Dame in 1831 by the famous French writer, Victor Hugo. Of course, for many of you of a similar generation to us, you will know this story via Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996) which is another insight into the architecture and history of the place, just a bit more fun!
When arriving at the site, it might seem a bit daunting. There are huge queues of people and for us it was a very hot day and little shade. However, one of the many things we came to love about the French was the ability to shorten a queue very quickly. We were expecting to be waiting possibly as long as 1 hour to get in from where we joined the queue, but in reality it was little over 15 minutes.
Entry to the Cathedral is free but to enter the Treasury within is €5; we paid the fee but were disappointed at the size and contents of this mini museum. But if you have the time and the money to spare it is probably worth popping in to say that you have done it! However in the 'free to enter' part of the building is the most impressive artefact to be housed in the cathedral, and one of the reasons why so many pilgrims flock here each year; the relic of the Crown of Thorns purchased by King Louis IX and brought to France in 1238. If you are particularly keen to see them you need to be here on the first Friday of the month or a Friday during Lent, but bear in mind that there will be others with the same idea so it may be significantly busier!
Another thing to do whilst here, is to climb the tower. The entrance to this is to the left of the building as you face the front façade. At 69m tall you will need to navigate the 387 steps but the views from here are said to be amazing - you'll have a 360-degree panoramic view from the terrace from which to drink in the city. With a background of stunning views of Paris juxtaposed against the Gargoyles in the foreground, you will be able to get some unique and quirky photo opportunities.
We didn’t do this part of the attraction due to time limits and Chris’ fear of heights. However, from research we have done others suggest arriving for the tower opening at 10.00am as places in the tower are limited to 20-30 people at a time. You will still have a lengthy wait but suffice to say that in this instance the early bird catches the worm. Tickets for this tour cost €10 but pre-booking is vital as on-the-day tickets are a rarity.
The heart of the Bohemian Revolution, Montmartre (meaning The Mount of Martyrs), is easily spotted due to its advantageous placing upon a hill which overlooks the entire city. A northern district in Paris, it is identified from afar by the famous Sacre Coeur Basilica but up close is a throng of tourists making a pilgrimage to the home of the dance halls and show girls at the turn of the 20th century.
Of course, the most famous landmark here is the Moulin Rouge. It can be seen easily as you walk down the Boulevard De Clichy among the sex shops and live shows, with its sails turning and lit up in full wonderment! Initial descriptions may lead you to think this area is seedy, an image of Amsterdam’s red light district sprung to mind when we were researching our travels but you couldn’t be more wrong! Fantastic brasseries, cafes and restaurants line the streets and if you want to buy some authentic, Parisian artwork here is the place to do it.
In the Place du Terrtre artists work at every turn (a great place to get your portrait done) and as you ascend the Montmartre hill you will pass museums dedicated to the birthplace of many famous artistic styles. Picasso, Dali, Van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec, Renoir, Manet and Degas, all had studios or worked in and around Montmartre.
You can quite easily spend a whole day in this district of Paris, especially if you perch yourself outside a cafe and watch the world go by with a coffee or two. There are also plenty of smaller museums and attractions here to explore too, including Escace Montmartre Salvador Dali, Musee de Montmartre and Moulin de la Galette.
Maybe visiting a cemetery isn’t on your top 10 things to do list when you visit a city. It certainly wasn’t on ours! However, when we booked into our hotel we were asked if we wanted a view of the cemetery. We weren’t convinced! But the concierge assured us it would be worth our while. So with trepidation we headed up to our room and reluctantly opened the curtains!
If, like us, your cemetery experiences are limited then you will have never seen anything like it! The monuments here aren’t your usual marble slab stuck in the ground. These are actual buildings! In fact, we’ve rented flats that were smaller. They are beautifully decorated, with sculptures, designs and inscriptions. Even the small ones were bigger than any we had ever seen before.
As you enter the plot you will find a handy map of who's who and where they are buried (take a photo on your phone to take around with you if you need a reference). In all honesty we hadn’t heard of most of the famed and celebrated here but it really didn’t matter. Just take a bit of time to walk through the rows and rows of tightly packed tombs and take in the enormity of it all.
It’s not at all as morbid as we expected and could even be described as beautiful when you see tombs belonging to families that were placed there over 100 years ago that are still being tended to. It shows a commitment to the love and respect of the living family members dedicated to keeping the memory alive of those long departed.
Established in 1899 at the pinnacle of the Bohemian Revolution, the Moulin Rouge, was first opened by Charles Zidler and Joesph Oller who wished to make the setting "the Palace of the dance and the woman". It became the birthplace of the modern can-can and the bolt-hole for rich gentlemen to slum it with ladies of the night.
Originally, it was made up of the red windmill (aka mouin rouge) which represent Montmartre’s history as a suburban milling village years before. There was also an outdoor garden area with a giant elephant structure containing belly dancers and an opium den, which were torn down during restorations in 1906. Then of course the auditorium and ballroom where the ladies would show you everything they had!
Incredibly, the Moulin Rouge was the very first electric-powered building in Paris. As night fell, the façade of the building would be illuminated, making it even more alluring; a beacon glowing across the city. However, this embracing of new advances in science may have been its downfall. In 1915 a devastating fire broke out, completely destroying most of the building and closing the venue down for 6 years. It is said that the most likely cause of the fire was short circuiting of the famous electrics.
Many famous performers have played on the stage here over the years, although wearing significantly more than the usual artistes! These include Liza Minnelli, Frank Sinatra, Edith Piaf, Ginger Rogers, Elton John and Dean Martin. Not only that but there have been Gala’s performed to many members of the British Royal family.
There are two shows per night at the Moulin Rouge; one at 7.30pm with dinner beforehand and one at 11.30pm to see the show. We went to the earlier show. Coming here had been one of Amy’s lifelong dreams we arrived early to soak up the atmosphere and spend as long as we could at the venue.
The opulence and luxury makes it feel extremely grand - even the corridor to the toilets was lined with red velvet! Inside the theatre itself was magnificent. The swags of fabrics from floor to ceiling make it feel like a giant big top, with balconies and tiers so that everyone can see all of the action. We were lucky enough to be sat right next to the stage, so close you could feel the breeze of the flapping skirts and smell the miniature ponies (yep you read that right!) as they pranced around the stage.
The most memorable moment came when half of the stage retracted, the floor opened and a giant aquarium of snakes rose high out of the floor. Chris, who has a snake phobia, wasn’t quite so keen on our amazingly close seats at this point, but it wasn’t him swimming in the tank with these colossal beasts it was one of the dancers!
Tickets to see a show at the famous Moulin Rouge are steep (ranging from €100 to €500) however, the pricier tickets come with a 3 course meal and a bottle of champagne, not to mention the mind-blowing show. The dance troop of 60 Doriss girls and 120 maître-d’s and servers will keep all in its 850 seater dinner theatre entertained. There are live animals, feathers, sequins, contortionists and nipples galore - imagine a posh circus for adults!
Since 1963 every revue performed at the Moulin Rouge has begun with the letter F due to a superstition by the owner Jacki Clérico that this letter brought luck. The current show 'Féerie' has been running now since 1999, replacing the centenary show 'Formidable'. Of the 10 shows that have been running in the last 56 years, every single show naturally contains the famed French can-can, performed twice daily. Now that’s a lot of leg kicking!
If you haven’t already, then watching Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge! (2001) is an absolute must! Not only does it feature incredible songs, dancing and acting (we should point out at this point that this is Amy’s favourite film of all time) but it gives an insight into the history of the time and the feel for the Bohemia of the turn of the century. Whilst not a documentary or true story, it's well researched to encapsulate the venue at this time.
There are no surprises why the Sacre Coeur has been likened to the Taj Mahal in its appearance. A relatively new basilica built between 1875 and 1919, its white stone exterior shines in a majestic way and its gardens, below on the hill, emphasise its beauty. It's free to enter but you can also visit the crypt vaults and the 80 metre bell tower at €8, if you have the time. The egg shaped dome is the second highest viewing point in the whole of Paris (after the Eiffel Tower of course) and if you climb the spiral staircase on a clear day, you might be able to see as far as 48km away. The bell in the tower weighs an impressive 19 tons and is one of the heaviest and largest in the world!
The Basilica was built as a memorial to the thousands of French soldiers who died in the Franco-Prussian War in 1870-1871. Standing proudly at the front of the building are two striking bronze statues, cast in 1927, of Joan of Arc and Louis IX (who later became Saint Louis). These again paying homage to bravery in the face of adversity, the initial premise for the building. Inside, heavy use of gold leaf and mosaics give the basilica a rather busy quality; not to the taste of all, but nevertheless very striking! Light from the stained glass windows points attention toward the apse at the back.
As with many tourist attractions we discovered in Paris, free audio guide apps are available to help you find out more during your visit. We preferred not to use them this time but if you are particularly interested in a location they are a fab way to access additional information without having to join a large group of tourists. If ascending steep hills isn’t your thing, you can take the funicular lift, which is based just outside of the basilica and gives you the opportunity to take in some of the views of Paris. Going down, walking the steps that lead you through the Jardin de Sacre Coeur are worthwhile for the views back up the hill and opportunities for some great photography shots.
The Louvre has to be the most impressive museum in the world. A former fortress built in 1364, it then become the 16th century Renaissance-style palace for the Royal Family. However, Louis XIV decided the place was too cramped and moved the family to his new palace of Versailles. When visiting you can experience the 'cramped' conditions yourself. 35,000 priceless objects displayed in 300 rooms all joined together by about 17km of corridors. During our river tour, we were told they are only displaying 8% of their entire collection - but again what can you expect in such 'cramped' surroundings?
Statistics suggest that if you looked at each piece in the museum for 60 seconds for 8 hours a day, it would take you 75 days to see everything. So you might want to plan your visit before you arrive! We pre-booked our tickets to help us beat the queues which was really easy and only a couple of Euros more than the on-the-door price. We decided to see the highlights and most famous pieces with Mona Lisa being our number 1 piece to find.
As you moved through the museum (getting lost a lot we might add!) there is a change in atmosphere as you start getting closer to the Mona Lisa. There is a buzz in the air that is pretty exciting. The ensuing crowd however is not! Be prepared to be pressed against a diverse range of tourists for what seems like an age. If you have personal space issues or claustrophobia, you might want to give this a miss. Once at the front you can photograph and selfie your heart out. Whilst there are security personel there moving people along, we found that you were given as long as you wanted at the front - some tourists however were more considerate than others! Our honest opinion: a smaller than expected portrait of a resting bitch face but it's another thing ticked off the bucket list. Sorry Da Vinci!
There are obviously so many more pieces on view here, with some as permanent residents and others as short term exhibits. There are highlights and famous pieces which are an absolute must; two of the museum's great ladies, the Winged Victory of Samothrace and Venus de Milo. And not forgettings the Roman sculptural masterpieces of Michaelangelo’s Dying Slave and Canova's Cupid and Psyche. We also need to mention Chris's favourite piece, Giant Sphinx of Tanis. This sculpture weighs 12-tons and with its lion's body and a human head, looks over the Louvre's vast antiquities collection.
Then of course there is the building itself. We found some of the rooms set up with furniture of how the palace would have looked in the 16th century even more interesting than the artwork on display, especially the grandiose painting and decorations on the walls of these rooms. La Galerie d'Apollon was a standout moment for both of us as we were blown away by the decoration. A range of paintings on the ceiling depicts months of the year and astrological signs all towering above beautiful examples of jewellery on display in the cabinets. It truly was an all-you-can-eat-buffet for the eyes!
Before we even entered the museum we were impressed with our arrival, via Metro into an underground shopping centre that was extremely grand. We made our way around to the entrance displayed on our tickets, bringing us to the famous Pyramid and courtyard area which deserve spending some time in and taking in the surroundings here. Bear in mind that the Louvre is closed on Tuesday's when planning your visit, although their opening hours are very generous compared to British museums with doors opening at 9am and on some days staying open until 9.45pm.
Housed inside the old Gare d'Orsay railway station, spreading across 6 floors of gallery space, the d’Orsay museum is full of surprises and famous images. The building itself is as beautiful as the artwork that it contains. Huge ceilings, expanses of glass windows and of course the stunning clock watching over proceedings. Whilst you can still clearly see its former use, the space works well as a museum and gallery as there is so much space in which to see the variety of masterpieces from every angle.
There are so many different styles on offer here that, whatever your taste or preference, you won’t be disappointed. Many of the big names in European art can be found here; Monet, Renoir, Van Gogh, Cézanne, Degas, Rousseau, Toulouse-Lautrec, to name but a few. Whilst our knowledge of artwork is limited (we’d probably go as far as to say bordering on the ignorant!) you can’t help but be excited by the famous and iconic images that are dotted around. We guarantee there will be more than one recognisable piece to even the most art resistant among you.
Whilst our tastes are different, with Amy’s preference being towards the more classical styles, and Chris very much opting for the more abstract and modernistic approaches, we were both interested and impressed with what was on offer. We did find wandering too far away from each other problematic, it was a busy day and some areas are much more populated than others. You might want to have a meeting point if you want to head off and do your own thing for a while!
The galleries are organised quite neatly into different styles and techniques. You will find works from the early to mid 19th century, as well as exotic oriental works, decorative arts and a book shop on the lower level. As you ascend through the magnificent building you will see paintings and sculptures from the Naturalist, Symbolist and Post-Impressionalist periods. Finally, climbing further to the upper level, you will find the home of the Impressionalists galleries.
To say that this is one of the largest galleries in Europe, at €12 a ticket, entry is pretty reasonable. You can book online for a slightly increased rate (€2 more) but it’s barely noticeable and will once again, help you to speed through the queuing process a little. When planning your trip, bear in mind that this musuem is closed on Mondays but open later, until 9.45pm, on Thursdays (usual closing time is 6pm). Make your priority on arrival grabbing a map. You will need it as there are many different storeys and some of these do not contain artwork but are meeting spaces or studios. You might also wish to visit the Café Campana, which is said to be an experience in itself and also serves very good food.
A walk along the Seine to see the outside of the building is a must. Architecturally it is stunning and far more impressive than you would expect for an old train station; the Parisians do know how to build a pretty structure! It is sad to think this wonderful building, built in 1900, was almost demolished in the 1970’s after having falling into disrepair since its closure in 1939. Luckily this phoenix has very much risen from the ashes.
Personally, we knew very little of the Pantheon before arriving in Paris. It appears that landmarks such as the Arc de Triomphe, Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame hold a lot of the limelight in international publicity. Therefore, when we researched Paris we half dismissed the Pantheon as an unknown entity which we might get around to seeing if we had chance or the opportunity arose.
Our opportunity came after visiting the Notre Dame; with some time to spare we consulted the map and realised that 'this Pantheon thing' was not too far away and might be worth the walk. We couldn’t have been more surprised - and possibly more ignorant! When we arrived outside this colossal building, we couldn’t believe that we had managed to dismiss it! Located in the 5th arrondissement on the Montagne Sainte-Geneviève, the Panthéon sits on a small hill, a view which looks out over all of Paris. Designer Jacques-Germain Soufflot had the intention of combining the lightness and brightness of a Gothic cathedral with classical principles, something we found he certainly achieved when entering.
With a front façade similar to that of its namesake in Rome, from which its design came from, it towers over you with a true sense of power. Perched on its hilltop position, the Pantheon also hosts arguably one of the best views in the city from the exterior of the dome, which is available as a separate guided tour. The interior has a feeling of St. Paul's Cathedral (London) to it, which again was one of the points of inspiration along with St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. It is not surprising to understand why during the Revolution, this building above any others in the city was chosen to lay the Heroes of France to rest. 'To the great men, the grateful homeland' is etched across the pediment of the Pantheon, a reminder of the secondary use of this wonderful building.
Originally a church, The Pantheon later became a secular mausoleum containing the remains of national heroes and great figures. Walking through the crypt is like walking through a giant who’s who of France. Everyone of importance seems to be here including Pierre and Marie Curie, Victor Hugo, Voltaire, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Louis Braille. This area is like a rabbit warren with tombs and vaults everywhere so try to keep track of where you’ve been or stick to a logical path. Beside many of the tombs are interactive displays which give you further information about the background, lives and achievements of those interred.
There are some magnificent examples of paintings and sculptures within the building as well as the stunning architecture itself. The information leaflets and audio guides will help you to take in and understand what you are looking at if you require it. The Foucault’s pendulum should also get a special mention. In 1851, scientist Foucault suspended a pendulum from the buildings dome to demonstrate how the Earth rotates and you can take a look at it yourself (unfortunately not the original) as it is there today, rotating 11 degrees clockwise each hour.
Pre-booking will help you to jump the queue, however we only waited a short time to enter so if you’re not in a hurry it’ll be worth the wait. If you are interested in history or architecture make sure this is near the top of your list! Don’t be as ignorant as we were! A life lesson has been learned here - don’t dismiss something just because you haven’t heard of it or have made prior opinions about somewhere! Our advice would be to approach the landmark from the direction of Jardin du Luxembourg via Rue Soufflot to really take in the imposing nature of it within the surroundings.
Paris immediately conjures up fine dining and high quality cuisine. And of course you would be correct! If you have money to spend and eating out is a high priority, this is the place to do it. Conduct some research - there are lots of tips, lists and rankings online that can provide some insight into this huge market. However, there is plenty on offer to the more budget conscious traveller too!
Remember this is the home of baguettes, macarons and of course crêpes. You will see street sellers offering crêpes on almost every corner. Choose wisely, look for stands that cook each crêpe from fresh rather than reheating them; and if you want to be a true Parisian you should stick to beurre-sucre (butter and sugar) rather than one of the many other flavours that may tempt your tastebuds!
A quick guide to eateries in France for those who get bamboozled by all of the different terminology. Cafes are places to go eat a quick snack and are part of every day life to the French. They are usually less expensive and standing at the bar rather than sitting at a table will keep costs low too. A bistro is a small restaurant which sells alcohol; prices should still be reasonable at this kind of establishment and the menu will usually house a selection of typical French cuisine. A brasserie is similar to an English pub in that it serves beers and ciders alongside food and is open for food through the day and late into the evening. They can range in price and atmosphere but usually the food is of a traditional French nature.
When dining in a restaurant, if you want to get it right and fit in as best you can, make sure the first thing you say when arriving is "bonjour" or "bonsoir". This will help you fit in and look less touristy and is quite a biggy from guides we have read! The next thing to do once seated is to order from the 3-course 'prix fixe' menu if there is one. Not only is the deal a better one than the a la carte, but will most likely be the best the chef has to offer made with the freshest produce. Finally, don’t make a grab for the bread; in France it is a meal accompaniment not an appetiser. Keep it on the plate beside your dinner plate not on it.
The stereotypical image of Paris is looking sophisticated drinking wine in a brasserie as if modelling for a painting by Jack Vettriano. However, the reality can be more daunting and can feel like you are walking into a mine field. The last thing you want to do is splash out on a lovely meal to have it ruined by mediocre wine! Of course, in France there are so many regions famed for its excellent production of wine; Bordeaux, Champagne, Côtes du Rhone, the Loire Valley, Burgundy, to name but a few. Whilst in recent years French wine has been overshadowed by those from the New World, there are still many great bottles out there to sample, and Paris is a great place to experiment.
If you are unsure of what to choose when eating out in Paris then the house wine is often a good bet. Establishments have an excellent palate and have good offers on these wines - you may have to ask what the wine is if it is served in a carafe. Secondly, you can ask the waiter - they are experts and will be able to guide you in the right direction if they know what you like and roughly the price range you are looking at.
Coffee has become a more recent improvement by Parisians. Before 'un café' meant a bitter espresso quickly drank alongside a cigarette. But lots of trendy coffee shops have started popping up where the beans have been carefully chosen for their taste, and are roasted and brewed for a better cup.
If like us, tea is your tipple, then be warned - tea (or thé) is made without milk. After five days of trawling the coffee shops we finally found a proper British brew (I know, I know, we should be sampling the local delicacies and being true travellers). It came with a price tag though! Just off Rue de Rivoli not too far from the Concorde Metro station, you can find a WH Smith’s store with a Twinings Tea Room on the first floor. Here you can enjoy a cup of English Breakfast tea (or chose from 55 other types!) or try a full afternoon tea with sweet treats. Prices range from €7 to €40 but this is a lovely escape from the hustle and bustle of Paris if you need a recharge.
For us, this was our first time in Paris and we will never forget the experience. The top city on Amy’s bucket list for almost 20 years, we were thrilled to find that it didn’t disappoint; there were so many stand-out moments that the word memorable doesn’t start to cover it. Our highlights include being perched atop the Arc de Triomphe, gazing out over the spiders-web of streets emanating out from beneath us with so many iconic landmarks in eyeshot around us in all directions. Or Amy’s outpouring of emotion at finally seeing the Moulin Rouge; her very own spiritual Mecca since her teen years. Not forgetting an amazing evening spent under the twinkling lights of the Eiffel Tower, an electric atmosphere with impromptu opera wowing the crowds. Or feeling the passion of salsa as dancers intertwined at riverside venues along the Seine; exactly what summer nights should be about.
Whether you’re on a budget or you’ve been saving up to make your trip special, there is plenty to keep you busy in Paris. In 5 days we clocked up over 45 miles of exploration with a good chunk of it not costing a cent, so don’t be put off by your financial situation - although spending on a good pair of shoes beforehand might be a worthwhile investment! Paris has become one of our all time favourite locations and we’d love to hear your experiences. Do you have any extra tips for fellow travellers? Got your own stunning shots of the city to share with us? We’d love to hear you thoughts and see your photos, so please leave us a comment on social media and connect with us. If you’ve found this guide to Paris useful, please like and share our page using the buttons below.
Au revoir and travel far!
Many visitors to France get around without speaking a word of French, but just a few phrases go a long way in making friends, inviting service with a smile, and ensuring a rich and rewarding travel experience.
An unbeatable pocket-sized travel guide to Paris, packed with insider tips and ideas, colour maps, top ten lists and a laminated pull-out map, all designed to help you see the very best during your trip to Paris.
If you want to see Paris like it is in the movies, Nessy will show you the directors cut. If you seek the unusual and the underground, she'll take you down the rabbit hole and park you at the mad hatters doorstep.