Destination Attractions: Things To Do In Paris

A city of romance and historic architecture, Paris has many things to do for the visitor.

Paris is one of the great cities of the world; everyone should visit at least once. A city of romance and historic architecture, Paris has attractions on just about every corner, and Americans visiting the city will be fascinated by things the average Frenchman takes for granted. Here are some of my favorite attractions in Paris:

Notre Dame Cathedral is in the literal center of Paris; there's a bronze plaque that marks the starting point for all roads in France. The magnificent Gothic cathedral is on an island in the middle of the Seine River and dates from the 13th century. Some of the things you will want to see are the huge, stained glass rose window, the panels along the interior showing the story of the life of Jesus, the gargoyles, and the Gallery of Kings. You can climb the 387 steps up the northern tower if you want to see the gargoyles up close. An excellent nighttime view of Notre Dame can be had by riding one of the Bateaux-Mouches, long, glass-covered boats that will take you on a tour of the Seine.

The Sacre-Coeur Basilica is in the 18th arrondissement, in Montmartre, and was built in the 1800s in a Roman-Byzantine style. The Montmartre area is known for its artists and restaurants, and there's an interesting and inexpensive African market there. The imposing white Sacre-Coeur dominates the skyline of that part of Paris, and the views from the grounds of the basilica are astounding, especially at night. There are many steps leading up to Sacre-Coeur, and great, broad steps at the top allow people to sit and look out over the city, listen to the street musicians who play guitars, or mingle with friends in the night air. Shops, restaurants, artists, and many entrepreneurs ply their trades around the basicila. You can eat an ice cream cone, have your caricature drawn, or tour the church. If you don't want to climb all the steps, you can ride the funicular, an electric tram that will glide you up to the top.



The Palace of Versailles is southeast of Paris, and was built by the Sun King, Louis XIV, during the 17th century. The palace has to be seen to be believed; it is incredibly ornate. Excellent tours are given; lines are long but many parts of the palace can only be viewed on the guided tours. Don't miss the Hall of Mirrors, the formal gardens, the extraordinary fountains, the Grand and Petit Trianons, and Marie Antoinette's "play" farm and village. The park surrounding the palace is very large; there's a shuttle train that will take you to the back. It's probably impossible to see the whole estate in one day, so decide beforehand which parts you really want to see, or come back for additional viewing.

Paris is known for its food, and you should be able to find a great variety of dishes to tempt you. Croissants, baguettes, and all manner of delicious pastries can be had at the boulangeries and patisseries; grab a baguette and some cheese and you have a picnic. Try some of the excellent outdoor cafes and brasseries for light meals and snacks; try a croquet monsieur (a grilled ham and cheese sandwich). Menus and prices are generally displayed outside restaurants, and French restaurants expect you to order a whole meal. Portions will be smaller than in the US, but food is usually beautifully displayed on the plate. My favorite casual restaurant is Hippopotamus, of which there are 13 locations in Paris. If you want French fries, order pommes Frites, and try the grilled steaks and chocolate mousse. Touristy places generally have higher priced food; if you go over a couple of streets from attractions, you will find more authentic and lower priced meals.

One of the best-known attractions in Paris is the Eiffel Tower. The tower was built in the late 1800s for an exhibition, and is over 1000 ft. high. You can walk as far as the second level or ride an elevator up the third level and have a wonderful view of Paris. The tower is lit at night, adding to Paris' reputation as "The City of Lights." There are two restaurants on the first and second levels, and you can make online reservations to eat there.

Paris has many fine art museums, and if you want to visit more than a few you should purchase the Paris Museum and Monument Pass, which lets you in more than 70 museums and monuments in and around Paris. You can buy the pass for 1, 3, or 5 days, and the price is quite reasonable if you will be visiting quite a few attractions. Don't miss the 800-year old Louvre, the most famous and largest art museum in the world; it was a former fortress and palace for French kings. The entrance to the Louvre is underneath the Pei glass pyramid in the Hall Napoleon, and there's a great underground shopping mall there. Make sure you see the inverted underground point of the pyramid too. The most famous painting in the Louvre is the "Mona Lisa" by da Vinci, but there are 6,000 others in the huge museum. Do a little research and know what you want to see before you visit, or you might miss your favorite paintings. Other museums you may want to visit are the Musee d'Orsay, Pompidou Center, Picasso Museum, and Rodin Museum.

Paris has many other attractions. The Champs-Elysees, the Arc de Triomphe, the Metro stations, the Left Bank, and many other places await your visit, and you may have to return to Paris to see them all. Try not to rush through your visit, and spend some time just soaking up the atmosphere of this romantic city. Check websites for additional information; many tickets and reservations can now be purchased online.

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