I feel already that this guide should be taken as a grain of salt. Often when traveling I hear stories and expectations from others of what they have heard is amazing. Remember, that was their experience and this is yours. My favorite moments abroad so far have been spontaneous, adventurous, and unplanned. My first tip is to explore the streets with an open mind. If you catch something that seems a bit interesting – check it out! Below I will list and try to give some tips on some of my favorite spots in Paris. This list is definitely not all-inclusive, and certainly in no particular order.
The Musée d’Orsay: Of course the Louvre will inevitably make it on this list, but I honestly believe The Musée d’Orsay outshines the Louvre. It is more manageable, and absolutely gorgeous on the inside. Be sure to go to the top floor and look through the glass clock. From here you can see the Sacré-Cœur. It is a marvelous sight! The design of the museum is almost as beautiful as the art it holds. Originally, this was a train station. It has been remodeled beautifully to reflect a modern aesthetic while appreciating the historic architecture and details. The three museums on this list house art chronologically. This museum holds impressionist and post-impressionist art from about 1850-1915.
Pompidou Centre: One of the first post-modern buildings in the world, this museum proves Paris’s respect for the old and new. The art it holds is modern, from 1915 onward. If you have time, check out the other parts of the centre. There is much more than just the museum! There are often very cool exhibitions, but are an additional cost from the permanent collection. Before you leave, be sure to take the escalators all the way to the top to get one of the best views of Paris. Worth checking out in both daylight and nighttime.
Aux Merveilleux de Fred: This is a French Patisserie. They have some of the best pastries and treats in the world. Grab a “Les Incroyable,” it is to die for!
Latin Quarter: Land of cheap and delicious restaurants! Check out Rue Saint-Séverin. It has some great restaurants that feature 3 courses for 10-15 euro. What a steal! Be sure to check out Shakespeare & CO Bookstore right around the corner. And of course, I am a sucker for Parisien parks, so be sure to check out the nearby Jardin Viviani as well. The Latin Quarter houses many of Paris’s famous universities. In the middle ages, class was in the universal language of Latin, giving this neighborhood it’s name. There are still many great sites including the Pantheon, Shakespeare and Company, Place St. Michel, La Sorbonne, and the Middle Ages National Museum.
Versailles: What a wonderful way to live in the past as Marie-Antoinette or Louis XIV the Sun King. If you can budget, get a private tour of the private apartments of the king and queen. This tour also grants entry into the Opera, easily one of the most beautiful parts of the palace. Check out the gardens. They are even better than the castle! But they may not be as lively in off-season. So be sure to check it out while it is warm.
Louvre: Of course check out the three Ladies of the Louvre (Mona Lisa, Venus, and Winged Victory), but don’t waste too much time on these. Explore the museum and check out some of your personal favorites. I loved the Egyptian exhibition. Of course check out the beautiful glass pyramids, but don’t enter this way! That line is guaranteed to be much longer than the Lyon Entrance. Port des Lions (located on the southwest wing of the Palace) is Paris’s best-kept semi-secret. I have never waited in line for the Louvre. Most who have visited will attest to the typical hour or more wait!
Les Arènes de Lutèce: One of the oldest Roman amphitheatres in the world, yes Roman amphitheatre, be sure to check out this park. Touristy is the last word to describe this park. You will undoubtedly find some kids playing football and some old men gossiping. Explore the whole park – it is small enough. There are cool staircases, paths, fountains, and more to be discovered. A great place for some peace and quiet.
Luxembourg: One of the busier and larger gardens of Paris, this is definitely worth checking out. If you have time, there is a neat museum as well. You will definitely notice increase security near this area. The French Senat is housed in the old Luxembourg Palace.
Catacombs: Definitely worth seeing! It gives a unique history to Paris and is like nothing else I have ever seen. Look up the history before you go, and check out some youtube videos. But when you do go, it is best to arrive early before opening. There will be a long line and only a number of people are allowed down at once, so it can be a long wait.
La Défense: There is old money, there is new money. There is the Arc de Triomphe, there is La Grande Arche. There is Paris, there is La Défense. This is the largest business district in Europe. It also houses some great shopping. It is a unique contrast to the historic architecture found in the Paris center. Be sure to take the 1 line, as this is a metro line and not RER. It is technically out of the Paris zone, but on the metro line there is no additional cost.
Michael is a student at Colorado State studying at Paris American Academy (PAA) in France during the Spring 2014 term.