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Explore, explore, explore
Each arrondisement has its own personality and attractions – the best way to see them is to simply wander. This is helped by the fact that Paris is an eminently walking-friendly city. Between one’s own feet and the extensive (and simple-to-use) Metro system, the entire city is easily accessible.
At the center of the city, you can find Ile de la Cite, an island in the middle of the Seine which served as the religious and political center of medieval Paris – it’s also the location of Notre Dame, along with its famous stained glass windows (and hunchback). Nearby are other major sights including the Louvre, Tuileries Gardens, and the Jewish Quarter. The Eiffel Tower and Musee d’Orsay are slightly further out, in the 7tharrondisement. And continuing to walk in any direction will eventually find you face-to-face with cemeteries where some of the most famous Parisians are buried, bohemian neighborhoods like the hilltop area of Montmartre, and stunning cathedrals such as Sacre Coeur.
Home to hundreds of monuments, museums, and more, Paris is rich in culture and history. Its most recognizable landmark, the Eiffel Tower, was meant as a temporary installation, and was supposed to stand for only 20 years. Over 100 years later, it still stands, and provides a vantage point from which visitors can see all of Paris. For a different view, one which includes the Tower itself, try the Arc de Triomphe – its 284 steps are a trek, but the reward at the top is well worth it.
Another spot from which to gain a bird’s-eye-view of Paris is the patio in front of the church of Sacre Coeur. The cathedral, made of travertine, seems to sparkle even on cloudy days, and sits on the highest point in the city, just above the artsy neighborhood of Montmartre, which is well worth a wander itself. Stop for a bite to eat or a drink in a café, or have a portrait drawn by any of the dozens of talented artists in the Place du Tertre as a unique and precious souvenir of your visit. You can also explore the Montmartre Cemetery, the city’s third largest necropolis. When you’ve had your fill, stroll down the hill to the red-light district of Pigalle and its iconic Moulin Rouge.
If you wish to be dwarfed by history and beauty, Paris has options for you, too. Few things can make one feel as small as the Cathedral of Notre Dame does, its centuries-old Gothic architecture and stunning stained glass nothing short of astonishing. It has a well-earned position as one of the most renowned houses of worship in the world. Another superlative site is the Louvre, perhaps the world’s most famous museum, and certainly home to some of the most celebrated art ever created, housed in a stunning palace, parts of which were built in the 17th century. Inside, you’ll find such masterpieces as the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, and Winged Victory.
There are countless more sites to see in Paris, from the Tuileries Gardens to Les Invalides, home of Napoleon’s tomb. Visit the Place de la Concorde or the Bastille, both of which loom large in any discussion of the French Revolution. Whatever you choose to see in Paris, you will be stunned – it’s not a city that knows how to disappoint.
Food and drink
Dining in Paris can take many forms, each as idyllic as the next. Whether snacking on a crepe from a street cart as you wander or sitting down to an haute cuisine dinner in a Michelin-starred restaurant (of which Paris has the second highest number in the world, after only Tokyo), the food is a true experience. A lunch of moules-frites (mussels & fries) can be just as divine as foie gras or escargots. It may be helpful to know that in France, a ‘restaurant’ typically provides a printed menu and at least a semi-formal meal – they also must, by law, provide a prix-fixe menu. A ‘bistro’ is less formal, with chalk or verbal menus and often regional cuisine, and a café provides primarily coffee and alcoholic beverages with a limited menu. Just want a cup of coffee or a hot chocolate? Try a salon de thé.
For an authentically Parisian dinner, though, wander down the street and pick things up as you go – no supermarkets allowed. Stop in a wine store for a bottle of something local and inexpensive. Pick up a baguette from a boulangerie and some cheese from the fromagerie. Some fruit here, a bit of chocolate there. Retire to a park or patio and eat at your leisure. Voilà – instant Parisian.
Paris can also be an ideal place from which to explore more of Northern France. It’s easy to hop a train or bus for a day trip to the palace of Versailles, home of the French monarchy for about a century; Mont Saint-Michel, an island commune in Normandy; Fontainebleau, with its historical Chateau and scenic forest; or any of a number of quaint towns and charming cities.
A 'Break' in Paris
Want to take a quick trip to Paris? Take a look at Liberty Travel’s EURObreaks – short European getaways tailor-made for you. Best of all, each EURObreak includes a City Insider, an expert who lives in and loves the city you’re exploring. They’ll give you an overview of the city and its history, highlighting what’s trendy, tried and true, or a combination – they’ll even give you a quick lesson in the city’s public transportation! Your City Insider helps ensure that your vacation memories will be unforgettable.