It’s been weeks and I’m still thinking about the magic of Paris! The city is highly romanticized but there was still so much to it that made it live up to the expectation. Paris is so easy to get around that most of the time you don’t need to use the metro or a taxi. Walking the streets of Paris is magical mostly because of the history, culture, and ambience. Some of my favorite movies take place in Paris and I loved singing all the songs in my head as I walked.
For a picturesque and romantic sense of Paris, check out the opening scene from Midnight in Paris. I think this scene does a great job of capturing the essence of the city.
Île de la Cité
In the middle of the Seine, there is a small natural island called Île de la Cité. This is where the medieval city of Paris began. Now, it holds many historic landmarks that are populated by tourists.
Notre Dame was probably my favorite destination on this trip. We stayed relatively close to the cathedral, so we often found ourselves venturing to Île de la Cité for shopping or eating. Notre Dame was beautiful inside and out. Guests can wander around inside to gaze at the large stained glass windows and see the amazing architecture. But the rooftop views were the best. Several hundred stairs later, and through many narrow walkways, guests can get a magnificent view of the city. The bell towers were also open to the public, which houses inactive bells. Even on a cloudy day the views were totally worth the climb!
Back on earth, there is a bookstore not far from Notre Dame called Shakespeare & Company. I’ve been so curious to check this place out, and it provided a nice break from the rain. Through winding archways of books, you get to experience life as a local. So many people gather in the small quarters to look out the windows and relax in the reading room. Stop by this bookstore if you are ever in the area.
On either side of the Seine, there are green storage boxes mounted on the edge of the walls. For the longest time I wondered what they were. They were originally booksellers that would open up shop and sell books to the public. Now, they are seen as vendors and shops that sell souvenirs, other goods, as well as books. They say that Paris is the only bookstore with a river running through it!
Beneath the courtyard in front of Notre Dame was something surprising that I did not expect. There is an exhibit underground called the Archeological Crypt of the Parvis of Notre-Dame. We got a museum pass for our trip to Paris, so many of these hidden exhibits cropped up out of nowhere. It was fun to stumble upon them and venture in. This exhibit highlights the findings of underground towns, homes, and other buildings of ancient Paris. It acts as a time capsule, showing modern-day visitors what life may have been like for those living on Île de la Cité hundreds to thousands of years ago. This type of stuff is interesting to me, so I enjoyed that we found this as we were exploring the area.
Another ancient landmark on Île de la Cité is the Conciergerie, which served as a prison for the former royal palace called Palais de la Cité. This former palace consists of the Concergerie – the large building along the Seine – as well as the Palace of Justice, and the Sainte-Chapelle, both of which we were able to visit and see. This whole medieval section of the island has so much history. Marie Antoinette was briefly confined at the Conciergerie before being beheaded at the public square of Place de la Concorde several miles away.
Literally me in Paris:
Just kidding, I’m not Audrey Hepburn. (Sad day)
This area of Paris has served as the artists’ quarter for centuries. While full of debauchery, this area was also known as the setting of the Belle Époque part of art history. Artists like Dalí, Monet, Picasso, and van Gogh all called this place home at one point. We walked past the Moulin Rouge and other famous places in the area. Watch Montmartre depicted in the opening scene of Moulin Rouge!
On top of the hill of Montmartre is the church of Sacré-Cœur. This basilica looks over the entire city and sits tall in the sky as a landmark. It was quite a hike to get to the top of the hill but it was beautiful once there. You can see over the whole city! The church was beautiful too, we were able to tour inside it.
On the other side of the city is the famous Champs-Élysées, a long boulevard filled with shopping areas that ends at the Arc de Triomphe. This is probably one of the most iconic views of Paris (second only to the Eiffel Tower, of course). We walked down this boulevard and went to the top of the Arc de Triomphe. The Arc has amazing panoramic views of the city and the twelve avenues that intersect at the Arc. You could see everything from this vantage point! It was colder than cold up there, but totally worth it.
This area is across the Seine from the Eiffel Tower and has some amazing views as well. The Trocadéro Palace (which is no longer standing) was built for the 1867 World’s Fair. In its place stands the Palais de Chaillot, atop the hill called Chaillot, which looks over the Seine to the Eiffel Tower. We walked this entire area, from the Eiffel Tower gardens of Champ de Mars to the top of the Palais de Chaillot. Photos taken of the Eiffel Tower are often taken from the top of the hill. These buildings now hold several different museums. We did not get to go to the top of the Tower but there are plenty of amazing views from all angles in this area!
While there are so many museums in Paris, we went to three famous ones that really stood out. Our flat was right by the Louvre, so getting there was quick. It was easily the closest attraction to us and we often spent time just walking the grounds since the museum is so huge. We spent about half a day inside the Louvre, and as guessed, we barely scratched the surface of the amount of works housed here. Did you know that it would take you 75 days to see each object at the Louvre if you spent 60 seconds looking at each for 8 hours a day? How crazy is that?! Needles to say, we hit the highlights.
Another favorite that was highly recommended to us was the Musée d’Orsay which is arguably just as beautiful, if not more, than the Louvre. The Louvre was built as a castle in 1202 and converted into a palace in 1546 with medieval and French Revolution architecture. In contrast, d’Orsay was built as a Beaux-Arts train station at the turn of the century along the Seine. D’Orsay houses impressionist and post-impressionist works of art.
One thing I learned was that most buildings that hold tourist attractions were not originally built for that purpose, which is something you just don’t see in the US.
Musée de l’Orangerie was another great museum we went to. This museum in located in the gardens by the Louvre and featured huge panoramic works of Monet. These were amazing to be in the presence of because they were large, colorful, and so beautiful. They also had a fascinating exhibit on women photographers pioneering the art.
Our rented flat was close to Rue Montorgueil, which is a pedestrian street full of restaurants, shops, and more.It was a great place to grab dinner and people watch. So many of the cafes in Paris have outdoor seating facing outward so guests can smoke cigarettes and watch as people walk by. Even when it was raining, there were still people seated outdoors.
Jardin des Tuileries
Between the Louvre and Place de la Concorde is the Jardin des Tuileries. This expansive garden features beautiful statues, fountains, food stands, carousels and more. It was lovely to stroll through on a brisk, cloudy day and I’m sure even more fun in the spring and summer time. This is where the Musée de l’Orangerie is located. The Place de la Concorde is a huge public square with an Egyptian obelisk in the center. Fun fact, this is where Marie Antoinette was beheaded. So much bloody history, Paris has…
Just north of the gardens is the Palais Garnier, also known as the Opera Garnier. This is where Phantom of the Opera takes place. We were able to tour the opera, which is still an operating theatre. The interior is just as magnificent as the exterior, which looked more elegant than any theatre I’ve ever been to!
I based my short story on Paris in the 1920s, wondering what advice Hemingway would have given someone at the time.
Should have known these travel posts would be long… Au revoir!