Matt Scott takes you through a simple itinerary…
In terms of visitor numbers, Paris is the world’s most popular city, but its unique charm remains; cafes dominate the tree-lined avenues, great architecture, both modern and ancient can be found on every street, the Seine cuts the city in half while world class fashion, style, art and cuisine meet with the unique character of the Parisians themselves. The French capital is undoubtedly one of the world’s great cities.
The international airports Charles de Gaulle and Orly are both outside the city, but are served by the excellent train and subway system. Several bus services also link CDG and OLY with the city and local hotels. If arriving on a budget carrier you may arrive in Beauvais airport, which is a 90-minute bus ride from the city centre.
If you travel by Eurostar you’ll arrive at the Gare du Nord; which is in the north of the city and walking distance to several hostels. The other main train terminals are also within easy access to the city centre.
Catching some Zs
Paris has a plentiful array of accommodation. From apartments overlooking the Eiffel Tower and grand hotels on the Champs Elysee to small boutique residences tucked away in an unknown quarter. As well as a multitude of family run hostels and budget hotels. It’s always advisable to book ahead, both for peace of mind and to guarantee you can be in the area that you wish.
Almost as much as a part of the Paris skyline as the Eiffel Tower is the Basilique du Sacré Coeur, overlooking the city. The area is jammed with tourists, souvenir stalls and artists working on the street. The views from the top of the church or the grounds that surround it, show Paris, and all its major sights, stretching into the distance and is a great introduction to the city. This is a great area to explore the small streets and tiny cafes without the traffic and crowds of ‘downtown’ Paris.
The area offers a great selection of restaurants from traditional French to international cuisine. A fine spot to indulge your taste buds.
Driving in Paris is a sight in itself (as is the parking at the weekend when every conceivable car-sized space is parked on regardless of traffic laws). From the top of the Arc de Triomphe, not only is there a great view, the madness of the roads and roundabout in Paris can be seen as motorists jostle for position on the world’s largest traffic circle. Once you have enjoyed the traffic and the small artefacts in the Arc, the tree lined Champs Elysee stretches to the Grand Palais, the Louvre and the Place de la Concorde: sight or executions during the revolution and now home of the Obelisque de Luxor – a gift from Egypt that is the oldest monument in Paris. The Louvre is also just a short walk away.
If you want another view over the city the largest office building in Paris offers one of the best. The monolith of Montparnasse Tower looms over an area of shops, cinemas and restaurants where dinner can be enjoyed after. The resting place of some rich and famous Parisians, including John –Paul Sartre, is also in this area at the Montparnasse Cemetery.
If you’re in Paris on a Friday night have a lookout for the Paris-roller group; hundreds meet close to Montparnasse for a 25km route round the city on Roller blades, skates or by bike. A beginners’ route is also held in Sunday mornings to give you the opportunity to see the city in a unique way.
Ile St Lois is a small island in the middle of the Seine; old buildings with small cafes overlooking the river are the perfect place to get some breakfast. Just a few minutes walk will take you to Ile de le Cite and the Notre Dame cathedral; much smaller than many would expect but none the less impressive. Rue de Rivoli and Les Halles one of the most popular shopping areas in Paris is just across the river. On the opposite bank lies the Latin Quarter; home of the Sorbonne University and an area of narrow alleyways that lead you to some of Paris’ oldest and most beautiful buildings.
Booksellers, artists, buskers and small market stalls occupy the banks of the Seine, during the summer a small artificial beach is even created for Parisians to sun themselves. Walking the banks of the seine, or taking on of the many boat tours (starting on the Islands or at the Eiffel Tower) is a great way of seeing the city on a sunny day.
A walk or boat along the Seine will take in all the major sites: Pont Neuf, the Louvre, Musee de Orsay, Invalides and the tomb of Napoleon, the Grand and Petit Palais and of course the Eiffel Tower. Just a short walk from the banks lie numerous other wonders such as the Opera- inspiration for the musical Phantom of the Opera, Palais Royal, Luxembourg Gardens and countless others. Take your time to stroll in the footsteps of some of some of history’s greatest names and pause in one of city’s famous cafes to soak up the atmosphere and watch Parisians go about their daily life.
During the day the queues to the top of the Eiffel Tower stretch for hours. By night you can be practically alone and sunset over the city is an unforgettable sight when viewed from the top its most famous landmark. After dark, for ten minutes each hour a light show is held on the tower. Pick a comfortable spot on the Champs de Mars- the park surrounding the tower to enjoy the spectacle.
A few more nights?
It is impossible to see all of Paris in just two days so if you’re staying on longer you can enjoy much more of this city: the excellent museums (with the Louvre and Orsay being among the best in the world), the great city parks (the Jardin de Luxembourg being one of the finest in Europe) and the great buildings and architecture. Or if you’re not a culture vulture there are also the countless cafes, bars, clubs and shows. If you’re looking for something a little different perhaps explore the city’s catacombs or sewers ‘les Egouts’ on a guided tour.
The Palace of Versailles is a short train ride from the city and well worth a day’s exploration. The Normandy D-Day beaches, Monet’s gardens at Giverny as well as the UNESCO Mont Saint Michel are also within easy access if you have at least a day to spare.