Things to Do in Paris - page 3
Pont de l’Alma is a Parisian bridge built in 1854 in commemoration of the Franco-British alliance’s victory over the Russian army during the Crimean War. The bridge underwent complete rebuilding in the 1970s in order to accommodate the rapidly increasing road and river traffic – only the statues were retained from the original structure. The arch bridge is now 42 meters large and 153 meters long, and links the right and left banks of the Seine River.
Pont de l’Alma offers splendid views of the Eiffel Tower and is often the go-to location for photographers wanting to capture Paris. What made the bridge a household name worldwide, however, is the role it played in Lady Diana’s death; indeed, she perished in a car crash at the entrance of the bridge’s tunnel in 1997. The Flame of Liberty at the bridge's north end has become an unofficial memorial to her memory.
Of France’s 62 million residents, it’s estimated that as many as 7 million of them have Arabic roots. In appreciation of this multiculturalism, France partnered with 22 Arabic nations to found the Museum of the Arab World (Institut du Monde Arabe) in Paris in 1980. Housed within a contemporary building designed by renowned French architect Jean Nouvel, the museum houses a collection of Arabic art, scientific objects, textiles and other items spanning thousands of years.
Spread across four floors, the newly renovated museum’s collection includes everything from pre-Islamic ceramics to modern Palestinian art. The building itself is noteworthy, as the intricate latticework on the building’s southern exterior was inspired by a traditional Moorish screen. The museum regularly hosts large temporary exhibitions, with past topics such as contemporary Moroccan art, silks of al-Andalus and hip-hop in the Bronx Arab streets.
The Pigalle quarter is located in Montmartre and has long nurtured its reputation for the risqué, even taking its name from the 18th-century artist Jean-Baptise Pigalle - famed for his nude sculptures. Pigalle is Paris' red light district, a lively area crammed with neon-lit sex shops, peep shows, expensive strip clubs, and of course, the city's now-legendary cabarets. Leave the kids at home and head out for an evening of adult entertainment, or at least, the opportunity to gasp and giggle at the outrageous displays of tongue-in-cheek erotica.
Don’t be put off by the area's seedy reputation -- a number of hip music clubs and less provocative venues are slowly revolutionizing the area. Many tourists simply want to peek at the infamous shop fronts or pay a visit to the fascinating Musee d'Erotisme (erotic museum), so there's no reason to stay away.
Nearly a dozen streets converge at Place de la Republique—a popular square in the heart of Paris. This historic town center may measure fewer than 10 acres but was once home to impressive military barracks. Though the grounds are relatively small, there are numerous points of interest including intricate fountains, monuments paying homage to the grand republic and artistic relief-panel depicting some of the city’s most impressive political feats.
Legendary for harbouring some of Paris’s most iconic artists and intellectuals, Montparnasse lies on the city’s Left Bank, in the 14th aggrandisement, and remains a popular tourist attraction. Taking its name from the Greek Mount Parnassus, home to ‘the Muses’ (the nine Greek Goddesses of the arts and sciences), Montparnasse was the central hub of Paris’s creativity throughout the 20th century. Home to a vibrant population of penniless artists and grass roots intellectuals, the area was a meeting ground for the era’s burgeoning arts scene. Future icons like Pablo Picasso, Jean Cocteau, Ernest Hemingway and James Joyce were among the immigrants who flocked to the area, along with a number of key French figures, many of whom are now buried in the Montparnasse cemetery. While the golden era might be long gone, the neighbourhood retains much of its gritty charm, with its many traditional cafés and creperies (pancake houses) recreating some of the vibe of historic Paris.
Grands Boulevards is an area in Paris situated in close proximity to Opéra Garnier and Grands Boulevards metro station. The plural form is not a coincidence; these lavish avenues and boulevards all exemplify the Parisian style created by the Baron Haussmann, whose work completely changed the city’s allure during the second Napoleonic empire in what is now considered a primitive form of urbanism. The grand scale, transformative works saw Paris welcome wider avenues, numerous fountains, intricately ornate buildings, and plentiful green spaces. But Haussmann did not create those spaces out of thin air; most of the Grands Boulevards now stand on what used to be the Louis XIII wall, which explains their remarkable size, uncommon for Paris at the time.
Les Invalides began as the army hospital, initiated by Louis XIV in 1670 and finished six years later. These days, it is a complex of buildings including a collection of museums, a hospital and retirement home for war veterans, and a chapel which is a burial place of war heroes including Napoleon Bonaparte. The museums include Contemporary History, Maps, as well as Military History.
As is the way with French Kings and their projects, a simple idea to build a place for war veterans to retire grew into a massive and grand statement with fifteen courtyards, a chapel - the Eglise Saint-Louis des Invalides, and then a royal chapel - Eglise du Dome. Based on St Peter's Basilica in Rome, this latter became the prime example of French Baroque architecture.
Fontaine Saint-Michel was sculpted by Gabriel Davioud in 1860 and gives its name to the square where it’s located, Place Saint-Michel. The monumental fountain, located between boulevard Saint-Michel and Place Saint-Andres-des-Arts was commissioned by Baron Georges-Eugene Haussmann as part of Napoleon III’s plans to bring more light and air to the city of Paris.
The fountain depicts the archangel Michael vanquishing Satan, a controversial political symbol at the time hinting at Napoleon vanquishing the revolutionary fervor of the neighborhood. Unlike many of Paris’s fountains, Fontaine Saint-Michel was made from various colors of materials, including red and green marble, blue and yellow stone, and bronze. Place Saint-Michel is a popular meeting spot among both the city’s youth and foreign visitors.
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Europe’s largest science museum and one of Paris’ most visited exhibition spaces, La Cite des Sciences et de L'lndustrie, or the City of Science & Industry, has been fascinating visitors with its hands-on exhibits since its inauguration in 1986.
An innovative edifice of glass and iron masterminded by architect Adrien Fainsilber, the museum’s shimmering façade sets the scene for a journey into the high-tech world of modern-day science. Set in the modern parklands of Parc de la Villette, Paris’ largest park, the City of Science & Industry is renowned for its pioneering exhibitions, covering everything from genetics to audio technology, and including an inventive Space exploration exhibit. Most impressive is the Cité des Enfants, aimed at children from 2-12 years, where an incredible range of child-friendly installations offer interactive demonstrations allowing children to operate robots, experiment with water conductivity and broadcast ‘news’ footage on a live television.
The park is characterized by its modernist sculptures and installations, including around 35 fire-engine red follies dotted along the canal banks, a striking sight against the futuristic silhouettes of the park’s buildings. Three concert halls reside in the park – the Zenith Concert Hall and the Cite de la Musique, both important music halls, and the striking Grand Hall, a former livestock showground transformed by architects Bernard Reichen and Philippe Robert into a popular cultural center and performance arena.
The City of Science and Industry, Europe’s largest science museum, is also on-site, fronted by the iconic Omnimax cinema, La Géode - a building constructed inside a giant silver ball. Film and music fans can even enjoy alfresco entertainment during the summer months, when the nearby Prairie du Triangle is transformed into an open-air cinema, and a number of music concerts and festivals are held in the park grounds.
Once a port for industry and trade, the Bassin de la Villette is now a Parisian hub for travelers looking to explore the arts and culture that make the City of Lights so unique. A popular youth hostel, three-star hotel, famous restaurants and plenty of live performance venues draw travelers to Bassin de la Villette, where it’s possible to escape the hustle of Paris streets and relax into the scenic waterway.
While this destination is worth a visit any time of year, the summer’s month-long Paris-Plage festival is among the best reasons to make a stop. Seaside banks become almost resort like as local rolls out deck chairs and floating wooden cafes pass by selling strong coffees and warm pastries. Public picnic areas and classic dance floors draw locals and tourists out of doors to pass summer nights swaying in the ocean breeze.
One of Paris’s most beloved cabarets, Au Lapin Agile has been delighting audiences in Montmartre for decades. The title translates to “The Nimble Rabbit” from French, originating from a painting of a rabbit jumping out of a hot frying pan. The small theater was once a hotspot for bohemian Parisian artists such as Picasso, Modigliani, Toulouse-Latrec, and Utrillo. Picasso helped to make the space famous with his 1905 painting of “At the Lapin Agile.”
The iconic pink cottage cabaret drew in some of Paris’s most eccentric characters, many of which carved their names into the original wooden tables that still remain today. Having opened in 1860, the Paris institution has long been a source of evening revelry, good food and drink, and French song and dance performance. It continues to be an authentic venue for all three today.
The striking edifice presiding over Paris' 5th arrondissement Latin Quarter, the historic La Sorbonne is renowned as one of the first European centers of higher education, housing the prestigious Collège de Sorbonne since its founding in 1257 by Robert de Sorbon.
It’s the building itself that garners the most attention, a sprawling campus rebuilt in 1653 by Cardinal de Richelieu to the designs of architect Jacques Lemercier. A blend of Baroque and Renaissance styles replaced the original medieval structure, but the last remaining building from this period is the iconic domed Romanesque Chapelle de la Sorbonne (the Chapel of La Sorbonne), where the sculpted tomb of Cardinal de Richelieu is housed. A wander through the Sorbonne courtyard and café-lined plaza offers views of the amphitheaters, library and observatory (which was reconstructed by Henri Paul Nénot in the late 19th-century), showcasing a picturesque variety of architectural styles.
If you were just walking by Clos Montmartre on a trip to the Sacre-Couer, you might assume it was just a particularly lovely community garden dotted with peach trees and vines. Actually, the Clos is the oldest working vineyard in Paris, and on clear days, from here you can see all the way out to the Eiffel Tower.
The best time to visit Clos Montmartre is during Fête des Vendanges — the harvest festival — when the grapes from the Clos are taken over to Montmartre town hall to be fermented and turned into around 1,500 bottles of gamay and pinot noir.
Tucked behind the Bastille in Eastern Paris, the Marché d’Aligre is one of the capital’s liveliest markets, mixing the traditional and the bohemian with plenty of rustic French charm. The market is split into two parts: the Marche Beauvau, one of the few remaining covered markets in the capital, and an outdoor flea market where everything from antiques and crafts (including many African and Asia works), to clothes and fresh flowers, is on sale. Seasonal fruits, vegetables and meat line the indoor stalls, alongside huge slabs of local cheeses, fresh oysters and delicious baked goods, and there are plenty of free samples available to challenge your taste buds.
The market is open Tuesday-Saturday from 9am-4pm, as well as Sunday mornings; although many stallholders take a break for lunch around 1pm. The surrounding streets are packed with bijou cafes and charming eateries where you can watch the world go by while sampling some fine cuisine.
The Musée National du Moyen Age - Thermes et Hote de Cluny is widely known as Musée de Cluny, after its home in the Gothic Hôtel de Cluny in the fifth arrondissement. Its two buildings house the Thermes de Cluny, cold-water pools dating back to Roman times; there is also the “Column of the Boatman,” originally discovered underneath Notre Dame and is the oldest-known sculpture in Paris.
The actual museum includes the iconic “The Lady and the Unicorn” that is the iconic example of medieval tapestry work. Also of note are the “illuminated manuscripts,” intricately decorated documents laden with gold and silver paints that make them appear as if they are lit from within.
Paris’ most famous independent bookstore, dating back to 1919, Shakespeare and Company Bookstore is renowned as the one-time haunt of literary icons like Ezra Pound, Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce and Ford Madox Ford.
The legendary Shakespeare and Company store was opened by American ingénue Sylvia Beach, who fashioned the shop into a creative haven where penniless writers congregated to share ideas, borrow books and even crash down on the shop floors. Sylvia even made history by publishing James Joyce's 1922 Ulysses when every other publisher refused. Situated in the art district of Paris' Left Bank, the original bookstore was located on Rue Dupuytren, before moving to larger premises on Rue de l’Odeon in 1922, then finally shutting its doors in 1941 during WWII German occupation.
Paris is full of art and antiquities – Greek, Roman, Renaissance, Modernist, painting, sculpture – after a while it can all become a bit overwhelming. The Musee du Quai Branly offers an alternative.
For starters, MQB as it’s known is a relative newcomer to the museum-scene of Paris. It opened in 2006 in a newly designed building by award-winning architect Jean Nouvel, alongside the River Seine and close to the Eiffel Tower. Its other point of difference is that its focus is on indigenous cultures, their arts, cultures and civilizations: Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas, bringing together several collections under one roof and with an emphasis on education and cultural understanding. The museum has around 300,000 items and at any one time displays around 3500 of them in changing displays and themed exhibitions. With rotating exhibitions and temporary installments there is always something interesting.
Place Dauphine is an iconic public square wedged between lavish townhouses on the western tip of Ile de la Cité in Paris. The square was the second project of the “royal squares program” instigated by Henri IV – the first one being what is now known as Place des Vosges – and was named after his son, soon-to-be Dauphin of France Louis XIII. To this day, it remains one of the most prestigious areas in the city.
The square’s – which is actually triangular in shape – westernmost corner connects to Pont Neuf, linking the right and left banks of the Seine River. Although the houses surrounding Place Dauphine were built in the early 1600s, only two have preserved their original features, i.e., the two located on either side of the narrow entrance leading to Pont Neuf. Nowadays, the oddly three-sided square is popular with both locals enjoying apéro and photographers searching for a quintessential Paris atmosphere.
La Madeleine church in Paris is one of the most striking building in the entire Faubourg Saint-Honoré. Rumour has it that it was built in order to mirror the Palais Bourbon – which houses the French National Assembly - on the opposite bank of the Seine river in order to create harmony between the clergy and the republic.
But in reality, La Madeleine was designed as a temple to Napoleon’s army and its glorious victories back in the early 1800s – which would certainly help explain why the church doesn’t actually look like a church (it doesn’t have a spire or bell-tower) but rather a lavish Greek temple. It was completed in 1828 and built in the Neo-Classical style and was inspired by an exceptionally well preserved Roman temple named Maison carrée in Nîmes; it now dominates the entire Faubourg Saint-Honoré, with its 52 20-meters high Corinthian columns.
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