Things to Do in Paris - page 2
The French National Library (Bibliotheque Nationale de France) is a major research and conservation library that dates back to the Middle Ages. The library’s collections contain 14 million books and printed documents, and nearly 150,000 documents are added to the collections every year. The library is comprised of four main buildings: Site François-Mitterrand, the center for digital projects and collections; Site Richelieu-Louvois, which houses the departments of manuscripts, prints, cartography, music, theater, coins and medals; Site de L’Arsenal, containing the library of the French arsenal (more than a million books are in this building alone); and the Bibliothèque – Musée de l’Opéra, with collections related to the National Opera of Paris and the Comic Opera Theater.
Gare du Nord is one of the six major train stations in Paris, with service to London, Brussels, Amsterdam and other destinations north of the French capital. Strictly speaking, Gare du Nord is the busiest railway station in Europe and the busiest in the world outside Japan with over 700,000 passengers every day for a grand yearly total of 190 million. Because of the role it plays in Paris’ daily transports, Gare du Nord was featured in many movies, including Ocean’s Twelve, the Bourne Identity and The Da Vinci Code.
The train station itself was built in the 1860s and comprises 36 platforms, including a separate terminal for the Eurostar trains which require security and customs checks. The U-shaped terminal is made out of cast iron and stone, including the statues that decorate the main entrance – each representing destinations outside of France.
Place de la Bastille is one of the more well-known squares in Paris and occupies an important place in French history. This is where the Bastille Prison stood until 1789, when this 'symbol of royalist tyranny' was stormed on July 14 during the French Revolution. No trace of the Bastille prison remains but the square is still a place where Parisians go to raise their voices in political protest.
In the middle of the square stands the July column, commemorating the three-day July Revolution of 1830. yet another overthrowing of a French king.
These days the Bastille is a large traffic roundabout and the surrounding area is known for its bars, cafes, and nightclubs. It is home to the Opera Bastille, a marina for pleasure boats and the Canal Saint Martin.
Bisected by the Axe Historique, the 70-acre (28-hectare) formal Jardin des Tuileries are where Parisians once paraded their finery. The gardens were laid out in the mid-17th century by André Le Nôtre, the green thumb behind the Palace of Versailles. Trees are capped at a height of 7ft (2.2m) and rigorously trimmed so the gardens maintain their formality. Flowers are planned to certain heights and color schemes with up to 70,000 bulbs planted each year.
Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the paths, ponds, and old-fashioned merry-go-round here are as enchanting as ever for a stroll. At the Louvre end, twenty sculptures by Maillol hide amongst the yew hedges.
Place du Tertre is a famous square in the Montmartre neighborhood of Paris known for its artists and bohemian crowd. It is located just a few meters from Basilique du Sacré-Coeur and close to where painters like Picasso and Modigliani used to live and work; at the time, Montmartre was called the capital of modern art in the early 20th century. In fact, there is a museum dedicated to the works of Salvador Dali a few steps from Place du Tertre. Its other claim to fame dates back to 1898, when Louis Renault’s first automobile was driven up the steep Montmartre hills, kickstarting the lucrative automotive industry in France.
The 8th arrondissement (neighborhood), one of Paris’ 20 districts, is probably best known for the famous boulevard Champs-Élysées. With sidewalks lined by trees, high-end shops, and fashion boutiques, the boulevard is also home to the Arc de Triomphe and the Place de la Concorde, as well as the Élysée Palace (the official residence of the President of France). On one end of the Champs-Élysées is the Arc de Triomphe, which offers sweeping views of the city from its top. On the other end of the Champs-Élysées is the Grand Palais, an historic building dedicated “to the glory of French art.” The Grand Palais is now a museum and an exhibition hall that is home to an impressive art collection. The 8th arrondissement is probably best known as a retail district, where posh shoppers come to sip a beverage at one of the area’s numerous cafes or restaurants, then browse name-brand boutiques like Chanel, Christian Dior, and Louis Vuitton.
The Centre Pompidou is a museum dedicated to European contemporary and modern art. Featuring a music hall with live performances, films, theatre, literature, spoken word, and visual art, the Centre Pompidou is one of the most culturally significant and visited attractions in Paris.A brilliant piece of post-modern architecture, the Centre Pompidou was designed by the Italian architect Renzo Piano and the British designer Richard Rogers. The design of the museum has an ‘open-approach’ with all of its functional systems (plumbing, electrical, circulation, and climate control) visible and color coded from the outside.
Featuring the artwork of legends like Matisse, Duchamp, Jackson, and Picasso, the museum provides a thorough history of modern art. With the New Media Collection and Film Center, the Centre Pompidou also showcases the talents of Europe’s fines installation, film, video, and sound artists.
The Petit Palais, as you can imagine, is the smaller of the two museums on Avenue Winston Churchill, between the Champs-Élysées and the Pont Alexandre III. Unlike many museums in Paris, it was built (in 1900) specifically as an exhibition space, as evidenced by its abundance of soft natural light and open spaces. It is now home to the Musée des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris.
Its collection covers a wide range of styles and eras, from medieval paintings to 19th-century sculpture. Fans of Monet and Cézanne will enjoy their lesser-known works, and there's plenty of Rubens, Rembrandt and Rodin to go around.
Paris has been around for millennia; but it wasn't until 1605, when King Henry IV built what was then-called Place Royale, that a public square was planned into the city's landscape. It's now known as the Place des Vosges, and to this day remains largely unchanged since its inauguration in 1612.
It's easy to call any public area in a major city an “oasis,” but Place des Vosges truly lives up to the description. It's in Le Marais, which is already a relatively quiet arrondissement; but once you step through the arches, the stately residences seem to absorb any city noise and the arcades that cover the sidewalks add to its hushed ambiance. It's a good place to go to take a load off after trekking around the city all day.
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.
More Things to Do in Paris
Paris’ Arts Bridge, or Pont des Arts (sometimes known as the Passerelle des Arts), runs across the Seine River, linking the Cour Carrée (central square) of the Palais du Louvre on the North Bank with the landmark Institut de France on the South Bank. The famous pedestrian bridge was first erected in 1802 under Napolean I, but today’s design dates back to 1984 when it was rebuilt following a series of boat collisions and collapses.
Designed by Louis Arretche, the metal arched bridge has not only become an important landmark of old age Paris, but a popular vantage point, affording spectacular views along the Seine. With its wide walkway and picnic benches, the bridge has long been used as more than just a crossing point – artists, photographers and painters flock to the area, and the bridge is regularly used for small-scale open-air art exhibitions.
As is common in Europe, the St Germain des Prés neighborhood is named after its church, in this case the sixth-century Benedictine Église de St-Germain-des-Prés, named after St Germain, in honor of the Bishop of Paris. We have this church to thank for the student-led vibe of the area; they donated the land from the church to the Seine and to the University of Paris, thus creating the Latin Quarter that we know and love today.
The main street in the neighborhood, in the sixth arrondissement, is the Haussmann-designed Boulevard St Germain. It has chic stores and plenty of cafes for people watching. In fact, the romance of whiling away the hours at a cafe was practically born in St Germain des Prés, at historic Les Deux Magots and Café de Flore.
The world of Parisian cabarets dates back to the late 1800s, but the iconic Crazy Horse didn’t make its debut until 1951. It has been making waves ever since as a way to pay homage to a long-standing part of Parisian nightlife.
Pulling back the curtain on this storied cabaret, patrons can expect an evening of provocative yet sophisticated entertainment. The sultry performances are grandiose; the talented female dancers move across the stage with ease and the colorful lighting plays a major role in the dance numbers.
The cabaret underwent a makeover in 2005, when new management brought in some of the world’s top names to perform, including Dita von Teese and even Pamela Anderson. It's all a bit cheeky, 100 percent classy and a one-of-a-kind show, the original Parisian event.
An idyllic stretch of greenery encircling the iconic pinnacle of the Eiffel Tower, the Champs de Mars is one of the most popular of Paris' parks. Named after Rome’s Campus Martius, a tribute to the Roman God of War, Champs de Mars was originally designed as a military training area for the nearby Ecole Militaire (Military School), but became an important arena for national events when it opened to the public back in 1780. Many key moments throughout the French Revolution took place here - including the first Fête de la Fédération (Federation Day or Bastille Day) in 1790, the legendary Festival of the Supreme Being in 1794, and it was the site of the 1791 Champs de Mars massacre - a bloody demonstration against King Louis XVI.
The Panthéon was originally meant to be the final resting place of the relics of Ste-Genevieve, but it now serves as a deconsecrated, non-denominational mausoleum of some of France's most revered artists and writers, such as Rousseau, Voltaire, Zola and, most recently after an exhumation and the moving of his coffin, Dumas. It also has a tribute to the French Jews who survived the horrors of World War II.
But visitors often find their gaze divided between the final resting places of these distinguished Frenchmen and the stunning, vaulted open space that remains from its construction, completed in 1790. The Panthéon is one the world's best examples of early Neoclassical architecture. Don't forget to stay a moment on the exterior stairs and enjoy the view of the Eiffel Tower.
It's easy to pass by the Palais-Royal in Paris's first arrondissement; there is so much around it of note, and visitors are either rushing past to get to the Louvre, or wiped out after an afternoon at that world-famous museum. But its gardens, which are free and open to the public, are an oasis in this otherwise tourist-heavy neighborhood that's practically hidden in plain sight – so keep it in mind when you want to take a load off after trekking through the Louvre.
Originally the home of Cardinal Richelieu, it was built in the 1630s and after the Cardinal's death fell into the hands of King Louis XIII. Today it is the location of the Ministry of Culture and a branch of the National Library.
When the weather is warm Parisians of all ages flock to the formal terraces and chestnut groves of Luxembourg Gardens, the lung of the Left Bank located in St-Germain. There are art galleries, activities, and plenty of room to run about.
At the Grand Bassin, model sailboats can be rented, while at the pint-sized Théâtre du Luxembourg, visitors are treated to a complete theater experience in miniature: in a hall filled with child-sized seats, marionettes put on shows whose antics can be enjoyed even if you don't understand French. Just north of the theater, kids of up to 35kg (75lbs) can ride Shetland ponies. Less rider-friendly, you can visit the 'ruches' (beehives), established here in 1856. There are also numerous sporting fields and facilities. For higher-brow visitors, the early-20th-century Musée du Luxembourg at 19 Rue de Vaugirard is dedicated to presenting the work of living artists. The Palais du Luxembourg is worth a look.
Built from 1969 until 1972, this building was the tallest in France, from the moment it was built up to the year 2011. Tour Montparnasse may not be much to look at from the outside. After all, it shares the skyline with the Eiffel Tower and is in the same city as architectural gems like the Louvre, Notre-Dame, Sacre Coeur and the Panthéon. And the SNCF train station in its foundation doesn't have much to admire, either.
It's not until you get to the 56th observation floor that visiting Tour Montparnasse becomes entirely worth it. The view from the Eiffel Tower is wonderful, sure – but the view from Tour Montparnasse has the Eiffel Tower in it! And on a nice day, the rooftop terrace on top of all 59 floors has a 360-degree view of Paris that is nothing short of breathtaking.
Laid out along the River Seine in the 12th arrondissement of Paris, the 14-hectare Parc de Bercy is one of the city’s newest parks, laid out in 1994–97 as part of an urban rejuvenation project on the site of former wine warehouses. The park has three themed zones: the fountain-filled Grande Prairie is shaded by mature trees and is overlooked to the northeast by the Cinémathèque Française, designed by Frank Gehry of Guggenheim Bilbao fame; Les Parterres are laid out in formal style, with vegetable and flower gardens as well as an orchard and vineyard; the Jardin Romantique (Romantic Garden) is adorned with lily ponds and bizarre statuary.
The Bercy Arena, one of Paris’s biggest cultural and sporting venues, stands at the northwest side of the park. Opposite is the cute BercyVillage, built in the remnants of the Bercy wine cellars, which now house a shopping mall with bars and restaurants.
A rock music temple if there ever was one, the Hard Rock brand doesn’t require an introduction; not with 170 establishments worldwide! Both a restaurant, a bar and a museum, this peculiar Paris attraction has been drawing in rock music aficionados for over two decades now, thanks to an impressive collection of authentic memorabilia and mouth-watering American-themed menu (something seldom found in grands chefs-driven Paris). Loud rock music, a relaxed atmosphere, original cocktails and humongous quantities of food await at Paris’ most American institution.
Golden records, guitars, costumes and other iconic memorabilia can be found at the restaurant’s two-floor museum. Some of the most popular items include Jimmy Hendrix’s paisley jacket, Whitney Houston’s gown, AC/DC’s Angus Young’s iconic school boy costume, John Lennons’s fox coat, Trent Reznor’s broken Gibson Les Paul guitar, Eminem’s overalls, to name a few.
When in Paris, do what the French do and head to Galeries Lafayette to shop. Here you’ll find ten floors full of designer fashion, plus accessories, shoes, perfumes and nearly a whole floor of lingerie. Well, what did you expect? This is Paris. And all of it enclosed under a 1900s Belle Epoque dome. Riding the escalators through the middle of that glass and steel glowing-golden dome, you feel special. As you will climbing the Art Nouveau staircases. This is not just shopping, this is an experience.
If you want some true French fashion guidance there is a free weekly fashion show on Friday afternoons (you need to book ahead). But it’s that dome which just continues to give the whole place a sense of luxury and opulence; this could well be the most elegant department store in the world.
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