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Paris Attractions

Paris is called ‘magnifique’ in so many ways, one cannot count them all:  Paris the ‘City of Love’.  Paris the ‘City of Lights’.  Paris is the city with some of the most extraordinary and diverse architecture in the world: it includes castles (Versailles which was built by Louis XIV, and one of the three most visited sites in France and Fontainebleau, another royal palace).  The Eiffel Tower (Tour Eiffel) is the most visited monument in France, and too the cathedrals and churches (Notre Dame a fine example of Gothic architecture and most visited Cathedral in Paris); also the St. Chapelle (for the stained glass windows) and the Conciergerie are favorite stops. The Latin Quarter is a favorite place to visit, and of course the Sorbonne.

Arc de Triomphe
Place Charles de Gaulle
01 43 80 31 31

The largest triumphal arch ever built in the tradition of Roman architecture was commissioned by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1806 as a tribute to his Grand Army. Construction stopped abruptly with the fall of Napoleon, but resumed eventually. The Arc was completed in 1836. In 1920 the unknown soldier was buried under it, and every evening at 6:30pm the flame is rekindled in memory of the war dead. A special service of remembrance is held each year on November 11.

Avenue des Champs-Élysées

A popular promenade for the well to do residents and visitors of a bygone era, the Avenue des Champs-Élysées has long symbolized the style and love of life of Paris. Even though it is now lined with fast food establishments, car showrooms, and cinemas, the magic remains. It provides a stirring sight by day or in its night time illumination, to look down its broad expanse to the stately Arc d’Triomphe. The one mile long, 235 foot wide street makes an ideal place for evening walks and some window shopping.

Centre National D’Art et de Culture Georges Pompidou
Place Beaubourg
01 44 78 12 33

The Centre Georges Pompidou, displays and promotes modern and contemporary art. It is the most visited sight in Paris. Built between 1972 and 1977, the building features an ultra modern design in which the structural elements provide the building’s outer face. The structure has recently begun to age, prompting face-lifts and closures of many parts of the center. Woven into this restoration are several galleries in which to shop for works of art. There is also a free, three-tiered library with over 2000 periodicals, including English-language newspapers and magazines from around the world. A square just to the west attracts street musicians and colorful characters.

Cimetière du Père Lachaise

This is Paris’s largest and most visited cemetery. Within the manicured, evergreen enclosure are the tombs of over one million people including the composer Chopin; the writers Molière, Apollinaire, Oscar Wilde, Balzac, Marcel Proust and Gertrude Stein; the artists David, Delacroix, Pissarro, Seurat and Modigliani; the actors Sarah Bernhardt, Simone Signoret and Yves Montand; the singer Édith Piaf; and the dancer Isadora Duncan. The most visited tomb is that of The Doors lead singer, Jim Morrison, who died in Paris in 1971. A site plan is available at the main entrance to help locate the graves.

The cemetery was once the site of a fierce battle between Communard insurgents and government troops. The rebels were eventually rounded up against a wall and shot, and were buried where they fell, in a mass grave.

Cité des Enfants

This is a science and nature interactive museum specifically for children ages 3-11 (one parent must accompany each child). Examples of activities in this extremely popular attraction are: in one room a group of young children are hard at work on a mini construction site, wearing plastic hard hats as they learn about machinery and methods of construction. In another area older children learn how to program a video game. An aquarium contains 200+ species of fish, crustaceans, mollusks, and seaweed.

Disneyland Paris
01 60 30 60 30

Disneyland Paris is part of a huge resort that is one-fifth the size of Paris! There are six hotels, an area of wooded campsites, restaurants, shops, golf and tennis, and night entertainment. The theme park offers five main areas: Main Street USA featuring exhibits and rides recalling small town America of the early 1900’s; Frontierland, a reenactment of the frontier days in the US with a steam powered train, a petting farm, and Indian village; Adventureland which has a pirate and buried treasure theme; Fantasyland with rides and exhibits based on Disney film characters; and Discoveryland which focuses on space exploration, rockets, beyond – earth planetary adventures, and time travel.

Eiffel Tower
Champ de Mars
01 44 11 23 23

Children will enjoy particularly the trip to the top and the excitement of looking out from that height. If you think you may ride instead of climbing up all the stairs, remember to go early and to go on a weekday ahead of the crowds to avoid the long waits for the elevators. On a clear day the viewing platforms offer visitors willing and able to wait in line for the elevators, a spectacular glimpse of the city and surrounding area.

Jardin des Plantes
Entrances – rue Cuvier, rue Buffon and Place Valhubert
01 40 79 30 00

The park is an ideal place to spend a relaxing afternoon where the children can be free to move about and explore as you watch them from one of the many benches shaded by trees. There is a small zoo and extensive gardens. One of these is the Jardin Alpin containing over 2000 species of plants from the Alps to the Himalayas. The Jardin d’Hiver houses heavily scented tropical plants and flowers. There is also a maze to solve and an herb garden filled with medicinal plants.

Les Catacombes
1 Place Denfert-Rocherau
01 43 22 47 63

In 1785, a solution was found to the overcrowded conditions in the city cemeteries. Beneath the city lay extensive remains of galleries that were associated with three ancient Roman stone quarries. The quarries, all in excellent condition, were cleaned and consecrated. They became cemeteries and are open for guided tours. The bones of the deceased are stacked neatly along the galleries on stone shelves. The tunnels, which were used by the Résistance during WWII as a headquarters, are south of the Seine.

Musée de la Marine (Navy Museum)
Place du Trocadéro
01 53 65 69 69

With the help of scale models and actual vessels, the museum gives the history of maritime transport from battleships to pleasure craft. Ships and ships artifacts of the explorers are included.

Musée du Louvre
9 Rue du Rivoli
01 40 20 51 51

This enormous building was constructed around 1200 to serve as a fortress while the King was away on crusades in the holy land. It was rebuilt in the mid-16th century for use as a royal palace, and began its career as a public museum in 1793 during the French Revolution. As part of President François Mitterrand’s futuristic grand projects in the 1980s, the Louvre was revamped and enlarged with the addition also of a 67ft. glass pyramid entrance. The museum is divided into seven departments ranging from Egyptian, Greek and Roman and Oriental sections through collections of paintings and sculpture, prints and drawings. There is so much of immense value to see in the Louvre, that it is best to obtain a copy of the museum guide in advance and plan for several visits to specific areas over the course of one’s time in Paris.

Notre Dame Cathedral
6 Place du Paris de Notre Dame
01 42 34 56 10

The city’s cathedral ranks as one of the greatest achievements of Gothic architecture. Notre Dame (the Cathedral of Our Lady) was begun in 1163 and completed around 1350. It stands on the Ile de la Cité, the oldest part of Paris. Notre Dame is the nucleus around which the capital city developed. The outside is as spectacular as the interior. The Cathedral is built to hold up to 9000 worshipers, but it is always packed with visitors during the times between church services. It is best to arrive early and allow enough time to walk around outside and inside in a leisurely way. The interior is dominated by enormous rose windows and a 7800-pipe organ that was recently restored. From the base of the north tower, physically fit visitors can climb to the top of the west façade and look above the cathedral’s gargoyles, and out over the city of Paris. Under the square in front of the cathedral an archaeological crypt displays the remains of structures from the Gallo-Roman and later periods.

Opéra Bastille
Place de la Bastille
01 40 01 19 70

The original use for the fortress known as the Bastille when it was built around 1370 was as a residence for Charles V. It was part of the fortifications just beyond the City Center on the Right Bank. During the reign of Louis XIII it became the state prison where both criminals and political dissidents were held. Some of the famous people once incarcerated there were the Man in the Iron Mask, the French finance minister, Fouquet and the philosopher, Voltaire. On July 14, 1789 there were a total of only 7 prisoners in the whole building, only one of whom was even vaguely connected with politics. The storming of the Bastille by the revolutionary forces was mainly symbolic of the fight of the common people of France for freedom from tyranny and for equality with their rulers. The Bastille was destroyed, and the seven prisoners released. Its fall sparked the spirit of freedom throughout the country. This event is celebrated annually on the square.

Place des Vosges
Musée Victor Hugo
6 Places de Vosges
01 42 72 10 16

In 1605, King Henri IV decided to turn the Marais district into Paris’ most exclusive residential area. Flanked by the Pavilion du Roi (King’s Pavilion) and the Pavilion de la Reine (Queen’s pavilion), the area was named Place Royale. His son, Louis XIII completed the project. None of the royal family ever actually lived there.

The remainder of the square is configured with 36 symmetrical houses each with a ground-floor arcade, steep slate roof, large dormer windows and vine covered walls. The first of the houses were built of brick, the rest were built rapidly and given timber frames and faced with plaster. The plaster was later painted to resemble brick. Duels, fought with strictly observed formality, were once staged in the elegant park in the middle which contains a statue of Louis XIII. From 1832-48 Victor Hugo lived at a house at No 6, which has now been turned into a museum. Cardinal Richelieu lived at No. 21. In 1800 the square was renamed Place des Vosges. Today, the arcades at street level are occupied by expensive galleries, shops, and cafes.

Sainte Chapelle
4 Boulevard du Palais
01 53 73 78 50

Lying inside the Palais de Justice (law courts), Sainte Chapelle was consecrated in 1248 and built to house what was reputedly Jesus’ crown of thorns and other relics purchased by King Louis IX earlier in the 13th century. The vaulted roof was designed to be supported by thin pillars separated by long, narrow stained glass windows . A few buttresses reinforce the structure which appears to be all of stained glass with no walls. The expanse of 13th-century stained glass (the oldest in Paris), is best viewed from the law courts’ main gilded 18th century gate. Over 1000 scenes from the Old and New Testaments are depicted on the windows and give the impression of reading the Bible in pictures as one walks around the chapel.

Place d’ Armes
01 30 84 74 00

In 1661, Louis XIV, the Sun King, commissioned the building of a castle for himself on the site of a chateau built for his father in 1631. The project became the palace at Versailles. It took 50 years to design, build and landscape the property. The King and his court of 3000 people moved there in 1682, and it became the political center of France for the next 107 years. In 1789, the French Revolution caused changes to be made. The furniture was sold and the chateau fell into disrepair. In 1837, Louis-Phillippe converted it into a museum of French history. The castle was restored after World War I with the financial help of John D. Rockefeller. Versailles has slowly regained its original elegance.

The gardens were designed geometrically with the canal and the various ponds, flower beds and sculptures all blending in a harmonious pattern. The tour of the palace, the Trianons (lesser palaces) and the grounds could easily take a full day. Be sure to bring a camera as you will want to remember the wonders of this enchanting place.

Zoo de Paris
53 Avenue de St. Maurice
01 44 75 20 10

This is one of the largest zoos in Europe. The grounds are beautifully landscaped, and the animal habitats are very natural. A highlight is the 200 foot artificial mountain laid out to support several platforms which is home to herds of free ranging mountain goats.