I’ve been thinking a lot lately about taking another visit to Paris. Although I’m not sure when that trip may be in the cards, I thought I would highlight my top five favorite Paris attractions—if it doesn’t get me booking a ticket, maybe it will spur you on!?!
Ancient meets medieval at the Musee de Cluny, housed in the former town house of the abbots of Cluny (1300s-1400s), treasures of the Middle Ages fill the unique Gothic building designed with Renaissance elements. Visitors can see the famed tapestries depicting The Lady and the Unicorn, as well as original statues from Notre Dame and other medieval artifacts. To the side of the monastery are ancient Roman baths dating from the 2nd century AD. It’s a visual feast! Although right in the busy Latin Quarter and boasting top-notch art in a historic architectural marvel, the Musee de Cluny doesn’t have the throngs of crowds that other art museums in Paris attract.
Speaking of gorging on art, the Louvre draws visitors by the millions—and well it should. Holding some of the world’s greatest masterpieces, the former palace isn’t too shabby either. Visitors can see the palace’s medieval underpinnings dating from the 12th century, as well as more recent (still a few centuries old) additions. Gaze up at frescoed ceilings, descend down elaborate staircases, look out wrought-iron windows at the gardens, or view the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, the Winged Victory of Samothrace, The Wedding at Cana, Liberty Leading the People, and so much more! Warning: the lines can get quite long—you may want to consider buying a museum pass or tickets to a tour (like the one from The Tour Guy—use our link for discount).
Auguste Rodin was one of the great La Belle Epoque artists. His work expressed the optimism, peace, innovation, and prosperity (for some) of La Belle Époque (1871-1914). Like other nouveau artists of the day, Rodin’s work ran hot and cold. His statues were both genius and scandalous. During the Great War, Rodin donated his entire collection to France; his museum opened the year after the war ended. He desired that his museum be located at the impressive Hotel Biron (hotel describes a mansion) where his statutes could stand among rose gardens. I can’t imagine that a finer place could have been selected. Eve looks bashful hiding among bushes. The Thinker gazes contemplatively at roses. In the mansion, a nude couple, surrounded by mirrors, embrace in The Kiss. Wandering around the grounds, you can catch a glimpse of the gilded dome above Napoleon’s porphyry tomb. The Musee Rodin is perfectly splendid—an oasis of calm in the bustling 7th arrondissement.
This former prison where Marie Antoinette was jailed before losing her head is an architectural and historical treasure. Clovis, the first French king, established his royal residence on this site, but it was Louis IX (1214-1270) who installed a royal chapel (Sainte-Chapelle). His grandson, Philip IV (1268-1314), turned the palace into the seat of the Parlement de Paris, commissioned the Hall of Men-at-Arms, fortified the building, and added the towered façade that runs along the Seine. Charles V moved from the residence in 1358, but the building stayed an administrative center. It was Charles V who appointed a “concierge” to run the Palace and the prison thus giving the place its name—Conciergerie. Visitors can see the great “Hall of Men-At-Arms” with its buttressed ceilings and fireplaces large enough to fit a person inside, as well as the gardens, prison cells, offices, and other rooms of its last iteration.
Located nearby is the Marais—a delightful district that is one of my favorites. It has fabulous architecture, wonderful shops, and great eateries. In all, it is pretty perfect. While wandering down cobblestone lanes on a Sunday afternoon, I kept encountering antique markets (brocante). It seemed that every medieval arch I found led to a courtyard where vendors were selling their vintage wares. Even if there are no brocantes being held while you’re there, stroll around and see the Hotel de Sens (a late 15th century mansion), the Hotel de Ville (city hall dating from 14th century), the Hotel de Carnavalet (building dating from 16th century now hosting a history museum) and the Place des Vosges—a ritzy building complex (early 17th century) where Victor Hugo lived (you can tour his home). I guarantee you will be on sensory overload from seeing so many architecturally-rich buildings. Make sure to have a meal in the Marais. I found their cafes to be some of the best with a nary a tourist trap in sight. Tip: Listen to hear if patrons are speaking French. Look for menus in French. Avoid places with menu boards that have pictures of the food.
I had a difficult time choosing my final “favorite” spot, because there are many places in Paris that vie for my attention, but the sheer energy surrounding this famous tower is what garners it a spot in my top five favorite places. Located in the 7th arrondisement, there are great eateries (check out the market and shops on Rue Cler) in the area. Created for the Exposition Universelle (World’s Fair) in 1889, Gustave Eiffel designed a sky-scraping, engineering marvel that would define its time. It gave the fair a needed exhibit that symbolized the Industrial Age and man’s control over nature. The Eiffel Tower is a testament to its designer, its laborers, and its time. As when it first opened, the monument still receives visitors from around the world, so reserve your spot online. While looking down at non-reservation holders lining up as far as the eye can see, you will be happy you did. Tickets to the summit (very top) sell out quickly online, so purchase as soon as they go on sale.
These are my top five Paris attractions, but you can’t travel to the City of Lights and not take a trip to the beautiful palace at Versailles. It is a 17th century marvel not to be missed. Feast on its over-the-top décor. Fancy yourself a courtier of Louis XIV. Take the day to explore the grounds and revel in all that was pre-revolution monarchical France. I highly recommend going with The Tour Guy who offer small-groups, will escort you there from Paris, and will help you skip the very-long line (use our link to save money).
I hope you enjoy a wonderful trip to Paris! While you’re there, make sure to enjoy a favorite sandwich of mine—jambon et beurre. It’s salty prosciutto ham with creamy butter on a crusty baguette. Mon Dieu!
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