Visiting Paris? Keep Calm & Read On!
Visiting Paris? A visit to Paris is on many (if not all) travelers’ bucket lists. The French capital attracts millions of tourists yearly and as a result, a wealth of travel information about Paris already exists. Traveling to the much-visited city can be overwhelming with all the information about where you “must-go”. Paris is also physically larger than most other “big” European cities making public transport or driving necessary in between most major sites.
On my first visit to Paris, I too had a list of things I wanted to see and things I wanted to do. Truthfully, most of my checklist was made up of which pastries I wanted to eat. I managed to eat more than my fair share of pastries and checked them all off from my list! However, I only managed to check off about half of my “must-see/visit” items. But that’s totally okay because as I roamed the city, or found myself in a cool part of town by accident, I was able to add some great stuff to my “have experienced” list. That’s what’s great about traveling (and life). As John Lennon put it, “life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.”
I want to share the list of sights to visit and things to do while in Paris – some are a result of my wandering, some are suggestions from friends and family, some from Parisians themselves and some from my research on the world wide web! Some I’ve done but some I haven’t (yet). Please share your own below, so that we may all continue to grow our lists and appreciate the magic of exploring cities slowly.
Adding to your Paris bucket list
The islands of Paris
Île de la Cité and Île Saint-Louis are the two islands in the Seine, at the centre of the city – the former located in the 1st arrondissement and latter in 4th. Both are beautiful, cobblestoned and tree-lined islands offering refuge from the busy city. The smaller of the two, Île Saint-Louis, is lined with quaint shops and boutiques like the candy and chocolate shop, Maison Moinet. The islands are perfect for strolling and shopping for something special to bring home to loved ones. I bought a beautiful vintage candy tin (from the 1930s) at Maison Moinet.
On Île de la Cité, you can visit the spectacular French gothic church, Sainte-Chapelle (pictured above). The vast stained glass windows covering the upper-level walls are breathtaking – they are truly no words to describe its beauty. In addition to Sainte-Chapelle, Cité also houses the historic Notre-Dame. With its majestic organ and rose window, Notre-Dame is also not to be missed!
Montmartre is the neighbourhood that’ll have you thinking to yourself (or saying aloud), “this is Paris!” Overlooking the city atop the Montmartre hill, the charming neighbourhood used to be home to major artists (and their studios) from the Belle Époque (like van Gogh and Monet). Some say that Montmartre has lost its charm (“overcrowding” or “too many tourists”) but I disagree. I started by window-shopping along the lovely rue des Abbesses and was even more charmed as I ventured further into Montmartre’s small, cobble-stoned streets.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that in Paris, the cemeteries are just as picturesque as the rest of the city. There are over a dozen cemeteries to explore, with Père- Lachaise as the most frequented by tourists. Many important historical figures are buried here, including Chopin and Oscar Wilde. Other notable cemeteries include Montmartre and Saint-Vincent, where you can walk along rows of intricate burial stones decorated with fresh flowers and numerous aging copper statues, tarnishing beautifully. You can visit this website for more information on the cemeteries of Paris.
Maze-like, beneath the city lay the remains of 6 million souls in the catacombs of Paris. From existing cemeteries, the bones were transported to what is now a unique museum beneath the city centre.
The many covered passages
You’ll find them throughout the city – Paris’ covered passages offer shortcuts and shelter from the elements but work more as life-size reminders of art nouveau. The passages are elegant with their glass-ceilings, fancy boutiques and cafés.
And of course, like most classic Paris bucket lists: a walk along the Seine, strolling along les Champs Élysées and watching the Eiffel Tower light up against the night sky. And the best place to see the tower light up? Sources agree: from Champ de Mars or Trocadéro Gardens. A lesser-known way to see the Tower is by taking the subway aerial line 5 – I must credit an ex-colleague of mine, who spent a few years living in Paris. He also recommended a visit to the Institut du Monde Arabe. And let’s not forget, my favourite: eating all the pastries in Paris.