Wednesday, July 6, 2011

What to See and Do in Paris

What to See and Do

Visit Notre Dame – We didn’t go up into the towers because of the queues and the intense heat, but there’s a public square in front of the cathedral and just seeing those famous gargoyles is enough. There are plenty of cafes on Ile de Cite that sell amazing crepes and Croque Monsieur, perfect to eat in the shadow of Notre Dame.

See the Pantheon – again we didn’t go in because of queues and funds, but it’s a couple hundred metres from Luxembourg Gardens, so if you go to the gardens, the Pantheon building itself is worth a side trip.

Stroll through Luxembourg Gardens – sit on the side of the fountain and cool your feet in the dirty water, and then stroll through the dust paths and get them dirty all over again. It’s nothing like home but it’s Parisian and you learn to love it.

Visit the Louvre – Don’t wait in the massive queue, and don’t pay the 10 euro unless you’re spending the day there. Entry is free the first Sunday of every month and on Friday evenings 6-10pm if you’re under 26. The map they give you makes no sense whatsoever. In an ideal world I’d go on the free day, go early and get lost. And yes, Mona Lisa is small, but there’s nothing like turning a corner and seeing her Mona Lisa smile in real life.

Go to Disneyland – it’s around 52 euros for 1 day at Disneyland or 62 for 1 day but with access to Disneyland and Walt Disney Studios. In hindsight I think it’s worth it to get access to both parks so you can do all the best rides from each, however we didn’t see all of Disneyland in one day so it’s a bit hit and miss. Either way it’s awesome and even as an adult there’s a little thrill when you turn a corner and see Mickey Mouse.

Bask in the glow of Versaille – Leave a whole day for Versaille. Definitely buy tickets in advance, the queue is crazy long. We didn’t get audioguides for the palace because there was a queue but in hindsight I wish we had, I think they’re about 6 euro and it’s so much cooler when you know more about what you’re looking at. When you get the the gardens, hire a bike. Versaille is amazing!

See the Arc de Triomphe, stroll down Champ d’Elysee, see Place de la Concorde and rest in Jardin des Tuileries – all of this can be done in half a day. Get off the Metro at Charles d’Gaulle Etoile and ride out of the ground to stand before the Arc de Triomphe and then turn around and walk down Champ d’Elysee. Everything is in one long line, crowned by the Arc de Triomphe, which you can go to the top of for 9 Euros. At the end is the Louvre and even if you don’t go in, the building is spectacular.

Go to the top of the Eiffel Tower – I heard that you don’t need to go to the top because the second floor (half way up) is enough, and cheaper. I’m pretty sure that was said by people that stopped at the second floor and never saw the top. Go to the top. Also, make sure you see the tower at night, between the hour and 10 past. It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before.

Sit in a street café – Outside every café is 3 or 4 rows of tables, all of the chairs facing out into the street in perfect rows, as if they’re there to see a show. In a way, they are. People watching is a Parisian sport, and I don’t think I truly ‘did’ Paris until I sat at a street café and just took it all in.

Visit Shakespeare and Co – an old book shop opened many moons ago, closed by the Nazi’s, reopened 20 years later and now run by the daughter of the man who reopened it – he even named her after the original owner. The aisles are narrow, the corners plentiful. Books are from floor to ceiling, crammed in every space, with rolling ladders to give you reach. Upstairs is a reading room and an old lady playing piano in a side room, surrounded by piles of books on the floor and oblivious to everything except the piano.

What Not to See and Do

Make a special detour for the Fountain of St Michel – Lonely Planet would have you believe the fountain is amazing and the public square is grand. It’s not. The fountain is cool but it’s just like every other fountain. On the bright side, Shakespeare and Co is nearby.

Expect grass – The only grass you can sit on is at the Eiffel Tower. Otherwise you’ll be told to move by a cop or the automatic sprinklers will turn on. Thankfully only the former happened with us, and the cop was friendly! Once you get used to the metal seats and the dust, it’s actually kind of nice, just not a park as we know it.

Try to see everything – even with the same number of things to see over the same space, Paris is not London or New York. If I did it again, I’d pick one thing a day, do or see that, and then spend the rest of my time lying in the sun, on a metal chair or under the Eiffel Tower.

What I Wish I did

Catacombs – caves built underground, lined and decorated with the bones of millions of humans. Who wouldn’t want to see it?

Sacre Coeur – A basilica on the highest point in Paris, but too far to walk to. We saw it from the top of the Eiffel Tower and I wish I had seen it lit up at night.

Moulin Rouge – The shows are crazy expensive but even just to see the windmill – it’s near the Sacre Coeur and this time round we just couldn’t get there.

Penelope_nz's Paris, France photoset Penelope_nz's Paris, France photoset