When I first visited Paris nearly 20 years ago, I thought it must surely be the greatest city in the world. The elegant cream-colored architecture topped with slate-blue roofs and clay-pot chimneys, the wide boulevards lined with bustling sidewalk cafes enchanted me. Dashing French boys and Nutella crepes wooed me. My memories of Paris were so sweet that I had avoided returning because I didn’t want them trampled on by reality. But the lure of the City of Light finally won out, and do you know what? It was BETTER than I remembered!
I spent eight days wandering around Paris in a blissful daze (food coma?), revisiting favorite sites and discovering new ones along the way. Since we were going to explore the city for so long, we invested in the six-day museum pass which saved us money and time. It also encouraged us to visit a few places we might otherwise have skipped, like Napoleon’s Tomb and the Museum of the Middle Ages, both of which made this list. Read on to find out which other spots in Paris I loved.
Of all the museums in Paris, I was most excited to visit the Musee d’Orsay, home to the world’s largest collection of Impressionist art. We arrived when the museum opened and, thanks to our museum-pass access, were able to jump the line and enjoy the Impressionist gallery in peace and quiet. The masterpieces of Monet, Manet, Renoir, Cezanne, Degas, Sisley, and Pissarro are displayed by year, providing fascinating insight into what was once considered a revolutionary style of painting. Many of the artworks were gifts of Gustave Caillebotte, an artist himself and a contemporary of his more famous friends. In fact, Caillebotte’s painting “les raboteurs de parquet” (the floor scrapers) was one of my favorites.
But the Musee d’Orsay has more to offer than just the Impressionists’ collected works. Here you can find paintings by Vincent Van Gogh, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Paul Gaugiun, and Eugene Delacroix, among many others, along with sculptures and objets d’art. I also enjoyed wandering through the rooms of Art Nouveau furnishings and decor.
Originally designed in 1898 as a train station, the Musee d’Orsay building is a work of art in itself, notable for its cavernous space and picturesque clocks.
I have been enthralled with Notre Dame de Paris ever since I watched the lovable Quasimodo swing through the rafters in Disney’s “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” While my first two trips to Paris focused on the cathedral’s impressive interior, this time I wanted to get up close and personal with the gargoyles and bells that kept Quasimodo company in the film. So we waited in line nearly two hours before clambering up over 400 steps to the top of the north tower, where we came face to face with Notre Dame’s famous chimeras. Oh, and did I mention the view? Totally worth the wait – and the climb!
On my first trip to Paris, my teenage friends and I were mistaken for the cast of Beverly Hills 90210 on the observation deck of the Eiffel Tower. I’m pretty sure we even posed for photos. Since that experience couldn’t possibly be improved upon (and I’d already enjoyed sweeping views of Paris from atop Notre Dame) this time I was content to admire the city’s most famous landmark from the ground. Especially since the sparkling light show was new since my last visit.
In addition to the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists, I’m also a fan of Pablo Picasso and have several prints of his Peace drawings hanging in my apartment. The artist went through many creative phases, from his Blue Period to Cubism, meaning there’s something for just about everyone’s tastes. Although Picasso was born in Spain, he spent much of his adult life in France, so it’s only fitting he should have his own museum in Paris. The bulk of the collection was given to France by Picasso’s heirs in lieu of a hefty inheritance tax. Dozens of Picasso’s paintings and sculptures along with photographs of his life are spread across three floors of the Hotel Sale, the 17th century home of a salt tax collector – a career that seems to have been quite lucrative.
*Frustratingly not included on the Paris Museum Pass, I thought the Picasso Museum was worth the separate entrance fee.
Musee National du Moyen Age
I am completely fascinated by the Middle Ages and like to read books about the plague, ancient royalty and the Renaissance. (Hey, to each her own!) Europe, aka the Old Continent, tends to be a good place to indulge this interest by way of medieval fortifications and ossuaries. But even though Paris was founded in the third century BC, little remains of the old city thanks to repeated Viking attacks, floods, fires and wars. Miraculously, many artifacts survived and can be found in the Musee de Cluny – Musee National du Moyen Age, home to the finest collection of medieval art in the world. Pride of place goes to the gorgeous 15th century the Lady and the Unicorn tapestries, but the museum’s assortment of household items, religious paraphernalia, and stone sculptures are all worth a gander.
The building, the Hotel de Cluny, was the 15th century abode of the abbots of Cluny, an ancient Benedictine Order. It was constructed on the ruins of the city’s original Gallo-Roman baths, part of which can be visited today.
No visit to Paris would be complete without a little retail therapy, and there’s no better place to shop ’til you drop than the Galeries Lafayette. The main building, an Art Nouveau gem completed in 1912, features 10 floors of retail space under a gorgeous stained-glass dome. Shopping not your thing? Head to the rooftop terrace for a free panorama of the city!
Maybe it’s because I’m American, and most of our public transportation systems are found wanting (NYC excepted), but I enjoy riding the Paris metro. Train service is fast and far-reaching, and the stations are clean and eye-catching. Plus, the current public service campaign – which I’ve dubbed “don’t behave like an animal” – is absolutely adorable.
Musee de l’Armee
Remember how I said I geek out over anything having to do with the Middle Ages? Well, that goes double for medieval armaments! I could have spent hours marveling over the weapons and armor, including suits once worn by France’s kings. The collection, much of which was confiscated during the French Revolution, is the largest in the country. The Army Museum is inside the Hotel National des Invalides, a 17th century home for disabled war veterans created by Louis XIV.
Napoleon, along with his son, two brothers and a handful of top generals are entombed under the Dome des Invalides, the erstwhile royal chapel within the complex.
Specialty Food Stores
In Paris, if you need bread you go to the boulangerie, cheese to the fromager. There are shops for meat, fish, truffles, wine, eclairs, and everything else in between. We spent a considerable amount of time in the Maille boutique sampling all the mustard – and bought more to take home than we can consume in a year – but where else can you find fresh mustard with black truffle bits ON TAP?
And while not a specific place, it was fun to explore Parisian neighborhoods and spot the colorful-yet-discreet Space Invader tile mosaics.
Have you been to Paris? What are some of your favorite haunts in the city?