Paris for Explorers
Where to Stay: Île St. Louis for a short walk to the Notre Dame, the Marais, and the Latin Quarter. You can't be more central than an island in the middle of the Seine. Or, St. Germain des Prés for exploring the Left Bank, Latin Quarter, the Rodin and Orsay museums, and a quick walk across the Seine to the Louvre.
Must Pack: Paris MapGuide by Michael Middleditch (Penguin books). It is small, light, and is easily stashed in a purse or folded into a suit pocket. Also, bring a good pair of walking shoes.
Recommended Reading: Pariswalks by Alison Landes, Sonia Landes
Top Experiences for Explorers
1. Become a Flaneur - A "flaneur" is a stroller, who goes wherever his/her curiosity leads, collecting impressions on the way. Paris is best seen on foot as a flaneur. Leave your itinerary behind and aimlessly wander. Each quarter is beautiful and holds its own unique charms and treasures. Some of our favorites include the Marais, St. Germain des Prés, and the Latin Quarter.
2. Walks with Breathtaking Birds-Eye Views of Paris - The three walks below contain something for everyone - history, culture, gardens and each walk finishes with an ascent to a breath-taking view over the rooftops of Paris.
- Montmartre - Up to Sacré-Coeur - Montmartre was the home to many of the French impressionists and is still an area populated by artists. Wander up through winding cobblestone streets and marvel at the escalating view of Paris during your ascent. Climb to to the top of Sacré-Coeur's tower for a stunning view over the roof tops of Paris, then descend through the Place du Tertre and admire the work of Parisian artists.
- Tuileries to the Champs-Élysées to the Arc de Triomphe - One of the most famous walks in the world, with areas of interest for garden lovers, history buffs, and shopoholics. Start in the Jardin des Tuileries outside of the Louvre, and stroll through the enchanting gardens, and pass the Place de la Concorde, once home to the notorious guillotine. Continue up the Champs-Élysées, window shopping on this famous shopping avenue, and rest your feet in one of the many cafés that line the sidewalks. Then, end your stroll by climbing the Arc de Triomphe (use the underground entrance from the Champs-Élysées to enter). Marvel at the 360 degree view of the wide boulevards of Paris, and the Eiffel Tower in the distance. Take the time to wander through the exhibit at the top before heading outside. Pause a moment to appreciate The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the base.
- Trocodero to Eiffel Tower to Parc du Champ Mars - The ONLY way to see the Eiffel Tower. Forget what the tour books advise and take the métro to the Trocedero station instead of the closer Bir-Hakeim. Walk past the Palais de Chaillot and stare as you descend through the Jardins du Trocadéro to the Eiffel Tower framed by the Trocodero's colorful fountains. Cross the charming Pont d'Iena over the Seine, and marvel at how HUGE the Eiffel Tower is when you're standing under it. If you're not tired and want to save a few euros, climb the stairs to the second level of the Eiffel Tower. Finish off your tour with cocktails in the Eiffel Tower's chic bar. Exit the Eiffel Tower and continue walking through the gardens of the Parc du Champ Mars.
3. Sunday Strolls - Sunday is the day that Parisians take to the streets. On Sunday afternoons, the city closes some of its most trafficked streets so that the joggers, roller bladers and walkers can enjoy the views. Two areas for a stroll are:
- Seine walk - The highways along the Seine, called Quais, on the right bank are closed on Sunday for pedistrians. Try walking along the Quai de L'Hôtel de Ville for beautiful views of the Seine and Paris landmarks, such as the Notre Dame.
- Canal St. Martin walk - The Canal St. Martin is series of canals that take barges, and many tourists boats, from the Seine to the Bassin de la Villette. For most of the day on Sundays, the quais on both sides of the canals - Quai de Valmy and Quai de Jemmapes - are closed to automobÎle traffic. Walk along the leafy banks of the Canal St. Martin (5 km from end to end), darting over the numerous turquoise foot bridges, and sit on the banks for a picnic. A great way to spend a non-touristy Sunday in Paris.
4. Outdoor Museums - It's hard to spend a glorious Parisian day inside a stuffy museum. Below are a few suggestions for getting your art fix and a suntan at the same time.
- Musée Rodin - Rodin is considered a modern Michelangelo for his famous sculptures, such as "the Thinker" and "The Kiss". His museum is housed in a mansion where he lived and worked and was one of the largest private gardens in Paris. For a pleasant art stroll, pay 1 euro to walk through the exquisite rose gardens and ornamental ponds. Rodin loved placing his oversized sculptures in the garden's natural setting, and this is the best place to view dozens of his best work. Metro: Varenne.
- Musée de la Sculpture en Plein Air - An open-aired sculpture museum on the banks of the Seine diagonally across from Île St. Louis contains sculptures from the 2nd half of the 20th century by Brancusi, Gilioli, and César. Walk from Île St. Louis across the Pont de Sully to enter the museum. Watch the boats on the Seine, and leisurely stroll among the numerous modern sculptures. A great place for a picnic and its free! Location: Quai Saint-Bernard - Square Tino Rossi.
5. Walking Tours - There are dozens of companies that provide economical guided Parisian walking tours. Many of the tours are by area, but some are also by theme (e.g. Walk in the steps of the Da Vinci code). Prices are around 10 euros, and many companies do not require reservations - just show up at the advertised meeting place. A few companies to consider include Paris Walks, Classic Walks, or Viator Tours.
6. Bateaux Mouches (fly boats) - View Paris from a boat in the middle of the Seine. It is very interesting to see where you walked from this perspective. Take the boat tours at night - you'll understand why Paris is called "The City of Lights". You can listen to historical commentary about the city on headphones, or simply bask in the view. We avoided these boats for years, considering them "tourist traps", but wished we would have taken the 1-hour ride years earlier. One of the most convenient debarkation points is by the Eiffel Tower.
7. Museums Highlights for Walkers - If architecture is more to your liking than traditional paintings, the Louvre and the Musée d'Orsay offer a few exhibits that you may find interesting.
Louvre Museum - Skip the art, and wander to the basement of the Louvre to visit the Medieval Louvre, the foundations of a ancient castle that the current Louvre was constructed on top of. Follow the boardwalk and peek into a medieval dungeon.
Musée d'Orsay - At the back of the first floor on the Musée d'Orsay is a large model of Paris built into the floor. You can walk on top of Paris and peek down to view the architecture beneath you.
Author: Cheryl Montgomery