Cruise the SeineA fabulous opportunity for viewing a number of the city’s historical architecture and landmarks is to take a cruise on the Seine River. Several companies offer tours during the day and evening, as well as providing lunch and dinner cruises. Bateaux-Mouches is a reputable company that offers both types of tours. For about seven Euros per person, visitors are afforded an hour-plus cruise along the Seine River. This particular tour meanders past the Musee d’Orsay, Notre-Dame, Hôtel de Ville (Paris’ city hall), the Place de la Concorde, the Eiffel Tower and numerous other landmarks, ornate bridges, palaces, and incredibly beautiful parks. If time permits, take the cruise (seated outside on the upper boat level) during the day and twilight. The romantic nature of gliding along the Seine in the evening with the softly glowing lights of Paris and a gentle breeze whispering past is sublime. Bateaux-Mouches is located on Pont de l’Alma, Rive Droite in the eighth arrondissement.
Arc de Triomphe
Paris' monuments lay scattered about the different arrondissements; however, if you are up to a good walk, many of these landmarks are viewable by foot. The Arc de Triomphe, located on the western end of the Champs Élysées in the eighth arrondissement is one of Paris’ most famous monuments. Napoleon commissioned the monument after the victory of Austerlitz in 1806. Look for the stairs that lead pedestrians under the street to the monument; trying to cross the circular round-about is virtually impossible and hazardous. The Arch has stairs or several service elevators to lift ticketed visitors to the upper inside level where a small museum is located, as well as access to the outside pinnacle.
After the Arc de Triumph, head southwest along the Champs Élysées. This famous tree-lined pedestrian thoroughfare meanders past boutiques, bistros, hotels and has side streets that lead to fabulous cafes, patisseries and upscale couture shopping. The obelisk Place de la Concorde towers over the southwest end of the Champs Élysées and marks the entrance to the beautiful Jardin des Tuileries (gardens). A leisurely stroll through the Tuileries on a sunny and warm afternoon is a favorite Parisian activity. Continue west through the gardens to visit the Louvre Museum.
A prerequisite for first-time visitors to Paris is to see the Tour Eiffel or Eiffel Tower, located in the seventh arrondissement. The lines to ride the Eiffel elevators are long, even in cold winter months; be prepared to wait. Of course, climbing the stairs is an option, but that path is best suited for ambitiously fit individuals. Regardless of your ascension choice, the views of Paris and Seine River from the Eiffel are magnificent. Make sure to plan your visit on a clear day to avoid a mist-enshrouded viewing platform.
Military History - École Militaire
École Militaire resides southeast of the Eiffel Tower through the Parc du Champ (park). Louis XV founded the French military school in 1750 and Napoléon Bonaparte attended the school until graduation. The Military School now houses the Joint Defense College and the Institute of High Studies of National Defense. A few blocks north lay the magnificently gilded dome building of the Hôtel des Invalides. Louis XIV initiated the project in 1670 as a hospital and domicile for aging and ill soldiers. Today, Invalides houses the Military Museum of the Army of France, as well as the resting place of Napoléon Bonaparte. His tomb lies under the grand dome. The military museum section of Invalides is fascinating; it progresses thorough the evolution of military technology from past to pre WWI. The armor of knights and horses extol France’s past and dozens of large table models exhibit three-dimensional military battles. Although Invalides falls into the museum category, it is a historical monument and is remarkably beautiful.
Notre Dame, located in the sixth arrondissment, is one of the most eminent and structurally appealing cathedrals in the in the world. Construction began in 1163 with completion in 1345. The beauty of Notre Dame’s stone gothic exterior is stunning with its exquisitely detailed stained glass windows, intricately sculptured architecture to the chimeras (a winged gargoyle-looking statue) keeping guard on the abutments. The moment visitors enter into the majestic cathedral, a quiet sense of awe imbues their senses. The semi-dark interior, illuminated with thousands of candles amid mists of incense add serenity and leave a tangible remnant of Notre Dame’s atmosphere. Statues, paintings and woodcarvings relay the religious events of Catholicism and lend reverence to the cathedral’s enthralling history. There are several sections of Notre Dame to tour. In addition, explore the northern tower; it has a rather steep set of stairs to climb, but the incredible views of the odd, medieval stone-sculpted creatures are worth the scale.
More Paris Landmarks and MonumentsThe list of Paris landmarks and monuments are innumerable. However, here are several more landmarks to explore with great French historical significance. The Place De La Bastille in the fourth arrondissment; Sacré Coeur on the top of Montmartre; les carrières de Paris (underground catacombs) in the 14th arrondissment; and the Panthéon in the Latin Quarter, where eminent French notables are interred, such as Voltaire, Victor Hugo and Madame Curie, to name just a few.
Paris NeighborhoodsThe essential experience for many visitors to Paris includes a non-touristy, real Parisian setting. These neighborhoods are scattered about several arrondissements. A wonderful little street to explore is rue Cler. The Metro stop École Militaire is less than a block south of rue Cler and a great place to start. This street is where locals purchase their meat, fruits, vegetables, breads, cheeses, wine, flowers and chocolate. On weekends, the little flea market in front of rue Cler on Avenue de la Motte Picquet sells bits of everything from books, to statues, art and clothing. There are some fine values and it is a good way to find out-of-the-ordinary purchases to take home. Make sure to go early to avoid large crowds on weekends. For one of the best Belgian chocolate shops in Paris, visit a la Mere de Famille, located one block north at 47 rue Cler on the right-hand side. This little shop sells delicious bon bons, candied fruits and heavenly dark pure chocolate bites. Further north on rue Cler is Café Lenôtre, a fabulous patisserie for an exceptional café au lait and fresh pastry.
In the third arrondissment is another wonderful, yet upscale area, Le Marais. This neighborhood is located just northwest of the Place de la Bastille monument and is an excellent place to stroll about and window shop. Little French boutiques sell, shoes, clothing, jewelry and everything one could want for their Paris apartment. Each building is a work of art and the tiny streets provide an intimate feel to the vicinity. If you need a rest after walking through Le Marais, take a break at the Place de la Vosges. It is a small park in the shape of a perfect square, surrounded by beautiful old apartment buildings. Le Marais is just across the Seine River from the Latin Quarter where dining and the younger set spend their evenings.