My Paris Top Five

There are many obvious candidates for the top five places to visit in Paris, but here are mine . . .

5. The Louvre

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by dkm1981 on September 30, 2011

The Louvre is one of, if not the most prestigious art museum in the world and it houses a simply fantastic collection of paintings, sculptures and other precious objects. It is an absolute must for the first time visitor to Paris.

The museum is located at the bottom of the Champs Elysees in the very centre of Paris. Even if you don’t fancy going into the Louvre, you should absolutely visit because the buildings in which it is housed are worthy of a look themselves. The building was originally a palace, built in the twelfth century, which was home to the Royal Family until Louis XIV chose to move to the Palace of Versailles just outside Paris. After that it was used to display the Royal collection until it opened as a museum during the French Revolution in 1793. The buildings are opulent and certainly befitting a Royal Family and you are free to wander around them without charge. Right at the centre of the museum in the courtyard is the most recent addition to the buildings. IM Pei’s glass pyramid was installed in 1989 and just like the Eiffel Tower before it, it caused a lot of controversy. Many Parisians thought it was ugly and not in keeping with the rest of the old buildings that surround it. I can see what they are saying, but I personally think it is a wonderful addition that blends old with new in a striking way.

The museum has various opening hours throughout the week. It opens each day at 9am. On Mondays and Wednesdays it closes at 9.45 in the evening, whilst on Thursdays to Sundays it closes at 6pm. It is closed on Tuesdays. Entry is free on the first Sunday of each month, otherwise it is eight Euros per person to get it and it is slightly cheaper if you go just before closing. Unless you are only visiting for something specific, I’d strongly recommend that you leave at least a full morning or afternoon to visit. There are so many pieces (over thirty five thousand in fact) in the Louvre that you could spend a whole week in here and still miss a lot of it, but we found that the best way to do it was to pick the four or five main things we wanted to see and then plan a route, admiring everything else on the way. If you don’t do something similar you will simply be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of art work on display. You’ll also get very, very lost!

You enter the museum through the glass pyramid and descend down into the basement, which is surprisingly light and airy space. Here you will have to queue for your ticket if you have not already pre booked one. You also get a floor plan, available in many different languages. Once you have decided where you are going you need to go up one of the small escalators to the museum proper, where your ticket is checked. Understandably, due to the many priceless items in the museum, security is tight and you can expect to have your bag checked several times.

When we went, like most other visitors, we made a beeline for the Mona Lisa. It’s actually not a bad idea because it is so far from the entrance that you will in fact see a lot of other things on the way naturally. I particularly enjoyed the corridor that was lined with busts as I thought it had a slightly macabre feel to it and it felt like the heads were following me along the corridor – almost like an interactive display if you will. Throughout the museum the walls everywhere are lined with paintings of all sizes, many of them are religious paintings that stretch from floor to ceiling, some are better than others and undoubtedly you find one you love right next to one you hate. Getting to the Mona Lisa is a trek, but it is a trek that is well signposted throughout the museum. It is housed in a room by itself and the queue to get in is understandably long – to avoid this you are better visiting first thing in the morning or last thing at night. To be honest, I was completely underwhelmed by the Mona Lisa. The first thing you notice is how small it is. After walking through the corridors and seeing the giant paintings everywhere I thought it would be much bigger and more impressive. Certainly the famous enigmatic smile is eye catching, but behind the super thick bullet proof glass and surrounded by hundreds of people it just looks a little small and oddly insignificant. Perhaps I am demonstrating a certain ignorance by saying that, but that is predominantly how it made me feel. You can’t take any pictures of the Mona Lisa and to be honest you’d be lucky to get close enough to try.

The second thing we really wanted to see was the Venus Di Milo statue that is located at the other end of the museum. Once again, being one of the most popular exhibits, it is well sign posted throughout the museum. This time the statue is in open display with only a red velvet rope separating you from her. Again there are always many people around but it is much easier to get a good look. The statue is very impressive and surprisingly well intact considering that it dates back to the second century BC.

One of the other parts of the museum that I really enjoyed was the Egyptian antiquities section. Located down in the cellar, the collection is very atmospheric. Whilst all of the crowds are upstairs looking at the more famous works, this impressive section is a lot quieter and sedate, adding to the eeriness of it. My favourite piece here was the crypt of the Sphinx, although I also enjoyed the comprehensive collections of mummified cats and sarcophagi.

On the whole, the museum is well presented and well maintained and there are so many things to see that you can spend hours there. No doubt you will, like I did, make a beeline for the most famous pieces, but I strongly recommend that you slow your pace down and soak up the atmosphere and grandeur of the world’s most visited museum.
Musée du Louvre
99, rue de Rivoli
Paris, France, 75001
+33 (1) 40 20 51 51

4 Disneyland Paris

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by dkm1981 on December 19, 2009

Everyone who is anyone knows what Disney is about, and Disneyland Paris is no exception. With that in mind I decided that you don’t need another rundown of the attractions in the park, but that it would be more useful to offer some tips and advice for getting the most out of your day / trip, based on my recent and not so recent experiences. So here are my tips:

For Getting There:

-If you are on a package holiday – you’ll no doubt be staying in the complex itself and so will have free shuttle buses or a short walk to the park.

-If you’re coming from Paris – the cheapest and easiest way is to go by train. Take the RER A line (the red one) from Les Halles or Nation metro stations. Make sure you check the train times and if there are any expected problems on the train lines the day before you go. The last couple of times I’ve been, there has been strikes and work on this particular lines that has meant sporadic services limited to early morning and late night trains.

For Entry:

-If you are staying in Paris – there is a promotion going on at the moment which gets an adult entry to the parks for the price of a child, saving you about 8 Euros per person, if you buy your tickets from the hotel you’re staying in. You put a deposit on your ticket at the hotel and they give you a slip that you take to the ticket office in the resort and exchange for a proper ticket on payment of the balance. It was an easy and cheap(er) way of paying, we found.

-If you’re only there for a day – it is unlikely that you’ll be able to get around both the Disneyland and Walt Disney Studios parks in one day, so it would be better to pick which one you want to visit and just pay for one park entry. Don’t be fooled by the extensive advertising for 2-park entry, it is possible to pay for just one park and it is about 12 Euros cheaper.

-If you go to Walt Disney Studios – it closes earlier than the other park, but you are then able to go into the other park for free for the rest of the day. This means that you will get maybe a couple of hours in Disneyland Park and you will be able to see the final parade, even if you haven’t paid for entry to that park.

For Eating:

-Don’t eat between midday and 2.30pm – that is when the queues are at their longest. We ate at around one o’clock and spent almost an hour queuing for food which, when you consider how long you get in the park against the entry costs, is a spectacular waste of money!

-Take a picnic – there are plenty of places around the park that you could eat it, both indoors and out. There are also lockers just inside the entrance to the park where you can keep things for a charge. Even with this charge, you’ll save a fortune – don’t expect to get a meal (even from a fast food stall) for less than £10 a person.

-Book in advance – if you are planning on having a sit down meal in one of the restaurants, then book ahead to avoid long waits. This is especially important if you’re planning on having one of the Disney characters join you for your meal.

For Thrill Seekers:

-Walt Disney Studios Park – is full of white knuckle rides including the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror which will have you plummeting the tall building’s floors in a matter of seconds, and the Rock n’ Roller Coaster starring Aerosmith, which is a loop-the-loop ride that is accompanied by the sounds of the rockers themselves.

-Disneyland Park – is a much more family orientated and tame affair. But that’s not to say that there is no thrill seeking to be had here – aside from Fantasyland, each of the lands has its own white knuckle ride, including Indian Jones’ Temple of Doom, Big Thunder Mountain and Space Mountain.

For Avoiding Queues:

-Fastpass – is a relatively new service offered by both parks that allows you to visit the most popular attractions and jump the queue. All you need to do is swipe your entry ticket for a Fastpass voucher that tells you what time to return to the ride. You then return at your allotted time, use the Fastpass entrance, present your ticket and, hey presto, you’re in without the hours of waiting! You can only have Fastpass tickets for one ride at a time though, so use them wisely!

-Leave the parades – if you aren’t bothered about seeing the parades, then this is a perfect time to head for the popular rides as there is hardly anyone who isn’t at the parade! If you don’t want to miss them though, it’s still possible to take advantage. If you position yourself in the spot on the parade route that is closest to your favourite ride and leave just as the parade is ending you’ll get there before the masses return. It is a bit of a mad dash, but it is worth it to be right at the front of that queue with no waiting!

For Shopping:

-Avoid Main Street USA – this is the most popular area for shopping as it is right near the entrance to the park, so you don’t have to carry bags around with you. But, they don’t sell anything here that you won’t be able to find anywhere else in the park, so have a look at the other shops, where you’ll be able to shop much more peacefully that the bedlam that is Main Street USA!

-Pre-order your shopping – if you shop before 3.30pm, when it is much quieter, the shops will pack your stuff away and have it delivered to your hotel (if you’re staying in the Disneyland Resort) or have it read for you to pick up later (if you are staying elsewhere). This is an excellent thing to take advantage of if you are planning on getting some souvenirs.

So, there you have it, my advice for getting the most out of your trip to Disneyland Paris and making sure that it does remain the magical trip that it should be!

3. Quartier Latin

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by dkm1981 on September 30, 2011

The third place on my list isn’t a landmark but more an area; Quartier Latin or the Latin Quarter as it is known in English. This is a fabulous area of Paris which has heart and should feature on any trip to the city.

Located on the left bank, the Latin Quarter runs adjacent to the Seine, across the road from the Notre Dame church. It runs all the way up to the main road at the other side, behind the Sorbonne university and the area encompasses some of Paris’s most famous buildings. The best way to get to the area is by metro and you should take the purple line and get of at St Michel. St Michel is the fountain that is situated directly opposite the Notre Dame and it is what I think of as the gateway to the area. It is a popular meeting point in the area, so is often very busy, but if you can get through the crowds it is worth having a look at the fountain which is an ornate affair.

Around this area the streets are lined with shops and restaurants. The shops seem to be an even mix of tourist tat and books, this being the student area of the city. Much of the tat is over priced, but it is fun to wander round and see what is on offer. Most of the bookshops sell French books, but there is a fabulous (and quite famous) one the front called Shakespeare Company that sells English books. It is a proper book shop with piles of books and hundreds of shelves muddled together.

There is no shortage of places to eat in these parts, whether you want a quick bite or a sit down evening meal, you’ll find plenty of choice. A baguette on the run is a popular choice or try one of the many Greek kebab shops which offer surprisingly tasty kebabs with chips, salad and a drink for less than five Euros – a hearty meal that is making my mouth water just thinking about it. For an evening meal, you’ll again find that the area is relatively cheap, with set menus a plenty. My favourite restaurant is Demi Lune, which is a small and authentic restaurant serving delicious French onion soup with steaks and chicken for a great price.

Sight seeing wise, there is again plenty of choice in the area with the Sorbonne University being worth a look. Some of the buildings are fabulous. Getting a good guide book is essential though to tell you more about them. At the top of the hill is the Pantheon which houses Faucoults Pendulum – a scientific experiment that cleverly proves that the earth does rotate.

So, it is probably clear that I think you should visit this area if you are in the city, is bohemian, typically French and has something for everyone.
Latin Quarter
Left Bank of River Seine

2. Basilica Sacre Coeur

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by dkm1981 on September 30, 2011

The Sacre Coeur is without a doubt my favourite place in the whole world. Not so much for the church itself, which is a white concrete affair, but for the area that surrounds it, Montmatre, and also for the outstanding views it offers over the city of Paris. Whenever I visit Paris, the first thing I look for on the train ride in is not, as you may expect, the Eiffel Tower, but Sacre Coeur whose white dome is a key part of the Paris skyline for me. Sitting on the top of Monmatre hill, just up from the seedy lights of the Moulin Rouge and the red light district, Sacre Coeur stands proudly against the blue sky, surrounded by the old streets and buildings that are famous in Paris.

The church itself is quite ugly and is another example of a building in Paris that the locals hate. It looks like it has been made from huge white breeze blocks. Closer inspection on a gentle walk around the church will highlight some interesting features, such as the many gargoyles around the top, but for the most part it isn’t pretty. Inside it is very much the same with little to see in a large space. However the one highlight is that you can actually go up to the dome to see out over Paris. The church is open from 6am until 10.30pm and the dome from 9am until 6pm. In winter I’d recommend going up towards closing time when it has gone dark and you can look across at the lights of the city below. Entry to the church is free; going up to the dome costs five Euros.

Like I said the thing I love most about this place is the area surrounding the church where Paris has not really changed over the years. In the main square around the back, artists still peddle their wares, painting landscapes, portraits and even cartoons. The streets are lined with shops selling everything from souvenirs to ice creams and in the summer months, the public areas are covered with tables and chairs for al fresco dining.

In front of the church are the steps that lead up to it. Along the way you can stop and take pictures or ride the traditional carousel at the bottom. If you don’t feel like walking up the steps, you can take the funicular at the side from the price of a metro ticket (currently one Euro twenty).

In short then, I think you should definitely pay a visit to the Sacre Coeur. Even if you don’t go inside, you should enjoy the quaintness of the surrounding area and the views it offers.
Basilica du Sacre Coeur
35, Rue Du Chevalier-de-la-barre Rue De La Bonne
Paris, France, 75018
+33 (1) 53 41 89 00

1. The Eiffel Tower

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by dkm1981 on September 30, 2011

The first thing you think of when you're planning a trip to Paris is the Eiffel Tower. It is visible from almost all parts of the city, but is not really in walking distance from the centre. The area around the tower is an obvious tourist trap, overflowing with over-priced cafes, people selling tacky souvenirs and queues of people. But, it is worth it to see Gustave Eiffel's controversial masterpiece.

It was built between 1887 and 1889 and was the entrance to the World Trade Fair at the time. Like I said it was very controversial because many Parisians hated it, they proclaimed it to be an eye sore – perhaps because it was such a modern structure in a city that is proud of its history and ornate buildings. It is a wonder then that not only is it still here, but it has become France’s most famous and most visited building – so much so that it is the most visited paid monument in the world, with over 20 million people having visited since its opening.

You can go to three floors in the tower, by means of lifts in each of the four 'spokes'. Get there early though because the queues are unbelievable both to get up and come back down. When I went, I only made it to the second level because I was very conscious of the swaying of the tower! I think it's about ten Euros to go all the way to the third level and if you're feeling energetic, you can cut that amount in half by using the stairs rather than the lift! It may save you a bit of money, but I think you’d have to consider very carefully if you want to walk up because it is quite a trek, as you would imagine from France’s second tallest building.
Another way to get up the tower is to visit the Jules Verne restaurant. It is a world famous restaurant with world famous prices. A glance at the menu confirms this, with starters from twenty Euros and main courses from forty Euros. For this price though, you do get outstanding views, outstanding food and a free ride up in the dedicated elevator!
At the bottom of the tower are some gardens which make for a pleasant stroll. When you get to the end of them, you should turn round and take a picture, from here you can get the whole tower in one frame and it makes for an outstanding picture, especially on a clear day.

I have only been up the tower once for two reasons. The first is the queues and the second is the fact that any photos taken from the tower obviously won't include Paris' most famous land mark! I don’t think I would ever actually go up the tower again for both of these reasons, but it is the one place that any visitor to Paris should visit once.
Eiffel Tower
Champ De Mars
Paris, 75007

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