Bastille is the area to the west of the city that was once home to the famous prison. It is reached by taking either Line 1, 5 or 8 to Bastille station. Nothing much remains of the prison now; the last remains have been moved elsewhere and the area is now famous for its impressive Opera House and the popular nightlife. The area isn’t much more than your typical French roundabout, or should I say traffic hotspot, but there is a huge obelisk in the centre that is a reminder, not of the prison, but of the 1830 Revolution that replaced the unpopular Charles X with Louis-Philippe (also known as the Citizen King).
This area is also the location of one of France’s most important events; Bastille day commemorates the 1789 storming of the Bastille on July 14th and it is a time when you will experience a carnival atmosphere in the city, with the main focus of the action being here at Bastille.
From Bastille you should head west down Rue St Antoine, through the Marais district. One a swamp, the Marais is now one of the most desirable areas in the city to live and it isn’t hard to understand why – there is a certain Parisian charm here that has escaped the impact of the tourist. The main road is lined with popular bakeries, cake shops and the like and the buildings have a splendid Renaissance style.
As you walk down the street, you will undoubtedly be drawn to the offerings of the many shops that line it. We stopped at every cake shop window to compare what can only be described as the works of art on sale there! You’ll also notice signs for an array of different museums and places of interest. Lying either directly on this street or just off it are Musee Picasso (which contains the largest collection of his work anywhere, many of which were claimed by the state on his death in lieu of the taxes he owed) and Maison de Victor Hugo (the home where he penned much of Les Miserables). There are also many other specialist museums that mean that any interest you have – whether it be photography, Jewish history, architecture or something else entirely – will be catered for in this area.
Halfway down this road, just in front of the church of St Paul and St Louis, the street turns into Rue de Rivoli. Carrying on down this road will take you to the fantastically opulent Hotel de Ville. The square in front of the building is another famous guillotine site that was used during the Revolution. Now however it is a popular meeting point that becomes the location for an ice rink during the winter months. The building itself is pretty spectacular to look at; built in neo Renaissance style, the attention to detail on it really is something to behold.
After admiring this building and perhaps stopping for a quick bite in one of the nearby cafes, you should walk towards the Seine which runs alongside the Hotel de Ville. You’ll see the Notre Dame cathedral directly in front of you across the Pont D’Arcole. Considered to be one of the masterpieces of the Gothic age, Notre Dame is very popular with tourists and, although it is possible to climb her towers, you’ll find there is always a long queue to do so. It is free to enter the church itself and you can also get a free guided tour, although there is a charge to go up the towers.
Many people who head to the islands that house the cathedral don’t even venture past Notre Dame, but in my opinion, this would be a big mistake to make. It isn’t a strenuous walk, after all the islands aren’t that big, but it is definitely worth exploring whilst you are there. The Ile de la Cite is where Paris began when a Celtic tribe settled there in 300BC, and whilst it has been totally transformed over the years, you can still feel the history as you stroll the streets here.
So you can see, as with all walks around Paris, this one offers a selection of heavyweight sights amongst the culture and charm of one of the most desirable areas of the city. It’s a gentle walk that will enthral any visitor to the area.