Things to Do in Paris - page 3
It's easy to pass by the Palais-Royal in Paris's first arrondissement; there is so much around it of note, and visitors are either rushing past to get to the Louvre, or wiped out after an afternoon at that world-famous museum. But its gardens, which are free and open to the public, are an oasis in this otherwise tourist-heavy neighborhood that's practically hidden in plain sight – so keep it in mind when you want to take a load off after trekking through the Louvre.
Originally the home of Cardinal Richelieu, it was built in the 1630s and after the Cardinal's death fell into the hands of King Louis XIII. Today it is the location of the Ministry of Culture and a branch of the National Library.
Each arrondissement in Paris has a number and a name; the fourth arrondissement is known as Le Marais. You'll probably find yourself in this neighborhood more than almost any other in the city.
The historical home of the Parisian aristocracy and the Pletzl, its Jewish community (as well as Victor Hugo and Robespierre), Le Marais includes the practically cloistered first square ever designed in Paris, known as Place des Vosges. Its stately homes surround a park so quiet, that the only sounds heard are from the fountain and bird-songs. But the rest of the arrondissement is much livelier, with the bustling Rue de Rivoli, the gay community along Rue des Archives and the funky labyrinth of stores, galleries and cafes in the Village Saint Paul (its entrance can be found at 12 Rue des Jardins Saint-Paul).
Paris is full of art and antiquities – Greek, Roman, Renaissance, Modernist, painting, sculpture – after a while it can all become a bit overwhelming. The Musee du Quai Branly offers an alternative.
For starters, MQB as it’s known is a relative newcomer to the museum-scene of Paris. It opened in 2006 in a newly designed building by award-winning architect Jean Nouvel, alongside the River Seine and close to the Eiffel Tower. Its other point of difference is that its focus is on indigenous cultures, their arts, cultures and civilizations: Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas, bringing together several collections under one roof and with an emphasis on education and cultural understanding. The museum has around 300,000 items and at any one time displays around 3500 of them in changing displays and themed exhibitions. With rotating exhibitions and temporary installments there is always something interesting.
Paris has been around for millennia; but it wasn't until 1605, when King Henry IV built what was then-called Place Royale, that a public square was planned into the city's landscape. It's now known as the Place des Vosges, and to this day remains largely unchanged since its inauguration in 1612.
It's easy to call any public area in a major city an “oasis,” but Place des Vosges truly lives up to the description. It's in Le Marais, which is already a relatively quiet arrondissement; but once you step through the arches, the stately residences seem to absorb any city noise and the arcades that cover the sidewalks add to its hushed ambiance. It's a good place to go to take a load off after trekking around the city all day.
The Petit Palais, as you can imagine, is the smaller of the two museums on Avenue Winston Churchill, between the Champs-Élysées and the Pont Alexandre III. Unlike many museums in Paris, it was built (in 1900) specifically as an exhibition space, as evidenced by its abundance of soft natural light and open spaces. It is now home to the Musée des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris.
Its collection covers a wide range of styles and eras, from medieval paintings to 19th-century sculpture. Fans of Monet and Cézanne will enjoy their lesser-known works, and there's plenty of Rubens, Rembrandt and Rodin to go around.
One of Paris’s most beloved cabarets, Au Lapin Agile has been delighting audiences in Montmartre for decades. The title translates to “The Nimble Rabbit” from French, originating from a painting of a rabbit jumping out of a hot frying pan. The small theater was once a hotspot for bohemian Parisian artists such as Picasso, Modigliani, Toulouse-Latrec, and Utrillo. Picasso helped to make the space famous with his 1905 painting of “At the Lapin Agile.”
The iconic pink cottage cabaret drew in some of Paris’s most eccentric characters, many of which carved their names into the original wooden tables that still remain today. Having opened in 1860, the Paris institution has long been a source of evening revelry, good food and drink, and French song and dance performance. It continues to be an authentic venue for all three today.
The striking edifice presiding over Paris' 5th arrondissement Latin Quarter, the historic La Sorbonne is renowned as one of the first European centers of higher education, housing the prestigious Collège de Sorbonne since its founding in 1257 by Robert de Sorbon.
It’s the building itself that garners the most attention, a sprawling campus rebuilt in 1653 by Cardinal de Richelieu to the designs of architect Jacques Lemercier. A blend of Baroque and Renaissance styles replaced the original medieval structure, but the last remaining building from this period is the iconic domed Romanesque Chapelle de la Sorbonne (the Chapel of La Sorbonne), where the sculpted tomb of Cardinal de Richelieu is housed. A wander through the Sorbonne courtyard and café-lined plaza offers views of the amphitheaters, library and observatory (which was reconstructed by Henri Paul Nénot in the late 19th-century), showcasing a picturesque variety of architectural styles.
More Things to Do in Paris
If you were just walking by Clos Montmartre on a trip to the Sacre-Couer, you might assume it was just a particularly lovely community garden dotted with peach trees and vines. Actually, the Clos is the oldest working vineyard in Paris, and on clear days, from here you can see all the way out to the Eiffel Tower.
The best time to visit Clos Montmartre is during Fête des Vendanges — the harvest festival — when the grapes from the Clos are taken over to Montmartre town hall to be fermented and turned into around 1,500 bottles of gamay and pinot noir.
Tucked behind the Bastille in Eastern Paris, the Marché d’Aligre is one of the capital’s liveliest markets, mixing the traditional and the bohemian with plenty of rustic French charm. The market is split into two parts: the Marche Beauvau, one of the few remaining covered markets in the capital, and an outdoor flea market where everything from antiques and crafts (including many African and Asia works), to clothes and fresh flowers, is on sale. Seasonal fruits, vegetables and meat line the indoor stalls, alongside huge slabs of local cheeses, fresh oysters and delicious baked goods, and there are plenty of free samples available to challenge your taste buds.
The market is open Tuesday-Saturday from 9am-4pm, as well as Sunday mornings; although many stallholders take a break for lunch around 1pm. The surrounding streets are packed with bijou cafes and charming eateries where you can watch the world go by while sampling some fine cuisine.
Paris’ most famous independent bookstore, dating back to 1919, Shakespeare and Company Bookstore is renowned as the one-time haunt of literary icons like Ezra Pound, Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce and Ford Madox Ford.
The legendary Shakespeare and Company store was opened by American ingénue Sylvia Beach, who fashioned the shop into a creative haven where penniless writers congregated to share ideas, borrow books and even crash down on the shop floors. Sylvia even made history by publishing James Joyce's 1922 Ulysses when every other publisher refused. Situated in the art district of Paris' Left Bank, the original bookstore was located on Rue Dupuytren, before moving to larger premises on Rue de l’Odeon in 1922, then finally shutting its doors in 1941 during WWII German occupation.
Gare du Nord is one of the six major train stations in Paris, with service to London, Brussels, Amsterdam and other destinations north of the French capital. Strictly speaking, Gare du Nord is the busiest railway station in Europe and the busiest in the world outside Japan with over 700,000 passengers every day for a grand yearly total of 190 million. Because of the role it plays in Paris’ daily transports, Gare du Nord was featured in many movies, including Ocean’s Twelve, the Bourne Identity and The Da Vinci Code.
The train station itself was built in the 1860s and comprises 36 platforms, including a separate terminal for the Eurostar trains which require security and customs checks. The U-shaped terminal is made out of cast iron and stone, including the statues that decorate the main entrance – each representing destinations outside of France.
The Musée National du Moyen Age - Thermes et Hote de Cluny is widely known as Musée de Cluny, after its home in the Gothic Hôtel de Cluny in the fifth arrondissement. Its two buildings house the Thermes de Cluny, cold-water pools dating back to Roman times; there is also the “Column of the Boatman,” originally discovered underneath Notre Dame and is the oldest-known sculpture in Paris.
The actual museum includes the iconic “The Lady and the Unicorn” that is the iconic example of medieval tapestry work. Also of note are the “illuminated manuscripts,” intricately decorated documents laden with gold and silver paints that make them appear as if they are lit from within.
Place Dauphine is an iconic public square wedged between lavish townhouses on the western tip of Ile de la Cité in Paris. The square was the second project of the “royal squares program” instigated by Henri IV – the first one being what is now known as Place des Vosges – and was named after his son, soon-to-be Dauphin of France Louis XIII. To this day, it remains one of the most prestigious areas in the city.
The square’s – which is actually triangular in shape – westernmost corner connects to Pont Neuf, linking the right and left banks of the Seine River. Although the houses surrounding Place Dauphine were built in the early 1600s, only two have preserved their original features, i.e., the two located on either side of the narrow entrance leading to Pont Neuf. Nowadays, the oddly three-sided square is popular with both locals enjoying apéro and photographers searching for a quintessential Paris atmosphere.
La Madeleine church in Paris is one of the most striking building in the entire Faubourg Saint-Honoré. Rumour has it that it was built in order to mirror the Palais Bourbon – which houses the French National Assembly - on the opposite bank of the Seine river in order to create harmony between the clergy and the republic.
But in reality, La Madeleine was designed as a temple to Napoleon’s army and its glorious victories back in the early 1800s – which would certainly help explain why the church doesn’t actually look like a church (it doesn’t have a spire or bell-tower) but rather a lavish Greek temple. It was completed in 1828 and built in the Neo-Classical style and was inspired by an exceptionally well preserved Roman temple named Maison carrée in Nîmes; it now dominates the entire Faubourg Saint-Honoré, with its 52 20-meters high Corinthian columns.
The 8th arrondissement (neighborhood), one of Paris’ 20 districts, is probably best known for the famous boulevard Champs-Élysées. With sidewalks lined by trees, high-end shops, and fashion boutiques, the boulevard is also home to the Arc de Triomphe and the Place de la Concorde, as well as the Élysée Palace (the official residence of the President of France). On one end of the Champs-Élysées is the Arc de Triomphe, which offers sweeping views of the city from its top. On the other end of the Champs-Élysées is the Grand Palais, an historic building dedicated “to the glory of French art.” The Grand Palais is now a museum and an exhibition hall that is home to an impressive art collection. The 8th arrondissement is probably best known as a retail district, where posh shoppers come to sip a beverage at one of the area’s numerous cafes or restaurants, then browse name-brand boutiques like Chanel, Christian Dior, and Louis Vuitton.
In a city filled with beautiful churches and cathedrals the likes of Notre Dame and Sainte-Chapelle, St Etienne du Mont remains one of the prettiest ecclesiastical buildings in Paris. Built between 1492 and 1655, the Gothic and Renaissance-style church in the city’s Latin Quarter houses the lone rood screen remaining in Paris, dating back to 1535.
Ste Genevieve, the patron of the city, was interred in the church’s southeastern corner before French revolutionaries destroyed her remains. Today, her ornate tomb includes a reliquary housing all that was left, a sole finger bone. Jean Racine and Blaise Pascal, two of the city’s most famous intellectuals, are also buried within the church.
Other items of note include the oldest pipe organ case in Paris (carved in 1631 by Jehan Buron), a baroque pulpit from 1651 and a series of stained glass windows dating from the early sixteenth century through the first part of the seventeenth century.
Located on one of Paris’ two natural islands in the Seine river, the Palais de Justice is among the oldest surviving buildings of the former royal palace. The middle of three impressive buildings on the Île de la Cité (the other two are the medieval Gothic chapel Sainte Chapelle and the former prison the Conciergerie, which is now a museum), the Palais de Justice is notorious for its role during the French revolution, where more than 1,000 people (including Marie-Antoinette) were condemned to death before being imprisoned at the Conciergerie next door and executed on the guillotine.
Because the Palais is still used for judicial purposes today, visitors are not allowed to tour the premises. However, touring the Conciergerie and Sainte Chapelle is a great way to check out the Palais de Justice from the outside. Sainte Chapelle has an impressive collection of stained glass windows, and provides the closest look of the Palais de Justice available to the general public.
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