Have you ever asked yourself why some places feels like home to you? That easy going feeling that whenever you step foot on it, home it’s. If you follow Fotostrasse and have read some of my articles you already know that I love to travel and get to know different cultures, people, scents, food, habits, music, drinking, etc. But there is always one place that grab you by the heart, and makes you never wanting leave it again. That kind of place that moves you…and for me, this place is Paris, my favorite city in this huge world.
The fascination about this city is so big, that I even feel a bit jealous about it, believe it or not! Sounds nonsense, I know, but I bet that out there exists people like me and this article will tell you, why, even with all the cliché, Paris still remain as one of the most dazzling cities ever, dragging people everyday, from everywhere. So here I started to wrote this special Paris Guide (divided by parts), based on my own experience, and why you should visit it, at least once! Bien s’amuser (HAVE A GOOD TIME)!
Joie de vivre (Joy of Life)
One of the things I really love about Paris is the way people live and think. No matter how old they’re, the Parisian people know how to live until the end. Open minded, upfront, straightforward, funny (yes, they have humor) and drowned in culture. I’m not saying here they don’t have problems, on the contrary, Paris is a city that has been through a lot over the centuries and this is exactly my point. No matter how hard it can be, the Parisian just keep looking forward. You can see their ‘joie de vivre’.
On the contrary of what people may say that all Parisian people are all cranky and moody, I actually always see and feel that feeling about happiness and excitement every time I travel there. And the thing I love the most on their behavior is the fact they mind their own business. If you like to be on your own, being as a couple, or even with friends, but appreciate that kind of thinking and behavior, then Paris will suit you. If you love all that talking, getting to know people every second, come to Brazil 😉
I though to begin this Paris Guide, the icons should be here at first. Paris impressive architecture and beauty is related to its amazing monuments, aside the beauty of the city itself. Center of crucial moments during humankind history, Paris will always stand! Through art, history and architecture, we get to know its best:
La Tour Eiffel
The most famous and iconic monument in the world is a must visit for everyone, even the ones who are not impressed by architecture or history, or ANYTHING. There is no way to forget the first time you see it. It’s breathtaking :). Made of iron, art nouveau style, with 324 meters and launched in 1889 for the Universal Exhibition to celebrate the Centenary of French Revolution, Gustave Eiffel didn’t have a clue his giant piece of art was meant to be the symbol of France and the most visited monument in the world. Yes, it’s.
Every year LOTS of people climb its stairs (or just get the elevator) to see the magnificent view from all Paris, 360°. And when you get there and see Paris on your feet, you can feel the blood rush through your veins and the heart start to beat so fast …and wow…For me, every time I get there is the same excitement! Take your time to be up there, it’s worth it. Enjoy the breeze, whether it’s summer, fall, even winter!! My tip here is to arrive early, and better yet, buy the tickets directly in their site , the chances of you to go up faster are increasingly higher; save some time for this, because come on, as I said, the most visited monument in the whole world; take your camera with full battery, sunglasses, and if it’s fall or winter don’t forget your coat, hat and gloves, can be tricky to be up there and really windy.
And if you decide to buy the tickets there …let’s say, midday, prepare for an enormous queue. If you like details, pay attention to all names of French scientists, engineers and mathematics engraved in recognition of their contributions, Gustave Eiffel wanted to pay a homage to France science and you can see under the first balcony of the tower. Last but not least, if you want to have an exquisite experience, dine in their top floor restaurant, Le Jules Verne. Book long before, otherwise you won’t have a chance. I confess I never quite really paid attention to it until I wrote this article, but maybe for my next time, having a glass of French wine (430 titles on their list, purely French) and having Paris on your feet, it’s really worth it!
Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris
You may not have seen yet the beautiful Notre-Dame from Paris, but you surely have heard of it. Being one of the most ancient Gothic cathedrals from France, the Notre-Dame is one of the finest examples of the exquisite French Gothic architecture and well known throughout the world. Its construction began in 1163 and took long 182 years to be accomplished. As it was performed by several architects, its style embody different artistic styles, such as Gothic, Neo-Gothic design, Renaissance, Naturalism Era (and a bit of Victorian influence).
During the French Revolution great part of it was destroyed, and along the years it had several restorations. Its western facade is the main facade and the one of greater impact and greater popularity. It has 28 statues representing the kings of Judah, descendants of Jesse and ancestors of Mary and Jesus. These statues ended up related with the kings of France and during the French Revolution, the works were attacked and mutilated as symbols of royal despotism. Ouch! Its main bell is the Bourdon Emmanuel and it’s also the oldest. It dates from 1681, weighs 13,271 kg and has 261 cm in diameter. It’s always the first to ring, about five seconds before the other bells, and it only occurs in events of great importance, such as celebrations and presidential funerals, and also visits of the Pope.
Since its installation in 1681, Bourdon Emmanuel has ringed only 84 times. And if you have the courage to climb 387 steps to the top of the south tower, you will have one of the greatest views from Paris. And once you’re on top of it, you will be able to see closely the gargoyles. Yes, they’re fascinating (I personally like very much eheh). The gargoyles are believed to have been placed in the Medieval Cathedrals to indicate that the devil never slept, requiring continued vigilance of people, even in the holy places. Along with the gargoyles, you will see chimeras and grotesque figures. Back to the floor, in front of the Notre-Dame lies the ground zero of the city of Paris. Says the legend that anyone who steps on this landmark will always return to Paris. Who knows!
And here follows some curiosities about the cathedral: in 1431 happened the coronation of Henrique VI from England during the Hundred Years War; in 1804 Napoleon Bonaparte himself had his coronation, and his wife, Josefina de Beauharnais in the presence of Pope Pio VIII; in 1831 Victor Hugo wrote the famous novel The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, the tale about Quasimodo, the hunchback who falls in love with the beautiful and kind gipsy woman Esmeralda (very, very sad…); 1909 – Joan of Arc is beatified and canonized in 1920 (it took a long time since her death …).
If you’re a catholic person, it’s nice to see a mass, and if you have the chance to hear the choir, immediately you will feel like back in medieval times! And then the bell rings! Such an experience been there, and I’m not saying all the others cathedrals are less, it’s just Paris Notre-Dame is a tremendous landmark not only in Paris, but in France. Look closely the interior with all that beautiful stained glasses. Notice the beautiful 3 roses (north, south and west), some of it are original panels and with so many histories on it. Yes, long before people used to paint the glasses inside the churches for the unfortunate people who could not read, then all that amazing drawings that enlighten the cathedral. Paris Notre-Dame can support 6.000 people…a lot!..So I may say, this is must visit site.
Again, take your time, camera, etc… this cathedral is unique and its beauty is astonishing.
The Opera Garnier is, in my humble opinion, the most beautiful Opera in the whole world. I dare to say that its architecture inside is even MORE beautiful than the magnificent Hall of Mirrors inside the Palace of Versailles :-O. Considered as one of the most beautiful and important monuments in Paris, the architecture of Opera Garnier is a mix of baroque with beaux des arts (neoclassical) and decorated facades with sculptures that long ago shocked the most prude population, a masterpiece of its time. First it was known as Paris Opera, but after the launch of The Opéra Bastille, its official name became Opéra Garnier.
Says the legend that the style inspiration that led Charles Garnier, the architect, to built the opera was Napoleon III himself. We will never know, but one thing is for sure, it’s worth a visit. You don’t need to see a ballet or opera to visit it, you can buy your tickets and enjoy your time as an individual visit or a group visit, info here. Once you’re inside there to appreciate this magnificent theater, prepare your eyes and camera for: The Grand Staircase, famous for its shape, mosaics, colors and paintings; the Auditorium, all red and gold, designed for seen and to be seen, and also impressive for have in its ceiling contrasting with all the decor, the exquisite Marc Chagall painting, colorful and with angels and personages.
BLISS: the Salon du Glacier and the Grand Foyers, it’s impressive and I’m particularly very found of the part they have dragons on the ceiling (I’ve always been fascinated by dragons), all sharped in golden color. But if you are not an interested in beauty but instead love operas and ballets, do check the spectacles agenda and book it in advance, the winter is the most busy time of the year, where the Parisian people love to be entertained by culture. The opera is located in the 9th arrondissement, at Place de l’Opéra 75009 Paris. You can buy your tickets and check the agenda here. Hot tip: if you want to photograph the Opera from above and outside, go the the last floor of Galeries Lafayette, from there you will have another amazing view of Paris, and from the Opera. Superb 🙂
Some say that the best view of Paris lies on the top of the Montparnasse Tower. Being there myself, I can’t say they’re wrong. The tower is one of the most tall buildings in Paris (200m) and from there you have a 360° view from all city and, the plus is that from there, you get the chance to also view the Eiffel Tower, right in front of you, the iron lady and all its splendor.
As all my trips to Paris have been during the winter, every time I was up there was quite windy and cold. BUT, the good thing is that you have room to photograph and appreciate the view without all that summer crowds, which in the Parisian holidays can be extremely annoying. The tickets for adults cost 15 euros.Tip: go during end of the day, enjoy the sunset and then appreciate the night overview. More info here.
Place de La Concorde
The historic Place de la Concorde in Paris is famous for major episodes that influenced western history. It’s located next to the Avenue Champs-Élysées, one of the best known avenues in the world and to the Jardin des Tuileries (my favorite in Paris, will talk about it in the next Paris articles). Located in the 8th arrondissement of Paris, one of the most intense flow of locals and tourists in Paris, the square is considered the largest in the city and one of the most visited public tourist spots. It’s an obligatory stop. Around it, you will see famous sights as the Seine River, L’Orangerie Museum and the Grand and Petit Palais.
It was inaugurated in the eighteenth century and since its foundation has served as the setting for remarkable episodes of French history, especially during the French Revolution (called Revolution Square). It was there that the people installed the guillotine that culminated in the death of the French royal family, Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI, plus heavyweight people like Maximilien de Robespierre, Georges Danton, Antoine Lavoisier and more than 2.400 people.
Today, the square serves for election celebrations of new presidents (Jacques Chirac and Nicolas Sarkozy), happy new years parties and big festivals. Within it, there are several historical monuments as the Obelisk of Luxor (gift of the ruler of Egypt Mehmet Ali), beautifully decorated with hieroglyphs that relate the reigns of the pharaohs Ramses II and Ramses III, weighs 230 tons, measures 23m in height and in its base created to support, it’s engraved the whole saga of the trip and arrival in France, plus details of the inauguration in the Place de la Concorde.
The obelisk stands today were exactly the guillotine was placed, and has impressively 3.300 years!! Yes, 13 centuries BC. Also in the square, the beautiful fountains of Jacques Hittorff. One to represent the commerce on rivers of France, and the other the maritime commerce. Very close to the square, the incredible restaurant Maxim’s, near the Hôtel de Crillon (one of the most iconic hotels in Paris). One of the things I love the most about this square is that from there, you have splendid views of Jardin des Tuileries, the Seine river, the Champs-Élysées, the Arc du Triomphe, plus, during Xmas, the adorable Xmas markets, who here does not love it!?
Arc de Triomphe
Who never wanted to take a picture in front of the famous Arc de Triomphe and take a long walk in the splendorous avenue Champs-Élysées? Located at the center of Place Charles de Gaulle, the French Arc de Triomphe was originally built to praise the great victory of the French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte at the Battle of Austerlitz in December 1805. Excited at his triumphal victory, Napoleon promised his commanders: “From now on, you will come back walking under a triumphal arch”. Shortly after, returning to France in 1806, Napoleon ordered the construction of the Arc de Triomphe.
The work, however, was not finalized until 1836 due to the overthrow of Napoleon’s Empire in 1815 at the Battle of Waterloo. The work was officially inaugurated in 1836, after the death of Napoleon, which occurred in 1821. Designed by Jean Chalgrin, the Arc de Triomphe is a symbol of patriotism and a source of pride to the French. The monumental arch became, since then, starting point or passage of military stops, popular demonstrations and, of course, tourist visit. The sculptures, bas-reliefs, reliefs and inscriptions in the Arc de Triomphe are numerous.
Possibly the best known sculpture of the Arc de Triomphe is The Departure of the Volunteers of 1792, aka The Marseillaise, carved by François Rude in 1833, the sculpture represents the Motherland with wings open wide, calling and motivating volunteers to unite and fight for your homeland, France. To commemorate Armistice Day (1921) – the anniversary of the end of WWI – under the Arc de Triomphe, a ground level monument was erected to place the ashes of an unknown soldier to revere all soldiers killed during the First War.
Every day at 6:30pm, the flame of memory on the tomb is lit to remember not only the soldiers of WWI, but also the soldiers of WWII. Many people do not know, but it is possible to visit the interior of the Arc de Triomphe, where there is a small museum about the monument – mock-ups, drawings and documents about its construction – and up to the top you reach a panoramic terrace at 50 meters high, and from there you’ll have an exceptional view of Paris and the twelve avenues around the place. Prepare your camera and hold your breath, the view is breathtaking :).
Today, The Arc de Triomphe is one of the most well known and widely circulated postcards in the world. Napoleon could not imagine that his giant and monumental arch would become one of the most epics ever.
Catacombes de Paris
I have to say, this is not the most pleasant sightseeing of Paris (who wants to see thousands of creepy skulls anyway right?). But still, for those who are very curious about history as me, it’s worth to go and check. But to be there, you have to be watchful with some serious conditions:
- Visitor numbers are restricted to 200, and yes, it took me a 2 hours queue to go and see it…usually is very crowded, so be patient;
- 1.5 km is the distance you will walk during 45 minutes under 130 steps below Paris, so don’t even think to go down there if you are a claustrophobic person or have a heart condition, and I mean it, it’s really claustrophobic down there!;
- There are no toilets or cloakroom facilities, so no huge bags, please ladies;
- 83 steps back up to street level and the temperature is 14º C (suffocating);
- the direction is unique and quite narrow, that is, once there, it is necessary to make the whole route to leave – 20 meters below the surface and with a very weak illumination…
With that said, I ask you, what is the history behind the catacombs? In an ancient Paris, back in the 18th century, the Cemetery of the Innocents had almost 1000 years of use, turning the region focus of disease and abominable smell. In 1780, the calamitous situation led one of the walls of the cemetery to collapse in a house, which ended up causing the limit of tolerance of the Parisian population. The government ordered the closing of the cemetery and five years later, the cemetery would be destroyed. From then on, a rearrangement of the dead was set up: 6 million of skeletons were taken to the subsoil of the city, which would become the famous and frightening Catacombes de Paris.
The Catacombs are decorated by religious and Masonic symbols, which makes the place extremely morbid and Gothic. Crosses made of skulls are scattered across the site. Of course it’s a extremely haunted place, the energy is heavy and people say the place is full of ghosts, whispers, etc. Well, figure it out, we’re talking about a very old city here…Think about it, will you dare? Price for adults is 12€. More info here.
One of the most beautiful architectures in Paris lies in this big building located at the Latin Quarter. The Pantheón (meaning Every God from the Greek Pantheon) it’s one of the most famous monuments in Paris and its neoclassical archite
cture is a masterpiece of its time. With giant columns in Corinthian style, and a huge impressive dome – known today as one of the skylines of Paris – whenever you see it feels like you have to bow (just kidding!). Its construction was initiated in 1764 during the reign of Louis XVI, an attempt to compete with the Saint Peter Basilica, in Rome.
The project was completed in 1790. During this time, 3 architects were responsible for its beauty, and at first, the building was a church dedicated to St Genevieve (know before as Sainte-Genevieve Church) but with the French Revolution (by now you can see how many things happened during this period), the government changed it to a mausoleum. The idea was to bury all important Frenchman who had had some kind of sacrifice for their country or had achieved great conquers. In the subterranean part of it, remains a vast crypt, where many famous people rest, and here are some of them that you may know: Victor Hugo, Emile Zola, Voltaire, Alexandre Dumas, Rousseau, Jean Moulin, Louis Braille, Soufflot (one of the architects of the Pantehón), Marie Curie, etc.
Rodin had its famous sculpture The Thinker, as site, from 1906 to 1922 inside the Panthéon. And by now if you still have time in Paris, please check also its sites around the Pantheón: aside you will find the beautiful Saint-Étienne-du-Mont, the church where Gil Pender, the character of Owen Wilson in the movie Midnight in Paris, seats and awaits every night the car to take him back in time (for those who love Woody Allen, in my opinion, this is by far, his best movie); the glorious Sorbonne and the Saint Genoveva Library. Inside the Panthéon, you will find Foucault’s pendulum, the device where its demonstrate the Earth’s rotation. Don’t miss it!
Place de La Bastille
Who knows a bit of Marquis de Sade (the fantastic libertine writer…fancy of him?), knows about the Place de la Bastille. Meaning square, this local is also known for so many remarkable times in Paris. And one of them is the famous Bastille prison (if you go around and make an inquiry you will see that even today, many people still think that the prison exists!). But no, it does not anymore. The prison was destroyed during the French revolution back in 1789.
Actually, it was literally stormed (French people are good for revolutions). Later on, 1833, King Louis Philippe decided to erect the monument July Column, as we all know today, right in the middle of the square. And I must say that it was only in my last visit to Paris that I went there. And honestly, there isn’t much to do around. If you have enough days in Paris, go and see it, if not, I highly recommend go to the other sites. It’s a mark in the city, but not the most beautiful or interesting one.
Another turning point in Paris history: when the Louvre pyramids was set in the grand entrance to receive the public. A major cause of disagreement among the Parisian people until today, the fact is that nowadays the pyramids became a symbol of Paris and became a national and international reference. Personally, I really like them. I think that completes the atmosphere surrounding the biggest museum in the world, Louvre. The feat was given to Ieoh Ming Pei in 1983 to design it, which fortunately accomplished it and launched in March 1989, symbolically in the bicentennial year of the French Revolution. By the time the project was approved, it was hated by public opinion and doomed to failure (believe it or not, the absurd idea that François Mitterrand was a pharaoh was considered).
Today, the pyramid is appreciated by both visitors and Parisians and integrates perfectly to the palace. The pyramid that serves as entrance in the courtyard of the Louvre retakes the exact proportions of the pyramid of Cheops. The choice of this figure did not take place without thinking about the important collection of Egyptian antiquities in the museum, but also in the Obelisk of the Place de la Concorde. At its base, the pyramid measures 35.42 meters wide by 21.34 meters high, 95 tons of steel and 105 tons of aluminum. Additionally, three small pyramids accompany the big one. Their places were studied to create wells of light to access inside museum.
Last, but not least, the inverted pyramid within the underground, visible when one arrives from the Louvre via Carrousel. The glass plates of the pyramids are made of triangles and lozenges, allowing the creation of the triangular shape in irregular proportions. Without any doubts, this is one of my favourite spots to appreciate the ancient and modern face to face, to photograph (especially at night when the lights come out and all its splendor is breathtaking) and of course, to visit one of the most fantastic museums of the world, the Louvre (which I’ll talk about it in my next article of Paris :).
You could not expect less whims from a church built with the purpose of storing relics like, the supposed crown of thorns of Jesus Christ (today placed in the Cathedral of Notre-Dame). King Louis IX spared no effort and money to erect it in the heart of Ilê de la Cité. He bought the sacred object from the Venetians, and took only seven years between the beginning of its construction and its consecration in 1248. Considered a masterpiece of the early Gothic style, the Sainte Chapelle is way more beautiful than what you may dream.
Its interior with circular blue painted ceilings, surrounded by some of the oldest stained glass in France, are a visual delight where the windows are 15 meters high. The famous stained glass windows are the highlight of the Sainte Chapelle. Note that they occupy almost all of the high walls, a great feat of engineering at that time! Please don’t forget to visit also the lower chapel, many stay so petrified with its high ceiling, that sadly forget to visit it. A joy for those who love architecture, a must visit site in Paris.
Sacré-Coeur – La Basilique du Sacré Cœur de Montmartre
Located at the heart of one of the most romantics and multicultural neighborhood in Paris, Montmartre, La Basilique du Sacré Cœur it’s beautiful and invites you to see it whenever you’re in the city. It is all made by white marble (dazzling) and has a Greek cross format, formed by 4 domes. In the steeple, it has a bell of 3m in diameter with more than 26 tons.The basilica follows the guidelines of the Roman and Byzantine architecture and had a big influence in other religious buildings of XX century.
As it is on top of Montmartre hill, there are 2 ways to get there: you can climb 200 steps to reach the basilica, or you can take the Funiculaire de Montmartre, a kind of tram/cable car, which is good for those who are not in the mood to climb all those steps, but, it may take a while to get up there, since it’s not fast and not appropriate for too many persons at once (just picture it at spring or holiday summer)…
The interior of the cathedral is stunning, but it’s not allowed to take pictures. Most of the Parisian people think that the basilica fails to meet expectations compared to all Paris beauties, as the Notre-Dame Cathedral, but I strongly disagree. I think that precisely for being such a different one in the middle of Paris, the Sacré-Coeur allures our eyes. Even when you’re far from it, you can have a glimpse of its beauty.
TIP: be very careful once you’re there, unfortunately the basilica is full of pickpockets and lots, I mean, LOTS, of people trying to sell to you bracelets, mini eiffel towers, etc. Be steady saying no to them, otherwise you will lose your camera, wallets, or any valuable content you will be carrying. This is one of the most visited sites of Paris. Oh and yes, the view of the city from there is also beautiful 🙂
I hope you had a great time reading about Paris icons, and in if you like to see a list of the best hostels in Paris, please follow this link.