“Paris is always a good idea” – Audrey Hepburn
Out of all the places I visited this past summer, Paris was one I never intended to visit nor desired to see, yet it was one of the places I enjoyed the most. Paris’s reputation as the most visited city in the world gave me no inclination to visit, not wanting to be a stereotypical traveler in a tourist city. Yet, this past summer the opportunity arose for me to travel to Paris, and I took it. Based at Hotel Louison, in the Montparnasse area of Paris, here are the hit and miss sites of Paris:
Hits (in no certain order):
1. Eglise de Saint Germain des Prés: one of the oldest churches in Paris. Very easy to get to, not a huge tourist spot. The area will give you a more authentic feel of a past Paris. The church is not elaborate as others in the city, but it is just as bit historic.
2. Saint Étienne-du-Mont/ Panthéon: these two sites are located beside each other making it easy to see both! The Panthéon’s exterior is an exact replica of the one in Rome, Italy. Yet, the inside is completely filled with French art. Beneath the street level are catacombs, where important Frenchmen and Frenchwomen are buried. Many revolutionaries are there as well as philosophers such as Voltaire. As of now there is only one
women who has been given the honor of laying at rest in the Panthéon, Marie Curie. A few steps over from the Panthéon is Saint Étienne-du-Mont. This church is a must see, if even to see the unique exterior. However, inside is equally as awe-inspiring. For, this church was dedicated to one of the patron saints of Paris, Sainte Geneviève. On the inside, there is a shrine and relics dedicated to her. The sainte’s remains, during the French Revolution were burned and scattered along the Seine. All that remains are the relics in the church. However, the church is not as medieval as others, it was moved and built where it is currently located in the 1600s.
3. Catacombs of Paris: For those who have seen the movie As Above, So Below, that was filmed in the catacombs. This underground tunnel network shows an older, darker Paris. In the 1700s, millions of bodies were taken here, now just bone. Walking through the catacombs is eerie, it is not exceptionally lit and human remains are all around. Even
creepier is the bullet holes you see in some skulls and the bones missing in other parts (where people were rude enough to remove the bone). Honestly, as a believer in ghosts and hauntings, I was too spooked to touch the bones, much less try to take something home with me (as a side note they check you as well). I highly recommend seeing the Catacombs of Paris if you want a scary/eerie site that is very unique to the city’s dark history. However, if you go, be prepared for a long wait. I recommend getting there anywhere from two to three hours before opening, or just purchase jump the line tickets. Very few people are allowed to be in the catacombs at a time.
4. Musée de Cluny, now Musée National du
Moyen Âge: Also within walking distance of the Panthéon is this historical museum. With very few crowds, except for schoolchildren on field trips, it is a must-see museum. The building was a former abbey, constructed in 1334. Now, the building holds an ancient Roman bath, the heads of the first kings of France (chopped off during the Revolution), and a massive museum with relics and artifacts from the abbey. Most spectacular in the museum are The Lady and the Unicorn tapestries. There are six total, each symbolic of one of the five senses. The sixth however is still a mystery, many, including myself, believe it depicts the sixth sense, the heart. For any history nerds or those who wish to learn more about Parisian history, this is a must and easily combined with Saint Étienne-du-Mont and the Panthéon.
5. Eiffel Tower: For anyone and everyone who visits Paris, if even for only a few hours, must see the Eiffel Tower. You cannot visit Paris and say you have not been. There are two metro stops nearby, so it is very easy to visit. Whatever you do, do not buy food there because the prices are higher than normal and the crêperie there is nowhere near as good as others. Also, be aware there are tons of pickpockets and people trying to sell cheap trinkets and alcohol, just politely say no and walk away. The best time, I believe, to view the Eiffel Tower is just before dusk. That way, you can watch the sky change colors and see the Eiffel Tower begin to light up. I honestly would stay until they start the light show. I was unaware the Eiffel Tower had light shows at night, but they do and it is spectacular, something you must see. After the light show, do not leave immediately because everyone rushes to the metro, rather take your time exploring the Champs de Mars, Field of Mars. Moreover, the line to go up the Eiffel Tower is extremely long and at top is extremely crowded. If you want the view but not the wait, Montparnasse Tower is just as tall and has a very similar view with basically no wait to go to the roof of the building. Moreover, champagne at the top of Montparnasse Tower is cheaper than at the top of the Eiffel Tower. If you want a more unique view of the Eiffel Tower, boat tours along the Seine River provide that as well as a view of Paris from the river!
6. Mémorial de la Shoah: This was by far one of my favorite site to see in Paris as I study genocides for my major (History). It was amazing to see a city such as Paris have such a though provoking memorial in the Jewish Quarter (other side of the Seine River, near the Louvre). The memorial’s outsides have a monument with a lost of every Frenchman and Frenchwoman who were deported during Word War II and who did not return. There is also another monument outside which lists all the concentration camps French Jews were sent to. On the inside there is a crypt. The crypt has Hebrew script on the back wall and a Star of David on the floor. The center of the raised Star of David contains ashes of the victims as well as dirt from Israel, and above the center is a skylight. Outside of the crypt, which was very moving, are the documents of all the police records of actions against Jews by the Vichy Government, the Jewish Files. Then, you move to the back room which holds a permanent exhibit, the experiences of the French during the Holocaust as well as the resistance movements in France, and temporary exhibit, when I went it was about the female French resistance fighters.
Misses (in no certain order):
- Sacré Cœr: Yes, the church is beautiful. Yes, the view is spectacular. But, the lines and the hike is not worth it. The church’s interior is marked off for foot traffic, foot traffic with no room in between. The amount of people in the church is overwhelming enough, not to mentioned being shuffled through as fast as you can and being pushed and shoved for others trying to take pictures. It just is not worth the people.
- Notre Dame: This too is like Sacré Cœr with the people and lines. This church is
overly crowded with people, so much so that you cannot even appreciate the beauty of it. For those wanting to see Notre Dame, I recommend seeing Notre Dame de Chartes. This Notre Dame is the largest one, even bigger than the one in Paris! Moreover, it is beautiful and has way less foot traffic. Plus, it is an easy 40 minute train ride out of Paris.
- Louvré: I am not an art fanatic nor will ever be. For those who are not super art lovers, I do not recommend the Louvré. The Louvré is extremely crowded and extremely confusing. I managed to get myself lost in the Egyptian section for almost an hour! It simply just is not worth the wait and confusion. For those who still would like to see some art, I recommend the Museé de Orsay or the Rodin Museum. Both are much smaller, easier to navigate, and still have exquisite art pieces to view.
Hôtel des Invalides: This museum, the military museum of France, is nowhere near a must see. Unless you are a military buff, the museum will not be worth the euros. For starters, the building is absolutely massive, three floors and an open courtyard in the middle. If you go through the entire museum, it will take you almost an entire day, not worth it if you are trying to cram all the must-sees in a few days. Yes, Napoleon, the infamous ruler of France has his tomb located in the museum. It is very grandiose and elegant, but something you can just as easily google an image of. As a history major in my senior year of college, I was thoroughly unimpressed. There are better museums to see.
While these are my lists of what to and to not see, there are still plenty of sights I did not have the opportunity or time to explore! In addition, I highly recommend walking around the Latin Quarter, it will feel as if you have been transported back in time. Moreover, walk as much as you can in Paris, there are plenty of sites and buildings to see that you cannot see if you are underground in the metro. Another thing I strongly recommend is taking a stroll across the Seine River. There are walking bridges all along the Seine, take one and stroll around. If you visit in May, take a jacket! It will be a little chilly!
I strongly recommend Paris for anyone. It is a wonderful city both new and old. You can finally see why everyone goes there and why everyone goes back! Paris is a destination no one can regret!