My Top Ten Favourite Places in Paris
Touted as the most beautiful and romantic holiday destination in the world, I’m not sure it lives up to that billing, but Paris is stuffed full of art, history, icons and culture. It makes for one of the world’s great cities. Join me on a tour as I guide you through my favourite places to visit in Paris. There are some huge names that didn’t make the cut, because this is my personal take on Paris.
10. Shop ’til you drop!
Paris is known around the world as a shopping mecca. The Champs-Élysées may be the first place people think of when they want some retail therapy. That’s not my scene however. I prefer the Latin Quarter which is full of independent and unique shops. Perhaps the most famous is the Shakespeare and Company bookshop. Described as ‘a socialist utopia masquerading as a bookstore’, it’s a mecca for fans of literature and aspiring writers. What ever you are into, you can find the perfect shop for you. For example I collect dice, and some of my favourites come from an amazing store in the Latin Quarter.
Alternatively check out the covered passages. These historic galleries are dotted across the city and a beautiful place for browsing or spending a rainy afternoon. They all have their own unique character so no two galleries are the same. Some passages such as Galerie Vivienne are famous for their glamourous decor and mosaic floor. Other are charming and historic places to explore. Passage des Panoramas is the oldest of the galleries in Paris and one of the first of its kind in Europe. No matter which one you choose to explore you will enjoy a window into a bygone era before huge malls and online shopping. You might find traditional toy shops, antiques, collectibles or delicious food. The possibilities are endless.
9. Coulée verte René-Dumont
Rising above Paris the Promenade Plantée was the first park of its kind in the world. An old railway line that sat abandoned for years has been reinvented and reinvigorated as a green oasis. This beautiful walkway stretches for nearly three miles from a viaduct near Bastille to the edges of the city. Running over and through the concrete jungle, the shady trees offer a peaceful respite from the sun on a hot summer’s day.
This wonderful idea for urban regeneration has since been copied in America and Japan, but coming here to see the original lets you understand why the concept has caught on around the world.
8. See Paris from Above
Paris is a massive city packed with iconic landmarks, so there’s a lot to see. There are also a lot of great places to try and take it all in. The classic viewpoint is of course from the Eiffel Tower but I prefer the view from atop the Arc de Triomphe. A large part of Paris is dominated by huge boulevards, and many of them emanate from the roundabout surrounding the Arc. These wide boulevards might make life as a pedestrian in Paris harder, but the effect from the top of the arc is unique. Being able to look down so many huge roads at the same time gives you a great opportunity to watch the hustle and bustle of this unique city.
These aren’t the only places I would recommend for a view of Paris, but they appear later on my list, so you’ll have to keep on reading to find out more!
7. Waterway Walks
At some point on your Parisian adventure, you are guaranteed to end up next to a waterway. You might be gazing across the grand river Seine or crossing a beautiful tree lined canal. Why not follow the river and the canals and see where Paris takes you?
The Seine is flanked by a non-stop hit-list of landmarks, and even the bridges are real star attractions. Pont Alexandre III is an ornate masterpiece whilst Pont Neuf is over 400 years old. The ancient heart of Paris is found in the middle of the river. Île de la Cité is where the medieval city was refounded and home to the breath-taking Notre-Dame cathedral. The banks of this mighty river are full of life. Along both banks, the bouquinistes sell used and antiquarian books from stalls, a tradition that dates back to the 16th century. I also recommend the open-air sculpture museum as a great place to relax by the riverside. There is always more to see along the Seine. In summer you can even find a pop-up beach.
Alternatively take a stroll along a canal. There are three canals in Paris, and Canal Saint-Martin is rightfully a popular destination. Highlights include the double staircase locks and numerous elegant cast-iron foot-bridges. Enchanting during the day or at night, you’re sure to remember your time spent walking this beautiful canal.
6. Indulge your sweet tooth.
Anyone who knows me will know I have a sweet tooth. Paris is a great place to treat yourself to a smorgasbord of flavours. Macaron shops are a sight to behold, with a rainbow of colourful delights to choose from. They are beautiful, delicate and full of intense flavours.
My absolute favourite however is the pistachio éclair. Regular éclairs are great, coffee éclairs are delicious but pistachio éclairs are heavenly. You won’t find them in every cake shop, but if you see one, don’t miss out. The icing is a brilliant green, and the cream filling is out of this world.
5. Explore Montmartre
Paris has many districts each with their own identity. None are as famous as Montmartre or offer as many reasons to visit. Found at the top of a large hill, the views of Paris are excellent. At the top of the hill you will find the Basilique du Sacré-Cœur whose distinctive domes sit at the highest point in Paris. Lower down the hill Montmartre has long been known for its nightlife. The French cancan was born here, and famous cabarets like Le Chat Noir and the Moulin Rouge created a unique atmosphere.
My favourite place in Montmartre is Place du Tertre which was the central square before Montemartre became part of Paris. By the end of the 19th century Montemartre was the epicentre of the art world as a succession of art movements appeared, creating Modern art as we know it today. Artists living and working here included Degas, Modrian, Monet, Picasso and van Gogh. These artists and others who stayed in Montmartre changed the art world forever and the artists haven’t left. You can still see artists at work by visiting the art market in Place du Tertre. It may be a crowded place, but watching a picture being created before your eyes is a magical experience.
There are many museums in Paris, but my favourite is one of the smaller and less famous ones. Mundolinuga or the world of languages deserves to be more famous and its size is misleading. You can easily spend many hours in here if you try all of the interactive exhibits. This includes games, quizzes and touchscreen displays.
The ground floor is dedicated to how we use, learn and produce language. The basement explores the astounding diversity of languages and how they have evolved. The topics covered. If that is too heavy for you there are language board-games and displays on codes, slang and humour. My favourite exhibits are the bafflingly complex typewriter for Chinese characters and the enigma code machine. For anyone with a passion for languages, this museum is a must.
3. Parc des Buttes Chaumont
This park is one of my favourite parks of any city in the world. Found in the 19th Arrondissement
and opened in 1867. The park covers 61 acres and is named after the bare rocky hills and cliffs in the middle of the park. The paths wind their way over bridges and through caves to reach the Temple de la Sibylle, a miniature copy of a Roman temple. The sloping lawns overlooking the lake are another attraction, making a perfect place to spend a lazy summer’s afternoon. If you are feeling more active you can explore park looking for the grotto, waterfalls and exotic trees.
I have a strong personal connection to this park. My ex-girlfriend lived near-by so we had some special times in this park. Years earlier I visited on my own while studying for my PhD. As a mathematician I only needed a pen and some paper to work, and as I sat on the grass and worked through my notes I had my big breakthrough that led to my thesis. I hope to be back soon to make more special memories.
2. Musée D’Orsay
Impressionism is probably the most important art movement of all time. It freed artists from a strict definition of what art should be and opened the door to an explosion of art movements. On top of that, Impressionism is incredibly popular. These bright, colourful and expressive masterpieces have charmed the world. Musée D’Orsay has the largest collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art in the world. You will be constantly bombarded with the greatest hits from the greatest artists. Van Gogh in particular stands out as probably the world’s most popular artist and there are 24 pieces here which are single-handedly worth the price of admission.
There’s more to see than paintings here too. Sculpture, decorative arts and photography are all present in full force here. The former train station that houses the gallery is also a work of art. The main hall is huge, which is blessing given how popular this museum is. Over three million people visit every year, but don’t let the crowds put you off. This is one of the best art galleries in the world.
1. Pomidou Centre
The Pomidou Centre is a massive complex filled with things to do, but the star attraction is the Modern Art Museum here. It’s the largest museum of Modern art in Europe so the collection contains something from all the great artists and movements of the 20th Century. If you love Modern art but find it confusing, this is a fantastic place to learn. The content is constantly rotating, but in general the movements are laid out in chronological order, so you can understand how one movement led into the next. Give how fleeting movements like Cubism were, this is a great help. I find that knowing this type of context helps you to enjoy the art even more.
The building itself just adds to the experience. The building is built inside-out, encase in colour-coded pipes and ducts. The design was the first of its kind and is absolutely stunning. The museum is another great place to see Paris from above. You can get a separate panorama ticket that skips the museum and gets you straight to the fantastic views.
The Pompidou centre also happens to be found in a nice corner of Paris. It dominates the surrounding square which is filled with street performers and sketch artists. You can watch the festivities, grab a crepe or enjoy the Stravinsky fountain. Inspired by the composer, the scuptures move and spray water in a funny and charming way.