France

A weekend in Paris

Not a city for the faint-hearted, a weekend in Paris can be overwhelming. Paris engulfs the senses with its vibrant culture, architectural marvels, world-class galleries, stylish shopping, pavement cafés and simply fabulous food. While it holds tight to its traditions, this modern city continues magically to evolve. Its essence is an effortless balance of old and new, of traditional elegance and creative thinking: it is Notre Dame through cherry blossom from the quai de la Tournelle and rollerblading to the Paris Plage along the banks of the Seine.

If you're only in Paris for a weekend, here is a list of sights which are not to be missed - taken from our latest edition of European City Breaks.

A weekend in Paris: Notre Dame by Olivier Bruchez

Île de la Cité and Notre Dame
www.notredamedeparis.fr, Metro Cité.

On an island in the Seine, France’s most famous place of worship, Notre Dame Cathedral, was built to replace and surpass a crumbling earlier church, on the site where a Roman temple to Jupiter once stood. Pope Alexander III laid the first stone in 1163 and the cathedral took more than 170 years to complete. The building has a spectacular Gothic façade, with a rose window at its western end and magnificent flying buttresses at its eastern end. The nave is at its best when the sun shines through the stained-glass windows, washing it with shafts of light in reds and blues. Place du Parvis de Notre Dame is an epicentre of tourist activity but the gardens at the rear and to the south are comparatively calm. Walk all the way round to appreciate the flying buttresses and the cherry blossoms in spring.

Île de la Cité was once the seat of royal power. Much survives from the original medieval palace complex on the western part of the island, namely the Conciergerie, the Palais de Justice (still the city’s law courts) and the glittering jewel of Sainte-Chapelle, a chapel built by King Louis IX to house his precious religious relics. Since the early 19th century there has been a colourful and sweetsmelling Marché aux Fleurs at place Louis-Lépine, towards the centre of the island (on Sundays the market also sells caged birds and small pets). Pont Neuf, the best-loved of all the city’s 36 bridges and the oldest (inaugurated in 1607), straddles the Seine at the western end of the island.

A weekend in Paris: Tour Eiffel by Thomas Claveirole

Tour Eiffel

www.tour-eiffel.fr, Metro Bir Hakeim.

Gustav Eiffel won a competition to design a 300 m tower for the Universal Exhibition of 1889. The result was originally reviled by Parisians and was only meant to stand for 20 years; now it’s the city’s most identifiable landmark. The highest viewing platform is at 274 m and, on a clear day, you can see for more than 65 km. Take the stairs to the first level, with a bistro and the cineiffel museum, which recounts the tower’s history on film; on the second level, there are souvenir shops and Alain Ducasse’s gourmet restaurant, Jules Verne. To avoid long queues (at least an hour), visit early in the morning or late at night, when the tower is lit up like a giant Christmas tree.

A weekend in Paris: Rue des Rosiers by aschaf

Marais
Metro Chemin Vert, St Sébastien Froissart.

Sandwiched between Les Halles and Bastille is Marais, everybody’s favourite place for aimless wandering, thanks to its winding medieval streets, charming tea rooms and ultra-fashionable shops.

The showpiece is Place des Vosges, Metro St Paul, a beautiful 17th-century square of arcaded buildings. Rue des Rosiers, a resolutely Jewish street, has bakeries, kosher restaurants and falafel takeaways, while the city’s unabashedly gay centre is around rue Vieille-du-Temple and rue des Lombards.

A weekend in Paris: Musée d'Orsay by Dimitry-B

Musée d’Orsay
www.musee-orsay.fr, Metro Solferino.

This 1900 train station-turned-art gallery is worth visiting almost as much for the building as for the great Impressionist treasures it holds. The enormous space is enhanced and illuminated by a vaulted iron-and-glass roof. There are decorative arts and Rodin sculptures on the middle level, with the most popular works, by the likes of Monet, Cézanne, Degas and Signac, on the upper level. Visit during the week to avoid the crowds.

A weekend in Paris: Les Invalides by KLMircea

Les Invalides
Metro Invalides, Latour Maubourg.

The seventh arrondissement breathes extravagance from every pore. Expect 19th-century elegance and grandeur rather than quaint backstreets and curiosities. The avenues, mansions and monuments proclaim their importance. Wander rues de Grenelle, St Dominique and Cler, east of the Champ-de-Mars, to see where high society shops and dines.

Sitting splendidly amid the broad avenues is Hôtel des Invalides, (www.invalides.org) Louis XIV’s hospice for war veterans. The vast Army Museum now charts French military history from prehistoric times to the present. The Église du Dôme is the final resting place of France’s vertically challenged Emperor, Napoleon. Around the corner, Musée Rodin, (www.musee-rodin.fr) is housed in the light and airy 18th-century Hôtel Biron – the sculptor’s last home. There are over 500 of Rodin’s pieces here, as well as works by Camille Claudel (his model and lover) and Rodin’s own collection of paintings, including work by Van Gogh. A wander through the sculpture filled gardens, is equally delightful.


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