There is something very liberating about revisiting a major city when you have already checked out the main landmarks – think New York without having to queue for the Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty trip and the Central Park carriage ride or London without Buckingham Palace, Tower of London and St. Paul’s Cathedral. It offers a chance to get to some of the lesser visited sights or to just walk and enjoy different neighbourhoods and streetscapes.
We’ve just had the pleasure of such a trip to Paris. Having been lucky enough to visit the city over the years, we were ignoring the top attractions – Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Champs-Elysees, Notre Dame, Sacre-Coeur and the trip on the Seine – all fabulous of course and its very tempting to gravitate back towards them whenever we visit. For this short trip we were going to concentrate on one neighbourhood and a few major attractions we weren’t familiar with as well as a day trip from the city.
So … what else is there to do and see….
1. Cimetiere du Pere Lachaise
Along with Arlington Cemetery in Washington DC, this must be one of the most visited graveyards in the world. Its popularity is due to the number of famous people buried here and hundreds of thousands of visitors walk through the avenues every year.
With over 70,000 burial plots ranging from simple gravestones to family mausoleums, it is practically impossible to find a specific tomb unless you are prepared to spend days in the place. We didn’t think to download a map but there is a plan inside the gate which lists the most ‘popular’ tombs and their locations.
Most visitors just have time to work through a shortlist of the main tombs but its actually a beautiful place in which to walk and there are great views of the city from the back of the cemetery.
Jim Morrison’s grave (with its chewing gum tree) is the most visited in the cemetery
While hunting for a specific tomb, other gravestones will catch your eye….
(This empty tomb will be the final resting place of photographer Andre Chabot who photographs funeral art)
(This one stands out because of its colour)
(Artist Theodore Gericault painted ‘The Raft of the Medusa’ which hangs in the Louvre – there is a bronze version of the painting here on his tomb)
(I like the drama of this one with the woman lying across the tomb..)
(A sombre moment when we came across the grave of Suzon Garrigues, a victim of the Bataclan attack)
2. Musee de l’Orangerie
If you don’t have time for, or interest in, a major gallery then you should check out l’Orangerie at Tuileries Gardens.
Spread over two levels, one floor has 2 rooms dedicated to 8 enormous Monet waterlily panels . Downstairs, there is a collection of art works by Renior, Cezanne, Picasso, Matisse, Monet and others.
3. A Stroll from the Seine to Galeries Lafayette – just to admire the architecture and monuments
We began on the footbridge that links Musee d’Orsay with Les Tuileries – Passerelle Leopold-Sedar-Senghor. From here, you can look back at the d’Orsay and the Louvre and wave at the boat tours on the river. The Parisian ‘love lock’ mania has obviously reached here -tourists attaching locks to bridges before throwing the key in the river. Don’t be tempted to buy a lock from the illegal vendors on the bridge – the gesture is not appreciated by Parisians and municipal workers are constantly trying to clear the bridges of what they consider an eye sore – better to keep your cash and throw it in a fountain!
As you cross the quai from the bridge towards the Tuileries Gardens, take a look at the cycle ‘lane’ – great for cyclists but not so good for drivers caught in the traffic jam beside them who claim that consequential increased congestion is adding to rush hour travel time.
Originally an area dedicated to ‘tuileries‘ or workshops specialising in roof tiles, the Tuileries Gardens were the first royal gardens open to the public. Stretching between the Louvre and Place de Concorde, look out for water features, gardens, kiosks , shops and sculptures as you stroll through.
(You will have to look closely to confirm that this is not a real tree but a bronze sculpture by Giuseppe Penone!)
(There is plenty of seating for visitors to enjoy)
(‘Lion and Lioness fighting over a Wild Boar’ – very realistic and rather gruesome!)
The fantastic Place de la Concorde served as an execution site during the French Revolution when a guillotine was erected in the square.
(The Obelisk with Arc de Triomphe in distance)
(What a skyline!)
Walking up Rue de Castiglione, the Vendome Column appears ahead, topped by Napoleon. He had the bronze plates made from enemy cannons taken in war.
Place Vendome was home to Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Chopin and Coco Chanel to name a few. Today, the Square houses the Ritz hotel and several luxury jewelers and designers.
l’Opera Garnier at its peak had over 1500 employees and its own stable of horses. There are 7 storeys below stage level alone and, for Phantom of the Opera fans, there really is a lake underneath the building!
The best artists of the Art Nouveau era were commissioned to create the Galeries Lafayette – a store originally opened by two cousins in 1893. It is one of the most visited landmarks in Paris today.
4. Musee d’Orsay
One of the most popular attractions in Paris, this gallery is well worth a visit if you have time. Originally a railway station, the collections are spread over several floors. Even with a pre booked ticket, be prepared to queue for admission.
(Always a view – Sacre Coeur from the Clock in d’Orsay)
(Even the restaurants are fabulous)
5. Street Art
If you are interested in Street art then head to the Belleville area and Rue Denoyez where pretty much every surface and piece of street furniture has been taken over by graffiti and street artists!
6. Explore a Neighbourhood
Spend some time exploring Le Marais with its narrow streets, squares and boutiques. Have a look at An Afternoon Walkabout in Paris
6. Leave the City
Head for Giverny and visit Monet’s home with its beautiful gardens and waterlily ponds. Read about our visit here – Monet’s Gardens at Giverny – A Day Trip from Paris
We spent 3 nights at *** Hotel Beaumarchais on the edge of Le Marais. It’s just around the corner from Filles du Calvaire Metro station. We arrived around lunchtime but were still given access to our room which was great. The room was fine and all staff members were pleasant . There is plenty within walking distance to see and do. We didn’t have breakfast in the hotel – there is a choice of places to eat and drink close by. We would definitely be happy to stay here again.
We walked as much as possible or used the Metro where carnets of 10 metro tickets costing €14.90 (individual tickets are €1.90) are available at all stations. Over our 4 days we used 2 carnets (and walked 56.7 kms according to my steps app!!!) .
Pre -booking tickets
I’m still very reluctant to pre book admission tickets for galleries etc – I dislike being restricted in that way when I travel. However, when heading on a short city break it is easier to plan for a few days in detail and it really does save on time and frustration levels. We had pre purchased tickets for d’Orsay, l’Orangerie, Monet’s Garden and the train to Giverny. The combined d’Orsay/l’Orangerie ticket was open-ended for three months. Bearing in mind it was midweek at the end of May, we still had to queue for 25 minutes at d’Orsay – (with tickets!) – and some of the trains for Giverny were full and unavailable when I was booking. And that’s before school vacation! This is one busy city!!