Paris: Alternative Things To Do For Tourists Visiting The City Of Lights This Year
There’s plenty of room to get away from the tourists at Versailles if you walk around, instead of taking the tram.
My Top “Off The Beaten Track” Paris Attractions
Whenever I recommend things to see and do at a particular destination that I know well, I usually guide people off the beaten track. I save the typical attractions for the guidebooks. That said, here are my picks for the best of Paris:
Everyone goes to the Louvre. In our two weeks in Paris, on a trip celebrating our anniversary, we were more interested in walking around the city, spending our nights in Jazz clubs and restaurants and our days in historic parks, exploring the ciy and plein air painting on the Seine. We never stepped foot in the Louvre, although we did spend a lot of time walking the grounds, which are breathtaking and enormous.
We did spend an afternoon at the Musee D’Orsay, located close to the Eiffel Tower. It has an incredible collection of Impressionist and early 20th century painting, and a wonderful café with a view of the city.
Musee D’Orsay inhabits a former Train station.
Ahh, The Seine
Crossing the bridges of the Seine on the charming bridges, looking at the riparian street artists and walking the cobblestone streets of the Ill de France is a must-do, but one has to take a sunset boat trip on the river via the Bateu Mouche.
Right Bank and Left Bank by foot.
Traveling by foot on the Right Bank, one can see the Hotel DeVille, The Pompidou Center and be inspired by a sunset view of Notre Dame. Outside, facing Notre Dame, turn left, cross the street and walk thru La Rue de L’Huchette, a sparkling pedestrian street.
On the Left Bank, explore the trendy, lively St. Germain, and St. Michel areas, get a taste of Parisian Café life, and visit the most popular park in Paris, Jardin du Luxembourg, with the beautiful Palais du Luxembourg and Fontain de Medicis, both dating back to the 17th century.
The main entrance and courtyard at Versailles.
A visit to Le Petit Journal St. Michel is one of my favorite Paris experiences. You can listen to jazz in an ancient building and rub elbows with locals.
While most people take a day trip to Versailles, we have opted for a quicker, easier journey to explore the 14th century castle, Chateau de Vincennes and walk through beautiful Parc Floral. After your expedition, walk through the surrounding neighborhood for a less-touristy taste of cafés, bars and brasseries at a much-discounted price when compared to the places closer to the center of the city. I’ll never forget the Almond Croissant that I got near the metro station at Vincennes.
If you have the time, a trip to Versailles is well worth the Metro Fare and price of admission. While the main castle is the most popular attraction, the grounds are expansive and there are plenty of beautiful examples of 17th century excess, including an entire peasant village built for Marie Antoinette’s amusement. Walt must have visited this Hameau before building Disneyland
Walking along the left bank of the Siene, browse the street vendors selling old books and postcards.
Okay, A Touristy Spot
You’ll find a lot of tourists in Montmarte, but it’s worth braving the crowds to visit ground zero of the Impressionist movement and the Belle Epoque, when Paris was the center of the art and theatre world in the late 19th century. Sipping a Café Crème, looking at Sacre Coeur is a must-do, even for the alternative tourist.
Our hotel had extra room in the mini bar, so we stocked it with a baguette, a jar of Gran Maman Strawberry jam, and a selection of cheeses which help us save money on breakfasts and quick lunches. We kept a bottle of $3 bottle of Cote de Rhone in the room, and it was fabulous. When you run out of supplies, there are wine stores and fresh fruit stands everywhere. That said, when in Paris, one must have at least one really elegant meal in Paris. France is one of the best places in the world to have fine cuisine and service, so indulge.
Winter at Marie Antoinette’s peasant village, Hameau.
When you enter an establishment, the purveyor will greet you with a “Bon Jour”. Responding to this greeting with a “Bon Jour” is expected, and delivering that will let them know that you respect their traditions. When you need something, precede your request with an excuse me, or excuse-moi. It’s good manners, and, again, shows respect for the local culture. Thirdly, go with the flow. A subtle version of the old joke about the ignorant American calling the waiter “garcon” often plays out in cafés and brasseries, even today. Service in Paris can be much faster than in the U.S., but in a different order. Also, you can’t get your coffee to go, but you won’t want to, so go with the flow and you’ll have a great time.
The Metro system is incredibly useful. Nothing beats arriving at Gare du Nord train station after a trip from London on the Eurostar. It was much easier to get to your hotel by Metro than to spend an hour in the taxi line.
For tourists, the Paris Visite travel card is a convenient and money-saving way to use all the public transport in Paris and the surrounding area. It comes in 1, 2, 3 or 5 consecutive day versions, starting from the first day of use. It also gives you a discount on many of the top attractions. You can purchase the pass at the station, or buy in advance online at www.coniergerie.com.
Taxi meters in Paris start when you call them from the hotel lobby or your cell phone. Using the taxi stands can save the extra fare that it takes for the taxi to get to you by catching one at a taxi stand.
Warren Keating is an artist living in Los Angeles. His work can be viewed and purchased at KeatingArt.com. For more information, go to WarrenKeating.com.