Paris: Alternative Things To Do For Tourists Visiting The City Of Lights This Year
My Top “Off The Beaten Path” Paris Attractions
Whenever I recommend things to see and do at a particular destination that I know well, I guide people off the beaten path. 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, plein air painting and exploring the city. I am an artist so you may be surprised to learn we never set foot in the Louvre! We did, however, spend uncounted hours walking the grounds, which are sizable and inspiring.
We also spent an entire afternoon at the Musee D’Orsay, not far from the Eiffel Tower. It has an incredible collection of Impressionist and early 20th century painting, and a wonderful café with a privileged view of the city.
Ahh, The Seine
There are dozens of charming bridges crossing the Seine. Lovers will be tempted to add a padlock to one of theses fabulous landmarks to symbolize their undying love. This whimsical trend is burdening the structural integrity of the bridges, adding weight and introducing rust into the mix. With estimates in excess of 700,000 locks already in place, there is talk of a ban. Proceed with forethought.
Looking at the riparian street artists, shopping for used books and souvenirs and walking the cobblestone streets of the Ile de la Cité are musts. And under the bridges, where lovers stroll hand in hand, stopping only to cuddle, canoodle and partake of passionate kisses, you’re sure to enjoy a sunset boat cruise on the river via a Bateaux Mouches.
Right Bank and Left Bank by foot.
Traveling by foot on the Right Bank, one can see the Hotel DeVille, the massive and modern Pompidou Center and be inspired by a sunset view of Notre Dame. Crossing the river to the Ile de la Cité you’ll find yourself facing Notre Dame. Turn right, cross another bridge and the street that runs along the river (Quai Montebello). Keep walking and you’ll find yourself at the entrance of Rue de la Huchette, a bustling pedestrian avenue. Crowded with Greek Restaurants and club entrances to subterranean cave bars, it always feels a bit like Carnival here.
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 Fontaine de Medicis, both dating back to the 17th century.
A visit to Le Petit Journal, St. Michel is one of my favorite Paris experiences. Not far from Jardin du Luxembourg, 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!
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 Sacré-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 saved money on breakfasts and quick lunches. We kept a bottle of $3 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. France is one of the best places in the world to have fine cuisine and service, so indulge.
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 the 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 areas. 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 UGallery.com, KeatingArt.com., Zatista.com and now on Amazon.com. For more information, go to WarrenKeating.com.