Paris Attractions (Part One)

April 18, 2023

Paul Kay

Madeline and I have visited Paris several times. We now have friends in Paris that run their own tour agency. More about them later. Early in my career, I was in Paris because of my job. Paris is the capital of France and draws business and tourists from all over the world. We went to Paris in 2003 and then in 2022, we stayed a week in Paris and another week in Nice. I’ll tell you more about Nice in another post. I wanted to share some of the Paris attractions that you might consider during your visit. I would suggest a tour if you wanted to have personalized knowledge, history and the ability to choose some of the places you really want to see. I highly recommend the I Come and Go company. The link is below.

The reason I recommend it is that we know the owners quite well. Both Doru and Stella are the original dynamic duo. Stella is a wonderful photographer and helped Madeline find interesting places for photos, many of which I never would have thought of. Doru is the historian of the group, and he never ceases to amaze me about what he knows. If I asked about a statue, he not only would know when it arrived buy who the artist was and then would tell me about the personal history of the person represented as a statue. 

Big Bus pickup spot

There is nothing wrong with a Big Bus tour. It’s a great way to get your bearings. They have multi-language audio and have a nice tour of Paris on their red route.

Big Bus Red tour

You can get off wherever you want, and you can even combine your bus tour with a trip on the Seine. Madeline and I took this tour both in 2003 and in 2022. However, we took it just to refresh ourselves where things were, and we had the opportunity to quickly take pictures. You’ll want to visit a lot of attractions I’m sure. The Paris Metro is terrific for getting around town. You’ll definitely want to know the locations of where you are going. Google is very good for this. I’ll include the Google location for the attractions I’m talking about to make it easier. In this post, I’ll give you pictures and background. Let’s start with the Louvre.

The Louvre

Pyramid and Louvre in Tuileries

Rue de Rivoli, 75001 Paris, France

Taking a picture of the Louvre is not quite the same thing as visiting the Louvre. If you go inside the Louvre, you could see this:

Mona Lisa at the Louvre taken 2003

Or this

David at the Louvre

If you wanted to see at least half of what the Louvre has to offer, you would need at least three days. If all you want is to see the Mona Lisa, David, and a few other gems, you probably could do it in an hour. Madeline and I spent about 3 hours because we planned ahead and decided what we wanted to look at.  If we had more time in Paris, we would have spent the day. To put things in perspective, if you just wanted to look at their Egypt collection, they have over 50,000 items. Not all of the collection is displayed. 

At any given point in time, approximately 38,000 objects are viewable along with 35,000 works of art.  We were told if we only spent 1 minute in front of every object and artwork, we would need 65 days and no sleep. It is vast. It is definitely worth your time.

The Eiffel Tower

Champ de Mars, 5 Av. Anatole France, 75007 Paris, France

Tour de Eiffel close up with spotlight

Madeline would fly to Paris just to get more pictures of the Eiffel Tower. I think on our first tour of Paris in 2003, she took over 200 photos of the Eiffel Tower because it is mesmerizing. When we came back in 2022, it seemed more colorful, and the nightly light show was pretty impressive.

The Tour de Eiffel

The above picture was taken from our hotel room at the Hyatt Regency Paris Etoile which was an ideal location for both the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe. It’s one of the very few skyscraper hotels and they have a wonderful bar on the top that we enjoyed while snapping photos.

First lighting of Eiffel seen from Window

We wanted to go up the viewing platforms, so we arranged tickets in advance. I would recommend you get a tour where you can skip the line. They have two viewing platforms, and you can visit one or both. The views are terrific so you might want to pick a clear day. Some of the tickets include a glass of champagne. We found that we could go into a wine store and buy all sorts of varieties of champagne for much less than it would cost in a bar or restaurant.  Maybe you could get your champagne and take it back to your hotel and toast the Eiffel Tower from there?

The Eiffel Tower was not always as popular as it is today. When the plans were drawn, many important citizens were against it.  The French poet, Verlaine, nicknamed the Eiffel Tower the “Skeleton of Beffroi” to demonstrate the giant tower’s ungainly appearance that was bound to “disfigure” the city. The construction time of the Eiffel Tower was very rapid. The first digging work started on January 28th, 1887, and on March 31st 1889, the Tower had been finished.

The Eiffel Tower was created as the entrance way to Paris’ Universal Exhibition World Fair or ‘Exposition Universelle’. The intention was to mark the centennial of the French Revolution. When it was completed, the Eiffel Tower’s 1,023 feet in height made it the tallest building in the world, only eclipsed much later in 1929 with the construction of New York’s Chrysler Building.

The Eiffel Tower was supposed to be destroyed after 20 years. However, two million people visited the Tower during the Universal Exposition. The world noticed and French industrial power was recognized. Gustave Eiffel was determined to keep the tower intact. Scientific experiments were conducted in the fields of astronomy and physiology but what would really save the Tower in the end was its use as a radio antenna tower, first for military communications and then for permanent communications.

Every year approximately 7 million visitors visit the Tower. It’s been recognized as an historic monument since 1964 and a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1991. It is the undisputed symbol of France around the world and is probably the most photographed symbol in the world. Madeline will photograph it regularly when she visits.

Tour de Eiffel seen from Parc du Champs de Mars

Madeline was always looking for an interesting picture and the above one is on a street closed to traffic, but the Eiffel Tower was still impressive in the distance. 

Sparkling Eiffel with Paul in mirror reflection

She took the above picture of the Eiffel Tower from Windo, the bar/restaurant at the top of our hotel Hyatt Regency Paris Etoile.  The tower was all lit up in blue to honor France taking over the Presidency of the Council of the European Union in January 2022.  It was the first time in 14 years. She thought it was interesting to capture the tower and my reflection in the same photo. 

Statue of Eiffel at base of tower

If you look closely at the base of the tour, you might see a nice bust of Eiffel himself. He’s quite the famous guy in Paris so enjoy Paris and visit the Eiffel Tower.

Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris

6 Parvis Notre-Dame - Pl. Jean-Paul II, 75004 Paris, France

Notre Dame detail over main entrance taken 2003

When we visited Notre Dame in 2003, it was splendid. Then there was the fire.  On April 15, 2019, there was a massive fire which engulfed the Gothic landmark in Paris. The church’s central frame collapsed along with its famous clock and spire. Donations have exceeded $1 billion but the repair is time consuming and expensive. COVID caused unforeseen delays as well. The restoration work, organ reassembly and tuning are projected to be finished by April 2024.

It is definitely an old cathedral. It was built on a small island called Île de la Cité which is in the middle of the Seine. You might not realize it until you see you need to take a bridge from either the left or right bank of the Seine.  Construction started in 1163 during the reign of King Louis VII. It was completed in 1345. The flying buttresses were added to the design of the cathedral. They were used to support the structure and the Gothic walls. During the French Revolution, Notre Dame was neglected. Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel, “Notre-Dame of Paris,” was published in English as “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” You might have seen the movie, but the original book was famous for telling everyone about the poor condition of the beautiful church. As a result, a major overhaul occurred between 1844 to 1864. 

During its existence, it has received some famous visitors including Henry VI of England who was made king of France inside Notre-Dame in 1431. Napoleon Bonaparte was crowned emperor there in 1804. In 1909, Joan of Arc, who helped France battle the English and was later burned at the stake was beatified in the cathedral by Pope Pius X.

If you still want to visit Notre Dame before April 2024, you can still take photos from the outside. Here are some photos we took from 2003 and 2020.

Notre Dame from rear on Seine taken 2003

Notre Dame front entrance before fire taken 2003

The photos that follow were taken in 2020 by Madeline.

Notre Dame under reconstruction from corner of Rue Lagrange and Quai de Montebello

Notre Dame under reconstruction seen from corner of Rue Lagrange and Quai de Montebello

Notre Dame under reconstruction

Notre Dame is still worth a visit and I’m sure she will be more beautiful than ever in 2024.

Arc de Triomphe

Pl. Charles de Gaulle, 75008 Paris, France

Arc from Place Charles de Gaulle

The Arc de Triomphe is an impressive arch with a great history. Napoleon commissioned the building of the Arc de Triomphe as a monument to the country's military victories and the first stone was in fact laid on the famous Emperor's birthday on August 15th, 1806. Napoleon died before it’s completion some 30 years later. If you’ve seen newsreels from the World War I, you would have seen both the German and French armies marching underneath the arch. In 1919, a French pilot flew his biplane through the arc to commemorate the end of World War I.

The Arc de Triomphe is also the location of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier which honors French soldiers who were never identified in the Great Wars. There is an eternal flame and processions have not passed under the arc since 1920 out of respect.

When you visit the Arc de Triomphe, you’ll find it is a busy place. It is at the end of the famous Champ Elysees where 12 major roads intersect. You can take an elevator to the top or simply walk up the 46 steps.

Lights at Arc de Triomphe seen from our suite

It is beautiful during the day and the night. Madeline took the above photo from our suite at the Hyatt Regency Paris Etoile.

The Arc de Triomphe

Here is another picture from our suite during the daytime. You can easily spot the Arc de Triomphe even from a distance. We think you’ll enjoy a visit here, even if it’s just for a photo opportunity.

Basilique du Sacre Coeur

35 Rue du Chevalier de la Barre, 75018 Paris, France

Montmartre area Sacre Coeur taken 2003

You can see this church from all over Paris. The primary reason it is so visible is that it is tall, some 272 feet, and it’s on one of the highest points in Paris in the 18th Arrondissement. The basilica is located in the Montmartre area of Paris. The name Montmartre translates to mount or hill of martyrs. This came from the martyrdom of Saint Denis who was the first bishop of Paris back in the 3rd century. Many other saints have visited this area over the centuries including Saint Joan of Arc.

France and Germany were often at war. In 1870, the war was called the Franco Prussian War in which France suffered military defeat from the united German and Prussian troops. The war might have been over, but the French people did not take occupation lightly. France’s Emperor Napoleon III was captured in September 1870, the same month the Prussians besieged Paris. All of Paris was under siege until the city capitulated in January 1871. The French government signed the Armistice of Versailles with Otto von Bismarck, Prussian leader and soon-to-be chancellor of a united Germany. Bismarck agreed to withdraw troops from Paris to be replaced by France’s National Guard. France’s largely Catholic, conservative electorate voted in a right-wing majority in February’s parliamentary elections. But the radicals of Paris on the left wanted to go their own way.

It was during this time, Alexandre Legentil and Hubert Rohault de Fleury vowed to build a church dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Christ in penitence for sins committed and the misery of the French people. The Archbishop of Paris, Cardinal Guibert, approved the building of this church, and the hill of Montmarte was chosen as the most appropriate site.  

The laying of the very first foundation stone was in 1875. The stone used to build the Basilica was called travertine stone which is why the basilica seems to shimmer when sunlight or flood lights shine on it.

Mosaic of Interior view of Basilica of the Sacre Coeur in Montmartre Paris France

Inside, the basilica has one of the largest mosaics in the world which was finished in 1922. If you approach the Sacre Coeur from the bottom, there are plenty of stairs to climb, some 270 of them. Luckily there is a funicular which takes about 90 seconds to go up. The cost is the same as a metro ticket. We took the funicular up and then took the stairs down.

Looking down from Montmartre taken 2003

As you can see from Madeline’s picture, there are a lot of stairs and it’s easier going down than up!

The Sacre Coeur is a magnificent basilica and is well worth a visit. 

Musée de l'Orangerie

Jardin Tuileries, 75001 Paris, France

on Anatole France Quai with Musee de l'Orangerie across Seine

If you love French impressionist paintings, you’ll love this museum. Madeline and I would go to the Art Institute in Chicago when we were in high school. It was free at that time, so it was a cheap date. There were many impressionist paintings there and we’d go to our favorites each time. Madeline took the above picture of the famous museum from across the Seine. When we visited Paris, we walked all over the place. Bring comfortable walking shoes!

Claude Monet in Musee l'Orangerie one of a series of paintings entitled The Water Lilies on which he worked from 1914 to 1926

The Musee de l’Orangerie is located in Tuileries Garden. For impressionist paintings, you’ll have your choice of Cezanne, Renoir, Matisse, Picasso, Derain, Soutine, Modigliani, Utrillo, Douanier Rousseau and Monet. The eight Water Lilies paintings by Monet was offered by the artist to France in 1922. They have two special oval rooms just for the eight paintings.

You might wonder why it is called l’Orangerie. Napoleon III had the l’Orangerie built in 1852, to store the citrus trees of the Tuileries Garden from the cold in the winter. It has a glass south side to let light in and north side has no windows to protect the trees. It was used as an indoor garden until 1922 when it was converted into the museum it is today. There is an admission charge, but it is well worth it if you love French impressionist masters.

Église Saint-Séverin

2 Rue des Prêtres Saint-Séverin, 75005 Paris, France

Eglise Saint Severin partial in Latin Quarter on Rue Saint Severin one of oldest churches remains standing on Left Bank

This isn’t really an attraction. It is not the oldest church in Paris either. That distinction goes to Saint-Germain-des-Prés which was founded in 543. But we loved the architecture of this church, so we wanted to know more about its history.

The church of St. Severin has been a parish church since the 9th century. The Gothic building dates mainly from the 15th century when the church had to be rebuilt after the previous one burnt down. The bell tower and other parts of the façade have been preserved from the 13th-century building. The stained-glass windows are beautiful as well. It’s a great photo stop when you are in the Latin Quarter.

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