Paris still capitvates the imagination
Though much has changed over the years, classic landmarks remain unforgettable
The last time I was in Paris was 30 years ago. Notre-Dame Cathedral was standing proud, and the line for the Eiffel Tower was short. On a two-day stopover in the City of Light with my 93-year-old father (who had never been there before), I learned what had changed and what remained the same.
For me, Paris is full of romance and history. It is a feather-light trigger for flights of the imagination. Survey the iconic architecture and it’s easy to conjure images from Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, envision Ernest Hemingway knocking back a few at Les Deux Magots, or recall Gene Kelly kicking up his heels in An American in Paris. Sadly, seeing where The Hunchback of Notre-Dame rung the bells will have to wait until reconstruction from the fire is completed.
On my first trip so long ago, it was about discovering winding back alleys, sipping red wine on sidewalk patios, and leafing through old books at a vendor’s booth by the Seine. Thankfully, on this return journey all those pieces were still in place.
What has changed is the number of tourists. Paris bustles year-round but it was summer, high season, and the lines were out of this world. Since our time was short, instead of spending excruciating amounts of time waiting to get into iconic landmarks, I came up with a better idea. We each bought a two-day Paris Pass that allowed us access to museums and attractions. The Fast Track feature was invaluable and helped us skip the lines. The pass also included hop-on-hop-off sightseeing tours with Big Bus Tours that covered the main parts of the city and allowed us to get our bearings. An added bonus was the 30-minute river cruise. To top it off, we got Metro tickets that were useful for getting around the city on buses and subways. Well worth the money, $130 for a two-day pass.
Here are a few of the high points of our whirlwind sweep of the city:
Eiffel Tower. Early morning is the best time to go for great views without as much of a crowd. A glass wall now rings its base for security reasons, with one access point at each side, meaning you can no longer wander freely under the tower. Make sure you allow an extra 30 minutes to go through screening. Summit tickets for the top are no longer available on the second level of the tower; instead buy them online in advance.
Arc de Triomphe. Commissioned in 1806 by Emperor Napoleon, it was completed in 1836 and honors all who fought and died in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars. Climb up the 284 steps to the top for a great view of the Avenue des Champs-Élysées.
Musée d’Orsay, Musée de l’Orangerie, and Musée de Rodin. Out of these three exceptional galleries, we spent the most time in the Musée d’Orsay. It’s in an old train station, and we spent hours admiring hundreds of Impressionist works, including those by Renoir, Degas, and Monet.
Les Invalides. In this complex of buildings, you’ll find Napoleon’s tomb plus the Musée de l’Armée Invalides with a fascinating history of French military conflicts.
The Panthéon. Originally intended as a Latin Quarter church dedicated to St. Genevieve, this is now a secular mausoleum containing the remains of French “national heroes,” including Hugo, Voltaire, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
Luxembourg Gardens. In the Saint-Germain-des-Prés area of the city, this leafy green spot is where you’ll find a little peace and calm.
The Louvre. Use the Paris Pass for Fast Track entry or buy your tickets ahead of time and remember that first thing in the morning or just before closing is the best time to avoid crowds. Closed on Tuesdays.
Montmartre. Take a free Discover Walks tour (you just need to tip at the end) for some real local flavor. Highlights include Le Moulin de la Galette, where Renoir was inspired to paint one of his most famous paintings, “Bal du moulin de la Galette,” and the domed basilica Sacré Coeur.
Père Lachaise Cemetery. Some famous people buried here include Jim Morrison, Edith Piaf, and Oscar Wilde. The tradition is to kiss Wilde’s now glass-encased tomb.
To learn more about the Paris Pass, visit www.parispass.com.
To learn more about Discover Walks, visit www.discoverwalks.com/tour/paris-walking-tours/montmartre-tour.
Maureen Littlejohn is a Canadian travel writer and Executive Editor of Culture Magazin.
This article originally appeared in the June 28, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American.