Things to do in Paris
Canal St. Martin
Artists fleeing high rents in the Marais have transformed the once-dodgy Canal St. Martin into Paris's hippest neighborhood. Dug in the 1820s as a source of drinking water, today the 2.7-mile-long canal (part of it is underground) is lined with trendy restaurants, bars and shops. There are boat tours through the locks. Come on Sunday when the Quai de Valmy is closed to traffic.
You can't miss this world-class modern art museum housed in a mammoth glass and steel building decorated with massive, brightly colored pipes. The permanent collection includes works from Matisse to Pollack, and the special exhibitions are ever-changing. Don't miss the outdoor Stravinsky fountain with its wacky motorized shapes.
Shoppers stroll the famously picturesque avenue to check out the mammoth Virgin Megastore, as well as the mix of upscale boutiques like Louis Vuitton and Cartier, along with pocket-friendly chains like Zara and Sephora. A detour onto the other two legs of Paris' "Golden Triangle" - down avenues Montaigne and then up George V - will make your eyes sparkle and your wallet melt.
Think fish and Hollywood (but not Waterworld, merci). Across from the Eiffel Tower at the bottom of Trocadéro Gardens, the Paris aquarium is home to more than 10,000 fish, including 25 sharks, and a giant touch tank full of friendlier critters. But there are also two movie screens showing four films daily, exhibits about creating special effects, live performances, a Japanese restaurant, and an area for crafts - enough to keep any child busy.
Cruise the Seine
Instead of taking a snooze-worthy Bateaux-Mouches tour, splurge on a dinner
cruise with Yachts de Paris (www.yachtsdeparis.fr), which offers a
five-course tasting menu nightly in an intimate setting. Alternatively, mingle
with the city's young and fabulous aboard a summer evening dance cruise. Many
river boats - called péniches - are also available for private
cruising (www.abcsalles.com). For more Paris cruising suggestions, see
Top 10 Tourist Trap Tips.
Soak up the stellar tower views from the Place du Trocadéro esplanade, and follow up with a visit to the highest of the tower's three observation decks for breathtaking panoramic city views. At night, the 1,063-foot tower, built as the entrance arch to the 1889 World's Fair, sparkles like fireworks for the first five minutes of every hour.
The grandest of the few surviving 19th-century passages couverts, or covered arcades, the elegantly restored Galerie Vivienne, with its iron-and-glass roof and ornate tiled floor, is home to a dozen interesting boutiques, a high-end wine shop, and a bistro. Highlights include Odette & Zoe for funky accessories, La Marelle for designer second-hand clothes, and the American-owned tea salon A Priori Thé.
Shoppers head to Boulevard Haussman for the mega-department stores Galeries Lafayette (#40) and Printemps (#64), which sell everything from home fashions to clothes - the former hosts fashion shows (check its website for schedules). Galeries Lafayette: 011-33-1-42-85-12-00; www.galerieslafayette.com; Printemps: 011-33-1-42-82-50-00; www.printemps.com
Harry's New York Bar
Once a Hemingway-haunt, this legendary watering hole's Old World ambiance and superlative cocktails tend to attract a sophisticated clientele. Rumor has it that the Bloody Mary was created here.
Jardin des Plantes
Begun in 1626 as the royal medicinal plant garden for Louis XIII, Paris'
botanical garden is an orderly, charming, and somewhat bedraggled affair,
complete with tropical greenhouse and Alpine garden. There's a small zoo along
one side, while the National Museum of Natural History, Grand Gallery of
Evolution, and Galleries of Paleontology and Compared Anatomy (and its
collection of one thousand skeletons) sit across it.
A fantastic pedestrian-friendly shopping district, le Marais is a medieval maze of streets harboring trend-setting boutiques on the ground floor of 17th-century mansions, plus fine shops and galleries along the perimeter of the Place des Vosges. On the district's northern edge is the Marché des Enfants Rouges, the oldest food market in Paris, founded in 1615.
Les Egouts (The Sewers)
Everyone goes to the Eiffel Tower - but how many go to the sewers? Built by Napoléon, the cavernous sewers inspired the mythical escape route for the Phantom of Opera and for Jean Valjean in Victor Hugo's Les Misérables, and served as the real-life hiding place for resistance fighters in World War II. Today, a small portion of the more than 1,300 miles of tunnels that wind under Paris are open to visitors.There are street signs, photos, and historical explainers. Don't worry about the smell; the water rushing past is drain water (waste is channeled in separate pipes.)
Flea markets (open on weekends and sometimes Mondays) on the outskirts of Paris are worth the trek for antique treasure hunters; Saint-Ouen's flea market, or marché aux puces, in the 18th, is the best-reputed. Take time to sift through the heaps of silverware, antique beads, 1920's purses, or - if you can arrange a container - the beautifully restored art deco furniture.
Sit down for a Parisian-style pique-nique or just give museum-trodden tootsies a rest in this 55-acre haven of extensive lawns, gravel footpaths, embellished fountains, elegant sculptures, and meticulously designed flower gardens. France's Sénat occupies the 17th-century Luxembourg Palace on the park's northern edge, while the southwest corner holds a puppet theater. Rent and sail model boats in the large octagonal pond in the park's center.
Small designers have flocked to Montmartre in recent years, making this charming "village" a shopping destination. Troll the streets around the Abbesses métro station to find trendy boutiques, notably along Rue des Martyrs, Rue Houdon and Rue des Abbesses.
Set in a Belle Époque train station that itself is a work of art, the Orsay is home to a treasure trove of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings and sculpture. If you're pressed for time, begin your visit on level zero, where you'll find the star works by Cézanne, Degas and Monet. Come early to avoid the long entrance lines.
One of the world's best collections of Asian art can be found in this airy, well-designed museum. Gems include the extensive Chinese collection and the Khmer sculpture gallery - the largest outside Cambodia. Don't forget the Buddhist Pavilion, down the street at #19, with two floors of Buddhas from China and Japan.
The 19th-century power couple Edouard André and Nélie Jacquemart spent their married years touring the world and collecting art, transforming their sumptuous mansion into the showpiece of its day. The collection is an interesting mix, heavy on Italian and French Renaissance works. Check out the Tiepolo ceiling in the former dining room, now a pleasant café. The free English audioguide is recommended.
Auguste Rodin lived and worked in this mansion, which now houses two floors of the master's sculptures and paintings from his personal collection. If you're in a hurry, skip the museum and pay €1 to tour 7 acres of garden, where you'll find some of the most famous sculptures such as The Thinker and the Gates of Hell, inspired by the doors of Italian Renaissance churches.
Trek the 255 tower steps for fantastic Paris views and a close-up of the 12th-century cathedral's flying buttresses, gargoyles and fantastical creatures. Go inside for the magnificent rosette stained-glass windows depicting Old and New Testament scenes. Expect a steady stream of crowds at this Gothic masterpiece.
Opera de la Bastille
The city's premier opera house opened in 1989 to mark the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution. While its acoustics are superb, the boxy modern exterior failed to win over Parisian hearts. Reserve your tickets well in advance or try for a discount ticket sold before each show (standing room tickets are available 2 hours before curtain).
Charles Garnier spared no expense when he built his dazzling opera house dripping in gold leaf and marble. The auditorium's classical ceiling was later replaced with one painted by Chagall, shocking Parisians with its modern look. Reserve a ticket (well in advance) for a ballet or opera. For a behind-the-scenes peek at the house that inspired the Phantom of the Opera, take the entertaining guided tour (€12) in English.
Rue du Faubourg St-Honoré
This hoity 8th arrondissement rue is a magnet for shoppers on the prowl for international haute-couture from the designer houses of the ilk of Dior and Hermès. Don't miss the Boutique Talents-Atelier d'Art de France, near Opéra, where you can find the works of hundreds of young French craftsmen specializing in objéts for the home
The best view of Paris can be had from this white cream-puff of a church at the top of Montmartre. Climb the 262-foot bell tower or grab a spot on the grassy hill. Take the funicular at the base for the price of a métro ticket. The hilly streets in this quartier are some of the city's most charming. Take time to explore the area between the basilica and the Abbesses métro station.
The streets of St-Germain-des-Prés, in the 6th, exude pure charm. Follow Rue de Seine for art galleries and Rue Jacob for furnishings and accessories. Then stop into Au Plat d'Etain, on Rue Guisard, for the most charming collection of toy soldiers and figurines you're likely to see anywhere - even if you don't intend to buy.
Paris's underground ossuary contains 6 million bones arranged according to type: Rows of skulls, arms, and legs line miles of (well-lighted) tunnels. The bones were moved here beginning in 1786 when the city began closing many of its over-crowded cemeteries, blamed for outbreaks of diseases.
The Hemingway Bar
Barman extraordinaire Colin Field makes some of the best cocktails in Paris at this storied, pocket-sized bar tucked at the back of the Ritz hotel. With wood-paneled walls decorated with photographs snapped by Papa Hemingway himself, this is a cozy place to settle into an easy chair and order a Lemon Charlie (limoncello and vodka, €30) or one of the other house specialties. Come later for prime celebrity spotting.
With 35,000 artworks and 14 acres of galleries at this French royal palace-turned-museum, the Louvre can easily overwhelm. But it needn't - if you have a plan of attack. Visit the Big Three - the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo and Winged Victory - and then pick a period and country that most interests you. Or pick up a multi-media guide (€6) at the entry and follow the suggested tours. Once you finish with the art inside, focus on the exterior of the building, including the Renaissance Cour Carée, I.M. Pei's 1989 glass-and-steel pyramid, and the Cour Napoléon, leading to the Tuileries Gardens.
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Karen Dion Freelance Editor
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