On 27th-31st July, I made my first ever visit to Paris. The French capital is a city I had always wanted to go to and this trip was an unforgettable experience!
La Tour Eiffel
Erected in 1889 and named after engineer Gustav Eiffel, Paris’ Eiffel Tower has become one of the most famous landmarks in the world. Standing at 1,063ft tall, La Tour Eiffel is both the tallest structure in France’s capital city and the second tallest in the country. The tower held the record as the tallest-man made structure for 41 years until the building of the Chrysler Building in New York City, although with the inclusion of the antenna in the late 50’s it once again overtook the building in height.
Another record held by this iconic structure is that of ‘most visited paid monument in the world’ with the tower receiving over 250 million visitors to date. While I did not become one of them by ascending up to any of the tower’s three levels of observation decks, I did see plenty of the tower during my time in Paris – it is difficult not to really! It is a truly amazing sight that never gets old no matter how often you see it. Whether you’re standing in front of it, directly underneath it, or getting probably the most impressive view of the tower from the vantage point at Trocadero – there is a real excitement knowing that you are looking at one of the world’s iconic landmarks and it is something that everyone should see with their own eyes!
Place De La Concorde
The largest square in Paris, Place de la Concorde has a long and somewhat brutal history. Laid out between 1755 and 1775, it was the location where in 1793, after the French Revolution, Louis XVI’s head was chopped off by guillotine! In the next couple of years a further 1,343 were beheaded by the same method – including Marie-Antoinette and revolutionary leader Danton.
Originally called ‘Place Louis XV’ and later ‘Place de la Revolution’, it was first given it’s current name in 1795 as the ‘reign of terror’ finally came to an end and the guillotine was removed from the square. After much further renaming, including a return to naming it after Louis XV, it finally settled on ‘Place de la Concorde in 1830.
The square is between the world famous Champs-Elysees and the Tuileries Gardens and there are statues representing eight different French cities in the corners of the place. The most noticeable feature of the square is the Obelisk. Standing at 23 metres tall and weighing 250 tonnes, the obelisk towers over the Place de la Concorde. It was given to France in 1826 by Muhammad Ali (The ruler of Egypt and Sudan, not the boxer!) and is one of three of these styles of structure, nicknamed ‘Cleopatra’s needle’, with the others located in London and New York. The two fountains at either side of the structure were built in 1833 when the obelisk was erected in the square.
Completed in 1973, the Montparnasse Tower is a 59-story office skyscraper in Paris. It was the tallest building in France until 2011 and at 210-metres tall, it offers possibly the best view of Paris from it’s 56th and 59th floor observation decks which are open to the public. I was lucky enough to go up to the very top of the tower and the view is truly breathtaking. While it has often been criticised for looking out of place in the French capital, it is a great place for tourists to visit from the top you can see the whole of Paris, including the Eiffel Tower, Arc De Triomphe and all the other world-famous landmarks dotted around the city.
A cruise down the River Seine is an absolute must for any traveler visiting Paris. The 776km long river goes all the way through the capital city, eventually flowing into the English Channel. The cruise is highly enjoyable, starting and ending by the Eiffel Tower which, with the sun shining directly above it, looked truly magnificent. The boat also passed landmarks including Notre Dame Cathedral and went under many of the 37 bridges that cross the river. The Seine cruise is the perfect way to see Paris in the most relaxed fashion possible!
Arc De Triomphe
The Arc De Triomphe (“Triumphal Arch”) is one of Paris’ most famous moments. Standing at 164ft high and 148ft wide, the arch was first designed in 1806 by Jean Chalgrinin who based its look on the Roman Arch of Titus. The monument took a further three decades to construct, finally being inaugurated in 1836.
Located in the centre of Place Charles de Gaulle and at the end of the world famous Avenue des Champs Elysees, the Arc was built to honour those who lost their lives fighting in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars, with the names of all French victories inscribed on the monument. Below it also lies the “Tomb of the Unknown Solider” which honours those soldiers who were never identified in the two world wars, with the eternal flame alongside this which has been burning since Armistice Day 1920.
At the time of its construction, this was the tallest triumphal arch in the world however it has since been overtaken by arches in both Mexico City and Pyongyang – the latter of which based its own design on that of the Arc De Triomphe. While I did not do so, it is possible to go to the top of the monument, which offers an excellent view of the Champs Elysees and the rest of Paris.
Built between 1861 and 1875, the Palais Garnier is a 1,979-seat opera house Paris. Described by many as a ‘masterpiece’, it is the most expensive building constructed during Paris’ Second Empire and is one of the most famous opera houses in the world, due partly to it being the setting of the 1910 novel ‘The Phantom of the Opera’.
It was originally known as the ‘Salle des Capucines’ due to its location in the Boulevard des Capucines. However, it quickly became known as the Palais Garnier – named after the architect of the opera house Charles Garnier. The theatre is often known as simple ‘Paris de Opera’ or just ‘Opera’ as it was the home of the Paris Opera until 1989 when the Opera Bastille opened. Today the building is used mainly for the Paris Opera ballet.
Located in the Place Velodrome, the Hotel Ritz Paris was the next place we visited during out time in the French capital. The luxurious hotel was founded in 1898 and at the time of our visit, it was undergoing a multi-million pound renovation with it due to reopen in 2015.
The hotel has 159 rooms and has a reputation for luxury and housed many famous guests over the years. The hotel is probably most famously known in Britain as being the last place visited by Princess Diana and Dodi Al-Fayed, whose father Mohamed owns the Ritz, before their fatal car crash in 1997. We saw the hotel back entrance where Diana and Dodi left from on that fatal night, although like the rest of the hotel it was undergoing much renovation work.
After visiting the Ritz, we came across ‘L’Olympia’ (Olympia Hall) which was easily recognisable thanks to the large, glowing red letters at the entrance of the building! Opened on 26th May 1888, the music hall has had a huge variety of performers both from France and worldwide. The Beatles performed here for an incredible 18 days straight in January and February 1964, while other acts to have performed here include Madonna, Tina Turner, The Jackson 5, Celine Dion, Dianna Ross, Judy Garland and Sheffield’s Arctic Monkeys.
Pont Des Arts Bridge
The Pont des Arts Bridge is a pedestrian bridge that crosses the River Seine. The current bridge was officially inaugurated by the then Mayor of Paris Jacques Chirac on 27th June 1984, replacing the original bride in this location that has stood since the early 1800’s. Pont des Arts has become recognisable in recent years as one of the most popular ‘love lock bridges’ in the French capital with couples attaching padlocks bearing their names to the bridge and throwing the key in the river as a gesture of their love. However, this fad has caused many issues with French police attempting to stop keys being thrown into the river as they may cause pollution, while part of the bridge collapsed in June 2014 – just a month before our visit – due to the weight of the padlocks attached.
The Louvre is one of the largest museums in the world and a historical monument of Paris. One of the most visited museums in the world, the Louvre is home to nearly 35,000 objects from across history and it is estimated that it would take roughly 9 months to view every piece in the building, with the items split into eight sections (Egyptian Antiquities, Near Eastern Antiquities, Greek Etruscan and Roman Antiquities, Islamic Art, Sculpture, Decorative Arts, Paintings and Prints and Drawings). Probably the most famous object in the Louvre is Leonardo Da Vinci’s painting The Mona Lisa, which can be viewed by visitors of the museum.
While I did not go inside the museum during my time in Paris, I did get to view the hugely impressive building from the outside on a couple of occasions. The museum is housed in the ‘Louvre Palace’, which was originally built in the late 12th century as a fortress for Phillip II. However, when Louis XIV preferred the Palace of Versailles as his royal home in 1682 the building became largely for show. It has been home of the Louvre museum since its opening on 10th August 1793 and collection of items has slowly grown over the centuries.
The entrance of the building is home to the ‘Louvre Pyramid’, a large glass structure which was completed in 1989. There was much controversy at the time of its construction with many claiming it looked out of place in the palace courtyard. However, it has become yet another landmark of the city in recent years and is a nice touch to the look of the Louvre both in the daytime and at night, when the pyramid is lit up.
Notre Dame Cathedral
Undoubtedly one of the most famous cathedrals in the world, Notre Dame is an important landmark of Paris. Construction of the gothic structure began in 1163 during the reign of Louis XII and took some 200 years to complete. With its impressive architecture and stained glass windows, the building is easily recognisable and rose to worldwide fame thanks to ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’, written in the 19th century by French novelist Victor Hugo and later turned in to a number of film adaptions. As well as being one of the most popular tourist landmarks in Paris, the cathedral is also still an active Catholic church and a focal point for the Catholic religion in Paris with many national religious events still taking place at the Notre Dame cathedral.
Palace of Fontainebleau
On the penultimate day of our trip, we visited the commune of Fontainebleau, which is located around 55 kilometres south of central Paris and home to just over 16,000 people. While here we went to the Palace of Fontainebleau, one of the largest royal châteaux’s in France. With a history dating back over 800 years, the huge palace with over 1,500 room has a richer history than any other royal residence in France.
First built in the 12th century, the building was changed and expanded by monarchs for the next seven centuries. It was the favourite residence of both Francis I and Napoleon I as well as being the location where Napoleon abdicated from power and also the birthplace of Louis XIII. Such a beautiful building to look out both inside and out and not to mention such a rich history to go with it, I would highly recommend a visit to the Palace of Fontainebleau.
The Champs-Elysees is the most famous street in Paris. Located between the Place de la Concorde and the Place Charles de Gaulle, home of the Arc De Triomphe, the street is famous for its wealth of theatre’s, cafe’s and shops – many of which are luxury stores such as Louis Vuitton, Hugo Boss, Lacoste and many more. However, in more recent years more global chain stores have opened on the avenue including the likes of H&M and Abercrombie & Finch.
The Champs-Elysees is also famous for the military parade that takes place every year on 14th July in celebration of Bastille Day (French National Day) which commemorates the storming of the Bastille, an event that is seen as the beginning of the French Revolution. It is the largest and oldest regular military parade in Europe.