Novice visitors to “The City of Lights” often experience a sense of paralysis when they land at Charles de Gaulle International Airport or arrive at Gare du Nord. Paris has so much to offer that it overwhelms the mind. What to see first? What to see, period?
Some points of interest in the capital of France are obvious. Others however, coalesce in a busy sea of attractions and present serious contemplation on the part of active travelers. What to leave out and skip for another visit? What if there is no other visit? Impossible to see it all, even for the most eager and intrepid tourist, Paris packs more sights per capita than perhaps any other city. With a population that hovers just over 2.1 million people (12 million in metro Paris), Parisians are incredibly fortunate. A spectacular array of museums, monuments, parks and heritage architecure makes the city unforgettable and a perennial favorite. No wonder why more than 40 million people a year come to Paris from the rest of Europe and around the world.
Out of the plethora of highlights in the city, here are 10 that are most definitely must-see. Note the absence of the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe, both of which you’ll inevitably see in Paris anyway.
From the peak of Montmartre, the Basilique du Sacr?-C?ur soars over Paris like a beacon. The Romano-Byzantine Roman Catholic Basilica was built in 1914 and became famous all over again with the release of the film Am?lie in 2001.
The other famous Christian monument in Paris, Notre Dame is a Gothic wonder. Incredibly, construction of the cathedral began in 1163 and did not wind down until 1345. Countless epic events in the history of France have taken place inside Notre Dame ever since.
One of the most famous burial sites in the world, the Panth?on is a conspicuous landmark in the terrific Latin Quarter of Paris. If you want to pay your respects to some remarkable figures in history, this is the place to do it. Voltaire, Hugo, Zola and Dumas are just some of the giants who rest in peace here.
A relatively new attraction in Paris, the Pompidou has only been around since 1977. Nevertheless, the massive, hyper-modern facility is home to a vast library open to the general public and the excellent Mus?e National d’Art Moderne.
The other notable burial site in Paris for non-military use, P?re Lachaise is known throughout the world and especially among Jim Morrison fans. The enigmatic former frontman of The Doors has a plot here of course, but then, so do Oscar Wilde, Georges Haussmann, Balzac, ?dith Piaf, Gertrude Stein and Marcel Proust. Bring a map – the list of famous people at Lachaise is eclectic, impressive and long.
?le de la Cit? is a natural island on the Seine river in Paris and well worth a visit. The site of three superlative Medieval landmarks, the island is accessible by M?tro. Of the three, Sainte-Chapelle is the most spectacular. Since 1245 the chapel has been one of the undisputed masterpieces of Gothic architecture.
The result of the most famous railway transformation in history, the former Gare d’Orsay is a pre-eminent institution of fine art. One of the best in the world, the Mus?e d’Orsay features works from a relatively small but explosive period, namely 1848 to 1915. As a result, the museum is replete with names like Renoir, C?zanne, Van Gogh, Manet and Degas.
The historic Jardin du Luxembourg dwarfs every other public park in Paris, of which there are many. Size alone however, does not tell the entire story of this monumental space. The park is home to beautiful Luxembourg Palace, where the French Senate convenes to do the work of the nation. A long visit to the Jardin is in order, if not for a picnic then to see myriad monuments, sculptures and fountains.
Every top ten has to have one wildcard and the Mus?e des Arts et M?tiers is it when it comes to Paris attractions. The ominous backdrop of Umberto Eco’s great novel Foucault’s Pendulum, the museum not only contains said pendulum, but numerous other scientific instruments and inventions from throughout history. No other museum in the world is quite like it.
No amount of hyperbole can do the Louvre justice. So just go and find out what all the hype is about for yourself and for the love of da Vinci, ignore the life-hating cynics who call it overrated.
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