The best way to experience Paris is to leave all your preconceptions of the city behind. Forget whatever anyone has ever told you about the Eiffel Tower, for instance. Simply wander through the streets to wherever your heart desires and soak in the magic of this city of lights.
Here are some of my personal picks of must sees and dos, and places to stay.
It’s a cliché, I know: to enjoy a relaxing cuppa and watch the world go by along this famous street. But I found it well worth the time – not only because I was treated to the best éclair I’ve had, but because of all the eye-candy walking by! There’s no doubt Parisians are a well-dressed bunch.
Aside from being bookended by two famous landmarks (the Place de la Concorde and the Arc de Triomphe) and witnessing countless historical military parades, the Champs-Élysées is also the place for upscale shopping – home to the largest Louis Vuitton boutique in the world, for example.
Arc de Triomphe
The Arc de Triomphe stands majestically to the west of the Champs-Élysées in the middle of a very busy roundabout. It’s the ultimate symbol of Napoleon’s military pretensions, with the walls of the interior inscribed with the names of the generals who fought and died in battles during his reign.
The most spectacular view isn’t of the Arc, but from it. Climb the 284 stairs and you’re smack-bang in the middle of Baron Haussman’s web of 12 avenues spreading out like the spokes of a wheel.
Montparnasse is a much more modest neighbourhood. In the early twentieth century, an influx of artistically inclined migrants from all over the globe lived here beside local Parisian intellectuals and artists. Countless cafés and bars continue to provide the breeding ground for conversations and ideas. And really good crêpes!
One can only truly appreciate Paris as the City of Lights with a stroll down the left bank of the Seine at night to capture the amazing views of La Conciergerie across the river. This former royal palace with a gorgeously illuminated façade served as a prison and torture chamber during the French Revolution.
It took Fitri and I three days before we finally headed to the iconic Eiffel Tower. Since arriving in Paris, we’d caught glimpses of the lacelike iron structure from afar. But standing beneath this Tower put us in awe of how Gustave Eiffel conceived something so intricate and massive as this in 1889. At night, when it sparkles in full glory thanks to 330 spotlights, it is out of this world!
Not far from Notre Dame lies La Sainte-Chapelle, within the precincts of the Palais de Justice. Louis IX’s private chapel is one-tenth the size of Notre Dame but in no way lacking in splendour. Admire the glowing intensity of the stained-glass windows that reach up to a star-studded roof. There are 16 in all, with illustrations of biblical scenes starting from the left of the entrance. Take a seat and take your own time to read the messages on each panel.
The vastness of this cathedral is magnified by a softly lit interior and impossibly tall pillars. You feel positively minute in comparison. Walking through the interior, don’t miss the many beautifully candle-lit chapels for prayers, and the countless statues and tombs. The treasures of Notre Dame are on the south side of the cathedral (entry fee, €10) where you’ll find medieval manuscripts, grand religious paraphernalia and relics including a portion of the Crown of Thorns.
Musée du Louvre
The largest museum in France and the most visited in the whole world, the Louvre houses the iconic Mona Lisa. Be there as as the place opens at 9am to get a good view of the painting. I recommend purchasing the audio guide. There are 35,000 works in the museum, and the guide helps give you at least a basic grasp of some of them. It’s impossible to cover the entire museum in a day. But that’s a good excuse for coming back some time.
Most landmarks are easily accessible by foot. Furthermore, walking is one of the best ways to enjoy Paris and the Seine River. But a Metro station is never too far away. The Metro and the RER train systems are two separate but linked systems – the latter is a suburban line used for visiting Versailles, for example. There are maps of the Metro’s 14 lines available at every station.
From Singapore, Air France offers daily flights to Charles de Gaulle International Airport in Paris. As for other parts of Europe, the Eurostar leaves from London and arrives in Paris two hours and 20 minutes later, while the Thalys takes you from Amsterdam to Gare du Nord station in four hours. Tickets for both railway systems can be booked online. Bear in mind that for the Thalys, your e-ticket printout will not suffice as a booking – it’s important to get a paper ticket before taking off to avoid a run-in with officials on board.
Accommodation – Fabulous Four
1. Le Méridien Etoile
Our first night was spent in Le Méridien Etoile, the world’s first Méridien hotel. Business travellers particularly will find this hotel perfect for their needs because of its location opposite the Palais des Congrès and not far from major business district La Défense.
The Le Méridien Etoile was recently refurbished with the help of renowned French designer Jean-Philippe Nuel. Our executive room featured a very sleek design in dark furniture with contrasting crisp, white bed linen and silver bubble lamps. I loved the clean lines and the classy mix of black, white and silver, which was carried through to the bathroom. www.lemeridienetoile.com
2. Hotel Prince de Galles
The Hotel Prince de Galles is part of Starwood’s Luxury Collection and it epitomises sophistication and old charm. The staff is warm and attentive, from concierge to wait staff and housekeeping. They even remember your name, not easy with 168 rooms in the property.
The Prince de Galles was built in 1928 during the Art Deco period. Famous visitors since then have included Sir Winston Churchill and Elvis Presley.
It has one of the most enviable locations in Paris, being just a few doors away from the Champs-Élysées, the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower. www.princedegallesparis.com
3. Le Méridien Montparnasse
Like Le Méridien Etoile, this property features contemporary and trendy décor. Our room was incredibly spacious, with two double beds, a sitting area for two, a study, a four-door wardrobe, and plenty of carpet still available for some indoor putting!
Le Méridien Montparnasse is also home to Montparnasse 25, a French restaurant highly recommended by many gourmet guide books. Don’t miss the chance to experience the exceptional creations of talented chef Christian Moine during your stay. www.lemeridien-montparnasse.com
4. The Westin Paris
This was our last stop before bidding Paris adieu. Two magnificent bronze candelabras greeted us at the entrance and set the mood for an over-the-top experience. The interior is all plush carpeting and luxurious sofas, with timeless chandeliers and tall mirrored hallways speaking of classic, refined European elegance.
Our room was just as impressive, with meticulous attention paid to everything including floral arrangements. The signature “Heavenly” beds were the perfect tonic for our museum-weary legs.
Its superb location adds to the attraction of The Westin Paris. With rooms directly facing the beautiful Jardin de Tuileries, not too far from the Place de la Concorde and just steps away from Musée du Louvre, this is the
perfect place for access to your favourite Parisian hotspots. www.thewestinparis.com
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