Travel Guide | Paris

College Tourist City Guide to Paris, France

Paris: the city of light, love, fashion and epicurean delights whose charm captivates all visitors and residents alike

As the capital city of France, Paris has so much to offer, be it museums, restaurants, theatre, parks or simply charm. Paris was founded in the 3rd century BC by a Celtic tribe called the Parisii who settled on Ile de la Cité. In 52AD, the Romans conquered the Parisii and named Paris Lutetia. Roman ruins from their relatively small settlement are still visible throughout the city, under Notre Dame and in the old Roman ampitheatre, Les Arènes de Lutèce. During the 12th century, while Notre Dame was being constructed, Paris became known for its scholars and university, the Sorbonne. The Renaissance brought Paris many glorious buildings including Versailles. 1789 saw the French Revolution, Napoleon, many changes of regime, and some tough times.

During the mid-1800s Paris was almost completely redesigned by Georges Haussmann, removing the crowded and unhealthy medieval neighborhoods and adding in the wide avenues, perfectly matching buildings, parks and squares we see today. By the late 1800s, Paris was back on its feet, with the famous Eiffel Tower opening in 1889 and the Metro opening in 1900. After the occupation of Paris by the Germans in World War II, the French witnessed a quick succession of governments, eventually leading to the current Fifth Republic after problems in the French colony of Algeria in 1958. In 1968 student riots broke out in Paris with the goal of changing society as a whole, the results of which are said to have ended the “middle age” in France.

paris sunset

“Whoever does not visit Paris regularly will never really be elegant.” – Honoré de Balzac

Since then, Paris has been caught up in a storm of modernization and a simultaneous desire to remain a traditionally charming, no high-rise city with neighborhoods with local boulangeries, cafes and patisseries.  Today, Paris is considered not just the capital city of France but also the capital city of fashion, gastronomy and culture. It has inspired the likes of Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Cole Porter, Josephine Baker and Salvador Dali. It has been the setting of several movies including An American in Paris, Gigi, Amélie, Moulin Rouge, Paris Je T’aime, Hugo, and Midnight in Paris. Its renowned gastronomy inspired Julia Child and inspires many top chefs to this day. Its fashion is something to be marveled at: Parisians walk around their city with a certain je ne sais quoi, as well dressed as ever.

When visiting or studying in Paris, you’ll be walking around streets that have witnessed thousands of years of history, eating in cafes where some of the greatest authors and artists have dined, and going to museums that are the envy of the world.

What to see

With so much to offer, narrowing down the top attractions is almost impossible. These five are usually the most visited in Paris.

Louvre:

A late 11th century fortress turned royal residence turned museum, the Louvre is the museum to visit in Paris. With about 15 acres of galleries and over 35,000 works of art, it is one of the main attractions in Paris and their most well known museum. Head there to see the Mona Lisa, Hammurabi’s Code, Aphrodite or any number of the world’s masterpieces!

Eiffel Tower:

Built in 1889 by Gustave Eiffel to mark the 100th anniversary of the World’s Fair, the Eiffel Tower was originally meant to be only a temporary exhibition, but was kept for its utility as a radiotelegraph station during World War I. Today, it attracts millions of people each year, either opting to climb the stairs or take the lift to the top, or choosing to simply relax in its park and look up at its beauty

eiffel tower night

The Eiffel Tower at night

Notre Dame:

Located on one of the two small islands in the middle of the city, Notre Dame has a fascinating 800 year history. It’s one of the best-known churches in the world and attracts more visitors each year than the Eiffel Tower. Enter freely and enjoy the gorgeous interior. For a couple of Euros, you can climb to the top for a great view of Paris.

Arc de Triomphe:

Built in the early 1800s to honor those who fought during the Napoleonic Wars, the Arc de Triomphe is now a major tourist attraction that also houses the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and Paris’ Memorial Flame. Climb to the top to get a fantastic view of the city and afterwards stroll down the adjacent and famous Champs-Elysées.

Musée d’Orsay:

Housed in the gorgeous old Orsay train station, Musée d’Orsay houses the world’s most important collection of impressionist and post-impressionist paintings. Head over to see Degas’s famous ballerinas, famous works by Van Gogh, Manet, Delacroix and even more!

Backstreets

Every area of Paris seems to have some backstreet or hidden treasure! To step back in time, head to les passages, or covered walkways where people used to do their shopping, hidden throughout the city. Le Marais and the Latin Quarter, two of the oldest areas in Paris have many quaint haunts, from small cafes to cute stores to hidden galleries. The areas around Centre Pompidou (the modern art museum) and Monmartre are very artsy and full of great street art, artists and galleries.

louvre

The Louvre and its glass pyramid

Fun for Free

If you’re in Paris and have a student visa and your student ID with you, you get into all museums for free! Paris has numerous parks throughout the city, all gorgeous and perfect places for picnics and walks. All but a couple cathedrals are free to enter and all are gorgeous to wander through! If you’re interested in seeing the graves of famous politicians, authors or artists, head to Paris’s two major cemeteries, Père Lachaise and Cimetière du Montparnasse. Many neighborhoods have open markets on certain days of the week, offering fresh foods at affordable prices.

Where to Eat

If you’re in a hurry or want to have a picnic, grab a sandwich or quiche at any boulangerie. Head to Le Marais for the best falafel in the world at l’As du Falafel, some fantastic takeaway crepes or some delicious pastries from the Jewish bakeries. For a nicer, sit-down meal, try Les Philosophes in Le Marais, Au Petit Suisse near Jardin du Luxembourg, or other cafes in central Paris. If you want to dine where the literati dine, head to Les Deux Magots or Café de Flore (great for parent dinners).

les deux magots

Les Deux Magots, a world-famous cafe where many prominent authors have dined.

Try This

Paris is known for its gastronomy. If you’re feeling adventurous, be sure to try escargot (snails) or frog legs. If you want to play it a little safer, you must try every type of pastry or dessert you come across, you’ll never have an equal to it again! The French have vibrant North African, Indian and Asian communities, all with unique restaurants with traditional foods that are highly recommended.

After Dark

During the summer when the nights are warm and long, it is not uncommon to grab a drink with friends and sit along the Seine. Areas like Bastille and Pigalle have many bars and clubs that are popular with students and young adults. If you’re into a more high-end night out, head to Les Champs Elysées.

Transportation

Paris has many affordable means of transportation. The Metro is probably the most efficient way to get around Paris. However, the city also has buses, an ever-growing bike rental system, and cabs. The best way to get to know Paris though is by walking around. It’s a very walkable city with gorgeous architecture.

seine

Walking along the Seine

Local Knowledge

Restaurant Etiquette: In France, it is considered rude to not eat all the food on your plate. Portions are much smaller than they are in America and restaurants do not offer the taking away of leftovers. When given bread at meals, instead of putting it on your plate, place it on the table next to your plate. Waiters at restaurants will offer you mineral water but you can ask for tap water (une carafe d’eau) which is free and will save you several Euros.

Metro Etiquette: In the metro, loud conversations whether with friends or on the phone are considered rude. It’s also important to stand to the right side of escalators unless you want to get pushed to the ground by rushing commuters!

French: The French have a reputation for being rude and unwelcoming to tourists. From my experience this usually stems from a lack of knowledge of their culture, language or even a lack of manners. If you know a little French, even if it’s just bonjour, merci, or s’il vous plait, it will go far, and you’ll find the French a lot more welcoming than their stereotype!

Alex Mathews

Davidson College | 8 stories

Alex is a senior at Davidson College in North Carolina studying Political Science and French. She spent her junior year abroad at the London School of Economics and spent Summer 2014 abroad in Paris, where she visited 13 countries and 43 cities. In her free time she loves blogging at her personal site: lifewellwandered.com , reading, planning dream trips, drinking tea, and exploring.


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