Go Back  Fodor's Travel Talk Forums > Destinations > Europe
Reload this Page >

Paris trip 3/26 to 4/12 - reviews of the sights

Paris trip 3/26 to 4/12 - reviews of the sights

Old Apr 15th, 2004, 03:33 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Mar 2004
Posts: 18
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Paris trip 3/26 to 4/12 - reviews of the sights

Random observations and rating the sights:

True story: we needed cheese to go with our baguette in Senlis, and we found a cheese shop by smell. Then we started noticing this phenomenon elsewhere, including Rue Cler?. smelling the cheese shops before seeing them. Quintessentially French, I would say!

Paris, just like any other big city, cannot be said to have a single character. It depends on the neighborhood., and each has its own character. We managed to get to each of the 20 arrondissements (large administrative areas, each covering more than one neighborhood), and found on the whole that Paris is a very prosperous, clean, well-run city, that seems to have undergone the same transformation New York City has seen. Living in Paris (or in Manhattan) has now got a certain cachet, so rents have risen, and poorer people have been forced out into the suburbs. Poverty in the midst of wealth can breed petty crime, but because there are really very few poor neighborhoods left in Paris itself, we found it a very safe place, just as Manhattan feels and is safer than it was 25 years ago. Other than an amateurish attempt by a 10 year old female pickpocket at the Trocadero at 10:15 pm at night, we had no less than pleasant experiences in all of the neighborhoods we were in, even in the admittedly slightly seedy areas at the southern end of Rue St Denis.

I probably never felt as satisfied with myself in my entire life than when a young man approached me, asked me for directions to the Palais de Chaillot, and I gave them? all in French. Believe me, the main phrases you need to know are the ones in any guide book, having to do with directions, travel, hotel and restaurants, days of the week and telling time, and counting.

Rating the sights at a glance:

Recommended, ?must do? if time allows:

- Any street market (get the list of where and when (in French) from the Paris Tourist Office website ? these were my favorite thing in Paris. We had the list and tried as best we could to buy our lunches at them whenever we were near one. The most interesting and cheapest of all is the Marche d?Aligre, just east of the Bastille)
- Ste Chappelle (just gorgeous, unique, my partner?s favorite thing of all)
- Eiffel Tower (especially at the Champs de Mars side, under it and at night)
- Louvre (use the side entrances described in the guidebooks to avoid lines? the line was 300+ at the pyramid, only 3 (yes, 3) at the Cour des Lions entrance.)
- Orsay (wonderful? go early (20 minutes prior to opening) to avoid lines and crowds)
- View of Notre-Dame from Square Viviani, just across the river on the south (the beauty of Notre-Dame without the elbowing crowds)
- Tuileries gardens (people watching and statues)
- Walks along the river (quintessential Parisian memories?. so romantic! The bridges are a delight. You could spend days just doing this)
- St Eustache (beautiful interior)
- St Severin (beautiful choir)
- St Etienne du Mont (beautiful rood screen)
- Montmartre (but not Sacre-Ceour/Place du Tertre) ? just follow one of the travel guides? walks. If all you see of Montmartre is Sacre-Coeur and Place du Tertre, you are missing the real charm of the place entirely)
- View from the top of the Arc de Triomphe (open late ? go at 5-7 pm for the colossal traffic jam)
- Any city park (any and all of them, and there are many. Just pick some and go! The best tended I have ever seen. Like the river walks, you could spend a whole vacation seeing nothing but the parks and have a great time. We went to parks a lot (the weather cooperated) and we loved them all. Our absolute favorite was Bagatelle. Another gem is the Parc St Cloud, really big, accessible by metro and bus, with great views over Paris, we felt much more secluded there than at the Bois de Boulogne or Vincennes. The Tuileries is loaded with tourists, but nice anyhow. Luxembourg is an even better, close in option. Go to any of the other fabulous city parks and you will be guaranteed a true Parisian experience, as tourists hardly ever go to any besides the Tuileries and Luxembourg, but again, they are ALL to the last one just great)
- Musee Carnavalet (interesting buildings, interesting exhibits on the history of Paris, and free!)
- Pere Lachaise (the best by a mile of all the cemeteries? better than expected)
- Bastille area (just a fun area to walk around? it?s got the best of what city life is all about? it?s authentic, unlike the Marais, which feels cliquey, or the Quartier Latin, which feels touristy). The area around St Germain-de-Pres was also interesting, in a higher-rent, bookish way. The areas around the Opera, the big department stores, most of the Right Bank north and west of the Louvre, in fact, is definitely highest-rent and felt too much like Fifth Avenue to us to be as interesting and colorful as other Parisian neighborhoods)
- Cluny museum (if just for the tapestries, which are truly stunning? but I think the Louvre has a better medieval collection otherwise)
- St Denis (an easy daytrip on the metro? its architectural and historical importance and the royal tombs make it unique, although the cathedral itself has been over-restored)
- Place des Vosges (beautiful residential square, the oldest in Paris)
- Napoleon?s tomb (it is impressive, and it only takes a few minutes to see)
- Three libraries?. At the Arts and Metiers museum complex, at the Hotel de Sens on the right bank near the Ile-St-Louis, and the Beaubourg? all free and interesting from both collections and architectural standpoints)
For daytrips:
- Chartres (the cathedral is stunning- the most beautiful building I?ve ever been in ? and the town itself is picturesque)
- Versailles (it is so grand)
- Senlis (terrific small town day trip ? medieval feel, yet not too touristy. You have to take a train and a bus to get there on public transport, but just take a deep breath, it?s easier than it sounds)
- Etampes/Chamarande (authentic small town France, accessible on the suburban RER trains - not ?cleaned up? for tourist crowds, as even Senlis is, but with lots of interesting sights. They were delightful surprises. Maybe not as precious as Senlis, but easier to get to by train. (RER C, trains every half hour, with several stops in Paris)
- Ecouen (THE hidden jewel for an easy day trip? a Loire Valley-style chateau and a lovely, mature forest just a few miles outside Paris, undamaged by the 1999 storms that wrecked so many Paris-area forests, including Vincennes and Versailles. By short train trip from Gare du Nord)

Overrated/not worth it:
- Interior of any church not listed above (there are a lot of very boring churches in Paris? just because Louis XIV had them built doesn?t make them worthwhile, as we found out. The exteriors of all the churches are interesting, but the inside?. Snore! Even famous ones like St Germain-des-Pres and St Sulpice )
- Chantilly (the difficulty of access along with the high entry costs and arrangement of the collection at the chateau?s museum made it the biggest disappointment of the trip? even the park was the ?least? of the several Le Notre parks we saw)
- Notre-Dame (the constant surge of people and the ongoing renovations inside and out can ruin it, although the exterior in particular is undeniably beautiful? please go before 930 am so you can really enjoy it in peace)
- Sacre-Coeur/Place du Tertre (Ugh! The awful, terrible, shoving crowds. There are other places to get a view of Paris. ?Don?t go? is all I can say)
- Conciergerie (Dullsville, if you ask me. Although the outside view is nice and the Halles des Gensdarmes is nice, much of the place is closed for renovation and Marie Antoinette?s cell is a huge anticlimax)
- Musee de l?Armee at the Invalides (again, the best bits (the Hall of Armor and so on) are closed for renovation and the rest is dull)

Iffy, depends on your time and interests:
- La Defense (we liked it better than we thought we would? worth a stroll if you like modern architecture)
- Montparnasse (it?s got a good night-life, but that?s it. Go for the bars, theaters, clubs and restaurants, not the ?sights?)
- Musee Rodin (this is the ?undiscovered jewel? that has been officially, unreservedly discovered? it feels crowded even in the off hours and the interior displays are unimaginative. Although Rodin actually lived there, nothing about the museum suggests that. My advice: see the garden and the exterior of the house, which are fine, and cost only a euro, and skip the more expensive, dull museum inside. Like Picasso, you can find Rodin anywhere, everywhere. Sorry, Rodin fans.)
- Catacombs (it was pretty much what we expected?. lots of stacked up bones, but the crowds and the new lighting system (you do NOT need a flashlight) take away 99% of the creepiness. OK if you have the time, which we did, but there are better things to do in Paris if you are only there for a week or less)
- Vincennes (the chateau was still fascinating to us, much bigger than we thought, but the whole place is covered in scaffolding, so much so that they don?t even charge admission to walk around while the renovations are going on. We still thought it very worthwhile as an easy, metro accessible medieval fortress? but there is a lot of scaffolding!)
- Beaubourg (if you like modern art? the building itself is also very interesting)
- Canal St Martin (ok, unique in Paris but a little less charming than we expected)
- Dourdan (as a daytrip on the suburban RER train (zone 6)? it has a over-restored castle and a market on Wednesdays and Saturdays. That?s it. Save the train trip and go to Vincennes and a Paris market instead, unless you are really into medieval moated castles and want to see more than just Vincennes)
- Meaux (also Zone 6 on the suburban train system, it has a big cathedral from the time of Notre-Dame and Chartres, and a nice little pedestrian area. Go if you are staying three weeks or more in Paris?. Otherwise, go to Chartres or Senlis for your cathedral/small town fix).

Were interested in seeing, but no time:
- Musee Jacquemart-Andre
- Musee Cognacq-Jay (both these house private collections that sound reminiscent of the Frick in New York or Isabella Stewart museum in Boston)
- the host of smaller museums (I?m sure there are many jewels there, but the weather was mostly good and we wanted to be outside. Besides, there is so much in quantity and quality at the Louvre and the Orsay alone, that you shouldn?t feel guilty over skipping the other museums)

Weren?t interested in seeing, so no opinion:
-La Villette (science and music complex)
-Musee Picasso (a great artist, but overexposed)
-the sewers tour (although we stayed just a 10 minute walk from there, the more we thought about it, the less appealing it sounded, given all the other options)
- just about anything not listed above. We really had a plan, stuck to it? and it worked.

Etienne_dOhio is offline  
Old Apr 15th, 2004, 03:45 PM
Join Date: Mar 2003
Posts: 22,724
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
You're right, Place du Tertre is a tourist attraption, and the Sacré Coeur is an imitation of the Périgueux cathedral, which itself was heavily reconstructed. Besides, it was started as penance for the Paris Commune but rededicated when it was finished after WWI. But the view from the terrace is impressive, and just off the Place du Tertre, at the top of the stairs, there is an Art Nouveau house of which I would love to see the interior. An interesting church is the one by the métro Abbesses.
Michael is offline  
Old Apr 15th, 2004, 03:55 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 11,212
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Michael - can you comment more on the church near Abbesses Metro? It name and what makes it so interesting?

adrienne is offline  
Old Apr 15th, 2004, 06:34 PM
Join Date: Mar 2003
Posts: 22,724
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
The church is Saint-Jean-l'Evangéliste built out of reinforced concrete at the turn of the last century. The outside is covered with tiles and the interior unfortunately is in desperate need of a cleaning.
Michael is offline  
Old Apr 15th, 2004, 06:41 PM
Join Date: Mar 2003
Posts: 735
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
You sure are right about Ecouen. It is a marvelous museum with an emphasis on the Middle Ages. In 1993 I stayed in a house swap in Montmorency and went there one day with German friends who came to visit. We all enjoyed it and it is almost never mentioned by Paris travelers.

You had a lot of interesting sites listed including several I have not seen in my visits. I am certain that your posts helped a lot of people planning trips.

Thanks for taking the time to post!
LaurenSKahn is offline  
Old Apr 16th, 2004, 03:32 AM
Join Date: Jan 2004
Posts: 145
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
We are heading for Paris is July,
so I've been taking notes!! I really appreciate the helpful information and your effort to share it!! Thanks!
cliquot1 is offline  
Old Apr 16th, 2004, 04:06 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 74,699
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Hi etienne,

Thanks for sharing.

Too bad you missed the Jacquemart-Andre'.

The nearby Parc Monceau is also worth a visit.
ira is offline  
Old Apr 16th, 2004, 04:07 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 74,699
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts

Were the chestnuts in blossom and the flowers in bloom?
ira is offline  
Old Apr 16th, 2004, 04:32 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 15,298
Likes: 0
Received 11 Likes on 4 Posts
Thanks for the great report. Full of informative reviews of things I haven't done yet, as well as many opinions with which I agree about the things I have done already. I'm copying this for the next trip.
Nikki is offline  
Old Apr 16th, 2004, 04:58 AM
Join Date: Mar 2003
Posts: 1,942
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Wonderful report! I am looking for things to do on my 7th trip to Paris in September and you have given me lots of ideas. I only wish I could spend 16 days!
mamc is offline  
Old Jan 12th, 2005, 10:56 AM
Join Date: Aug 2003
Posts: 1,401
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Hi Etienne,

Just wondering what you meant when you said the Marais district is "cliquey."

bettyo70 is offline  
Old Jan 12th, 2005, 11:53 AM
Join Date: Sep 2003
Posts: 244
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
It was a cold, windy day in April, and my husband and I stood in line for 30 minutes waiting to get in. It was just a tease . . . we were only admitted to the gift shop. Finally, after another 30 minutes, we ascended . . . .

I am staring at a panoramic photo on my wall that we just got framed. It is a picture of Paris from the top of Notre Dame with the Eiffel Tower in the background. The Tower is trying desperately to reach the low-lying clouds above. Everytime I look at it, I am taken aback; I am not much of a photogtapher. Something about the magic of our trip made that photo possible, even for me, queen of cutting off heads and putting a finger on the lense. Everytime I look at it I have fond memories of being there on that cold, windy day. If we had skipped Notre Dame, I wouldn't have this photo or the memories. Sure, other momentos can bring back memories, but nothing does it for me like this photo.

You never know when and where the magic of Paris will strike you . . . be careful about the places you skip seeing!
ilovelabs2003 is offline  
Old Jan 12th, 2005, 02:39 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 8,637
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Etienne's comments are from last April.
elaine is offline  
Old Jan 13th, 2005, 04:01 AM
Join Date: Aug 2003
Posts: 1,401
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Hi Elaine,

Yes, I know Etienne's trip report is from a while ago, but I was hoping he might still be online. I probably should address a new post to him specifically.


bettyo70 is offline  
Old Jan 13th, 2005, 01:58 PM
Join Date: Jan 2005
Posts: 1,571
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
"Paris, just like any other big city, cannot be said to have a single character. It depends on the neighborhood., and each has its own character. We managed to get to each of the 20 arrondissements."

Bravo, Etienne, for that observation from a fellow in the friendly 11th arrondissement, and for your sense of adventure. A small quibble with your thoughts about why Paris is a relatively safe city. (We have lived here since 1986). I think it has more to do with the fact that PARENTING still goes on here. As an example, I submit the case of French friends who would not for a moment consider cable television because of the sort of programming it would put before their four children. Unfortunately, the quality of the main non-cable programs has declined over the years -- as I suspect, has parenting. Or are those just the typical gripes of a guy of a "certain age."
Dave_in_Paris is offline  
Old Jan 21st, 2005, 01:01 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Mar 2004
Posts: 18
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
I just checked in after nine months and found recent activity on my post from last year. How nice! To reply to some of the comments:

by "cliquey", I meant the Marais is the kind of place where everybody, I mean everybody, dresses head-to-toe in black ... it may have been run down in 1968 but it is most definitely uber-gentrified now. I like my Parisians a little more real, a little more approachable. Republique comes to mind. You feel a real city there, no pretensions. Also the Bastille area. Dave of the 11th knows what I mean when I say the the Marche d'Aligre has an authenticity that many Parisian markets (Mouffetard e.g.) are beginning to lose.

In late March, early April, the daffodils were in bloom but not the horse chestnuts. The parks were well-endowed with primroses, poppies and pansies for color. The weeping willow at the east end of the Ile de la Cite was green. As I said before... the parks were lovely. The most floriferous at that time of year were Bagatelle and Jardin des Plantes. Try those, Buttes-Chaumont, Monceau, Andre-Citroen... and many others... we loved them all.

We did see more kids in Paris than you'd see in most American cities, downtown, that is. Places like the garden of the Palais Royale and the Luxembourg garden, and Parc Monceau (a close second to Bagatelle in beauty)were packed with kids. I still say the 20 arrondissements have no "bad neighborhoods", in the American, high-crime sense. Those are all out in the Parisian suburbs. You just have to be aware of your surroundings and avoid walking alone at night. Don't make yourself a target and you'll be fine.

I didn't mean to say, avoid Notre-Dame at all costs. It is just much much pleasanter if you go EARLY (before 930 am) or late (after 5 pm). You avoid the crowds that way. The trip up the tower (open 930 to 5, of course) was also a highlight for me... I too got some killer photos, in black and white. Looks straight out of a Hunchback movie. The trick was... we were in line at 9:10 and got it done before the parvis became a madhouse, promptly at 930.
Etienne_dOhio is offline  
Related Topics
Original Poster
Last Post
Dec 23rd, 2010 06:07 AM
Aug 2nd, 2010 06:55 AM
Sep 27th, 2009 08:47 AM
Apr 12th, 2004 06:43 AM
Nov 22nd, 2003 04:24 PM

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Trackbacks are Off
Pingbacks are Off
Refbacks are On

Thread Tools
Search this Thread

Contact Us - Manage Preferences - Archive - Advertising - Cookie Policy - Privacy Statement - Do Not Sell or Share My Personal Information -