By Leigh O’Connor.
Mythical, trendy, popular and unusual – Paris has many secrets to reveal to those who wander the streets of the City of Light. There is no better way to discover the legendary charm of this long-loved Capital, than to stroll along the Left Bank of the Seine or through the gardens of the Tuilerie, stopping for a café latte and buttery French croissant when the mood strikes.
From the lofty heights of the Eiffel Tower to Mona Lisa’s smile, visitors are never disappointed by the sights, smells, food and wine Paris offers. Here’s a few pathway ideas for those who want to venture out on their own and experience French culture like never before.
There is no escaping the fascination of this legendary district, from the artwork at the Louvre to the hieroglyphs at the Place de la Concorde. Begin to explore with Napoleon’s antique Arc de Triomphe at the top of the Champs-Elysee, commissioned in 1806 to celebrate the victories of the Great Army, and now the epicentre of any Parisian parade.
Wander down the ‘world’s most beautiful avenue,’ where everything can be found from luxury clothing to racing cars - 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Take in the columns of the Grand and Petit Palais, the Seine from the railings of Tuileries gardens, townhouses on Avenue Gabriel and a few Picassos at the Orangerie.
A few steps from the Rond Point des Champs-Elysee is the Decorative Arts Museum and the palace of the courtesan Paiva, while the futuristic vessel-like Drugstore is also impressive. Finish outside the Louvre, where the iconic glass pyramid welcomes visitors and Mona Lisa beckons inside.
On a clear night, the beam from the Eiffel Tower sweeps through the sky and can be seen from more than 80 km away. The area around the tower is just as impressive, with massive buildings and vast green spaces waiting to be explored.
With several museums to choose from, including Musee d’Art Moderne in the East wing of the Palais de Tokyo, this district will appeal to history and art lovers who want to meander down the hallowed halls and take in medieval and Renaissance paintings and architecture.
On the opposite side of the Seine from the Eiffel Tower, Trocadero is home to superb gardens, ornamental ponds and fountains, as well as the former woodcutter’s hamlet of Passy, with its little countryside laneways and olde world charm.
Climb picturesque Butte (little hill) to reach the Sacre Coeur, the second most-visited site in Paris and take a leisurely stroll through village after village to the popular Batignolles area, which once offered cheap living for artists such as Manet, Degas, Cezanne, Monet and Renoir.
Fill a shopping basket with delicious treats on Rue Lepic and the Saint-Pierre market, before stopping for lunch at a local bistro serving simple, hot dishes or crunchy salads. Amid charcuteries and dairy shops, there are designer boutiques and galleries to check out and in the evening, drop by Cinema des Cineastes, where movies from Europe and around the world are showcased.
Place de Clichy, at the crossroads of four Parisian districts, is the starting point of several historic walks in Montmartre and popular with pedestrians and cyclists. Locals love to come here for lunch, dinner or a drink in one of the many restaurants lining the street, making it an ideal spot to take a stroll under the watchful eye of Marechal Moncey, whose statue is at the centre of the square.
The Latin Quarter and Ile de la Cite form the historic heart of Paris, charged with emotion, light and shadow. From the impressive sculpted façade of Notre Dame to the stained-glass windows of Sainte-Chapelle chapel, reputed to have once housed Christ’s Crown of Thorns, this is a treasure trove of the old city.
Venture through the labyrinth of alleyways on the Left Bank, once busy with hawkers and rebellious students, or perhaps idle past private mansions on the Ile Saint-Louis. Long considered the birthplace of Paris, the two islands are very different with Ile de la Cite home to one historic site after the other, while Saint-Louis is a refuge for artists and poets.
Make sure to detour through the Jardin des Plantes, which since 1640 has been one of Parisians favourite walks, where they can wander peacefully among the lime and olive trees and pass school children on the trail of dinosaurs or learning about gardening, before exploring the hot houses, rose and peony beds.
The South-East of Paris is undergoing a renaissance where former railway lines have been landscaped, with benches and skater ramps installed. Artists rehearse at the Frigos, the former Paris-Ivry refrigerator station and Diderot University students can be seen on campus at the former Grands Moulins flour mills.
Flowering palisades and housing blocks stand shoulder to shoulder with skyscrapers and organic vegetable gardens. To go from one side of the Seine to the other, there are lush green tunnels, spindle-shaped steel bridges and footbridges between the four towers of the Bibliotheque Nationale de France.
Take a tour through Bercy Village with its paved courtyard
bordered with white stone warehouses, and
Cour Saint Emilion with enough boutiques to keep any shopaholic happy. Drawing its charm from Paris’ love affair with wine, Bercy Village is an open shopping centre next to the park, where visitors can amble through gardens and orchards.
For more information and to organise your very own Parisian adventure, head here.