I had no expectations about the Île de Ré. All I knew was that it was an island to the west of La Rochelle, and to bring my bathers because there would be a beach. As the bus drove across the causeway that links the island to mainland France, the scenery changed. Gone were the quaint villages, green fields and endless forests. Now we were driving past campgrounds perched on the water’s edge, by salt marshes and through seaside towns as the bus made its way towards Saint-Martin-de-Ré.
The French come to the Île de Ré for summer holidays, and there is everything from large camping grounds to fancy hotels to accommodate the holiday-makers. In Saint-Martin, restaurants are clustered together along the harbour, while behind them the laneways lined with souvenir stores, clothes shops and antique sellers lead up the hill to the ruins and bell tower of Église Saint-Martin de Saint-Martin-de-Ré.
The Église Saint-Martin de Saint-Martin-de-Ré stands at the top of the hill and looks over the town. Visitors to the church can climb the belfry for a better look over the citadel and fortifications of Saint-Martin-de-Ré (part of the Fortifications of Vauban, a UNESCO World Heritage Site).
A stroll back down the hill through narrow laneways that shield you from the hot sun brings you back to the water’s edge, where you can walk along the fortifications of Saint-Martin-de-Ré, or make your way back to the harbour.
If you find yourself down in the Parc de la Barbette, you might come across a sight unique to the Île de Ré: donkeys who look like they’re wearing striped pyjama bottoms. While now a tourist attraction, the donkeys were originally dressed in trousers to help protect them from mosquito and other insect bites while they were put to work harvesting salt.
The laid-back atmosphere of Saint-Martin-de-Ré lets you unwind and have a holiday away from your hurried sightseeing of your mainland ventures. Breathe in the salty air, find yourself a spot to gaze at the view and enjoy letting go.
What you need to know:
The bus to the Île de Ré leaves from the Place de Verdun in La Rochelle. The bus schedule is posted at the bus stop. Tickets can be purchased from the driver.
The Palais Garnier – home to the Opera Nationale de Paris – may well be one of the most lavish places I have set foot in. Designed by Charles Garnier (who also designed the Casino de Monte Carlo), it is spread over seventeen storeys and contains two ballet companies.
Having read Gaston Leroux’s book The Phantom of the Opera, and being a fan of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical, I was curious to know what the real Paris Opera was like. I booked a guided tour of the Palais Garnier, and was on the lookout for signs of the opera house’s most infamous resident.
The Subscriber’s Rotunda
Guided tours begin in the la rotonde des abonnés. While you are sitting on the circular red velvet chaise, you can imagine men dressed in their finest suits and hats and ladies glancing at their reflections in the mirrors that line the room. On the ceiling, the intermingled letters spell out the name of the architect: CHARLES GARNIER and the dates of construction: 1861 – 1875. The rotunda is impressive by itself, but it is nothing compared with the rooms to come.
The Grand Staircase
The Grand Staircase is almost overwhelming. You have to stand still for a few minutes to take it all in. As you ascend the stairs, it’s hard to know where to look – at the statues and busts that line the doorways, the decorative marble and lamp fittings, or at the painting on the ceiling? Take the time to appreciate the full splendour of the Grand Staircase.
The Grand Foyer
Walking along the Grand Foyer, you feel like you are in a grander version of the Hall of Mirrors at the Chateau de Versailles rather than in an opera house in the middle of the city. They have similar designs – a long room along the side of the building with mirrors along one wall and large windows on the other. The Grand Foyer is decorated in musical motifs and along with the Grand Staircase is one of the most sumptuous rooms open to the public in the Palais Garnier.
After the splendour of the grand staircase and the grand foyer, passing through the corridor that separates them from the auditorium seems anti-climactic. Dark and plain, it provides a welcome rest for your eyes as you wait to be shown to your seat.
Off to the side, you’ll find Napoleon III’s entrance, which was especially designed for him to limit the risk of assassination. The Emperor’s carriage could be driven up into the Palais. From here, Napoleon III would be mere steps away from the Royal box. The entrance is also plainer than the rest of the theatre – war broke out and Napoleon III was deposed before the entrance could be decorated.
Once you have taken your seat inside the auditorium, your eyes start to wander again from the rows and boxes of red velvet seats, up to the ceiling with the glittering chandelier and Chagall’s painted ceiling insert depicting twelve famous operas.
And as for the Phantom?
While the tour of the Palais Garnier doesn’t take you backstage, or to the fabled underground lake below the building, the Palais Garnier does pay their respects to the legacy and legend of the Phantom of the Opera. The Phantom’s standing request for Box Number 5 is noted with a plaque, marking it as the Loge du Fantôme de l’Opéra. Are you brave enough to book it?
I’d be careful if I were you. You never know where the Phantom may lurking!
What you need to know:
Closest metro station: Opéra The Opéra station is right in front of the Palais Garnier.
Would you go and see: Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical The Phantom of the Opera if it was being staged in the Palais Garnier? It hasn’t been done, but I like the idea of watching it in the very theatre where the story is set.
Did you know that you can look over the rooftops of Paris from the top floor viewing deck of the Galeries Lafayette? From here, you can look down over the busy Boulevard Haussmann and the back of the Opera Garnier, across to La Défense in the distance, or at the domes of the Grand Palais and Les Invalides flanking the Eiffel Tower.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:
The Galeries Lafayette is at 40 Boulevard Haussmann, behind the Opera Garnier
Take the escalator up to the top floor and walk out on to the terrace.
The closest Metro stop to the Galeries Lafayette is: Opera
Do you have a favourite view over Paris? Share it in the comments!
It’s a long walk from Versailles to the Grand Trianon. Tucked away at the back corner of the grounds of Versailles, at the end of the Grand Canal, the Grand Trianon is a single-storey palace that looks on to a colourful French garden.
Originally built in 1687 by Jules Hardoiun Mansart for King Louis XIV on the site of an older palace and restored at various times by both Napoleon Bonaparte and Charles de Gaulle, it has housed many royal family members and foreign dignitaries.
After I had been awed by the grandeur of Versailles, and fallen in love with the cosy Petit Trianon, the Grand Trianon had its work cut out in order to win me over.
And it certainly tried its hardest.
So did the Grand Trianon win me over? Not quite.
While I loved the symmetry of the black and white tiles against the red marble colonnaded portico, and the elegant windows and massive chandeliers of the Cotelle Gallery, I felt as if the Grand Trianon was missing something.
Perhaps it was because I couldn’t associate it with anything. While I could link Versailles to Louis XIV, the Sun King, and the Petit Trianon to the whimsy of Marie Antoinette, I couldn’t connect the Grand Trianon to a historical person or event. It wasn’t as awe-inspiring as Versailles, and it didn’t have the cosy feeling of ‘I could live here’ that I felt at the Petit Trianon. It also came at the end of a long day of exploring the estate – maybe it was just bad timing that I didn’t appreciate the Grand Trianon as much as I did the rest of Versailles.
Have you been to the Chateaux de Trianon? Which did you prefer? Share your opinion in the comments!
As my train pulled in to the Gare d’Austerlitz station and I set foot in Paris for the first time, I had one thought in my mind: When would I get to see the Eiffel Tower?
I couldn’t go to Paris and miss out on seeing the Eiffel Tower, the city’s begrudgingly adopted icon.
While wandering around Montparnasse, I found myself heading towards the golden dome of Les Invalides. I happened to look to my left and there it was, peeking out from behind a row of trees: 312m of iron. I just wanted to spend all afternoon staring at it. How lucky I was to be in Paris, right next to the Eiffel Tower?
As I tore myself away from the view and began exploring Paris, I realised that I shouldn’t have worried about missing out on seeing the Eiffel Tower. As it’s one of the tallest buildings in Paris, it can be seen from almost anywhere.
If you can see the Eiffel Tower from almost anywhere, where should you go?
To fully appreciate the Eiffel Tower, it’s best to visit it at ground-level. Look up at the 10100 metric tons of iron above your head, and think about how many components (2.5 million rivets and 18000 metal parts!) the tower is made up of. Gawk at the omnipresent lines of people (be on the lookout for scammers!), and while you’re here, why not climb up the Eiffel Tower?
From the Champs de Mars
The Parc du Champs de Mars is a area of lawn that stretches out between the Eiffel Tower and the École Militaire. It is a popular place for tourists to bring some baguettes and cheese and have a picnic with a backdrop of one of Paris’s most iconic views.
From the Trocadéro
Across the Seine from the Eiffel Tower is the Trocadéro. You’ll find plenty of coaches dropping their tour groups off here for photo opps, but don’t be deterred (after all, it is one of the best places for photographs!).
From the Seine
Whether you’re floating down the Seine on a boat cruise or crossing one of the famous bridges of Paris, you can’t miss the hazy view of the Eiffel Tower.
From the Towers of Notre-Dame
While you’re whispering in the ears of the chimeras as they stare wistfully out towards the Eiffel Tower, ask them what they were staring at before the tower was constructed! The view from the towers of Notre-Dame de Paris will give you a sense of just how much taller the Eiffel Tower is than the rest of the cityscape.
From the Arc de Triomphe
One of the closer vantage points to the Eiffel Tower, if it’s busy at the top of the Arc de Triomphe, you’ll have to wait (or push your way to the front) to get the perfect view of the Eiffel Tower nestled amongst apartment buildings.
Looking out from the top of the Montmartre, you can catch a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower. While it’s too far off to the right to be seen while standing in front of the Sacré-Cœur, the Eiffel Tower reveals itself just as you turn from the Parvis du Sacré-Cœur on to the Rue du Cardinal Guibert.
From the Tour Montparnasse
My favourite view of the Eiffel Tower is from the top of Montparnasse Tower, where you have an unobstructed view of the city skyline and, if you’re there at the right time, the sparkling tower.
Where’s your favourite place in Paris to gaze at the Eiffel Tower? Share it in the comments!
Climbing the Eiffel Tower is on most travellers’ bucket lists. With visitors being able to climb the tower since it was constructed for the Universal Exhibition in 1889, it is as much an essential part of visiting Paris now as it was back then.
There are many options for going up the tower. You can climb the stairs up to the first and second levels, or save yourself the sweat and hop into an elevator for a less energy-expending climb.
Whichever way you choose to climb the Eiffel Tower, however high you want to go, the view from all levels of the Eiffel Tower is fantastic.
Views from the first level of the Eiffel Tower
First, catch your breath!
Whether you arrived via the elevator or you climbed the 345 stairs, your first glimpse of the views from the Eiffel Tower will leave you a little breathless.
On the first floor, you’ll find the 58 Tour Eiffel Restaurant as well as an exhibition about the Eiffel Tower, but what you’ll really want to do is look over the Champs-de-Mars and the Trocadéro and take in the views. They’re beautiful.
Got your breath back? Fantastic, because there’s another flight of stairs waiting for you to continue your climb!
Views from the second level of the Eiffel Tower
The views from the second level of the tower are just as good as the first (Just compare the last few photos!). 58 metres higher than the first level, you may end up with more photos on the second level, especially if you’re intending to catch the elevator up to the third level. The queue for the elevator can be quite long, and being in the queue forces you to move slowly around the second level, giving you the benefit of being able to enjoy the views for longer, and notice things that might otherwise have passed by in a blur.
Views from the third level of the Eiffel Tower
You’ve made it! See all of Paris before you, and take a rest. You’ve earned it!
While you could argue that the view on the third level is similar to the other two, on this level, you can show how far you’ve come by pointing your camera downwards. You’re now 276 metres above the ground. Luckily, there’s an elevator waiting to rush you all the way back to ground level!
Do you have a favourite view of Paris? Share it in the comments!
What you need to know:
Be prepared to queue. The queue to climb the stairs up the Eiffel Tower is usually shorter than the queue to take the lifts.
The first time I went to Paris, I didn’t even think of climbing the Arc de Triomphe. Standing back at a safe distance where I could take a photo of it from across the roundabout was fine with me.
On my second visit, armed with a Paris Museum card and running out of attractions that were still open, I headed for the Arc de Triomphe, and made the climb up the spiral staircase to the top.
It’s worth visiting the Arc de Triomphe just to spend some time watching the eight lanes of traffic. With everyone on the roundabout stopping to give way to cars yet to come on, it’s a wonder that through all of the chaos no one seems to crash.
Luckily, you don’t have to weave through the cars to start the climb to the top of the Arc – there’s a pedestrian walkway near the Avenue de la Grande Armee that goes underneath the road (take it – it’s a lot safer option!).
With an almost 360 degree view from the top of the arc, you can see all sides of Paris, from the CBD, the hill of Montmartre, the Eiffel Tower, and how Parisians try to get a little bit of greenery into their lives.
If you’re there around 6:30PM, there is a daily service where the memorial flame is lit near the tomb of the unknown soldier, as a remembrance for all French soldiers who have fallen in battle.
So for the chance to be in the middle of one of the world’s busiest roundabouts, climb the Arc de Triomphe and enjoy the view.
You would think that on my third visit to the Louvre in as many years, I would know my way around, right?
While the aim of this visit was to see the apartments of Napoleon III, I ended up walking around the same halls and corridors and seeing the same exhibitions that I had on my previous visits, and no matter what I tried, I couldn’t find a way to escape them.
Being drawn to the Denon Wing
Perhaps the Louvre has a special funneling system that makes sure all of its visitors end up heading for the Denon wing, or perhaps the Denon wing simply has a more prominent entrance than the Richelieu and Sully wings. Whatever the reason is, I always find myself walking straight over to the Denon wing’s security line when in the Hall Napoléon.
The Greco-Roman sculptures are among the first items that I seek out. From the masterpieces of the Venus de Milo, Psyche and Cupid, and the Winged Victory proudly standing at the top of the flight of stairs, to the lesser known but just as inspiring works, I find myself wondering about the reasons why the sculptor chose the particular design, and whether they modelled it after a real person or from their imagination. It’s easy to tell which are my favourites – it seems I’ve taken photos of the same statues each time I’ve visited (at least my taste in sculpture is consistent)!
The Galerie Daru, a hallway lined with Roman sculptures, always takes my breath away when I first see it. Ancient gods and goddesses, emperors, warriors, and muses look out unblinkingly as visitors make their way from the sculpture exhibit, past the Winged Victory of Samothrace and upstairs to the rooms of French and Italian Renaissance art.
Here you’ll find one of the most crowded areas in the Louvre. Jostling for space in a crowd forty people deep, cameras held over their heads, everyone is here for one reason: to get a picture of a rather small painting by Leonardo da Vinci – the Mona Lisa.
I’ve accepted that I’m not going to be able to take a decent photo of the Mona Lisa. My camera work is not good at the best of times, and here you’re not only battling against the other hundred people trying to take their own photos, but you’re trying to shoot through the protective perspex covering of the painting, which reflects not only the museum’s lights but the red lights from the cameras (and when I think about it, do I really need my own photo of the Mona Lisa when there are plenty of art books, prints and Internet images that are of far better quality?).
Though you might not get enough time to stand in front of the painting and fully appreciate it, it’s still quite special to see.
In the hall behind the Mona Lisa were more paintings that I recognised, mostly from my high school French history textbooks. It’s a surreal feeling to look at these paintings in person, to see Eugène Delacroix’s Lady Liberty leading the French, Napoleon struggling against the cold on his campaign to expand his empire, and the coronation of him and his Empress, Josephine.
Here is where I always get stuck. The Denon wing does not have a second floor, so I usually turn back and go down past the Winged Victory, through the Greek and Roman statues, back out to the Hall Napoléon, and up the spiral staircase to the exit, always thinking is that all there is to the Louvre?
There’s more to the Louvre than the Denon Wing!
I didn’t realise this until my parents told me about how they had visited Napoleon III’s Apartments in the Louvre. How had I missed out on those? And why hadn’t I found them in my previous wanderings around the Louvre?
Why did the Louvre feel like a labyrinth when it was clearly segmented into three U-shaped levels? I’m blaming it on being a natural blonde, but somehow my habit of heading straight to the Denon wing had made me forget that there were two other wings in the Louvre. I realised this after studying the map for a while, and asking myself why it was that no matter how many stairs I climbed up and down, I never got away from the Mona Lisa and those omnipresent Roman statues.
Feeling sheepish, I walked back out into the Hall Napoléon, and searched for the entrances to the Sully and Richelieu wings, to find out what surprises they had in store for me.
Finding traces of the original Louvre in the Sully wing
The Louvre was originally built in 1190 as a fortress during the rule of Philippe Auguste, to protect the city against the Normans. The fortress stood until the 16th century, when François I began transforming it into the palace you see today.
You can view the medieval foundations of the fortress on the lower ground floor of the Sully wing which were uncovered during the 1980s. As I walked around the walls, moat and remnants of the towers, I found it surreal to think of how old and yet well preserved the fortifications were.
… and Napoleon III’s apartments in Richelieu
Heading in to the Richelieu wing, I felt like I’m finally seeing a different side to the Louvre. I found myself in the Cour Marly, its glass roof reminiscent of the lattice pattern on the Louvre’s pyramids. The sculptures in this room were originally commissioned by Louis XIV for the Château de Marly and seem brighter and more impressive than the sculptures I left behind in the Galerie Daru.
From the Cour Marly, I climbed the stairs up to the first level of the Richelieu wing, and found my target. I felt like I was no longer in the world’s most famous art gallery. Here was the Louvre’s palatial side.
As I moved through each room, I couldn’t help wondering if when the French kings used the Louvre as their winter palace, whether every room on every floor in every wing of the Louvre was so richly decorated. If I thought the painted ceilings throughout the rest of the Louvre were stunning, they were even more magnificent in the apartments. The chandeliers in the Grand Salon were so large they almost dominated the room. It’s sad to think that the royalty who once lived here probably didn’t have the same feeling of awe at their surroundings as the people who visit the Louvre today experience.
I left satisfied that I learned a little bit more about the Musée du Louvre. The next time I visit, I’ll know my way around, and will make sure to explore other exhibits in the Richelieu and Sully wings!
What was your experience of the Louvre? Share it in the comments!
What you need to know:
Long line to get in to the pyramids? That’s not the only way in to the Louvre. Try one of the other entrances, such as that of 99 rue de Rivoli (Carrousel du Louvre) which will take you straight in to the Louvre via the inverted pyramid.
The Louvre is closed on Tuesdays, but keep an eye out for longer opening hours on Wednesdays and Fridays.
Staring up at the tower of Notre-Dame de Paris, you think of the bell ringer. The hunchback. Quasimodo.
Victor Hugo’s novel Notre-Dame de Paris and its protagonist Quasimodo, the “Hunchback of Notre-Dame” helped to raise awareness of the importance of maintaining significant medieval buildings and in 1845 brought about a restoration effort by Viollet-le-Duc to revive the neglected cathedral. Ever since, climbing the towers of Notre-Dame has been a must-do for visitors to Paris.
As you climb the narrow steps up to the top of the tower, look around at the windows and the stairs and feel the cold tower wall. When Victor Hugo came here and explored the towers, he came across the Greek word ANAKH, which means ‘fate’. It was one of the sources of inspiration for his novel, and if you pay attention perhaps you can find your own story inspiration carved into the stone.
After you reach the top of the first staircase, you find yourself in the Chimera Gallery. Here, you can see why Disney chose to use the chimeras as Quasimodo’s companions in their 1996 animated film The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. They all seem to have their own unique characters as they stare out past the cathedral and over the city of Paris. Each is carved in such detail, it’s like they were meant to be on display for people to climb the towers to see them.
As you move slowly along the Chimera Gallery, they’re everywhere. It’s a testament to the skill of the stonemasons, who must have spent months and years following Viollet-le-Duc’s designs. You could become so absorbed in picking out the different animals that you could forget to look at the view!
After you’ve taken in the Chimera Gallery (and ducked in to the South Tower’s belfry – mind your step! – to see Emmanuel, the cathedral’s largest bell weighing in at over 13 tonnes!), you have another staircase to ascend, which takes you to the very top of the South Tower for a 360 degree view of Paris.
The view of Paris changes depending on where you are. From the Towers of Notre-Dame, higgledy-piggledy rooftops hide streets and almost take over the Seine. Only the spires of churches, domes of palaces and the very tops of towers can be seen.
Don’t forget to look down over the cathedral itself and admire the architecture of the catchments that carry rain water to spout from the mouths of the gargoyles, to the flying buttresses that support the cathedral walls.
Whether or not you find story inspiration and go on to write a bestseller like Victor Hugo, take the time to climb the Towers of Notre-Dame and you will find one of the best views over Paris.
Do you have a favourite view of Paris? Share it in the comments!
What you need to know:
If you’re standing in front of Notre-Dame de Paris, the entrance to the towers is to the left of the cathedral
Get there early and be prepared to wait – in summer (June – August) you could be queuing for up to two hours
The French writer Guy de Maupassant reputedly said that the best view of Paris was from the Eiffel Tower, because he could look out over Paris and not have to see the tower itself. Many people hold the same view of Montparnasse Tower (Tour Montparnasse) – the sleek black skyscraper, that looks out of place amongst the older buildings of Paris.
While I do feel sorry that the tower gets such a bad rap, the truth is that these people are right: the views from the topmost floors of the tower are amazing, and you could spend hours here picking out the landmarks.
Make sure you get out on the terrace for the best view
Montparnasse Tower is essentially an office building, with the 56th floor turned in to a panoramic viewing area for tourists. From here you can see iconic buildings such as Notre-Dame de Paris, Les Invalides, the Louvre, the Sacré Cœur, the twist of railway lines beyond the Gare Montparnasse and, of course, a fantastic view of the Eiffel Tower. There are also interactive panels, a photo exhibition, a gift shop and a café.
While the view from the 56th floor is great, if you want to take photos you have to deal with potential glare and windows smudged with fingerprints. If you turn right as you walk in, you will find a staircase that will take you up on to the terrace and allow you to look over Paris without trying to shoot around bars and through windows.
Time your visit for sunset
My tip for visiting Montparnasse Tower? Go an hour before sunset. That way, you can enjoy the view in daylight, then watch as twilight settles over the city and the yellow glow of the streetlights appear, and then once the sky has darkened you can catch the ultimate view of the Eiffel Tower as it sparkles in the night.
Plan to spend at least an hour taking in the views here and to fully enjoy the experience!
Do you have a favourite view of Paris? Share it in the comments!
What you need to know:
Montparnasse Tower is located across the road from the Gare Montparnasse and can be reached by Metro at stop Montparnasse Bienvenüe