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Paris Introduction Walk II (Self Guided), Paris

From the Louvre to the Notre-Dame Cathedral to Place de la Bastille, the evolution of Paris and its history is literally visible on the banks of the river Seine, the linking thread winding its way through the city, as if keeping a watchful eye on its architectural marvels. This walk is centered around Île de la Cité and Le Marais, which together form the historical core of power in Paris. Along the way, we will learn about some iconic landmarks well-known and firmly imprinted in the French revolutionary past, as well as some hidden gems, too. There's hardly a better place to end a walk around Old Paris than in the tranquil Place des Vosges. But if you seek an exciting ending to this walk, you may find it in Place de la Bastille, from where you can take a cruising boat further down the canal along the river Seine. So, bon voyage!
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Paris Introduction Walk II Map

Guide Name: Paris Introduction Walk II
Guide Location: France » Paris (See other walking tours in Paris)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 9
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 4.4 Km or 2.7 Miles
Author: greghasleft
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Louvre Museum
  • Pont-Neuf
  • Notre-Dame Cathedral
  • Sainte-Chapelle
  • La Conciergerie
  • City Hall (Hotel de Ville)
  • Rue de Rivoli
  • Maison de Victor Hugo (Victor Hugo House Museum)
  • Place des Vosges
1
Louvre Museum

1) Louvre Museum (must see)

Originally a fortress-turned-royal palace, the Louvre eventually has become France’s #1 cultural venue, to call which simply a museum now would be a huge understatement! Housing some 38,000 artifacts, spanning the period from the times prehistoric to the 21st century, the Louvre offers a truly one-of-a-kind experience to those considering themselves genuine art lovers.

Whatever your interest – paintings, sculptures, archaeological findings, pharaoh tombs or beautiful jewelry or trinkets of various sorts from all over the world – the Louvre has it all in abundance, including some of the world-acclaimed masterpieces like the ancient Greek statues “Venus de Milo” and “The Winged Victory of Samothrace” or the “Raft of the Medusa” painting, not to mention the talk of the world – “Mona Lisa” by Leonardo Da Vinci.

In fact, for many, Mona Lisa is the prime, if not the only, reason they come to the Louvre. If you're one of them, be ready to politely wedge your way through the crowd to the front row, so as to be able to snap a few shots of the painting, if lucky. Still, it is not until you visit some of the less hyped areas of the Louvre, like the Sully or Richelieu wings for instance, that you will get to see its true colors. Less crowded than the others, these galleries are just as much treasure troves, if not more. The Richelieu wing, in particular, is extremely chic and renowned for its brilliant lighting and glassed courtyards, truly unique pieces of architecture to see which is an incomparable aesthetic pleasure. The highlight of the Richelieu is the Napoleon III apartment with its gargantuan chandeliers, acres of ceiling paintings, swathes of red velvet, and an explosion of decorative moldings, not to mention the kilos of gold leafs used for gilding in a bid to create an overwhelmingly opulent setting.

In 2018, the Louvre was declared the world's most visited art museum, averaging 28,000 visitors per day. If you're determined to check the Louvre off your bucket list successfully, be sure to procure your tickets or museum pass well in advance and, in order to get in quicker, take the less-crowded underground entrance at Porte des Lions (the Lions Gate). The most convenient time to visit would be Wednesday or Friday afternoon when the museum is open till 10pm. Subject to season, you may then almost have the whole place to yourself, believe it or not, in which case the experience would be absolutely fantastic! Also, once inside, make sure to get a map so as to save yourself some precious time running back and forth; otherwise you may end up struggling to find your way around the place just to see what you want to see...

Why You Should Visit:
One-of-a-kind experience and still one of the most wonderful places for an art lover.

Opening Hours:
Mon, Thu, Sat, Sun: 9am-6pm; Wed, Fri: 9am-9:45pm
1st Saturday of each month: 6-9:45pm, free for all visitors.
Rooms begin closing at 5:30pm and at 9:30pm on night openings.
2
Pont-Neuf

2) Pont-Neuf

The Pont-Neuf (or the New bridge) in Paris has been around since the late Middle Ages. Although the name claims that it's new, it is, in fact, the oldest standing river crossing in Paris. Despite the age, or perhaps because of it, the bridge is just as popular today as it was back in the 1600s when it first opened and is undoubtedly the most famous of all the bridges spanning the river Seine. In reality, the word “new” was to distinguish it from the other, older bridges standing at the time and traditionally lined with houses on both sides. The novelty of this New Bridge was that it was the first one built without houses along it, thus allowing to observe, from the river, the unobstructed panorama of Paris in all its clarity complete with the boats passing underneath. Centuries on, this panorama has expanded with the arrival of new landmarks, such as the Eiffel Tower, complementing the long-standing ones like the Notre-Dame Cathedral on Île de la Cité.

Another distinguishable feature of the Pont-Neuf is the semicircular bastions jutting out above the piers. These were made to allow people to step aside so as not to get wet or soiled in mud by the passing carriages. Later on, they were used as meeting places and, at one point, even served as trading spots for the street vendors and even tooth-pullers. Now that the traders are gone, these bastions are occupied primarily by tourists and romantic couples.

Also noticeable about the Pont-Neuf is the presence of mascarons, the stone masks in high relief, some 300 of them on the outside edges of the bridge, close to the cornice. If you look closer, you will notice that each mascaron is different and has a distinct and somewhat unusual expression; seems like they're grimacing or something...

Why You Should Visit:
If you're the kind of person who likes watching boats – this is a great spot.
Otherwise, some fantastic views of old Paris from either side!

Tip:
For those keen on bridges and wishing to see the Pont-Neuf from a totally different angle, there is a River Seine cruise company called “Vedettes du Pont-Neuf” whose office is right next to the bridge. Their river cruise is a really good value for money, and you can pick up their discount voucher from the majority of tourist information offices around Paris. Highly recommended!
3
Notre-Dame Cathedral

3) Notre-Dame Cathedral (must see)

While the Eiffel Tower is an instantly recognizable symbol of France, the Notre-Dame Cathedral is a definitive symbol of Paris. At the time of its construction, it was the most ambitious French cathedral project ever attempted and, with its vaults rising above 33 meters, it held a national height record for several decades. The intrinsic beauty and architectural complexity of the cathedral has long made it an undisputed top landmark of Paris and an absolute must-see for visitors.

Largely completed in the 13th century, its construction took overall around 160 years, and thus can be attributed to an early-Gothic period. Following later attempts to modernize it in the 13th century, the final major round of work on the building came in the 19th century to repair the damage caused by brutal vandalism of the French Revolution. Nearly all of the cathedral's decorative elements seen today date back to that period.

Apart from the architectural side, another reason the Notre-Dame is so famous is “The Hunchback of Notre-Dame” novel by Victor Hugo written in 1831. In the course of history, the cathedral has witnessed many glorious and tragic events. In the midst of the Second World War, upon the Fall of France, there were fears that the German invaders might destroy the freshly renovated stained glass of the Notre-Dame, called the Rose Window. To prevent that, a lion's portion of the glass was hidden and re-installed only after the war was over. Created in the 13th century, this world's biggest glass window recently has made headlines again after successfully surviving the devastating fire in April 2019, along with some other artifacts and relics which are now temporarily removed for safety reasons.

Regrettably, that fire completely destroyed certain parts of the building, like the roof and the historic spire. To rebuild the iconic monument, a major fundraising campaign has been launched managing to generate over $1bln. Hopes are high that after the 5 years projected for complete restoration, the Notre-Dame cathedral will reopen its doors once again in its renewed splendor.
4
Sainte-Chapelle

4) Sainte-Chapelle (must see)

The crown jewel of Gothic architecture in Paris, the Holy Chapel, is located not far from the Notre-Dame Cathedral. Aged almost 800 years, the chapel is renowned for its stained glass and most notably the 15th century rose windows in the upper part, widely regarded to be the best of its kind in the world. These and other things make this church outstanding even among the most extraordinary medieval monuments of Paris.

The chapel was built for an exceptional man, King Louis IX, who led the 7th and 8th Crusades to the Holy Land and brought home, among other treasures, what was believed to be the Crown of Thorns worn by Jesus himself! Naturally, a precious relic such as this required a depository, but besides that, the Holy Chapel was conceived also as the palace chapel for the king and the royal family.

Over the centuries, the chapel had sustained multiple damages. A repeated victim of floods and fires, it suffered particularly badly during the French Revolution when its sculptures were deliberately destroyed and furnishings looted. Eventually, to mend the damage, in the 19th century a great deal of renovation became necessary involving skilled craftsmanship and meticulous attention to detail. The result of that work deserves commendation, and the chapel we see today is as much a 19th century monument as it is a medieval one. Miraculously, about two-thirds of the original stained glass has survived. It looks particularly impressive in sunny weather, but even when it's cloudy, the glass is absolutely fabulous.

Just like many other religious sites of the period, the Holy Chapel was a symbol of Jerusalem meant to evoke paradise on Earth for those saved at the Last Judgment. To this end, the building had a cedar wood spire placed on top, which at that time was considered a technical feat. It proved to be just as great from an artistic standpoint either, magnificently capturing the spiky spirit of the Gothic forms. The Holy Chapel is impressively simple and coherent, compared to other cathedrals and churches of that period, and represents medieval Gothic architecture in its purest form. In contrast to its apparent architectural simplicity, on the inside, the chapel boasts rich decoration in the upper part which is truly remarkable and dazzling in its gilding and color.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 9am-5pm (Oct-Mar); 9am-7pm (Apr-Sep)
5
La Conciergerie

5) La Conciergerie

The City Island (Île de la Cité) in Paris, situated amid the river Seine, is a home to the 14th-century palace that went down in history as the seat of the French parliament prior to the French Revolution. It is also known as the home of France's first public clock, installed around 1370. Build on orders of King Philippe IV, the palace was recurrently added to and rebuilt up until the early 20th century, thus gradually becoming a fascinating conglomeration of buildings.

Nowadays, it is particularly famous for its Conciergerie section which owes its name to a “concierge”, the official nominated by king to maintain law and order in Paris. In 1391, the building was partially transformed into jail to hold both regular criminals and political prisoners. The treatment of inmates depended totally on their wealth, social status and personal connections. The most affluent were usually allowed separate cells with a bed, desk and reading/writing materials. Those less rich settled for more modest cells, called “pistols”, furnished with a rough bed and a table, whereas the poorest ones were kept in the dark, damp and vermin-infested cubicles, known as “oubliettes” (or “dungeons”). Most prisoners wouldn't stay there for long though, as the carts carrying the condemned to the nearby guillotine, in Place de la Concorde, kept running on a regular basis.

During the French Revolution, hundreds of people were killed. At some point, the Conciergerie became a VIP prison seeing among its inmates the likes of Queen Marie Antoinette and Napoleon III. Later, Marie Antoinette's cell was made into a chapel and is currently open for public viewing, featuring, among other relics, several of her portraits made during the final days before the execution.

Those eager to learn more about the French Revolution and the history of France in general are free to explore this fascinating Gothic site with its halls and dungeons. For more information and better understanding of what this place was like back in the day, consider spending a few euros on the little 'Histopad' gadget, combining both audio & visual function, offered on the site. It is quite handy!

Why You Should Visit:
An absolutely fascinating Gothic landmark where you can learn about the French Revolution and other historic moments.

Tip:
Visiting the Conciergerie is possible on a combined ticket granting access to the neighboring Holy Chapel as well.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 9:30am-6pm
6
City Hall (Hotel de Ville)

6) City Hall (Hotel de Ville)

Paris City Hall is the largest city hall building in Europe and one of the most prominent landmarks of the French capital. Curiously enough, the early sessions of Paris municipal council were held at the home of a city mayor – the practice continued until the 16th century when King Francis I ordered to build a dedicated Renaissance-style city hall.

Centuries later, that first purpose-built edifice served as headquarters for the French Revolution, accommodating Robespierre and his supporters. Ironically, it was there that Robespierre himself was arrested at the end of the infamous “Rule of Terror” period, during which anyone opposing the revolution was sent to the guillotine.

Likewise, in 1871, the City Hall once again hosted headquarters, but this time for the Paris Commune. When their defeat became imminent and the French army closed in on the building, the Communards set fire to it completely destroying everything inside. The exterior was then rebuilt following the original design, but the interior had to be created anew.

Outside the building is decorated with 108 statues of famous Parisians like Voltaire, Rousseau, Charles Perrault, Jean-Baptiste Pigalle, and others. The other thirty statues there represent French cities. The clock at the central tower is also adorned with statues – several female sculptures depicting the river Seine, the city of Paris, the “Work” and the “Education”.

While public access to the City Hall is generally restricted, there are two rooms in the building constantly allocated to art exhibitions. One of them usually features photography and the other one – art in general. Also, there are almost always some cultural events or exhibitions taking place outside, in the square in front of the building. Still, the main attraction for tourists visiting the Paris City Hall is, undoubtedly, its architecture!
7
Rue de Rivoli

7) Rue de Rivoli

Rue de Rivoli is one of the most famous streets in Paris, a commercial street lined with shops including the most fashionable names in the world. It bears the name of Napoleon's early victory against the Austrian army, at the battle of Rivoli, fought on January 14 and 15, 1797.

The new street that Napoleon Bonaparte pierced through the heart of Paris includes on one side the north wing of the Louvre Palace, (which Napoleon extended) and the Tuileries Gardens. Upon completion, it was the first time that a wide, well designed and aesthetically pleasing street bound the north wing of the Louvre Palace. The restored Bourbon King Charles X continued the rue de Rivoli eastwards from the Louvre, as did King Louis-Philippe. Finally, Emperor Napoleon III extended it into the 17th-century quarter of Le Marais.

Today visitors will find many great restaurants, cafes and shops on this street. The part of the street close to Louvre is more commercial and offers more shopping and dining options. The portion of the street in the Le Marais district is quieter and more picturesque and offers a real feel of Paris. A stroll on this street is time well spent.
Sight description based on wikipedia
8
Maison de Victor Hugo (Victor Hugo House Museum)

8) Maison de Victor Hugo (Victor Hugo House Museum)

The museum of Victor Hugo in Paris, at Rohan-Guéménée Hotel in Place des Vosges, is actually just an apartment on the 2nd floor that the writer rented for 16 years, from 1832 to 1848, in which he wrote the bulk of his “Les Miserables” and other major works.

Apart from being a writer, Hugo is recognized as one of the greatest French poets who also made significant impact on classical music – based on his books are several operas including “Lucrezia Borgia” by Donizetti, “Rigoletto” and “Ernani” by Verdi, and “La Gioconda” by Ponchielli. Hugo was also a grand political figure, which together with his creative talents, had earned him much love and admiration of the Parisians during his lifetime.

The museum consists of several rooms, including antechamber, Chinese-decorated living room, Medieval-style dining room, and the reconstructed bedroom featuring the interior of 1885 in which Hugo passed away at the age of 83. Upon the announcement of his death, Paris mourned deeply seeing over two million people take to the streets to bid farewell to the writer at his funeral procession stretching from the Arch of Triumph to his final resting place at The Pantheon.

That procession is depicted in one of the paintings displayed at the museum alongside the sculptures, caricatures and other memorabilia collected by Hugo over the years.

On the first floor, there is a permanent exhibition of Hugo's drawings plus the iconography of his literary works. At times, there are also temporary exhibits presented there, too.

If you're a fan of Hugo and happen to be in the area, paying a quick visit to the museum is a good idea, as it is free to enter and doesn't take long to explore. For visitors convenience, there is an audio guide in English which helps put into context all that is to see there.

Opening Hours:
Tue-Sun: 10am-6pm
Last admission: 5:40pm
9
Place des Vosges

9) Place des Vosges (must see)

Originally known as Place Royale, this classy corner of Paris was built by King Henri IV in the 17th century. Situated in La Marais district, this is the oldest planned square in the city, featuring a unique, perfectly symmetrical layout of houses with red brick facades and slate roofs constructed over vaulted arcades. On the southern side of the square is a King’s pavilion overlooking Queen's pavilion on the opposite, northern side. Of a special note here are the balconies, the first extended balconies ever built in Paris.

Previously reserved for the royals, today Place des Vosges is a public square, quiet and peaceful, with a nice well-manicured park complete with shady trees, refreshing fountains, and sandy walkways. Classically elegant and very French in style, it represents a perfect example of an early 17th-century garden. Boxed in by the buildings, this park is invisible to the outsiders, but the locals know it all too well and come here regularly on weekends, especially in summer. The surrounding homes are quite expensive properties. Having an apartment overlooking the square is the luxury very few can afford.

Apart from the lovely architecture, much of the area's appeal is associated with the historic figures that once resided here. One of them is Victor Hugo whose house stands on the corner. Today, this is the museum with the interior caringly preserved just the way it was back when Hugo was alive.

At the ground floors of the buildings are the art shops, designer clothing boutiques, and outlets selling handicrafts, musical instruments and other pleasant things. There are also plenty of small Parisian-style bars and restaurants in the vicinity, somewhat bohemian yet with a casual touch and leisurely attitude that is hard to find anywhere else in the city center. They make a perfect landing space for those keen on a small round table for a quick snack with a glass of beer or wine. Apart from the typically French restaurants, there are also those serving kosher and ethnic cuisine nearby.

So, whether you are a history buff or an art-minded shopaholic, or a connoisseur looking for fine dining, or just a casual someone in need of relaxation, you may rest assured to find it all here, at Place des Vosges.

Why You Should Visit:
One of the most classy corners of Paris, with well-manicured gardens, nice shops (including the superior Damman Frères tea store), many art galleries to browse around, and several places to have your lunch or dinner, for every budget and taste. Great place for a picnic, too...

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