Paris Things to Do Tips by Nemorino Top 5 Page for this destination
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1. Before the concert in Sainte Chapelle
This is my nomination for the world's most beautiful concert venue, the 13th century Sainte Chapelle on the Ile de la Cité in the center of Paris.
On many evenings there are two one-hour concerts here, the first at 19:00 (7.00 pm) and the second at 20:30 (8.30 pm). I chose the first concert in hopes that there would still be ample sunlight shining through the amazing 13th century stained glass windows (which there was).
Tickets to these concerts cost 25 Euros each, plus 2.50 commission if you buy it ahead of time at the fnac store as I did. This is not cheap (you can see an entire opera in Paris for less than that), but well worth it to be able to sit for an hour in this fantastically beautiful Gothic building listening to brilliant music played by soloists from the leading French orchestras.
Second photo: The chamber music concert I attended at the Sainte Chapelle was by the Orchestre Les Archets de Paris, a chamber music ensemble that was founded in 1992, composed mainly of solo musicians from the National Orchestra of the Paris Opera or the National Orchestra of France. (Click on the link below to hear samples of their fine music.) Their program started with two short pieces by Vitali (1644?-1692) and J. Pachelbel (1653-1706), followed by the complete Four Seasons by Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)
Third photo: Christophe Guiot, the conductor and violin soloist, came to the back of the chapel after the concert to sign CD booklets.
Fourth photo: Another advantage of attending an evening concert is that you can have a good look at the inside of the Sainte Chapelle without waiting in the long queue that tends to form during the day.
Unfortunately your Museum Pass will not speed up your entry to the Sainte Chapelle because there is only one line -- and a sign in French politely asking Museum Pass holders to se patienter in the same queue along with everybody else.
Address: 4 boulevard du Palais, 75001 Paris
Directions: Vélib' 4002
GPS 48°51'19.07" North; 2°20'42.28" East
Phone: 01 42 77 65 65
1. La Madeleine
When he died in December 1791 at age 35, the composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was still working on his last composition, his Requiem Mass in D Minor (K. 626).
The Requiem had been commissioned by a mysterious messenger with wads of money who wouldn't say who he was working for. This has led to countless speculative stories over the years, including highly fictionalized accounts in Milos Forman's 1982 film Amadeus and in the opera Mozart and Salieri by Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908), which was staged at the Frankfurt Opera in 2007.
Because of all the mystery surrounding Mozart's Requiem, I took the opportunity to hear it performed in a mysterious venue, La Madeleine, which is a large Catholic church disguised as a Greek temple.
Second photo: Waiting for the concert. As the white house lights are dimmed, the place starts to look more and more mysterious. It's easy to imagine a black-cloaked messenger lurking in the shadows somewhere.
Third photo: The Amadeus Choir and the Jean-Louis Petit Orchestra performing Mozart's Requiem under the direction of Luc Baghdassarian, who has won first prizes in several "Young Conductors" and "International Conductors" competitions in Switzerland, Rumania and Austria.
Fourth photo: Looking up at the artwork on the domes during the concert.
Address: Place de la Madeleine and Rue Royale
Directions: Vélib' 8005
GPS 48°52'9.73" North; 2°19'26.14" East
Phone: 01 42 50 96 18
1. François-Mitterrand Library
This is the newest and largest of the five public sites of the French National Library. It was one of the "great projects" -- which included the Great Arch, the Opéra Bastille and the Pyramid of the Louvre -- that were undertaken during the presidency of François Mitterrand, who was the President of France from 1981 to 1995.
The library consists of a huge square building with a forest in the inner courtyard and four L-shaped high-rise buildings at the four corners. It was built during the 1990s and completed in 1998.
Second photo: This striking new "Discovery Space" is a permanent exhibition of the library's history, and a guide to its resources.
Third photo: One of the many reading rooms in the new library.
Fourth photo: People in the new library.
Address: Quai François-Mauriac, 75706 Paris
Directions: Vélib' 13123
Location on the Vélib' map
GPS 48°50'2.16" North; 2°22'33.51" East
Métro Bibliothèque François-Mitterrand
Phone: 33(0)1 53 79 59 59
1. Passerelle Simone de Beauvoir
This striking new footbridge was built from 2004-2006 to connect the new National Library François Mitterrand (previous tip) with the new Parc du Bercy (next tip).
It is a steel structure with oak planks as a deck, and it crosses the Seine in one leap, with no supports in the middle. The bridge is 304 meters long and 12 meters wide. It consists of two arches suspended in mid-air, and you can walk, cycle or roller-skate on both of them.
The main (central) section of the bridge is 106 meters long and was built at the other end of France, at the Eiffel factory in Lauterbourg, Alsace. It was transported to Paris (with considerable difficulty because of its size) by way of canals, the North Sea, the English Channel and then up the rivers. On November 30, 2005 it was maneuvered through Paris by barge to its final destination, and on January 29, 2006 it was heaved into place and installed at about three in the morning.
On June 13, 2006 the bridge was inaugurated by the mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoë, in the presence of Sylvie Le Bon-de Beauvoir, the adopted daughter of Simone de Beauvoir.
This is one of the few bridges in Paris that is reserved for "circulations douces", a nice French expression meaning soft or mild traffic, i.e. non-motorized.
If you look for this bridge in Google Earth you won't find it, because when their photos were taken it hadn't even been built yet.
Update 2012: This is no longer true, because Google Earth has updated its imagery in the meantime.
Second photo: View from the footbridge, looking southwest. The four L-shaped buildings mark the four corners of the National Library François Mitterand.
Third photo: The mayor's office has used a photo from nearly the same angle, but with a huge condom added to the evening sky, for one of its posters in the series Paris protège l'amour (Paris protects love), urging people to use condoms to prevent AIDS.
Related tips/reviews :
Léopold-Sédar-Senghor footbridge, Paris
Pont des Arts, Paris
The High Bridge, Maastricht, the Netherlands
Directions: Vélib' 13123
1. Parc de Bercy
This is one of the newer parks in Paris, created in 1995 on the site of the former Bercy wineries on the right bank of the Seine.
The park is directly across the river from the new François-Mitterrand Library, with which is connected by the new footbridge Passerelle Simone de Beauvoir.
Second photo: A large garden in the Parc de Bercy is named after Yitzahk Rabin (1922-1995), the Nobel Peace Prize winner who was assassinated in November 1995 in Tel Aviv.
Location on the Vélib' map
48°50'11.26" North; 2°22'52.79" East
Métro: Bercy, Météor Cour Saint-Emilion
1. Hôtel de Sully
This is a Hôtel in the old sense of the word, mean a stately and elaborate private residence. It is named after its most famous owner, the first Duke of Sully, who bought it in 1634 and fixed it up as his retirement residence.
This is now the head office of the Center of National Monuments, and also houses an exhibition hall and a library.
Second photo: People in the first courtyard of the Hôtel de Sully, coming in from Rue Saint-Antoine. From here you can walk through and come out the back end at Place des Vosges.
Third photo: Here's what it looks like from the street, Rue Saint-Antoine.
Fourth photo: Across the street there is a small pastry shop with the marvelous name Aux Désirs de Manon, referring to the heroine of the novel Manon Lescaut by Abbé Prévost (1697-1763) -- a novel which was the inspiration for operas by Auber, Massenet, Puccini and Henze, among others.
Address: 62 rue Saint-Antoine, 75004 Paris
Directions: Vélib' 4010
GPS 48°51'15.91" North; 2°21'49.31" East
Métro Saint Paul, Bastille
Phone: 44 61 20 00
1. Ministry of Culture and Communication
Unusual metal façade on this building, don't you think? But of course the traditional stone façade is still there, it's just been wrapped in narrow strips of metal.
Second photo: A closer look at the façade.
Third photo: A new courtyard at the west side of the building, rue des Bons Enfants.
Fourth photo: In the windows on the outside of this building there is an exhibit of large posters showing architectural projects in different parts of France which are being supported by the Ministry of Culture and Communication. This one is the Centre Pompidou-Metz, a large new museum which is now under construction in Metz and is scheduled to open in January 2008.
Fifth photo: Here's another big project, the City of Design in Saint-Etienne.
Address: 182, rue Saint-Honoré - 75001 Paris
Pont des Arts and Institut de France, 2008
This "Bridge of the Arts" is one of only five (or six) bridges in Paris that are reserved for "circulations douces", a nice French expression meaning soft or mild traffic, i.e. non-motorized.
The others are the Léopold-Sédar-Senghor footbridge, formerly Passerelle Solférino, connecting the Tuilerie Gardens with the Musèe d'Orsay; the Passerelle Debilly which leads to the Musée du quai Branly; the Pont au Double, connecting the left bank with the Cathedral Notre-Dame; and the new Passerelle Simone de Beauvoir, a footbridge that was built from 2004-2006 to connect the National Library François Mitterrand with the Parc du Bercy.
Also you might want to count the car-free Pont Saint Louis, which connects the Île Saint Louis with the Île de la Cité, but does not go all the way across the Seine.
The original Pont des Arts was built here from 1802 to 1804, and it lasted until 1979 when it collapsed after being hit by a barge. The present bridge, which is quite similar to the old one, was built between 1981 and 1984.
Second photo: Looking up the Seine from the Pont des Arts towards Pont Neuf, with the Ile de la Cité (Square du Vert Galant) on the right and Paris Plages on the left.
Third photo: Paris Plages 2008 as seen from the Pont des Arts.
Fourth photo: Pont des Arts from below, 2013.
Fifth photo: Tour boat approaching Pont des Arts, 2013.
Les cadenas d'amour (love locks)
Léopold-Sédar-Senghor footbridge, formerly Passerelle Solférino
Passerelle Simone de Beauvoir
Directions: Vélib' 6001
Métro Pont Neuf
GPS 48°51'30.14" North; 2°20'15.02" East
1. The Seine and the Eiffel Tower
I haven't gone up the Eiffel Tower since Wednesday, October 26, 1966.
The reason for this is that I am a notorious queuophobe, meaning I try to avoid doing anything that requires standing in line for more than five or ten minutes.
That pretty much rules out the Eiffel Tower, doesn't it?
Well, there might be some relief on the way, maybe.
Since 2005 the tower has been run by a new public-utility company called the Société d'exploitation de la Tour Eiffel (SETE), of which the City of Paris holds 59.9% of the shares. Part of this company's mission is "to continually improve the reception, access and flow of visitors," and to do this they have recently announced a new plan which will (at some unspecified future time) allow visitors to reserve half-hour slots online.
Will this solve the problem? Who knows, but it's worth a try.
The president of SETE, Jean-Bernard Bros, who is also a deputy mayor of Paris in charge of tourism, has been quoted in the papers as saying: "Today, above all, we want visitors to leave with rich memories, with more time spent on the tower, less waiting in line, less pushing around."
Update 2011: The Eiffel Tower website now offers the option of buying tickets online. The online tickets are for the elevators only, not for the stairs. You have to buy the tickets at least one day in advance. First you decide which elevator you want to take (to the second floor or to the top) and how many people are in your party. Then you choose a time (“subject to availability”), fill in your contact information and pay with your credit card. Then you either print out your e-ticket or transfer it to your cell phone, provided you have a cell phone that can display bar codes.
I haven’t tried this yet for the Eiffel Tower, but the procedure sounds very much like the way I routinely order e-tickets for rail travel or for opera performances. The instructions for this are available on the Eiffel Tower website in nine languages, including Chinese, Japanese and Arabic.
When you have bought an e-ticket, they say you should please “make sure that you turn up at the time you booked. If you’re late, you may not be allowed in." (Same as at the opera.)
Second photo: Boats on the Seine near the tower.
Third photo: Lying on the grass looking up at the tower.
Location and photo of the Eiffel Tower on monumentum.fr.
Directions: Vélib' 7025
Métro Bir Hakeim, Trocadéro
GPS 48°51'29.60" North; 2°17'40.02" East
Phone: +33 (0) 1 44 11 23 23
1. Street performers on the piazza
There always seems to be a festive atmosphere on the "piazza" in front of the modern art museum Centre Pompidou or Beaubourg.
Groups of street performers take turns putting on shows and funny sketches here.
Second photo: The Centre Pompidou was one of the first huge new projects of the 1970s. It was intended as an "original cultural institution in the heart of Paris completely focused on modern and contemporary creation," and was first opened in 1977. Twenty years later it was closed for extensive renovation work, and then re-opened in January 2000. They say that some six million people visit the Centre Pompidou each year, for a total of over 190 million visitors in its 30 years of existence.
When I explain to people where I used to live in the Marais district, I sometimes say it was halfway between the Centre Pompidou and the Opéra Bastille, even though neither of these even existed at the time.
48°51'37.17" North; 2°21'5.07" East
Métro: Rambuteau, Hôtel de Ville, Châtelet.
Vélib' 4021, 4020
Phone: 01 44 78 12 33
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