Our Paris Museum passes also got us into a lot of monuments so we interspersed those into our week of museums.
Some of our favorite sights were actually just watching the other tourists taking forced-perspective pictures with the monuments. Like, “Take a picture of me ‘touching’ the top of the Louvre pyramid!” Or, “Here I am ‘holding up’ the Eiffel Tower!” It is pretty amazing to be at these beautiful and historic places, and you look around and 80% of the visitors are doing some variation of these posed photos. We wanted to do a photo series of us taking pictures of people taking these pictures, but we often weren’t quick enough with the camera to capture these moments. 😉
Here are some of our favorite places that we visited!
Palais de Versailles
Of course, Versailles made it on our list while in Paris. As cliché as it is, it is actually quite magnificent and impressive. It is definitely a whole-day adventure, as it takes about an hour and a half to get to Versailles from Paris, and then you can spend a long time wandering through all of the palaces (the Palace of Versailles, plus the Grand and the Petit Trianon palaces), and even longer just exploring the expansive gardens.
They’ve re-done the Versailles experience since I was last there nine years ago, and it actually flowed quite nicely. We got there just before it opened so missed waiting in line with the masses for too long. An audio guide for the palace is included with standard admission, which was really nice. It also kept people moving through the rooms and avoided big bottlenecks.
The opulence of Versailles is pretty incredible and it is no wonder that the populace rebelled against the monarchy. Every surface is decorated—a lot of them also gilded—and almost every ceiling was painted by a French or Italian Master. The gardens are impeccably designed, they are perfectly symmetrical with amazing statues and magnificent fountains hidden among maze-like hedges. You can practically hear the ladies of the court giggling as they meet with their lovers in hidden corners of the garden.
We also visited the Petit Trianon, Marie-Antoinette’s private residence, and the surrounding gardens. Unlike the gardens of the main palace, Marie-Antoinette had hers designed to feel more natural and wild, but still perfectly maintained and romantic with marble temples to Aphrodite and picturesque gazebos for musical interludes. Among her gardens is the “Queen’s Hamlet”: a fabricated, miniature, working town where the queen and her ladies could play at being peasants. The little hamlet is very cute but definitely reinforces how spoiled they were.
Of course, the whole experience has become extraordinarily commercialized. You can now go to two of the oldest, most famous, and most expensive tea houses in Paris at the Palace of Versailles: Ladurée (known for allegedly creating the infamous French macaron) and Angelina (famous for their rich drinking chocolate and their Mont Blanc pastry) now both have several locations in and around the palace and gardens. And Dior is apparently sponsoring some renovations, so their logo is plastered over some buildings. I feel like there might be some irony there about reinforcing the elitism and classism that brought down the original inhabitants…
All told, it is definitely a beautiful place and fun to visit! The gardens are especially beautiful and if we had had better weather it would have been nice to picnic and lounge and explore more than just a fraction of the area.
Arc de Triomphe
I had already visited the Arc de Triomphe—Napoleon’s monument to honor those who fought for France which he commissioned after his victory at Austerlitz and which stands at one end of the famous Champs Elysées (at the other end is Place de la Concorde with the Egyptian obelisk which now stands on the place where Louis VXI and Marie-Antoinette were guillotined)—but I had never gone up to the top of it. This was an unexpected benefit of our passes and we took advantage of it right at dusk one evening so that we could watch the sun finish setting and then see the Eiffel Tower sparkle. (For the celebration at the turn of the millennium, lights were installed on the Eiffel Tower which lit up at the stroke of midnight; now, seventeen years later, the tower sparkles with the same twinkling lights for five minutes every hour after the sun goes down.) The view from the Arc de Triomphe at night was very cool! And the Eiffel Tower did not disappoint. For a nice view of the city, it’s definitely cheaper and less crowded than the Eiffel Tower or the towers of Notre Dame (but not as tall, obviously).
Towers of Notre Dame
I had never climbed to the top of the towers at Notre Dame and it was also included with our museum passes. Unfortunately I underestimated how early the other tourists get up in the morning and we had to wait in a looooong line to walk up the stairs. It was pretty cool to be up there, though! You get to be up close and personal with some gargoyles, see inside the bell towers, and get a great view down over the cathedral and the city. We did not see Quasimodo. 😉 After waiting in such a very long line to get to the top we weren’t feeling up for waiting in the long line to go in, so we didn’t actually go inside the cathedral.
At the opposite end of Ile-de-la-Cité from the Cathedral of Notre Dame lies Sainte-Chapelle. Located in the original royal palace in Paris, the chapel was commissioned in the 13th century by Louis IX and is an incredible example of Gothic architecture and design. The Sainte-Chapelle is not impressive because of its size, but because of its fifteen intricate and beautiful stained-glass windows. Every surface inside is painted or carved, and the total effect with the colorful light coming through the windows is pretty magical. Each surface is different, so we were able to pass quite a bit of time examining all the windows and decorations.
Of course, we did get to the Eiffel Tower. But we opted not to go up it, considering the crowds, the cost, and the weather. The day that we specifically headed to the Eiffel Tower the weather ended up oscillating between rain, sun, hail, and lightning. When it looked like the rain had subsided for a while and things were starting to dry out, we wandered underneath the tower and gazed upward through the latices. But then, all of a sudden, we saw a wall of rain coming towards us, preceded by people running for cover! We waited out another round of rain and hail in a relatively dry locale and then ventured to dinner in our damp and harried-looking state. It was actually pretty fun! We also got to enjoy views of the tower from several other locations around the city, especially at night with all its twinkling lights.
One of the benefits to going to the Tower in person is just hanging out on the Champs de Mars, the park in front of the Tower, and watching everyone take pictures of themselves and each other. That kept us entertained for a good twenty minutes. 😉
The Pyramids at the Louvre
I know I’ve already mentioned the Musée du Louvre in a previous post, but I think that the pyramids outside the museum deserve a special mention here. The juxtaposition of the modern sculptures in front of the historic building, which is itself a mish-mash of architectural styles, is pretty stunning. At night the palace and the pyramids are all lit up and the courtyard becomes even more beautiful.
This is also an excellent place to people-watch and look for the “I’m touching the top of the pyramid” pose. It’s amazing how that particular pose spans cultures and countries! We never get tired of watching those interactions.
Don’t worry! There’s still more to come on Paris…