How I feel about the Iconic Sites in Paris, France
So, this is not a post where I just sit here and bash all the most iconic sites in Paris, France. I actually LOVE Paris. It is one of my favorite places in the entire world. This city has a unique mixture of chic modernity, with a dash of historical opulence, and a topping of culinary decadence that makes elastic waistbands essential. I mean croissants, quiche, macarons, cheese, crepes, pastries, baguettes, etc. what’s not to love? Talk about a carb lovers dream and an Atkins dieters worst nightmare. Top this off with friendly people (I may be partial because I received gifts and lovely compliments from the Parisian men) and a massage along the Seine and why would I ever want to leave? Seriously, they had €10 massages and brought in sand to make a beach along the Seine! I wanted to be like, “Is going home mandatory, because I really want to stay!” Plus, everywhere you look there is a new iconic, historical edifice that makes your jaw drop in awe. It reminds me of a more sophisticated, adult version of Disney World, only better because the food is world class and the guys are pretty hot (and sometimes single because let’s face it, most guys at Disney World are already taken. Most men probably don’t go there willingly).
So if I am so, “in love” with Paris, then why does the title of this article contain the word, “underwhelmed” and sound rather negative? Now, I wish that I didn’t have to use this word but I do because I believe in total honesty. How else could you trust anything I say? Therefore, the truth is that some of the most iconic sites in Paris did just not live up to my lofty expectations. For me, some of Paris’ most famous sites fell rather flat. They weren’t awful, and I am glad I went, but they just didn’t have the cultural spark that I was looking for. I wanted to visit an attraction that would make me fall in love with Paris all over again. But these icons of Paris just let me thinking, “wait, that’s it? That was kind of anti-climatic.” I really wanted to stomp around and shout, “I came all the way here and all I got was a stupid selfie!”
I share these feelings not to deter you from visiting these emblems of Parisian culture (you need to visit all of these sites if you want to get the full, Parisian experience), but to help you establish reasonable expectations when visiting all these places. This is crucial because I always find that unreasonable expectations lead to huge disappointments; which is exactly what might have happened to me. So here is my list of the 5 Iconic sites in Paris, France that Left me Underwhelmed.
1. Musée du Louvre
This art gallery is the most visited museum in the world and with good reason. The Musée du Louvre contains over 35,ooo pieces
of art from the Mesopotamian, Egyptian and Greek cultures, to the masterpieces of such artists as Da Vinci (including everyone’s favorite, the Mona Lisa), Michelangelo and Rembrandt.
This plethora of world class art is the reason why they give you a GPS equipped audioguide upon arrival. Left to your own devices, you wouldn’t find a thing! All this art stretches throughout the four floors and three wings of the building. That’s why it would take you almost nine months to glance at every piece of art housed here.
So, to make the most of your visit here, create a plan of attack. Research and list all the masterpieces that you NEED to see. But keep the list short since finding a particular piece of art can be tough, even with the help of a GPS (I kept getting horribly lost). I suggest devoting an entire day to exploring the Louvre since the museum has so much to offer.
However, I would keep your expectations of the museum reasonable. The museum is overwhelmingly large, difficult to navigate, crowded (no matter when you go), and contains a lot of art with very strong religious connotations. All these factors can negatively impact your visit if you’re not prepared. So while I am glad I visited the Louvre, it was not my favorite museum in Paris. But keep an open mind, visit it for yourself and see how you feel about it.
Plus, I feel like most people probably come here to see the Mona Lisa (Room 6, 1st floor, Denon), and whats about it. I mean, I am not an art major and wasn’t super familiar with most of the museum’s artwork. That’s why I’m so glad that the museum map had a handy list of museum masterpieces that guided me through my visit.
Metro: Palais-Royal–Musée du Louvre station (line 1)
Address: Rue de Rivoli & quai des Tuileries, 1er Paris, France
Admission: Adults are €15 and children are free (You can wait on line, buy a ticket from a ticket machine, or buy a ticket from their website)
Hours: Mon, Thurs, Sat, and Sun: 9am – 6pm, with extended hours until 9.45pm on Wed and Fri.
2. Eiffel Tower
No trip to Paris would be complete without a visit to the Eiffel Tower. That’s because, to the world, this structure is the definitive symbol of French society. But this was not always the case. This edifice was originally constructed as a temporary exhibit for the 1889 World’s Fair. However, the tower’s tremendous popularity established it as a permanent fixture in the Parisian landscape.
Visit the Eiffel Tower at night, when the structure is at its most luminous. Unfortunately, I visited when the elevator to the top was closed, but I recommend getting a view of Paris from the very top of the tower. But while you do need to go and visit this beautiful tower, there just wasn’t that much to do there.
You basically wait in a long line to get on the elevator, are packed into the elevator like a sardine in a can (elevators ascend to all three floors and if you’re ascending to the top, change elevators on the second floor), and then emerge to take a couple of pictures to show everyone that you actually went to the Eiffel Tower. Once you take your pictures, there’s not much to do but head right back down again. It was okay and I’m glad I went, but other Parisian sites were much more culturally exhilarating to me.
If you’re hungry while you’re there, the tower has two snack bars, the 1st-floor 58 Tour Eiffel, and the 2nd-floor Le Jules Verne, as well as a macaron bar, and, a Champagne bar at the very top ( I didn’t get to try them but I heard they’re pretty good).
Metro: Champ de Mars – Tour Eiffel (Line C)
Address: Champ de Mars, 5 av Anatole France, 7e Paris, France
Admission: An elevator to the top is €17 for adults and €8 for kids. The lift to the 2nd floor is €11 and €4. The stairs to the 2nd floor are €7 for adults and €3 for kids (Prebook tickets online to avoid long lines).
Hours: Everyday, the elevators and stairs are open from 9am – 12.45am from mid-Jun–Aug. From Sep–mid-Jun the lifts are open from 9.30am-11pm and the stairs are open 9.30am-6.30pm.
3. Notre Dame
When I hear the words “Notre Dame” I always think of the mediocre Disney movie, the Hunchback of
Notre Dame. But aside from appearing in the title of an animated Disney film, this cathedral is renowned for it’s extraordinary Gothic architecture. Inherent in this building is a structural balance that is studded with elements of asymmetry (Each of the three main portals has a slightly different shape), that help breakup any architectural monotony.
But aside from being the home of flying buttresses galore (I don;t get it. They looked like crown molding to me), Notre Dame literally has a special place in the heart of Parisians. This is evidenced by the fact that distances from Paris are only measured from Notre Dame and no other place in the city . This is because the exquisite architectural nuances of this building are a special point of pride for the French people. This structure exemplifies the intellectual prowess and cultural maturity of the entire French country.Therefore, to truly understand the French psyche, one needs to walk through the naves of this massive Cathedral and marvel at the central choir, with its carved wooden stalls and statues that represent the Passion of the Christ.
For the best view of the cathedral, head to Jean XXIII square , or the quaint park behind the cathedral. From here, you can appreciate the ornate flying buttresses that support the walls and the roof of the building. Also be sure to check out the line-up of bells in the garden (put here to celebrate the cathedral’s 850th birthday).
Now, that’s all fine and dandy and frankly, sounds like something in a guidebook, but I was slightly unimpressed when I visited this Cathedral. I mean it was an enormous Cathedral that seemed nice, but I didn’t understand what all the fuss was about. Yes, it was a nice church, but it seemed like any another big, Gothic church to me. Maybe I am missing something because I am not an architecture consoler who appreciates the subtle nuances of this building’s design. But for whatever reason, I left thinking, “Really? That’s it?”. Sure, I’m glad I went because this building is very emblematic of France, but let’s just say that I won’t need to go back.
Metro: St-Michel Notre Dame stop on the B or C Lines
Address: 6 place du Parvis Notre Dame, 4e Paris, France
Admission: The cathedral is free. For the towers it’s €10 for adults and free for children. For the treasury it’s €4 for adults and €2 for children.
Hours: Cathedral: Mon – Fri: 7.45am – 6.45pm, and open until 7.15pm on Sat and Sun.
Towers: Sun – Thurs: 10am-6.30pm and open until 11pm on Fri and Sat (Jul & Aug). 10am – 6.30pm in the spring/fall (Apr-Jun & Sep) and 10am – 5.30pm in the winter (Oct-Mar)
Treasury: 9.30am – 6pm in the summer (Apr-Sep) and 10am – 5.30pm in the winter (Oct-Mar)
4. Arc de Triomphe
I visited Paris in August, when everyone was away on vacation, and there was still a horde of tour buses letting off selfie stick wielding foreigners at the Arc de Triomphe. Now, I did not come off a tour bus, but I too needed my selfie to show my Facebook friends how awesome I was because I was at the Arc de Triomphe (The picture below is evidence of that).
With all this selfie snapping mania, I think people forget that there is a history behind this symbol of Paris. This 1836 monument was built in celebration of Napoléon’s victory at Austerlitz in 1805.. This intricately sculpted arch stands victoriously in the centre of the Étoile (‘Star’) roundabout. From the viewing platform on top of the arch (50m up) you can see all of Paris unfold before you.
To access the viewing platform, do not cross the traffic ridden roundabout above ground (It’s like Frogger, only NOT fun). Stairs from the northern side of the Champs-Élysées will lead you beneath the Étoile to a series of pedestrian tunnels that will bring you up to the ticket counter and finally, beneath the arch.
I didn’t go to the viewing platform because I felt like it was the same as going to the top of the Eiffel Tower, only shorter. Therefore, I came, I saw, I took my photo, and I left. I was there for maybe 15 minutes because yes, the Arc de Triomphe is famously beautiful but then I thought, “Okay, now what?” I couldn’t stick around because I would just get annoyed by the hordes of tourists who were there (which is hilarious because I was a tourist there. But I hate crowds and had no selfie stick). So I left and moved onto something a bit more exciting.
Metro: Charles de Gaulle Etoile (lines 1,2,6, and RER A)
Address: Place Charles de Gaulle, 8e Paris, France
Admission: The viewing platform is €12 for adults and free for children.
Hours: Apr – Sep the hours are 10am-11pm and Oct – Mar the hours are 10am-10.30pm.
5. Moulin Rouge
Every time someone says Moulin Rouge, I an transported back to the epic love story portrayed in the 2001 film starring Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor. I fantasized about an all-encompassing romance, like this, coming into my life, minus the Tuberculosis. This film was magical because it transformed the seedy atmosphere of the cabaret and red light district, into the pure, immortal, and never-ending love that the city of romance, Paris, has come to represent.
Therefore, I envisioned that the real Moulin Rouge would be just as enchanting. I thought this would be a transcending experience where I could live the scenes of this iconic movie but this was not to be. I mean firstly, I forgot that Moulin Rouge is just a movie and not reality. So instead of romance, I saw a lot of nipples everywhere.
Yes, Paris’ most famous cabaret glimmers under a replica of the 1925 red windmill, but other than that, I wasn’t that impressed. The ticket was expensive, the theater was crowded, the singing appeared to be lip synced, the women were mostly naked (I know it’s a cabaret but I didn’t expect them to be topless the entire time. Thank God they were wearing bottoms), the costumes seemed ridiculously ostentatious, and the dancing was out of sync.
Plus, there was some weird performance with a women swimming in a pool with a snake. What that had to do with anything, I had no idea. But in fairness, maybe I went on a bad night. I also could have been in a pissy mood because I was single or because I was hangry (Hungry/angry gets me every time). Also, perhaps my expectations were way too high since I expected something like a Broadway show. Whatever the reason, I was not a fan, and that’s okay. Obviously many people enjoy the show because it does a great business. So all in all, I am glad I went and experienced the show for myself. But I wouldn’t go back and would happily take a ticket to Broadway instead.
Metro: Blanche stop on Line 2
Address: 82 bd de Clichy, 18e Paris, France
Admission: The show is €87 and the dinner and show is €165 (No entry for children under 6).
Hours: Shows begin at 7pm, 9pm, and 11pm.