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Thursday, April 4, 2013

Top Five Paris Attractions

Paris Sunset from the Louvre window
Paris Sunset from the Louvre window (Photo credit: Dimitry B)

By []Natalie Ray

Like many cities, Paris is a popular destination to spend a long weekend. This can often mean that you only have two or three useful days there and leave the City disappointed that you didn't manage to fit it all in. A little bit of research and planning can overcome this because you can go with a clear mind as to what you want to do and how you're going to fit it all in. Here are five of the best things to see and do in Paris to get you started.

1. Eiffel Tower

Arguably the most famous landmark in Paris, the distinctive Eiffel Tower looks down on the city from the Champ de Mars. There are various ways to see the Eiffel Tower and it is important to choose the one that best suits your preference, time constraints and finances. Whilst some people are happy just to look up at the tower and photograph it from ground level, most people prefer to venture at least some of the way up. It is open from 9.30am to 11pm during the winter and 9am to midnight in the summer. You can choose whether to take the lift to the second or top floor or walk up the stairs to the second floor.

If you would prefer to spend a bit more time in the tower, you could book a table at one of its two restaurants. On the first floor is Le 58 Tour Eiffel, a brasserie where prices for lunch start from €20 and dinner from €76.50. On the second floor is Le Jules Verne, an Alain Ducasse Michelin star fine dining restaurant. This is a lot pricier, with lunch starting from €90 and dinner from €210. If you would like to dine at the tower but don't like these prices, there is a buffet restaurant on each floor serving lunchtime snacks.

Owing to the popularity of this distinctive landmark, whenever you decide to visit there are likely to be queues. You can minimise the inconvenience of this by visiting outside of the busy summer months. Another alternative is to book onto a guided tour that will allow you to jump the queues. There are various companies offering this service and you can book in advance to make sure the timing of it suits you. You could even combine it with another Paris attraction such as a cruise on the river Seine. If you haven't booked a tour in advance and regret that decision when you see the queues, there are always tour operators offering you the opportunity to join the tour at the last minute.

2. The Louvre

As a landmark, the Louvre with its iconic glass pyramid is almost as well known as the Eiffel Tower. As a museum, it is one of the largest and most celebrated in the world. Its popularity has increased even further since it was the setting for the popular novel by Dan Brown and subsequently the film, the Da Vinci Code. Unsurprisingly, the Museum has capitalised on this popularity by providing a visitor trail based on the scenes that were filmed in its galleries.

If you are more interested in the museum and its exhibits than the film, both guided tours and audio guides are available to give you information about each area and exhibit. There are also other themed visitor trails that allow you to tailor your visit according to the subject area that you are most interested in. For example, if you are fascinated by the history of this architectural masterpiece, you can follow the "From Palace to Museum" visitor trail. Following one of the visitor trails can assist greatly in your planning because the Louvre's website (available in English) gives you a bit of information about each and tells you where to start and how long they last. That way if you arrive at the museum at 10am and have a lunch booking nearby at 12, you know you have time to follow the masterpieces trail (1 � hours), but would struggle to fit in the Palace to Museum trail (3 hours).

You can visit the Louvre every day except for Tuesdays when it is closed. On the other days it is open from 9am to 6pm except for Wednesdays and Fridays when it remains open until 9.45pm. There are always temporary exhibits in the Napol�on Hall so admission prices vary depending on whether you want to visit the hall or not. A ticket for the museum and Napol�on Hall costs €15, or you can see just the Napol�on Hall for €12 or just the museum for €11. There are various exemptions from admission costs so it is worth looking at the Louvre website to check whether you are exempt. Anyone under 18 can get free entry and some of the exemptions are unexpected, such as art teachers and 18 to 25 year olds living in the EU. It is also worthy of note that entry is free for ALL visitors (excluding the Napol�on Hall) on the first Sunday of every month and on July 14. If you are on a budget, this is an excellent opportunity to have a fabulous day out for free.

3. Disneyland Paris

If you are travelling to Paris with children, a visit to Disneyland Paris is a must. The different "lands" offer a fun day out for everyone from babies to adults. Since opening in 1992 as Euro Disney, the resort has undergone two name changes and massive expansion. In addition to the park, there are 7 hotels with each one based on a different theme. You do pay a premium for staying in a Disney hotel but it offers children an exciting all round experience. Whilst the theme park is outside of the centre of Paris, travelling there is relatively painless. Trains are available direct from the airport or from central Paris. Eurostar will also take you directly to the park.

As with other Paris attractions, there will undoubtedly be queues, particularly in the summer season. It is therefore essential to be sure what rides you want to go on as a family and navigate your way around the park starting with the rides you most want to go on to be sure that you don't miss out. A guide to the rides and their suitability for different age-groups is available on the Disney Land Paris website.

4. Notre Dame

This stunning gothic Cathedral is yet another landmark of Paris that is known worldwide. Notre Dame is open to the public free of charge every day of the year from 8am to 6.45pm on weekdays and from 8am to 7.15pm at the weekends. Whether you want to visit the cathedral to attend mass or you would prefer to look around when there is not a service, it is worth looking up the times on the Notre Dame website. Times when a priest is available to speak with you individually are also listed. Different areas of the cathedral vary in their opening times, for example the reception area. This is where you purchase audio guides (available in various languages) so it is worth checking the opening hours. If you would prefer a guided tour, these are also available in several languages at specified times.

Whilst hundreds of thousands of people enjoy looking around the cathedral during daylight hours, many are unaware that it is sometimes possible to enjoy an evening of entertainment inside Notre Dame. There are regular organ recitals on a Saturday evening and, less frequently, there are night-shows consisting of Operas accompanied by images projected onto a transparent screen. These shows are also free of charge. Even if there is no opportunity to go inside Notre Dame after dark during your stay in Paris, it is worth strolling past if you are in the area because the outside of the cathedral is always lit up and provides a majestic view of the gothic architecture.

5. Arc de Triomphe

This is another iconic landmark that signifies Paris for people around the world. It stands on the Place Charles de Gaulle at the end of the Champs-Elys�es. It is a monument that was built to honour those who lost their lives in the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars and incorporates the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War One.

A visit to Paris would not be complete without walking down the Champs-Elys�es and visiting the Arc de Triomphe. As well as admiring it from the outside, you can go inside the monument which has long opening hours for visitors (10am to 10.30pm in winter or 11pm in summer) so you can fit it around a day of shopping. The entrance fee is €8 for adults with discounts for students and groups and free entry for under 18's. Your entrance fee allows you to ascend in a lift to a point near to the top, but you will then need to climb the 46 steps to the top where there is a small museum dedicated to the history of the monument. From the top, you should also pause to take in the stunning view of the Champs-Elys�es. After dark, the Arc de Triomphe is lit up and is certainly a sight to behold even if you arrive too late to look around inside.

These are probably the most famous five landmarks in Paris and are all well worth a visit. However, it is certainly worth doing your own research into other attractions, some of which are not so well known but could be of more interest to you. For example, the Catacombs burial chambers of Rome are quite famous, but few people are aware that there is also a network of Catacombs beneath the city of Paris.

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