Travel Guide to Paris and its Cultural Attractions

 

What’s The Allure?

Paris, a masterful work of architectural art in its own right, is globally recognized as one of the top cities for art lovers due to its dazzling collection of museums, galleries and artists’ hangouts. Visitors can find everything from classic masterpieces to the latest in contemporary creations. It’s the home of the world-famous Louvre Museum, a former royal place, today boasting over 35,000 pieces of ancient and classical artwork including La Jaconde (the legendary Mona Lisa) and the seductive Venus de Milo. If you prefer modern art or if collecting artistic treasures is your passion, then Paris can surely accommodate your every desire with over 100 museums and galleries at your disposal.

[Also see our other travel articles on France]

Several Parisian neighborhoods will also entice you with their local charm and colorful art history including Montmartre, St- Germain-de-Prés and for those travelers more interested in the contemporary art scene, Le Marais. Travelers visit Paris for a host of reasons including the culture, the food or even for romance, but for the quintessential art enthusiast what will keep them coming back to the beautiful “city of lights” is the seemingly endless number of options available to them, waiting to engage their artistic sensibilities.

Reading Suggestion: See 5 tips, like when to book your ticket, from the Hopper research team that can save travelers hundreds on their flights to Paris.

Paris isn't called the most romantic city in the world for nothing.

Paris isn’t called the most romantic city in the world for nothing.

The Pictures On The Wall

Attempting to visit all of the interesting museums that Paris has to offer can be an ambitiously daunting task, especially if your stay is limited. Instead, opt to spend quality time in those featuring a wider selection of what you are looking for. After all, it has been said that in order to leisurely see all of the exhibits available in the Louvre alone, one would need approximately six weeks. And that’s a very conservative estimate. If possible, decide ahead of time what sections or time periods might be of most interest (i.e.: Egyptian, Italian, Greek, etc.) and visit this incredible place during the week or on days when it stays open late (Wednesdays and Fridays) in order to avoid the large crowds, the automated ticket machines should alleviate any entrance queues.

The world-famous Louvre Museum houses the Mona Lisa.

The world-famous Louvre Museum houses the Mona Lisa.

After spending some time with the classics, stroll across the lovely Tuileries gardens to visit the inviting Musée de l’Orangerie, repurposed as a museum to show works by the impressionist master artist Claude Monet, the showpiece of which is the collection of his room-sized water lilies. The museum also shows works from an impressive list of Monet’s art contemporaries. If this style is one that you favor, it’s imperative that you visit the pristine Musée d’Orsay, a former Beaux-Arts railway station turned gallery in the 1980’s. This beautiful museum boasts the largest collection of impressionist art found in the world, including such renowned artists as Manet, Cézanne, Van Gogh and Gauguin-to name but a few. The museum is gigantic and you should plan to spend a good amount of your day inside, unfortunately the queues to enter the museum can also take up a significant amount of your time. One way to avoid this is to first visit the less crowded Musée l’Orangerie and purchase the ‘passport’ which allows you to access both museums, thus skipping the lines at Musée d’Orsay.

The spectacular Musee d'Orsay is inside a former railway station.

The spectacular Musee d’Orsay is inside a former railway station.

Contemporary art lovers will enjoy the work found at Centre Pompidou – known as “Beaubourg” to the locals-a controversial piece of art in its own right. The building houses the National Modern Art Museum and was creatively built with the exposed skeleton of its mechanical systems in an array of colorful pipes running alongside the edifice. The museum certainly won’t disappoint, as it is one of the principal contemporary art museums in the world along with London’s Tate Modern and New York’s MOMA. The vast modern artwork on display includes paintings, installation artwork, and mixed media art by many renowned French and international artists such Yves Klein, Andy Warhol and Vasili Kandinsky. Visitors can also enjoy lively street performances on most days in the square in front of the building.

The exterior of the Centre Pompidou is as amazing as its artwork!

The exterior of the Centre Pompidou is as amazing as its artwork!

Science buffs will delight in the impressive Cité des Sciences – located in the stunning Parc de la Villette-and featuring a state-of-the-art planetarium, IMAX theatre and dozens of related exhibitions and activities. Rounding off the museum possibilities are those displaying works from a specific genre or artist such as the Grevin Wax Museum, the Dali Museum, and the Museum of Music-all located a reasonable distance from the Villette Park.

Let’s Take A Walk

Paris, with all of its splendor, is a city to experience on foot. Art connoisseurs can take advantage of this fact by taking a leisurely promenade in the lively arrondissements (neighborhoods) offering abundant imaginative street art and/or galleries. One such area is the affluent St-Germain-de-Prés neighborhood; full of fine art galleries, antique shops, high-end stores, a picture-perfect park (Jardin de Luxembourg) as well as a plethora of stylish eateries and a slew of interesting museums. The most notable of these is the Musée National du Moyen-Âge, a fascinating place dedicated to the medieval arts and housed in the remnants of a Gallo Roman bathhouse dating back to 200 AD. Another wonderful area to visit is the trendy Le Marais district, featuring art galleries and novelty shops for all budgets needs, a gorgeous square (Place des Vosges) and a charming former village (St Paul) which has marvelous winding, cobblestone streets closed off to traffic so that visitors can enjoy all of the delightful offerings available.

Place des Vosges in the trendy area of Le Marais.

Place des Vosges in the trendy area of Le Marais.

If you have an entire day to spend sightseeing and your camera is itching for some excellent shots, then venture along the Right Bank, past the stunning Place de la Concorde and over the Alexandre III Bridge – the most photographed and arguably the most beautiful bridge in town- to visit the National Museum of Paris – housed in the impressive Grand Palais and the adjoining Petit Palais, both built for the 1900 World Exhibition.

A quintessential area to walk in the footsteps of the leading impressionist masters is a trip to the bohemian neighborhood of Montmartre. Colorfully portrayed in a number of films over the years – most recently Amélie and Moulin Rouge – this vibrant section of Paris is best known for its cobblestone streets, ascending hills, the breathtaking Sacré Coeur Basilica, and the whimsical Place du Tertre, where future master painters sell their artwork surrounded by galleries, shops, and cafés. Lose yourself in the maze – like environment; have your portrait sketched by a local artist or simply stand in awe of the magnificent panoramic view of the city from the basilica.

The Place du Tertre in the whimsical neighborhood of Montmartre.

The Place du Tertre in the whimsical neighborhood of Montmartre.

If walking around Paris to discover the latest artwork on your own seems a bit harrowing, then hire a local licensed guide to give you a condensed yet informative visit of the larger art museums or book an art-inspired walking tour with a reputable company. Likewise, many museums offer informative audio guides that can enrich your experience by providing entertaining information on specific pieces of art.

Edible Art

As a major capital city, Paris has a lot to offer in terms of dining options-everything from tasty snacks to 10-course gourmet feasts is at your disposal. Art and food lovers can indulge to their hearts content at artisan boulangeries (bakeries), crêperies (crêpe eateries) and cafés found all over the city. Having said this, there are also some interesting choices available to those who are a bit more adventurous. Gourmet restaurant Georges is the perfect way to end an afternoon’s visit to the aforementioned Centre Pompidou. It is located on the top floor of the center offering excellent food, service and spectacular views of the city by night. Those who love art by up-and-coming artists’and okamase-style Asian cuisine would truly appreciate a visit to the Palais de Tokyo and its exclusive 12-seat restaurant, Art Home.

The Georges Restaurant is a gourmet restaurant in the Centre Pompidou.

The Georges Restaurant is a gourmet restaurant in the Centre Pompidou.

Stay For Awhile

After a long day spent scouring the city’s many art havens, one needs to enjoy a good night’s sleep. If you have a healthy budget, then finding a suitable establishment to rest your head for the night presents no major concerns. For the epitome of luxury living, choose to stay at one of the top 5* hotels found on the Right Bank (near the fashionable and world-famous Champs Elysees) of Paris including the ultra-luxe Four Seasons George V, the divinely Parisian Plaza Athenée and the chic Ritz Hotel which is situated a close distance from a celebrated architectural work of art: the Opera Garnier. If you prefer a more “authentic” surrounding without losing that cool edge, then book a room at the futuristic Kube Hotel which houses the wildly popular “Ice Kube Bar” and whose trendy and retro design rooms and furnishings are surprisingly comfortable. It is located in the Montmartre area of Paris where you can often find terrific views of the iconic Eiffel Tower and also many inexpensive, hip and clean hostels if money is a concern for you. Two such establishments include the swanky Plug-in or the tidy Vintage Hostel, which offer prices starting at as little as 25 euros per night.

Rest your feet and freeze your toes at the Ice Kube Bar in the Kube Hotel.

Rest your feet and freeze your toes at the Ice Kube Bar in the Kube Hotel.

Another great area in Paris to find a good selection of hotels would be in the Latin Quarter on the Left Bank, close to the breathtaking Notre Dame Cathedral and the Sorbonne University. As this area is populated predominately by students, the hotel rates tend to be more reasonable than in other parts of the city. Some notable inexpensive places in the area include the eclectically funky Hotel Esmeralda, the refined Hotel St-Paul Rive Gauche and, for the true budget traveler, the aptly named Young and Happy Hostel, located right in the heart of Rue Mouffetard, a lively and engaging area filled with knick-knack shops, outdoor restaurants as well as a lot of history (this being the neighborhood where the writers Ernest Hemingway and Jules Vernes lived for a time as young men).

The Logistics Of It All

If you spend a weekend or even several weeks touring Paris, you’ll find that you have only begun to scratch the surface of all the amazing works from past and present artists. This in itself is not such a bad thing, in reality, as it gives you an excuse to come back and rediscover Paris, time and time again, for many years to come.

The majestic Notre Dame Cathedral and its French Gothic architecture.

The majestic Notre Dame Cathedral and its French Gothic architecture.

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Photo Credits: Stuart Pinfold, Nicole Hanusek, Henrik Berger Jørgensen, John Vosburgh, Dakota Smith

 

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Jessica is an American freelance writer who has lived on four different continents and counting. Her articles focus primarily on travel, lifestyle and the luxury market. Visit her website.