Our roving reporter Sian Collins takes in the sights and sounds of modern Europe in a series of guides for those looking to plan an enlightening journey… On a budget.
Now this one’s a tricky one. France is renowned for being expensive, and its capital is the gilded cherry on top of the cake – you’ll have to be careful to watch your pennies here. It’s feasible though, and as the world’s third most popular city for international visitors, it’s not somewhere to be dismissed lightly.
Notre Dame de Paris
Arguably the most famous cathedral in the world, Notre Dame’s bells and gargoyles are the stuff of legend. It’s free to get in, but such a historic landmark that the queue for admission is often to be found winding like bell-rope across the square. Check the speed of the line and if it’s not moving at a decent pace, come back later. It’s somewhere worth queueing for though. The impressive façade has been the backdrop to many a film, including 2012 blockbuster Les Misérables and, of course, Victor Hugo’s other great work, The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
- Notre Dame Cathedral is on the Île de la Cité, one of two natural islands in Paris’ River Seine. You can walk around the island, and follow the walkways along the waterside to explore the bridges and boats of the city. http://www.notredamedeparis.fr/-English-
Arc de Triomphe
Standing proudly in the Place Charles de Gaulle, Napoleon’s celebrated triumphal arch attracts tourists like moths to a flame. And, indeed, under the curvature of the arch, there is an eternal flame burning in memoriam to the Unknown Soldier, buried on the site, and to the other fallen warriors of the First World War. The structure itself is a monument to the soldiers killed in the battles of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars, and the sculpted friezes on its panels are stunning, albeit a little hard to see from the ground.
- To appreciate the prime positioning of this historic landmark, climb the spiral staircase to the terrace. It’s free for EU citizens under 26 years of age (make sure you have ID), and you can gaze out down the twelve boulevards which converge at this point. http://arc-de-triomphe.monuments-nationaux.fr/en/
Musée du Louvre
From the Arc de Triomphe, take a wander down the famous shopping street, the Avenue Champs-Elysées, for a window into how the other half lives. At the other end of the boulevard is the world-famous Louvre Museum, under whose roof is displayed some of the world’s greatest art, including, of course, the Mona Lisa herself. Yet again free for European under-26s, there are days’ worth of discovery packed into the walls of this ex-palace. Don’t make the mistake I did – the Louvre is closed on Tuesdays.
- Outside the Louvre Palace is the splendidly-kept Jardin des Tuileries, the perfect place to take a stroll. Admire the ponds, formal gardens and beautiful white statues. http://en.parisinfo.com/paris-museum-monument/71304/Jardin-des-Tuileries
The Unmissable – The Eiffel Tower. As the most iconic structure in France, possibly in the whole of Europe, you simply can’t miss it. Literally – it’s blooming huge, and can be seen from high points all over the city. If you’re feeling brave and want to see the best and most history-rich Parisian panorama, it’s definitely worth the hike up the stairs and trip up the lift to the summit. Tickets are good bought in advance if you can get them, but if you try and catch an off-peak time they should be available on the door. To get the best view of the tower from the ground, go after nightfall and join the chorus of oohs and aahs at the illuminations which ignite the tower at the start of every hour until 1am. http://www.toureiffel.paris/en.html
The Probably-Missable – Crypt and Dome of the Sacré-Cœur. The Sacré-Cœur Basilica is an important religious and cultural landmark on the highest point in Paris, and is definitely worth seeing. It can seem a little commercialised and clinical as you walk around, but it’s free to go in and is a truly lovely building. However, the crypt and dome have paid entry, and unless you are a die-hard fan of stairs and the gloom, they’re not crucial to thoroughly enjoy your visit. http://www.sacre-coeur-montmartre.com/english/