Orly airport is located ten miles south of Paris and has
two terminals, Orly Sud and Orlu Ouest. While Orly Ouest is
used for domestic flights, Orly Sud handles international
flights. A shuttle links both terminals but the distance between
the two is easily walkable. To go from the airport to the
city centre, use the orlyrail.
The Eurostar is probably the most common way of arriving
at Paris if you're coming from Amsterdam, Brussels or London,
where the train runs from Waterloo in London under the sea
via the Channel Tunnel. The Eurostar arrives at Gare
du Nord, which is basically a bustling convergence of
international, long-distance and suburban trains, the metro
and several bus routes. Gare du Nord is equipped with many
facilities like lockers for luggage where you can store your
belongings and a bureaux de change for changing currency.
Paris has six main line train stations. The Gare du Nord
has trains going to Boulogne, Calais, the UK and other north-European
countries. The Gare de l'Est is connected with trains
coming from eastern France and Central Europe. The other stations
Gare St-Lazare, Gare de Lyon, Gare Montparnasse, Gare d'Austerlitz and Gare de Paris-Bercy connect Paris with various
parts of France and Europe. All of these stations are connected
with the metro stations and are also equipped with cafes,
restaurants, tabacs, banks and bureaux de change.
Getting around Paris
The River Seine flows roughly east to west, cutting the city
in two. The area north of the river is known as the right
bank (rive droite) and the south is called the left
bank (rive gauche). The best way to get your bearings
above ground is to think of the Louvre as the centre.
The landmarks that you are most likely to catch glimpses of
as you move about are the Eiffel Tower to the west,
and the white domes of Sacre Coeur on top of the hill
Montmartre to the north.
The metro and RER
The metro, combined with the RER suburban express lines, is
the simplest way to move around Paris. The metro runs from
5:30am to 12:30am and the RER trains run from 5am to midnight.
The lines are colour-coded and designated by numbers for the
metro and by letters for the RER. Free maps of varying sizes
and detail are available at most stations and every station
has a big plan of the network outside the entrance and several
inside. For RER journeys beyond the city, make sure that the
stations you want is illuminated on the platform display board.
If you are visiting Paris for some days then it's practical
to buy a carnet or a set of ten tickets from any station or
tabac. The same tickets are valid for both bus and metro within
city limits and immediate suburbs. Weekly coupons or coupon
hebdomadaire also prove to be economical. Other possibilities
are the Paris Visites one, two, three, and a five-day visitors
passes. These are valid in Paris and in close suburbs including
the airports, Versailles and Disney land Paris. A half-priced
child's version is also available.
Buses in Paris are not difficult to use and you will see more
of the city than you will do sitting in the metro. Free bus
route maps are available at the metro stations, at the bus
terminals and the tourist office. Every bus stop displays
the numbers of buses that stop there and a map shows all the
stops on the route. Generally the buses run from 6:30 am to
8:30 pm, but some services continue until midnight. However
most of the lines don't operate on Sundays and on holidays.
Taxi charges in Paris are considerable reasonable. You can
tell which rate is operating from the three small indicator
lights on its roof. "A" or the passenger side indicates
the daytime rate, "B" is the rate for Paris at night
and for the suburbs during the day and "C" is the
night rate for the suburbs. Taxi drivers don't take more than
three passengers and if a fourth passenger is accepted then
extra charge will be added. Tipping is not mandatory, but
usually ten percent is expected. If you're going to take a
taxi, it's a good idea to learn a few words of French, act
confident and look like you know where you are going, otherwise
you could get taken on an expensive ride.
Another way to see the city is on roller blades. It all started
back in 1993 when a few devotees of what was then just a California
craze showed up at the Place D'Italie every Friday
night. Now roller-skating has become so popular that police
escorts are arranged as thousands of people turn up every
Friday night. The ride lasts about five hours, covering fifteen
miles around the city of Paris. Around 3,000 people join in.
The Arc de Triomphe
Located on the right bank of the river, in the middle of 8e
Arrandissement are the Champs-Elysees, Arc de Triomphe
and some of the city's most expensive shops. The best view
of the Voie Triumphale's grandiose but simple geometry is
from the top of the Arc de Triomphe. Its only from here that
you can truly appreciate what the great city planner Baron
Hausmann achieved when given the order by Napoleon the third
in the 1800's to create the most beautiful and modern city
in the world.
Under Napoleon's rule the over-crowded lanes of Paris were
demolished and replaced with ordered streets and geometrical
avenues and boulevards. This was to become a blueprint for
future town planning all over the world. Your attention however
is most likely to be caught not by the view but by the mesmerizing
traffic directly below you, around the massive place Charles-de-Gaulle,
better known as "Place de l'Etoile". This
is the world's first organized roundabout. Twelve wide avenues
make up the star or the Etoile, of which the busiest is the
The Place de la Bastille is an important symbol of revolt
as this is where the French revolution started. This area
is considered to be one of the more working class in Paris,
which is why Francois Mitterand decided to build his
opera house for the people in this spot. However, the Opera
House is one of the more controversial of the 'grande project',
both for its cost over-runs, its design, and for the simple
fact that most of the people living ocally can't even afford
Situated at the start of the Voie Triomphale on the right
bank is Paris's largest monument - The Palace of Louvre.
The Louvre has been a fortress, an arsenal, a prison and a
royal palace. It was begun by Philippe-Auguste in 1200 as
a fortress to store his scrolls, jewels and swords while he
himself lived on the Ile de la Cite. Charles V was the first
French King to make the castle his residence, but not until
Francois I in the mid-sixteenth century were the beginnings
of the palace laid and the fortress demolished. In 1793, after
the French revolution, it became a public museum, and art
was available to the masses. Every alteration and addition
up to 1988 created a surprisingly homogeneous building, with
a grandeur, symmetry and French ness entirely suited t this
most historic of Parisian edifices.
The Louvre contains one of the most important art collections
in the world. As it's so huge it is divided into different
wings, which are all colour coded and labelled. The Pyramide
is the main entrance to the Musee du Louvre, although
alternative access directly from the metro, the porte des
Lions, the Arc du Carrouysel or from rue de Rivoli allows
you to avoid the queue here. Tickets can be bought in the
Hall Napoleon, below the Pyramide and at the Porte
des Lions entrance.
The Musee de Louvre is divided into seven basic categories:
Oriental antiquities, Egyptian antiquities, Greek, Etruscan
and Roman antiques, Sculpture, Objects d'Arts, Painting; and
Prints, and Drawings. The painting section also houses the
Mona Lisa (Denon, first floor, room 6). To have a good
look at the famous painting, you will need to go first or
last thing in the day. For a less hurried inspection of Leonardo
da Vinci's art, have a look at his Virgin of the Rocks
and Virgin and Child with St Anne, on display in
the Grande Galerie.
Apart from the Musee du Louvre, the Louvre palace houses
three other museums in its northern wing. The entrance to
the Musee de la Mode et du Textile, the Musee des
Arts Decoratifs and the Musee de la Publicite can
be found at 107 rue de Rivoli, where a combined ticket for
the three can be purchased.
Nevertheless, it's easy to loose your way here. The Louvre
may be the most avoided museum in Paris. Tourists, daunted
by the sheer size and richness of the place often find the
smaller museums much more inviting. But eventually most people
do their duty and come, and most leave - overwhelmed and exhausted.
If you're planning to visit many museums in a short time
it is advisable to buy a Carte Musees et Monuments pass from
the tourist office or the RER or metro stations. It is valid
for 70 museums and monuments in a around Paris and allows
you to bypass the long queues. Many museums offer discounts
to certain age groups and to students.
The River Seine flows in an arc through the middle from east
to west, around its two islands called the Ile de la Cite
and Ile St-Louis. It is at Ile de la Cite, where Notre
Dame sits at the historic heart of the capital.
Described as the greatest masterpiece of the Middle Ages,
Notre Dame is truly impressive, especially the great H-shaped
west front, with its strong vertical divisions counterbalanced
by the horizontal emphasis of gallery and frieze, all centered
on a rose window. It's a solid design, confessing its Romanesque
ancestry. For more fantastical Gothic, look rather at the
north transept façade with its crocketed gables and
huge fretted window space.
The most striking feature inside the cathedral is the dramatic
contrast between the darkness of the nave and the light falling
on the first great clustered pillars of the choir, emphasizing
the special nature of the sanctuary. It is the end walls of
the transept that admit all its light, nearly two thirds glass,
including two magnificent rose windows coloured in imperial
The monument is so popular that there are long queues out
onto the square. The whole scene can get uncomfortably crowded,
and the immediate area is crammed with souvenir shops. On
the fun side, there is always a bunch of spectators jostling
for a view of the young rollerbladers going through their
gymnastic stunts just outside the cathedral on the Pont
Le Grand Arc de Defense
Francois Mitterand, the President of France for fourteen years,
wanted the world to remember his reign and he did that by
commissioning a number of 'grande projects'. These were large
architectural projects and the Grande Arc de la Defense
was one of them. The whole idea behind the big arch was that
it would line up with the arch of the Arc de Triomphe, but
the project didn't go as planned and it was designed on a
different angle, so it doesn't line up with the Arc de Triomphe
at all. Le Grand Arc de la Defense was completed in 1989 for
the bicentennial of the French revolution. Since then it has
become a major tourist attraction, particularly for its views
from the top.
Beyond the street from Palais Royal is the forbidding wall
of the old Bibliotheque Nationale or the national library.
It is a set of four buildings in the shape of open books.
This was the last 'grande project' that Mitterand made before
he died in 1996. Some people call it a monument to one man's
ego, but it definitely is a site to visit. You can enter free
of charge and peer into the atmospheric reading rooms or pay
to enter the various exhibitions.
There are over ten millions books in Bibliotheque Nationale.
However the library itself doesn't seem to be made for books
or for that matter, people. The books are kept in separate
tall glass towers. Public entry moreover is confined to the
The Eiffel Tower
The vistas across the river between the 7e arrandissement
south of the river and the 8e and 16e on the north of the
river are impressive, particularly in the night. One of the
best viewpoints to appreciate these areas is from the Eiffel
tower, a structure that lies close to the centre.
When completed in 1889, the Eiffel Tower was the tallest
building in the world at 1000ft, and weighing a mighty 7000
tones of steel. It stole the show at the 1889 Exposition,
for which it had been constructed. In the 1980's the tower
was given a new system of illumination from within its superstructure,
so that it now looks as its magical best after dark, as lighten
and fanciful as a filigree minaret.
Going to the top costs around 10 euros by lift, or you can
go by stairs for the first two level and by lift for the final
level for around 6 euros. All in all it's worth the experience
on a clear day.
In the north of Paris, crowing the butte, is the Sacre-Coeur.
It actually is a romantic and graceful pastiche, whose white
pimpy domes are an essential part of the Paris skyline. The
best thing about it is the view from the tower, almost as
high as the Eiffel Tower and showing the layout of the whole
city. Construction was started in the 1870's on the initiative
of the Catholic Church to atone for the "crimes"
of the Commune. Square Willette, the space at the foot of
the monumental staircase, is named after the local artist
who turned out on inauguration day to shout, "Long live
On the right bank of the river lies the Marais, one of the
trendiest places in Paris, with great places to eat. It was
not until the sixteen and seventeen centuries that the Marais,
the area between Beaubourg and the Bastille became a fashionable
Though cornered by Haussmann's boulevards, the Marais itself
was spared the baron's heavy touch, and very little has been
pulled down in the recent gentrification. This is Paris's
most seductive, secluded, safe area. It has many alluring
shops, bars and places to eat. It's very tempting walking
along the street with all the smells coming out of the stores
and the pastries shops. It is here that one can see a lively
combination of orthodox Jews, a strong gay community, lots
of artists and little galleries.
The riverside part of the 6e arrandissement is cut lengthwise
by Rue St-Andre-des Arts and Rue Jacob. It is
full of bookshops, commercial art galleries, antique shops,
cafes and restaurants. If you happen to poke your nose into
the country yards and side streets, you'll find foliage, fountains
and peaceful enclaves removed from the bustle of the city.
Jardin de Luxembourg
To the south of Rue Ferou, on the left bank of the river,
is the Palais du Luxembourg. The Palais was constructed
for Marie de Medicis, Henri IV's widow to remind her of her
native Florence. Today it is the seat of the French Senate
and its gardens are the chief recreation ground, with tennis
courts, pony rides, children's play grounds, boules pitch
and yachts to rent on the pond. In the wilder southeast corner
lies a miniature orchard of elaborately espaliered pear trees.
It is the most popular park in whole of Paris. The sixty acres
that are located around the Luxembourg Paris provide a quiet
retreat for the many Parisians who don't have gardens.
The Avenue Montaigne is the heartland of haute couture. It's
a designer heaven, and a must for fashion conscious travellers
who visit Paris. Most of the shops here are expensive and
for more affordable prices you can try the discount store,
Top Sites outside the city
Situated about fifteen miles east of the city is Disneyland
Paris. It is one of the biggest tourist attractions, not
only in France but also in all of Europe and around twelve
million people visit it every year - that's more than the
entire population of Paris. For travellers, Disneyland Paris
can sometimes be a good place to find temporary work.
When Disneyland first opened in 1992 it was received with
considerable horror. Many French saw it as a threat to their
culture; electricity pylons supplying the site were blown
up, transport workers went on strike, and Disneyland Paris
shares plummeted. Then in about 1996 French management took
over and overhauled the park. Entry fees were dropped, and
it was then that busloads started rolling in.
Since the opening to the Space Mountain, Disneyland
Paris has provided a variety of good fear-and-thrill rides,
though the majority of attractions remain very safe and staid.
All the structures are incredibly detailed and their shades
and textures are worked out with precision. There are no primary
colours in this park; all of it is only pastel. The Magic
Kingdom is divided into four lands radiating out from
Main Street USA. The Fantasyland, with Sleeping
Beauty Castle, Peter Pan's Flight, Dumbo the flying elephant
and mad hatter's teacups, appeals to the youngest kids. Adventureland
on the other hand has more outlandish sets. It also has two
of the best rides - 'Pirates of the Caribbean' and 'Indiana
Jones and the temple of Doom'. Frontier has the psycho-inspired
but inspired Phantom Manor and the hair-rising roller coaster
'Big Thunder Mountain'. In Discoveryland there's a
high-tech 3-D experience called "Honey I shrunk the audience"!
Night time electrical parades and firework displays take place
several times a week. Besides the theme park the complex includes
Festival Disney, the evening entertainment centre where
you can watch the Buffalo Bill's Wild West show with real
guns, horses, bulls and bison.
To reach Disneyland from Paris it is best to take RER line
A to Marne-la-Vallee. However if you wish to reach Disneyland
straight from the airport, then you can take a shuttle bus
from both Charles-de-Gaulle and Orly. If you are driving,
follow the A4 East for twenty miles.
Fontainebleau is famous for its vast, rambling chateau. From
Gare de Lyon is Paris it is a mere 50-minute train ride to
Fontainebleau. The Chateau owes its existence to its situation
in the middle of a magnificent forest, which made it the perfect
base for royal hunting expeditions. A hunting lodge was built
here as early as the twelfth century, but it only began its
transformation into a luxurious palace during the sixteenth
century. This was done on the initiative of Francois 1er,
who imported a colony of Italian artists to carry out the
decoration. The gardens around the chateau are equally luscious,
but if you want to escape to the relative wilds, then the
surrounding forest of Fontainebleau is full of walking and
The Palace of Versailles is one of the most visited
monuments in France. The palace was inspired by the young
Louis XIV's envy of his finance minister's chateau at Vaux-le-Vicomte.
Apart from a few areas you can visit in your own, most of
the place can be viewed in guided groups whose various itineraries
can be booked in the morning at entrance D. Of the rooms you
can visit without a guide, the most stunning and dazzling
is the Galerie des Glaces or the Hall of Mirrors where
the Treaty of Versailles was signed to end World War
I. To get to the chateau, take the 40-minute ride in the RER
line C5 to Versailles-Rive Gauche.