This video is an excerpt from a much
longer France travel talk by Steve Smith. To view other topics or to watch
Steve’s France talk in its entirety, visit ricksteves.Com, or check out my
Rick Steves YouTube channel. Enjoy. Paris, world capital, Paris, City of Light, world
capital of fashion, art, literature, food, and all things fine that civilization
has to offer.
This is the highlight of anybody’s trip to France, probably, if
they have never been before. Notice the city that you’re looking at
here, the man– the beauty is man-made. Notice the height of the buildings, eight
stories, it’s a very human scale, and throughout the entire central part,
city of Paris. Here pedestrians are treated to this sort of
human scale that makes them feel good about walking from point A to point B.
The city works well in any season, and a I’m not a big fan of travel in the
off-season to every place, but cities like Paris, whether it’s summertime and the
warmth of the summer in the city becomes like one big festival, and by the way
hotel rooms tend to go on sale in the month of August, because Europeans don’t
travel that much to cities at that time of year.
This time of year, Paris looks
like this in the fall, it’s beautiful. All the trees are deciduous,
they all change. The parks. Paris has– the amount of space devoted to people is
remarkable in the city, and in the wintertime, my favorite time to go and
I’m not kidding, is when the City of Light earns its name.
Christmas in Paris or anytime near or
after that, it’s a lovely time to experience the city, it rarely snows, the moderate temperatures of traveling
in Paris can be compensated for with proper dress. Cafes, you’ll share them with
the locals, and museums will be much quieter, naturally, at this time of
year. I like winter travel so much that I read a whole chapter about it in the
guidebook to help you understand why, and where, and what to do about it in Paris.
Consider that, flights are cheaper, hotel rooms commonly are cheaper in January,
February, March, as well. Hotel rooms in Paris are smaller
than the average, get ready for it.
Book your rooms early, don’t wait. I
list places with great deals, 100 dollars for a comfortable double room, 125, are you kidding me? But you have to book those before other people get to
them, there are only so many of them. I list hotels in four different
neighborhoods because I– only four different neighborhoods, because I’d
rather have average hotel in a really cool neighborhood than a really great
hotel in a crummy neighborhood, think about that. So, the neighborhoods
we list in Paris are the Rue Cler area, the pedestrian only shopping street that
you see near the Eiffel Tower.
The hip and trendy, if you’re young you
want to stay out at night, Marais district near the Ile Saint-Louis, we also list
hotels on the Ile Saint-Louis, as those areas are basically connected. The stately
Luxembourg Gardens area, surrounding this beautiful park, I think Paris’ most
beautiful park on the edge, on the Latin Quarter for those who want to dabble in
all things Latin. To the budget neighborhood of Montmartre. The further you
get from the river, the cheaper hotels get in Paris.
And Montmartre is a fifteen minute
subway ride from the river, where along the river most of Paris’ sights reside,
you see. Like about focusing on four neighborhoods is in each of those neighborhoods
we list restaurants, lots of them, cafes, travel tips, allowing you to come
home after a busy day of sightseeing and not need to take a bus or subway to a
restaurant, or to go do something. You’re a temporary local in that
neighborhood, post offices, and all sorts of things like this so that you can
function as a local. Your learning is understanding what you’re looking at and
why it matters.
This is why you came to Paris. Our books,
I think, respect that by offering terrific information focused on your
sightseeing. Our main guide to Paris describes 21 different walking tours of
museums, neighborhoods, castles, and monuments, and 50 other sights with good descriptions, listed in that
guidebook. Our Paris, Pocket Paris book on the other side, is for those with less
time and shorter attention spans, it’s abbreviated.
If you want that information,
the main, primary difference in these two books; if you want those walking tours
you need the main Paris guide. If you have other ways of getting that
information or you’re taking a guided tour, don’t worry about it, buy the Pocket
Paris book. Either way, download our free audio tours in Paris
to your device, if it’s a phone or any kind of application, or device, for free.
You can do it on our website and you’ll get Rick’s voice narrating you through the
Louvre Museum, the d’Orsay, and the palace at Versailles, and the historic walk in
central Paris. I’m a big fan of local guides for your learning, not all the
time, not every day, but they add a dimension to a tour that a book that
you’re reading and a self-guided tour just can’t, you see.
So in museums like the
Louvre, where you’ll have several English tours departing each day. They
do a credibly good job. Or the d’Orsay, or neighborhood walking tours like
here in Montmartre, where neighborhood walking organizations, my favorite is
called Paris Walks, they offer tours every day. Meet at ten o’clock, virtually every day
they do the Montmartre and the Impressionist neighborhood, but they do many others.
It’s whoever shows up at ten o’clock goes on the tour, about $20 a person
for two and half hours of a walking tour.
Pepper your trip with with walking tours
like this when you’re in Paris. The Paris Museum Pass makes sightseeing a breeze for
ninety percent of any of the museums that you’re interested in, are covered in
this pass. Over 60 different sites covered with a museum. It comes in two, four,
and six day increments, it averages about $15 a day, cost-wise.
You’ll save money, no
question. The average site in Paris is 11 or $12, all you have to do is go to two sites,
that day and that’s pretty easy to do and you’ve saved money. But the real
reason to buy this pass is because you own it, and you have this pass, and you’ll
dart into simple other museums that, well, Steve or Rick or Gene described in the
book, but I don’t know if it’s not great, but I wouldn’t pay $10 for it, but I got
the pass so why not, and you’ll be astonished at what you, what you discover in some of those
lesser-known museums. The pass also saves you waiting time in line for ticket
lines, but not for security lines, like this.
This reminds me that the travelers
greatest challenge today in Paris are the crowds at the key monuments, like
Versailles or the Louvre. Thanks to growing economies in various parts of
the world, more and more people want to see this grand city, and if you don’t pay
attention, if you don’t read your guide book, you’ll end up here at Versailles on
a Tuesday, when all the big museums in Paris are closed. “Hey, good idea, let’s go to
their side at 10 in the morning.” Not an original brainstorm, read your
book, arrive after two, there’s no line. That’s not that hard to do, but if you’re
there at ten o’clock what you gonna do? Tour the gardens first, Rick said
that in his guidebooks.
The gardens don’t get crowds, and then come back later to
tour the inside of the palace. Trust us and our guidebooks, really the best,
probably, service we provide you with, how to avoid lines these days in Paris.
Getting around this city works just really well, it’s a walker’s paradise, I
think. It’s a flat city with the river running through the center of it, right. East to west to send river runs, anything
to the right, if you’re on a boat, as the current goes as the right bank.
left, is the left bank. It’s a flat city, if you remember. Walking and human scale
with these eight-story buildings, you don’t have these wind tunnels as we do in our
high skyscraper cities, and it works well. Just to give you a sense of scale,
walking from the Eiffel Tower all the way to the Louvre Museum is a little bit
over an hour along the river.
Most of those sites that you want to see are
also within a 10 or 15 minute walk of the river. You could walk a heck of a lot
of the city, but you have to remember that once you get to the sight. You have
to keep walking. So the subway system, Europe’s greatest subway system, it
covers you everywhere you go in Paris.
When you’re exhausted, there will be a subway stop somewhere nearby learn
the words, “Ou est Le Metro, Monsieur, s’il vous plait?” And “Where is the nearest
Metro stop?” And you’ll be whisked home on a subway line. The subway in Paris works logically, it’s easy to figure out, and
honestly gets you everywhere you want to go. But it seems a shame to me to
be underground in this beautiful city, so I’m a big fan of using the buses when it
makes sense. Bus 69 that you’re seeing here is one of
You get beautiful views, and this bus connects the Eiffel Tower and
the Rue Cler neighborhood with the Rodin Museum, the d’Orsay museum, the Louvre, the Ile de la Cite, and Notre Dame, the Marais district, and the Pere Lachaise Cemetery. This
bus gets you to many of the sites that you wanna see in Paris. We liked it so
much we wrote a self-guided tour. Start at the Eiffel Tower, hop on the bus and
you’ll see when you cross the street, look to your left, now when you cross the
street look to your right.
For $2, for the price of the bus ticket, you get a
self-guided tour through the heart of Paris. Only Rick would agree to that
crazy idea of mine, and I know we’ve had happy readers that use that. The best way
to buy tickets is a “carnet” of 10. It’s really the easiest, most flexible way to
They work on buses and on subways, though
you can’t transfer between the two. You can transfer between buses. You can split
those ten tickets between two travelers or three travelers, children get a
cheaper version of the “carnet.” “Carnet” means 10 of something in French. There
are bus– transit passes, pardon me, that work on a weekly basis or on a monthly
basis, but they are harder to use and to fit into your travel schedule.
most people that is the best way to go. The latest rage in Paris today is
biking. 15,000 Bikes are at your disposal in over 1000 different, not 1000, I don’t know how
many different bike stands, allowing you to pick them up at one point and dropping them at
another. The French, the Parisians have embraced this big time.
It’s used mostly
by locals, but tourists can now take advantage of those bikes, even if their
credit cards don’t work on them, by booking on the website or, and the reason to do
this really isn’t a sight– to use this is a sightseeing instrument, if you feel
like just getting out one day and taking advantage of all the bike lanes that
have been built now for bikers, because of this
point-to-point bike, it’s called Vlib, built for locals. We can take advantage of it, rent
a bike through one of the bike rental agencies agencies I recommend in the book,
it’s easier that way, and go for a two hour ride if you want to. Ride between
Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower and loop back on the other side, easy to do in a couple of hours. Historic
I’ve decided to organize my sight seeing for you today around my favorite four
days in Paris, because of this way I can describe to you an example to organizing
your sightseeing ahead of time, not just running out, “let’s go to the Louvre
Museum, oh, oh, oh, the Orsay Museum’s close by let’s go there too.” Premeditated
sightseeing, organizing your sightseeing plans ahead of time makes so much sense.
Let’s go, and you’ll see how I do this. Start with the city of Paris, Historic Paris,
right, its grandest Gothic monument, recently cleaned, it looks just like this
today, it’s glorious, as it stands. Started in the year 1163, taking over 200 years
to complete. Imagine the medieval mindset then, it
didn’t matter to them.
The community built a cathedral like this, time was not
important. All that mattered was contributing to
the construction of this grand edifice of which they were so proud.Today, if my
child doesn’t get on the internet in 10 seconds, we’re screaming. Our patience
compared to medieval times is dramatically changed, isn’t it. Put yourself
in a medieval mood then, when you’re going to cities in Europe and Paris like
this, and understand how different things were then, and try to grasp, oh, pardon me,
try to grasp how differently they thought.
You can climb, rarely does this– is this
ever a possibility in Europe, climb to the top of the Gothic cathedral, yes you can
it’s covered in the museum pass. The entry for the church itself, the
cathedral, is free but I think this is the greatest view you have over Paris.
If you have a Museum Pass it’s free, be careful, lines are long because the
four hundred steps up naturally are winding and slow. Strategize when you
choose to go up the tower, the South Tower of Notre Dame. Then tour the, drop
down to the inside of this beautiful cathedral.
Our walking tour and our audio tour take, self-guided tours take
you through it. A stone’s throw away, a long stone’s throw
with a good arm, lies the Chapel of Sainte-Chapelle, still on the island of
the Cite where the city of Paris was founded, between a split in the river Seine.
This chapel that we’re looking at here today, almost smothered by the law courts
of Paris, is the greatest example of Gothic architecture, if indeed the
purpose of Gothic architecture is to stretch the church taller and
to raise the windows using buttresses, and to fill the windows, pardon me, with stained
glass to tell stories of the Bible. This has got to be the ultimate
accomplishment. For here, at the Sainte-Chapelle, built by King Louis XI, the
only sainted king of France.
Because he found the crown of thorns, he wanted an
appropriate place to house them, that’s motivation. Took only six years to build
this, compared to the two hundred years it took for Notre Dame, thanks to the king’s
energy. Here, over 1,000 panels will tell you the history of Christian
civilization, from the beginning of the world to the end of the world. Designed
so, because when it was built in the 1200s, most people couldn’t read, they were
But they did understand symbolism, through those stained glass
windows, you see. Get out, get off the island after this, after Notre Dame and Saint-Chapelle, wander into the Latin Quarter, ties in perfectly, see the beautiful
views of the flying buttresses of Notre Dame from the left bank. Wander
deep into the Latin Quarter, so called because some of Europe’s first
universities are located here, and the professors taught in the Latin language
only and students lived here, this is still a student ghetto. Today the Latin
Quarter is in Paris, check the pulse of your lost generation compatriots
here at Shakespeare and Company.
In the early 1900s, thanks to WWI,
the lost generation of people of Ernest Hemingway, Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce,
and more, Aldous Huxley, Gertrude Stein, would gather here and try to figure out
what sense of the world there was, and meet to discuss their writing.
Further deep into the Latin Quarter, a few blocks away, you can dart into, with
your museum pass, my favorite, one of my favorite, museums in Paris. This is the
Cluny Museum, it’s the museum to medieval times in Paris. Here, because you’ll see
stiffer examples, lots of medieval relics gathered from monuments throughout Paris,
like the heads here that you’re seeing here, were chopped off on the facade of Notre Dame, during the French Revolution. They are gathered here and on display for you
to see today.
You see, this is our historic Paris tour, celebrating the
Middle Ages. The highlights though, of the Cluny Museum, are the several panels of
original stained glass from the Sainte Chapelle church that I just showed you.
These are original, 800 years old, posted about five and a half feet high
so you can see them very closely. You see, normally when you see stained glass, it’s
so far away, “how could I possibly, without binoculars, understand and appreciate the
detail?” Well you can at the Cluny Museum, you can
actually reach out and touch these things, and see how heavy that lead is
that they used in stained glass windows. The highlight for many is the
series of six tapestries called the, “Lady and the Unicorn,” where a noble lady teaches
unicorns about the senses of human touch, sight, smell, and taste.
self-guided tours, one of our self-guided tours in our guidebooks, city of Paris,
Cluny Museum. End your day going local. Hangout at this park, the
Luxembourg Garden. This will be a highlight that you haven’t anticipated.
Enjoy watching Parisians at play.
Rent a little sailboat if you have kids, and
even if you are a kid yourself, rent one at this point right here, and
let it race with other people’s sailboats. There’s no shortage of activities for
children in the Luxembourg Gardens, but mostly I just like to sit at one of
those chairs and watch what Parisians do in a park, in the afternoon. You see, this
is a perfect blend of heavyweight sightseeing sights, museums, neighborhood
walks in parks, blended into one day. Day two, We’re going to tackle the Louvre Museum
and then sashay up the Champs-Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe.
The Louvre museum. The Louvre is
the palace of the kings and queens of France over the centuries. Come the
revolution in late 1700’s when the museum was closed to kings and
queens, it was turned into Europe’s first public art museum. And today it remains
as such, it’s though not designed as an art museum in the least bit, so that
pyramid that you see, the glass pyramid was added in 1985 to rationalize the
entry, and boy did that work.
It’s a grand entry to a grand art museum that makes
sense of getting between the various wings, you can’t imagine improvement
unless you had seen it beforehand. With over 30,000 works of art, the Louvre
Museum is a full inventory of Western civilization. From Mesopotamian artifacts
5,000 years old Egyptian mummies, to classical Greek sculpture, to Renaissance
art, to Napoleonic art in the early 1800’s where the museum stops
chronologically. Here we’re seeing the crowning of Napoleon by
No small ego there. This museum, to remind you we provide
self-guided tours in our guidebooks, the audio tour that you can download onto your
phone or tablet works very well for the Louvre. There are local guides as well, and
crowds can be an issue here. If you want to get closer to the Mona Lisa, you want
to strategize when you enter this museum.
And yes, the Mona Lisa does look a bit
smaller than people realize she’s going to be when they see her in person.
Go at night if crowds are a problem. It all depends on the time of year you’re going.
I would go at night even if there weren’t crowds, because the museum on
Wednesday and Fridays is open till 9:30 at night. So go about six. Everybody
else is tired, they’re going home, they’re done, they’re going to cafes, they’re done.
Enter the museum then, then exit when it looks like
this. It’s glorious at night. I’m not making this up, and even if
you don’t go to see the museum on the inside, make sure to pass by the Louvre to
see the glistening, glimmering pyramid from the outside, glimmering from the inside. Then spend
the rest of your day going a couple stops up the Champs-Elysees, world’s
most famous boulevard, climb up the 420 steps covered in the museum pass to
Europe’s grandest triumphal arch, the Arc de Triomphe.
Yes, built by Napoleon, two
times larger than anything in Rome, and sashay your way back down, crossing
side-by-side, using our self-guided tour of the Camps-Elysees as you do. Passing by over-the-top, opulent shopping
stores like this, some of which you need an appointment to
enter. How about that, you want to buy a dress, “I’m sorry, do you have an appointment?” I’m
not kidding. And stop to enjoy a cafe at this grandest of Europe’s boulevards,
paying more than you ever should for a cup of espresso, 10 euros.
Call it. That’s crazy, on one hand, on the other, how many times do you have a
chance to sit and watch the conveyor belt of European traffic go by. And know
also that the waiter won’t bring your bill until you ask for it, so bring postcards,
or write in your journal. Two hours later that 10 euros is a pretty good investment
of your time.
He or she who comes home with the most money doesn’t win. Allow
yourself some silly expenses once in awhile. The Champs-Elysees is
brilliant at night. If you have to choose and you only have one time you can go,
go at night.
You can still– the Arc de Triomphe is open till 10:30 or 11:00 at
night, depending on the time of the year, and it truly does glisten any time of
the year at night. My third– day three is my favorite day in Paris,
impressionist Paris day. We’re gonna explore the hill town where the
artists gathered during the late 1800’s, and then visit the three art museums
that house their collective genius. This is a cool day to put together, and you
should think this way.
Wandering up then to this hill town here, that
until 1870 was not Paris, but its own city. A wall separated that hill town from the
city of Paris, and behind that wall laws were different. Rents were cheaper, tax
was not booed, people were happier. Buildings like Sacre Coeur were built, by
the way, not so interesting on the inside, you can tour it, our book walks you
through it, but beautiful views from the steps in front of this Neo Byzantine
But the neighborhood behind it feels distinctly apart from the rest of
Paris, and the artistic heritage, cheaper rents that drew the likes of Auguste
Renoir to paint the spirited people here. Again, drinking, dancing, having fun,
because it wasn’t that much fun down on the flatlands of Paris. And dazzling,
symbolic, “ooh, la, la,” red windmill. In late 1800’s this was more scary, and
daunting to the French, and the Eiffel tower built in about the same time was,
because they had never seen the can-can done before.
It drew the attention of
certain artists that you know, Toulouse-Lautrec, for example, and this was earth-shattering,
and pushed I think it pushed art to another level. I
mentioned before we do a self-guided tour of the Montmartre neighborhood in our book, but
Paris Walks does a brilliant– this is one of the ones I would highlight of theirs,
or anybody give you a walking tour because it really brings it to life, so
many of the stories come to life of that hill town. Then spend your afternoon
touring the great museums, again, that house their art. The Orsay museum is a
converted train station, brilliant home.
Now it is right on the Seine River,
housing all the great, the greatest collection of impressionist art, from
Monet to Manet, Manet to Monet, pardon me, I reversed that. To Paul Cezanne, Vincent
van Gogh, Toulouse Lautrec, and everybody in between. Across the river you’ll enjoy
the– fans of Claude Monet can make their pilgrimage to the
Orangerie, built precisely to hold the panels, eight panels, of his water lilies.
Painted at an elderly age when he had cataracts and could barely see, these are
remarkable accomplishment of this artist. 15 Minutes, the other direction from the
Orsay museum, you can pay respects to the man who did for sculpture what
did for painted art.
Auguste Rodin. His works are thoughtful and romantic. Each
one of them. This is typical of impressionist art.
The greatest sculptor
since Michelangelo. Again, walking tour in our guidebook. This museum
seldom gets too crowded, and you can tour just its gardens if you want to
for a couple of euros, or spend ten, or your museum pass to get into the
interior. Day four, the Marais district.
This is cool, backdoor, hip, trendy Paris
example of seeing Paris it’s trendy finest. This is medieval Paris at its
best, with stone walkways all centered around Paris’ greatest square, I
think, the Place des Vosges. The oldest square in Paris as well, in the heart of
the Marais district. It’s also the center for Jewish culture, Jewish people.
Until WWII, the center, the largest concentration, in fact, of Jewish
people, lived in Paris.
Monuments, then, to their deportation during WWII,
when 76,000 Jews would be deported from the city of Paris to concentration camps,
is well commemorated at the Memorial de la Shoah.
As well as, there’s a brilliant, relatively new history museum to Jewish
culture, and it highlights their contributions to western European
culture. Many people come to the Marais district though for the modern art that’s
possible to see here. And here, at the Pompidou Center, at the end of the
eastern, well the western end of the Marais district, wandering through, you can tour Europe’s greatest collection of modern art. The museum itself is fun, escalate to the top, it’s all glass windows, and you have brilliant
views over the city of Paris, while “wham, bam,” you get a sample of the greatest
modern artists today, in one floor of one museum.
Thanks to the brilliance of the
co-author, who is sometimes silent, Gene Openshaw, we have a guided tour to
this, and many other museums in Paris, to help make sense of this abstraction in
art. Just a few blocks away, covered in the museum pass by the way, is
the recently reopened museum dedicated to Pablo Picasso. 400 Works of his, in
the greatest single collection anywhere in Paris are now– is now open again,
covered with the museum pass, and ready for you to visit. End your day with the
capital, in my opinion, the greatest monument to the Belle poque in France, The
opulent Opera House.
Paris’ Opera House, built and finished in 1875, where once
you enter, you can tour on your own or with a tour, a couple times a day they
offer guided tours. You will find, right away, that the point of this
theater was to impress you, and it was more about being seen than seeing
whatever the play was when you came, or the Opera. It was all about how you
looked, how you appeared, and its surroundings that you got to enter and
and have your intermission in. If you’re not properly dressed, “oh, go today,” If it’s
Opera season when you’re there, it’s well worth attending one and being
able to sit in this auditorium where only 2000 seats are.
And it’s easy, it’s not
that hard to get tickets. If you’re not properly dressed, why you can go right next
door to the Galleries Lafayette, built at the same generation that feels like an
extension of Opera House, another Belle poque structure, and enjoy its grand
perfume floor, the greatest I’ve ever seen in a department store, and shop for
your own gown. Also, what I like about the Galeries Lafayette, in many department
stores in Paris, they leave their top floors open for free with rooftop view
terraces. This is the back of the Opera House right there, you’re staring point blank at it.
cafeterias to provide cheap meals for people in those departments stores. The Eiffel
Tower. You can’t leave Paris without seeing the Eiffel Tower, there’s no way. I save it
for the end, before we head to Normandy.
Europe’s tallest structure for a long
time, that 1,000 foot, 1,063 foot Eiffel Tower, the greatest view from it is the
Place Du Trocadro here, and here’s a tip, if you read your guide book, there’s a
little museum off to the left side dedicated to the architecture and
monuments of France. I love the museum, included in the museum pass, you never
pay the 11 euros or dollars to get in, but with the museum pass maybe you’ll go.
What’s cool about it is there’s a cafe right here on the outside that nobody
knows about, with this view of the Eiffel Tower. It’s called the Caf Carlu. Now you
The greatest view from the Place Du Trocadro of the Eiffel Tower, and it’s a
crowded site. This is not the line waiting to get the tower, this is waiting
for the fireworks to explode on the 14th of July, when they were lit off from the
Eiffel Tower. But the Eiffel Tower is Europe’s, oh no– France’s most difficult site
to get into, if you don’t come prepared to wait an hour and a half in line, which
is a lot of time out of a day in your time, book ahead. You can reserve your
elevator up to the top three months ahead of time.
The problem with booking
ahead, that far ahead, is you don’t know what the weather’s gonna be, do you. You may go
on a rainy day, bummer, but at least you’ll get up the tower. My advice is
that you can climb– that you can stand in line, there are certain times a day
that are quieter, or walk the stairs up to the first floor. It will take you about 10
minutes, you’ve got to have energy to do so, you can also climb to the second
Those are the two greatest viewing platforms anyway, for a fraction
of the price of getting up or booking a reservation. And then from there you can
take an elevator all the way to the top if you want, you have to buy your way from there.
But go late in the day whenever you go, Go late in the day watch as the sun goes
down, and the city sparkles below, then exit the Eiffel Tower when it’s
glimmering at its best. Without question, whether you go up the Eiffel Tower or
not matters little to me, because there’s other
great views of the city of Paris, but there’s nothing like seeing this
monument lit at night, every night of the year, looking this way. All the information
I’ve just given you, and a lot more is provided in our guidebooks, the Paris
book or the Pocket Paris guidebook.
If you’ve enjoyed this video, you’ll find
lots more at ricksteves.Com, and on my Rick Steves YouTube channel. Happy
travels, and thanks for joining us..