Explore the Art and History of Paris With This “Top Five” List

by Caitlin Johnson

Paris is a vibrant city full of history and culture that should not be missed when planning your next European vacation. Paris offers many stunning monuments all within a quick ride on the metro or on foot. For most, the main attraction is the Eiffel Tower. Though this is a world famous structure, many Parisians actually were furious with its construction. There is no shame in sharing a bottle of wine and a baguette on the grassy knolls near the tower, but the following list is going to urge you to step outside simple sight-seeing. The following are suggestions for students studying in Paris or simply for the curious traveler, searching for experiences outside the norm and driven towards historical relevance.

Visit the catacombs of Paris, France and appreciate this earie world masterpiece.
Visit the catacombs of Paris, France and appreciate this earie world masterpiece.

Take a Walk Through The Catacombs

The catacombs lie below the streets of southern Paris. The underground tunnels contain the skeletons of over six million people. The ossuary was created in the 18th century as a solution to the issue of limited grave sites in Paris. Due to Catholicism, cremation was not an option because having one’s body burned was a fate worse than death.

Be warned, this is a fairly big tourist attraction, so be prepared to arrive early to avoid the 2-3 hour wait. It takes about 45 minutes to complete the tour and the museum strictly monitors and limits how many people go through the tunnels at one time. It is well worth it though.

Go to a Cabaret Show

For those with more money to splurge, spring for a show at the famous Moulin Rouge in Montmartre district. For those who are more budget-conscious, there are still many opportunities in Montmartre to see a cabaret show and the famous French Cancan. Colorful feather outfits, topless dancers, and comedic interludes create the recipe for a classy and entertaining evening.

While in the area, explore Montmartre and climb the stairs to the Basilica of the Sacré Cœur. The Roman Catholic church is a stunning work of architecture and sitting on the steps in front of the basilica offers one of the best views of Paris in the city. Discover some of the treasures of Montmartre such as the artist square where you can pay to have your portrait drawn, and explore the chocolatier shops including the famous Georges Larnicol. The shops include many chocolate sculptures and delicious treats like the popular macaroon.

Palace of Versailles

Palace of Versailles

Visit the Palace of Versailles

Hop on the metro and get out of Paris for the afternoon and explore the estate of Louis XIV. The palace is a gorgeous site, rich in architecture, statues and paintings. Some key points not to miss are the Hall of Mirrors (the Grand Gallery, as it was called in the 17th century) and the royal gardens. Louis XIV found the layout of the gardens was just as important as the appearance of his chateau. There are fifteen groves each with their own theme and style regarding statues and layouts.

One of the fortunate aspects to recognize while in France is that visitors are able to appreciate that many buildings and historic pieces are originals. France was not heavily impacted by WWII, and through careful restoration France has been able to maintain its monuments. The palace of Versailles is a prime example.

Explore The Louvre

Art-lover or not, the Louvre is a must see for anyone visiting Paris. The museum originally opened in August 1793 with 537 paintings and today the Louvre is made up of eight curatorial departments with a combination of more than 380,000 objects and 35,000 works of art. Highlights of the museum include the Mona Lisa, the Victory statue, and Eugène Delacroix’s painting, July 28: Liberty Leading the People, among many others.

If you haven’t gotten enough art culture in for the day there are many nearby museums you can visit that are in walking distance of the Louvre. The Orangerie Museum is home to Claude Monet’s canvases as well as art from the 19th and 20th centuries. There is the Musée d’Orsay which is dedicated to Impressionism with collections from 1848 to 1914. And finally, the Musée Delacroix, which is free with your Louvre ticket if you visit the same day.

the Louvre Museum

The Louvre Museum

Check out the Love-Lock Bridge (before its long gone!)

Paris is the city of love and this city wouldn’t be complete without a bridge dedicated to undying love. The Pont des Arts was the original bridge covered in padlocks. The story behind the locks is that when a couple is in a committed relationship, they write their names on the lock and secure it to the bridge. The key is tossed in the Seine River below and it is said to be a symbol of undying love. The only way to break the seal of love is to retrieve the key from the river and then remove the padlock.

In 2010, many of the locks disappeared from the Pont des Arts and many blamed the government. This led to many claiming the Pont de l’Archeveche as the second love-lock bridge. Now that there are two bridges, the story has transformed. The original bridge is said to be reserved for committed relationships while the second bridge is locks for one’s lover.

When studying abroad in Paris, be sure embrace the history and art culture of France. Paris is more than just the city of love; it is a city of deep cultural and is a gem when exploring European history.