Things to Do in France - page 2
The Place de la Concorde is between the Tuileries Gardens and the Champs Elysées on Paris's famous axis. It was laid out between 1755 and 1775. The 3,300-year-old pink granite obelisk with the gilded top in the square's centre was given to France in 1831 by Muhammad Ali, viceroy and pasha of Egypt. Towering 75 ft (23m) over the cobblestones, it once stood in the Temple of Ramses at Thebes (modern-day Luxor).
The 8 female statues adorning the 4 corners of the square represent France's largest cities. In 1793, after the French Revolution, Louis XVI's head was lopped off by a guillotine set up near the statue representing the city of Brest. During the next two years, another guillotine was used to behead 1343 more people, including Marie-Antoinette and the Revolutionary leader Danton. The square was given its present name after the Reign of Terror ended in the hope that it would be a place of peace and harmony.
Marie-Antoinette left a mark on Versailles larger than any other left by the queens of the French monarchy, and the physical embodiment of her maverick ways can be found at her estate on the grounds of the Gardens of Versailles. The Marie-Antoinette Estate is comprised of several elements. There is the Petit Trianon, which served as her palace away from home. Often frustrated by the politics of her husband's court, Marie-Antoinette would escape to her royal residence, where no one could enter without her express invitation – not even the king himself.
There are also Marie-Antoinette's personal gardens, through which visitors can stroll today and see that they are much unchanged from the time of the queen's reign. She also had a hamlet – a glamorous, picturesque take on the rustic country homes that the aristocracy at the time had on the grounds of their own estates – with a kitchen garden and a working farm in addition to its mill, decorative gardens and charming lake.
As is common in Europe, the St Germain des Prés neighborhood is named after its church, in this case the sixth-century Benedictine Église de St-Germain-des-Prés, named after St Germain, in honor of the Bishop of Paris. We have this church to thank for the student-led vibe of the area; they donated the land from the church to the Seine and to the University of Paris, thus creating the Latin Quarter that we know and love today.
The main street in the neighborhood, in the sixth arrondissement, is the Haussmann-designed Boulevard St Germain. It has chic stores and plenty of cafes for people watching. In fact, the romance of whiling away the hours at a cafe was practically born in St Germain des Prés, at historic Les Deux Magots and Café de Flore.
The 8th arrondissement (neighborhood), one of Paris’ 20 districts, is probably best known for the famous boulevard Champs-Élysées. With sidewalks lined by trees, high-end shops, and fashion boutiques, the boulevard is also home to the Arc de Triomphe and the Place de la Concorde, as well as the Élysée Palace (the official residence of the President of France). On one end of the Champs-Élysées is the Arc de Triomphe, which offers sweeping views of the city from its top. On the other end of the Champs-Élysées is the Grand Palais, an historic building dedicated “to the glory of French art.” The Grand Palais is now a museum and an exhibition hall that is home to an impressive art collection. The 8th arrondissement is probably best known as a retail district, where posh shoppers come to sip a beverage at one of the area’s numerous cafes or restaurants, then browse name-brand boutiques like Chanel, Christian Dior, and Louis Vuitton.
The Mémorial de Caen, a museum and war memorial, is one of the city’s most popular attractions and a must-see for anyone visiting Normandy to pay respects to the heroes of World War II. While the site specifically commemorates D-Day and the Battle for Caen, it is the overall sentiment that provides the perfect primer for those planning to see multiple memorials in the area.
The museum's exhibits take visitors through life in the 1940s during the war while specifically noting the D-Day landings and the Battle of Normandy before continuing with coverage through the fall of the Berlin Wall. The many personal accounts, artifacts and multimedia segments work to bring the war out of the past and into sharp focus. In addition, there are British, Canadian and American gardens on the grounds for strolling and picnicking.
With its castle-like turrets and dramatic riverfront location, La Conciergerie is an imposing sight, stretching along the west side of the Île de la Cité. Once part of the Palais de la Cité, along with the neighboring Palais de Justice and Sainte Chapelle, the former medieval palace is best known for its role in the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror, when it served as a prison.
An estimated 3,000 prisoners were held at the Conciergerie prior to being taken to the guillotine during the Reign of Terror, among them Charlotte Corday, Madame Élisabeth, poet André Chénier and Marie Antoinette, and it continued to serve as a prison until it was decommissioned in 1914. Today, La Conciergerie is preserved as a National Monument and visitors can discover its dark legacy on a tour of the grounds.
The Film Festival Palace, or Palais des Festivals et des Congrès, was built in 1982 and houses year-round events in Cannes, most notably, the Cannes Film Festival. The prestigious film festival attracts movie stars and the media from around the world. The festival is one of the most prestigious international film events and overtakes the Cannes luxury establishments for two dizzying weeks in May.
The famed palais provides 25,000 square meters for exhibitions as well as many rooms and 18 auditoriums equipped with state of the art sound and lighting. The original Palais was built in 1949, and a new one was built in 1982 in response to the growing popularity of the film festival and the need for business convention space. Now, the Palais is a contemporary building that plays hosts to a variety events besides the film festival, such as the international music trade show MIDEM and the International Television Programme Market.
The Avenue des Champs-Elysées (the name refers to the 'Elysian Fields' where happy souls dwelt after death according to Greek myth) links place de la Concorde with the Arc de Triomphe. The avenue has symbolized the style and joie de vivre of Paris since the mid-19th century and remains a popular tourist destination.
Basically a shopping strip, Avenue des Champs-Elysées is rue du Faubourg St-Honoré (8e), the western extension of rue St-Honoré. It has renowned couture houses, jewellers, antique shops and the 18th-century Palais de l'Elysée (corner rue du Faubourg St-Honoré & av de Marigny), which is the official residence of the French President.
At the bottom of Avenue des Champs-Elysées is an 11.8 ft (3.6m) tall bronze statue depicting General Charles de Gaulle in full military gear ready to march down the broad avenue to the Arc de Triomphe in a liberated Paris on 26 August 1944.
Ile de la Cité shares the Seine River with its upstream neighbor, Ile Saint-Louis, right in the middle of Paris's city center. The westernmost end of the island is mostly residential with a small park at the tip, while the eastern end gives visitors the best view of the flying buttresses of Notre-Dame Cathedral. The Palais de Justice is also housed on the island, which has the Sainte-Chapelle inside, a tiny jewel box of almost kaleidoscopic color thanks to its wonderful stained glass.
Archaeologists found evidence of habitation on this island by the Romans, as early as the first century BC. But the early 17th century was when the island came into its own, after the construction of the Pont Neuf that spans the river and intersects with the western end.
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Fontaine Saint-Michel was sculpted by Gabriel Davioud in 1860 and gives its name to the square where it’s located, Place Saint-Michel. The monumental fountain, located between boulevard Saint-Michel and Place Saint-Andres-des-Arts was commissioned by Baron Georges-Eugene Haussmann as part of Napoleon III’s plans to bring more light and air to the city of Paris.
The fountain depicts the archangel Michael vanquishing Satan, a controversial political symbol at the time hinting at Napoleon vanquishing the revolutionary fervor of the neighborhood. Unlike many of Paris’s fountains, Fontaine Saint-Michel was made from various colors of materials, including red and green marble, blue and yellow stone, and bronze. Place Saint-Michel is a popular meeting spot among both the city’s youth and foreign visitors.
Nice Old Town (known locally as Le Vieux Nice) is a lovely honeycomb of narrow streets, dotted with beautiful Baroque churches, vibrant squares, shops and restaurants. Thronging with tourists eating the famous ice-cream during the day, at night it becomes one big party with bars and nightclubs spilling out onto the streets.
The key things to see are the Cours Saleya (the open air market), Chapelle de la Miséricorde (a wonderfully ornate Baroque church dating from 1740), Chapelle de l'Annonciation (known locally as Sainte-Rita), Eglise Saint-Jacques (dating from 1612 and built by the Jesuits, it has some excellent frescoes), the Cathedral Sainte Réparate (1699), and the Palais Lascaris (paintings and statues).
Built in 1722 as a private mansion for the duchesse de Bourbon, a legitimized daughter of Louis XIV, the Palais Bourbon has served as the meeting place for the Assemblée Nationale (the lower house of the French parliament) since 1798 when it was called the Council of Five Hundred.
Today, the government building is easily recognizable by the colonnaded facade commissioned by Napoleon to resemble the portico of the Madeleine across the Seine. On display within the Palais Bourbon are cupolas painted by the French Romantic artist Eugene Delacroix, as well as several works by contemporary artists.
By reservation only, visitors can observe a live session of the National Assembly or participate in guided tours focused on the building’s art, architecture and the workings of the French parliament.
The Panthéon was originally meant to be the final resting place of the relics of Ste-Genevieve, but it now serves as a deconsecrated, non-denominational mausoleum of some of France's most revered artists and writers, such as Rousseau, Voltaire, Zola and, most recently after an exhumation and the moving of his coffin, Dumas. It also has a tribute to the French Jews who survived the horrors of World War II.
But visitors often find their gaze divided between the final resting places of these distinguished Frenchmen and the stunning, vaulted open space that remains from its construction, completed in 1790. The Panthéon is one the world's best examples of early Neoclassical architecture. Don't forget to stay a moment on the exterior stairs and enjoy the view of the Eiffel Tower.
The striking edifice presiding over Paris' 5th arrondissement Latin Quarter, the historic La Sorbonne is renowned as one of the first European centers of higher education, housing the prestigious Collège de Sorbonne since its founding in 1257 by Robert de Sorbon.
It’s the building itself that garners the most attention, a sprawling campus rebuilt in 1653 by Cardinal de Richelieu to the designs of architect Jacques Lemercier. A blend of Baroque and Renaissance styles replaced the original medieval structure, but the last remaining building from this period is the iconic domed Romanesque Chapelle de la Sorbonne (the Chapel of La Sorbonne), where the sculpted tomb of Cardinal de Richelieu is housed. A wander through the Sorbonne courtyard and café-lined plaza offers views of the amphitheaters, library and observatory (which was reconstructed by Henri Paul Nénot in the late 19th-century), showcasing a picturesque variety of architectural styles.
The Musée National du Moyen Age - Thermes et Hote de Cluny is widely known as Musée de Cluny, after its home in the Gothic Hôtel de Cluny in the fifth arrondissement. Its two buildings house the Thermes de Cluny, cold-water pools dating back to Roman times; there is also the “Column of the Boatman,” originally discovered underneath Notre Dame and is the oldest-known sculpture in Paris.
The actual museum includes the iconic “The Lady and the Unicorn” that is the iconic example of medieval tapestry work. Also of note are the “illuminated manuscripts,” intricately decorated documents laden with gold and silver paints that make them appear as if they are lit from within.
Paris’ most famous independent bookstore, dating back to 1919, Shakespeare and Company Bookstore is renowned as the one-time haunt of literary icons like Ezra Pound, Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce and Ford Madox Ford.
The legendary Shakespeare and Company store was opened by American ingénue Sylvia Beach, who fashioned the shop into a creative haven where penniless writers congregated to share ideas, borrow books and even crash down on the shop floors. Sylvia even made history by publishing James Joyce's 1922 Ulysses when every other publisher refused. Situated in the art district of Paris' Left Bank, the original bookstore was located on Rue Dupuytren, before moving to larger premises on Rue de l’Odeon in 1922, then finally shutting its doors in 1941 during WWII German occupation.
In a city filled with beautiful churches and cathedrals the likes of Notre Dame and Sainte-Chapelle, St Etienne du Mont remains one of the prettiest ecclesiastical buildings in Paris. Built between 1492 and 1655, the Gothic and Renaissance-style church in the city’s Latin Quarter houses the lone rood screen remaining in Paris, dating back to 1535.
Ste Genevieve, the patron of the city, was interred in the church’s southeastern corner before French revolutionaries destroyed her remains. Today, her ornate tomb includes a reliquary housing all that was left, a sole finger bone. Jean Racine and Blaise Pascal, two of the city’s most famous intellectuals, are also buried within the church.
Other items of note include the oldest pipe organ case in Paris (carved in 1631 by Jehan Buron), a baroque pulpit from 1651 and a series of stained glass windows dating from the early sixteenth century through the first part of the seventeenth century.
Despite only opening its doors in May 2016, the spectacular La Cité du Vin is already on its way to becoming one of Bordeaux's star attractions. Both an architectural landmark and a fascinating tribute to the city's wine-making heritage, the futuristic building looms over the banks of the Garonne and offers a unique 360-degree view from its 115-foot-high (35-meter-high) belvedere.
Described by some as part museum, part theme park, La Cité du Vin whisks visitors on a self-guided, fully interactive tour of French wine history and heritage, with multi-sensory exhibitions and multimedia displays spread over 10 floors. Travelers are also offered the opportunity to sample wines from around the world (or grape juices for younger visitors), plus a choice of restaurants, wine bars and boutiques. Plans are underfoot to also host temporary art exhibitions.
Place du Tertre is a famous square in the Montmartre neighborhood of Paris known for its artists and bohemian crowd. It is located just a few meters from Basilique du Sacré-Coeur and close to where painters like Picasso and Modigliani used to live and work; at the time, Montmartre was called the capital of modern art in the early 20th century. In fact, there is a museum dedicated to the works of Salvador Dali a few steps from Place du Tertre. Its other claim to fame dates back to 1898, when Louis Renault’s first automobile was driven up the steep Montmartre hills, kickstarting the lucrative automotive industry in France.
Les Invalides began as the army hospital, initiated by Louis XIV in 1670 and finished six years later. These days, it is a complex of buildings including a collection of museums, a hospital and retirement home for war veterans, and a chapel which is a burial place of war heroes including Napoleon Bonaparte. The museums include Contemporary History, Maps, as well as Military History.
As is the way with French Kings and their projects, a simple idea to build a place for war veterans to retire grew into a massive and grand statement with fifteen courtyards, a chapel - the Eglise Saint-Louis des Invalides, and then a royal chapel - Eglise du Dome. Based on St Peter's Basilica in Rome, this latter became the prime example of French Baroque architecture.
When in Paris, do what the French do and head to Galeries Lafayette to shop. Here you’ll find ten floors full of designer fashion, plus accessories, shoes, perfumes and nearly a whole floor of lingerie. Well, what did you expect? This is Paris. And all of it enclosed under a 1900s Belle Epoque dome. Riding the escalators through the middle of that glass and steel glowing-golden dome, you feel special. As you will climbing the Art Nouveau staircases. This is not just shopping, this is an experience.
If you want some true French fashion guidance there is a free weekly fashion show on Friday afternoons (you need to book ahead). But it’s that dome which just continues to give the whole place a sense of luxury and opulence; this could well be the most elegant department store in the world.
Bisected by the Axe Historique, the 70-acre (28-hectare) formal Jardin des Tuileries are where Parisians once paraded their finery. The gardens were laid out in the mid-17th century by André Le Nôtre, the green thumb behind the Palace of Versailles. Trees are capped at a height of 7ft (2.2m) and rigorously trimmed so the gardens maintain their formality. Flowers are planned to certain heights and color schemes with up to 70,000 bulbs planted each year.
Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the paths, ponds, and old-fashioned merry-go-round here are as enchanting as ever for a stroll. At the Louvre end, twenty sculptures by Maillol hide amongst the yew hedges.
Place de la Bastille is one of the more well-known squares in Paris and occupies an important place in French history. This is where the Bastille Prison stood until 1789, when this 'symbol of royalist tyranny' was stormed on July 14 during the French Revolution. No trace of the Bastille prison remains but the square is still a place where Parisians go to raise their voices in political protest.
In the middle of the square stands the July column, commemorating the three-day July Revolution of 1830. yet another overthrowing of a French king.
These days the Bastille is a large traffic roundabout and the surrounding area is known for its bars, cafes, and nightclubs. It is home to the Opera Bastille, a marina for pleasure boats and the Canal Saint Martin.
Things to do near France
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