Things to Do in France - page 3
The streets of Paris are filled with romance and excitement, but for travelers looking to escape the hustle of the city, a wander along the scenic Canal St-Martin, located near the River Seine, offers a welcome respite from the typical urban energy.
Visitors can stroll along the picturesque waterway where quaint storefronts and tiny homes nod to another era. Travelers can relax at one of the numerous café tables and sip on glasses of fine wine under a quiet city sky or float along the waterway in one of the city’s famous riverboats. Travelers agree that some of the best shopping is to be had along Canal St-Martin, making it an ideal place to spend a late afternoon in the open air.
Europe’s largest science museum and one of Paris’ most visited exhibition spaces, La Cite des Sciences et de L'lndustrie, or the City of Science & Industry, has been fascinating visitors with its hands-on exhibits since its inauguration in 1986.
An innovative edifice of glass and iron masterminded by architect Adrien Fainsilber, the museum’s shimmering façade sets the scene for a journey into the high-tech world of modern-day science. Set in the modern parklands of Parc de la Villette, Paris’ largest park, the City of Science & Industry is renowned for its pioneering exhibitions, covering everything from genetics to audio technology, and including an inventive Space exploration exhibit. Most impressive is the Cité des Enfants, aimed at children from 2-12 years, where an incredible range of child-friendly installations offer interactive demonstrations allowing children to operate robots, experiment with water conductivity and broadcast ‘news’ footage on a live television.
Once a port for industry and trade, the Bassin de la Villette is now a Parisian hub for travelers looking to explore the arts and culture that make the City of Lights so unique. A popular youth hostel, three-star hotel, famous restaurants and plenty of live performance venues draw travelers to Bassin de la Villette, where it’s possible to escape the hustle of Paris streets and relax into the scenic waterway.
While this destination is worth a visit any time of year, the summer’s month-long Paris-Plage festival is among the best reasons to make a stop. Seaside banks become almost resort like as local rolls out deck chairs and floating wooden cafes pass by selling strong coffees and warm pastries. Public picnic areas and classic dance floors draw locals and tourists out of doors to pass summer nights swaying in the ocean breeze.
The park is characterized by its modernist sculptures and installations, including around 35 fire-engine red follies dotted along the canal banks, a striking sight against the futuristic silhouettes of the park’s buildings. Three concert halls reside in the park – the Zenith Concert Hall and the Cite de la Musique, both important music halls, and the striking Grand Hall, a former livestock showground transformed by architects Bernard Reichen and Philippe Robert into a popular cultural center and performance arena.
The City of Science and Industry, Europe’s largest science museum, is also on-site, fronted by the iconic Omnimax cinema, La Géode - a building constructed inside a giant silver ball. Film and music fans can even enjoy alfresco entertainment during the summer months, when the nearby Prairie du Triangle is transformed into an open-air cinema, and a number of music concerts and festivals are held in the park grounds.
The Palais de Chaillot is located on the Place du Trocadéro in Paris’ 16th neighborhood (arrondissement). Because it is just across the river Seine from the Eiffel Tower, the terrace of the Palais de Chaillot provides one of the city’s best views of the tower — it is a great place to snap photos of the famous landmark. Visitors can easily spend an entire day visiting the Palais de Chaillot, the Eiffel Tower, and walking or taking a cruise along the Seine. The Palais’ surrounding gardens (Jardins du Trocadéro) are ten hectares surrounding Paris’ largest fountain, which is well worth viewing at night while lit up.
The Palais de Chaillot was originally built for the 1937 World’s Fair/Universal Expo, and today houses the national theater (Théâtre National de Chaillot) and a number of different museums: the Musée de la Marine (Naval Museum), the Musée de l'Homme (The Museum of Man), and a museum of architecture (Cité de l'architecture et du patrimoine).
Paris’ Arts Bridge, or Pont des Arts (sometimes known as the Passerelle des Arts), runs across the Seine River, linking the Cour Carrée (central square) of the Palais du Louvre on the North Bank with the landmark Institut de France on the South Bank. The famous pedestrian bridge was first erected in 1802 under Napolean I, but today’s design dates back to 1984 when it was rebuilt following a series of boat collisions and collapses.
Designed by Louis Arretche, the metal arched bridge has not only become an important landmark of old age Paris, but a popular vantage point, affording spectacular views along the Seine. With its wide walkway and picnic benches, the bridge has long been used as more than just a crossing point – artists, photographers and painters flock to the area, and the bridge is regularly used for small-scale open-air art exhibitions.
An idyllic stretch of greenery encircling the iconic pinnacle of the Eiffel Tower, the Champs de Mars is one of the most popular of Paris' parks. Named after Rome’s Campus Martius, a tribute to the Roman God of War, Champs de Mars was originally designed as a military training area for the nearby Ecole Militaire (Military School), but became an important arena for national events when it opened to the public back in 1780. Many key moments throughout the French Revolution took place here - including the first Fête de la Fédération (Federation Day or Bastille Day) in 1790, the legendary Festival of the Supreme Being in 1794, and it was the site of the 1791 Champs de Mars massacre - a bloody demonstration against King Louis XVI.
With its spectacular Neo-Renaissance frontage presiding over the Place de Grève in the city center, the Hotel de Ville is among Paris' most impressive architectural works. Reconstructed in 1873, the prestigious building kept much of its original style and its exteriors remain a celebrated example of 16th-century French Renaissance architecture, inspired by the Châteaux of the Loire Valley. Designed by architects Théodore Ballu and Édouard Deperthes, the arresting façade features a central clock tower and 136 statues representing historical figures from Paris and other French cities. The interior boasts the grandest makeover, though, with the ceremonial rooms -- including a long Salle des Fêtes (ballroom) - lavishly decorated and featuring wall paintings by a number of key 19th-century artists.
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The Centre Pompidou is a museum dedicated to European contemporary and modern art. Featuring a music hall with live performances, films, theatre, literature, spoken word, and visual art, the Centre Pompidou is one of the most culturally significant and visited attractions in Paris.A brilliant piece of post-modern architecture, the Centre Pompidou was designed by the Italian architect Renzo Piano and the British designer Richard Rogers. The design of the museum has an ‘open-approach’ with all of its functional systems (plumbing, electrical, circulation, and climate control) visible and color coded from the outside.
Featuring the artwork of legends like Matisse, Duchamp, Jackson, and Picasso, the museum provides a thorough history of modern art. With the New Media Collection and Film Center, the Centre Pompidou also showcases the talents of Europe’s fines installation, film, video, and sound artists.
Like most museums in Europe, the Musée de l'Orangerie in Paris wasn't always an art space. As its name would imply, its original purpose in the 19th century was to house the orange trees away from winter weather. Later, it was used for just about everything from soldiers' quarters to sports to one-time exhibits. But it wasn't until 1922, when Nymphéas – known to the world as Monet's Water Lilies – found a permanent home in their specially designed, softly lit room.
But the Water Lilies aren't the only reason to stop in here on the way to Place Concorde after a stroll through the Tuilieries. There are also works by Picasso, Matisse, Modigliani, Cézanne and many others.
Officially known as Cimitière du Nord, the 19th-century Montmartre Cemetery is the third-largest necropolis in Paris, and the final resting place for many of Montmartre's famous artists and writers including Edgar Degas and Jacques Offenbach, Dumas, Hector Berlioz and Emile Zola's family.
Built in the early 19th century in an abandoned gypsum quarry at the foot of Butte Montmartre, Montmartre Cemetery was intended to take the strain off the inner-city cemeteries reaching dangerous levels of overcrowding. Today, the 25-acre site is a peaceful place crisscrossed by cobbled lanes shaded by cedars, maples, chestnuts, and limes. You can spend about an hour seeing the tombs with their ornate designs.
The most acclaimed example of formal French garden design, Versailles’ vast chateau gardens are famed for their geometrically aligned terraces, tree-lined paths, ponds and canals. Spreading west of the palace, the Versailles Chateau Gardens cover 800 hectares (1,976 acres) in the style of garden landscape artist, Andre Le Notre.
One of the most special aspects of the gardens is the 50 fountains which act as focal points, enhancing the geometrical design. From late spring to early autumn, the fountains come to life as part of the annual Grandes Eaux water spectacles. Garden highlights include the horses and chariot of the Apollo Fountain, the Grand Canal stretching off to the horizon, and the detailed parterres of the Orangerie.
Wherever you stroll, you’re bound to come across a grove, colonnade, fountain or sculpture that will surprise, delight and take your breath away.
Built during the reign of Louis XIV in the mid-17th century, the Palace of Versailles nearly emptied the kingdom's coffers as 30,000 workers and soldiers toiled to flatten hills, move forests, and drain marshes to create the fantastical palace and gardens that so effectively projected the absolute power of the French monarchy at the time.
The opulence of Versailles reaches its peak in the central gallery known as the Hall of Mirrors — a 75-meter-long ballroom with 17 huge mirrors on one side and, on the other, an equal number of arcaded windows looking out over the formal gardens. Designed by architect Jules Hardouin-Mansart and decorated by painter Charles le Brun, construction of the Hall of Mirrors began in 1678, and it has quite the history: this was the setting for 17th- and 18th-century royal ceremonies, and it was also the location for the signature of the 1919 Versailles Treaty that formally ended WWI.
The pink-colonnaded Grand Trianon was built in 1687 by the famous architect Mansart, as a tranquil getaway from court life for Louis XIV.
Setting the benchmark for Italianate garden conservatory design, the elegantly long and low palace of pink marble and porphyry features geometrically ordered rows of columns and windows, topped by a balustrade roof.
The original furnishings were plundered during the Revolution. Today, the palace is furnished in Empire style, reflecting the decoration installed by Napoleon, who was particularly enamored of the building. Surrounding the palace is a lovely flower garden.
While the Grand Trianon is open to the public, it is also an official residence of the French President.
One of the most striking of Paris’ public squares, Place Vendome's historic architecture meets luxury shopping in a large octagonal space located in the 1st arrondissement of Paris. The majestic ensemble of early 18th-century buildings designed by architect Jules-Hardouin Mansart encircles the plaza. At its heart, the 43-meter Vendome Column towers overhead, topped with a regal statue of Napoleon perched on a white marble pedestal.
The landmark statue was erected by Napolean himself, replacing the previous monument to King Louis XIV that had once dominated the square. Today a cluster of luxurious hotels, including the Bristol and Park Hyatt, have joined the Ritz, lending the square an air of grandeur and the surrounding buildings dazzle with exclusive jewelry showrooms.
It's easy to pass by the Palais-Royal in Paris's first arrondissement; there is so much around it of note, and visitors are either rushing past to get to the Louvre, or wiped out after an afternoon at that world-famous museum. But its gardens, which are free and open to the public, are an oasis in this otherwise tourist-heavy neighborhood that's practically hidden in plain sight – so keep it in mind when you want to take a load off after trekking through the Louvre.
Originally the home of Cardinal Richelieu, it was built in the 1630s and after the Cardinal's death fell into the hands of King Louis XIII. Today it is the location of the Ministry of Culture and a branch of the National Library.
Each arrondissement in Paris has a number and a name; the fourth arrondissement is known as Le Marais. You'll probably find yourself in this neighborhood more than almost any other in the city.
The historical home of the Parisian aristocracy and the Pletzl, its Jewish community (as well as Victor Hugo and Robespierre), Le Marais includes the practically cloistered first square ever designed in Paris, known as Place des Vosges. Its stately homes surround a park so quiet, that the only sounds heard are from the fountain and bird-songs. But the rest of the arrondissement is much livelier, with the bustling Rue de Rivoli, the gay community along Rue des Archives and the funky labyrinth of stores, galleries and cafes in the Village Saint Paul (its entrance can be found at 12 Rue des Jardins Saint-Paul).
Everywhere you go in Marseille, you'll see the golden statue of the Basilique Notre Dame de la Garde, the Romano-Byzantine basilica rising up from the city's highest hill, La Garde (530ft/162m). Built between 1853 and 1864, the domed basilica is ornamented with colored marble, murals, and intricate mosaics, which were superbly restored in 2006 after suffering damage from the atmosphere, candle smoke and war. Bullet marks and vivid shrapnel scars on the cathedral's northern façade mark the fierce fighting that took place during Marseille's Battle of Liberation in August 1944.
Its bell tower is crowned by a 30 ft (9.7m) tall gilded statue of the Virgin Mary on a 40 ft (12m) high pedestal. Locals see her as the guardian of their city and call her 'la bonne mere' or the good mother. Each year on August 15th, there is a popular Assumption Day pilgrimage to the church. From the dome you get a 360-degree panorama of the city's sea of terracotta rooves below.
Paris has been around for millennia; but it wasn't until 1605, when King Henry IV built what was then-called Place Royale, that a public square was planned into the city's landscape. It's now known as the Place des Vosges, and to this day remains largely unchanged since its inauguration in 1612.
It's easy to call any public area in a major city an “oasis,” but Place des Vosges truly lives up to the description. It's in Le Marais, which is already a relatively quiet arrondissement; but once you step through the arches, the stately residences seem to absorb any city noise and the arcades that cover the sidewalks add to its hushed ambiance. It's a good place to go to take a load off after trekking around the city all day.
Things to do near France
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- Things to do in Marseille
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