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Things to Do in Paris

Home to the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre Museum, and Notre Dame Cathedral, the City of Lights boasts some of the most iconic attractions in Europe. While the cosmopolitan French capital leads the way in fashion and cuisine, its boulangeries, cafes, and quirky Frenchisms — not to mention its rich and inescapable history — prove the city timeless. The clock doesn’t stop for visitors stuck waiting to get inside Paris’ top attractions, but those in the know skip the lines (and save time) with priority-access tickets. Explore the Catacombs, see the ‘Mona Lisa,’ or cruise the Seine River with no wait, or opt for the VIP treatment at the Palace of Versailles or Moulin Rouge.
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Picasso Museum (Musée National Picasso Paris)
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Europe has no lack of Picasso museums, but the Musée Picasso in Paris should be at the top of your list. The Hotel Salé, a mid-17th-century home in Le Marais, was renovated from residence to museum, starting in 1968, and since then has developed a world-class collection of more than 3,000 of Picasso's works spanning his entire, prolific career.

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) was the outstanding genius of 20th-century art: he painted, drew, and otherwise created from his early youth until his death at the age of 91. Much of his prolific and prodigious legacy can be found in the wonderful Musée Picasso.

The Spanish-born artist spent a great deal of his life in Paris, and while this museum may not hold his big name works, it does offer the most complete overview of his oeuvre, and highlights his playfulness and humor. Tucked away in the chic Marais neighborhood, the museum is housed in the Hôtel Salé, a wonderfully restored 17th-century mansion.

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Belleville
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With its diverse mix of ethnicities and burgeoning art scene, Belleville has made a name for itself as one of Paris’ most fashionably eclectic districts, drawing a hip crowd of young locals, students and creative types. Integrated into Paris in 1860, Belleville started life as a hilltop village, famed for its lively guingettes and surrounding vineyards, and the vibrant neighborhood still retains much of its original character.

Today, Belleville is renowned for its sprawling Chinatown and abundance of international restaurants, quirky bars, independent art galleries and small music venues, while the hillside Belleville Park offers spectacular views over Paris. Additional landmarks include the churches of Saint Jean Baptiste de Belleville and Notre Dame de la Croix, the old aqueduct, the site of the old Belleville funicular and the birthplace of iconic French singer Edith Piaf.

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Musee Delacroix
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French Romantic artist Eugene Delacroix moved into a studio on Rue de Furstenberg on Dec. 28, 1857, and lived there until his death in August of 1863. After his death, a group of painters and art collectors created the Friends of Eugene Delacroix Society (Société des Amis d’Eugène Delacroix) in order to save his former flat from destruction. The society purchased the building in 1952 and donated it to the French government for use as a museum two years later.

Musee Eugene Delacroix opened as a national museum in 1971 and today showcases paintings from nearly every stage of Delacroix’s career (most famously Magdalene in the Desert), as well as his furniture, souvenirs brought back from a trip to Morocco and personal items. A downloadable mobile app in English includes a free guide to the museum collection.

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Left Bank (Rive Gauche)
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Set on the southern bank of the Seine River, the historic area known as the 'Left Bank,' or 'Rive Gauche,' was once the stomping ground of Parisian artists, writers and philosophers, encompassing six arrondissements of Paris including the popular Montparnasse district. The area is widely known for its famous inhabitants - celebrated artist Pablo Picasso lived on the Left Bank throughout the war years, joined by French artist Henri Matisse, playwright and philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre and poets Arthur Rimbaud and Paul Verlaine. Even legendary American writers Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald chose the Left Bank for their Parisian base.

As it was once known as a bohemian domain where creativity flourished, the Rive Gauche is now an affluent neighborhood of middle class homes, shopping boutiques and restaurants, and also encompasses many of the city’s most renowned attractions.

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Rue Mouffetard Market
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One of the oldest streets in Paris, running from Maubert place to the Saint Medard Square in Paris' Latin Quarter, Rue Mouffetard is built along the route of an ancient Roman Road. Today, the pedestrianized street is the lifeline of one of Paris' most atmospheric areas, with tourists flocking to visit its lively street market (open every day except Monday) and soak up the quaint Parisian feel.

The Rue Mouffetard market, close by the apartment where Ernest Hemingway once resided, has roots stretching back to as early as 1350AD and remains one of Paris’ most famous street markets. Stretching along the southern half of the street, the colorful market is characteristic of a medieval marketplace with a medley of stalls lining the cobblestones and cabaret singers often busking on the sidewalks to earn a few extra euros. Food is the main produce on offer and there’s an excellent array of fresh fruits, vegetables, meats and seafood.

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Gare Saint-Lazare
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There are few railway stations more photo-worthy than Gare St Lazare—Paris’ busiest train station. Its iconic architecture, sky-high halls and old-world charm have inspired the likes of impressionist painters Edouard Manet and Calude Monet. With 27 platforms servicing more than 100 million passengers a year, this transport hub will likely be a part of any traveler’s visit to the City of Lights. And while the station’s easy eticket system, pay toilets and well-kept grounds are a delight for travelers, visitors should also plan to spend some time taking in the people, the architecture and the energy that inspired an entire generation of artists.

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Carnavalet Museum (Musée Carnavalet)
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Visitors shouldn’t let the somewhat enigmatic name fool them into thinking this is a peculiar museum; the Carnavalet Museum is indeed one of Paris’ finest. Initially an idea of Baron Haussmann, who carried out extensive renovation works all around Paris in the late 1800s, the museum retraces Paris’ history all the way from the Lutèce Roman village it once was to the vibrant metropolis it has now become. Located in two 16th-century lavish townhouses – formerly known as Hôtel de Carnavalet (where an icon of French literature, the famous marquise de Sévigné, lived) and Hôtel d’Orgeval – in Le Marais, the architectural setting of the museum is just as captivating at the collection it houses.

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Museum of Jewish Art and History (Musée d’Art et d’Histoire du Judaïsme)
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The Museum of Jewish Art and History opened its doors in 1998. The collection, buoyed by the inheritance of a private collection from rue des Saules, traces the history and culture of Europe’s Jewish communities from the Middle Ages to the present, with highlights that include a torah ark from the Italian Renaissance, a Dutch torah scroll from the 1600s, a German menorah crafted from gold and silver, documents from the Dreyfus scandal and an exhibit dedicated to presenting what life was like for a Jewish residents of Paris in 1939.

The museum is housed within the Hotel de Saint-Aignan, a magnificent mansion built between 1644 and 1650 for the Count of Avaux. The building, considered one of the most beautiful private mansions in Paris, served as a government building and commercial space before it was purchased by the city of Paris in 1963.

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More Things to Do in Paris

Gustave Moreau Museum (Musee Gustave Moreau)

Gustave Moreau Museum (Musee Gustave Moreau)

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French Symbolist painter Gustave Moreau (1826-1898) spent the last years of his life alone in a small provincial house he’d purchased in 1852. Since he had no family to pass along his artwork to, he decided to bequeath his estate and all the paintings and drawings found within to the state of France.

Today, this former private home serves as a museum for Moreau’s work. Set up by Moreau himself and opened in 1903, the museum showcases the artist’s private collection of family portraits, souvenirs and personal mementos on the first floor and his paintings, inspired by fantastical scenes from Greek mythology and the Bible in the light-filled studios on the top two floors. Six rooms on the ground floor, previously closed to the public, were recently opened after extensive renovation and offer a look at life during the nineteenth century.

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Nissim Camondo Museum (Musée Nissim De Camondo)

Nissim Camondo Museum (Musée Nissim De Camondo)

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The Musée Nissim de Camondo is more of a portal into the past than it is your run-of-the-mill museum. It is housed in the Hôtel Camondo, not a hotel but a home built in 1911 in the style of the Petit Trianon at Versailles on the strict instructions of its owner, Comte Moïse de Camondo. Comte Camondo was a Parisian banker with a penchant for 18th-century art and furniture, and his home was a kind of showcase for his extensive collection. Today the Musée Nissim de Camondo is kept just as it was when he lived there, and it's a fascinating tour of life in the early 1900s as well as French design in the 1700s.

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Buttes-Chaumont Park (Parc des Buttes-Chaumont)

Buttes-Chaumont Park (Parc des Buttes-Chaumont)

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One of Paris' most picturesque picnic spots, the tree-lined Parc des Buttes Chaumont was commissioned by Napoleon III back in 1867, adding a welcome splash of greenery to the bleary residential streets of Paris' 19th arrondissement. The park’s 25 hectares rise and fall over a series of hills, pocked with hidden caves, vibrant flower displays and gurgling streams. One of the largest parks in the city, Parc des Buttes Chaumont offers around 5 km of walking and cycling tracks, blazing a trail between attractions like the Chinese and English-style gardens and an atmospheric grotto housing a 20-meter waterfall. The majestic Temple of Sybil (Belvedere Sybil), a Greco-Roman homage to the Temple of the Sibyl in Tivoli, is the striking centerpiece of the park, perched on a 30-meter grassy pedestal in the center of the park’s lake. Visitors can visit the island via a 63-meter long suspension bridge, from where the views stretch over the park and its surroundings.

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Butte-aux-Cailles

Butte-aux-Cailles

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Musée des Arts et Métiers

Musée des Arts et Métiers

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The Musée des Arts et Métiers (The Museum of Arts and Crafts) should be well-known to fans of Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum – it is here that the device that first showed how the earth rotates is housed.

But there's so much more to this museum. It's like a mix between an inventor's lab and an explorer's secret hideaway. You can see all kinds of tools and technology from throughout the centuries – making your current technology look even more like a dream from the future!

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Archaeological Crypt of Notre Dame

Archaeological Crypt of Notre Dame

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La Cité des Sciences et de L'lndustrie

La Cité des Sciences et de L'lndustrie

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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.

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Odéon-Théatre de l'Europe

Odéon-Théatre de l'Europe

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Designed by architects Marie-Joseph Peyre and Charles de Wailly, the Odeon, Théatre de L'Europe, or the European Theatre of Paris, was opened by Marie-Antoinette in 1782 and remains one of the city’s most popular theaters. The oldest theater auditorium in Paris, the Odeon was inaugurated in 1971 as one of France’s six national theaters and boasts a rich history of Parisian arts, including hosting the famous Comédie Française.

Located in the heart of the city’s atmospheric Left Bank, in the 6th arrondissement, the theater maintains its original colonnaded neoclassical façade and dramatic foyer, masterminded by Chalgrin, celebrated architect of the Triumphal arch. Today, the theater showcases a range classical, contemporary and experimental plays, with performances held regularly throughout the year and the emphasis on promoting national theater and nurturing upcoming talent.

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Guimet Museum (Musée Guimet)

Guimet Museum (Musée Guimet)

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Renowned as the biggest and most varied collection of Asian Art in the Western World, the Musée Guimet’s stellar reputation is well deserved, making it one of Paris’ most impressive museums. Founded by its namesake, industrialist and world traveller Emile Guimet, in Lyon in 1879, the museum originally housed his extensive private collection of Chinese and Japanese art and moved to Paris a decade later.

Since then, the Musée Guimet has amassed more than 45,000 objects dating right back to Neolithic times and including an incredible variety of antiquities including archaeological finds from Ancient Egypt, a huge collection of religious art, Afghan glassware, Moghul jewelry and Tibetan funeral masks. Laid out geographically, a tour of Musée Guimet offers a vibrant journey to the far corners of Asia, with highlights including the Buddhist Pantheon Galleries, the largest collection of Khmer sculpture outside Cambodia and a Japanese garden.

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Chapelle Expiatoire

Chapelle Expiatoire

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With its somber neoclassical façade framed by rows of white rose bushes and capped with a striking green dome, the Chapelle Expiatoire has a timeless elegance befitting its origins. The little-visited landmark is one of Paris’ most significant chapels – built in 1826 to mark the location of the former Madeleine Cemetery, where King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were originally buried after their untimely executions during the French Revolution.

The iconic royals are now buried at the Saint Denis Basilica, but the chapel stands as a poignant reminder of the victims of the French Revolution, commissioned by King Louis XVIII to honor his brother and sister-in-law. The work of architect Pierre-Léonard Fontaine, the Chapelle Expiatoire is renowned for its unique architecture and elaborate interiors, which include white marble sculptures of the King and Queen, and an exquisite altar that marks the exact site of Louis XVI’s burial.

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La Cinémathèque Française

La Cinémathèque Française

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Housed within a building designed by renowned Canadian-born American architect Frank Gehry, La Cinematheque houses one of the largest collections of films and cinema-related objects in the world. Through a series of permanent exhibits, visitors to the museum trace the history and technology of film from its infancy through its Hollywood glory days and into the modern age, including magic lanterns, cameras, iconic costumes, props, movie posters and cult objects. Classic film clips accompany many of the displays, and an on-site theater screens several films daily from its huge archive.

Highlights of the museum collection, particularly for the die-hard movie buff, include Mrs. Bates’s head from the Alfred Hitchcock thriller Psycho, the robot from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and a camera that belonged to the Lumiéres brothers. Temporary exhibits often feature a behind-the-scenes look at the making of a particular film.

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