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Divided into 20 different neighborhoods, or arrondissements, exploring Paris for the first time is a formidable undertaking. Bisected by the meandering Seine River, these same waters have seen Paris grow over centuries into one of Europe’s largest cultural centers and the ultimate fusion of history and modernity. While the daily intricacies and idiosyncrasies of this fabled city of romance could take years to master, the casual visitor to Paris can still hit a number of classically Parisian sites even if allowed only a few days.
My personal favorite place to hang out in Paris is the 6th arrondissement, casually strolling through the sprawling Jardin du Luxembourg and sampling the trendy cafes on the tree-lined boulevards. It’s away from the hordes of tourists and offers plenty of opportunities to sit beside a fountain and take in the world as it passes by.
Regarding the major tourist sites of Paris, I honestly feel that some are completely worthy of the hype, while others simply aren’t worth the price of admission. It all has to do with your personal likes and dislikes, I guess. For example, I personally think visiting the Arc de Triomphe is an incredibly well-spent couple of hours. First of all, you get to stroll the length of the uber-trendy Champs-Elysees boulevard to reach the hulking structure,which is an adventure in itself. Once at the chaotic Place de Charles de Gaulle, a massive roundabout where 12 different roads all converge without the aid of any formal traffic signals, you pass underneath the road via a tunnel and up to the impressive military museum that is awaiting inside of the arch. Originally commissioned by Napoleon as a monument to the military victories of France, the Arc de Triomphe is one of the more historically potent and informative venues in all of Western Europe. The view afforded from the top isn’t bad either.
On the flip-side of the coin, a trip to someplace such as The Louvre, I feel, is not time well spent. Many may balk at this claim, but I stand my ground. I felt more comfortable and alive while exploring outdoors in the sprawling Tuileries Garden than I did inside of the nearby Louvre. While I will admit that the Louvre houses some of the greatest pieces of art ever imagined and brought to life, the hordes of people and endless hallways are simply too overwhelming of an experience for me. The entire compound is so large that a casual day visit is regarded as futile. Furthermore, the Mona Lisa, the headlining act of the Louvre, is constantly surrounded by a cloud of 40 or so spectators and unable to be viewed from within a distance of nearly 20 feet. For all of the hype, the entire Mona Lisa experience is rather underwhelming.
What is not underwhelming, meanwhile, is a little compound outside of Paris by the name of Versailles. Once the seat of the entire French Kingdom, the Palace and the gardens of Versailles are worthy of an entire day trip outside of the city of Paris. Getting to Versailles is as easy as hopping on the train from the city center, though trying to wind your way through the ornate and lavish compound can be an entirely more difficult feat altogether. The Palace has 700 rooms, and the Gardens have over 200,000 trees. Simply put, Versailles is incredible. To stand in the site of so much political history and to grasp how many Earth-changing decisions were made upon these exact grounds is a humbling experience to say the least. It is apparent when you are standing in the Hall of Mirrors upon the exact spot where the German’s signed an end to World War I that you are experiencing something special. Versailles is a must-visit attraction for anyone spending more than a day or two in Paris.
Finally, what would a mention of Paris be without a nod to arguably the most famous structure in the entire world, the sky-piercing Eiffel Tower. Visited by over a quarter of a bilion people, the Eiffel Tower is a sight unto itself. To this day remaining as the tallest structure in all of France, the view afforded of the city from the top of the tower is beyond breathtaking. For overall romance, however, the Tower is at its most brilliant once mirrored against a pitch blacksky. Lighting up regularly throughout the evening to a coordinated show of light and dazzle, the Eiffel Tower can warm the hearts of even the most jaded traveler. There are few better ways to cap off a Parisian evening than with a stroll around the lawn fronting the Eiffel Tower, a stomach full of gourmet crepes, and laying on your back while watching the Tower explode in all her glory.