There’s nothing better than taking the time to stroll around a beautiful city and delight in its ambience. And there’s no better city to indulge in such a pastime than Paris. After all, this is the birthplace of flâneur – the word the French use to describe the act of strolling idly; sauntering, while observing the goings-on around you.
Usually my time in Paris is limited to rushed stopovers. But recently I got to spend an afternoon getting reacquainted with “la Ville Lumière”. And it was while practising the art of flânerie that I was able to rediscover the highlights of Paris organically, without an agenda. What unfolded was a beautiful walking tour weaving through the streets of Paris and taking in some of the city’s most pleasurable sights.
Paris Walking Tour
If you want to maximise your time in Paris, getting the train is a great alternative to flying. Forget check-in times, collecting baggage and having to schlep into central Paris on the metro or bus. The TGV or Eurostar will drop you right near the heart of Paris. Both the Gare de Lyon or Gare du Nord train stations are a fantastic place to start a walking tour of Paris.
The walking tour mapped out below starts from the Gare de Lyon and could take as little as an afternoon (if you don’t linger too long at any one stop) or the entire day if you take time to appreciate each site. Walking is a great way to explore the city and get your bearings – and it’s so much more fun than taking the metro!
Total walk = 12km / 2.3 hours
A swift 10-minute walk from Paris’s Gare de Lyon station will have you outside the Place de la Bastille. Once the site of a prison, it was stormed on what is now known as “Bastille Day” and destroyed during the French Revolution. While you can still see the outline of the prison marked on the ground, now all that stands here is the 52m high Colonne de Juillet – a tribute to the 504 lives lost during another revolution in 1830. From the Place de la Bastille you can take a short detour along the Bassin de l’Arsenal to see the colourful houseboats moored at its banks.
If you had to choose just one district of Paris to explore, my advice would be to park yourself in Le Marais. With oodles of old-world charm wrapped in a layer of style and luxury, Le Marais offers the quintessential Paris experience. Browse the boutiques, soak up the sun in a leafy park, or station yourself in a cafe to watch the passersby. Whatever you do in Le Marais, you’ll be sure to have experienced Paris at its finest.
Hotel de Ville and the Circular Pavilion
The Hotel de Ville is a city hall on a grande scale. Its intricate exterior is only surpassed in beauty by the artwork on display inside the impressive building. Located on the banks of the Seine, the square that houses the Hotel de Ville makes the perfect resting spot and regularly holds concerts and seasonal events throughout the year.
Hearing the name “Circular Pavilion” might have you imagining an entirely different building. Deceivingly, the angular construction completely defies its name. Instead, ‘circular’ comes from the idea of recycling and up-cycling. A message reflected by the use of recycled materials used in its construction. The sight of the recycled door façade against the flamboyant nature of the Hotel de Ville makes a startling contrast!
The Cathedral of Notre Dame is one of Paris’s most famous landmarks. Situated on the Île de la Cité – a natural island in the river Seine – it’s just a short walk from the Hotel de Ville over the Pont d’Arcole. Stop here to admire the building’s amazingly detailed sculpture work, gothic style, and grandiose structure that took over 170 years to build. It’s worth venturing inside (entrance is free) if only to appreciate the stunning effect of the stained glass windows.
At the opposite end of the Île de la Cité you’ll discover Pont Neuf – the oldest bridge in Paris. Although it’s perhaps preferable to admire it from afar – in order to take in the 12 arches that support the structure – walking over the Pont Neuf is an experience also. As I heard one passerby explain, “the Pont Neuf used to be the Eiffel Tower of Paris”. Meaning, before Paris’s iconic landmark was around, the Pont Neuf was the city’s most famous attraction.
These days it has taken over as the prime spot for placing ‘love locks’ – padlocks adorned with lovers names before being affixed to the bridge. An honour that used to belong to the nearby Pont des Arts until they were removed due to safety concerns.
Louvre Palace & Pyramid
If you’ve got limited time in Paris, you probably won’t have the chance to appreciate the works on display inside the world’s largest museum – the Louvre. But you’ll still be able to admire the architecture of the Louvre from the outside! Napoleon Courtyard, framed by the Louvre Palace, is an amazing place to sit and soak up the atmosphere. Often you’ll be accompanied by the melodic harmony of a busker or two, and always by the sounds of several dialects being spoken around you.
The Louvre Pyramid, which is actually the biggest of five pyramids onsite, serves as the entrance to the museum. Designed by Ieoh Ming Pei, the architect behind the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar, it was constructed to the same proportions as the Pyramid of Giza. It consists of 673 glass panels in the shape of diamonds and triangles – giving the effect of sparkling jewels as it reflects the light.
A short jaunt across the road from the Louvre Museum will have you crossing the Carousel Gardens and entering the Tuileries Garden. This formal French garden in the centre of Paris is accentuated with ponds, fountains and statues. Pull one of the iconic green metal chairs to the water’s edge and settle in for the afternoon with a good book, or to watch Paris’s younger residents sailing model boats. In the hottest months, seek shade in one of the benches tucked under rows of leafy green tress.
Place de la Concorde
The Place de la Concorde lies in between the Tuileries Gardens and the Champs-Élysées. Even though it’s called a ‘square’, Place de la Concorde takes on the form of an Octagon. At the eight points surrounding the square is a monument representing a French city; Lyon, Marseille, Bordeaux, Nantes, Brest, Rouen, Lille and Strasbourg. And it’s in the middle of the square you’ll find the oldest monument in Paris – the Luxor Obelisk. At over 3,300 years old, this Egyptian obelisk was transferred to Paris in 1833 – taking a ginormous effort in those times. On either side of the obelisk you can see the Fontaine des Mers and the Fontaine des Fleuves. Despite so much to see in the area, it’s not the most serene area to go for a stroll – with multiple lanes of traffic heaving through the square with every green light.
While the Jardins des Champs-Elysées at the lower end of the avenue are very much worthy of a Sunday stroll, it’s been said that the Champs-Élysées has had its heyday. Now it’s a hub for the fashion stores and cafés which line either side of the almost 2km long avenue. In any case, tourists still flock here in droves and it does still hold charm of yesteryear – most noticeably when you look up! In the middle of the road (take care when crossing!) you’ll be met with an outstanding view of the avenue and the Arc de Triomph in the distance.
Arc de Triomphe
At the upper end of the Champs-Elysées lies the Arc de Triomphe. The Arch, which is the biggest in the world, was commissioned by Napoleon and completed in 1836. It’s difficult to judge from afar just how mammoth a structure it is, until you stand underneath it. At just shy of 50m, the Arc de Triomphe towers over the Place Charles de Gaulle, making people and cars look miniature at its foot. The Arc is a full-scale attraction, with a museum, tours and viewing platform – plan some time to visit if you can. The viewing platform offers the one the best views over Paris (including a great perspective of the Eiffel Tower) and the Champs-Elysées.
Jardins du Trocadéro
From the terrace of the Palais de Chaillot you’ll have a fantastic view over the Jardins du Trocadéro, and of course, the Eiffel Tower which looks almost surreal as it appears in front of you. Try not to get too sidetracked from the gardens though, as they offer an incredible experience in their own right. The Fountain of Warsaw is the main feature of the gardens – a large mirror-like basin in which multiple fountains shoot water up to 12m in the air. In summer, the garden creates a spectacle as lights illuminate the fountains from below. If visiting Paris with kids, there is a playground right next-door and a carousel to delight the little ones.
The last stop on your walking tour of Paris, the Eiffel Tower, is the most iconic landmark in the city of lights! You can see it rising up above the slate grey rooftops around the city, but seeing it up close is another experience entirely. While taking the elevator to the summit offers a breathtaking birds eye view of the city, the best way to view the tower itself is to make yourself comfortable in the park below. The Champ de Mars park extends out in front of the tower and is the prefect place for a picnic, impromptu game of boules, or simply enjoying the convivial atmosphere.
And there you have it, your walking tour of Paris has come to an end! If you have the time, I’d recommend hanging out at the last stop until sunset so you can experience the magic of the Eiffel Tower at night. And then once you’re ready to rest your weary feet, there are a few metro stops close by. The Champ de Mars/Tour Eiffel is the closest, followed by Bir-Hakeim and Ecole Militaire.
Essentials for your Walking Tour of Paris
For a full days walking and sightseeing, there are a few things you’ll need to take with you to make the most of your time in Paris:
- A quality, lightweight camera – I recommend the Sony A6000
- A phone to use Google Maps, or you can print out the map (above) ahead of time. Keep a map of the metro lines handy too.
- A reusable water bottle – you can fill it up at drinking fountains en route.
- A few euros. Don’t rely on cards, as some places won’t accept them for small items. Also, you’ll need coins for the public toilets in popular spots.
- Keep cool and look the part with a lightweight linen dress, sandals and sunnies. And don’t forget a tote for carrying the items above!
Your Paris Style Essentials
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