I’ve visited London 5 times so far and each visit keeps me coming back for more. Every time I visit a city, I try to come up with a list of the “top things to do” by reading reviews on Trip Advisor and Rick Steves to plan an unforgettable trip. The list will expand or contract based upon the amount of time I have. You can always get the typical tour ideas from mainstream websites, but I like to mix city/historical tours with off-the-beaten path activities. Below is a list of my top 10 things to do when visiting the fabulously energized city of London during the fall & winter (but most of the activities are available year around).
10. Go Ice Skating.
During the winter (December/January) various spots around London host outdoor ice skating rinks. London has some fantastic places where you can lace up your skates and twirl around on the ice. With places like Somerset House, The Natural History Museum, Hyde Park and The Tower of London all hosting rinks, you can combine your sightseeing with skating! And then warm up with hot chocolate or go enjoy afternoon tea.
9. Drink a “Porn Star” martini at the Dollar Grill & Martini Lounge.
Okay, when I tell you that this is the best drink ever…I am not lying. Seriously. It’s fabulous! I’m not really a martini connoisseur (regardless of how hard Carrie and the girls tried to lure me in during the “Sex in the City” heyday). However, the “Porn Star” martini is like liquid heaven. It’s made with passion fruit, vodka, vanilla syrup and a shot of champagne. I was introduced to this magnificent drink at the Dollar Grill & Martini Lounge (which had excellent food as well). Can’t get to London but are dying to try this drink? Here are the ingredients & instructions. Enjoy!!
8. Visit the National Portrait Gallery and British Museum.
First, these museums are AMAZING! Second, they are free. Seriously. What can be better than visiting a free museum filled with cool relics and paintings? Want to see the actual Rosetta Stone (tip: it doesn’t come in a yellow box) or pieces of the Parthenon? Check out the British Museum. Want to see paintings of Henry VIII, his wives and children? Check out the National Portrait Gallery. I’m usually not a big museum lover (although I find myself visiting one on every trip I take mostly just because I love history), but these two museums are so interesting and easy to navigate that you can lose track of time.
I always like to see pictures of historical figures which made the National Portrait Gallery fascinating. I’ve seen plenty of pictures of Queen Elizabeth I and her daddy, Henry 8, but it’s cool to see original paintings. My absolute favorite painting is of the Earl of Southampton who was a playboy extraordinaire. You didn’t even need to read his bio to know. His picture said it all. When you looked at the other paintings of men from that era, they had short-cropped hair. Southampton had long flowing locks down to the middle of his back, a swagger to him, and a look that said, “you know you want me…don’t deny it. I want myself.” He was so debonair that while Liz 1 was beheading folks who even looked like they thought she had bad breath, this joker just got some jail time for organizing her overthrow. Then he was pardoned! That’s right. Earl Rapunzel got out and was like, “take that, take that…can’t stop, won’t stop…baaaaad boooooyyyy!” Check him out: Earl of Southampton.
7. Drink hot chocolate while strolling through Trafalgar Square.
Cold weather and hot chocolate go together like peas and carrots. After you leave the National Gallery, why not stroll around Trafalgar Square with a nice hot cup of cocoa and take in the holiday decorations (the Christmas tree is usually spectacular), listen to carolers or just people watch?
6. See a Musical!
You can’t go to London without checking out one of their many fabulous shows. It’s like going to NYC without checking out Broadway. Low on funds? Go to TKTS (located at Leicester Square) to buy half-priced tickets for West End plays, operas and musicals the day of.
5. Enjoy Afternoon Tea.
You can’t visit London without having afternoon tea. I find myself looking forward to 3pm so I can sample delicious cucumber sandwiches, scones with various jams, delicious tartes & cupcakes and my favorite flavor of tea with a side of a tall glass of champagne. To.Die.For. My favorite spots are the Orangerie (at Kensington Palace) and the National Gallery Cafe (best scones in London).
4. Cruise the Thames.
Sail along the Thames under the London Bridge, view the Tower of London, see Shakespeare’s Globe, take in the awesome sight of Big Ben…these are just a few things you will do on your cruise. The ride (which can be a hop on/hop off or an hour-long sail…depending on the company you choose) comes with commentary and is a good introduction to the sights of London along the famous Thames.
3. Visit Westminster Abbey.
I’m a history buff…but even if you aren’t, this place is interesting. You can stroll the halls and see where the coronations have taken place since 1066 (complete with tv’s showing Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation); and it’s the resting place of varying famous people (including William Shakespeare) and 17 monarchs (i.e. Henry VIII with his crazy self). Elizabeth I is buried ON TOP of her sister, Mary (or, as she was known, “Bloody Mary”…which actually makes me a bit thirsty for a cool beverage). For those of you who aren’t up on your Tudor history, Mary was the daughter of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon while Elizabeth I (known as “The Virgin Queen”) was the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. So, Liz’s mama stole her daddy (Henry) from his 1st wife (Catherine) but later found out he was no prize when he had her decaptitated for allegedly being a traitor and having an incestuous relationship with her brother. Which I mean, with the royals marrying 1st cousins and such back then, that is sort of like the pot calling the kettle black. It also explains the whole “Deliverance” vibe some of them had…you just don’t mix the blood lines like that.
Henry 8 changed the official religion of England from Catholicism to Protestant to divorce Catherine when the Pope refused to grant him an annulment so he could marry his new boo, Anne Boleyn. Of course, if lil Annie knew that Henry would turn his craziness on her and get all Betty Broderick (the quintessential Lifetime movie for love gone crazy), I’m sure she would’ve reserved her charms for someone else. But, power is a heady drug that distorts your common sense. All she could see is the finery and being able to tell her haters to kiss her ass once she was Queen of England. I can relate. Anyway, Mary was a strict Roman Catholic like her mama and changed the official religion of England from Protestant back to Catholicism once she was able to take the throne (after her sickly younger brother passed away as a child). But Mary wasn’t content with just changing the religion…she also rounded up people who refused to convert to Catholicism and had them burned alive at the stake. I’m pretty sure that Jesus wasn’t co-signing that.
Clearly Mary had a touch of the crazy like her daddy and after being locked away from her mama for years due to her father’s libido, it couldn’t have been too much of a surprise. After Mary was made queen, she locked Elizabeth (Liz 1) in the Tower of London for a while because she thought Liz was in on a plot to kill her. Which…she probably was. That’s just how they rolled back then. But, being locked away in the tower and being labeled a traitor did nothing to get Mary in Liz’s good graces. When poor Mary’s fortunes turned and she passed away, Liz was crowned Queen of England. She had her sister buried at Westminster…and when she died years later, had her tomb placed on top of Mary. For now and for all eternity, Mary will reside beneath Liz in the Abbey. I’m sure Liz was like, “How you like me now, sis?”
The Tudor history is fascinating. I would recommend reading a series of books by Phillipa Gregory to gain a thorough overview (The Other Boleyn Girl, The Virgin Queen, etc). I can say that being royalty back in the day was a death sentence!
2. Visit the Tower of London.
A visit to the tower is a must. This castle is located on the River Thames close to the Tower Bridge. It’s famous for housing the Crown Jewels and for being the “prison” of royalty hundreds of years ago (Anne Boleyn was beheaded here). If you ever visit the Tower of London, you will hear the story about the 2 young sons of the last York king (of the War of the Roses fame), Richard III, who (after Richard had died), were sent to the tower by their uncle (Richard’s brother) under the guise of keeping them safe. However, it’s believed they were murdered because their bodies were never found (they were around 13 and 8 or something like that…I can’t remember the exact ages). Anyway, the war ended when Henry 7 defeated the uncle and married Richard III’s daughter to unite the houses. Then, spawned crazy Henry 8.
1. Ride the Hop On/Hop Off bus.
What visit is complete without a tour on the Hop On/Hop Off bus? There are several tour companies that offer this service (I usually do the Original Tour). They offer a 48 hour pass & 3 routes. The pass includes free walking tours and a free Thames River cruise. You can save some money by purchasing online. This is a great way to get a good overview and layout of this wonderful city before or during sightseeing. These bus tours usually offer live or recorded commentaries. The live commentary tours are better, in my opinion, since there is more interaction.
Regardless of what activities you decide to do, enjoy your time & be safe! Cheers!
I’ve been to Dublin a couple of times and always find something new to experience. I love the lush green grass, lively cafes & bars and friendly natives. I first became interested in Dublin while reading The Fever Series by Karen Marie Moning (a series of 5 books focusing on the character of Mackayla Lane, a pampered southern belle from Georgia, who goes to Dublin to find her sister’s killer). It’s based in the supernatural/urban fantasy genre and a wonderful read. What I loved about the books is that the author really took chances with the lead character and you were constantly surprised. Anyway, as I became enthralled with the series, I anticipated seeing the places she referenced. Below is a list of my favorite places, experiences & things to do in Dublin.
St. Stephens Green Park
This has to be one of the most beautiful parks I’ve ever visited. It was so peaceful and even though a lot of people were about, it was surprisingly quiet.
It’s one of the two principal (pedestrian) shopping streets in Dublin city center (the other being Henry Street). With high-end shopping and entertainment, in 2008 it was named the fifth most expensive main shopping street in the world (Wikipedia). As you walk, you will see several street performers (playing blues, rock, or folk music), artists and florists. All the performers I saw were very good. Lining the streets are a variety of flower markets. I wanted to buy a bouquet and walk around with it all day because the smell and colors were wonderful!
Trinity College, formally known as the College of the Holy and Undivided Trinity of Queen Elizabeth near Dublin, was founded in 1592 by Queen Elizabeth I as the “mother of a university” (Wikipedia). The campus is beautiful. It was originally a Protestant college. However, Catholics started attending the school in the 1970s. Be sure to check out the Book of Kells which is a book containing the 4 Gospels in Latin. This book was written in calligraphy during the 17th century by 4 monks and richly decorated with inks from the Middle East. It was actually pretty cool to see how rich the colors still are after all these years.
Queen of Tarts
I know I talk about food a lot…especially tea and scones. Okay, seriously? The Queen of Tarts is AWESOME! They have 2 locations very close to each other (and yes, I went to both). In fact, I went there 4 TIMES in 2 DAYS! That’s right. I am not ashamed to admit it. I love scones and clotted cream. Clotted cream is like whipped creamy crack. When I got back to Atlanta, I spent days tracking down a store that imports it and bought 4 jars. Yep…it just got real, y’all.
Temple Bar district
The Temple Bar district is an arts and entertainment maze of pubs…it’s basically the party district where most of the action is (bars/pubs, outdoor performers, etc.).
To give you a little flavor of what to expect, when I was in Dublin over the summer, my colleague & I went to the Temple Bar district and happened to walk past a pub that had gotten out of control. It’s 5pm…and these folks are drunk like it’s 2am. What the hell? Faces are red, folks are drunk screaming (you know what I mean, “WOOOOO! THAT WAS F’ING AWESOME, DUDE! I’M GONNA FIGHT LIAM IF HE LOOKS MY WAY AGAIN!”). It was one of those things where you just start backing away slowly because you didn’t know what was about to happen. When a guy came out with his face covered in purple/bluish bruises, I knew it was time to go. So, we keep walking to a different pub.
A colleague that works in the Dublin office recommended we check out a pub in this area. It was even recommended by Rick Steves. Sigh. Maybe it was an off night? We go in and I noticed the crowd was mostly elderly. I mean, they were playing ABBA. Uh, are they Irish? I didn’t think so. We take a seat at the bar and order a Guinness. This pub is on the infamous “pub crawl” which is about to start in 30 minutes or so. I’m thinking that it will get better. And, it does. But for totally different reasons.
1. Blue Collar So You Think You Can Dance (aka “The BC Onesie Crew) = a group of guys come in dressed in their work clothes. These work clothes are blue jumpsuits (like adult onesies). Instead of taking the entire onesie off, they just unzip the top part and tie the arms around the waist. Clearly they have on clothes underneath (t-shirt & jeans) so I’m not sure why they continue to wear the onesie. But, they do. Maybe it doubles as their “clubbing” outfit? As they are drinking, the onesie slides down a little more…because they are getting crunk. Guinness is potent y’all. The Irish jigs start playing and it turns into a juke joint. I’m like, “the hell is this?” Next thing I know, they are doing Riverdance and trying to pick up the nearest lady that passes them. But, not to be outdone…
2. Irish Kid & Play = that’s right. However, it really was only Kid because his partner didn’t want to drop it like it’s hot. In fact, he tried to act like Kid didn’t exist at one point. Clearly, he didn’t recognize greatness! So, Kid sees the BC Onesie Crew and was like, “I see your Riverdance, and I will raise you the Michael Jackson Experience.” Then, the greatest thing happens. Kid drops his head, raises his right arm, holds his hand up and does the Janet Jackson “Rhythm Nation” countdown, does a pop n lock before hitting us with the full turn and the MJ “Black & White” video scream into the non-existent wind machine. This happened right in front of me. I think he is a warlock with tiger blood & Adonis DNA because this was made for the win. He stops, looks at the BC Onesie Crew and was like, “Checkmate, MFers”.
You know the BC Onesie Crew weren’t going out like that. It’s time to come out of the onesie now. They take a long drink of Guinness before pulling out the advanced moves. Oh yeah, it just got really real, y’all. They are battling…with Irish jigs playing on the 1s and 2s. Y’all ain’t ready for this. So, the BC Onesie Crew raise their arms, do some sort of flapping movement (kind of like Morris Day & The Time’s “The Bird”) with a 2-step salsa and look at Kid like, “take that, take that.” What? Not Diddy! They just came with something they had practiced for the past month. This was it…their Big Joker. What they didn’t know was that Kid was going to run a Boston. He was like, “That’s all you got?” Then looks at the DJ like, “Kick an old school 13th century beat, maestro!” He takes his hat off (a la MJ at the Motown 25th anniversary when he performed “Billie Jean”), does the Cabbage Patch, mixes in some country line dancing which transitioned into the moonwalk and finishes off with the robot. Kid for the win! Y’all think I’m making this up…but I’m not. That made my night. I was like, “Jiggin’ is serious in the Dubs!” Don’t get caught slippin’ y’all. You can’t get on Ireland’s Best Dance Crew doing the electric slide.
The fitzwilliam Hotel
The fitzwilliam is a 5-star luxury hotel is fabulous and located in the city center right on St. Stephens Green. It’s one of the most comfortable hotels I’ve stayed in and is within walking distance to Grafton Street, Trinity College, the Temple Bar district, Dublin Castle and the Queen of Tarts. I would definitely stay there again.
I should also let you know that it has a spa but, um…let me tell you my about my experience and you can decide if you want to do partake of their services. I should’ve known something was up when the masseuse told me that her massages were “different”. I just didn’t think anything of it. That was my first mistake. The second was telling her that I liked a “deep” touch. The massage was supposed to be a hybrid Swedish & Aromatherapy. It starts out fine. Then I noticed that it started to hurt. Apparently, she’s got a bit of muscle because she took a “deep touch” to mean that I wanted my subdermis tissue massaged as well. I deal with it thinking that all my muscles should be nice and loose. Then…it happened. I’m lying there all relaxed about to fall asleep and next thing I know, she starts beating me! With open hands! Like I stole something from her. I was like, “Hold up, Ike! What did I do to you? Why are you hitting me?” She responds that “repetitive smacking” motions help break up fatty tissue. Um, assault and battery help remove cellulite??? The hell? I thought that she would stop beating me after she finished working on my legs. I lay my head back down…still a bit rattled but determined to enjoy my massage. Next thing I know, she’s moved to my buttocks, pulled the sheet down then starts to smack my booty! I was like, “OH HECKS NAW!” This whole Chris Brown massage was not working for me. I had to let her know that she needed to focus on smooth motions and move away from my butt. That is not where I hold my stress. Stop beating me like I’m not singing “Proud Mary” right. Because believe me…this big wheel will keep on rolling. So, after we realigned expectations, the massage went better. But, my booty still stung. I felt like I was a kid again getting a whippin’ from my Dad – which always occurred for no good reason because I was an angel as a child!
Ha’Penny Bridge & the River Liffey
Just like the name sounds…there used to be a one and a half pence fee to cross over the River Liffey (which is a river that runs thru the center of town). I don’t even know how they worked that out to make change. What I loved most was this note on the pavement as you are crossing…
The Dublin Ghostbus Tour
In one word? AWESOME! It was so campy and I loved every minute of it. But, be ready to suspend belief. The bus had blackout drapes so it was pitch dark and it was decorated like a Haunted House inside! OMG, it was fabulous.
Our tour guide was Declan. He wore all black and talked very dramatic. Like our lives were on the line. You could die at any second. Fun fact…I absolute REFUSE to watch scary movies. But, stuff like this I think I can handle. As long as Sammy Terry doesn’t come out of the woodwork. Then, all bets are off. Get the Depends because my nerves can’t take it. But, I digress…Anyway, I felt like Vincent Price would be coming over the loud speakers at any moment. In fact, our bus music as we drove to different sites was “Thriller”. Michael Jackson and looking for ghosts? Winning! They also played “Ghostbusters” which was cheesy but you know I was screaming out, “WHO YOU GONNA CALL?” That’s right. Don’t act like you didn’t just say it with me. It’s mobile theater & karaoke!
We went to a cemetery that was supposedly haunted. Declan told us the story of a priest who was tortured then burned to death for refusing to convert from Catholicism to Protestant. It’s said that his ghost haunts the cemetery. He also tells us that Bram Stoker went to school in Dublin (at Trinity College) and the legend of Dracula was born here.
We pass different places with cool stories (i.e. the College of Physicians where we are told of the strange activities of Dr. Clossy, whose spirit is still seen walking the corridors carrying a bucket of human entrails — apparently, he lived at the College and used to have students steal corpses to use as cadavers for teaching them about the human body).
There are a lot of stories (it’s a 2.5 hour tour) but the one that stuck out to me was The Lady in White. Mostly because it didn’t make any logical sense and I need to understand why things happen. Declan tells us the story of a beautiful woman who married this wealthy business man. The man loved her more than the moon and the stars and the sunshine in the sky. Air wasn’t worth breathing if her sweet breath wasn’t on it. That kind of thing. He really amps it up by highlighting how much this man loves this woman…which will be important to remember later on. So, the morning after their wedding night, the husband reaches over to kiss is wife and finds her body cold. He assumes she has died and was like, “LAWD NO! NOT MY SWEET PEA! HOW AM I GONNA LIVE WITHOUT HER?”. He has a funeral and insists that his beloved (who I’m going to name Carla) be buried in her wedding dress with her trillion dollar wedding ring. Nothing is too good for his dead baby boo. But, Seamus (the guy burying Carla) was like, “oh, I’m gettin’ that ring and then I’m going down to the pub to make it rain”). After Seamus puts Carla in the crypt, he tries to take the ring off her finger but it won’t come off. So, he pulls out his pocket knife and tries to saw off her finger. That’s when Carla wakes up and is like, “Fool, what is wrong with you?!? You betta back up off me!” Seamus is like, “OH HELL NAW!” and he runs out. Comeback Carla is bewildered as to what has happened. Maybe she thought she took a long nap after all that good lovin’ her baby boo gave her on their wedding night? Who knows? Anyway, Comeback Carla leaves the crypt and heads back to her house. Now, let’s do a quick recap before I get to the end of the story. Comeback Carla & her husband Richy Rich are so in love. Carving “CC + RR 4EVA” on every tree they pass. Because their love is real. Ain’t nothing like the real thing, baby…or so Comeback Carla thought. After a night of passion, CC appears dead, RR is “devastated” as he buries his beloved boo. Are we all on the same page? Good. Now, when folks die, they are usually buried in a matter of days. So, while Declan didn’t say specifically, we’ll say a week has passed since RR thought CC died. Well, CC shows back up at the house and when her husband opens the door, she’s like, “I’m back, baby! Give me some suga!” He slams the door in her face. I’m sure she was like, “I know this fool didn’t just shut that door in my face after I’ve been buried in a crypt with this heavy-ass wedding dress on while walking 3 miles to the house after having some fool try to cut my finger off. I know that didn’t happen. RICHY! OPEN THIS MF’IN DOOR…NOW!” But, Declan said RR couldn’t accept her. WHAT? That doesn’t make any sense. Why wouldn’t he taker her back? Did he have a new boo? Was he just in shock? It was a week! What the hell happened? Did Comeback Carla turn into Bitter Betty? Was it an episode of “Snapped”? I was asking questions! He didn’t have any answers. He just said that RR never took CC back and ended up losing all his money and being buried in a pauper’s grave. What? I was like, “you need to work on this story and come up with a more plausible ending, Dec.” Seriously. I ended up Googling the story because I needed to know why RR wouldn’t take her back. Something had to have happened. There were at least 10 stories about a Lady in White in every city but Dublin. I’ll let you do draw your own conclusions.
Each time I visit a city, I try to come up with a list of the “top things to do” by reading reviews on Trip Advisor and Rick Steves to plan an unforgettable trip. The list will contract or expand based upon the amount of time I have. I always like to mix city/historical tours with off the beaten path activities. Below is a list my top 10 things to do when visiting the lovely city of Paris.
10. Take in a Moulin Rouge cabaret show.
The Moulin Rouge cabaret was built in 1889 by Joseph Oller and is close to Montmartre (a must see during a walking tour) in the Paris district of Pigalle on Boulevard de Clichy in the 18th arrondissement (it is marked by the red windmill on its roof). “The Moulin Rouge is best known as the spiritual birthplace of the modern form of the can-can dance. Originally introduced as a seductive dance by the courtesans who operated from the site, the can-can dance revue evolved into a form of entertainment of its own and led to the introduction of cabarets across Europe.” (Wikipedia). Today the Moulin Rouge is a tourist destination, offering musical dance entertainment for visitors from around the world. Be sure to book your tickets in advance as the shows tend to sell out. I also recommend you watch the 1941 “Moulin Rouge” film starring Josephine Baker as Princess Tam-Tam before you go.
9. Shop til you drop. Paris is the place for fashion. I find myself people-watching just to figure out how I should update my wardrobe. You can either book a shopping tour (including a Discount Couture tour) or strike out on your own and visit boutiques, street markets or local department stores (Galeries Lafayette, Printemps, Bon Marche). I picked up an invaluable etiquette tip from my Rick Steve’s “Paris” guidebook:
- Before you enter a Parisian store, remember the following points:
- In small stores, always greet the clerk by saying “Bonjour” plus their title (Madame, Mademoiselle, or Monsieur) and say “Au revoir, Madame/Mademoiselle/Monsieur” when leaving.
- The customer is not always right. In fact, figure the clerk is doing you a favor by waiting on you.
- Except for in department stores, it’s not normal for the customer to handle clothing. Ask first.
- Forget returns (and don’t count on exchanges).
- Saturday afternoons are busiest.
- Observe French shoppers. Then imitate.
- Don’t feel obliged to buy. The expression for “window-shopping” in French is faire du lèche-vitrines (literally, “window-licking”).
8. Get a scoop (or more) from a Berthillion ice cream shop.
Berthillon is a French manufacturer and retailer of luxury ice cream and sorbet. I first became addicted to their ice cream during the summer of 2010. Berthillon’s fame results, in part, from its use of natural ingredients, with no chemical preservatives or artificial sweeteners. Its ice creams are made from only milk, sugar, cream and eggs…just like homemade ice cream. Their flavors are derived from only natural sources (cocoa, vanilla bean, fruit, etc.). Fifteen flavors are produced everyday by the chefs depending of the season, the availability at the market and customer demand. In total, about sixty different flavors are produced throughout the year. Try to get there early to have a greater selection of flavors. Personally, I love the raspberry and chocolate flavors! Berthillion’s has 3 locations on Ile St. Louis (31 rue St. Louis-en-l’Ile, another across the street, and one more around the corner on rue Bellay). It’s a perfect stop after visiting the Notre-Dame!
7. Relax at a café.
There are tons of cafes in Paris and you would be remiss if you didn’t stop in one for a café au lait, croissant or crepe. I usually like to pop in during the afternoon for a light treat since most restaurants in Paris do not open for dinner until at least 7pm. Cafes are a perfect place to take a break after a busy day of sightseeing.
6. Explore the Catacombs.
The catacombs are an underground ossuary in Paris. Located south of the former city gate (the “Barrière d’Enfer” at today’s Place Denfert-Rochereau), the ossuary holds the remains of about 6 million people and fills a renovated section of caverns and tunnels that are the remains of Paris’ stone mines. Opened in the late 18th century, the underground cemetery became a tourist attraction on a small scale from the early 19th century, and has been open to the public on a regular basis from 1867. The Catacombs entry is in the western pavilion of Paris’s former Barrière d’Enfer city gate. After descending a narrow spiral stone stairwell of 19 meters to the darkness and silence broken only by the gurgling of a hidden aqueduct channelling local sources away from the area, and after passing through a long (about 1.5 km) and twisting hallway of mortared stone, visitors find themselves before a sculpture that existed from a time before this part of the mines became an ossuary, a model of France’s Port-Mahon fortress created by a former Quarry Inspector. Soon after, they would find themselves before a stone portal, the ossuary entry, with the inscription Arrête, c’est ici l’empire de la Mort (‘Stop, this is the empire of Death’).
Beyond begin the halls and caverns of walls of carefully arranged bones. Some of the arrangements are almost artistic in nature, such as a heart-shaped outline in one wall formed with skulls embedded in surrounding tibias; another is a round room whose central pillar is also a carefully created ‘keg’ bone arrangement. Along the way one would find other ‘monuments’ created in the years before catacomb renovations, such as a source-gathering fountain baptised “La Samaritaine” because of later-added engravings. There are also rusty gates blocking passages leading to other ‘unvisitable’ parts of the catacombs – many of these are either un-renovated or were too un-navigable for regular tours. (Wikipedia). I first heard about the catacombs when I did the Paris Ghost Tour in September 2011. I found out there is an entire culture down there! The “cataphiles” (people who are basically obsessed with the catacombs and very familiar with the layout) have parties, film festivals, concerts, etc. However, note that you should never try to visit the catacombs without a proper escort/guide…because you will get lost & never find your way out.
5. Cruise the Seine River.
The Seine is a 482 mile-long river and an important commercial waterway within the Paris Basin in the north of France. It rises at Saint-Seine near Dijon in northeastern France in the Langres plateau, flowing through Paris and into the English Channel at Le Havre (and Honfleur on the left bank). I suggest taking one of the excursion boats (i.e. Bateaux Mouches) that offer sightseeing tours of the Rive Droite and Rive Gauche within the city of Paris. I suggest the Champagne Tasting Seine Tour or Night Bike Tour. It’s a great way to relax and enjoy the city.
4. Take a French cooking class.
There are only so many cathedrals & museums I can visit before I’m ready to do something different. I love to cook and try out new techniques and recipes. To that end, I registered for a baking class with Cook’n with Class. We learned (through hands-on instruction) the proper techniques for making croissants, pain au chocolat, focaccia, pain au raisen, etc. It was awesome and the chefs are absolutely delightful! They offer several different classes: Baking, Classic French Desserts (crème brulee, molten chocolate cake, souflee a Grand Marnier), Macaron (3 different flavors), Morning Market (where you will go to a local market and learn how to select fresh produce & ingredients) and many others.
3. Visit the Louvre.
I highly suggest you take a couple of hours and tour the Louvre. It’s massive so you will need to strategize and prioritize what you want to see (i.e. Venus de Milo, Mona Lisa, Egyptian collection, etc.). If museums aren’t your thing, you still should walk or bike past it to see the magnificent exterior. It’s absolutely breathtaking at night!
2. Visit the Eiffel Tower.
Love, love, LOVE the Eiffel Tower. Built in 1889, it has become both a global icon of France and one of the most recognizable structures in the world. The tower is the tallest building in Paris and the most-visited paid monument in the world; millions of people ascend it every year. Named after its designer, engineer Gustave Eiffel, the tower was built as the entrance arch to the 1889 World’s Fair. Three hundred workers joined together 18,038 pieces of puddled iron (a very pure form of structural iron), using two and a half million rivets, in a structural design by Maurice Koechlin. The tower was much criticized by the public when it was built, with many calling it an eyesore. Newspapers of the day were filled with angry letters from the arts community of Paris (Wikipedia). Which I find interesting as it is now considered one of the most beautiful structures built. I love to sit and stare at it. Especially when it lights up at night. That 5 minute “sparkle” is spectacular! I highly suggest you buy your tickets online to decrease your wait in line. The Eiffel Tower’s online reservation system, which lets you skip the ticket line, is up and running (www.toureiffel.fr). At the tower, attendants scan your ticket (which you’ve printed at home or at the hotel) and put you on the first available elevator. Even with a reservation, however, you still have to wait in line with the masses to get from the second level to the summit.
1. Walking Tours. Take a bike ride thru the city.
The top thing to do in Paris? Take a walking or bike tour (or both)! It’s a great way to see the city and learn the history.
- For walking tours, I suggest Sight Seekers Delight (tours of the city, Montmartre, & Jewish Tour of Marais for a cost of 35-40 euros), Discover Walks (which offer free 90 minute tours of Notre Dame, the Left Bank, Marais, and Montmartre by native Parisian guides) and the Paris Ghost Tour (a neat tour thru the Jewish Quarter focusing on the myths & legends of Parisian ghosts & hauntings…suspend belief and roll with it), and Paris Chocolate & Pastry Food Tour (which is a walking tour of Paris’ finest chocolate & pastry shops…tastings are included).
- For bike tours, I suggest Fat Tire Bike Tours. I’ve taken 3 of their tours in Paris. They have offices in London, Barcelona and Berlin as well. All of their tours are phenomenal. It’s an American company and employs expats to conduct the bike tours in English. They are a fun way to see a lot of the city in a 4 hour span of time. They also do a bike tour of Versailles (which is awesome and lasts 8.5 hours).