It just isn’t fair that there are a thousand things to do in Paris, and so few hours in the day.
My month-long adventure backpacking through Europe starts in the City of Lights, and with under a week to experience all the best things in Paris, there was no time to waste.
Soon after meeting up with my childhood friends Tiffany and May, we mapped out our itinerary for the next few days.
The improvisational nature of the trip became an underlying theme that, in retrospect, were foolish to think we could avoid.
As the old saying goes:
“Man plans and God laughs.”
Even so, traveling abroad with these young women that I’ve known so long was a growing, deepening, and fulfilling experience.
Indeed I remain profoundly changed by it – renewed even!
For now, let’s dive into our first day out for Paris sightseeing.
The Best Things To Do In Paris Come First
Our day begins with a meandering walk through the city to the famous Notre-Dame church (sometimes pronounced in America like “Noter Dame”) from our Airbnb in Île-de-France, a centrally-located and lively little neighborhood square.
(If you’re planning your own trip and you have all the classic Paris attractions on your to-do list, seriously consider this area as a home base – it worked out pretty well for us.)
Designed in French Gothic style, the cathedral of Notre-Dame is one of the top places to visit in Paris.
If you’ve ever seen the Disney film Hunchback of Notre-Dame, you’ll instantly recognize it’s circular rose windows distinctive to the architectural period.
Tremendous, intricate, and still a functioning church despite the hordes of tourists wandering around inside and outside the building, this is a must-see destination rich in equal parts history and beauty.
I learned a couple interesting facts about Notre-Dame while I was there:
What is Notre-Dame known for?
It sits at the Eastern side of the Île de la Cité in the middle of the Seine River, and was actually built in place of 2 older churches.
Notre-Dame Cathedral suffered damage and disrepair throughout history, and after the French Revolution it was rescued from possible destruction by Napoleon, who in 1804 crowned himself emperor there.
Additionally, the Notre-Dame monument is where Joan of Arc was beatified by Pope Pius X in 1909.
During World War II, the French feared that German soldiers would destroy the delicate stained glass recently installed, so it was removed and not reinstalled until after the war had passed.
The stained glass rose window feature is significant because it represents the largest glass window in the world dating back to the 13th century.
How old is Notre-Dame?
Erection of the cathedral was accomplished piece by piece over the span of 200 years; it was started in 1163 during the reign of King Louis VII and completed in 1345.
This makes the Catholic sanctuary over 800 years old!
Following some quiet appreciation of the magnitude of this holy superstructure, we made sure to get our Notre-Dame pictures in before scurrying off to our next destination, the Palais de Justice de Paris.
Palais de Justice
Why this government building was on our itinerary and why we had to wait in line for 20 minutes, I couldn’t tell you.
I mean, there was this cool golden gate outside, but we didn’t really need to go in for that:
But it was and we did, so we wandered around the somber courthouse until we got lost, and ‘sortied’ ourselves out to rest on the steps before lunch.
The Eiffel Tower
Last stop on our list for the day was catching the sunset at perhaps the most famous structures in France – and boy are we glad we bought our Eiffel Tower tickets ahead of time!
Of all the things to see in Paris, we were determined to make our memories with the Eiffel Tower a top priority.
It’s practically a right of passage for your first time in the city, like seeing the Statue of Liberty in New York.
The streets echoed with the voices of dozens peddlers all desperately pushing identical products: flimsy tower replicas and keychain keepsakes.
Some were even selling champagne and roses off the street, which is not a terrible idea, but it did kind of take away from the romantic atmosphere I’d imagined.
Here are some facts about the Eiffel Tower:
When was the Eiffel Tower built?
Construction of the Eiffel Tower began in 1887 and was completed in 1889.
Why was the Eiffel Tower built?
I always wondered this myself!
Apparently, the French wanted to celebrate 100 years passing since the storming of the Bastille, the beginning of the French Revolution, and they did so with the Exposition Universelle.
One of the grandest unveilings at the inception of the ‘world’s fair’ was – you guessed it – the Eiffel Tower.
They’d held an open competition where hundreds of French artists, architects, and designers submitted their proposals.
Interestingly, it’s appearance was so controversial at first that a petition protesting it’s construction gained traction with over 300 signatures.
Ultimately the fair commissioner chose Gustave Eiffel’s design anyway.
Who built the Eiffel Tower?
Althought Eiffel often gets full credit for the tower, an engineer he employed – Maurice Koechlin – played a large part in coming up with and fine-tuning the concept. (They also worked on the Statue of Liberty together!)
As the story goes, Eiffel first rejected his original plan for the tower and instructed Koechlin to add more decorative detailing.
Hundreds of laborers spent two years putting the now-iconic monument together, which stood nearly 1,000 feet high when it was first unveiled March 1889.
At the time, it broke the record for the tallest structure in the world – and it held this distinction until completion of the Chrysler Building in 1930.
Special thanks to May Luong & Tiffany Boola for the photos – and for being amazing women in general.