France, in Western Europe, encompasses medieval cities, alpine villages and Mediterranean beaches.
France, in Western Europe, encompasses medieval cities, alpine villages and Mediterranean beaches. Paris, its capital, is famed for its fashion houses, classical art museums including the Louvre and monuments like the Eiffel Tower. The country is also renowned for its wines and sophisticated cuisine. Lascaux’s ancient cave drawings, Lyon’s Roman Theater and the vast Palace of Versailles attest to its rich history. Northern highlights include the Loire Valley’s majestic chateaux; Normandy’s WWII sites and iconic Mont-St-Michel; WWI Western Front battlefields; and Brittany’s rugged coast. To the east are German-influenced architecture and food, and the French Alps’ ski resorts. In the south, Provence is home to lavender fields, and the Riviera glitters with glamorous towns and beaches. Bordeaux and Burgundy produce renowned wines, while Champagne gives the bubbly stuff its name. Along with cheeses such as Camembert, Brie and Roquefort, local fare includes Brittany's crêpes and Burgundy's coq au vin.
10:30am-11:00am : The Trianons & The Hamlet
Take a peek into Marie Antoinette’s favorite places to get away from the pomp of Versailles at The Trianons & The Hamlet. Walk across the gardens or ride the petit train to reach the Grand Trianon decked out in pink marble. The Petit Trianon and the surrounding park reflect the queen's eclectic, free-thinking nature through their rural, rustic surroundings. Inside The Petit Trianon, see her modest bedchamber and simple furnishings. At Le Hameau (Hamlet), survey the ill-fated queen's retreat overlooking Grand Trianon Lake, where the environment stands in stark contrast to the formal gardens at Versailles.
11:30am-5:00pm : Palace of Versailles
Considered the most illustrious and opulent castle in all of France, Palace of Versailles exemplifies the most beautiful achievements of French art in the 18th century. This former seat of royal power now chronicles the country's past as a museum of the history of France. On your exploration of the numerous buildings, be sure to see the the lavish Hall of Mirrors, the Queen’s bedchamber, the ecclesiastical chapels, and the King's Grand Apartments. If you love books, don’t miss the library, with its delicately carved wooden and stone panels. In the Clock Room, admire the famous astronomical clock encased in bronze. Arrive as early as possible to avoid long entrance lines. Even with advanced tickets, you'll have to wait your turn at the security checkpoint. Alternatively, book a local guide service to bring you to the château and skip the long lines altogether
5:00pm-5:30pm : The Hall of Mirrors
The Hall of Mirrors is the central gallery of the Palace of Versailles in Versailles, France.As the principal and most remarkable feature of King Louis XIV of France's third building campaign of the Palace of Versailles, construction of the Hall of Mirrors began in 1678. To provide for the Hall of Mirrors as well as the salon de la guerre and the salon de la paix, which connect the grand appartement du roi with the grand appartement de la reine, architect Jules Hardouin Mansart appropriated three rooms from each apartment as well as the terrace that separated the two apartments.The principal feature of this hall is the seventeen mirror-clad arches that reflect the seventeen arcaded windows that overlook the gardens. Each arch contains twenty-one mirrors with a total complement of 357 used in the decoration of the galerie des glaces. The arches themselves are fixed between marble pilasters whose capitals depict the symbols of France. These gilded bronze capitals include the fleur-de-lys and the Gallic cocke rel or rooster. Many of the other attributes of the Hall of Mirrors were lost to war for financial purposes, such as the silver table pieces and guéridons, which were melted by order of Louis XIV in 1689 to finance the War of the League of Augsburg.ConstructionIn the 17th century, mirrors were among the most expensive items to possess at the time; the Venetian Republic held the monopoly on the manufacture of mirrors. In order to maintain the integrity of his philosophy of mercantilism, which required that all items used in the decoration of Versailles be made in France, Jean-Baptiste Colbert enticed several workers from Venice to make mirrors at the Manufacture royale de glaces de miroirs. According to legend, in order to keep its monopoly, the government of the Venetian Republic sent agents to France to poison the workers whom Colbert had brought to France.
10:00am-1:00pm : Museed'Orsay
Located in a former Beaux Arts railway station that was constructed around 1900, Musee d'Orsay features the largest collection of impressionist masterpieces in the world. Some of the most notable paintings on view include "Starry Night Over the Rhone,” by Vincent van Gogh, "The Card Players,” by Paul Cézanne, and “L’Absinthe," by Edgar Degas. The majority of the exhibits are French art that dates from 1848 to 1915, including photographs, paintings, furniture, and sculptures. While tours are not offered in English, there is an interactive floor plan in English that you can access to create a personalized, printable tour of your very own.
1:30pm-3:30pm : Musee Rodin
Dedicated to the works of the French sculptor Auguste Rodin, Musee Rodin is home to the master sculptor's workshop and contains most of his significant creations including "The Thinker," "The Kiss," and "The Gates of Hell." You'll find many of the statues displayed in the lush gardens surrounding the villa. The art on display inside is very diverse, as Rodin was an art collector in addition to being an artist himself. The awesome collection includes 6,600 sculptures, 8,000 drawings, 8,000 old photographs, and 7,000 objets d’art. Paintings you can see from Rodin’s personal collection include works by Vincent van Gogh, Camille Claudel, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir.
4:00am-5:00pm : Arcde Triomphe
One of the city’s most famous monuments, Arc de Triomphe honors those who died fighting in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, and consists of four main sculptures. This location also marks the central spot where the avenues radiate out of Place de l'Étoile. See the names of French victories and generals inscribed on its inner and outer surfaces. Inside the monument, you can view a permanent exhibit conceived by artist Maurice Benayoun and architect Christophe Girault exploring the symbolism of this and other national monuments in regards to war and peace. Beneath its vault lies the "Tomb of the Unknown Soldier" from World War I.
5:30pm-6:00pm : Place de la Concorde
At the eastern end of Champs-Élysées lies Place de la Concorde, Paris' largest public square with a unique artifact at its center: the giant Obelisk of Luxor, which is 3,300 years old. This ancient Egyptian obelisk is 23 m (75 ft) tall and decorated with hieroglyphics exalting the reign of Pharaoh Ramesses II. On either side, you'll see the two Fontaines de la Concorde. The south fountain commemorates the maritime spirit of the nation ,with large semi-nude figures representing the Mediterranean and the Atlantic. The north fountain celebrates the Rhône and Rhine Rivers, with large figures representing navigation and agriculture. Marvelous vistas radiate out in every direction from the center of this public space, including a grand view of the famous Champs-Élysées. During the 18th century, when it was called Place de la Revolution, King Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, and many others faced death by guillotine in this public square.
10:00am-1:00pm : Louvre Museum
With an impressive collection of 30,000 pieces, it's nearly impossible to see all of Louvre Museum. The three "Great Ladies,” Venus de Milo, Winged Victory of Samothrace, and Mona Lisa, may be the museum’s most well-known attractions. The Michelangelo gallery is just one of 30-plus galleries, each with a theme, such as bronze. Masterpieces aren't the only pieces that stand out. Religious artifacts include a fragment of the Egyptian Book of the Dead on papyrus. Even more impressive is the Code of Hammurabi from the Mesopotamian civilization. English-language tours are available on several days, but you need advance registration. Join a city museum tour or order tickets in advance so you won't wait in a long line to gain entry.
1:30pm-3:00pm : Jardin des Tuileries
Separating the Louvre from Place de la Concorde, Jardin des Tuileries are semi-formal French gardens that have survived centuries. Catherine de Medici created them in 1564, and they were revamped 100 years later. The gardens serve as a cultural walking space, where Maillol statues complement those by Rodin and Giacometti. To relax, go towards one of the benches at either of the two ponds, where people drive model boats on the water. For a quick snack, stop at one of the cafes, ice cream shops, or crépe stalls surrounding the space. The low cut of the impeccably manicured hedges around the statues allow you to photograph each one in full sunlight.
3:30pm-0:30pm : The Paris Catacombs
One of the most astonishing sights in Paris, The Paris Catacombs hold the remains of an estimated six million people's bones in a labyrinth of caverns and tunnels. Under Paris, the stone mines contain a harrowing arrangement of skulls and femurs that form many walls. Some of the arrangements are artistic, such as a heart-shaped outline on one wall, formed with skulls embedded in surrounding tibia bones. Audio guides are available in English that enable you to discover the site for yourself.
5:30pm-6:00am : lle de la cite
Île de la Cité is one of two natural islands in the Seine at the heart of Paris. As the place where the medieval city was founded, the island is known for its cobblestone streets and historic buildings. One important landmark is Conciergerie prison, where Marie Antoinette awaited execution in 1793. The island’s teardrop shape makes its streets quite interesting, with buildings and bridges forced to adapt to this landscape. Small walkways and a staircase behind the statue by the Pont Neuf bridge allow you to walk down along the river’s edge. A small bridge connecting the other island, Île Saint-Louis, is a gathering place for street performers showcasing their talents.
10:00am-12:00pm : Le Marais
The city’s most en vogue art galleries make their home in the most significant and historic architectural buildings of Le Marais, once the city’s Jewish quarter. In this district, dine at trendy restaurants, shop at the hippest fashion houses, and admire contemporary art in one of the museums. Many people from the Chinese community around the northern portion of the district sell handmade leather products and jewelry from their personal workshops. You'll find many LGBT-friendly cafes, nightclubs, cabarets, and shops in the southwestern portion.
1:00pm-3:30pm : Centie National d'Art et de Culture George Pompidou
Surrounded by 11,000 sq m (36,090 sq ft) of glass, the postmodern Centre National d'Art et de Culture George Pompidou is an art gallery, an acoustic research center, and a vast public library. As you approach the front of this high-tech structure, you'll see a 7.6-m (25-ft) freestanding mobile sculpture called "Horizontal" by Alexander Calder. The center’s art curators have assembled a marvelous introduction of conceptual art consisting of approachable works that are sure to delight, amuse, and entertain. After you browse each of the building's seven floors, be sure not to skip the fine restaurant by the Costes brothers on the roof.
4:00pm-5:00pm : Sainte - Chapelle
Soaring stained glass windows beam a myriad of colored light onto the floor's rich tile mosaics inside Sainte-Chapelle. This house of worship is one of the highest achievements of the Rayonnant period Gothic architecture, and retains one of the most extensive collections of 13th-century stained glass anywhere in the world. Built by the French kings to house the relics of the Crown of Thorns, this "jewel box" structure has two levels and an impressive vaulted ceiling.
11:30am-12:00pm : Seine River
The Seine River is the lifeblood of the City of Lights. This former trade route is now host to many islands and bridges that lend it a romantic ambiance. For an authentic Parisian experience, walk along the banks of the river, taking in the city's bountiful monuments and historic buildings against the reflection of the water. Be sure to look out for the Pont Neuf bridge that dates back to 1607.
1:00pm-3:00pm : Montmartre
Known as the center of a flourishing artist community from 1907 to 1914, Montmartre now has a thriving nightlife. While shopping in the boutiques in this lively historic area, you'll still see reminders of the artists who lived and worked here, including Picasso, van Gogh, Dali, Duchamp, and Monet. You'll recognize the neighborhood when you see the white-domed Basilica of the Sacré Coeur rising from the hill's summit. The red-light district just downhill to the southwest has a wide variety of stores and concert venues featuring rock music and experimental contemporary music.
3:30pm-5:00pm : Basilique du Sacre-Coeur de Montmartre
You'll recognize Basilique du Sacre-Coeur de Montmartre by its picture-perfect white stone. The basilica remains white even with weathering and pollution, due to its construction with travertine stone, which exudes the mineral calcite. Before entering, take a look up at the Equestrian Statue of King Saint Louis on the left and the Equestrian Statue of Saint Joan of Arc on the right. When you enter, you're surrounded by interesting artifacts and art, including the mosaic in the apse entitled "Christ in Majesty,” which is among the largest in the world. Join the daily Catholic mass or meditate at the fountain in the gardens.
5:30pm-6:00pm : Jardin de l'Hotel de Sens
11:00am-11:30am : Luxembourg Gardens
In the heart of the Left Bank, Luxembourg Gardens is arguably the loveliest park in Paris, with lush lawns radiating out from a pond centerpiece. Inspired by the Boboli Gardens of Florence, these gardens were created in 1612 by Queen Marie de Medici. Whether you're by yourself or with a whole group, this park is a relaxing reprieve from the hustle and bustle of the city. You can watch locals play the legendary French game of boules or simply stroll past over 100 distinct statues.
12:00pm-1:00pm : Luxembourg Palace
Currently the seat of the French Senate, Luxembourg Palace is a 17th-century palace with original artwork and a grand salon you can tour. The palace was commissioned by Marie de Médici in 1625, and the painting "Coronation of Marie de' Médici in St.-Denis" is displayed in the Gallery of Residents. Also look for portraits of Anne, Duchess of Montpensier; Louis XVIII of France; and Cardinal Richelieu.
1:30pm-4:00pm : Eiffel Tower
Also known as the "Iron Woman," Eiffel Tower is an iconic symbol of the City of Lights. You’ve no doubt admired this tower in countless films, but when you see it for the first time you'll be blown away by its magnificent scale and grandeur. Gustave Eiffel built the 325-m (1,063 ft) tower in 1889, and for 40 years this was the tallest structure in the world. As you ascend to the third level, realize you’re climbing to the highest accessible observatory platform open to the public in the entire European Union. On the first and second levels, dine in the restaurants, shop in the boutiques, and enjoy breathtaking city views. An audio guide and an iPhone app in English offer historical and cultural tidbits. Taking the Métro to the Ecole Militiare stop, then strolling up Champ de Mars, is a lovely way to arrive.
4:30pm-6:00pm : Champs-Elysees
Perhaps the most famous shopping boulevard in the world, Champs-Elysees contains some of the most prestigious stores and cafes in Paris. While walking among the gardens and tree-lined promenades, you may encounter an open-air marionette theatre for children, a French tradition popular through the ages. You'll see several monuments as you stroll along the street, including the Obelisk of Luxor and the Arc de Triomphe. The lower part is bordered by greenery, while further west you'll find cinemas, cafes, restaurants, and luxury specialty shops.
11:00am-1:30pm : Foundation Claude Monet
Your visit to Fondation Claude Monet starts in a little blue sitting room painted with that same colors that Monet chose. Restorations include period decorations, such as cement tiles made in Rouen, brightly painted furniture, and copper pots that contrast the cheerful blue walls of the large kitchen. Throughout the house, you'll see Monet's personal collection of over 200 Japanese woodblocks and works of art by his Impressionist contemporaries. When you stroll across the Japanese bridge, commissioned by Monet, admire the water lilies rising from the pond, which were also inspired by Japanese garden design. Low hedges separate the garden's plots, each with its own theme, harmony, shape, composition, and color palette. Look out for rare plant varieties and wisteria planted by Monet himself.
2:30pm-4:00pm : Cathedrale Notre-Dame de Rouen
Experience the gothic inspiration that Impressionist painter Claude Monet felt at Cathedrale Notre-Dame de Rouen, where he filled 28 canvasses with the image of this cathedral. Gargoyles that dominate the rooftop stare down as you approach the façade, but even higher up is the soaring 151-m (495-ft) lantern tower atop the transept. Prepare for sweeping panoramic views of the Norman old town and Seine Valley from the lookouts. The abbey also has several burials, including the tomb that contained Richard the Lionheart's heart. The cathedral's strong musical tradition means you may hear a talented organist playing the massive Jacquot-Lavergne organ. The preserved archiepiscopal palace and its conserved auxiliary buildings dating to the 12th century are rare gems in France.