Notre Dame Cathedral

The legendary Notre Dame Cathedral sits on the right bank of the Seine River where even 2000 years ago it was a religious site. Construction began in 1163, and it was finally completed in 1345. It was badly defaced during and after the French Revolution when it was used as a warehouse.

A major restoration on the Cathedral was begun in 1841 after the publication of Victor Hugo’s “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”. Today the cathedral is undergoing a face lift, with centuries of grime being removed from the exterior, revealing a light beige stonework.

The immense gothic Cathedral can hold 6,500 worshippers, under the roof, which is 115ft (35 meters) high. The dark, enormous interior space is overwhelming.

The huge flying buttresses on the exterior were added in the 13th century to allow for bigger windows to let more light in. Some of the beautiful stained glass windows date back to that time. Evil looking gargoyles adorn the water spouts around the building.

Despite the huge numbers of tourists who visit the Cathedral, it makes for an interesting experience. You can get excellent views of Notre Dame from across the Seine river, and from the north tower (387 steps!) you can see up and down the river and over much of Paris.

Hours: Cathedral 8am-7pm Towers 9:30am-7:30pm
(Oct.-Mar. 10am-5pm).
Cost: Cathedral free entrance, Tower & Crypt €5.35
Phone: 01 42 34 56 10
Metro: Cité
Bus: 21,24,27,38,47,85,96

Thalys/TGV Rail Service

The sleek, high speed Thalys trains offer a quick way to reach other European cities from Paris. It’s only 1½ hours to Brussels and 4 hours to Amsterdam, which make it competitive with a plane trip, since you must also spend more time going through airport security and travel from the outlying airports to the city center.

A round trip to/from Amsterdam is about €107 in second class. Other cities served include Rotterdam, Antwerp, Köln, Aachen and Geneva. The service is so fast and reliable that you’ll get a partial to full refund if your train arrives at least 31 minutes late.

There’s no meal service with Comfort 2 (second class), but there is a bar car with overpriced and barely edible food. Comfort 1, (first class) offers snacks and a light meal on longer journeys depending upon the time of day. First class is more comfortable, and probably worth the extra money on a long haul.

For more info check out the Thalys website.

For rail journeys to other parts of France like Lyon and Marseille check out the TGV network. You can travel from Paris to Marseille in just 3 hours!

Paris Metro

The first Paris Metro ran on July 19, 1900. Since then the system has expanded to 380 stations on 16 different lines, servicing the entire city. You’ll find a Metro station within 500 meters, no matter where you are in the city.

The famous Paris Metro is a very convenient, cheap and efficient way to get around. There are frequent trains during the day, and the last metros leave around 12:30am. A one-way fare is €1.30 Euros. You can also buy a book of ten tickets for 9.30 or a Paris Visite 1,2,3 or 5 day pass which is also valid on city buses, and gets you into first class on the SNCF trains which serve the suburbs. Price for the Paris Visite varies according to the number of zones and days.

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Beware of Pickpockets!

This is a serious warning to all visitors to Paris that during your visit you will no doubt be scanned by pickpockets, whose deft hands will reach into your bag or pockets, determine if you have anything worth stealing, and make their getaway without you having a clue that you’ve been robbed.

It happens everyday, usually, but not always in crowded places like the metro, or in tourist attractions like museums, where you might think you’re safe. The pickpockets range from gypsy kids to well-dressed middle aged, professional men and women.

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