Paris is a city where there seems to be a “wow” moment around every corner. Some are expected, like watching the twinkling lights on the Eiffel Tower at night. Others, like taking your first bite of jamon beurre (a simple sandwich of ham and butter), may surprise you. Here are five unexpected “wow” moments from my recent trip to Paris.
Located just a few minutes’ walk from Notre Dame Cathedral, which remains closed following the April 2019 fire that nearly destroyed it, Sainte-Chapelle was built in just seven years to house Christian relics collected by King Louis IX. The relics were moved to Notre Dame’s treasury following the French Revolution, but that doesn’t matter. Visitors come to see the cathedral’s 15 stained glass windows in the upper chapel.
Each window stands 50 feet high, and combined, the 15 windows cover 6,650 square feet. That’s roughly the size of two IMAX screens! Imagine stepping inside a kaleidoscope where not just the end but the sides dazzle with light and color, and you’ll have an inkling of what it’s like to emerge from the narrow staircase into the upper chapel.
Inside, grab a printed guide at the back of the chapel or download the Sainte-Chapelle app to decipher the stained glass windows’ 1,113 Biblical scenes. The cathedral hosts several concerts each month from March 15 through December 15. Check here for the schedule.
Dedicated to François Auguste René Rodin, the father of modern sculpture, the museum showcases some of his greatest works. Inside, you'll see “The Gates of Hell” and “Young Girl With Flowers on Her Hat.” Outside, in the sculpture garden, you can see Rodin’s most famous piece, “The Thinker.”
Two things make this museum a “wow.” First, you learn about the techniques he used to create his sculptures like fusing together pieces from various sculptures to create a new one. Second, you can focus on just one artist, which is surprisingly refreshing after the Louvre and the Musée d'Orsay.
Musée de Cluny
Also known as the National Museum of the Middle Ages, this museum near Paris-Sorbonne University is renowned for its six tapestries titled “The Lady and the Unicorn.” This collective piece was woven in Flanders in the 16th century and is often considered one of the greatest examples of Medieval European art. It was presented to the museum in 1882.
While the tapestries are impressive, I was “wowed” by the Roman baths. You can glimpse them from the sidewalk near the museum’s entrance, but to actually see the baths, you’ll have to enter the museum. The tour is self-guided. Pick up a sheet (in English) as you enter for information on what is on display.
If you speak French, the museum offers guided daily tours at 2 p.m. further into the baths and to an underground gallery.
Musée de l’Armée
At the center of the Hôtel National des Invalides complex, the Musée de l’Armée is a massive museum dedicated to France’s military history. It’s also the final resting place of Napoleon Bonaparte. But, his isn’t just any ordinary tomb. Napoleon rests in a red porphyry sarcophagus on a green granite base in the uncovered crypt under the chapel’s dome.
Besides Napoleon’s tomb, the museum contains wings dedicated to the period from Saint Louis to Louis XIV, the period from Louis XIV to Napoleon III, the two World Wars and post-World War II. I found the collection of medieval armor in the Saint Louis to Louis XIV wing amazing. If you like the collection at the MET in New York City, it’s nothing compared to the one here!
Eating Europe Paris
I wrote about the Hip Eats & Backstreets tour I took with Eating Europe Paris in detail for Wander, but I have to mention it again because it was the best thing I did in Paris. Leo Goldstein, the guide for my tour, was very knowledgeable about Paris and its food. He also gave some great insights on the 10th Arrondissement, where the tour takes place.
On the tour, I sampled croque-monsieur sandwiches, jamon buerre, Algerian food, French cheese and, of course, French wine. I also learned about the layout of Paris and what a Haussmann-style building looks like.
My only regret is I didn’t take this tour the day I arrived. It would have been great to revisit a few of our stops and enjoy a full meal. We hope you discover amazing wow moments in Paris. Be sure to check out some of our writers' other favorite things to do while visiting France.
As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with accommodations, meals and other compensation for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.