Paris Hotels Articles

April 17, 2010

Touring Historical Paris on a Double-Decker

By Phil Chavanne

There is no shortage of transportation means in Paris, and the public transportation system is extremely efficient. But touring Paris by metro may not be the most rewarding sightseeing occasion. That’s where the Open Tour deals you a better hand.

Two circuits to discover from the top deck

There are at least two advantages to a double-decker: you sit higher so you see farther, and it smells better on the open deck than at traffic level. Overall, the top platform is very pleasant excepted of course during rainy days.

The company which operates the Open Tour platform bus offers 4 touring circuits, each exploring several well-known areas. The ‘Grand Tour’ is the longest, the ‘Montparnasse – Saint-Germain’ a must-do. In my opinion, the other two are less interesting.

One of the two major benefits of the Open Tour formula is the multi-lingual commentary pointing at what you should look at. The other is to allow passengers to get off at each stop, visit the area, and board the next Open Tour double-decker with their 1-day or 2-day passes.

Off to the ‘Grand Tour’

The 2-hour long “Grand Tour” circuit starts at “Le Printemps”, one of the largest department stores in Paris. Its first stop is the old Opera Garnier. Recently renovated, the Opera house is a fine example of Second Empire architecture. It shelters the National Ballet Academy where 11-year old girls start the hard-labor path which may lead them eventually to the coveted honor of being recognized as a ‘Star’, a soloist ballerina.

The decker moves on to the Gardens of Palais Royal which have become famous for the black-and-white striped concrete stumps called the “Buren’s Columns”. The Louvre museum is a couple of minutes away. The bus enters the center courtyard through the Arches of Rohan. It stops between Li Pei’s steel and glass pyramid, and the small Carrousel, a small version of the Arch of Triumph which sits at the end of the Champs Elysees avenue.

The bus then moves to the central courtyard of the Louvre museum where you will admire (or loathe) architect Li Pei’s glass pyramid. There again, the contrast between such a modern structure and the classical proportions of the Louvre buildings is open to debate.

Then it’s off to Notre Dame Cathedral, and crossing the river Seine over the Pont Neuf, the medieval bridge built from 1578 to 1604. Notre Dame Cathedral can be toured, and the faithful can attend a Catholic mass. For the not-faint-of-hearts, the high towers offer a photo-opp view at the top of a steep flight of stairs. The large plaza which lies at the feet of the cathedral often becomes an improvised stage for street performers.

The Open Tour then takes you on a long ride along the left banks of the Seine, to the Orsay Museum. The 19th-century decommissioned train station was fully renovated in the 80’s and converted into a large museum dedicated to impressionist art. The facade of the building is an architectural delight.

A little detour will have you cross the Seine again, and land on Concorde Square, a plaza of awesome dimensions. There stands the Louqsor obelisk offered to King Charles X by Egyptian sovereign Mohammad Ali in 1831. Then it’s up the Champs Elysees Avenue.

The lower section of the famous thoroughfare has kept some of its 19th-century charm with its sidewalks shaded by many trees. It ends at ‘Petit Palais’ and ‘Grand Palais’, two major exhibition venues built toward the end of the 19th century, and recently renovated. From there starts the upper section of the Avenue, which has only become uglier and uglier ever since the 60’s.

Atop the Champs Elysees stands the Arch of Triumph, a monument commissioned by Napoleon I to celebrate his victory over the Austrian armies at Austerlitz. The four pillars of the large Roman-style structure bear the names of the killing fields where the French tyrant exacted his death toll on European populations.

Moving on. Going around the Arch of Triumph and down a side avenue, the Open Tour bus proceeds to the Trocadero, a majestic structure built in the Roman Empire style at the end of the 19th century. I believe the Trocadero plaza is one of the two places in Paris from where you get the best full view of the Eiffel Tower.

The Tower is your next destination. The bus circles around it, going through the midsection of the Gardens of Mars, a vast expanse of grass which lies at the feet of Mr. Eiffel’s brainchild. Quite a fine site to spend a summer afternoon, soaking the sun.

The Open Tour home stretch leads you back across the Concorde Plaza, up the Rue Royale and along the upscale chic Rue St Honore. The rich 2-hour tour stops at the gates of the Madeleine Church.

Details of some importance

The Open Tour company offers 1-day and 2-day passes. Those allow you to board and de-board the company’s double-deckers at any stop along the tour circuits. Both passes also give you access to take all 4 tours. At €25 and €28 respectively, they are excellent value for money. Children’s rates are discounted 50% over regular rates. The Open Tour should be a thrill for your teenage kids. That you can board and get off at any stop ensures they won’t get bored, or grow impatient.

The website of the operator shows you where to buy your day pass, where to board the bus, and at what time. Type “open tour Paris” on Google, they come up first.

I leave you on this final note: when you want to see as many sites as possible but feel dead tired after 3 days of walking the streets, the Open Tour double-deckers offer an easy-going way to soak in some more history and architecture. Good deal!

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