With the most vivacious and characteristic districts where you can breathe in an atmosphere which belongs to the past, Paris is the perfect destination to get that curriculum-packed learning outside the classroom while keeping to a budget. Whether you go on a trip to focus on language, art or history, you and your students can experience the culture like a Parisian and come back from the City of Lights with ‘des étoiles plein les yeux’.
1) Soak in art, culture and history in Paris’ most iconic museums
The French capital is overflowing with places to marvel at and be inspired by millennia of history, culture and art. The world-class galleries and museums – for the most part, free to visit for under 25s – let you travel back in time with the Egyptians and Romans, mesmerise you with Impressionist paintings, or simply leave school groups awestruck by the architecture.
A trip to Paris wouldn’t be complete without heading to the Louvre; the biggest museum in the world. The Louvre is so vast, it would take you 100 days non-stop if you were to spend 30 seconds on each piece – and that is if you are there all day every day! Something I cannot stress enough is to do some research beforehand to decide what is a must-see to make your visit more enjoyable and not turn into a nightmare in the maze that the Louvre is.
Make sure to take a stroll in the Tuileries Gardens, Paris’ oldest park, before marvelling at the architecture and collection of former railway station Musée d’Orsay. With a large collection of masterpieces of the 19th and 20th century, Orsay holds the world’s largest collection of impressionist works and can be combined with the Musée de l’Orangerie; the permanent home of eight large Water Lilies murals by Claude Monet.
Top tip: Unlike most museums, the Louvre is open on Mondays.
2) Look into the glorious past of France with a trip to Versailles
Siege of history, art and culture, the palace you see today was built by Louis XIV, with the intent to showcase France at the peak of its powers. Called ‘le Roi Soleil’ (the Sun King), Louis XIV was known and admired for the dazzling royal court culture he introduced in Versailles and the intellectual and scientific achievements that blossomed under his patronage. Reflect on the image of grandeur and opulence of his reign embodied by the Hall of Mirrors with your history and art students.
Top tip: With the estate intimately linked to French history, Versailles is worth a day trip. Students and under 18’s can visit for free but only in certain areas of the palace.
3) Combine mainstream tourism and architecture on a Seine river cruise
We know river cruises may be seen to be THE typical tourist attraction, but what’s the harm in that? With the Seine riverbanks – from Pont de Sully to Pont de Bir-Hakeim via Pont Alexandre III – labelled a UNESCO World Heritage Site, taking a river cruise is a time-saving activity that will make your students discover the iconic landmarks of the capital in one go.
The cruise is also a good way to take a different look at the bridges and footbridges that span the Seine. The best known include some of the city’s oldest bridges, including Pont Neuf, the construction of which began in 1578; Pont Alexandre III, built for the 1900 Universal Exhibition; Pont des Arts, famous for its love locks; and Pont de l’Alma, a magnet for tourists, as it is the place where Princess Diana met her tragic death in 1997.
4) Immerse your students in 20th century Paris in the ‘village Montmartre’
A popular spot in Paris – and with good reason – is the iconic ‘Butte Montmartre’ neighbourhood. Bustling with life, the picture postcard Parisian setting is something out of the movies. Encircled by busy boulevards, it has kept the atmosphere of a village remarkably intact from the mid-19th century when it became popular thanks to the opening of many cafés, cabarets and dancing halls called ‘guinguettes’ as well as an artists’ residence during the Belle Epoque.
To go back in time, head to Place du Tertre to watch the artists at work and wander off the beaten tracks to picturesque streets. Look closely and you’ll see some fully-preserved artists houses, iconic cabarets such as the Lapin Agile and even a vineyard!
5) Take the heights and look at Paris from above
Paris has no shortage of panoramic viewpoints where you can spot the city’s famous landmarks and get an idea of its scale. But while Parisians love taking the sunlight at the Champ de Mars, most of them have never been on top of the Eiffel tower. For a 360 view of the capital, head to the Tour Montparnasse or kill two birds with one stone by taking to the rooftop of the Centre Pompidou after you finish your exhibition. After all, isn’t it better to enjoy a view with the Eiffel Tower than a view from it?
6) Explore like a local
It’s no secret that Paris is a perfect city for flâneurs (strolling). In fact, with treasures to be discovered around every turn, the French capital is a city that’s meant to be strolled. So, if you want to explore the city like a local, ditch the metro and opt for a walking circuit. From the Jardin du Luxembourg to Saint Michel or the Canal Saint Martin, there are plenty to choose from to discover the many communities in Paris. If you want to find yourself in a green oasis in the middle of the buildings, try the Coulée-verte, elevated gardens built along old railway lines that used to run through the 12th arrondissement.
A favourite walk for many is to make a loop around l’Ile de la Cité (via the Pont au Change, the Conciergerie, the Sainte Chapelle and Notre Dame) and then through the Latin quarter and finishing by taking the Pont Saint Louis that links l’Ile de la Cité to l’Ile Saint Louis. This takes less than 1 hour and yet you get to cover some of the most famous and emblematic neighbourhoods of Paris where students, scholars, philosophers and tourists come alike.
Did you know? Walking from the north to the south of Paris only takes 2 hours!