What do you think of when you think of Paris: Eiffel Tower? The Louvre? Musée d’Orsay? There are many monuments, museums and places in Paris which are all worthy of visiting. When tourists first arrive, there seems to be the classic bucket list of things to see, almost like the ‘Big 5′ of Africa with considerably less interesting wildlife (unless you particularly like pigeons).
One of the things which may not spring to mind is a tour of one of Paris’ opera houses: Palais Garnier. Despite not being one of the top tourist attractions, it is something which I would definitely recommend having a poke around – it only takes an hour max & is a hidden gem.
One of two opera houses in Paris, it is a lot older than its more modern counterpart which can be found at Bastille, just at the start of the promenade plantée. Sitting at the heart of what is quite a remarkable traffic junction, the Palais Garnier is visible all the way from the Louvre, with its golden monuments glinting in the distance. If you choose to walk down Avenue de l’Opéra to get there, you’ll find an eclectic range of shops varying from dog accessories to the classic Monoprix (with a notable food hall) and even a Kusmi tea which, for 3€, gives you a great take-out tea to enjoy en route.
However, if you take the metro, you can emerge at the perfect vantage point to take a pic of this impressive building: stood in the middle of square, you can really capture the height and grandeur in between the passing buses. Either way, the best bit is actually inside.
To get a sneak peek of the interior, you don’t need to book to see an opera; you can in fact just rock up and have a look around. For my visit, I pre-booked tickets to ensure we got in, but, despite it being midday Saturday, there was hardly a queue, so it would also be perfect for a spontaneous visit. Not finding the selection at Galeries Lafayette as suited to you as you thought? Why not go to the Palais Garnier! It’s only 11€ too, or 7 if you’re 12-25, & so won’t break the bank either (contrary to a fab new collection handbag).
Entering through the door at the left hand side (as you look at it head on), you can book a guided tour, but I find it much more fun to explore in your own time. Taken in at the lower floor, a huge staircase sweeps around and takes you into the bowels of the building. The clever use of mirrors makes the whole thing look at least 3 times the size it is, and the marble creates a timeless effect which jolts you back a few centuries. On the way up the staircase, you can go into what looks similar to the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles, although from the windows you can see the whole of Paris, and, above, the delicately painted ceiling is visible through the huge chandeliers.
Then there is, of course, the actual stage itself to see. Relatively small in comparison to the size of the building, you can go into the stalls and imagine what it would be like were a performance on. Mostly in red, this part looks a bit more tired than the hardy marble, reminding you of the history present &, once again, the ceiling is intricate, decorated with brightly coloured paint.
However, it is not just all primary encounters with what is real history: there is also a museum/library where you can see books, paintings and mock-ups of the arts which have been performed there, whilst learning more about them. So it’s a win-win: see the history (with a few great snaps for your Insta), live the history, and learn. & of course there is always the option of getting a trusty audio guide to help you with your tour…