During my summer in Paris composing, I’ve been doing everything I can to try and accept whatever inspiration the city can provide. When I am not locked away in my room battling the frustration of trying to write some quality music, I do my best to venture out into the city to see how I can nourish my mind, body and soul. I’ve come up with a list of adventures that I think will help anyone looking for some inspiring things to do during a summer visit to Paris.
1. Picnic by the Seine
If you want to be inspired by Parisian life, grab your vino from the local store, some cheese, some chips and some fruit and head on down to join in the summer fun by the Seine. It really kicks off in July once the sun has arrived and lasts for the rest of the baking summer months. Go down to metro Pont Marie, then make your way to Quai d’Orleans. You can go right down on either bank, with Notre Dame Cathedral in plain view. If you forgot your booze, not to worry – there are an abundance of entrepreneur’s wandering along offering bottles of beer to those that run out. People sit down by the banks of the river, enjoying the cool evening air, fine food, wine and company. So, if you want to feel Parisian for an evening, skip a restaurant and try the quintessential Seine picnic. People watch, boat watch, and listen for sounds of music wafting over the water as the sun sets on the extraordinary Paris skyline.
2. Organ Recital at Notre Dame Cathedral
Speaking of Notre Dame, I’ll sum this one up by saying that you haven’t lived until you have heard the organ in this cathedral at full tilt. Its almost like you are vibrated on the ground you stand on. You don’t feel it in your eardrums as much as in your veins! There are concerts most Sundays through the summer for less than €20 at around 7-7.30pm and you can actually pick up a ticket at the door. If you are really industrious and want to visit the Cathedral and maybe even hear some music for free, get up early and head to a Sunday morning mass! Its free to attend and there are several every Sunday!
3. Tour de France
What could be more French in July than the world famous Tour de France and you don’t even have to go hunting for it in the mountains! For one day only, it comes to you in Paris! It inspired me at least! The fun starts early as crowds gather around the Champs Elysee, the Tulleries, and the Seine trying to get a good viewing spot on the final stages annual route. Don’t bother trying to get down by the finish line on the Champs Elysee as its blocked with VIP seating….. rather, find a mid-spot near the Tulleries, or even grab an early sitting spot on the wall of the Seine before they are taken. If you are a late arrival, the river view is still only 1 deep compared to 5-10 deep in other viewing spots! If you are industrious, there is a great view from the McDonald’s on the Champs Elysee, but you might need to plan ahead and be prepared for multiple reorders to keep your 1st floor seat by the window with the perfect view.
4. Sunday Concerts in
Check the schedule on the bandstand (near the Rue Soufflot entrance to the Jardin du Luxembourg). There are free concerts all summer and again, get there early to get a seat. Otherwise slouch in the shade against one of the myriad of trees surrounding the bandstand and listen to the beautiful strains of Chopin streaming through the air. Imagine all the great poets, artists and composers who stood listening to a little summer music in this wonderfully romantic park over the centuries. Join in solidarity with their memory for a warm summer afternoon and seek the inspiration that drove them.
In our modern setting, the piano is mic’d up so you don’t have to worry about being right up on top of it to have a good listening experience. However, be warned, the locals are ruthless in chasing down vacant seats and don’t expect any chivalry based on age or gender…. its first come first served..
5. Musee d’Orsay
For me, art seems to come alive in the sunny summer months. Seriously. I went to Musee d’Orsay and was blown away by the art in this museum that bridges between the more antique material in the Musée du Louvre, and the more modern exhibits at Centre Georges Pompidou. It was just what I needed. You will see enough Impressionist and neo-impressionist paintings to do you for a lifetime. Walking from the baking summer sun into the air conditioned museum, you really get a sense of the rich colors of the painting and for the non artist composers like myself, the significance of light in the creative process. It was definitely one of my favorite things I’ve done this summer.
Le Quartorze de Juillet (14th of July), also commonly known to foreigners as Bastille Day or La Fête Nationale, is one of the major party events in Paris each year. My personal suggestion would be to head to the Champs de Mars by the Eiffel Tower for the once in a lifetime experience of hearing the symphony play some fantastic French music with a backdrop of the Eiffel Tower and the setting sun. Once the sun goes down, expect a solid 30 minutes of eye popping fireworks behind the Tower and a mesmerizing light show on the tower itself. If you want to see the orchestra clearly, stay in the . If you want to see the fireworks clearly, without the Eiffel Tower in the foreground, go to the Seine side of the tower.
7. Bal des Pompiers (Fireman’s Ball)
If a night of dancing is your inspiration, then this is the special event for you! On the 13th July the local firehouses in the different arrondissement’s of the city throw ‘balls’ or parties for all. Saturday (and sometimes Sunday) night from about 9pm to 4am the party kicks off. Various events take place including music, DJs, drinks, and even a firemen striptease! There may be an entrance fee, but its often free, and a traditional ‘barrel’ might be left out instead for donations. Either way, tourists and locals still come out and dance the night away!
8. FREE Museums – 1st Sunday of the month
If you happen to be in town for the first Sunday of the month, what better way to seek some inspiration than to visit the usually pricey museums for free! Crowds are insane so choose wisely. I choose Musee d’Orsay last month and after about 20 minutes of cuing, I was in so it wasn’t too crazy. Its also a nice way to get in out of the Parisian heat for a few hours! All other times, you can expect to pay €8 and up to get into anything frankly!
9. Music at aCafe
To feel Parisian, or at least a cultured tourist in Paris, try heading to a little cafe where there are some musicians playing French Jazz. You will not be sorry. Its a memory that will stay with you a while, gets the creative juices flowing and you get to meet some locals and listen to some fantastic music. Try the little cafe Nouvelle Mairie near the Centre Culturel Irlandais.
10. Centre Culturel Irlandais
My last idea is a bit different but what the hell! Enjoy a quick summer visit to the historic Centre Culturel Irlandais. If you are here on the 16th of June, have a unique night out by taking in the annual Bloomsday event at the CCI which commemorates and celebrates the life of Irish writer James Joyce during which the events of his novel Ulysses (which is set on 16 June 1904). Alternatively, have a picnic in the beautiful courtyard or ask for a quick tour of the old library, or even drop in for 11.30am mass (celebrated every Sunday morning in June and July) which is a rather unique French experience. For me, working on a composition about the building, this was a perfect way to wrap up July. Its almost like a trip back in time to 18th or 19 Century Paris, as the building has maintained its distinguished character over the years. The gorgeous little chapel in the ancient Latin Quarter of the city reminds me of the chapel in the front square at Trinity College in Dublin, and is host to a small and welcoming Irish community every Sunday. After listening to typically Irish hymns, and a sermon by the resident Irish priest, food and snacks are served afterwards in the beautiful courtyard. Its well worth a visit.