Few first-time visitors to Paris fail to visit that world-famous symbol of Paris, the Eiffel Tower on the Seine, but other on-high views of Paris may be just as rewarding.
If slogans are to be believed, "the most marvelous view of the most beautiful city in the world" is from a helicopter flying one-half mile above the city with rivers, esplanades, gardens, monuments, and buildings below.
On the southwest side of Paris, just within the city limits, is the baseball park-sized Heliport of Paris, operated by the company which manages the city's international airports at Orly and Roissy.
Year-round helicopter tours run by Paris-Helicopter leave from the small air terminal. The most inexpensive tour, lasting from 8 to 13 minutes, runs north, circles over La Defense, and returns. This brief flight, priced at $27.27 gives one a bird's-eye view of the Arch of Triumph, the Eiffel Tower, the bridge-spanned Seine, and of course, the woods of Boulogne, perhaps more attractive from the air than on the ground.
The most popular helicopter flight is a 12- to 18-minute tour of suburban Chateau of Versailles southwest of Paris. Lifting off the ground of the heliport, bordered by the Hotel Sofitel-Sevres (guests from this hotel can walk to the heliport) and the central electric plant of the city, the helicopter chops over the suburban forests of Meudon and the Observatory of Paris and soon is hovering over the expansive grounds of Versailles. From the air one can truly appreciate the symmetrical gardens, the immense scale of terraces and grounds. The vast splendor of this historic place, a mere seven minute helicopter flight from the heliport, is evident when viewed from aloft.
Catering largely to tourists, all of whom seem to have cameras, Paris-Helicopter keeps its helicopter windows immaculately clean for the benefit of all photographers aboard. The flight to Versailles is priced at $40.90.
In addition to these two popular tours, a half-hour circle of Paris is offered ($72.72). For the affluent, helicopter service to Orly (9 minutes) or Roissy Charles de Gaulle (15 minutes) is available, as well as a 2 1/2-hour air tour of the chateaux of the Loire area southwest of Paris.
Although the heliport is adjacent to the busy highway circling Paris, a convenient Metro station is only five minutes' walk away. From central Paris, Metro Line 8 (which serves Opera, Concorde, Invalides) leads to Balard, the end-of-the-line station; a walk west on Avenue de la Porte-de-Sevres brings one to the small terminal building, which is capped by a large windsock. Hand luggage security checking is enforced here as strictly as at any international airport.
A more relaxed and stationary view of Paris is from the top of a Paris skyscraper, montparnasse Tower. When planned, this 58-story office building was strenuously opposed by many Parisians who feared its height was incongruous with the stubby skyline of Paris. But those two bold symbols of high-tech, the Eiffel Tower and the Georges Pompidou Center, were also controversial; all three structures now seem to have been accepted. Although La Tour Montparnassem resembles New York's Pan American Building, it stands alone, isolated from other tall buildings, and thus offers from its 56th floor observatory an unobstructed 360-degree view of Paris below.
There's a special elevator to the 56th floor observatory, which is open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Admission is $2.61 for adults, and $1.59 for children.
A pleasant way to view Paris is to have a refreshment in the restaurant Le Ciel de Parism (the Sky of Paris) on the 56th floor. Between lunch and dinner, the restaurant, open for tea between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m., is often uncrowded so that a table next to panoramic windows is possible. There is no admission charge for the restaurant, and beverages and pastries are served for around $4. 50, plus the small service charge common to all French restaurants.
If this restaurant were atop a Japanese skyscraper -- or even a Vienna or Quebec City hotel -- it might be a revolving restaurant slowly turning its patrons in a circle above the city. Le Ciel de Paris is locked into a northwest facing direction. fortunately, this offers a view of Place de la Concorde, the gardens of Tuileries, the Louvre, and the nearby Eiffel Tower. Sacred Heart Church is clearly visible, but, alas, Notre Dame is out of vision.
Other on-high views of Paris are from the Arch of Triumph, Notre Dame (climbing narrow steps), or the restaurant on the roof of the Pompidou Center. Many Parisians like to take guests to the top of the Samaritaine Department Store on the Seine River at Pont Neuf for a good look at the city with the river traffic below. The busy Seine bisects the city of Paris, undoubtedly one of the most attractive cities in the world, and a city best viewed from on high.