Paris: 10 great things to do
If you are joining the scrum in Paris next Saturday when Ireland take on France in the Six Nations, Pol O'Conghaile has great things to do off the touchline.
Eat, drink and be merry
Paris may have ceded the culinary momentum to London, Tokyo and New York, but it remains one of the great gastronomic capitals, and somewhere you eat well on any budget
For starters, spring is when the café terraces spark into life. Next up, for an authentic Left Bank experience, try Brasserie Balzar.
When I ordered a passion fruit sorbet here, the waiter nodded towards my wife and replied: "I will bring the fruit, but the passion comes courtesy of Madame."
Paris is a veritable constellation of Michelin stars too, but for fine-dining with a difference, try the market lunch menu (€44) at Chicago chef Daniel Rose's Spring.
The tiny restaurant also hosts wine tastings -- it costs €10 to taste up to four wines, and a sommelier talks you through them.
Details: Brasserie Balzar (brasseriebalzar.com. Metro: Cluny La Sorbonne, Maubert-Mutualité). Spring (springparis.fr. Metro: Mabillon or Saint Germain des Prés).
Do Degas at the Musée d'Orsay
It may be the most famous art gallery in Paris, but the Louvre's sheer size makes it impossible to see in any meaningful way in a short visit.
The Musée d'Orsay, a brilliantly converted railway station, is a much more manageable alternative. Its forthcoming 'Degas and the Nude' exhibition (March 13 to July 1) is the first major show of the artist's work in the city for over 20 years.
Paintings, sculptures, drawings and pastels from all periods of his career -- some seldom shown due to their fragility -- will be on display, including works on loan from the Met in New York and the Chicago Art Institute.
Details: musee-orsay.fr; €9/€6.50. Check out other
exhibitions at anous.fr.
Clown around at the Sacré Coeur
You want bustle in Paris? The terraces around the Basilique du Sacré Coeur are where to find it.
They're thronged with street performers, buskers, sketch artists and caricaturists vying for your coins.
It may be a bit touristy for some, but the views are worth it -- and it gets even more spectacular if you take the 234 steps up the white dome of the Basilica itself.
At the foot of the hill lies Montmartre, the historic neighbourhood and former stomping ground of Picasso, Renoir and Modigliani. Commercialisation has changed its character, but you can still sense its bo-ho beginnings in the cobbled streets, old bakeries and cabarets.
Details: Visit sacre-coeur-mont martre.com. Metro: Abbesses or Anvers.
Catch a can-can at the Moulin Rouge
Visiting Paris in 1890, the Prince of Wales stopped into the Moulin Rouge to see one of the venue's famous quadrilles for himself.
Recognising the future Edward VII, a dancer with her leg in the air called out: "Hey Wales, the Champagne's on you!" The cabaret's reputation was secure.
Famous performers have ranged from Ella Fitzgerald to Elton John. Today's show, 'Féerie', features 100 artists, 1,000 costumes and a spectacular can-can.
You can ensconce yourself in the Belle Époque atmosphere -- not to mention the feathers, rhinestones and sequins -- at one of two nightly shows (€95), or go the whole hog with dinner and Champagne (€175).
Details: 82 Boulevard de Clichy; see moulinrouge.com. Metro: Blanche.
Climb the Eiffel Tower
Yes, it's the obvious thing to do. But that doesn't detract from the thrill of seeing such a famous landmark up close and personal.
Open every day (9.30am -- 11pm), the benefit of a spring visit to the Eiffel Tower is that you skip the summer heat and queues, and the icing on the cake is the new Champagne counter on the top floor. The views aren't bad either.
Built by Gustave Eiffel for the Exposition Universelle in 1889, the tower's 1,063-ft reach has long since been dwarfed by modern skyscrapers, of course, but the iron latticework and the hugeness of its robot-like legs when you stand under them still make it Paris's quintessential sight to see.
Details: Visit toureiffel.fr for more information.
Prices vary from €13.20/€9.30 (lift to the top). Metro: Champ de Mars or Tour Eiffel.
Blow Oscar a kiss at Père-Lachaise
Oscar Wilde may have enjoyed the notion of a grave lavished in lipstick, but his tomb at Paris's Père-Lachaise Cemetery, alas, did not.
In recent years, visitors had taken to kissing the tomb, and unwittingly subjected it to damage through the chemicals in their lipstick. A glass screen has now been erected after a restoration.
"If they'd kissed it simply without lipstick, we wouldn't have had to do this," Wilde's only grandson Merlin Holland said after unveiling the restored sculpture on the 111th anniversary of Wilde's death last December.
You can still see the tomb, of course, it's just that now, kisses will have to be blown.
Details: Boulevard de Ménilmontant. Metro: Philippe Auguste.
Shop till you drop
Like Cole Porter, fashionistas love Paris in the spring. This is a time of year when Fashion Week has the creative juices flowing, summer and autumn collections are hitting the high street, and boutiques are piling on the style for the forthcoming season.
The eighth arrondissement is where you'll find the best couture, with Chanel, Dior and Cartier flanking the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré and Avenue Montaigne.
The Left Bank is home to Bon Marché, Sonia Rykiel and Ralph Lauren's 13,000sq ft store.
If you've blown your budget on rugby tickets, check out Wochdom in the 9th arrondissement. In two shops sitting across from one another, it sells vintage shoes, bags and women's clothing at affordable prices. Or try the flea markets at Porte de Clignancourt or Porte de Vanves.
Details: For more information en.parisinfo.com/paris-shopping.
Fill up at a food market
Any time of year is a good time to pick through the markets of Paris, but spring ushers in a whole raft of new produce -- to the delight of both restaurateurs and foodies.
Spring lamb and fresh strawberries are some of the treats on offer in the brightly coloured stalls at Aligre (Metro: Ledru-Rollin), the Bastille (Metro: Bastille) and St Quentin (Metro: Gare de l'Est).
Parisians traditionally trust small producers over big brands and supermarkets and, after visiting the bawdy cacophonies of stalls and picking up some lunchtime goodies of your own, you may soon join them.
Details: See en.parisinfo.com for more information on things to do in Paris.
Grab some gardening leave
You know spring has sprung when bulbs start bursting open in the Jardin des Tuileries.
There's a lot more to these gardens than tens of thousands of flowers, however.
Framed by the Louvre and the River Seine, the 63 acres are home to as many sculptures and fountains as flowerbeds, making even the most casual of tourists feel like Catherine de Medici in her pleasure gardens.
Ponder the fact that the oasis was once a tile-works as you stroll along the pathways, and don't miss the Musée de l'Orangerie, home to Monet's famous water lilies.
Details: Place de la Concorde; musee-orangerie.fr. Metro: Tuileries Concorde.
Take a daytrip to Disneyland Paris
Spring is the perfect time to take your princes and princesses on a magic carpet ride, and not just because Disneyland Paris is celebrating its 20th birthday.
The heat and crowds of the summer holidays are still a long way off, and April sees the launch of a brand new festival promising new characters, a revamped Once Upon a Dream Parade, and much more.
Yes, the corporate sheen to it all can be a bit creepy, but once you blast off into Space Mountain or watch Lightening McQueen leap over several vehicles on the Walt Disney Studios back lot, the cynicism quickly disappears.
Details: Day tickets to Disneyland Paris cost from €60/€54. The RER A train travels to Marne-la-Vallée-Chessy from Charles de Gaulle Etoile, Auber, Chatelet des Halles or Gare de Lyon. It costs €7 and takes about 45 minutes.
See disneylandparis.ie for more.