You may have enjoyed, or at least heard of, some of the classic ways Paris, France romances the millions of tourists who visit it yearly. How easily we’re hooked, for instance, by its lovely parks and lively late-night cafés electric with possibilities. To say little of the spell that the city’s moonlit rooftops casts upon us with their chimney pots arrayed like the pipes of some elaborate, phantom pipe organ serenading the stars with a secret music. In addition to such perennial romantic charms, Paris has some offbeat activities that can literally, or virtually, carry you away. So, if you want to add a dash of something less conventional to your experience of Paris, then consider hovering over the city in a balloon, “bodyflying” about in it, or even piloting a Boeing 737 over it. Read on for all of the delightful details.
Float in the Ballon de Paris
Instead of seeing panoramic views of the city by climbing hundreds of spiraling stairs to the top of popular monuments or riding a crowded elevator up La Tour Eiffel, see them by serenely rising above Paris in a giant, captive helium balloon.
In good weather, you’ll find the Ballon de Paris waiting to waft you into the sky on the western outskirts of the city in Parc André-Citroën, a large, modern park nearby the Seine in the 15th arrondissement.
The balloon is an air monitoring device, a gondola for sightseeing, and a sight to see.
At 115 feet tall with a 74-foot diameter, it’s one of largest tethered helium balloons in the world. It’s cabled to an electric winch that controls its movement, ensuring your ride is steady, nearly vertical, and limited to an altitude of 500 feet. From this height, you’ll effortlessly enjoy a 360-degree, unobstructed view of one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Each ride lasts for about 10-15 blissful minutes.
Hours of Operation
Weather permitting, the Ballon de Paris operates seven days a week, starting at around 9:00 a.m. until around 30 minutes prior to when the park closes in the evening.
Adults pay about 11 euros for a ride; while children pay about 5 euros. Be sure to check the website for all the details related to pricing before you go.
How to Get There
Probably the fastest way is to take the RER Line C to the Javel stop from which it’s a five-minute walk to the park. But a nicer approach from central Paris is to take a Batobus on the Seine to the La Tour Eiffel stop and then walk west along the river to the park. It’s about a 30-minute hike, but a lovely one indeed.
Tips for the Trip
►Build a rain date into your itinerary since the balloon ride is weather dependent.
►Check the Ballon de Paris website frequently on the day you plan to take the ride to make sure that the balloon is flying and to see what the projected wait time is.
►Purchase your tickets at the office at the base of the balloon on the day you want to ride. Although you can purchase tickets in advance online, no refunds will be made if flights must be canceled due to unfavorable weather.
►Plan other activities in the area like picnicking in Parc André-Citroën, or renting a bike to explore the interesting neighborhoods in the 15th arrondissement.
‘Bodyfly’ at iFLY
What is “bodyflying?” “When you combine blood-pumping adrenaline with pristine technical ability and athleticism, you get bodyflight, one of the most exciting sports in the world,” says iFLY. They’re describing “indoor skydiving,” which is “the simulation of true free-fall conditions in a vertical wind tunnel.” If you’ve been wanting to fly nearly free of any type of air travel vehicle, in just your street clothes and a flight suit, but are not quite ready for actual skydiving, then bodyflying might be for you. It’s a nice, controlled way to learn free-fall skills before doing the real thing.
First, Your ‘Baptism in Free Fall’
For your initial time, it’s recommended that you purchase the “baptism in free fall” pass, which gives you a training session and an instructor-accompanied flight. On the day of your baptism then, you’ll sign a flight waiver form, if you haven’t already completed it online; watch an instructional video; and, dress in the supplied flight suit, helmet, and goggles. You’ll then enter the waiting area of the “wind tunnel” – a 46-foot-high vertical glass cylinder that’s the tallest of its kind in the world.
When it’s your turn, you’ll walk through the door of the cylinder and…
…with a whoosh of air that continuously blows upwards from the trampoline-like floor, and some help from your instructor, you’ll go horizontal, your cheeks and flight suit rippling in the wind as you fly.
You won’t be doing any aerial acrobatics or ballet though. Instead, you’ll be learning how to maintain your balance and control your body in what is effectively a weightless environment. You’ll also free fall twice from as high as 20 feet, which is just less than halfway up the cylinder.
Then, the ‘Fly Up’
After being “baptized,” you’ll be offered to purchase a “Fly Up.” For this second flight, the instructor will start spinning you around and around until you very quickly whirl up to the summit of the tube and then free fall back down. Since iFLY is inside of the Vill’Up shopping mall, you’ll have a crowd of shoppers on each level of the mall for an audience.
While you can experience iFLY in many locations around the world, we like the idea of falling for indoor skydiving in the City of Love best.
Here’s a video of the experience.
Hours of Operation
iFly is open all year long, seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., except December 25th and January 1st.
A baptism costs between 59.90 euros to 64.90 euros, depending on whether you go at peak or off-peak times. Other offers are available for the initiated and sportsmen. Be sure to check out all of the pricing details on the website before going.
How to Get There
The iFLY Paris attraction is really off the beaten path. You’ll find it in the Vill’Up shopping mall all the way out in the 19th arrondissement, which is in the northeastern section of the city. From central Paris, take Metro line 7 in the direction of La Courneuve and get off at the Porte de la Villete stop.
Tips for the Trip
►Wear lightweight, very comfortable collarless clothing (e.g., a t-shirt and jeans), including lace-up sneakers. Tie your hair back if it’s long.
►Arrive one hour before your scheduled flight.
►Complete the risk waiver online in advance of your flight to save time.
►Don’t look down when flying, as much as you’re tempted to, since this only results in losing altitude.
►Make the most of your day by having a picnic of Marks & Spencer sandwiches along the Canal de l’Ourcq or in the Parc des Buttes Chaumont, which is a bit farther away from Vill’Up; visit the Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie; or shop Vill’Up of course.
Fly a Boeing 737-800NG at Flight Experience
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Kick off a high-flying date night in Paris by cruising with your special someone over the City of Light in a Boeing 737. With the Multi City Flyer flight simulator package from Flight Experience, you can each take turns piloting the plane, gracefully sailing it around La Tour Eiffel. You’ll see the city laid out before you, framed in the glowing lights of the cockpit.
Or, if you’re visiting Paris alone, why not take a break from the city and fly off to the beautiful island of Sint Maarten? Just you and a nice, smart-looking young flight instructor as your co-pilot. Your instructor will teach you how to advance the thrust levers, how to nose the plane up, and how to reach cruising altitude.
Or, if you love Paris but can’t bear to leave it, why not simulate your flight home as a kind of therapy, a way to accept leaving?
As the captain of the Boeing 737, you’ll have no choice but to somehow figure out how to cast aside the usual melodrama of a Paris goodbye and rise to the challenge of flying the plane.
Pick a Flight Package and Create Your Plan
First, you’ll choose your flight package from a menu of ones of varying degrees of difficulty. If you’re a beginner, for instance, you might purchase the Discovery Pack or City Circuits, each of which covers the basics of takeoff and landing. If you’ve done some piloting or want to do competitive flying with your friends, then consider the Multi City Flyer or Ultimate packages.
On the day of your flight, you’ll meet with your instructor and draw up a flight plan that includes your departure airport, destination, the weather you want to fly in, the time of day, and any special conditions or challenges. Together, you’ll customize your plan to your skill level. You’ll also watch an instructional video.
Earn Your Wings in an Actual Cockpit
When you’re ready for your flight, you’ll take the captain’s seat in the cockpit, go through your pre-flight checklist, ask air traffic control for clearance, and then take off.
What makes this experience feel so realistic is the high fidelity, 100%-to-scale enclosed cockpit in which you pilot your flight. It features fully operational controls, instrumentation, and other flight systems just like those of an actual Boeing 737-800. Indeed, the simulator is certified by several civil aviation authorities, including the FAA, for training professional pilots in the United States and other countries.
The audio-visuals, which include surround sound with seat shakers, and a 180-degree curved hi-def screen for the cockpit windows also make it feel like you’re flying.
You’ll see simulated scenery for any of over 24,000 cities and airports, depending on your flight plan. And to top it all off, you’ll be flying with an instructor who is a real pilot.
Whether you’re off to Hong Kong or Switzerland, the trip is bound to be exciting.
Below is a short video of this attraction.
Hours of Operation
Open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. most days of the year.
Prices range from 149 to 369 euros, depending on the package you buy.
How to Get There
Flight Experience is not as far afield as the other activities mentioned here. You’ll find it at 21 Quai d’Austerlitz in the quarter Salpêtrière in the 13th arrondissement, which is on the left bank. Take Metro line 6 to the Quai de la Gare stop and then walk north on Boulevard Vincent Auriol to Quai d’ Austerlitz and turn left. It’s about a five-minute walk. Alternatively, take the Batobus on the Seine to the Jardin des Plantes stop where you’ll get off at Quai Saint-Bernard. From there, it’s a 15-minute walk southeast from Quai Saint Bernard to Quai d’ Austerlitz.
Tips for the Trip
To make the most of your trip to this area, here are some additional things to do:
►Having piloted over part of the world at Flight Experience, go and see the rest of it and the cosmos too — or at least how they were conceived in 1683 by Vincenzo Coronelli, a Venetian cosmographer — at the Bibliotheque National de France, one of the largest research libraries in the world. There you’ll find the giant Coronelli globes of the Sun King Louis XIV that represent the Earth and the heavens. To get to this library, backtrack to Quai de la Gare and then take Rue Raymond Aron.
After the library, visit Parc de Bercy on the right bank for a picnic, or dine and shop in Bercy Village at the northeastern end of the park. Cross the Seine via Passerelle Simone de Beauvoir to get there.
►Go from the plane to the train – Le Train Bleu, that is. It’s a wonderfully unique and atmospheric Belle Époque-style restaurant where you can have a delicious, memorable dinner. Appropriately enough, you’ll find Le Train Bleu in the Gare de Lyon, a major train station just across the Seine in the 12th arrondissement. After dinner, hop back across the river for some dancing in Le Jardin Tino Rossi on the Quai Saint-Bernard (summer only).
How does Paris sweep you off your feet? Let us know in the comments.[Feature photo: Image via Flickr – CC BY-ND 2.0 – John Lee Maverick]