Travel Guide: Paris, France

January 20, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

Notre-Dame Cathedral The Effiel Tower Paris Lovers

Ah, the City of Lights!  A tourist’s vision of Paris typically includes elegant restaurants, sophisticated art exhibits, and wine-induced lovers blissfully wandering along the Seine (seriously, my lover shot is not a setup - just found them as I was wandering).  The truth is that Paris is a city with so many aspects that words really cannot do it justice. The city descriptions change drastically by the season, the time of day, and the amount of research that is done ahead of time for the trip.

I’m all for spontaneity - well, for those that know me personally, you just laughed out loud, so let me rephrase.  I adore the adventurous spirit of travelers who step foot in a city, grab a map, and simply explore.  But for Paris - do not do that.  If you do, you’ll spend your time queueing in lines or simply passing up amazing experiences because the wait is too long.  To make your visit to Paris an enjoyable experience, you have to read ahead, set your priorities, and make at least a small plan.  Here are some of my thoughts to help you with your adventure.

Time Needed: 3 Days - 2 Years

Louvre MuseumMusée du Louvre

Budget Tips

  • Unfortunately, hotels are expensive and will consume a sizable portion of your expenses.  Naturally, if you opt to stay further outside of the city and commute to the attractions, you will save a good chunk of change.  While I share this advice, I never follow it.  For Paris, I like my hotel being in the middle of the action, next to a metro, giving me the ability to come and go as I please at all hours of the day and night.
  • If you eat at a restaurant for every meal, you will spend an exorbitant amount of money on food.  Therefore, choose a few restaurants to experience the fine french dining.  Then look to the grocery stores, bakeries, crepe stands, and kebab stalls to grab some bites during your stay. The best deal in Paris is a putting together a picnic of wine, meat, cheese, fruit, and a fresh baguette from the grocery store and enjoying it in the Jardin des Tuileries or the lawn in front of the Eiffel Tower.
  • I believe that time is valuable so determine if you will benefit from purchasing a Museum Pass.  If I spend money on a vacation, then I do not want to spend my precious time waiting in lines (more than likely getting sunburnt).  The Museum Pass allows you entry into over 60 attractions and museums for either 2, 4, or 6 consecutive days.  It also buys you the privilege of skipping the line.  Provided you plan to visit some of the larger attractions in Paris (Louvre Museum, Sainte-Chapelle, Arc de Triomphe, Orsay Museum, Centre Pompidou, Army Museum, and Versailles), then the Museum Pass pays for itself and moves you to the front of the line in many cases.  

Things Not to Miss:

 The list of places you can visit in Paris is endless, but these are just a few of destinations that I would recommend for travelers that will only be spending a few days in town.

  • Notre-Dame de Paris: French gothic architecture at its finest complete with gargoyles.  I love the view of the city from the top of Notre-Dame. If you want to climb to the top, then get up early and in line about 20-30 minutes before it opens.  There is always a line when the attraction opens, and this isn’t covered with the museum pass.  Sorry, you have to wait for this one.  I typically pick up a coffee and a pain au chocolat on my walk to the Cathedral and enjoy it while I wait for the gates to open.  If you simply want to see the Cathedral without a tour, then arrive at any point that the doors are open.
  • Sainte-Chapelle: Honestly, this is a jewel of Gothic architecture and  Arc de Triomphe some of the most beautiful strained-glass windows I have ever seen.  The museum pass will allow you to cut the line, but it's a small space so it gets crowded inside during the peak hours.  My advice is to visit Notre-Dame in the morning when it opens, and make your next stop Sainte-Chapelle (5 minute walk). 
  • Louvre Museum: Formally the residence for the Kings of France, it makes sense that this place is large and overwhelming, but it is a check the box type of thing.  I've seen the "Mona Lisa," "Winged Victory," and "Venus de Milo," and countless others.  I referenced the museum map (pick one up upon your entry!) multiple times to find my way. Normally, there are just too many people for me to truly enjoy this place, so I always try to go a few hours before closing time.  This isn't a place to rush. It's a place to stroll at leisure, to grab a bench and ponder/rest, and to ensure that you have enjoyed a meal prior to entering.  The place can easily take up an entire day if you want to see it all.
  • Arc de Triomphe de l'Etolie: After you find the entrance (I’ll give you a hint, go underground), use your museum pass to by-pass the line and climb inside the arch.  Enjoy the few exhibits, and then take the last few flights of stairs to the top.  It’s a lovely view of the city, a great shot of the Eiffel tower (especially at sunset/dusk and the lights go on).  After your visit and upon your exit, don’t forget to stop and observe a moment of silence in honor of the Tomb of the Unknown Solider, located outside underneath the Arc.
  • Eiffel Tower: There isn’t much to say other than book your tickets ahead of time - and even if you do, be prepared to feel a little like you are part of a herd of cattle.  Enjoy the view from any of the floors and perhaps brave the prices at the restaurant or the champagne bar.

Try Not to Miss:

  • Les InvalidesNapoleon's Tomb Orsay Museum: This museum is a former train station that now houses sculptures, the Gates of Hell, and amazing Impressionist artwork.  
  • Champs-Elysees: Envision the victory parades and enjoy the people watching and price gawking of this famous avenue that spans from the obelisk at the Place de la Concorde up to the Arc de Triomphe de l'Etolie.  If you're a fashionista, make sure you are well rested so you can carry the collection of goods that you will acquire along your 2 kilometer stroll.
  • Centre Pompidou: A museum which is literally turned inside out and has an amazing collection of art and normally some street performers in the front.  Again, I prefer to visit a few hours before closing when the crowds have thinned.
  • Invalides: The golden dome near the Eiffel Tower where the body of Napoleon rests along with 4 museums: the Army Museum, the Contemporary History Museum, the Museum of the Order of the Liberations, and the Museum of Plans and Reliefs.

3-Day Itinerary:

  • Day 1: Start your day off climbing to the top of Notre-Dame de Paris, tour the inside of the Cathedral, and then head over to Sainte-Chapelle to see the morning sunlight illuminate the stunning stained-glass chapel.  Pick up a picnic lunch at a grocery store, such as a Carrefour, Franprix, or Monoprix. Enjoy your meal in the Jardin Des Tuileries followed by some museum time at either the Louvre or the Centre Pompidou.  Finish your day with an elegant dinner, a glass of wine, and a nighttime stroll along the Seine on your way back to the hotel.
  • Day 2: Tour the Orsay Museum (or one of the museums you missed on day 1 or skip them all together if you are not a museum person). Then, stroll down the Champs-Elysees and grab a bite to eat along the way.  Afterwards, climb to the top of the Arc De Triomphe de l'Etolie. Set your sights towards the Eiffel Tower and enjoy an afternoon from the top (book your tickets ahead!).  As the sun begins to set, enjoy a picnic dinner or pick a restaurant at the near-by famous Rue Cler.  Be sure to try remain close so you can enjoy the Eiffel Tower light up at night.
  • Day 3: Pick the places that pique your interest - venture out to Versailles, jump on the metro and see Sacre-Coeur, or visit Napoleon’s tomb at the Dome Church at Invalides, properly named Saint-Louis-des-Invalides.
  • Note: Make sure you check that the places you want to visit are open on the days that you will be in town.  For example, the Louvre Museum closes every Tuesday, while the Orsay Museum and Versailles are closed every Monday. You've been warned!

Things to Skip: Unless you are really interested in the tombs of many luminaries, such as Voltaire, Rousseau, Victor Hugo, Marie, Curie, then you can probably skip the Pantheon. The crypte archaeologic is rather small with explanations only written in French throughout the exhibit.  It is included in the Museum Pass.  Perhaps with the right interest and an audio guide, it is worth the trip for some.

Louvre MuseumMusée du Louvre

Food Finds:

Before you leave, download Tripadvisor’s Paris City Advisor.  Once downloaded, it will run without cell phone service or wifi.  The application allows you to search where you are in the city or by a restaurant name and see the reviews.  So wherever I was located, finding a great meal within my price range was just a few clicks away.  Otherwise, it is very easy to end up at tourist traps with overpriced, mediocre food. (P.S. The application also gives reviews of museums and attractions, which came in handy as well during the trip)

Something Special:

Try taking a cooking class while you are in town.  Cook’n with Class offers small classes in English near Sacre-Coeur (so it gives you something else to do if you venture all the way up there) on everything from sophisticated desserts to sharing the secrets of the perfect croissant.  La Cuisine Paris is another great option for a cooking class in English, and it is located right in the middle of all the tourist attractions.  Be sure to plan ahead because you will need to book well in advance to get a spot in this kitchen.

Most photographers are always behind the camera and like it that way.  However, a professional set of portrait photos of you and your loved ones in Paris is worth stepping outside of your comfort zone (aka away from your own camera).  L'Amour de Paris will capture you in one of the most iconic and romantic cities in the world.  Take the time to schedule a portrait session so you can take home such an amazing and unique souvenir.

Lodging Likes:

I like to stay in or around the Left Bank, particularly in the Latin Quarter.  Close to the attractions, an easy commute to and from the train station, and a great spot for midnight strolls along the seine river.

Nearby Destinations:

There are a lot of trains coming to and from Paris, so there are so many options of nearby places to visit.  Versailles is a 1-hour train ride away and makes a great day trip option for a cheap train ticket. A majority of these other destinations are via the fast trains, so be prepared to pay a higher ticket fee. Although, you can be visiting Brussels, Bruges, Geneva, Amsterdam, Lyon, London, or Frankfurt with a simply 2 hour or less ride on the train. If you are heading north by train, you will probably go to Gare du Nord station; if you are heading south or east, Gare Lyon will be your point of departure.

Favorite Photography Locations:

There is a lot of ground to cover for photography in Paris.  If your hotel is close to the Seine, it makes capturing some beautiful sunrise shots incredibly convenient. That is when Paris is my favorite.  It's quiet and peaceful, and you are mostly alone on the streets (except for the street cleaners and those souls making their way home for being out all night).  Tour Montparnasse is a stunning sunset location provided that you go early to secure a good location.  The Arc de Triomphe gives a beautiful view of the city and Eiffel Tower at sunset if you climb to the top.  Remaining not the streets around the Arc de Triomphe also provides you with a great opportunity to play with a Neutral Density (ND) filter and blur the lights of the traffic passing-by.  Finally, the Louvre Museum at sunset and even night is lit up so beautifully that it's worth a stop.  Setup your tripod and pop on a flash to create a frame-able photograph of yourself in front of such an iconic location.

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