Paris, the city of love, the city of lights and of course, the capital of France. Paris is overflowing with art, fashion, and mouth-watering gastronomy. 3 days is definitely not enough time to see everything, however, it served as a great starting point that whet our appetites for future adventures.
Paris is a large sprawling metropolis. It has an outstanding metro transport system allowing tourists to see the sights on foot. It also means you can avoid the mad city streets and the notoriously aggressive Parisian drivers.
Paris Day 0.5
Arriving in the morning at the busy Charles De Gaulle Airport, we weighed up the options, a shuttle or public transit. Paris is well known for busy traffic conditions. Its large population turns major arterial roadways into gridlocked parking lots. We had a jam-packed our plans as usual. There was real concern that the risk of getting caught in traffic was too high. The most reliable transport service was the RER B Train. The bonus was the fare was much cheaper than a taxi or shuttle at only €9.75. Departing every 10-15 mins and the ride would get us to Saint-Michel – Notre-Dame to make a quick change to the RER C line which would drop us at Gare du Champ de Mars Tour Eiffel, only two blocks from our hotel and the same distance from the famous tower.
The short stroll to our hotel already immediately immersed us in the Paris experience. We walked past cafes with cool Parisians smoking and drinking short coffees. A few people had already opened a bottle of red wine, I guess it was close enough to noon.
We were early, but really hoped we would be allowed an early check-in. They were unable to guarantee our room would be ready, but luckily for us when we arrived we found it was. It is a good tip to always tell the hotel of your anticipated arrival time. It allows them to plan the room allocation and servicing schedule. We had been in transit for 13hrs and really needed a shower, it was so welcome and set us up for some sightseeing. We were staying at the Hotel Mercure Paris Centre Tour Eiffel. Part of the Accor hotel group, the room was small but stylish.
Showered and not wanting to waste another minute, we hit the streets. Despite less than 2hr sleep on our flight, we wanted to get as much in as we could. We strolled past massive line up for the Eiffel Tower. It is rumoured to be as long as a 1hr, we were thankful that we had pre-booked our tickets for a front of line tour. We met our guide across the street on the banks of the Seine River. They provided a quick history of the tower and handed out audio guide devices. They were not coming with us up the tower but ushered us to the front of the line. Do not expect an in-person guided tour, the benefit to this is time-saving only. The audio guide was also useful and had a lot of information and a useful map. We took our time soaking in the views and getting our bearings of the city from a high vantage point. Instead of lining up to descend via the same elevator we had taken up, wh chose to walk down the stairs. Although tired from the flight, it was a great time saver. The square underneath the tower is filled with souvenir sharks peddling a wide array of kitschy and cheap souvenirs. Their prices are always higher than other tourist souvenir stores and we recommend you avoid buying from them and even engaging in conversation. “pas intéressé merci” is a very useful phrase to learn.
Exploring the tower, we had worked up an appetite. It only took a short walk to find a cafe, Chez Ribe. You always run the risk of falling into a less than stellar dining choice when you pick restaurants near tourist attractions. For example, some of the worst dining in NYC is near Times Square. The captive tourist market allows venues to lower their standards, there is always a fresh batch of tourists to replaces disappointed visitors. But we were not disappointed with Chez Ribe. This streetside bistro serves the stock standard french bistro menu. Obviously, the staff are a little tired of the tourist traffic but accommodating nonetheless. We greeted the serving staff in our best French (which is not very good). They humoured us and responded with a Ça va, then quickly changed to English. It turns out we have noticeable accents! Almost all the Parisians are multilingual. In fact, it is likely many speak better English than you do. We highly recommend you make some attempt at their language. This will take research and practise and you should avoid insulting their language. But you should at least try. It is important, out of respect for their country and culture. We ordering Escargot, Terrine and Steak & Frites, our first meal would be a little cliché (yes we know that is a French word), but when in Paris, do as the tourist do. We sat back with a French beer settling in for some street-side people watching.
Our Parisian cafe dream was interrupted when two American gentlemen arrived and sat at the table next to us. When the waiter came out and greeted them with a friendly “Bonjour” their immediate response was, “No it’s going to have to be English, we do not speak French”. We looked at each other and thought, this is going to be interesting. The waiter shifted to English and took their orders, including their complaint about French coffee, they wanted “American style coffee”. Disgruntled the waiter walked to the back of the house. Very quickly the Americans noticed we were speaking English, they started asking us where we were from. The moment made us wish our French was better to avoid the conversation. They said that they found the French servers very rude, to which we responded that we had just arrived, but we found it to be the opposite. We know they do not represent all English speaking tourist. But our guide is; if everywhere you go people seem rude, perhaps it is something you are doing, not them.
The French are a proud people and rightly so. They have contributed much to the world, especially in fashion, art, science and cuisine. All nations deserve respect for their culture. You are after all a visitor in their country. If you only want American style coffee, perhaps you should stay in America, or order a Coke instead. When you travel you will encounter things that are foreign, that is, after all, why people travel. New food, drinks and experiences are exciting, even liberating. They may not fit your palate, you may not like them all, but you must show respect. After all, you would expect them to respect your culture in your country. For the record, we think American coffee is awful, but we never complain to our server about it.
Our day was far from over. Our next tour started around 4 pm. So we headed back to the hotel for a freshen up and a quick 30 min power nap. We knew that we had a short amount of time in Paris. You could easily spend a week or more in this city. It is easy to spend an entire day in the many museums Paris is renowned for. We would have loved to see them all, but that would have to wait for future visits. At the very least we had to see some of the Louvre. It is, after all, the most famous art gallery/museum in the world. You could easily get lost for days in the Louvre. We decided that we would take advantage of one of the many rapid-fire guided tours on offer. There are so many to choose from you can tailor them to suit your own personal tastes. Because we are originally from a wine growing region in Australia we decided a tour followed by a wine tasting was suitable.
We met our guide in the Arc du Carrousel out the front of the Louvre main entrance. He handed out the wireless radio headsets and guided us to the basement entrance. Hot tip there are shorter lineups in the basement. We arrived around 4 pm, from what we hear the lines are also much shorter during the day too.
It was a very quick 3.5hr tour but still featured all the best-known artists in the Louvre. Pieces included by were not limited to: the Venus de Milo, Delacroix’s famous painting Liberty Leading the People and Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.
After finishing the tour our informative and friendly guide took us through the streets to Les Caves du Louvres where we learnt more about the wine regions and tasted some wine and tasty charcuterie. By this time we exhausted, we had been awake for over 36hr and walked all day. Now sensible people would have gotten in a taxi and headed back to the hotel. You know by now that we avoid “sensible” and shy away from the “easy” and “boring”. We walked down to the Seine, the night was so beautiful the city’s lights shimmered on the water and the bustling night streets kept our energy high. We passed some interesting street art installation. Art and culture permeate everything in Paris you can understand why it is such a hub for the world’s creative community. The walk was just under 5km and took us around 1hr. When we finally hit the pillow we did not take any serenading (another world from French origins). The next day would be as big, so a deep sleep was mandatory.
Paris Day 1
We arose early and headed downstairs to meet our private tour guide for the morning. We had made our booking and arrange a personalised walking tour with one of our favourite websites Tours By Locals. We first sat in the lobby and plotted what we were planning on our tourist map. We had prearranged with our guide to help us learn to navigate the city so we could tour ourselves the next day. She was happy to oblige and marked all the sites and suggested transit routes for the following day. We then folded up and map and headed out to start our walk.
First stop was the train station where she taught us how to purchase tickets and avoid the many Romani beggars (or pejoratively gipsies) and of course pick-pockets. Always keep a close eye on your valuable in Paris. The streets are full of highly skilled pick-pockets. They often wait until you are distracted by street performances, Romani gambling games or even at the transit stations. Do not get tempted into the Romani card games. It is one of the oldest confidence tricks in the book and they have been doing it for generations. You will not win! You will likely lose your bets and you wallet while you watch the game.
The Paris Metro is a great way to get around. It can get you to just about any of the 20 districts (Arrondissements of Paris).
First stop was Île de la Cité which is an island in the Seine, divided by the 1st and 4th districts. Home to the Palace of Justice and Notre-Dame Cathedral, it is a must see for the first time visitor. Palais de Justice is the made up of the oldest remaining part of the 1240 palace of Louis IX. It is now a Museum that can be visited for a fee. A trip to Paris would not be complete without seeing Notre-Dame de Paris (Our Lady of Paris). Construction started on the cathedral in 1163 during the reign of Louis VII. Construction continued until 1345 and was continuously remodelled over that time. Proudly holding the fame of being the first building to utilise flying buttresses. The construction concept was developed to reinforce walls that had began to crack. The ornate statues, gargoyles and grotesques are as famous as the cathedral itself and we are sure helped to inspire Victor Hugo’s famous story, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. It is believed that Victor Hugo wrote the story to encourage people to value the heritage and aesthetics of gothic architecture. Hugo dedicated most of his life to saving the heritage and history of Paris. Very active politically, to the extent that it saw him exiled from the country on many occasions. He may have butted heads with the powers in his time, but today the building he fought to save still stand (for the most part). He is regarded as one of the greatest writers, poets and socio-political thinkers. We did not see Quasimodo during our visit, perhaps the crowds scared him away.
Crowds there will be crowds, we can not understate that. Expect to line up to go in. It can be a long wait but, at least you can look at the ornate entrance. Like all worshippers enter a sinner and leave redeemed. It was really interesting to see the sculptures change from the right (sinners and demons) to the left (Saints) representing the redeeming power of the church.
We strolled over the Pont de l’Archevêché the original love lock bridge. These are popping up all over Paris and Europe for that matter. On the face of it, it seems like a cute tradition, but hardly a longstanding one because it only started in the 2000’s. Unfortunately, the symbolic gesture does more harm than good. Not only does the act of throwing the key into the river poison the fish and pollute the waterway. But the extra weight damaged the bridges. Furthermore, the removal of love locks and salvaging of keys cost taxpayers a lot of money worldwide. We recommend you do not take part in this tradition, instead just enjoy the cities with your lover. The memories will last longer than the “love lock.” Besides it is a little silly when you think the “forever linking love lock” will actually be removed by a disgruntled city worker in a month or less. Sorry if we killed the romance for you.
We continued our tour to the Cluny Museum (National Museum of Medieval Art). We did not stop in to see the art, because our time was short. However the architecture was well worth seeing, the vestiges of the Gallo Roman baths are very interesting from the outside. We made a quick stop at Paul for lunch and recap of the map before our last location with our guide. She filled our map with more tips for the next day and we enjoyed our Croque Monsieur (classy grilled cheese sandwich).
Our last part of the formal tour took us to Luxembourg Palace. The 17th-century palace was originally built for the mother of Louis XIII. After the revolution, it was remodelled and enlarged. It has housed the French Senate since 1958. It has beautiful gardens with many statues and a large pond. It also has one of the few lawned areas that can be walked on and picniced on. Note when visiting the various gardens most do not allow the public to walk on the grass. Keep an eye out for “Keep off the Grass” signs and only sit/walk on designated areas. The garden if free to enter and the Palace has a nearby museum that can be visited for a fee.
We said farewell to our guide and set off on our own to see some more sights.
Strolling through the Latin Quarter we visited many sites. The Latin quarter is not named for its Spanish influence, it is not “little Mexico” nor is it known for its tapas. Made up of parts of the 5th and 6th arrondissements the Latin Quarter is named for the many educational establishments and high volume of students and academics living in the area. The term “Latin” referring to the use of Latin terms and naming standards in the scientific community.
First stop we walked to the Panthéon. Modeled after the Panthéon in Rome, Paris neoclassical Panthéon is a Mausoleum that houses many great Parisians like: Voltaire, Rousseau, Victor Hugo, Émile Zola, Jean Moulin, Louis Braille, Jean Jaurès and Soufflot, its architect. It is an impressive building melding gothic and classical architecture. With weary legs, he headed to the underground and back to the hotel for an early night.
Paris Day 2
We hadn’t planned anything for the morning but our guide had suggested we visit the Catacombs. The Catacombs of Paris is situated in Place Denfert-Rochereau, a short train ride from the Eiffel Tower. An unassuming green building attached to a limestone building it houses one of the best known Parisian tourist attractions. After doing some research and realising how busy this attraction can get, we headed out early to get in line. If you want to see the Catacombs of Paris and not spend your entire day in a line, it was the only way to go. Opening daily from 10am (seasonally adjusted), the Catacombs only permit 200 people to tour at anyone time. Arriving at 0830am we were 6th in line. Now we know it sounds counterintuitive to line up for 1.5hr to save time. But believe it or not, that was a short wait. Plus the benefit of being the first group to enter the Catacombs enhanced the experience. The eerie atmosphere is deepened by the lack of gawking tourists. When we departed the catacombs and walked past the line, we found it stretched almost 4 city blocks. We have heard rumours that the line can take up to 4hr to get to the front. Our 1.5hr was very reasonable. We chose the audio tour as we so often do, it was worth the money to learn more about the history.
The Catacombs were built in the late 1700’s to combat two challenges. Firstly, The underground Limestone mines that had built the city were starting to cave in. The cave-ins were causing damage to the many buildings that had expanded over the top of them. With the prospect of the left bank sinking into the mines and the loss of many historical buildings, the city realised they must reinforce the extensive mine system.
The second challenge they faced was overflowing cemeteries that had also become a challenge for the building surrounding them. From 1786-1788 and city commissioned the transferring of up to 6 million people from the cemeteries in the Right and Left banks into what would become the largest grave in the world.
Like the many tourists before us, we were excited and curious. The experience of walking through row and row of tunnels lined with ornately stacked human bones is a little unsettling, but strangely beautiful at the same time. Once a year you can even choose to spend the night in the Catacombs. An experience we did not take on and I am not sure we would even have the guts to attempt.
Back on street level, we headed to our next stop the Arc de Triomphe. Standing on the western end of the Champs-Élysées and the centre of Place Charles de Gaulle the Arc de Triomphe is one of Paris’s most famous monuments. It honours those who fought in the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. Names of many generals and victories inscribed around it. Beneath it, is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier a memorial to all those who lost their lives in World War I. We struck unexpected gold again, the entrance fee was waived because of a national holiday. We climbed to the top and took advantage of a nice clear day to get some good photos.
Now we might not be the most fashionable people, but after seeing the Arc we had to take a walk down the Champs-Élysées possibly Paris’s most famous shopping street. You could spend all day shopping and stopping at the cafes lining the streets. This place shows the true heart of Paris. We stopped for lunch and enjoyed a crepe and omelette when in Paris eat what Parisians eat right!
We continued our walk down the Champs-Élysées past the beautiful grounds of the Grand Palais to the Place de la Concorde. Located at the Eastern end of the Champs-Elysees, this public square was once the site of many notable executions during the French Revolution. Today, the square features 2 stunning fountains and the Obelisk of Luxor. The 3,300 year old Obelisk was given to the French in 1829 and takes centre place in the square.
We then took a short break in the stunning Tuileries Gardens. Located between the Place de la Concorde and the Louvre these public gardens have been around since the 17th Century and is a great way for Parisians to relax with family and friends. While we could have spent the afternoon relaxing in the gardens with some delicious French cheese and wine, we continued on our walking tour of the city.
We made our way through the 1st and 2nd Arrondissements heading North admiring all of the 18th and 19th Century architecture. In the distance, the Palias Garnier (Paris National Opera) stands out like it was built yesterday. Although this was built in 1861 the facade of this building is simply stunning. The front of the building features the busts of the worlds greatest composers; Rossini, Amber, Beethoven, Mozart, Spontini, Meryerbeer and Halevy along with 2 gilded figural groups, Charles Gumerys L’Harmonie and La Poesie which sit atop either side of the building. It is still a working Opera House, if there is a show playing when you are in town, we recommend getting tickets. We were unable to see the inside on the day we visited as it was closed, but you can also do day tours to view the auditorium and the grand staircase.
We jumped on the Metro and made our way to Sacre-Coeur Basilica (The Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus). If you are looking for the best views of Paris, this is the place to head to. Located on the summit of the Butte Montmarte (the highest point in the city), the church was completed in 1914 taking 39 years to complete. If you are feeling up to it, you can climb the 300 steps to the top of the dome. We did it, trust us, it is worth it!
After spending the afternoon visiting the church and the surrounding grounds, we decided to spend the afternoon in the 18th Arr. making our way down the summit through the cobbled streets and exploring the local cafes and stores. By chance, we stumbled upon Moulin Rouge. Most of you will know about this place. Probably the most popular late-night attraction in the city, you can visit the Moulin Rouge for a dinner and show. Ticket prices are quite high, so we just opted for a few pics on the outside.
Our day walking around the city of love was complete, it had cast its spell on us. Perhaps the city of love is more about how it transfixes you, rather than it encouraging you to love another. Undoubtedly it is a romantic city, but it was undeniable that we had fallen in love with Paris. We spent our evening enjoying some wine and local food and did one last visit to the Eiffel Tower to see the spire lit up at night.
Paris Day 3
We had a few hours in the morning to get some last minute exploring in before we had to say goodbye and make our way to our next destination. We couldn’t deny one last stop a cafe for some baguettes and coffee. You would expect it, the coffee in Paris is the best, the croissants are the best, the baguettes are the best. They know how to start the day off right!
With full bellies, we made a quick stop past the Les Invalides and then back down to the Seine to visit the Flamme de la Liberte.
Paris is a truly amazing city. Combining some of the world’s most stunning historical buildings all the while being a modern city. 2 days was not enough time to see everything we wanted but it was a great start for a city that we will definitely be back to visit. Paris has the right to call its self the cultural heart of the world. It sounds arrogant, boastful and egotistical, but it is totally appropriate. There is such richness and depth to everything Paris embodies. Their taste and fashion sense is unlike anywhere else. Paris’s contribution to science, cuisine, fashion and art is without compare. As it has shaped the worlds past, we look forward to seeing its contribution to our future. We encourage everyone to visit the City of Lights and enlighten their minds. If you embrace it, lower your guard and expectations, Paris will enter your soul and open your eyes to the real meaning of culture.
We will be back…… Oh yes, we will be back.