Our fifteen day trip to France flew by. We decided to leave Paris until the end of the trip so we would be over jet lag and ready to hit the city running. Paris is such a great city, we couldn’t wait to get settled and start exploring.
The key is choosing where you stay and narrowing what you see. There are loads of fabulous museums, more than you could see in one trip, more art, more monuments, landmarks, cathedrals and restaurants than you can manage. So, do your research, find a few must-dos and approach Paris with openness and flexibility.
Transportation: Be ready to walk! The Paris metro system is a good one, but it takes a lot of energy to walk to the station, down the stairs, get on the metro, get off, walk UP the stairs and still have a 3-4 block walk to your next sightseeing venue. Learn to group sightseeing adventures according to proximity and days & times open. You’ll find several are within walking distance such as Notre Dame and St Chappelle. Two of you will most likely be able to get away with a 10 pack of Carnets, metro/bus tickets, over a four day period.
Paris Museum Pass
Buy one! It will get you into many of the main museums including the Louvre, Orsay, Chapelle and even Versailles. You get to bypass the ticket line and head straight for the entrance. We bought a 4day pass for 56 Euros at the airport, but you can buy them in museums and TI’s. The pass may not be a good deal for children or teenagers as kids often get into museums free and teens may be discounted. Wait to buy them in Paris, online you’ll have to pay shipping. Tip – You can buy the pass at the airport and save it until you are ready to hit Paris. Once you write in the start date, the pass is good for the next consecutive # of days.
3 Places to Go
The Eiffel Tower
You can’t go to Paris without seeing its most famous symbol. The tower was built by Gustave Eiffel as an entrance to the Paris World’s Fair 1889. There are 3 levels to experience. The second is 377′ up. Confession…I’m totally afraid of heights, but we’re talking the Eiffel Tower. I had to go up. The elevator stops at the second level first. If you’re going to the summit, stay on the elevator and see it first. I got out on the second level and held on to a post in the center of the level. I did manage to get within about 20′ of the edge, but never all the way. I took a few pictures and wandered around. The second level has lots of shops and places to eat and a restroom. All the while, Roger was zooming up to the summit, 905′ high and loving the views and taking photos and having a grand old time. I managed to scurry down to the first level 172′ up for a quick look and some serious souvenir shopping. We met some 45min later as I was safely on the ground and he was thrilled with the unbelievable experience of going all the way to the top. There is something for everyone, you can’t miss it!
The evening is a completely different experience as the tower lights up at night and twinkles as in a light show every hour on the hour. (Our hotel was within walking distance to the Eiffel Tower. Another plug for picking a hotel in a neighborhood close to attractions.)
Not covered by the Museum Pass. Reservations are a must! www.toureiffel.paris, If you go without a reservation, show up early, way before it opens. Open daily 9:00-24:45
Also, consider an evening boat cruise on the Seine. The ticket booth is right below the Eiffel Tower, down the steps next to the water.
Arc de Triomphe – Champs-Elyse’es
Many people don’t realize that you can go up into the Arc de Triomphe. It was built by Napoleon as a monument to the 1805 battle of Austerlitz. After climbing the 284 steps, you’ll get a fabulous view of the Champs-Elyse’es, the most famous shopping street in the world. It’s an experience you won’t forget, but something I am not compelled to do every time we’re in Paris. Expensive designer window shopping isn’t for everyone. I like shopping the neighborhoods. Covered by the Museum Pass. Place Charles de Gaulle, use underpass to get to the Arc de Triomphe, Open 10:00-23:00, http://arc-de-triomphe.monuments-nationaux.fr
Musee de Orsay
This once train station turned museum is the best for an overall experience in French art from 1848-1914, a little of everything in a doable time and space with a great collection of Impressionists. We usually make a beeline for the Impressionism gallery on the top floor, featuring works by Manet, Monet, Renoir, Degas, Van Gogh, Cezanne, Gauguin and Toulouse-Lautrec. It’s really quite spectacular! Start at the giant Hugo clock on the far end of the floor, furthest from the entrance to Orsay. The Museum Pass works here. Open Tues-Sun. 9:30-1800, open late on Thurs. Closed Mon. 1 Rue de la Legion d’Honneur, www.musee-orsay.fr
Containing all the major works of Auguste Rodin (1840-1917), this museum is located on two floors of the mansion and on the grounds where Rodin lived and worked along with his apprentice, Camille Claudel. Rodin is known for his remarkable ability to sculpt the human form showing deep emotion and movement. Bronze casts, statues, finished and unfinished works are highlighted here including his best known pieces, The Thinker and the Gates of Hell. This museum is very powerful and thought provoking. Be sure to tour the gardens for even more great sculptures. (Notice the small garden cafe, it’s a great place for lunch!) Covered by the Museum Pass. Open Tues-Sun 10:00-17:45, open late Wed, Closed Mon, 79 Rue de Varenne, www.musee-rodin.fr
Musee de l’Orangerie
This is a relatively small museum that highlights Monet’s waterlilies series which he painted at his home in Giverny between 1914-1926. The art on the bottom level features the collection of Paul Guillaume, a 1920’s art collector and features Impressionism, Cubism, and other styles popular in the 20’s. This is covered by the Museum Pass. Open Wed-Mon 9:00-18:00, Closed Tues. Located in the Tuileries Garden near Place de la Concorde, a 15 min. walk from Orsay, www.musee-orangerie.fr
What about Musee du Louvre?
The Louvre is an iconic, spectacular, unbelievable storehouse of art. And, its very, very huge and very, very crowded. Oh My Goodness!! The first time I went to the Louvre, I almost started to hyperventilate at how overwhelmed I felt at trying to see it all. There is no way to see it all, not in a day or even several days. There are different sections so when you decide to visit the Louvre, pick one and go for it. There are self-guided tour maps. I usually choose Sully Wing, in Salle 16, first enter the Denon Wing and head to the Venus de Milo. You’ll see ancient Greek art, Napoleon’s crown jewels, famed Winged Victory statue, Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, Michelangelo’s magnificent Slaves statues (1513-1515) and much, much more.
Tip: Get a guide of the section so you know what you are looking at and why its important. We use Rick Steve’s Paris guide. It’s a free download at https://www.ricksteves.com/watch-read-listen/audio/audio-tours/paris. He gives an overview of the highlights of the Sully Wing in a lighthearted way. Using it feels kind of like a fun scavenger hunt. Anyway, give yourself about four hours and then call it a day. Otherwise, unless you are really into art, you will be completely overwhelmed. Paris has so many museums, I suggest you give this most famous one its due diligence, but don’t make it your entire visit.
Notre Dame is probably the most well-known cathedral in the world. Its location on the Seine, the architecture, the gargoyles, the stained-glass windows and its rich history make it a must do in Paris. It took almost 200 years to complete this cathedral from 1163-1345. Its free so just get there, wait in the security line, then you’re in. It is possible to climb the Notre Dame tower outside, 400 steps, up with the gargoyles. Open 7:45-18:45, several masses given all day, check website for schedule, tel. 01 42 34 56 10, www.notredamedeparis.fr
A cathedral in Gothic architecture known for its light. Fifteen stained-glass windows including a rose window draw visitors in. The church is also said to have the famous Crown of Thorns. Check out the ceiling on the top floor of painted fleur-de-lis, it is especially beautiful. Almost always a slow moving line, but worth the wait. Covered by the Museum Pass. Open 9:30-18:00. , 4 Boulevard du Palais, tel. 01 53 40 60 80, http://sainte-chapelle.monuments-nationaux.fr
Sacre’- Coeur Basilica
In the Montmartre section of Paris on the highest hill overlooking Paris is the five domed Sacre’-Coeur Basilica. There are lots of stained-glass windows, mosaics and a fabulous panoramic view of the city. You can climb 300 steps in the dome for an even more spectacular view. This part of Paris is often less expensive and used to be where starving artists and writers lived. You may want to make this one of the places where you use your metro passes as it is a ways from many other sights.
3 Places to Eat
There are great restaurants in many of the neighborhoods in Paris. Our typical Paris eating schedule:
Eat in the neighborhood, either a pastry, fruit and coffee on the go or breakfast at a small cafe. Most of the time we are in sightseeing mode and eat on the go
Find a spot wherever we are at the time. We’ll sit in a park with a crepe from a street vendor, have a sandwich in a museum cafe or eat at a restaurant near our next sightseeing venue. A great example of eating at a venue is the garden cafe at the Rodin museum. The salads are superb and very fresh.
Eat back in the neighborhood. After a long day of sightseeing, we want to relax and enjoy the peacefulness of the small restaurants and cafes close to our hotel. The three I recommend are all in the Rue Cler neighborhood where we stay.
Creperie Ulysee en Gaule
I just love crepes and no one does them better than the small street stands and cafes in Paris. This family-run restaurant is a small cafe with outdoor seating where you can enjoy both sweet and savory crepes. They also serve Greek food, but we go there for the crepes. This time, we compromised and got a Greek savory crepe, delicious! Then the owners brought us magnificent chocolate & strawberry crepes for dessert. Yum! Its easy to get caught up in conversations with locals here. Rue Cler 28 tel. 01 47 05 61 82
Cafe le Roussillon
This neighbor restaurant is a great dinner spot with a bar section and a dining section. The food is very good and they are used to tourists. Many of the waiters speak some English. Roger had the best here, scallops in a light cream cheese sauce over risotto. The desserts are awesome as well. 29 Rue Cler, Tel 01 45 51 47 53
Tribeca Italian Restaurant
The Italian dishes are great as well as the pizza, the atmosphere pleasant and the staff very friendly. The manager makes sure you are happy. 36 Rue Cler, tel. 01 45 55 12 01
1 Place to Stay
Hotel rooms in Paris are notoriously small, but that’s ok, you’re not going to spend all of your time in a hotel. Our favorite spot is the Eiffel Tower Neighborhood on the market street Rue Cler. We stay near this area every time we go to Paris. It’s a market street full of neighborhood shops, restaurants, cafe’s, Saturday antique markets and is well within walking distance of the Eiffel Tower. Location, location, location! When you stay in neighborhood settings, lots of hotels are three star, not typical luxury American hotels. Its not about the amenities for us, its about staying in a spot where we immerse ourselves in the ambience of Paris. That means rubbing shoulders with the locals, trying authentic French cuisine and people watching with the best of them.
Any of the many boutique hotels near the Rue Clear will do, but this trip to Paris we stayed at the Hotel Beaugency. The small, but clean rooms were adequate and the location was perfect, one block off the Rue Cler. Breakfast is available, but we chose to shop for ours along the market street, pastries, fruit, coffee or sitting at a small cafe’ taking in the beginning of the day. Duvivier | 21 Rue Duvivier, 75007 Paris, France, http://www.hotel-beaugency.com/en/
Honorable Mention: Grand Hotel Levesque, Cler Hotel, Hotel Motte Picquet
Versailles is where you visit the famous palace of Louis XIV called The Chateau. Louis XIV, known as the Sun King completely dominated and controlled France from 1643-1715. He wisely built the 2,014 acre palace and 230 acre gardens 10 miles outside of Paris and made royalty and business people come to him. The lavish palace doesn’t contain lots of furniture, but the paintings, artwork, floors, fixtures, ceilings are a wonder. At the time that the palace was built, mirror was rare so the famous 240′ long Hall of Mirrors containing 357 mirrors, is striking with chandeliers. It was used as a passageway and meeting area. One of the most difficult things about visiting the palace is the fact that people from all over the world have the same idea and they are there. Its super-crowded inside the palace and can be tough to get good pictures and not feel trampled. Also, be aware that parts of the palace are being refurbished and are closed. Currently the Queens Wing is closed, (Apr 2016).
The best part about visiting Versailles for us was enjoying the outdoor grounds. The picturesque statues, mazes and separate gardens, steps, pools and the mile long Grand Canal are very beautiful and relaxing especially compared to the busy indoor palace. We rented a rowboat and took time for a long peaceful row down the Grand Canal. Ahhh….relaxing in the Gardens of Versailles…peaceful.
The palace grounds also contain a smaller house that was built for Marie-Antoinette. The girl wanted her own space and she got it. Some people prefer this furnished house compared to the glitter of the palace. Parking is available right in front of the palace. The weekends are particularly crowded. Open Tues-Sun 9:00-17:30, Closed Mon. www.chateauversailles.fr
For Impressionist painting fans, this was Claude Monet’s home from 1883-1923 and is the place where he painted his famous waterlilies paintings. The pink farmhouse with green shutters and Walled Garden can both be toured, but the highlight is walking through the garden to the lily pad pond where you can see exactly where Monet painted some of his most famous paintings. This is an easy 50 mile drive or 45 minute train ride west of Paris. If you take a train, consider renting a bicycle to Giverny. Not covered by the Museum Pass. Open 10:00-18:00 April-Oct, www.mdig.fr, tel. 02 32 51 94 00
True…I’ve only scratched the surface of Paris by giving you my list of highlights, but hopefully your appetite is whet for mapping out one truly exciting adventure for yourself. Other notable sights include: Picasso Museum, Pantheon, Jewish Art and History Museum, Pompidou Center and another Monet spot, the Marmottan Art Museum. Consider possible day trips to Chartres Cathedral, Disneyland Paris or Verdun.
Discover Paris soon!