Thanksgiving was the perfect time to visit Paris. It was the “off” season in Paris and a four day weekend for us. We flew with EasyJet from Venice Marco Polo to Paris Orly airport. Once we landed in the city of lights we took a taxi to our apartment rental located only a few blocks away from Notre Dame. Day 1
We spent our first day in Paris wandering around the city. In the morning we crossed the Seine to behold the magnificent Notre Dame Cathedral. Then we continued on towards the Louvre to buy our Paris Museum Passes. We entered a courtyard surrounded by the wings of the Louvre museum. Next we stumbled upon the glass pyramid where we joined the line to get inside. It took only a few minutes to get inside as opposed to the lengthy hours of waiting during tourist season. We located the tourism office and purchased our Museum Passes. We exited the Louvre via the underground shopping mall, the Carrousel du Louvre. After emerging from the underground mall we found ourselves at the beginning of the Jardin des Tuileries near the miniature Arc de Triomphe (du Carrousel). A food stand was conveniently located at the beginning of the garden. We ordered lunch and made our way to the middle of the garden for a little picnic. Afterwards we made our way to the end of the garden where we came upon Plaza de la Concorde with an ancient obelisk and flowing fountains. We walked across the plaza to Champ Elysees, a high-end shopping avenue, which was hosting a Christmas market at the time. After getting our fill of street food and Christmas shopping, we marched on to reach the prominent Arc de Triomphe. We took an underground stairwell to bypass the giant traffic circle that runs around the arc. We bought tickets to climb to the top, which provided the best overall view of Paris! Heading back on Champ Elysees, we stopped at Laduree to purchase some of their famous macarons. After walking the entire span of Paris, we decided to take a night stroll back to our apartment. We found a cozy, candlelit restaurant in the Latin Quarter. We chose from a pre-fixe menu that included an appetizer (entrée), a main course (le plat principal), and a dessert. We loved every single dish from the French onion soup to the crème brulee! We wished we could have had every meal at La Maison de Verlaine!
On day two we decided to tackle the Louvre, but our first order of business was breakfast! We walked into a pâtisserie (bakery) near our apartment to order a slice of quiche and a caffé latte. We walked along the river until we reached the Pont de l’Archeveche. This bridge has become famous for romantic couples placing a lock on the bridge and throwing away the key. The weight of the locks is actually destroying parts of the bridge, causing the city to board it up and replace sections with thick glass panels. The bridge was a sight to see, but we chose not to partake in the touristic ritual. At the entrance to the Louvre we passed the security line by flashing our museum passes and entering on the left. Following advice from other travelers, we went straight to the Mona Lisa before the tour groups started piling in. Checking that off our bucket list, we chose a few areas of interest and began our journey through the Louvre. For three plus hours we browsed Egyptian/Roman artifacts and studied French/Italian paintings. Next we took the metro to the outskirts of the city to visit the castle-shaped Sacre-Coeur. The view from Sacre Couer was nothing special and the neighborhood was pretty sketchy. If you are short on time, it could easily be skipped. Determined to make up for lost time, we rushed back to the center of the city to see one last museum for the night. We arrived at the Rodin Museum, a sculpture museum with an indoor gallery and an outdoor sculpture garden. At dusk we could barely see the sculpture garden, but we enjoyed the small indoor gallery.
To top off the night we walked to the Eiffel Tower to see it lit up at night. We watched a mini light show when the Eiffel Tower lights twinkled at the top of the hour
Waking up early, we decided to make our way to a gourmet grocery store called Bon Marche Grand Epicerie. The grocery store had everything from gourmet cooking ingredients and international foods to a wine cellar in the basement. We walked out of there with a bag full of groceries and a bottle of wine for our last night in Paris. On the way back we ran across Fontaine Saint-Michel, a beautiful fountain representing the triumph of good over evil. After dropping off our groceries we strolled over the river to Notre Dame. The sunny day was perfect for admiring the stained glass windows inside of the cathedral, including the beautiful “rose” window. Afterwards we went outside to the left of the church and stood in line to climb to the top of the Towers of Notre Dame. Our museum passes helped us bypass the wait for tickets once we reached the gift shop/ticket office level. The towers provided a close-up look at the gargoyles and great views of the city. Afterwards we visited the Archeological Crypt beneath the plaza of the Notre Dame, which contained Roman ruins. Moving on we entered Saint Chapelle, a church located on the same island as Notre Dame. This church had the most beautiful stained glass windows! Our next stop was the Eiffel Tower where we waited in line for tickets to take the lift to the first level for over an hour. We had intended to buy tickets to climb the stairs to the first level, but later realized our line was only for the lift. Once we made it to the first level we found out that whether you took the lift or climbed the stairs to the first level, you still had to get in line again to purchase another ticket to get to the very top. Not only that, but wait in another line to actually take the lift to the top. We took our pictures and decided to forego the hassle of a trip to the top. We opted for a more relaxing end to the night, by cruising the river via water taxi back to our apartment.
Being able to visit some of the famous Paris attractions was a great opportunity, but Paris reminded me a lot of New York City. There were tons of people, long lines, cramped metro rides, pick pockets, and persistent souvenir sellers. The French (reserved as they are) were nice when we were walking around Paris, but when dinner time came we felt painfully awkward and out of place. Every French restaurant we liked seemed to be a “locals only” kind of place and if you didn’t have a reservation you were simply out of luck. Some people fall in love with Paris, but for us it was more of a been there, done that, got the refrigerator magnet sort of thing. Now that we know what to expect, maybe our next visit will be better. Until then, we have a whole list of other places to see! Au revoir!
10 Travel Tips for Paris
- Always begin any encounter with a French person by saying “bonjour” or “bonsoir”
- Use a money belt and read up on ALL of the scams you will encounter in Paris before you go!
- Ignore anyone asking if you speak English or trying to get your attention.
- Wear a good pair of walking shoes and neutral colored clothing.
- Parisian love to wear black, gray… and more black and gray.
- Purchase the Paris Museum Pass
- If you plan to visit a lot of the major attractions in Paris, the Paris Museum Pass is your best option.
- Don’t buy a pass by some other name that gets mailed to you or includes transportation and other flashy bonuses. They are an overpriced collection of already existing passes that are easy to obtain in Paris.
- Avoid the crowds and long lines
- Go to the main attractions and museums during the week.
- Avoid the first Sunday of the month when most museums are free and extremely crowded.
- Go first thing in the morning or late at night on days with extended hours
- Use an alternative entrance to the Louvre rather than the glass pyramid
- The underground shopping mall (Carrousel de Louvre) is one of three alternative entrances
- Make a reservation in advance online for the Eiffel Tower or take the stairs to the first level.
- For those taking the stairs, be sure to get in line to buy tickets at the leg of the Eiffel Tower that has stairs with people walking up them.
- Use the metro system
- Buy a carnet of ten metro tickets at the metro station.
- It allows you to ride the metro trains, RER speed trains, and buses.
- Find a good map of the city
- Buy a map, download it to your phone, or find a tourist information center.
- Don’t stress about eating at the top rated restaurants in Paris.
- Plan on one or two nice meals and wing it for the rest of your trip.
- If you are staying at a hotel, have the front desk call to make a dinner reservation for you.
Where to Stay in Paris
- Latin District (5th)
- a popular area near Notre Dame for tourists and college students due to the bustling nightlife, souvenir shops, and restaurants.
- Germain (6th arr.)
- a popular location geared more towards the older crowd that isn’t looking for the college nightlife. There are plenty of cute cafes and shops tucked away in cobblestone alleys.
- Marais District (3rd & 4th arr.)
- Another popular location filled with art galleries, hip cafes, and gay nightlife
- Eiffel Tower (7th arr.)
- First time visitors might think that staying near the Eiffel Tower is ideal. While the Eiffel Tower is a beautiful sight, it certainly is not centrally located and the streets near the Eiffel Tower are quite dark and deserted.
Getting Around Paris
- The metro system is fairly easy to navigate if you can get a hold of a decent map
- A carnet (car-nay) of 10 tickets costs around 13 euro (1,30 euro per ticket)
- It includes the metro trains, RER (speed) trains, and buses
- Bato Bus (water taxi)
- An enclosed boat that loops around the Seine stopping at the major tourist sites
- A bit pricey at 16 euros for one day, stopping service at 7pm
- Very slow moving compared to the metro, not ideal when time is limited
- Offers a cheaper alternative to booking a river cruise
- The boat is enclosed making pictures difficult unless you go outside
- Taxi rates are set by the government.
- Make sure you are taking a legitimate taxi with a running meter.
- Calculate the estimated price of your destination before you go
- A taxi ride to central Paris from CDG airport runs around 50 euro and from Orly airport around 35 euro
10 French Words to Know
- Yes = Oui (wee)
- No = Non (nohn)
- Thank you = Merci (mair-see)
- Please = S’il vous plait (see-voo-play)
- Hello/Good morning or afternoon = Bonjour (bon-zhour)
- Hello/Good evening = Bonsoir (bohn-swahr)
- Goodbye = Au revoir (oh-ruh-vwahr)
- Excuse me = Excusez moi (ex-kewzay mwah)
- Do you speak English? = Parlez vous anglais (Pahrlay voo ahn-glay)
- Bill/check = L’addition (Lad-eesi-on)
10 French Foods to Try
- Crème Brulee
- French Onion Soup
- Pain au chocolat
10 Things To Do in Paris (next time)
- Musee D’Orsay
- Luxembourg Gardens
- The Catacombs
- Musee de l’Orangerie
- Pere-Lachaise Cemetery
- Dinner cruise on the Seine
- Create your own perfume
- Wine tasting
- Antique markets