Think vacation in Europe – Think Paris! It’s not hard to imagine Paris being the most preferred destination for anyone’s first trip to Europe. The first thing you will notice about this city of love or lights is the sheer amount of tourists it attracts from all over the world. The city plays host to a number of world class landmarks, all of them well connected by metro. You will end up walking a lot to cover places and expect long queues at almost all of the popular attractions.
You need to give atleast 4 days to give yourself a chance to fall in love with this city. The magnificence of Eiffel tower especially in the night, the sheer magnitude of Louvre museum, the lovely walk through the Champs-Élysées , the beautiful gardens of Luxembourg, fine restaurants at Montmarte, mouthwatering Macaroons and Croissants are some of the things to die for.
Our Itinerary in Paris
Day 1: Reach Paris in the evening. Take a taxi to the apartment.
Day 2: In the morning, visit Luxemborg palace and gardens, Arc De Triomphe, Champs-Élysées and Trocadero gardens (for a view of the Eiffel tower). Later in the evening, climb up to the top level of Eiffel to enjoy the beautiful sunset over the city. Climb down and go back to Trocadero gardens to see Eiffel sparkle in the night.
Day 3: In the day, visit Notre Dame cathedral, Saint Chapelle, Pont Neuf bridge and Pont Des Arts. After lunch, visit Louvre museum.
Day 4: Visit the Palace of Versailles in the first half of the day. Later in the evening, visit Sacra Couer Basilica and walk through the streets of Montmarte.
Our Experience in Paris
When someone speaks of Paris, Luxembourg palace or gardens doesn’t usually figure in the list of tops things. But like an underdog in a team filled with superstars, it manages to create a space for its own, if not outshine other points of interest in the city. The palace is a delight for the eye and the gardens are simply spectacular. It’s also located at the center of the city and free to enter. We visited the palace and gardens first thing in the morning on day 1 and spent half a day there before heading for lunch.
After lunch, we took a stroll on the famous Champs-Élysées. It is a wide street filled with high end boutique shops and fancy restaurants. Though we did not shop or dine there, if you don’t mind splurging money for a memorable experience, this would be something you would put your money on. The walk ends at Arc de Triomphe from where we headed towards Eiffel tower and Trocadero gardens.
Eiffel tower, city’s most famous landmark, is something you don’t want to rush and you should spend sufficient time enjoying it. It’s best visited in the evening during sunset and not surprisingly, also very crowded during that time. It pays to be prepared, to avoid long waits.
The tower is about the height of an 81 story building and is divided into 3 levels, accessible by lift and stairs. Tickets can be bought for both lift and stair access separately for different levels. The reach to level 3 from level 2 is usually restricted to only Lift. Restaurants are located on the lower two levels. A great trick to reduce waiting time for access to various levels of the tower is to buy the less popular entry tickets through stairs. Each level is about 300 steps climb apart and so, one can climb up a level in about 15-20 mins if you are reasonably fit. That is what we did.
Apart from the usual lighting of the tower itself after sunset, it gets specially lit for 5 mins at the top of every hour till midnight – the phenomenon called Eiffel Sparkle. It is quite a sight and not to be missed. Best views of the tower can be found from the Trocadero gardens right opposite to the Eiffel. You can also plan to take a picture of the tower with its reflection in the water in the gardens. We went to the gardens first to get the day shot of the tower, went up the tower to reach the top for sunset views of the city, and revisited the gardens again later in the night to visualize the sparkles. While at the top of the tower, we also enjoyed the beautiful views of the city before, during and after the sunset, while sipping on a glass of champagne which was a once in a lifetime romantic and memorable moment indeed. The gardens is also a good place to scout for cheap souvenirs from the city, but don’t forget to bargain hard.
We started day 2 with Notre Dame Cathedral which celebrates the French Gothic architecture. The highlight of the Cathedral is undoubtedly its grand and colorful rose windows. After spending a hour at the place, we headed to visit the Saint Chapelle which is walk-able from there.
The Sainte-Chapelle is another Gothic structure built to house many important medieval relics. The interiors of the chapel is decorated with large, beautiful and colorful stained glasses rising more than 15 feet tall and is quite a sight. Entry to the chapel is 10 euros but one can save money through various passes that include the entrance to this. More on that later in the blog.
After lunch, we made our way to the Louvre. On route, you will come across 2 bridges with interesting history to them – Pont Neuf bridge and Pont Des Arts. Pont Neuf bridge is the oldest bridge across river Seine and is also a great view point for good views of the city. Pont Des Arts is another bridge across the river which is also referred to as Love lock bridge. It is famous for its history of people putting locks on it to symbolize their love towards someone. Over time, the bridge started sagging due to the weight of the locks and hence, they were cleaned up and further locks were prohibited on the bridge. Even now, you will find traces of fresh locks on it.
Louvre museum is one of the iconic structures in Paris, believed to be the largest museum in the world with rich collection of fine arts from all ages. It is closed on Tuesdays and so, make sure to plan your visit to the museum accordingly. It is a multi storied, multi building complex with fine arts hosted in different sections according to their type. If you are a fan of the them, you may need more than a day to cover everything. But for most others like us who are uninitiated, covering the most famous ones will suffice and will take about 4 hours. Some of the masterpieces which you should not miss are – Monalisa, Winged Victory of Samothrace, Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss, Venus de Milo, Coronation of Napoleon, Raft of the Medusa.
The Monalisa in particular can get pretty crowded; look for tips on how to knock it off from the list early, in the later part of the blog. The pyramid at the center of the museum complex is also a piece of art in itself and not to be missed. The museum itself has many entrances with crowd to entrance varying depending on which one you chose. It also pays to have the ticket purchased in advance. More tips on reducing the wait time to entry in the later section.
Day 3 was going to be another long day which started with a visit to Palace of Versailles, which was once a royal residence of France. Its about 20 km from the city center and takes an hour to reach the place by metro. It is closed on Mondays and public holidays, so make sure to plan your visit appropriately. The queue to enter was long and the rain wasn’t helping our cause. After spending more than an hour in the queue, we finally made our way in. The royal rooms, including the famous Hall of Mirrors are bright, colorful and well preserved. Gardens are even more majestic and various fountains in it only elevates its beauty further. There is also a Michelin star restaurant called Ore in the palace if you want to splurge your money for some memorable experience. We also finished our lunch at one of the restaurants in the gardens and made our way to Montmarte.
Montmarte is a hill close to Paris and feels very different from Paris. Sacra Couer Basilica sits on the crest of the hill and is very beautiful indeed. After quickly finishing off the visit to the Bascilica, we began to explore the famous streets of Montmarte by walk. The streets are filled with restaurants with different cuisines which you can explore. We also tried out the famous Macarons and Crepes. We ended the day with a dinner in one of the fancy Indian restaurants before leaving for our hotel.
The 3 days we spent in Paris were filled with memorable experiences and some non-memorable as well (the long queues to entrances everywhere). 3 days felt just about right to cover the most important places of interest in Paris.
How to get around Paris
The easiest and the recommended way to get around the city is by using the metro. The city has an extensive network of metro lines connecting all important tourist locations. A single journey ticket on Paris metro costs 1.8 Euros. Alternatively, you could buy a bunch of 10 tickets for 14.1 Euros. There is also the metro pass (weekly only) but little pricey. We took the bunch most times and shared tickets between us. Metro unfortunately can also get very crowded during peak times, so make sure to keep your belongings safe during the journey. Carrying a sizable luggage on the metro is also not advisable for the same reason.
Taxi can be a good alternative if you have 4 people or more. We took a taxi from Airport to our apartment in the city center for 65 Euros. Train would have costed us 9 Euros per person but luggage was always going to be difficult to manage. Uber works just fine as well, we used that to reach to the train station from our apartment, will cost you much lesser than the normal taxis. Whether you take a taxi or metro, you will end up walking a lot on the streets of Paris.
Where to stay
The city of Paris is divided into twenty arrondissements/districts. It would be advisable to stay anywhere between 1 to 10 for easier access to most places of interest in the city. If you are in a city for 1 or 2 nights, hotel maybe a better choice. But if you are visiting for a longer time, renting an apartment makes more sense – it will be lighter on the pocket and you can also have access to a kitchen. When you are searching for a place to stay, make sure to account for things like distance to metro station, which floor or elevator available etc. Alternatively, you could also choose to stay in Montmarte which is a nice neighborhood, but quite far from city center or its attractions.
We stayed at this place, which was very close to the Goncourt metro station and we recommend it for everyone.
What to eat/drink
French bakeries are famous and are open quite early in the morning. We had a good bakery near our apartment which served multiple delicacies like Croissants. On most times, it served as our top choice for breakfast. The city is also famous for its cafes which you will find almost in every neighborhood, serving some light food at reasonable prices. Make sure to try some of them out.
Paris wouldn’t be a city of romance without its fine dining. It offers a fair share of fine dining options serving some exquisite french wine from Michelin star restaurants to some well rated local dining options. Make sure to give it a try while you are in Paris.
Where/what to shop
Paris is known for its high street fashion and Champs-Élysées is filled with such high end luxury clothing stores. If you are looking to shop for something cheap like a souvenir, your best bet would be around the famous attractions like Eiffel.
Tips and tricks
a. Saving money
1. Museum pass – We took the 2 day museum pass for 48 Euros from our first Museum entry (at St. Chapelle). This will save you some time at more crowded attractions like Louvre.
b. How to avoid lines at places we went
- Expect long queues at Eiffel for elevator. If you want to save some time (and money), buy tickets to the 2nd level for the stairs. It is around 750 steps climb. From there, you can buy tickets for elevator to reach the top.
- Enter Louvre from the side entrance (Porte Des Lions) to avoid queues and reach the Mona Lisa soon. From there, see whatever interests you and exit at the Pyramid.
c. Dressing – Dress well, flip-flops are frowned upon, don’t be too casual, wear comfortable shoes since you will be walking around quite a bit.
d. Apps to download –
Paris Metro Map and Planner – Search for stations, routes etc., in Paris.
City Maps 2Go – Provides offline maps for cities also showing popular tourist attractions etc.
Rick Steves Audio Europe – Free audio guides for popular attractions in Europe.
e. Tourist attractions are closed on some days, so plan accordingly
– Louvre is closed on Tuesday. Other museums and Palace of Versailles are closed on Mondays. Expect more queues on Monday because of this at Louvre and on Tuesday at Palace of Versailles.