Ah, Paris, the city of love and romance (and more importantly, baguettes). Paris is truly beautiful and full of history and culture. We thoroughly enjoyed experiencing Parisian life for a week and can’t wait to go back.
Through a little research, I found that it was most cost-effective for us to bundle our vacation into a package that included flights and hotels. The site I used for our Ireland trip no longer offered services without a travel agent, so I found a website called europeandestinations.com. I admit, the website looks a little sketchy, but it worked out great. They offered a multitude of options for flights and hotels along with ratings and reviews to help the decision-making process. We purchased travel insurance when we booked since it was reasonably priced.
A family friend offered great advice and pointed us in the direction of the area to stay in Paris. She also recommended purchasing the travel books written by Rick Steves. He is a pretty famous travel writer; we saw several people on our trip carrying his books. He has great information about every aspect of your vacation and includes maps and itinerary ideas. I would recommend picking up his Paris book and felt like it was helpful for us.
Through the information gleaned from Rick Steves, we purchased Paris Museum Passes at the airport when we arrived. Don’t bother purchasing ahead of time online. It’s costly to ship to the States and easy to find in Paris. Three options are offered: two days for €48, four days for €62, and six days for €74. Here is a list of attractions covered by the pass. It is your ticket for entry to most of the major tourist sights and allows you to skip the ticket-buying line and go straight to security, saving a lot of time. The time frame for the pass begins with the first use. The Eiffel Tower is not included in the Paris Museum Pass, and I recommend purchasing your tickets ahead of time online. I purchased our tickets about a week in advance, and the time slots were already limited. If you have a specific preference for time of day, buy as far in advance as possible.
We did not rent a car in Paris and are so thankful we did not attempt driving. The drivers in Paris are intense! I think most Parisians would agree since it seemed like a majority of the population used bicycles and scooters. We used Uber to cover long distances and walked for everything else. We never had to wait for a ride more than ten minutes, and it was always reasonably priced. Our average ride cost about €10.
The French have mastered bread and pastries, and you can’t convince me otherwise. Stop at every boulangerie et pâtisserie and try a little something; you won’t regret it. You won’t get very far before crossing paths with a Parisian munching on a baguette at any time of day. They do this for good reason: they are delicious. Our favorite bakery, Douceurs et Traditions, was less than five minutes from our hotel, and we started each day with éclairs, crêpes, and ham and Swiss sandwiches.
An adorable crêperie called À Louest was right around the corner from our hotel on Rue Surcouf. The atmosphere was inviting and intimate, and of course, the crêpes were great.
There are plenty of cafés to choose from for lunch or dinner. Rick Steves offers great suggestions based on what area of the city you’re in. One important note: most of the cafés we encountered did not serve dinner menu items before 7pm.
A friend recommended we stay in the Rue Cler area of Paris. Rue Cler street is full of cafés and shops, even fresh produce at market stalls. We stayed nearby at Hôtel Le Pavillon on Rue Saint-Dominique and were pleased with the quality of the room and the hotel’s location. It was within walking distance of the Eiffel Tower as well. The room had air conditioning, which not all accommodations offer. The room was small but suited our needs. The area around the hotel was quaint and enjoyable to explore. We had breakfast at the hotel the first morning and weren’t impressed. It was expensive and below average. We wised up the rest of the week and started our day with Douceurs et Traditions.
Arc de Triomphe: The Arc was the perfect beginning to our Paris sightseeing adventures. It was stunning and smack dab in the center of the craziest roundabout I have ever witnessed. One of the most famous shopping streets in Paris, Avenue des Champs-Élysées, stretches between Arc de Triomphe and Place de la Concorde.
We started our day at Arc de Triomphe around 9:15am. We walked around underneath the giant arch and admired the architecture. The entry line began to form around 9:45am for access to the terrace. To reach the terrace, which I highly recommend, you must climb 284 narrow, cramped, winding stairs. But it is totally worth it, I promise. The view from the top is one of the best in Paris. Arc de Triomphe is covered by the museum pass.
Avenue des Champs-Élysées: We strolled down Avenue des Champs-Élysées after visiting Arc de Triomphe and admired all of the fancy expensive stores. We even walked into Louis Vuitton just to read a few price tags! There are plenty of cafés for dining, but we chose to have lunch at Petit Palais, which was not far off Champs. Petit Palais was a really cool gem that was interesting, beautiful, not time-consuming, and free! It’s a great place for a meal with a café and restaurant located by the outdoor garden.
Continuing down Champs-Élysées will take you to Place de la Concorde and the Luxor Obelisk. The obelisk originated from the Luxor Temple in Egypt, and apparently France traded a broken clock for it, which is still broken to this day in a clocktower in Egypt. Just past Place de la Concorde is…
Musée de l’Orangerie: One of many museums in Paris and likely a must-see for those interested in painters such as Monet, Picasso, Renoir, and many others. We were not among those people, so we made a quick stroll through the museum. At l’Orangerie you can see Monet’s famous Water Lilies. Entry is covered by the museum pass.
Sainte-Chapelle: Located in the heart of Ile-de-la-Cité, this beautifully decorated chapel was used by the king and his close friends and family. The upper room is surrounded by stained glass depicting 1,113 scenes of the story of mankind from creation to Christ’s resurrection. The room was quite a marvel to take in, so take some time studying the stained glass stories. Sainte-Chapelle is covered by the museum pass and is not a lengthy stop, so I would definitely recommend it.
Conciergerie: Located next door to Sainte-Chapelle, the Conciergerie was a pretty quick stop for us, and I wouldn’t deem it essential. The Conciergerie started as a royal residence in the 6th century, and in the late 14th century part of the palace was converted into prison cells. Its most famous prisoner during the French Revolution was Marie Antoinette. It is also covered by the museum pass.
The area around Sainte-Chapelle and Conciergerie was fun to explore, so we spent the afternoon walking around and shopping. We walked past Notre-Dame and were able to appreciate the beauty of the outside of the cathedral from across the street. The entire property was fenced in and guarded.
Luxembourg Gardens: A huge beautiful garden right in the city…it was a great area to sit and relax and enjoy the scenery. There was a cute café in the park for lunch. It was a perfect reprieve from the bustle of the city to sit in the shade and enjoy a book.
Evening Cruise on the Seine: Highly recommended! We boarded a sightseeing boat near the base of the Eiffel Tower around 8:30pm and spent an hour cruising the Seine River and enjoying the sunset. There are several companies that offer sightseeing cruises. The company we used was called Vedettes de Paris. They offer a few different options: a one hour sightseeing cruise, a thirty minute one way cruise, and options for food and drink. We purchased tickets ahead of time, which were relatively cheap, and we had a good experience. Seeing the Eiffel Tower and the city at night from the river was just beautiful.
Louvre: Wow, a truly iconic piece of French culture and the largest collection of history I have ever seen. The sheer size of the museum is overwhelming, so I recommend doing some research beforehand to have an itinerary of the art pieces you most want to see. It’s impossible to see everything in one visit, so pick out your favorites! The Louvre is the home for Mona Lisa, and she sure draws a crowd. I’d recommend taking some time to see The Winged Victory of Samothrace (so cool) as well. Audio guides are offered for a small fee of €5 and are easy to use and include a map. Entry to the Louvre is covered by the museum pass, however, you need to book a time slot reservation online for a smooth entry process. Also of note: the Louvre is closed on Mondays.
Eiffel Tower: Another iconic piece of French culture! The landscape of Paris would be incomplete without the Eiffel Tower. As I mentioned before, I recommend purchasing tickets online ahead of time. When you book online, you will choose your entry time as well as route of ascension (stairs or lift) and destination. The lift is the only option to reach the top from the second floor. If you want to take the stairs to the 2nd floor, prepare yourself for 674 steps. You can even enjoy a pricey meal at restaurants located on the first and second floors, again reservations are a must. The Eiffel Tower has a delightful light show every hour on the hour that lasts for five minutes. We ascended to the 2nd floor at 9pm via the lift, and the view did not disappoint. It was breathtaking (and windy!). We then took the stairs down to the 1st floor to enjoy a different perspective. We arrived at the base around 8pm to allow time for security.
Sacré-Cœur Basilica: We arrived here around 7:30pm to enjoy the view at sunset. However, I didn’t plan as well as I should have! We intended to climb to the top of the dome to see the city, but we arrived too late. Ticket sales for the climb ended around 7:45pm. The Basilica is open from 6am to 10:30pm and is free to enter. Access to the dome is outside the Basilica on the left. There are 300 steps to climb to the top of the dome and no lift. The dome climb is open from 8:30am to 8pm.
That’s a wrap on our time in Paris! We definitely plan to go back and enjoy many more baguettes and pastries. As always, feel free to contact me if you have questions about our trip. Stay tuned for my post about the second half of our vacation – Rome!