Paris is one of the world’s most acclaimed cities, with very good reason. Boasting over 100 museums, more than 30 parks and gardens, 20 Arrondissements, two contrasting banks and one legendary river, the City of Light certainly has no shortage of sights to see. In fact, even for a seasoned traveler, sightseeing in Paris can be a daunting endeavor. But there’s no need to stress; it’s a vacation, not a marathon. Besides, most Parisians haven’t even seen all the sights. There’s no need (and no way!) to fit them all in on one trip. See what you can, and the good news is, Paris will still be there when you can come back to see more.
Stop into the closest brasserie for le petit-déjeuner complet, the French equivalent to a hearty breakfast. You won’t see eggs, bacon or pancakes on your plate, but for 10-12 € you’ll get a slice of baguette with butter, one croissant with a little jam on the side, orange juice and coffee: your choice of café crème (latte) or a rich, smoky espresso. Charged from the espresso, and filled with flaky, French bread, you’re ready to set off for one of the world’s most famous museums, Musée du Louvre.
As you might imagine, you’re not the only person in Paris that would like to tour the museum. You may have to wait to get inside, but if you show up before the Louvre opens at 9 a.m., chances are your wait won’t be long. And if you do find yourself in a line, take the time to appreciate the grand palace around you, as well as the stark contrast between the historic architecture and the modern glass pyramids.
Remember that the Louvre houses over 30,000 works of art, including the illustrious Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo. Your best bet is to do your research before you get to Paris. Find out what’s there, and decide what’s important to you. Then, take a few hours to appreciate the art you came to see, and leave the rest for visits in years to come.
Note: Musée du Louvre is closed on Tuesdays. Opening hours are Monday, Thursday, Saturday, Sunday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Wednesday, Friday from 9 a.m. to 9:45 p.m.
When you feel it’s time to move on, exit the Palace and stroll through Jardin des Tuileries. You’ll see quite a few tourists and peddlers along the way, but the quieter setting among trees and fountains makes for a nice walk en route to Place de la Concorde and then Avenue des Champs-Élysées. At this point you may be hungry, but you might want to skip the brasseries in the area, as you’ll have to pay quite a bit, simply based upon the location. Instead, opt for a crepe and take it to go as you make your way to your next stop, l’Arc de Triomphe.
Once you’re on Champs-Élysées you can’t miss the giant monument at the end of the grand boulevard. Head in its direction and perhaps peek into a designer shop or two on your way. Upon arrival, peer over the partition at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and maybe get a picture of Europe’s most famous eternal flame before heading up to the top of l’Arc for a great daytime view of Paris. You can purchase tickets ahead of time, if you wish, but the wait to climb the monument’s stairs shouldn’t hold you up for too long. At the top, take in the air, the scenery, the traffic below and the magnificent architecture of Paris. Look northeast at Montmartre for an exciting glimpse of la Basilique du Sacré Coeur. You’ll get an even closer look tomorrow!
Note: l’Arc is open Monday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Depending on the season, you may have a couple more hours of daylight or twilight could already be upon the city. If the sun is setting, then it’s the perfect time to head toward the Eiffel Tower. It’s about a 30 minute walk from L’arc de Triomphe, but the metro will get you there even quicker.
Not only does the landmark boast an outstanding view, the history of the Eiffel Tower is also very interesting. Do a little research before you get there to augment your appreciation. Once again, you might find a line, and waits for the Eiffel Tower can be tedious. If your legs are up to it, cut your wait time in half, climb to the second level by stairway and then take an elevator to the top, or simply wait for a lift to get you there. As you stand above the city, take your time, get some photos, breathe it all in and make the most of the experience. Skip the outrageously priced champagne, though. You’ve had much better and you’ll want to save your palate for wine at dinner. Finally, when you’re satisfied that you’ve seen all you can see, return to the ground floor.
Note: The Eiffel Tower elevators are open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 11:45 p.m. and stairs are open from 9:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. or midnight, depending on the season.
With the world’s greatest art collection, and two outstanding views under your belt, you’re likely to be a bit tired and almost certainly famished. For an authentic French dining experience head to le Dix-Vins on Rue Falguière. It’s another 25 to 30 minute walk, so you may want to treat yourself to a cab or hop back on the Metro. Keep in mind that it is a popular restaurant. You can reserve ahead or wait for a while at the bar, sampling one or two of its fantastic wines. Be sure to brush up on your French before stopping in, as this is not a tourists’ restaurant. You won’t get much help in English, but if you give your French a shot, even if it’s poor, you’ll get great service.
Start your day with a more relaxed pace at Jardin du Luxembourg. You may have spotted Luxembourg Palace and its gardens yesterday evening atop the Eiffel Tower. Relax, unwind and take in lovely flowers as well as some great people-watching. You’re sure to see tourists here, too, but you’re likely to find more Parisians gracing its grounds.
As the haze of the morning begins to clear, get ready for more great architecture and a reverent air on Île de la Cité, a natural island in the middle of the Seine. The site in question is, of course, Cathédrale Notre-Dame-de-Paris. Built in the 12th Century, the Roman Catholic Cathedral is one of the most iconic examples of Gothic Architecture. On its exterior you’ll note its famous gargoyles and its two “flying buttresses” and indoors, Notre Dame’s acoustics project bells and organs in a such a unique way that the tones will stay with you long after you’ve left.
Note: Notre Dame is opened daily from 8 a.m. to 6:45 p.m.
Hopefully, your visit to the famous cathedral has put you in an appreciative or even pensive state of mind as our next stop is Musee d’Orsay. While the Louvre is Paris’ home for historical art, Musee D’Orsay is its modern counterpart with exhibits that feature the impressionist masters, Manet, Degas, Monet, Renoir, Cezanne and van Gogh. Located in a former train station on the Right Bank of the Seine, Musee d’Orsay’s exterior also warrants a bit of exploration before you step inside.
Note: Musee d’Orsay is open 9.30 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, with a late night on Monday.
As the day winds down, hop on the Metro and make your way to Montmartre to explore another famous landmark, La Basilique du Sacré Coeur. Perched atop the highest point within the city, le butte Montmartre provides stunning views of the city below. Marvel at the contrast between the gothic style of Notre Dame and the Romano-byzantine basilica with its three white domes. Explore its interior to take in its grand mosaic and its intricate sculpture work. When you exit the structure, take some time to sit on the hill and look down at the city you’ve explored over the past two days. And finally, toast your trip at one of the less touristy restaurants in Montmartre, Chez Toinette on Rue Germain Pilon.
Note: Sacré Coeur is open Monday through Sunday from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. Be there by 5 p.m. if you’d like to climb to the dome.
As you travel, remember to have fun and enjoy exploring Paris. There are plenty of attractions to keep you busy while you’re there, and plenty more to keep you coming back. Just try to take in the sights that you find interesting, and give yourself enough time to really appreciate what you came to see.
Spend two days in Paris on an extension before or after VBT’s French Vacations.