La Ville-Lumière: The City of Light
Returning to Paris, probably the 6th time I come in my life, but still great as usual. There is a bunch of cities I never mind returning, most of which I do yearly as is Brussels, Rome, Barcelona, Madrid of course as it is my home town, and Paris for sure. This time, with 2 more friends, a great group the four of us full of joy and laughs. Therefore, and although I did have a great guide for Paris already created in my blog, I will be just making a brief make over and update here and there to make it even better. Rewriting parts, updating others, but still retaining the format for a perfect three day visit under the what to see and do section since that is the ideal time you should plan when visiting Paris for the first time. Then with the time, at future trips you might do, enjoy doing something different. Paris is one of those cities where on every visit you will end up discovering a new corner.
It does not matter the times I have been; my impressions are still the same. On one side I really love the city, because of its great urbanism, architecture, beauty, elegance and somewhat opulence; but in the other hand, it does not feel too secure, the transports are not efficient (specially buses) and the inaccessibility of the metro system where a escalator or lift seems to be a piece on engineering not invented yet. Air conditioning? Who needs that! Whoever thinks that London’s tube in summer is hot and sweaty, here in Paris you should think twice. And while it is true that new trains are phasing out the older ones, it will take several years for a proper upgrade. Anyway, the point is there. Every city has good and not so good sides. This is what makes the difference from one place to another, country to country.
What is unique in the city is its massive urban planification. The work of Georges-Eugène Haussmann between the years 1853 and 1870 where most of the medieval city was torn-down to make way for straight wide avenues, parks and large squares interconnected by streets following a perfect pattern; creation of a new sewage system and embellishment of the city with monuments and public fountains. One of his key elements is the Haussmannian apartment block, or Parisian apartment block, where he treated the buildings not as a single element, but as an homogeneous whole. Equal heights and proportions, similar to each other if not symmetrical. This is what makes Paris one of the most elegant and perfect cities in the world, however, can result “boring”. Everywhere you go and look, it’s the same, in a same palette of colours; monotony only broken by the landmark constructions such as the Opera Garnier, or Place de la Concorde, the Arch de Triumph, Place de la Bastille, Place Vendome and so on.
Finding you way around the city is very easy. The system of avenues is perfect and very simple to follow. In fact walking is the best option, so you can admire the elegant architecture everywhere. As you will see later in the next section on what to see and do, I have split it into a three-day tour in different areas, so you can follow a good plan without loosing too much time jumping from one to another when you can do it once after another following a route.
There is of course something you can never miss if you come to the city for the first time. The mandatory visit to the top of the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre museum. All other sights will be on your way and will not be as much time consuming as these two, where the queues can get seriously long specially in high season. Queuing over 3 hours to get your ticket for the Eiffel Tower is very normal, so imagine that under the sun and over 30 degrees! Be prepared, that’s all.
Paris is overall an expensive city, therefore calculate your budget accordingly. Accommodation is the worst part, but I will cover it on the last section of this guide. In the other hand, food, you can really have great places at great prices. There is a chain of restaurants from Belgium called Leon de Bruxelles, where you can get the menu of a kilo of mussels plus a starter at a great price. It also includes unlimited fries, but I guarantee you will not be able to finish the second bowl of chips if you go for it. This place is highly recommended and not to be missed for the mussel lovers (there are of course other options for anyone’s likes). Check a map as there are some, and perhaps by the area you are there is one not too far. Also a great tip that saved us hassle and lots of money was the application Foursquare. Since you can search in the area nearby wherever you are, you can see the tips and in many cases, the menu with their prices. We found a very nice Japanese which I can also strongly recommend. Great and cheap, called Higuma, on Rue Saint-Honoré right behind Rue de Rivoli and around the corner of Avenue de l’Opera.
Around both the Latin Quarter and the Jewish Quarter you will find hundreds of restaurants of any kind and any budget, so it is easy to spot for the perfect choice you might desire. In the Jewish Quarter you have some of the best falafel I’ve ever had for very little money.
For more information and history about the city check Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. France’s currency is the Euro. Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in Paris
The best way to plan your visit is to split your days in areas you want to go, and move one after another following the route. From my personal experience described below, you can compare on a map as they do follow almost the same route as the tourist buses do, with the difference that you can stop wherever you like and go off track to nearby streets, something the tourist buses cannot do. A 3 day visit will cover most of the sights you will need to visit, definitely the most important and world famous; but note that Paris has sights to offer like no other city. It is the most visited city in the world, and if I was going to create a guide as how I do on any other city listing majority of the sights, buildings or monuments then it would be impossible to follow for its huge length.
-Arc de Triomphe Metro Charles de Gaulle-Etoile (Lines 1, 2, 6). Inaugurated in 1836 it honours those who fought and died for France in the French Revolutionary and the Napoleonic Wars.
-Champs Elysees It’s one of the most prestigious streets in Paris, passing through Arc de Triomphe roundabout, so you get so see both sides, one overlooking to La Defense and the other towards Concorde Square and Arc du Carroussel.
-Trocadero You can either walk from Arc de Triomphe on Avenue Kleber or take the metro, line 6 for three stations. Here you will get marvelous views of the Eiffel Tower and Trocadero Gardens.
-Eiffel Tower After Trocadero you will cross the Pont d’Lena, where you can enjoy more great views of the Eiffel Tower and the Seine River. For today, I only list it here as seeing it from outside, for going up I list it on a different day/route, (unless you see the weather forecast will change for the next days, then rearrange around if needed).
-Champ de Mars Those are the gardens behind the Eiffel Tower, leading to the Monument to the Peace at the very end.
-Ecole Militaire Located right at the end of Champ de Mars Gardens. Walk around and take one of the side streets either left of right, so you will walk towards the back side of these buildings.
-Invalides From the back of Ecole Militaire, you are in Avenue de Lowendal. Walk towards Invalides. Here you will find a big museum and also the Tomb of Napoleon in the big chapel located inside after passing three inner courtyards. Note that there is no admission fee to walk inside the courtyards, but you need to buy a ticket to get inside the chapel and Tomb of Napoleon.
-Explanade des Invalides-Pont Alexandre III Return back again through the inner courtyards of Invalides towards the main entrance, pass the nice gardens at the front of the building, and head towards the Pont Alexandre III.
-Pont Alexandre III One of the most beautiful and iconic bridge over the Seine River. Completed in 1900 in beaux-arts style with art-nouveu lamps.
-Grand Palais and Petit Palais Once you cross the bridge you are in Avenue Winston Churchill. At both sides are the Grand and Petit Palais. Both were constructed for the Paris Expo World’s Fair of 1900, and retain until today their original use as exhibition halls.
-Champs Elysees You should be back now in this avenue. If you started your this tour around 10.00am, by the time you reach this point should be lunchtime, therefore you have a Leon de Bruxelles restaurant very near should you like to have mussels for example. Otherwise many other restaurants or the fast food chains are nearby.
-Place de la Concorde-Obelisque Short walk on Champs Elysees and you will be in Place de la Concorde. If you continue straight you will enter the Tuileries Gardens and the Louvre, (which I keep for tomorrow’s walk). The ancient Egyptian obelisk is a gift from Egypt.
-Rue Royale Perpendicular to Conconde, you cannot miss this beautiful street.
-Church of Marie Magdalene Just at the end of Rue Royale, noted for its big columns.
-Place Vendome From Marie Magdalene Church, take Rue de Seze (at the back of the church) and then on to Rue des Capucines. You will see this marvellous square filled with luxury jewel brands.
-Rue de la Paix-Opera From Place Vendome, leave the square the same way you came in and continue on Rue de la Paix until you reach the Opera Square. From the middle you can admire the masterpiece that is the Haussmannian urban plan in this part of the city with the symmetrical avenues and streets and almost symmetrical buildings at both sides.
-Opera Garnier Built from 1861 to 1875, its name came from its glorious architect Charles Garnier. It is together with the Opera of Vienna, the most famous opera house in the world.
-Galeries Lafayette Right behind the Opera Garnier, if you walk by the opera’s side street Place Jacques Rouché you will arrive right to the most famous corner of the shopping paradise. Around this area on every street you will find plenty of shopping, from up-scale to normal high-street brands.
-Sacre Coeur-Montmartre From Opera, take metro line 3 up to Saint Lazare and then change for line 12 to Pigalle station. Walk a bit on Boulevard de Rochechouart then you will see the signs for Montmartre. You can go up to Sacre Coeur either by funicular or by stairs. The most typical is, of course, is by the scenic zig-zagging stairs. Right at the top you will get some of the finest and most emblematic (romantic if you like) views of Paris down below. Expect hordes of tourists and locals with the same idea though, just get a spot and enjoy the view for a while, it is very worth it.
-Montmartre Apart from visiting the Sacre Coeur, the district is much more than this, one of the most iconic of Paris. Walk the little streets behind the Basilica of Sacre Coeur, then make your down down towards the Boulevard de Clichy / Boulevard de Rochechouart.
-Boulevard de Clichy / Boulevard de Rochechouart Is the red district of Paris, with many cabarets. Some of which truly historic like nowhere else in the world.
-Moulin Rouge Right by the Blanche metro station. A must do in Paris like visiting the Eiffel Tower. Of course no need to get inside, bearing you book months in advance and you are willing to spend by the hundreds of Euros for a night.
-La Defense Metro La Défense on line 1. This is the business district where all the skyscrapers and new architecture can be seen. The world renown Grande Arche de la Defense is not to be missed.
-Arc du Carrousel From La Defense take the metro up to Tuileries station. Here you will see the Arc du Carrousel and the Tuileries Gardens heading to Louvre.
-Louvre This will take some hours. Be prepared because it is huge. As a good point, tickets allow you to leave and re-enter whenever you like through the day, so you can have your time for lunch or resting a bit your eyes and head. There is an underground shopping centre accessible from the glass pyramid where you get to the galleries, some restaurants (expensive though) and a very convenient and super busy McDonald’s too.
-Quai de la Megisserie and Quai de Gervres After the Louvre, walk through Rue de Rivoli then turn right on to Rue du Pont Neuf. Follow the riverside walk where you will get great views of Ille de la Cite and the many bridges.
–Hotel de Ville (City Hall) You will see on your left hand side. Also nearby is the Tour Saint Jacques with its nice garden. You can go up this tower for nice views.
-Centre Pompidou Near the City Hall if you head up Rue du Renard. This is the Modern Art Museum, one of the most important in the world. Noteworthy is its architecture, a landmark created by world architect trio Renzo Piano, Richard Rogers and Gianfranco Franchini.
-Pont D’arcole-Ile de la Cite Coming back to the City Hall, cross this bridge and you will be in Ille de la Cite. Soon after, you will see the sight number one in this area.
-Notre Dame Cathedral Expect a long queue, but don’t worry, it moves very quick. Free admission. Also walk around it, don’t just see the front façade.
-Cite metro station entrance By architect Hector Guimard, is one of the original entrances you can still find across the city, entirely in Art Nouveau style. Have a walk around this little island, the views of the other islands, banks of the Seine River and the bridges are the best you will get.
-Ille Saint Louis Just across the bridge behind Notre Dame you will enter the second island of the Seine. The riverside walk is really nice and offers fantastic views.
-Eiffel Tower Metro Bir-Hakeim on line 6. The best you can ever do is booking your tickets online. But unfortunately, those go very quick, and even in my case, when I tried to book them 6 weeks in advance, they were sold out. So the only choice left is to stick to the queue, which can be seriously long, and if in summer or a hot day, can be very tiring and annoying. On one occasion I queued for over 4 hours. On this time it was little over one hour, and only because the weather was not the best, cloudy and even rainy. Get a ticket to the top. There is no point to compare the views from the 1st and 2nd levels to that from the very top. This means, in any case, you will need to queue again on the 2nd level for the lift to the top (but this is a quick queue). And something you must take in consideration, is the way down. Queues, again, can be long for those lifts. Overall, this will take at least half of your day.
-Latin Quarter All the streets in the area across Ille de la Cite is the Latin Quarter. Full of little cafes, shops and nightlife. Very picturesque. You can get here with the metro line 4 to Cite or Saint-Michel stations.
-Pantheon If coming from Ille de la Cite, take the Petit Pont and then on to Rue Saint Jacques. Or if you are in the Latin Quarter, then you are in the area. Once you reach the intersection with Rue Soufflot you will see it straight away.
-Saint Etienne du Mont Nice church behind the Pantheon on the left hand side.
-Jewish Quarter To complete the circle for today, make your way back and through Ille Saint Louis to the other side. This is the Jewish Quarter. Here you can get great food. Notice the long queues that can form at some places for falafel.
-Place des Vosges To end the day, and just few meters more north from the Jewish Quarter, is what perhaps is the most beautiful square in Paris.
If more days/time (day four)
-Versailles Palace The king of all the palaces, an UNESCO World Heritage Site. You will need to get a train from central Paris to get there (with hordes of tourists with the same idea). The palace and gardens are simply too huge, and will take you minimum, half a day to go, see and return to Paris. So if you leave early in the morning, you will probably be back in Paris around 17.00pm as you will likely be having lunch in Versailles before leaving.
Paris is well served by two big international airports where you can fly pretty much to everywhere in the world. If you are landing in Orly, south of the city, you have several options to reach downtown. The cheapest, bus 183 for 2 Euros, taking around 1 hour to reach Porte de Choisy in Zone 1, between metro stations Port d’Italie and Port d’Ivry on line 7, which you can take to continue your journey to your final destination. The express service OrlyBus depart every 10 minutes towards Denfert-Rocherea metro station for 7.70 Euros, taking 30 minutes time. The tram line 7 connects the airport with the terminus of metro line 7 at Villejuif-Louis Aragon, being one of the most cost-efficient ways combining the tram and the metro. As last, the most expensive way (yet not the fastest!) is the RER commuter trains. The Line B that comes from downtown Paris has it’s splitting branch at Antony station.
If Charles de Gaulle is your airport, northeast outside Paris, then the commuter rail line RER B (the same that connects via a branch Orly Airport) is the fastest option without argument. You can get this line through central Paris, or via metro to one of the RER B stations. It costs 10 Euros per way. Other alternatives are buses, but they cost even more than the train and take longer, and if you happen to be in a traffic jam then expect the worst.
Arriving to Paris overland from neighbouring European countries is also very common. Night train-hotels from Spain connect with Madrid and Barcelona, and very frequent high-speed trains all over France, to Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Germany. The same applies to international buses where you can get as far as Moscow, and any other country in Europe, yet expect the lengthily journey of course.
Across the La Mancha Canal you are next door to London. A train ride centre to centre is only 2 hours 15 minutes! Making this without any doubt faster than flying and the most convenient link of the 2 largest cities in Europe very frequently.
Within the city, the best way to save money in journeys is by buying a bloc of 10 tickets. Those are valid on buses, trams, RER and metro, but on RER only in central Paris and not valid on the train from/to the airports. As the word says, they will give you 10 single tickets (instead of one with 10 journeys on it as logically should be). There are 14 metro lines making the network the best way to move around anywhere in Paris.
Buses are not as efficient as other big cities, but you can still benefit from the many routes running through Champs Elysees, or the one from the Eiffel Tower towards the Louvre and beyond. It is a much better way to see the city than taking the metro, but from experience I’ve been stranded many times for too long due to heavy traffic.
Hotels in Paris are expensive, and does not matter if this is for a 1* or not even that. If you are on normal budget, you will need to consider something more far away from the central arrondisments. And even so, you will be spending definitely more than any other European city. The choice nevertheless is endless for any kind. From the super top luxurious to more modest and everything in between. After all, it is all depending to the budget you will be looking, yet finding a good deal can be hard even at low season.
What we do, especially from this year, is trying to get a flight+hotel deal. This can come way cheaper than booking separately, and to our surprise (and benefit), British Airways does great packages on flight+hotels! Check their website and compare around, the chances you can get something nice with them are high, plus benefiting from getting the extra Avios air-miles and Tier points, highly valuable for any OneWorld Alliance frequent flyer as we are.
We found a very last minute deal with British Airways flight+hotel at the Hotel d’Espagne, meters away from Grands Boulevards metro station in a secluded little and quiet street just behind the main Boulevard Poissonnière. The location, one of the best we’ve ever been in Paris, walking distance to Opera Garnier, Louvre and La Concorde Square, and right in the middle of a great transport network wherever you need to go. The hotel, although small and modest, was really nice, comfortable, great staff and well taken care. The breakfast however, was limited in choice, just a continental with only pastries, breads and cereals, no ham nor cheese, but for a little extra fee, they do nice fresh scrambled eggs with delicious cheese! Worth the money.
From our past visits, I can recommend a further two hotels. In July 2015 we stayed at the Bon Hotel (formerly the Hôtel du Château), on 13 Rue du Chateau. Metro Pont de Neuilly on line 1. Another great place in the sense of comfort, quiet and clean. The night receptionist was lazy though, but this had no impact on my overall review. 2 minutes walking and you are in Champs Elysees, the metro station, and around the corner, a direct bus to Gare du Nord.
Back in 2011 we stayed at the Alize Grenelle Tour Eiffel, on 87 Avenue Emile Zola, 15 Porte de Versailles 75015. Although a small room, it was very cosy and nice, clean, quiet and comfortable. The room was in any case, repeating myself just in case, minimal in space. But the best of all? To be really near the Eiffel Tower (you could see it from the balcony).
Album from the most recent trip
Albums from older trips