Babcia and Yia Yia!, Travel With Alex: Europe 101

Paris 101: Bonjour!!!

Ahhh, Paris! What makes this city of lights so addicting? Is it the artistic light? Is it the curated café culture? Perhaps it’s the storied art that graces museum after museum. Then again, the shopping is world class. Whether it’s the picturesque parks or the charming arrondissements, Paris, never ever disappoints.

Truth be told, you can spend three days, three weeks, or three years in Paris and never get to take in everything that the city has to offer! With 20 neighborhoods and hundreds of points of interest, Paris is a never ending amusement park of history and culture for every sort of traveler. Additionally, Paris is a joy no matter what time of year you plan to visit. So, let’s dig in to the planning logistics that will make your trip to Paris all that it can be.

Coming In For A Landing

Flights from the States tend to clear customs by 8 a.m., so with a strong exit plan, the day will be yours to enjoy from noon on. Paris’ legendary Charles DeGaul Airport is about an hour from the city center and every traveler needs to make plans for a clear exit from the airport. CDG offers quite a few ways to get into the city center. The most economical (and sweaty) way is to lug your bags on the famed Metro in terminal two or three and get yourself to the busy Gare Du Nord. From this hub in the 10th arrondissement, the local Metro trains fan out to most areas.

While certainly economical, I think a standard Parisian taxi is the best bet as the industry has been regulated and the fee is exactly the same regardless of the car you get. Simply line up at the queue and grab the next car in line. Expect to pay about $80.00 for door to door and luggage transfer service. This well outpaces Uber and other drive share services.

Home Base

Hotels and Air BandB’s are plentiful in and around all of the most popular venues. Logic will guide you to know that the closer to famous landmarks and the Seine, the higher the price will be. Keep in mind that Summer and holidays will also boost that final bill. As with most of Northern Europe, the detail that travelers tend to forget the most is whether or not the rental in mind has air conditioning in months that apply. There’s not a ton of strategy to making the best choice, simply keep in mind what your primary interests are so that you are cutting down on travel time. With your luggage stowed and a bed to lay your head arranged, you are ready to hit the town!

Our booking rule of thumb: Arrondissement 1 and 16 are for museum addicts, arrondissements 5, 6, 9 and 18 are perfect for cafe sitting and ambiance, while arrondissement 4 and 7 is a good balance of both!!

The Paris Planning Primer

Paris is broken up into 20 districts called arrondissements that spiral neatly from the steps of the Notre Dame out toward the suburbs like a perfect escargot shell. Areas one and six contain the big museums, travel north to find Montmarte in the 18th arr., south to the 4th arr. to the famed Latin Quarter. The 7th arr. will get you closest to the Eiffel Tower while the 8th and 9th arr. will land you in smack in the middle Paris’ shopping district.

To really understand how Paris is set up I highly recommend two resources that give you plenty of insight into every corner of the city with true practicality. Rick Steves’ Guide is a travel staple that will lead you to all of the big stuff and make some of those massive places a bit more relatable. Conversely, the Paris In Stride authors have beautifully crafted a series of walks that lead you to many of the lesser known gems throughout 14 of the 20 arrondissements. Both books work well together to give you a bespoke Parisian experience.

Paris Museum Pass

This museum essential allows you to gain access to more than 50 metropolitan museums. Starting at €52, the more you use it, the better the deal will be. Keep scrolling to see how just 48 hours can be time and money well spent. Please beware! The Paris museum pass does NOT cover your entrance to the Eiffel Tower.

Grabbing a Batobus boat pass gives you express access through the spine of Paris, the scenic Seine River. With eight perfectly placed stops spanning from the Eiffel Tower, past the Louvre and Notre Dame, to the Sorbonne, a Batobus pass could be the most efficient way to get from point to point. While it is super efficient, I can’t say it’s the most dynamic moment of any trip. The pros are getting a chance to be on the river and pull up right next to those amazing sites that you’ve come to see. The cons? It’s not the most modern of boats and the greenhouse can get a little stuffy in the sun. Read on to see how we used our Batobus pass to our advantage.

Museum Palooza

There are more than 125 museums throughout Paris and each one offers a different take on time and technology, art and fashion, and turn of the century curiosities that dazzled in their day. With so much to choose from, it is an impossibility to take it all in with any sort of quality on any single trip. To that notion, Paris is a city that deserves research and understanding to truly get the most out of however long your trip may be. Taking time to make informed choices about how you spend your time will help create those memories that you want to cherish. I highly recommend The Little Museums Of Paris to guide you to those lesser known gems about town. Note that some of the links below are affiliate links. I only recommend products & brands I love and that I think you would love, too!

Art Attack

Let’s face it. You are headed to one of the premier art capitols in the world. Having some sense of the art world would probably be helpful. In fact, I’d go out on a limb to say that knowing just a little about art can change the way you approach museums in any city whether it’s Rome, Tokyo, or New York City. A comprehensive art history class would totally do the trick but for perhaps a more relaxed approach I suggest Secret Lives Of Great Artists for a little more gossipy version of the who’s who of the art world. For more on how to make art entertaining and useful click here for our full coverage on how to make art a part of your travel without overthinking it.

A Little Advice About the Icons

The Parisian skyline is full of the most recognizable architecture on the planet and during your first visit, you are going to want to see it all. The reality is you simply can’t. What’s a traveler to do?! Pace yourself and choose wisely. Here’s my take on the big guns to help you decide what’s a must and what to pass on.

Notre Dame

Notre Dame sits in the cultural and historical center of Paris. The rest of the city literally fans out from its steps. With the devastating 2019 fire, visiting Notre Dame will be impossible for the next few years but, you can connect with this icon in a few different ways. First, the plaza in front of the cathedral is now open and allows you to see the top half of the front facade. While it’s not much comparatively, a well angled selfie is possible. More interesting is to see the construction progress from the water. Take some time down on the river by using that Batobus boat service we talked about earlier. One of the nine stops is located on the bank opposite the construction.

The Louvre

Taking in the Louvre is an overwhelming task. With three larger than life wings to explore there is simply no way to see everything in one go. Additionally, visitors who are not art lovers may miss the truly magical moments that this Parisian perennial offers. Most people get themselves straight to the Denin Wing as it holds the most famous works housed there. I’m certainly not opposed to that idea but descending into Pei’s pyramid without a plan can spell certain disaster for any first time visitor.

With unlimited access you can choose to visit more than once. Did you hear that? You literally don’t have to stay for an entire day! You can come back! Make reservations for first thing in the morning to explore for an hour or two before hitting up some of the other sites. The crowds are thinner and you can do this for several days. Another great plan of attack is to choose 10 pieces of art to check in with and save the rest for another time.

An insider tip: there is a cafe at the end of the Denin Wing. Grab a refreshment and a macron then head out onto the terrace for a little break from all the walking! The downtime will be a great pick me up!

Musee D’Orsay

Musee D’Orsay picks up where the Louvre leaves off, as with the Louvre, you can take in this epic slice of art a little bit at a time. For those who want the express pass to the most famous of works, use the elevator directly to the left of the information desk to get yourself up to the top floor and the world of impressionism. This powerhouse museum also has a roof terrace that gives you spectacular views of the river below and the north bank beyond.

Eiffel Tower

The Eiffel Tower IS NOT covered by the Paris Museum Pass, this icon is a take it or leave it moment. The pros and cons go on and on but at the top of the list is the fact that it is very crowded and surrounded by street hawkers with garish nonsense. Additionally, it’s the only view in Paris without the actual Eiffel Tower in it. Then again, it’s the Eiffel Tower. How do you go to Paris and not visit? I mean, it’s an icon of the world. And it’s fascinating up close. The paint, the rivets and the layers that send this tower up in the sky are truly interesting to look at in an up close and personal way.

A Little Advice About Some of the Smaller Sites

It’s so easy to get caught up in all the big attractions that Paris has to offer. So easy, in fact, that your time and planning can completely overlook some amazing stuff. As you plot your trip, be sure to weave in some of the smaller- and just as delightful– venues out there. Here are three of my favorites.

Musee Marmatton-Monet

This museum is located on the outskirts of the 16th arr. It is the former home of an art collector and the location chosen by Monet’s family to display their family collection. This small mansion is perfect for an hour or two. Combine your visit with the small park on the corner or the famous Bois Du Bologne, Paris’ answer to Central Park.

L’Orangerie

Spanning the walk between the Orsay and the Louvre is the lovely L’Orangarie. This small tribute to the early 20th century is ground zero for Monet’s iconic Waterlilies. In addition, look for the small yet powerful collection of impressionist and post impressionist art on the lower level. Located in the Jardin Tuileries, this museum offers the perfect balance between art and the café just outside the doors. Pull up a green chair and enjoy!

Saint Chappelle

Saint Chapelle is Paris’ jewel box. Just around the corner from Notre Dame on the Ile De La Cite, this unassuming chapel holds one of the best examples of stained glass in the world. As you walk up to the edifice in what is basically a municipal complex for the high courts, you will doubt me. I get it. But, walk around the warehouse of statuary and step inside. Not much right? The secret to this place is the stairs.

Spiral up the stairs to the left and step inside this chapel made for kings. With 365 degrees of perfect stained glass telling the church’s story Saint Chappelle glimmers and sparkles in every direction. Spend a little time in contemplation about the artistry, the history, the spirituality, and the fact that when you look around, you know that you are experiencing one of Paris’ hidden secrets as you are not shoulder to shoulder packed in from wall to wall.

Get your shop on

Gallerie D’Lafayette and Printemps are the premier shopping stores in Paris. Both are located just beyond the Opera Garnier in the 9th arr. Here, you will find every single famous name you are looking for. Browse floor after floor of the latest collections under the massive and impressive stained glass dome at Lafayette. Be sure to make your way to the roof terrace to enjoy the views. Just down the street at Printemps, head upstairs and enjoy a cup of tea or a glass of wine at one of the mirrored tables at the restaurant on the top floor. Find yet another, if not better, example of a stained glass dome. The blue hues will knock your socks off. Once you are done here, the Champs-Elysees will be a distant memory.

A Sample Four Days

  • Day One
  • 0900 Check in to hotel
  • 1100 Saint Chappelle
  • 1230 Lunch
  • 1430 Musee D’Orsay
  • 1700 Refresh at the hotel
  • 1800 Evening walk stop for dinner and cocktails
  • Day Two
  • 0900 Louvre: Tour the Denin Wing looking for the 10 pieces I researched
  • 1200 Lunch in the Jardin Tuilleries
  • 1400 L’Orangerie
  • 1600 Tea at Printemps
  • 1900 Dinner
  • Day Three
  • 0900 Eiffel Tower
  • 1200 The Louvre: Tour the sculpture Garden and Napoleon’s Apartments
  • 1500 Lunch
  • 1700 Musee Marmottan-Monet
  • 1800 Walk through the park and perhaps play a game of Boules
  • 2000 Dinner
  • Day Four
  • 0900 Finish D’Orsay
  • 1200 Lunch and a walk in the Latin Quarter
  • 1500 Refresh for one last evening
  • 1700 Montmarte, take a tour of the city by night, enjoy an area you discovered, eat at a cafe that was recommended, see a show that you heard about.

The Controversy: What To Skip

I know, I know, it’s the question we always ask ourselves: what is not worth my time? Here’s my list full of my opinions:

  • Arc D’Triumph: It’s okay but the view is available in numerous other places.
  • Eiffel Tower: If you are not into how it was built, it’s a hard pass.
  • The Middle Wing of The Louvre: Unless you love art, hard pass.
  • The uber fancy macron and tea shops: the local places are just as good if not better.
  • The Moulin Rouge: Big windmills are far more impressive in The Netherlands.
  • Champs-Elysees: It’s just not what it once was.

Day Trips and Transfers

Paris is an ideal springboard for lots of other destinations. Look to pair up Paris with some of these idyllic choices.

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