I know, I know….
It’s been ages since I’ve actually shared a ‘travel piece’. I’ve been uninspired lately. Work stress, home stress, future (very important) project stress. It kind of gotten to me big time this year. So I’ve become avoidant… I avoid doing things which make me ruminate, one of them being writing, of course. I’ve decided that being pro-active is the way forward, so I’m just going to write a ‘shortish’ blog about my recent trip to France.
It all started when I actually WON a competition with the fabulous Tour Radar. Just your typical, run of the mill Facebook competitions… Please like and share this link… And I won!!! Amazing right? (Winning the competition had nothing to do with my blogging, the trip was not a sponsored one, just a random, lucky pot sort of thing). I know it’s a cliche thing to say, but I’ve never won ANYTHING in my life, so this was quite a happy experience. Anyway, what did I get, you ask? Well, I actually won a tour for two through Normandy and the Loire Valley! Mont Saint-Michel has always been on my bucket list, so that was definitely an extra bonus.
It was a 7-day sight-seeing tour of the northern part of France, where we got to see beautiful castles, the gorgeous Normandy and Brittany countryside, and some stunning cities along the way (will definitely be writing a piece about my experiences there in the future!). The trip did include one day in Paris, but that is definitely not enough to see even a fraction of the capital, so I decided to spend some time alone with my significant other in the city of love prior to touring the north.
Time spent in Paris prior to tour: 3 days (not nearly enough to see all the sights, but at least we got to see most of what we wanted to see).
Hotel: Hotel Prince Albert Louvre – you can book your stay directly with their website, or else you can choose to use a booking platform like Booking.com. Click on the link to get a discount on your next hotel booking. —> BOOKING.COM DISCOUNT COURTESY OF A MALTESE WANDERER
The Hotel Prince Albert Louvre is a no-frills hotel, situated only a few minutes away from the Tuileries Gardens and the magnificent Louvre Museum. The hotel staff was very friendly and courteous and the room provided was clean and comfortable. There was lift access to the rooms, but the lift was rather small and not at all comfortable, so if you do have mobility problems, I would suggest looking for other lodgings. Other than that I really would recommend the place. The location itself (along with the lodging price) is the hotel’s most redeeming factor. It’s only a two-minute walk away from the metro (Tuileries Metro), seven to ten minutes away from the Louvre, and 12 minutes away from the Seine River. Definitely recommended with regards comfort, location, and affordability.
Three Days in Paris
I’m basically going to run through what I did during my stay in Paris. Now, as I said, three days are not nearly enough to see all this city has to offer, but I worked with what I had, and I will just have to re-visit to see the sights I missed my first time around. 😉
We arrived in Paris at around midday. It was grey and damp… Drizzling… Not the ideal romantic weather you’de expect from the city of love. Even so, the city still looked very beautiful and inviting.
As it was wet outside we decided to head on over to explore the world’s most famous (and largest) art museum, the Louvre!
The museum is housed in the Louvre Palace, originally built as the Louvre Castle in the late 12th to the 13th century under Philip II. Remnants of the fortress can still be seen in the basement of the museum. The complex wasn’t always this massive. It actually expanded throughout the centuries to its final form in 1874, the same structure which we can see today. The Louvre Pyramid (also one of the entrances to the museums) was finally added to the complex 1989.
I really would suggest just spending some time outside the museums, and just exploring the exterior of these immense buildings. They truly are an impressive example of the rich and lavish lifestyles French royalty had at their time, even by today’s standards.
If you want to get into the museum, your best option is to book entrance tickets in advance from the Louvre website, or buying a Paris Pass which would give you free access to most museums in the city. This way you can skip the queues (which could be horrendously long) and just waltz right in at your time of choice. There are various ways to view the museum, and it can be very overwhelming since the place is humungous! You could actually spend days just perusing the artworks from throughout the centuries within the museum, so pace yourself. Get a map from the main entrance reception and think about what you want to see. I really would highly recommend getting an audio guide. It provides different tour options on a little virtual Nintendo DS screen and all you need to do is follow the directions given and allow the audio guide to do the rest. One tour which is particularly interesting is the Masterpieces Tour. It basically directs you towards the most well-known works of art within the museum, including the Mona Lisa (of course!), Venus de Milo, Winged Victory of Samothrace (my absolute favorite), and many others.
Walking Through the Streets of Paris
We actually spent around three and a half hours in the Louvre on our first day in Paris, so it was mid-afternoon by the time we left the museum. We decided to spend the rest of our afternoon just walking along the streets of the city. It was still damp and drizzling so we just took a lazy stroll through the local areas close to the hotel. We got to see the beautiful architecture of the Palais Garnier, one of the world’s most famous opera houses, and home to the legendary Phantom of the Opera, visited the lush Tuileries Gardens and strolled through the Passage des Panoramas, a very unexpected and happy discovery which I just loved. The Passage des Panoramas is in fact considered to be the first covered walkway erected in Paris. Built in 1799, it really has retained its old-world charm with each store window reflecting a historical moment of the French capital. There are numerous eateries where you can have a bite to eat in the area, and if you’re into old coins, stamps, and other vintage curiosities I would highly suggest a visit.
The Seine riverside is also a wonderful place to walk along, especially on a warm, sunny evening. So please do keep a slot of time reserved for a quiet moment by the river during your stay in Paris.
Just walking through the streets of the city is a treat within itself. So if you do have a few hours to spare, this would definitely be the best option for you to truly feel what the Parisian spirit is really about.
Starting out bright and early on our second day in Paris we decided to get on a hop-on-hop-off bus tour to really take in all the sights of the city. I always tend to use a service similar to this one if I’m spending only a short amount of time in a new place. That way, I can map out which sights I would like to see, and in which order to see them, depending on the distance between one sight and another. It’s also a convenient way of getting around within the city, without having to go underground and using the metro (which was very reliable and easy to use in any case). Anyway, off on the bus we went… Did the cursory round of the whole city, then started disembarking at the places we wanted to see! Easy!
Arc de Triomphe
If anything rivals the Eiffel tower as an iconic landmark of Paris, it’s the Arc de Triomphe. This was our first stop of the day.
Built in 1836, this massive arch was erected in memory of those who died in the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars. Beneath the arch at ground level lies the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The Unknown Soldier was laid to rest in 1921, in honor of the 1.3 million French soldiers who lost their lives in WWI. An eternal flame is rekindled daily at 6.30pm.
If you’re looking for breathtaking views of the city, this is the place to be. No need to cross the road to get to the arch itself. Stairs lead from the northern side of the Champs-Élysées to pedestrian tunnels that bring you out right underneath the arch. Tickets to the viewing platform are sold within the tunnel. It’s a 248 step climb to the top, and well worth the climb as from the viewing platform you can see dozens of avenues and well known Parisian icons, including the stunning Eiffel Tower!
Onwards we went towards the Eiffel Tower. Now we opted out of climbing this landmark as we much preferred the views from the Arc de Triomphe. Even so, if you do plan on getting into the tower, the best idea would be to book your tickets in advance from here. As far as I know, the Paris Pass does not cover the Eiffel Tower, so if you will be using the passes, make sure to confirm which attractions you get free admission to.
There are three floors on the tower accessed via lifts. If you feel energetic enough, you could opt to climb as far as the second floor via the 700-or-so steps at the south pillar.
Fun Fact: The 320-meter tall structure was erected in 1889 as an exhibit for a World Fair and was actually meant to be temporary!
Seine River Cruise
Another must-do Parisian experience here guys and girls! No trip to Paris is complete without seeing the city via the riverway. Multiple operators offer cruises up and down the Seine, the most popular being Bateaux Parisiens. They operate and depart right below the Eiffel Tower, so getting there was an extremely easy three-minute walk, and the cruise takes in all the major highlights, from the Eiffel Tower to Notre Dame. Just a perfect way to relax and take a break from walking around the city. We did this just after visiting the Eiffel Tower site, but if you have a free evening, a sunset cruise would be the perfect way to end the day. Keep that in mind if you ever visit the city. If you’re feeling generous, you could even splurge on a delicious five-course dinner cruise!
Montemartre and the Sacre Coeur
After touring the more central parts of Paris, we decided to head on over to the bohemian district of Montmartre. A maze of adorable little streets and cafes, this area is particularly famous as being home to artists such as Dali, Picasso, and Hemingway, all of whom either lived or frequented this area regularly. It is also well known as being the “Red Light” district of the city, featuring its own selection of sex shops, quirky eateries and cabaret theatres, including the most famous of them all, the Moulin Rouge!
Montmartre is also home to a large hill, atop which sits the magnificent Sacre Coeur de Montmartre, another of Paris’ most loved iconic buildings.
Entrance to the cathedral is free of charge, and definitely worth the steep climb uphill. If you’re not willing to walk up all the way up, don’t worry, there’s a funicular to the left side of the hill which will do the job for you!
The sunsets from the basilica dome are especially breathtaking. You’ll have to pay a €5.00 entrance fee and climb up 300 spiraling (and quite claustrophobic) steps to see it, but you will get to witness the most dramatic panoramic views of the city. A good deal if you ask me!
Dinner in Montmartre is always a treat, so head on down to the main street for a romantic meal and a good bottle of French wine. I especially enjoyed my duck confit and creme brulee at Le Chat Noir. I really do recommend the place. The food was absolutely delicious and the jazz club atmosphere was perfect for the evening!
Our final full day in Paris and so much left to do and see! We decided to start the morning by taking a brisk walk east towards the Ile de la Cite, a little island in the middle of the Seine River, and home to Paris’ most famous cathedral, the Notre Dame. Walking along the river is a treat not to be missed. Street vendors line the riverbank, selling all sorts of vintage posters, old maps of the city, magnets, and keychains, and second-hand books. It really is a scenic stroll.
Notre Dame de Paris
The Notre Dame is a medieval Catholic cathedral and is widely considered to be one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture. It was built in 1260, though it was modified frequently in the following centuries. It truly became famous because of Victor Hugo’s novel, The Hunchback of Notre Dame in 1831. In fact, one of the main reasons Victor Hugo wrote his world renown novel was to raise awareness of the dilapidated state the cathedral was in during his time. His efforts were not without success as a major restoration project supervised by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc began in 1845 and continued for the next twenty-five years! The cathedral is absolutely stunning, featuring flying buttresses, elaborate sculpture, intimidating gargoyles and above all, magnificent (and huge!) stained glass windows. The three ‘Rose Windows’ are hard to miss and are the most famous features of the cathedral.
Entrance is free, but you have to pay a fee if you want to visit the treasury, crypts or the towers.
Strolling Through the Latin Quarter
Right next to the Ile de la Cite, lies the Latin quarter district of Paris. Well known for being the historic center of learning, scholarship and artistic achievement in Paris, the Latin Quarter’s appeal is well-merited. A stroll through the area, a coffee, and sweet crepe, as well as some light exploring of the Latin Quarter’s narrow streets and alleys, is a perfect outdoor break after touring the Notre Dame Cathedral.
Onwards we walked along Paris’s iconic left bank, from Notre Dame to the Musee d’Orsay. Our next sight to see for the day!
If you like museums, Paris is definitely the city for you! We were actually considering not visiting this beautiful old railway station-come art museum, but I’m so glad we did. As I said, the museum is set in what was once one of Paris’s main train stations, and the grand central atrium is absolutely beautiful – almost worth visiting in of itself!
The Musee d’Orsay is much easier to explore than the Louvre and much less daunting in size. Even so, you need at least an hour and a half to just peruse through the main artworks.
Works from the likes of Monet, Van Gogh, Renoir, Cezanne and Picasso line the walls of this magnificent building.
Make sure to access the top floor of the museum where you can actually look through the museum’s facade clocks and see a truly unique view of the city!
Place de La Concorde
Our final day in belle Paris was coming to an end. On exiting the Musee d’Orsay we headed onwards towards the famous (or should I say infamous??) Place de La Concorde. This massive public square measures an impressive 7.6 hectares (18.8 acres) in area, and is in fact, the largest square in the French capital. It is marked by a giant Egyptian obelisk decorated with hieroglyphics and dates back to the times of Pharaoh Ramesses II! The obelisk once marked the entrance to the Temple of Luxor and is more than 3000 years old. The giant yellow granite column rises 75 feet into the air, the tip is covered in gold leaf which shimmers in the light of day. Two elaborate fountains flank its sides.
This immense square, in fact, lies on what used to be swampland. King Louis XV commanded his architect to find the perfect setting for an equestrian statue of himself. A new square was thus built at the west end of the Tuileries Gardens and was called, of course, Place Louis XV. Unfortunately for the king, his statue stood within the square for less than twenty years. It was actually removed during the French Revolution when a guillotine was erected in its stead. The square’s name was changed, and it became the Place de la Revolution. It is said that around 1300 people, including Louis XVI (Louis XV’s son), Maria Antoinette, Madame du Barry, Charlotte Corday, and French Revolutionary leader Georges Danton faced the guillotine’s sharp blade. At the end of the Terror, the Directory renamed this place as Place de la Concorde. It has had a few other name changes throughout its history, but the square finally returned to this name and has kept it until this day.
It’s a very busy place, lying directly between the Tuileries and the Champs Elysees. Traffic flows around it (and through it) constantly, tourist coaches drop hundreds of visitors off there daily. It’s hard to imagine the place has seen so much death and terror. But just sitting there for a few minutes, and taking it all in, ruminating its past and the history which unfurled there… It’s pretty impressive.
Well… That’s it! Three days in beautiful Paris.
Did I get to see everything this amazing city has to offer? No, not even a dent! There’s so much left to see in Paris! What would be next on the list of sights to see, you ask??
Versailles… Definitely Versailles… No question about it.
I would also love to enter the Palais Garnier and see the beautiful theatre which inspired the world famous “Phantom of the Opera”.
Les Invalides would also make in on the next list, as would Sainte-Chapelle and the Catacombs of Paris…
Oh, the list could go on and on, so I won’t bore you!
Have any of you guys been to Paris? I would really love to hear about your favorite places in the city… What impression did the place leave with you? I loved it. I really can see why they call Paris the City of Lights. It glitters and shimmers, even on dullest of days, and glows in the warmth of the autumn sunshine.
À la prochaine, belle Paris. ❤