PARIS | DECEMBER 2019
My trip to Paris started in Zurich. Sometimes it is best to get into Europe through the best flight deal and then make your way via train to your final destination. So, after 24 hours in Zurich, my first day in Paris started with a Swiss breakfast, complete with the most delicious unpasteurized cheese you could imagine and hot chocolate better than any Swiss Miss packet you've ever microwaved in your own kitchen. After breakfast, we headed for the train station, where we caught a high speed train over to Paris.
I was buying macaroons by early afternoon.
The rest of our time in France unfolded like this:
I am sorry to say, I was this person. But for good reason!
Paris is a huge city with a ton to see, so this was the perfect thing to do after a day of travel and help my brain switch from German to French. This open bus tour makes for a great introduction to this overwhelming city. It is a quick 90-minute tour that takes you through all the hot spots in the City of Lights. While there are many times available to book the tour, ours took place at night with an open roof, so we got to soak up the lights and saw Paris when it is most beautiful! We traveled past the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Notre-Dame, Musée d'Orsay, Champs-Elysées and the Arc de Triomphe, along with much more!
PALACE OF VERSAILLES
Versailles was at the top of my list when it came to sights to see in Paris, so on our first full day this was my must-do. Most tickets will grant you access to the Château, the gardens, and the Hall of Mirrors. We decided to visit Versailles through a tour group: Fat Tire. Their Versailles Château & Gardens Tour ticket provides skip the line access, as well as a tour guide and transportation. During our morning tour we spent nearly five hours at Versailles and we enjoyed every minute of it! If you want to visit yourself, note that the Palace is closed on Mondays and the fountains only run on certain days of the week (select weekends and Tuesdays). The gardens are so extensive that running all 32 fountains every day would be too expensive for the city to maintain!
A classic sight to see when in Paris, and it does not require much time! We tacked this on in the afternoon, after our visit to Versailles. We took the metro here and were dropped right in front of the Cathedral. Unfortunately, due to the recent fire the Cathedral is now closed. However at the time, entrance into the Church was free and you could choose between many ways to experience Notre-Dame. There were guided tours, through third parties, as well as audio tours, which were available at the information desk. Or, you could choose to pay a fee and climb the towers, perhaps visit the crypt, or simply walk around. Appropriate dress is required, no bare shoulders or showing of the knees. I was dressed in long sleeves and shorts with a scarf tied around my waist to cover my legs. We had no trouble with our backpacks or cameras, however no luggage or flash photography is allowed.
From one church to the next we made our way up to Sacré-Cœur all in the same afternoon. This church is considered a “minor basilica” and it is dedicated to the "Sacred Heart of Jesus." Sacré-Cœur is on a serious hill (over 130 meters of elevation), so definitely explore options such as the bus or taxi (we used Uber) when planning your visit here. Minor or not, add this to your itinerary, the views of Paris alone are worth this visit!
There are so many ways to experience the Eiffel Tower while in Paris, and honestly, climbing the tower itself was my least favorite experience. The Tower will catch your eye from nearly anywhere in the city, from the hill of Sacré-Cœur to cruising the Seine river. However when on the tower itself, it is the one place in Paris you cannot find it in the skyline. Viewing the tower at a distance is best, as you'll be able to take in all of her beauty and thoroughly enjoy the light show. After sunset, the Tower will start to sparkle on each hour, so try to get to the top of the Arc de Triomphe or the Montparnasse Tower and you'll really see her shine! If you would like to visit the Eiffel Tower, you can do so for free at Parc du Champ de Mars. The Champ de Mars is a public space for tourists and locals alike to relax and picnic below the Tower. If you would like visit the top of the Tower, tickets are available and I highly recommend purchasing ahead of time. Many tour groups and third-party vendors offer skip the line tickets, or you can purchase your ticket directly through the Eiffel Tower’s website.
ARC DE TRIOMPHE
Of all the monuments and towers you can climb in Paris, I am so glad it was suggested that I climb the Arc de Triomphe. Not only does the Arc have so much to offer from walking around the exterior, but there is also so much more to be discovered inside! Entrance to the Arc is underground, you can buy your ticket here and learn more about the Arc. Once inside, start stepping! It is 284 steps to the top of the monument and at the top awaits some of Paris' most desirable views. Spend some time gazing on all four sides, you'll be able to spot some of Paris' famous landmarks!
My visit to the Luxembourg Gardens was unplanned, I had no start or end time. This may have been a mistake on my part, because I spent the better part of three hours walking through this incredible public park. Between the Palace, Gardens and pools, it is easy to lose track of time! Pull up a chair or lay out a blanket, either way, sit back and relax like the Parisians do!
With so much to see and do in Paris, after one day your feet will start to feel tired, which makes a river cruise a perfect activity to plug into your trip! It is a great way to experience Paris' Seine river, including its banks and bridges. We used the company Vedettes du Pont Neuf, which offers a one hour river cruise with commentary every half hour. If the weather is nice, I highly recommend grabbing a seat up top, this will give you the best view of the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame as you sail by!
The Louvre, was a fabulous way to spend our second morning! We did a "highlights" tour with the company Fat Tire again. I would highly recommend using a tour group to make your way through the Louvre, we were able to skip the line and received a thorough overview of what will typically take you 100 days. In the Louvre, you can find famous works of art such as the Winged Victory of Samothrace (or better known as The Winged Nike), the Judgement of Paris and, most famously, Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa. Our guide was extremely passionate about the works of art and really made our time enjoyable.
On our last night in Paris we ventured up to the top floor of Montparnasse Tower. This is the only high-rise building in the city and it has an observation deck on the 56th floor known to have the most beautiful view of Paris. In 2008 this tower was voted the world’s second ugliest building and, after its construction in 1969, it received so much criticism that the construction of buildings over seven stories high is now banned. So, for less than 20 euro, I highly recommend buying this ticket. because this is the only view in Paris were you cannot see the Montparnasse Tower (hence, most beautiful view of Paris!). You’ll experience a 360 degree view of the city, including the Eiffel Tower, which to me is the most special part. While most people head up the Eiffel Tower to view the city, I promise you this is the view you want,
it is Paris as a whole
the City of Lights and a tower of gold.
PARIS WALKING TOUR SECRET SITES AND HIDDEN GEMS
My last experience in Paris was a walking tour, it fell on a rainy morning amidst some riots and closures in town. In fact, we even had trouble making it to the meeting location on time due to protective closures of some of the major metro stations. The night before, and even in bed that morning, we kept refreshing our email, looking to see if our Secret Sites & Hidden Gems tour would be canceled.
To my dismay, the tour was not canceled and I found myself wishing we had not made these plans.
We met up with our tour guide from Urban Adventurers and the rain started to pour. We waded through the streets and stopped under any awning or arch that provided shelter as we listened our guide’s stories.
As we walked, our tour guide shared secret stories, pointed out hidden gems that ordinarily wouldn't catch your eye, and brought us into storefronts only a Parisian would know to visit. She shared memoirs of the rise of Coco Chanel, and of the terrible tragedy that fell on Princess Diana. Our tour group walked to sites I wouldn't know to visit, like Place Vendôme or the secret gardens of Palais Royal, and I soon stopped noticing the rain.
We finished the tour in Rue Montorgueil, a hidden market filled with baked goods, fresh food and best of all - cheese. Our tour guide purchased fresh baguettes for us and asked a small cheese shop to whip up a tasting board for us.
And as I stood in that special street in Paris, underneath a dripping awning, biting into the best french cheese I have ever tasted,
I was so glad that email never came.