1 Always check websites against my information.
2 Use it or lose it. This is YOUR trip. I am only one among thousands of voices who represent this beautiful city. The important thing about planning a trip, is that you decide what you are most interested in, and make it your own.
Paris is a place that you have to go once, twice, three times, or a dozen. And even after the 100th visit, you are certain to still discover secret hideaways, enchanting passages, lovely cafès that you never encountered before. Now each time I visit this eclectic city, I peel back a different layer. A different layer of sights, sounds, and tastes, different layers of a city whose history is so linked to America that without the French, without Paris, America’s own history would be radically different. I never tire of drinking that thick creamy goodness, Chocolat l’Ancienne, sipping coffee or wine in the middle of the day on the terrace of a most picturesque café, meandering along the cobblestone paths of the Latin Quarter, admiring the majestic Notre Dame on the historical Île de Cité, or soaking up Monet’s Water Lilly’s at Musée de l’Orangerie. Paris is anyone’s home away from home. You need not be a citizen of this incredible City of Lights to make it your own. It belongs to anyone who falls in love with it the same way that I have. It has a way of carving out space in your heart and never leaving. C’est la vie!
This is Shelby and I on our very first trip to Paris. We were in fact the first two of our family to visit this incredible city.
When you arrive in Paris, buy train tickets in packs of ten. It keeps you from having to constantly purchase train tickets. The metro is awesome and gets you everywhere fast. But definitely walk above ground whenever you can between destinations. Therein lies a lot of the charm of Paris. On the day you go to Versailles, you will need metro tickets that include the RER! Just make sure your train tickets for that day covers that Zone. Versailles is awesome. If you have never been, I definitely suggest you work it into your trip while there. It is definitely a full day!
Judy’s Must Do List for First Timers: (In NO particular order!)
1 Eiffel Tower: All the way to the top. Everyone should do it once, say they did, and get the heck back down and move on:) Pictures are wonderful from the top and below-standing directly under the tower. You can buy a ticket that only goes half way up if you are so inclined. It is crowded at the top so if you suffer greatly from claustrophobia, I suggest either not ascending the tower at all or visiting in the off-season. It is an incredible sight to behold even if you’re just standing beneath it.
2 The Eiffel Tower at night: all lit up. Once darkness falls, it glitters (flashes) on the hour. One of our favorite viewing spots at night is the Pont Alexandre because the bridge itself is stunning and beautiful. The Pont d’Alma is even closer and we have viewed from there as well.
2 Fat Bike tour: There’s both a day and a night tour and a Versailles tour. We recommend the night tour if you can only do one. Riding down the Champs-Élysées and around the inner courtyard of the Louvre at night is unbelievable. Fat Bike Tours are always in English. We have had an American, a British, and an Australian guide. So. Much. Fun. Make your reservations online. Or you can just show up at the meeting place. We’ve done it both ways. Check their website for hours, times and meeting places and additional important info.
3. Louvre: Okay here’s the way to do the Louvre. Get online and find out EXACTLY what you want to see there. See it and then go. It’s huge. If you go without planning what you wish to view, you will be absolutely overwhelmed.
I recommend spending less time here and more at the Musée d’Orsay.
Mona Lisa because…well, it’s the Mona Lisa!
Michelangelo Slaves (aka The Dying Slave and The Rebellious Slave)
Venus De Milo
Raft of Medusa
Liberty Leading the Peope
4 Musee d’Orsay is our favorite art museum in Paris. It is a beautiful building, once a train station and also used as a postal depot in WWII. Monets, Degas (love this guy- especially Dancers In Blue) Van Gogh, Renoir, and many others. One of my favorite artists to visit here is Mary Cassatt a rare female American impressionist painter (1844-1926) who honed her craft in the company of Other French Impressionists! We love this museum. Make sure you have a couple of hours to relax and enjoy.
5. Cluny Museum or Le Musée de Cluny: Musée national du Moyen Age (Middle Ages museum) (But I know what you are saying: museums museums museums.) That’s why you PLAN your visit (particularly in the Louvre.) In and out. Get a map. Know your plan and where you are going. BUT the CLUNY IS part museum, part awesome adventure house. It’s loaded with mystery and fun facts to include the heads of Judean kings beheaded from their statue torsos at Notre Dame during the French revolution. The heads were discovered and excavated from a Paris garden in 1977 and brought to the Cluny. Also I just love the 16th century tapestries “The Woman and the Unicorn,” a floor to ceiling wonderous sight. The museum was constructed on top of ancient Roman bath houses. That alone would place this museum at the top of your agenda. Furthermore, The Cluny is in the Latin Quarter of Paris, a district where getting lost is a good thing. (But don’t worry. You won’t get lost!)
6. Finally Musee de l’Orangrie: It’s a super quickie museum right. And here’s the deal. When we lived in Europe, this museum required a reservation online and one had to go during your reserved time. However, friends of mine who recently visited said that did not appear to be the case. Maybe it is certain times a year. So get online. And find out. (C’mon I can’t do everything for ya!) Monet murals everywhere. This experience will delight the senses of even the most cynical of those who claim to not be “artsy!” You stand in the middle of these huge rooms surrounded by Monet murals. Just close your eyes and relax. It’s incredible.
7. Arc De Triomph: (This can easily be combined with a museum and cafe people watching.) Go to the top!!! From the top, you get a great bird’s-eye view of the “mother of all” roundabouts. And the arc is beautiful. The history is fantastic. Be sure to stop on the floor along the way that tells you the story. The Arc de Triomphe honors those who fought and died for France in the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, with the names of all French victories and generals inscribed on its inner and outer surfaces. Beneath its vault lies the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I along with an eternal flame.
8. Notre Dame on the Île de Cité: On the site of this cathedral, the first settlers of Paris, the Celts settled and so this was their sacred ground. Later the Romans built a temple to Jupiter here. In the 6th Century it was a Basilica, then a Romanesque church. Finally, construction for the current cathedral, began around 1160. The three Rose Windows from the 13th century are some of the greatest masterpieces inside Notre Dame. Also look for the ‘Paris Point Zero’ marker situated in the cathedral square just in front of the main entry. This small octagonal brass plate set in the ground marks the exact spot from which all distances from Paris are measured. Finally, if you are facing Notre dame in the front, to the left is the entrance to the belfry. Go up the belfry if you have time. The views of the gargoyles are great as well as views of the city. We have dragged our girls up more European belfries than I can count, and this one is spectacular. Connected to Île de Cité is the Île de St. Louis. Great eating shopping and people watching. Views of the city and the river are excellent from here. (Update: Notre Dame had was severely damaged by fire iin 2018 and is currently under rennovation. It is projected to reopen to the public in five years.)
8 a. While at Notre Dame, which is on Île de Cité, you can venture out onto Pont Neuf, and see King Henry IV Statue and beautiful views of the Seine River.
8 b. Also Place de Dauphine is a great little corner (more like a triangle) of Paris where you feel like you have escaped back into another time. It is for romantics, cynics, families, lovers, locals and tourists. Eat at the Rose De France. Great for lunch or dinner. RESERVATIONS AREN’T REQUIRED, BUT I DO ANYWAY. It’s one of the prettiest squares in the City of Lights and lies literally right in the center of Paris on the Île de Cité. The food is wonderful. And there’s something for everyone on the menu.
9. “Shakespeare and Company” bookstore is the coolest book store ever. But where does it get its name? In 1919 American Sylvia Beach opened the original Shakespeare and Company on Rue Dupuytren. In 1922 it was moved to 12 Rue de l’Odéon. The store closed in 1940 during the German NAZI occupation. Sylvia closed it overnight, under the cover of darkness before the Nazis showed up on her door step. Sylvia’s book clubs were well-known in Paris, and had global literary acclaim. It was a common gathering place and readers’ hub for writers like Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, James Joyce, and many other literary greats. Sylvia published the controversial book “Ulysses,” by Joyce in 1922 when no one else would. She loaned money often to the struggling writer Hemingway. Sylvia was interned by the Nazis during the war. She was later released.
The current “Shakespeare and Company” bookstore was opened in 1951 by George Whitman called “Le Mistral” but renamed to “Shakespeare and Company” in 1964 in tribute to Sylvia. Location: Directly across the Seine River from Notre Dame on Rue de la Bûcherie. Just cross the bridge (Le Petit Pont – Cardinal Lustiger) from Île de Cité and turn left onto Rue de la Bûcherie.
10. Saint Chapelle is literally just around the corner from Notre Dame. It’s a stinkin’ 13th century chapel. I was stunned by the beauty on the inside. It is truly a masterpiece of brilliant Gothic architecture in the heart of the Palais de la Cité on the Île de Cité in Paris. Discover its unique stained glass windows rendering the air iridescent with light and color, symbols of the Heavenly Jerusalem. It was commissioned by King Louis IX of France to house his collection of Passion relics, allegedly including Christ’s Crown of Thorns—one of the most important relics in medieval Christendom.
11. Sacre Coeur: Oh my gosh! So many memories at Sacre Coeur and Montmartre.. No one can go to Paris and not visit this region. It’s breathtaking.
Once you tour Sacre Coeur, be sure to walk around to the left corner to the artist hang out at The Place du Tertre. It is a square in the 18th arrondissement of Paris. Only a few streets away from Montmartre’s Basilica of the Sacré Cœur and the Lapin Agile, it is the heart of the city’s elevated Montmartre quarter. Either before you ascend the hill at Montmartre or after you leave, EAT AT L’été en pente douce. What an awesome little restaurant. We always always eat there for lunch since we descend Montmartre on the other side for instance down Rue Lepic. Excellent selection of wine all the time and the food is fabulous. If you are facing the restaurant, the walk down the hill to the right is beautiful. And the walk up to Sacre Coeur from there is beautiful. So many beautiful walks descending and ascending Sacre Coeur and we have done them all.
12. Victor Hugo’s apartment at Place De Vosage: This is also a nice place to shop at different stores and boutiques. But the girls and I toured his apartment and it was absolutely enchanting. The Place des Vosges is one of the oldest squares in Paris, and also one of the most beautiful. Visitors stroll under the arches or along the paths of the central garden. Shops are also open on Sundays. The square is the ideal jump off point for a walk in the Marais, one of the most charming historic neighborhoods in the capital. The many mansions of the 17th and 18th centuries have been transformed into internationally renowned museums: Musée Picasso Paris, Musée Carnavalet, the House of Victor Hugo Museum.
Also guys if you have time. Musée Carnavalet is an awesome museum and do you know why? It’s an old mansion. So you aren’t just going through an old boring museum. It’s a huge beautiful mansion. I love Carnavalet.
13. Versailles is a day trip. Plan a full day. Get your tickets in advance, so you’re not standing in line for those. You will take the RER out to Versailles. Maybe use that day to plan on seeing the Eiffel tower all lit up at night when you are back in town. “The Château de Versailles, which has been on UNESCO’s World Heritage List for 30 years, is one of the most beautiful achievements of 18th-century French art. The site began as Louis XIII’s hunting lodge before his son Louis XIV transformed and expanded it, moving the court and government of France to Versailles in 1682. Each of the three French kings who lived there until the French Revolution added improvements to make it more beautiful.” http://en.chateauversailles.fr/the-palace-
14 A beverage and relaxation MUST DO IS Angelina’s on Rue do Rivioli (take metro to Tuileries metro station) for Le chocolat chaud à l’ancienne l’Africain We never go to Paris and leave without having some. It’s a treat for your culinary senses. It’s a great rest stop too.
15. Schedule time to stop and eat and drink at cafes and people watch. Cafes in Paris rock! The parks in Paris are all inviting as well. And we have not been to all of them. So report back to me your favorites.
16. CATACOMBS: The girls and I loved this ghoulish tour, but make it your last thing if you have time, OR if it’s what you want to do, make it your first. The history of the catacombs is spectacular http://www.parislogue.com/catacombs
17. Enjoy the Latin Quarter, and while you are in the Latin Quarter, making you way to and from the Pantheon, visit (and stay for a while) at Luxembourg Gardens. What an enchanting place. You will find plenty of sitting spots or bring a blanket. Be sure and check out the locals playing checkers.
18. The Panthéon: Church and tomb of a number of France’s most famed men and women for instance, Voltaire, Rousseau, Victor Hugo, Marie Curie, Louis Braille, and many others. The architecture of this building is simply stunning.
19. Les Invalides, commonly known as Hôtel national des Invalides (The National Residence of the Invalids), or also as Hôtel des Invalides, is a complex of buildings in the 7th arrondissement of Paris, France, containing museums and monuments, all relating to the military history of France, as well as a hospital and a retirement home for war veterans, the building’s original purpose. The buildings house the Musée de l’Armée, the military museum of the Army of France, the Musée des Plans-Reliefs, and the Musée d’Histoire Contemporaine, as well as the Dôme des Invalides, a large church with the burial site for some of France’s war heroes, most notably Napoleon Bonaparte .
1 Pierre la chaise cemetery, for you Rock and Rollers, see Jim Morrison’s (Doors) tomb and memorial, and also Oscar Wilde’s. And what I find so fascinating about Pierre La Chaise cemetery is just how beautiful it is along with all the memorials to the great wars.
2 The city’s original Roman city gates at St Deni
3 Rodin Museum in door and outdoor (Think “The Thinker”)
RESTAURANTS WE LOVE:
Street side cafes are awesome. Both the ambiance and food are great. Everything you have ever heard about French food and French bakeries is all true. They are wonderful. Here are a few specific favorites of ours.
Maison Ladurée 75 avenue des Champs-Élysées MACAROONS MACAROONS MACAROONS
Le Grand Colbert http://www.legrandcolbert.fr featured in a Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson movie.
This is very near a GREAT wine store called Legrand Filles et Fils at Rue de la Banque, 75002 Paris, France
Restaurant L’Auberge Etchegorry 43 rue Croulebarbe 75013 PARIS http://etchegorry.hotel-restaurant-paris.com (classic awesome french food)
La Closerie des Lilas, 171 Boulevard du Montparnasse (if you turn and walk a straight line out the end of Luxembourg gardens (away from river) and exit the gardens, you will walk right into this restaurant. GREAT spot for lunch. For sure no reservation required for lunch.
Là coup chou 11 Rue de Lanneau
You’ll absolute my LOVE the architecture of this 16th century building. In the Latin quarter. Do make reservations for dinner.
Dinner. MUST HAVE reservations. on Île de St. Louis
L’été en pente douce 8 Rue Paul Albert Paris 18th AD, at the bottom of Sacre Coeur
I could write a hundred more pages, but goodness mercy, who has time. One of the funnest parts of visiting Paris, is planning Paris. So get busy, and have fun. Click on my email link if you have questions. I would love to answer as best I can. And leave comments. And finally, if you travel to Paris, share with us your own personal and varied and wonderful experiences.
4 thoughts on “Paris For Beginners”
Let’s go again! I remember doing the Orssay with you and your family, and thoroughly enjoying it. It was a mild winter day that only a light jacket was needed. The next day, the temperature plummeted. Nick and I were supposed to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower, but we skipped it due to the wind, and frigid temps. Also, between the two of us, we are claustrophobic, and afraid of heights. Maybe next time….
Jamie, I’d forgotten about that severe temp change that weekend. YES! It was lovely the day we were together in the city. That’s the weekend the girls, Paul and I, after we left you and Nick, went to Disney and did New Year’s Eve which I might add was a clausterphobic’s nightmare. Ugh. Never want to do that again:) But yes definitely want to return to Paris together again!
Wonderful information! Judy I have been to Paris 5 times and never with you! WHY??? I would have loved to see some of the things you mention. Don’t get me wrong we visited a lot on your list but not enough! Great blog Judy, Love you!
Thanks for reading Shari. Next up “Going to Rome…” Love you friend.