Paris is many things to many people, the city of light, the city of romance, the city of gourmet food and wine, and a city with a history rich in ideals, art and fashion. Paris is a city with much to see and do. It is also a great location to use as a base and enjoy day trips out to other parts of France. Let’s take a look at the 3-day plan first and then add additional day trips from there.
If you arrive in Paris at their main airport, Charles De Gaulle (CDG), you can arrange in advance for a private pickup directly to your hotel. Compared with a taxi to the heart of Paris, over $50 depending on the cab driver, the private transfer is quite affordable. If you are traveling light and have only a little luggage, you can take the RER train into Paris or you can take the Air France bus. However, if you are arriving from the UK on the Eurostar, you will terminate in the heart of Paris at Gare du Nord. Day trips from London start here. If you want to see it all in a day, leave Gare du Nord, wait for the Hop-on-hop-off bus and see the highlights of Paris in an afternoon, finishing up at the end of the day, ready to Eurostar back to London. If you are staying in Paris, you will likely arrive in the late morning or early afternoon. Upon arriving, take a taxi to your hotel if you are at the Gare du Nord. Check into your hotel and let’s see Paris! Once again, when leaving Paris for CDG or ORY, a hotel pickup can also be arranged.
You may wish to consider a Paris Pass, which will give you access to a number of museums and other attractions throughout the city.
3 DAYS IN PARIS
The best way to get around the city is the Metro, if you Metro often and plan to travel around central Paris, it is best to buy a metro pass (the “Paris Visite” includes this along with admission or discounts to several top attractions) for the day or days you plan to do this. However, if you plan to spend your day in a concentrated area, buying a book of 10 tickets at a time at the station may be your most economical choice. This will give you tickets for everyone in your party to use. We are going to stay in central Paris and take a boat tour so we will buy the Paris Visite pass for 3 days covering zone 1-3, which will give us discounts on the boat tour and cover all modes of transport in those zones.
Take the metro to Notre Dame and the heart of the city, Ile de Cite and Ile St. Louis. Paris was born on Ile de Cite so it’s a natural place to start. Notre Dame is a must see on anyone’s list. You can spend varying amounts of time here depending on your interests. The Church itself is magnificent and the Rose windows are unforgettable. You can walk the 387 steps to the top of the tower and see the view or go below to the crypt. After you leave be sure to walk to the back of the church for the view of the flying buttresses and a great photo op. If you have time you may want to return to Ile de Cite one morning and visit the famous church at the other end, Saint Chapelle. The vision of the morning light coming through the long stain glass windows behind the altar will be a sight that will stay with you forever. It sparkles like a wall of jewels!
At this point many people move on to another major sight, and if you do you will miss a chance to see the real Paris the locals see. So come out of the Notre Dame gardens and walk over the bridge in front of you to Ile St. Louis. This is truly a microcosm of Paris. Here you will see wonderful little sidewalk cafes, the famous Berthillon ice cream shop, and shops for each of the necessities of life, colorful fresh produce, a bounty of cheeses, meats, aromatic French spices, wines, and a bakery sending out whiffs of French bread. Imagine walking out of your Ile St. Louis apartment and conveniently collecting all of the fresh ingredients you need for tonight’s meal right on the main street below you! Since you can’t do that, you can do the next best thing, try one of the restaurants. There are a number of good restaurants and many specialty boutiques and high-quality original art galleries. It’s a great place to buy that painting of Paris to forever be reminded of City of Lights.
As we approach nightfall it’s time to take a cruise on the Seine. This is a cruise we have done many times and never tire of it. We think the Parisian architects designed the most fabulous buildings of Paris right along the river. Cruising along and seeing them illuminated with light will take your breath away. There are a number of cruise companies and you can catch the cruises day or night. We like night best. The Illuminations and Seine Cruise Tour is the best way to see the lights from the water AND the land. If you do it on your own, the Bateaux (boats) are available a short walk from the Alma Marceau metro station.
L’Open Tour hop-on-hop-off bus for a great view of Paris. This tour has 4 different legs and covers all of the sights in central Paris. For $4 more than the standard fare, you can be covered for 2 days. It’s well worth it to give you the travel flexibility. While the metro is great for a quick trip, it is not very scenic. And best of all you can buy the tickets in advance so you are ready to go when you get there. On this tour, you can hop off at great sights like the Eiffel Tower, the Luxembourg gardens, Napoleon’s tomb, Rodin’s museum, the Musee D’Orsay, the Louvre, and one of my personal favorites, Montmartre. You can exit the bus and take the funicular up to the Sacre Coeur. Remember, those scenes of Paris with the artist painting the beautiful domed church and the church he is painting is in the background? Well, the church is Sacre Coeur and the spot is the Place du Tertre. Here you will see many artists painting scenes and doing portraits. It’s another great spot to buy that memory of Paris direct from the artist. Surrounding the artist square are a number of shops and restaurants. It’s a nice lunch spot before you check out that fabulous Neo-Romanesque church, Sacre Coeur.
In the afternoon you may want to stop at the Galleries Lafayette, the famous Parisian department store with the fabulous stain glassed dome ceiling. The first floor has a number of better quality souvenirs, perfume, and fashionable jewellery selections. You will also find interesting food halls and a quiet little tea room upstairs to escape the crowds. Or you can exit the store and head over to Place d’Opera nearby and get a table at the world renowned Cafe de la Paix where you can enjoy coffee while you gaze on one of the most beautiful buildings in Paris, the Opera House.
From here an interesting stop not far away is the Place Madelaine with La Madeleine Church, modelled after a Greek temple. It’s a totally different architecture for a church and well worth a look. The famous Paris food store called Fauchon is just around the corner. If you would like to take a bit of Paris home with you to recreate it in your kitchen later, stop by and pick up some spices, condiments, or wine. You will enjoy seeing the variety and the mouth-watering displays. As we move toward evening take the bus to the Latin Quarter for dinner. The rue de la Huchette is a great place to peruse the variety of ethnic restaurants on the left bank and make a selection. After dinner you may want to go back over to the Eiffel Tower and take a ride up to the top, it’s a chance to see Paris sparkling before you, what a sight!
On day 3, it’s time to see one of the great art museums of the world – the Louvre. This museum could take the whole day if you let it. It is a beautiful palace on its own, however, the art it holds is extra special. If you are going to other museums you may want to look into the Paris Pass as it can save you money. Buying in advance will allow you to skip the lines and go right in. If you want a more in-depth tour, there are guided tours of the Louvre available, conducted by people knowledgeable in the art and antiques you will see. This choice will give you the most appreciation for what you will be seeing.
Back to touring the Louvre, besides the must see of the Mona Lisa, the Venus de Milo and the Winged Victory, don’t miss the Napoleon Apartments as they are an excellent display of some of the best Empire antiques, art and decor in a live in palace setting. The Louvre has some good lunch spots and the mall attached to the Louvre also has a food court upstairs with a wide range of food. After you leave the Louvre walk through the Tuileries gardens, they are lovely and there is a little cafe where you can have coffee and crepes. Coming out of the gardens on the right is the Rue Rivoli. This is a covered colonnade lined with shops. If you are into antiques, don’t miss Le Louvre des Antiquaires at number 2 Place du Palais Royal across from the entrance to the Louvre on the Rue Rivoli side – it has museum quality antiques.
Your afternoon can be spent walking down the famous Champs-Elysees to the Arch de Triomphe or crossing over to the left bank and visiting the Musee D’Orsay, the other great art museum. Here you will see some of the famous impressionist paintings for which France is best known. The building itself is an architectural marvel as it is an old converted train station.
As you finish your day you may want to stay on the left bank and try one of our favorite steak and pomme frites places, the Entrecote Relais on Rue Benoit or another favorite on the left bank near Notre Dame, Maitre Albert on Rue Albert.
Find out more…visit our section on Paris Tours .