This year we finally said “Oui!” to visiting Paris. This trip has been a dream of Julie’s for many years and we finally put a plan in place. Since this was our first time visiting France we spent a ton of time researching everything. It’s easy to accidentally overbook your day when there are so many things to see. We tried to figure out our top must dos in the City of Lights while also leaving in some room to relax and wander Parisian style. We came up with this itinerary and had an absolutely amazing time. For all the details read on for part 1 of 3 of our trip journal…
Day One: City Highlights
Given that we landed around 7:30 AM, we wanted to make sure to take advantage of the rest of the day especially since the weather was unbelievably nice. To make life easy, we decided to Uber from the airport to the hotel (you can use the app just like you do in the U.S.). This trip ended up taking well over an hour simply because it was in the middle of morning rush hour. But we chatted with our driver who gave us some good insight. We arrived to the lovely Hôtel Le Belmont who stored our luggage before our room was ready. Since we were so close to the Arc de Triumph, this is where we decided to start our Paris adventure…
Arc de Triumph
Cost: €12/person (included in Paris Pass)
After a brief walk, we made our way to the major traffic circle where the Arc is located. To access the inner part of the circle, there is a pedestrian tunnel with two separate entrances, each on opposite ends, that will take you to the middle. We went through security at the base of the Arc, skipped the line by flashing our Paris Pass, then made our way up the incredibly long spiral staircase to the room just below the top, outdoor floor. There are a few cut outs along the way up where visitors can rest and let others pass them. There isn't a whole lot in this room so we didn't spend too much time here. We then made our way up the final staircase to the very top, where we spent about twenty minutes taking in the sights and sounds of the city below. We were quite surprised by how far you could see from the top. It is one of the tallest structures around so the views in each direction are remarkable, especially given how perfect the weather was the day we visited. Also, the detail in the carvings is just incredible. It was the perfect way to say Bonjour to Paris!
Lunch: Bistro des Champs
After visiting the Arc, we walked down the street in search of lunch. We found a great little bistro serving traditional French fare. It was quiet and relaxing to people watch on the Champs-Elysees. We found the service to be great and the prices very reasonable considering it was on one of the most expensive streets in the world.
We both ordered the Croque-Monsieur, which is basically a grilled ham and cheese sandwich with melted cheese on top. It was very good but also a surprising moment for us. We had always heard how American meal portions are so massive compared to other countries. Well, not compared to here. Our meals were so large that neither of us finished our meals. (We did also think it was funny the “salad” consisted of a few lettuce leaves). And since there is no such thing as doggy bags in France, the leftovers went to waste. This was a good learning experience we used for the rest of our trip. We also learned that soda comes in bottles and there are no free refills. In quite a few cases, a glass of wine was cheaper than a bottle of soda. (Julie was quite excited about this fact.)
NOTE: It is good to know that if you order water in Paris they may just bring you expensive bottled water. Don’t be afraid to specify tap water instead.
Big Bus Paris Hop-On Hop-Off Tour
Cost: €38/person (included in Paris Pass)
While we aren’t typically the tour bus type, we thought in this instance it would actually be the perfect way to get a high level view of Paris before digging into more detail. We also figured riding on a bus would be smart instead of walking not knowing how jet lagged we would feel. There was a stop right near the Arc de Triumph so we picked it up there and decided to do the full circle. Since the weather was perfect, we made sure to snag seats on the upper deck to take in the views and the sunshine.
As guests board the bus, they are given a pair of headphones for the audio tour. There were multiple languages to choose from by selecting the corresponding number on the plug. There were many stops to get on and off, but stayed on board most of the trip other than a stop about halfway at the Opera National de Paris. We were originally hoping to do a tour there but there was quite the line so we walked around the exterior without going in.
We did venture across the street to Galeries Lafayette per a few recommendations. This multi level store had shopping galore with many high end brands as well as food and souvenir items. We grabbed some coffee and wandered around but the jet lag was setting in and we honestly weren’t in the biggest shopping mood. The building is also pretty cool with a rooftop deck that was unfortunately closed during our visit. After visiting the mall, we hopped back on the bus to head back to our original destination. Overall, we really liked the bus tour. The guides are very knowledgeable and the ride provides an effective way to see quite a bit of the city including most of the highlights. We would recommend this to anyone who hasn't been to Paris before. (The total round trip on the red route is about two hours total.)
Dinner: Pret a Manger
By the time we got back to our stop on the Big Bus Tour, we were exhausted. Even though it was only about 6:00, our lack of a full night’s sleep the night before really started catching up to us. We weren’t in the mood to go out for a dinner so we decided to get some take-out to eat on our balcony. Pret is a popular european sandwich shop, and while they are in some U.S. cities as well, it was just what we needed for a light dinner to-go before getting the most amazing 12 hours of sleep.
Day 2: An Artful Day
We work up refreshed and ready to hit the town! After a lovely breakfast in our hotel (see all of the details HERE) we headed out for a full day of many stops. We made a quick walk to the Metro to use our unlimited travel card for the first time.
Using the Metro for the First Time
The Paris Metro can get you pretty much anywhere you need to go. The Paris Pass included unlimited use of the Metro for the duration of our stay so we used it everyday. As long as you follow the signs, you will be good to go. Just look for the number/color of the metro line you need to take, then make sure you follow the signs for the correct end of line destination. We downloaded their free app which made using the system even easier. The trains run constantly and we probably never waited more than five minutes for the next train. A quick note: the older train doors do not open automatically. Riders must lift up on a small lever to pop them open. This is true when boarding the trains and getting off. Luckily someone familiar with the system got on before us so we were able to see how it's done. We aren’t so sure we would have figured it out otherwise. While we were heading to the Louvre, we actually got off a stop early to enjoy a morning walk through the Jardin des Tuileries.
Cost: €15/person (included in Paris Pass)
We first tried to enter the Louvre through the underground entrance but were confronted with a massive line. Turns out this was a line for folks who needed to buy tickets. While this was not the entrance we were supposed to go through, it was good that we went down there because this is where the upside down glass pyramid meets the solid concrete one is seen in many photos and the closing scene of the movie the DaVinci Code. We went back up the ground level and found the correct entrance, which was the upper glass Pyramid that sits in the middle of the courtyard of the Louvre. Our Paris Pass Once again put us right up front in a super short line. After a quick security scan, we went down the escalator and into the museum.
NOTE: Please note that as of the 1st August 2019, Paris Pass holders must pre-book a time slot for their visit to the Louvre.
To say the Louvre is huge is an understatement. It is amazing there is so much art in one place. With different levels and wings it is easy to get lost. Since we wanted to do so much on this trip in general we didn’t want to spend all day here. If you are there for a shorter period of time, it is good to consult a map upon entering. While we did do some wandering, we were really there for the highlights so off we went in search of those. The first of these was the Mona Lisa, which is a bit underwhelming. The painting itself is not that large but the bigger surprise was the hoard of people gathered around. There is no line so everyone is just crammed in the room as they push forward to get a better view.
Besides the Mona Lisa, we also viewed the Venus de Milo statue along with other pieces Julie remembers from art history classes. One thing we did stumble upon was the old foundation and fort walls that were there before the structure became a museum. This was actually really cool to see. One more thing that is easy to overlook but shouldn't be is the building itself. There were quite a few rooms where the ceilings were amazing works of art themselves. In total, we spent about 90 minutes in the museum before heading out. Since it was so sunny it seemed the museum was extra stuffy that day so that also led to a quicker visit for us as well. It was cool to see something so famous but we do believe there are other museums that we would rather spend more time in.
Les Caves du Louvre Wine Tasting
Cost: €32/person (included in Paris Pass)
After our visit to the Louvre, we decided to take a nice stroll along the Siene River. It was fun to look at some of the vendors and we even picked up a couple of pieces of art to take home. Then we made our way over to Les Caves de Louvre, a historic wine cellar a few blocks from the Louvre Museum. This too was included in the Paris Pass so we decided to stop by and it actually was a really cool experience. Julie is really into wine, while Andrew is more of a rum guy, but he was even surprised what a fun activity this was. Our pass included a guided tour, or the option of a self guided tour which also included a free bottle of wine per person at the end (hello free wine!). We chose the self guided tour which led visitors through multiple interactive rooms, each of which were steps along the way of making wine and explaining the various wines each region of France produced. All of the exhibits were beautifully designed and included education such as testing your sense of smell, how grapes are grown, label making, and bottling. Finally we ended up in the tasting room where each guest was given a choice of three sample pours. Here you were also able to select your full bottle souvenir. We also decided to upgrade one of the bottles for 7 euro to get a nicer wine to bring home.
After leaving the wine tour we did wander a bit throughout some streets as well. It was nice to just walk around and see different shops and restaurants. We came across a park and thought it was really cool that there was a water fountain that dispensed sparkling water too. We then headed off back on the Metro to head a little out of the way to go to a really cool exhibit.
Atelier des Lumières
We learned about this experience roughly two months before our visit to Paris. While out of the way of our other tour plans, this exhibit looked amazing and we wanted to fit it in. We believe this was initially supposed to be a short term pop-up, so we aren’t sure how permanent this will be. It has been quite popular so we highly recommend to purchase tickets early to select a time that is best for you. We chose to go towards the end of the day.
At Atelier des Lumieres an empty warehouse has been turned into an immersive canvas. Artwork is projected on every surface of the room to move and animate to a musical composition. While we were there (and for the majority of 2019) these are the featured artists:
Van Gogh, the starry night (by G. Iannuzzi, M. Siccardi, R. Gatto)
Dreamed Japan, images of the floating world (by Danny Rose)
Verse (by Thomas Vanz)
Words, nor still pictures, can do this justice. Andrew isn't as into art as Julie but found this absolutely mesmerizing. The three separate artists cycled in order about every hour. However, they do not make you leave and guests can stay for as long as they like. We were able to find a spot to sit on the floor and take in the experience. Along with the shop in the building, there is also one across the street where guest can buy items related to the artists and art work showcased during the show. We were so glad to be able to experience this since who knows how long it will exist.
After the amazing show, we hopped back on the metro and headed back to the Champs Elysees for some shopping and dinner. We didn't go in to many stores but the one obvious choice to visit was the Disney Store. We actually weren't that impressed so we were in and out pretty quick. Julie did make a classic tee purchase at La Petit Bateau and we did some window shopping. After all that walking it was then time to find a place for a delicious dinner.
Ladurée, famously known for their macarons is a tea room and bakery dating back to 1862. While the original location is 16 rue Royale, there is also a restaurant on the Champs Elysees. We originally stopped by just to pick up some bakery items, but once inside decided it looked wonderful for dinner as well. We decided to dine outside and enjoy the weather and view (and hoped not to be too bothered by smokers).
Just like most places we ate at in Paris, the servers were incredibly nice. We tried a little french on them and they ribbed us a little bit since we butchered it but they were very helpful and appreciated our effort.
NOTE: Just a little effort with a quick "Bonjour Madame or Bonjour Monsioer" goes a long way. Even if that is all you know, use it. We found this set a much more positive and friendly tone for our interaction.
Laduree had a good mix of authentic French food along with touristy options (burgers, etc.) so it is a good option for most people. Everything we ordered was definitely delicious. Here is what we had:
Specialty Teas: the Laduree Blend and Marie Antoinette
Lamb Chop and Mashed Potatoes
Beef Fillet and Parm French Fries
Plaisir Sucre (Hazelnut biscuit, ganache, and chocolate chantilly) with Hot Chocolate
Continue on to Part 2 of our trip report…