Ok, so three nights in La Ville Lumière is not exactly ideal- after all, it is one of the world’s great cities. But on a recent road trip through Brittany and Normandy, we just couldn’t resist stopping on our way back to the ferry at Calais. (Believe it or not, Carnac and Mont St Michel were higher on my bucket list than Paris, but I’m an archaeology nerd, I can’t help it!) And yes, we actually DROVE into Paris, tucking the car into a parking garage near our hotel for the duration. Kudos and cheers to my hubby for his fab driving skills!
We wanted to pack in as much of the sights as we could without killing ourselves- a nice mix of standing in line with the thousands of other tourists for the big attractions along with soaking up the incredible vibrant atmosphere of the city. So we made a hit list- what we definitely wanted to see, in order of priority. With some planning and efficient use of public transportation, we managed to see quite a bit in a short time.
Before I share my three night Paris itinerary, a couple of things you should be aware of before visiting for the first time. Despite a reputation, especially among Americans, for being rude, we found Parisians actually quite charming, friendly and helpful. Whether we were awkwardly looking for something at the chemist, or stumbling around a street corner looking at a map, folks were more than happy to assist us. Rather, I found my fellow Americans, of which the streets and sights are teeming, were often the ones being rude- loud, inappropriately dressed (I’m looking at you, Mr Wife Beater and Flip Flops!) and not even trying to speak the language. If you attempt a polite greeting in French, the locals will almost always let you off the hook and switch to English. But if you don’t even try, they may well dismiss you.
Second, public transportation is the best way to get around. The underground is clean and efficient, as well as cheap.
Third, be prepared for exorbitant prices on everything- I paid $6 for a Coke, and $15 for a package of plasters. My advice is to cut out the extras, like soft drinks, and make sure you have basic supplies to avoid having to stock up there.
Ok, are you ready for three whirlwind nights in Paris? Let’s go!
Arrive at your hotel, keeping in mind that you can get nice lodging in a not so touristy part of the city for about a third of one in the centre. There are underground and bus stops everywhere, so save that extra money for food and entertainment.
Head to Montmartre, where the night life is buzzing and jazz manouche flows out of stylish clubs on every corner. Enjoy dinner and live music, and finish with the spectacular view of the city lit up from the steps of the Sacré-Cœur Basilica, where tourists come for the view and local young people gather for a bit of recreation.
Explore Montmartre. This area is very touristy during the day, with stalls of artists and bric-a-brac salesman lining the streets. Visit Sacré-Cœur Basilica- the lines are nowhere near as bad as at Notre Dame. Duck into the Montmartre Cemetery for a bit of peace and quiet among the city bustle.
Stroll along the Canal St- Martin. This bohemian chic area is a great place to while away a couple of hours. Shady quays along the canal are just perfect for sitting in the grass, with lots of charming bistros to enjoy lunch- there is even a pizza place that will deliver to your picnic spot.
Tour the Musee d’Orsay, which features the greatest collection of 19th century paintings in the world- it’s an Impressionistic dream! It’s not as mobbed as the Louvre, and, unlike at the Louvre, taking photographs is not allowed, so you’re not constantly being jostled out of the way by a camera wielding idiot while you try to enjoy a painting for a few minutes.
Tuileries Garden is a great place to get away from the crowds and find a shady bench to sit for a while. We met some local friends there for a late lunch at one of the outdoor cafés in the gardens, and found it a wonderful way to recharge after fighting the masses.
Browse the St Germain with its stylish boutiques, historic cafés and high end galleries. Then head to the city centre, where you will join the thousands of tourists (we did this on a Tuesday, I can’t imagine the crowds on a weekend!) Get in line for Notre Dame- and be prepared to wait at a minimum half an hour. We were lucky and got in in less than 45 minutes.
With so many other iconic sights left to see, where to start? How about a boat trip down the Seine? This is a great way to see a lot without walking for miles and standing in yet more lines, all from the comfort of an open topped boat. We had a voucher for Vedettes du Pont-Neuf at Square du Vert Galant, which berths right near Notre Dame. It was totally worth the 10 euro each, and we got to see the Eiffel Tower, Napoleon’s Tomb and lots of top sights, all with our feet propped up. We weren’t up to fighting the crowds at these sights, and found seeing them by boat just as satisfying.
Next up was a stroll down the Champs-Elysée, perhaps the most famous boulevard in the world. This is another touristy hot spot, so expect throngs of photo snappers, but there is great shopping here- mostly of the window variety for my budget! If you can manage to find a spot to sit at an outdoor café for a bit, great, but be prepared for waiting lists. It was really too crowded for us, so we decided to splurge on a taxi ride around the Arc de Triomphe and then head back to our hotel.
The Louvre could take up an entire holiday in Paris- with over 380,000 objects and displays, it would take months to see everything-and that’s after you spend hours in line just to get in! So my advice is to go early, plan several hours, and make a hit list of your priorities.
Of course the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo are probably on your bucket lists, and are not to be missed, but be prepared for the throngs. By the time we got to the Mona Lisa, I was on the verge of a panic attack, so we decided to leave the paintings to the crowds and explore some less visited galleries, including the Egyptian and Assyrian exhibitions, both of which were outstanding.
Too soon, it was time to leave Paris, but, frankly, after the multitudes at the Louvre, I was ready to leave the city behind for our quiet glen. I hope to get back again some time, so if you have any tips or must see sights to share, let me know!