Everyone that wants to travel the world has wanted to visit Paris at one time in their adventure of life. Whether you’re in college backpacking through Europe during a beautiful summer; you’re celebrating your honeymoon in the most romantic city in the world; or you’re finally keeping that promise to your special someone after retirement. The City of Lights does not disappoint, and contrary to what we see in movies or what you’ve heard Paris is beautiful and friendly and one of my favorite vacation spots in the world.
Mrs. CurryonTravel and I visited the city in late March, early April. The time period was interesting because the busy tourist season that engulfs the city in later April and through the summer hadn’t started yet. The weather wasn’t as warm, as there were some showers but not so chilly that a couple from Texas couldn’t enjoy themselves. During our 8-day/8-night stay, we discovered how to truly be French. From the food we ate to the streets that we just wandered, everything about France was both foreign and local.
What to do there
Entire books could be written about what to do during your stay in France, in fact there is a library section devoted to traveling in European countries. Paris is of course at the top of the list; however, our stay wasn’t limited to just the City of Lights. Along with Paris, we also spent some time in Nice. Why Nice? There were other options we considered such as Bordeaux and Corsica, but we decided on Nice because of its proximity and the opportunity for us to experience the French Riviera. While in Nice, we also took a day trip to the country of Monaco. We allocated 3 days and 2 nights for Nice, with left us 5 days and 6 nights to experience one of the most romantic cities in the world.
Planning your trip
The Paris trip can be organized based on the interests of the travelers: artists can just explore the art, foodies can dine and enjoy the wine, while tourists like us can wander and be local. The wife and I decided to visit the Louvre, Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame Cathedral, Sacré-Coeur Basilica, Versailles Palace, Luxembourg Gardens, Pantheon, and saved the Eiffel Tower after we got back from Nice. Though we could have added the Picasso museum, the art in the Louvre was more than enough for us.
Hacking tip: we planned our visit about 4-6 weeks prior to our departure, and with rough dates set we bought the tickets for the tourist places online. Buying tickets online allowed us to skip the lines (which can be long!), organize the trip with firm dates, and take advantage of the exchange rate when the rate was a lower (though it may not be a concern now). Another area that could be expensive is the transportation. We only took taxis to/from Charles de Gaulle airport. For the rest of the stay, including Nice, we took buses, trains, and subways. We bought a one-week pass in Paris that allowed unlimited use of the buses and subways. It typically takes multiple buses/subways to get across the city, i.e. the Notre Dame Cathedral is on the other side of the city from Sacré-Coeur Basilica. Be aware that the French subway authority, ATP, roams around the subways; so if you plan to sneak through without a ticket they will catch and fine you!
Louvre and Champs-Elysees
We started with a visit to the Musee De Louvre, mainly because of my fascination after reading/watching The Da Vinci Code. After getting past security, we walked in to a huge hall where the museum splits in different directions. Maps are available in multiple languages that show the path to the famous exhibit, including the Mona Lisa. The architecture was just spectacular, and one can spend the whole day just admiring the art. After going through the ancient Greek, Egyptian, and Roman art my wife and I made our way to the Renaissance period. When we went to visit, the Mona Lisa was essentially located in its own room, swarmed with other tourists. In the midst of the Mona Lisa and Madonna of the Rocks, I would definitely recommend spending some time in the ancient Greek section and Napoleon’s apartments. The apartments contained the sometimes gaudy decorations of the time (setting you up for Versailes), in contrast with the simple marble sculptures of the Greeks.
After recovering from our first day in Paris, we set out for the avenue of Champs-Elysees. We took the subway station to Place de la Concorde, located in the 8th arrondissement, and started by admiring the Fountain of River Commerce and Navigation and the Egyptian obelisk. The pictures came out really well since it was a sunny day and the entire square looked so beautiful. In the corner you could catch a glimpse of the Eiffel tower and straight ahead you can see the avenue of Champs-Elysees leading up to Arc de Triomphe. We happened to visit Champs-Elysees during the Paris Marathon. The entire avenue was swarmed by tourists, visiting and window shopping some of the most high-end shops. We tried some of the best macarons in Paris at Ladurée and Pierre Hermé. We personally liked Ladurée the most, so much in fact we brought it back for our family and friends. Do expect to wait in lines for about 10-15 minutes when trying their bakeries and sweets. After making our way to Arc de Triomphe, we took the tunnel underneath the avenue that led us to the Arc. After walking up the stairs to the top (no elevators), we saw the whole city spread out in different directions. I would recommend getting to the Arc by sunset, and watching the lights come on.
Hacking tip: I would recommend buying macarons from the CDG airport on your way back. There is a Ladurée shop at the airport, close to the gates, and the prices are the same. I would also recommend dining at the restaurants by the Champs-Elysees avenue. We had some of the best Italian food and pizza in our lives at a restaurant near there. Contrary to popular belief, the country is very vegetarian-friendly. The restaurants were always happy to accommodate us and substitute vegetarian options, it also helped our wallets since the restaurants adjusted the prices for vegetarian dishes (a model I hope US would follow).
One of the best pizzas we’ve had
Paris is well-known for its churches, the history and the architecture behind the monuments that are still used as a house of worship. We went to see the Notre Dame cathedral in the morning. The entrance is free; though visitors are asked to be quiet since there is a service taking place daily. The architecture of the cathedral is spectacular, more than 700 years in the making! A walk inside the cathedral allowed us to view the hand-painted glass stains. The Notre Dame cathedral is heavily influenced by English and western architecture, and definitely worth a visit. In contrast, the Sacré-Coeur Basilica is simplicity in itself. With more of an eastern influence, the basilica stands in white with stone and marble on top of the Paris. Located in Montmartre, climbing up the hill to get to the basilica is well worth it. You’re rewarded with some of the best view of Paris, city that seems far away yet close enough to admire. Buses and tours are available for those that cannot walk up the hill’s stairs or pathways. We ended the day sitting on the steps of the basilica, looking at the sight, and hoping the day wouldn’t end.
Beauty and Simplicity of Sacré-Coeur
There are many options for day trips from Paris such as the Normandy beach for history buffs. We visited the Versailles Palace, aptly named for the city of Versailles built by Louis XIV. I would recommend allocating the whole day for the Versailles Palace as there is plenty to see and it is worth the visit. There are many ways to get there, either by train, renting a car, or taking a tour bus; we opted for the train. Taking the train is cheaper, and the station is conveniently located from the main town. Versailles is a small town with charming farmer’s markets and boulangeries. The palace is located close to the city center and following the crowds of tour buses will lead you straight to the palace. Coming up to the palace you’ll quickly realize that you haven’t seen any place of this size as gaudy as the Versailles Palace. With golden gates and golden paint over the palace, Louis XIV spared no expense. Tickets can be bought at the palace; however, the lines tend to long in the mornings as most groups arrive as soon as the gates open. The audio tour is available in multiple languages and it helps guide the visitor through multiple rooms and their historical significance. The wife truly loved the experience and the time touring the palace was well spent. The gardens of the palace are also open for tours (though limited certain time of the year) but a separate ticket is required for them.
Nice and Monaco
We took a break from Paris and flew to Nice for two nights. Flying over the French Riviera feels like going to Miami. From the sometimes dark cloudy weather in the 50s, we went to the balmy sun-filled beaches in the 70s. Nice is the perfect spot to visit the other areas of Cote D’azur, trains are available to visit places such as Eze, Cannes, Antibes, and Monaco. Nice is also the ideal spot with many beach locations to relax and sun bath. The private beaches require and entry fee, however the public beaches are free and beautiful. On our first evening, after touring the town, we went to the beach. Something felt missing, so I rushed to the closest wine shop and the owner gave me a great Bordeaux wine with small paper cups and opened the cork so my wife and I could enjoy the bottle by the beach. The breeze of the Mediterranean Sea with the water and an amazing bottle of French wine could not have been more perfect.
Wine on the Beach
The next morning, we took the train for a day trip to Monaco. From Nice, it is a 30-minute train ride passing towns while overlooking the sea. The houses built on the mountains with the old-fashioned trains explain why many celebrities buy houses in the south of France. The Principality of Monaco is a sovereign city-state. Though the language is primarily French and English, there is a heavy Italian influence. Monaco is home to many celebrities that move there to take advantage of its no-tax policy. I would recommend visiting the palace of Monaco, located high in the city. The tour is well worth it and the views are enviable. The Monte-Carlo is worth a visit as well, however there is a charge to enter the casino. The wife loved the posh lifestyle of fancy cars and fancy shops as Monaco has one of the highest percentage of millionaires in the world.
This is my actual picture of Monaco
Gardens, Boulangerie, and the Eiffel Tower
After taking a relaxing break in Nice, we were back to experience the rest of what Paris has to offer. The Jardin du Luxembourg (Luxembourg gardens) is a private garden that open to the public. Located in the 6th arrondissement, the gardens are located close the French Senate building. It’s not surprising to see locals come to the gardens to get away from the bustling city. Close to the gardens is the Pantheon. The Pantheon is located with a group of government buildings with some of the best architecture I’ve seen. To really be a local, visit the area during lunch time, stopping off at the boulangerie next door and grabbing a baguette and an espresso. During lunch time Parisians sit by the central area and enjoy a meal while looking at the gardens on one end and the Pantheon at the other.
We had saved the most iconic tourist spot for our last day, the Eiffel Tower. We booked the tickets in advance and during the process we booked our time-slot for the visit. There are two types of tickets for the tower, for the first level and for the top; so I would ensure that you buy tickets to the top. It’s disappointing to get in line after the first level and find out you don’t have the right tickets (they don’t sell additional tickets on the first level). Tourists are not allowed to enter the tower prior to their scheduled time-slot. Expect long lines, even if you have tickets, and tons of tourists. After getting off the first level of the tower, there is a second line to get to the top of the tower. Also, be aware of the pocket-pickers and other “characters” that prey on unsuspecting tourists. Once at the top, the views are mesmerizing, looking at the whole city and its beauty. Pictures did not do justice, but it was a sight we will not forget. After completing our tour, we visited a restaurant to get savory and sweet crepes. What a better way to end a trip then eating crepes, drinking wine, and watching the Eiffel Tower slowly lighting up with the rest of Paris.
Can’t forget the Eiffel Tower
How to get there
We booked our flights from Dallas to Charles de Gaulle (CDG), and after an 8-hour journey, we were welcomed in Paris! The airport is exactly how you’d imagine it would be: a hodge-podge of activity as people from across the globe come to experience the magical city. On returning to the US, however, I would recommend getting to CDG about 3-4 hours before your flight. The airport can seem unorganized at times and during our stay there were numerous flights back to US that was delayed or passengers that missed it because of long security and immigration lines.
Going from Paris to Nice we had several options. We could rent a car, take the train, or fly. The US driver’s license does qualify you to rent a car in Paris, however that is not a chance we wanted to take. The train ride from Paris to Nice would be about 5 hours, and I’ve heard its scenic. However, we booked a flight from the Orly airport. The air tickets were about the same, and could be cheaper, than the train tickets and the hour travel time really convinced us to fly to Cote D’azur.
Hacking tip: we booked our flight reservations from easyJet, which is very similar to Spirit airlines in the US. The airline allows a small hand-bag and carry-on and requires the rest of the luggage to be checked-in. However, “small” has a different meaning in Europe as compared to the US. The luggage sizes and carry-ons are almost half the allowable size in the US. I would recommend checking their site and getting the exact dimensions allowed to avoid any charges. Similar to Spirit, the cost of checking in baggage is greatly reduced if you pay for it at the time of the booking. The French Riviera is about an hour flight time away from Paris, and definitely recommended for travelers that want to spend less time commuting. We took the bus from Paris that takes you directly to the Orly airport (keep in mind that bus drivers can only accept cash on the bus for a ticket, if you want to buy a ticket on the bus).
Where to stay
While I don’t have a particular hotel to recommend, I would recommend staying close to Montmartre. The area has many restaurants and it is quite safe in the evening. I would also recommend other room or apartment sharing ventures if you are comfortable with it. We did not spend too much on hotels, which allowed us to enjoy the sites and the food.
As always drop me a note if you need additional information about my trip as well as if I could help in booking your adventure. Do let me know if you’re planning to travel as well as how your trip was.
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