TL;DR: Must do once in a lifetime. Don’t over plan. Soak in the city by just walking around. Louvre, d’Orsay a must. Day trip to Versailles if you can. Avoid the many tourist traps. Plan at to stay at minimum 3 days. Getting in and out of the city takes forever
Paris is undoubtedly my most favorite destination in the world. I have been there at least a dozen times, but still, whenever a question comes up about my favorite vacation destination, I always say Paris. What’s one thing you should definitely see in Paris? I am not going to answer that with one of the top tourist attractions, because it’s really none of those. The most wonderful thing about Paris is the city itself! The one activity I would most recommend? It’s simply walking around the city. The best way to enjoy the beauty and the spirit of Paris is to walk the city – walk late at night, walk early in the morning, walk by the river, walk along the beautiful boulevards. Walk along the shops, walk down Haussmann’s beautiful avenues.
One of my least favorite things about Paris is the first thing you see in Paris, which is the Charles de Gaulle airport. It’s a complex myriad of buildings, some of which emphasize design over functionality. They probably look beautiful from the outside, but for the tired, haggard traveler arriving, they are just not the best. The immigration setup is confusing. Bags usually don’t arrive very quickly, and then figuring out your way to the Metro or other modes of transportation is quite confusing. In my recommendation, the best way to get to the city is by the direct bus that goes from the airport to key points within the city. It’s called the Roissybus. I used to take the metro, but some of the connections are quite complex and hard to navigate with luggage, so the bus is a better option. But once you get past the hassles of arriving, Paris just surrounds you with its beauty. Everywhere you look, you will see something that takes your breath away. The streets, the buildings, the riverbanks, the boulevards, and even a corner coffee shop.
One of the most visited sights of Paris is, of course, the Eiffel Tower. This most iconic structure is truly beautiful at any time of the day. The area around the Eiffel Tower is very walkable. One of the best views of the town is actually from the other side of the river, from a place called Trocadero Garden. If you are looking for some artistic photographs, hop onto the metro, get to the Trocadero and take your photos from there. Make sure to sit in one of the parks and enjoy the area like a local Parisian. Or better yet, pack a small picnic lunch and eat a sandwich while people watching. Imagine horse-drawn carriages and dressed up folks walking along the promenades around the tower. It’s like stepping into a time machine – so much fun!
An interesting but odd trend has been started by tourists in Paris. Not sure how locals view or feel about this. The trend is to tie locks on bridges as a marker of your love. There are reports that bridges are buckling under the weight of these locks and the city of Paris has to spend a huge chunk of its budget to take them off regularly. But makes for some nice moments for sure
Champs-Élysées is a famous street in Paris and the Arc de Triomphe sits proudly at the end of this beautiful tree-lined boulevard. The street itself is nothing exciting. I find the shops and restaurants a bit touristy. I prefer walking some of the smaller by-lanes of the city. There are many beautiful buildings lining the Champs-Elysees. Even if you are not a student of architecture, you can enjoy the beauty of these buildings.
The Arc de Triomphe is a beautiful, monumental structure. Its grand and solemn at the same time. Testimony to those who sacrificed their lives for liberty. And as with everything else in Paris, it’s aesthetically beautiful too.
The best part is to get to the top of the arch. The viewing gallery from the top offers some of the best views of Paris. I would recommend going to the top of the Arc de Triomphe rather than go up the Eiffel Tower, which is expensive and crowded. The Notre Dame cathedral sits on an island in the middle of the city. It’s a beautiful cathedral and the whole surrounding area is very nice.
Paris city hall also sits on this island. It’s one of the three city halls in the world that actually sit on an island. The other two, interestingly enough, are Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and Osaka, Japan. There, now you are the owner of a completely useless fact (other than when the question comes on Jeopardy).
Some of the world’s best museums in Paris, starting with the Louvre with its insanely large collection of artifacts, historical objects, and so many other things. You could literally spend days at the Louvre, but my recommendation is to allocate one full day, do your homework, and decide on the sections of the museum that you want to visit and explore so that you can focus your energy on those sections.
After a long day at the Louvre, be sure to enjoy a pastry from one of many nearby shops. French food is not really my thing as I find it too bland. But the pastries, a slice of heaven
However, my favorite museum in Paris though is not the Louvre, but the Musée d’Orsay.
This is a converted railway station that now houses some of the world’s most magnificent collection of impressionist paintings, particularly the pieces by Renoir, Monet, and Manet.
Another one of my favorite museums is the Rodin Museum. They have the best collection of Rodin sculptures, including the original gates of hell creation. It’s another fantastic place to visit. One could write a lot about the river Seine in Paris. They say that’s the only sane thing in the city, but as a visitor, it’s insane not to walk around the river. Just cross the bridges back and forth and walk along the river, sit by a cafe, sip some coffee, or have a nice glass of wine with some charcuterie.
Sacre Coeur is a beautiful church that sits on top of the hill. You can take the metro to a station at the bottom of the hill, and ideally just climb up the hill. You can also take the funicular ride up the hill. From Montmartre hill, you can see a beautiful view of the city below. Just the environment around there is so fantastic as musicians playing live music, kids playing on the stairs that young couples kissing in the open area. Just a beautiful, beautiful place. As you make your way down the hill, make sure to stop by some of the smaller artists’ shops to see the beautiful works of art. It’s really a nice way to spend an afternoon on this hill
A visit to the palace at Versailles makes for a nice day trip. You can take a train in the morning from one of the main stations and make the 90 minutes or so journey to Versailles from the station. You walk to the palace, it’s about a 10, 15-minute walk.
And then you can enjoy the rest of the morning enjoying the lavish lifestyle of kings like Louie the XIV (Fourteenth) and Louis the XVI (Sixteenth). The rooms have been meticulously restored the way they were when they were actually being used. This is probably one of the grandest palaces you will see in Europe. And then there are the gardens. You could spend a long time just looking at the gardens.
The town of Versailles itself is also interesting. There are many small restaurants and shops that you can spend time looking through and then you make your way back to the station for the train ride back to Paris.
I hope to keep returning time and again to Paris – city of lights and love