In mid-May I took my wife and daughters to Paris for a four night visit. I have been to Paris many times, but always for a single day on my way in, or out, of the country on business. This was my first time spending any real time in the city, so I used my experience, and the help of several blogs, to map out the most efficient use of time to see as much as possible. For the next three weeks I will be posting about my experience, broken into three categories; Visiting Paris, Food and Visiting Champagne. If you have any questions please email me at [email protected]
The first thing to know about visiting Paris is understanding the way the city is divided into 20 Arrondissements, which help categorize the nature of each neighborhood. There are as many opinions about the “best” place to stay as there are things to see in the City of Lights, but for me the perfect spot was in the north/east corner of the 2nd arrondissement. This is a locals neighborhood walking distance to many popular sites and with easy access to their train system, the Metro. Coincidentally, we rented an apartment on VRBO that was above a wine bar, and across the street from another that specializes in Port. For four people I found this cheaper than two hotel rooms and it gave us more space to stretch out, which was important because my girls like to shop!
Getting around Paris is a nightmare for drivers, so do not get car for your time in the city. Parking is hard to find and expensive, and traffic moves inches, not miles, per hour most of the day. The Metro is efficient and will get you within a couple of blocks of almost anywhere you want to visit. The price is a little more than $2 per person, per trip, or you can buy a day pass for around $10 per person.
Museums – Being the first time in Paris for my girls it was important to hit many of the “must see” places, but four days is not enough to cover everything. If you want to see the big museums, the Louvre or Musee d’Orsay, then buy tickets in advance. You will still stand in line for a few minutes but without tickets the queue can be very long. Fun hack, show up half an hour late for your ticketed time and they escort you past the line and right into the museum. I am embarrassed to say this happened at both museums, thank you Paris traffic. If you are limited on time then my advice is to skip the Louvre and visit the d’Orsay. The Louvre is very large and crowded, so it is hard to absorb all of the art that is on display. The d’Orsay is also pretty busy but manageable to see in an afternoon, with a stunning amount of impressionist art.
Aside from museums we also trekked out to the Eiffel Tower, whose base is currently under construction. We did not go up the tower on this trip but on a clear day it is a great way to see the city. We also walked to the Arc de Triumph, which now costs 13 Euros to walk up to. Unless you are really a student of history save your money and look at it from across the traffic circle.
Finally, my youngest daughter took an art history class this year in which she studied Rococo architecture. Her big wish was to visit Versailles, which is the massive palace built by King Louis XIV in the Rococo style. The place is amazing, and also packed with art, so it is like visiting another big museum. You have to buy tickets in advance and I strongly suggest printing them as the app is so bad that even the ticket people make fun of it. After you get inside it is certainly interesting and amazing, but for me the highlight is the garden, which is truly spectacular. While you can easily take the train, which is about an hour from downtown Paris, we visited after picking up our car and on the way to Champagne. Parking is ample and easy, and pretty cheap.
Shopping – The chief reason I chose to stay in the 2nd is opportunity to see the city through local eyes, as there are lots of mom-and-pop shops, as well as dozens of restaurants and cafes. One of the unique attributes of the 2nd is the concentration of Secret Passages across the neighborhood. These are alleys and small streets that the merchants covered and tiled in the late 18th century, when most streets were still dirt. Today there are only a few dozen left in the city, with many in the 2nd. Many are poorly marked, and even behind a closed door, but most are public and very vibrant. Check out the Passage des Panoramas, Passage Choiseuil and Galerie Vivienne.
For cooks you will want to make your way to E. Dehillerin , a 200 year old store catering to professional and amateur chefs. Make sure you go into the basement, if for no other reason, to see the underbelly of a really old building. My daughter also made Polène a stop, for ladies looking for an up-and-coming hand bag brand. Finally, may wife loves to sew so for her Ultramod was a priority, also a very old store with the largest selection of ribbons, buttons and like I have ever seen.
My wife is also a fan of “antique stores” and events like Renningers Extravaganzas, where she can add to her many collections. If you are cut from the same pattern then you will want to seek out a brocante, or flea market, although they are typically called puces. We hit the Puces de Vanves Flea Market in the 17th (south central Paris) and it is extraordinary. You can find everything from vintage clothes to housewares, jewelry and lots of amateur art. Funny enough there was only a couple of food trucks so eat before you go as there are no nearby restaurants.
Of course, no shopping trip to Paris is complete without a visit to the Champs Elysees. We walked from the Louvre through the Luxembourg Gardens, which takes about a half hour at a leisurely pace. Once there the famed street is about a half mile, with boutiques and stores on either side. Most of the stores are bigger versions of the same stores we have at Millenia Mall, with a few French only exceptions. It started raining just as we reached the first block so our visit was quick, finishing with the Arc de Triumph at the western edge.
One final note on the 2nd, it is worth stopping into the Church of St. Eustache (technically in the 1st). This is a massive church very close to the stores listed above, that was built after Notre-Dame to service the growing population of Paris. Since Notre-Dame is currently closed for renovation you can see the inside of another old, massive church, and it is free. The foundation of this church is nearly 600 years old and it is incredibly impressive. Unlike most things in Paris there are no crowds, just walk in if you are out discovering Paris.