Paris has always been on my bucket list to visit so when the opportunity came up last year to go I jumped at it, even if it was only for a short time. As I alluded to in my previous post, I strayed from my usual casual style of travel and went full on packed tour mode. I knew it was not realistic to see everything I wanted to in such a quick visit so I did a lot of research to see which sights I could not miss out on. I used the site visitacity to help me plan an itinerary to help me plan an efficient path to see everything I chose. It even suggests changes based on opening times of attractions. I was able to enter the times I wanted to leave my hotel and be back at night. I found it very helpful to see what was realistic, though I did not end up sticking exactly to it once I arrived.
After a very early wake up call of 3am and a tearful airport goodbye to my family in Germany we were off to the romantic city of Paris. We landed at 9am and took a cab to our hostel to drop off our bags and then we were off! We used the Metró to get around, it’s my favourite form of public transportation in any city that I’ve used it in. We stayed at Auberge de Jeunesse D’Artagnan Hostel in the 20th Arrondissement so our nearest Metró station was Porte de Bagnolet on the number 3 line. After buying unlimited day passes we got on headed towards Pont de Levallois Bécon. We popped out at the Opéra station and had breakfast in a bakery.
After pastries and cappuccino, we walked to Galeries Lafayette Haussmann to get a view of Paris from the rooftop on the 7th floor. If you have more time then I did I would recommend spending a bit of time in this department store, it is beautiful and they say it is the best shopping mall in Paris. Oh and they sell shoes, so what more reason!
La Terrasse is a nice spot to relax for a bit if your feet are tired from walking, there is a bar so you can grab a drink and some tapas. Its open from 9:30am to 7:30pm so depending on the time of year you are visiting it could be the perfect place to watch the sunset.
After taking the obligatory selfies, we headed back to the Opéra station and took the number 7 line towards Mairie d’Ivry/Villejuif-Louis Aragon and got out at Palais Royal Musée du Louvre. There is a lot of amazing history that I want to see inside the Louvre, but with only 48 hours in Paris I knew I didn’t have time. So I settled for seeing the outside of the Palais and it did not disappoint!
I have seen the Louvre in hundreds of movies and thought I knew what to expect, but I was not prepared for just how massive the palace is. It’s galleries spread across a space of almost 15 acres making it the largest museum in the world. There are about 15,000 visitors each day. If like me, you don’t have time to spend exploring inside I would say a walk around the outside is still worth your time.
Next we walked towards Musée d’Orsay to start our Seine walk. There are several staircases to get down to the river level. It was incredibly hot and humid in July so it was a nice break to have a slight breeze off the river.
At 34 degrees we were quite ready for a gelato break by the time we got to Pont Neuf. While we sat in the shade at a sidewalk cafe we took advantage of free wifi to find our best route.
Pont Neuf is the oldest standing bridge across the Seine, construction started in 1578 and ended in 1607. From it you have great views of the Eiffel Tower and La Conciergerie.
We crossed Pont Neuf halfway to get onto the Île de la Cité, the heart of Paris. Interesting fact, all distances in Paris are measured from the center of this island. It is most likely the oldest settlement in the city, set up around the third century BC. With so much history in one small place, this was definitely on my list to see.
First stop was La Conciergerie, part of the former royal palace, the Palais de la Cité. From the 10th to 14th centuries it was the main palace of the medieval kings of France. Later part of it was converted into a prison. Among the more famous inmates were Marie Antoinette and Napoleon III.
Next stop was Sainte Chapelle, the royal chapel within the Palais de la Cité. It was consecrated in 1248 by Louis IX. It is considered one of the highest achievements of the Rayonnant style of Gothic architecture.
Next stop on my historical tour was Notre Dame Cathedral, another Gothic masterpiece. I thought I would go inside if the line up was not too long so when I walked up I got excited as it looked as if there was only 20 or so people in line. I soon realized how mistaken I was when I saw that the entire square in front of the cathedral was a long snake trailing back and forth of people waiting to get inside. I had thought they were just standing taking pictures! If you want to see the inside I would strongly suggest buying tickets ahead so you can skip the line.
We wondered through the narrow streets on the island enjoying the beautiful buildings, crossed over another bridge to try some delicacies from Boulangerie Saint Louis, and found a crêperie with sweet and savoury crêpes. I personally am partial to savoury but I tried some lemon crêpe and it was amazing!
We then walked up to the Pantheon in the Latin Quarter. It was originally built as a church but now is used as a burial place for famous French heroes. The building, with its large Corinthian columns, was modeled after the second century Pantheon in Rome. It’s construction was completed in 1790.
Then we walked to Maubert – Mutualité Métro Station to head back to our hostel to shower and get ready for the evening. You can see the full walk we did here.
Since we had been snacking all day we did not feel like having a sit down dinner so we headed out straight for the Eiffel Tower. We took the number 3 line from Porte de Bagnolet towards Pont de Levallois Bécon to Père Lachaise then switched to the number 2 line heading towards Nation. This is a big station with four different lines so be prepared for a crowd. We made our way over to line number 6 and got on heading towards Charles de Gaulle Étoile, getting off at Bir-Hakeim. It is just a short walk from this station to the tower. We arrived just as the sun was starting to go down. I would recommend arriving around this time, you get to see the tower during daylight and at night, and get to watch as it lights up. After pinching myself several times to make sure I wasn’t dreaming and was in fact standing in front of the Eiffel Tower I took a few obligatory selfies in front of it. We then jumped on a river cruise by Bateaux Parisiens. They have a couple different options including a dinner cruise. Since it was a last minute decision we did the 15€ one hour cruise which departs from and returns to the foot of the Eiffel Tower. The boats offer free wifi so you can make your friends at home jealous with a live Instagram story! This was perfect for my express tour of Paris as I wanted to see a lot of the buildings at night as well as during the day and there would not have been time for both without this river cruise.
After the cruise, I was starving so I headed over to a crêpe vendor under the Eiffel Tower. Exhausted after logging over 26,000 steps on my FitBit and being awake since 3am we headed back to our hostel.
After a short nights rest we were up and ready to go again! One of the things I love to do in foreign countries is to check out a grocery store, I have discovered some pretty neat things. Paris was no different, we stopped at the store on the corner of the street our hostel was on and found they had a selection of delicious pastries and a machine that squeezed oranges into fresh juice. A perfect quick and easy breakfast! I find I often feel unhealthy when I’m eating out a lot so it was nice to have a boost of freshness to start the day.
Then off to our Métro station, Porte de Bagnolet, we took the number 3 line towards Pont de Levallois Bécon and got out at Opéra to change. Be aware this is also a large station with three lines meeting so at certain times of the day it will be quite busy. Then we took number 8 line toward Balard and got out at Concorde, another busy station. Then the number 1 towards La Défense for a short ride, getting out at the next stop Champs-Élysées-Clemenceau.
It was incredibly hot and we had had a small breakfast so we were ready for some cold beer and a snack. We headed for lunch at an Italian restaurant just off Champs-Elysées. It may seem weird to be eating Italian food while in Paris but I really can not get enough of the stuff, and Italy’s neighboring countries have some amazing restaurants that help me survive until I make it to Italy itself.
The Avenue des Champs-Élysées is just under 2 kilometers running from Place de la Concorde and Place Charles de Gaulle. You can buy anything from perfume to clothes to cars along this avenue.
We strolled along the avenue popping into shops that we found interesting or when we got too hot (it was a very humid 34 degree day) until we made it to my end goal of the Arc de Triomphe. Inspired by the Arch of Titus in Rome, it was commissioned in 1806 by Napoleon. If you want to go up to the top, there are two underpasses that take you under the traffic circle. I chose not to do this as I was short on time, instead I spent a few minutes watching the insane traffic patterns and driving of the people navigating the traffic circle. It made me very pleased to be using the Métro as my mode of transportation rather then having a rental car.
Next stop Montmartre. To get there we found the nearest Métro station which happened to be Charles de Gaulle Étoile. We got on the number 2 line towards Nation and got out at Anvers.
There is a funicular that you can take to the top or you can climb the stairs. If you have purchased a day pass to the metro there is no additional cost for the funicular, otherwise it is the same cost as a metro ticket. At the top is Sacré-Cœur, it is located at the summit of the butte Montmartre which is the highest point of the city.
Built out of travertine stone, construction of this impressive monument began in 1875 and was completed in 1914. The bell is one of the heaviest in the world, weighing about 19 tons. 21 horses were used to drag the bell up the hill!
We did not go inside, but you can take tours of the church and climb the dome for a magnificent view of Paris, there are binoculars so you can see many of the other famous landmarks of the city. I chose to stroll around the outside taking pictures of the amazing architecture. Considering it has about 10 million visitors a year, it was a surprisingly peaceful place. I find at a lot of places I’ve visited it’s hard to get a good picture without people getting in the way. I did not have that problem here. There was a street musician playing Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah on a violin and couples stopping to dance in the cobblestone street.
We found a restaurant with tables outside in the shade and sipped on sangria while watching the hustle and bustle of the artists and tourists in Montmartre. Many people say that Montmartre is what made them fall in love with Paris and I was no different. It is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before. The streets are steep and windy, the buildings are covered in ivy and every few steps will have you wanting to take another picture. Many artists including Picasso and Van Gogh have been inspired to create here. If you want to have a piece of art as a souvenir from Paris head to Place du Tertre. Here you can watch the artists at work and buy paintings directly from the artists.
Filled with restaurants with tables on the sidewalks, cabarets, music filling the air from street musicians and street artists who will draw your portraits for a few Euros you get a true Paris feeling being in Montmartre.
We had dinner at La Cremaillere which has a beautiful secluded courtyard complete with water falls and a windmill. Then back down the many steps in front of Sacré-Cœur to the Métro station to head back to the hostel for a good nights rest before my early morning flight back to Canada.
My 48 hours in Paris went by too fast, but it was enough to make me want to go back to this beautiful city when I have more time to explore. I would choose to go in spring or autumn over summertime, it was almost unbearably hot in July. That being said, if the opportunity for another visit came up and it happened to be in July, I would jump at it again. After all, with cold beer and gelato breaks you can survive anything right?
Stay tuned for a future blog post from Traveling Stef about what they did in France after I left.