Paris, the city of love, has captured the hearts of millions over hundreds of years. It is visited by hundreds of thousands. It is on the bucket lists of millions. It is dreamed of by billions. My husband and I were lucky enough to live a fantasy and visit this famed city. I don’t know about you; but the expectations of Paris are among the highest when it comes to cities of the world. Hollywood, photographers, writers have all built up the beauty of Paris to its absolute capacity.
I was skyping with an English student from China the other day who said it is common for Chinese people to commit suicide in Paris. They build it up so much in their minds that when they get the chance to visit the place of their dreams, they arrive and realize it is in fact just another city, they feel there is no purpose to life anymore. How sad! While my husband and my’s expectations were definitely not that high; it is still hard not to have a preconceived idea about the place.
But, if you have been to Paris in recent years, you already know; it doesn’t take long to see that Paris is, in fact, just another big city. Yes, it holds beauty, culture, art, monuments, history, life and of course, love! Many of the things everyone loves! But it also holds traffic, crime, homelessness, animal poop on the sidewalks, beggars and so many tourists! Many of peoples not so favorite things.
The point of this isn’t to discourage you but rather to keep your feet on the ground. I find Paris is much more enjoyable if you start your trip with the right mindset!
While 4 days is just longer than a weekend, we found it was plenty of time to see Paris! Of course, you can always go for longer but it isn’t a must.
Our sightseeing list: (in no particular order) The Eiffel Tower, The Arc de Triomphe and the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, The Louvre, The Cathedral of Notre-Dame , Sacre-Coeur and Montmartre, The love-lock bridge, and the Palace of Versailles.
We walked and walked and walked the streets of Paris. So naturally, saw many more things than just this. However, these were the ones we made a priority to really see and explore! I will give you some tips and time frames that we used for each place so you can plan accordingly.
The Eiffel Tower – is clearly a must. It doesn’t disappoint. There are several different vantage points to see this amazing monument. There is also an option to go up inside of the massive structure. I don’t recommend going into the tower. I find it overpriced and disappointing because you are inside the main thing you would want to see when viewing Paris from above. Plus, the lines are crazy long and sometimes there is construction which hinders time-efficiency for the experience. There are some cafes with heated outdoor seating where you can enjoy a coffee or hot chocolate with an amazing view of the romantic tower. I recommend seeing it during the day and then again at night. When it gets dark the entire tower lights up; plus every hour on the hour it sparkles for about 3 minutes. It is absolutely breathtaking. My husband and I enjoyed a hot chocolate at one of the many cafés with a view. It was winter time but they had outdoor heaters plus blankets. It was perfect! Afterwards, we found a street vendor selling the world-famous crepes of Paris; then found a park bench to watch the hourly sparking cuddled up in the fresh air. Those are the moments – I can only describe as magical!
The Arc de Triomphe and the Avenue des Champs-Élysées – are connected. You can’t see one and not the other. Champs-Élysées is the most famous street in Paris and one of the most famous in the world. It is multiple lanes wide going each direction. It is separated by about a two meter wide median which is almost constantly full of tourists. At one end of this large street is the famous Arc de Triomphe! This monstrous arch stands in the middle of a massive round-a-bout traffic circle. Although traffic doesn’t allow you to make your way to the arch through the traffic circle; there is an underground tunnel which you can use to get underneath the arch itself. The street itself is lined on both sides by some of the best shopping opportunities in Paris. A walk down this amazing avenue is a need-to-experience type of thing. All you have to do is decide whether you do it on the sidewalk or you risk walking dangerous the median listening to exotic car engines roaring on both sides.
The Louvre – is the worlds largest art museum and arguably the most famous in the world. It houses pieces from many different periods of history from many different places in the world. Most famously, it is the home to the Mona Lisa – the famous painting of a woman by Leonardo da Vinci. There are a few things you should know about the Louvre. I will keep it to four important things. First, this place is HUGE. Bring your walking shoes and plan to spend some serious time. Even if you are like us, “not a museum person”, and don’t plan on reading anything – you will still find yourself walking and seeing things for hours. Second, it is not easy to navigate. There are free maps in pretty much every language available at the information desk in the lobby. Or there are options for audio guides available for sale online or in the lobby for 5 euro. The audio guides are like little smart phone Gameboys which can track you via GPS and guide you to any exhibit or specific piece of art which you are looking for. Thirdly, you might want to buy your tickets online. Depending on the time of year and time of day – the Louvre can get pretty busy. If you want to stay on the safe side; I would save yourself the stress and buy online. Plus, there are a lot of different pricing options you can research beforehand. Fourthly, because of recent attacks of the world be live in. The Louvre, like most places, has majorly updated it’s security. It doesn’t allow large bags and for some travelers that is a problem if you are on the go. So yes, the Louvre is beautiful… inside and out and should definitely be on your list!
The Cathedral of Notre-Dame – doesn’t need an introduction. It is a large catholic cathedral located in central Paris. It is known around the world for many reason and definitely draws a crowd. You are able to go inside and it does not cost or require a ticket but it only allows entry at certain times on certain days. You can visit the churches website to find those times and plan accordingly. I would plan on waiting in line as well especially if you are there during a busy time of the year. We waited a full hour in a line. The church has a security check which definitely slows things down. But it is a beautiful and massive building that is worth the wait. There is no wonder why people have written about it and it’s mysteriously haunting bell towers for hundreds of years. While we didn’t catch a glimpse of Quasimodo; we were mesmerized when the organs played and the sunset came through the stain-glass windows!
Sacre-Coeur and Montmartre – is a large white church atop a hill overlooking Paris. It is open to the public and like Notre-Dame there is a line because of a security check. Although it generally is a short wait and nothing to worry about it is something to note. Entry times are very normal which can also be found online. The hill which Sacre-Coeur is at the top of can be a little bit of a hike. There is a lift available where you can buy tickets on the spot and be up in no time. While it is an amazing view of the city; unfortunately, the view doesn’t include the Eiffel Tower. It’s hidden by some high-rise house buildings. The church itself is beautiful and a must see but additionally the surrounding neighborhood is also very beautiful and quaint. This area is called Montmartre! It isn’t the richest area but it shows the face of middle to low-class Paris which is also an experience. You can walk those streets and get away from the tourists and the part of Paris which are on the post-cards. There is one open plaza they call “Artist’s Corner”. It hides just around the corner from the church. It is filled with artists of Paris painting, drawing, and cartooning. On all sides of the square there are cafés with outdoor seating facing the middle of the plaza. People are able to again sit, curl up with a blanket and hot drink and people watch. I highly recommend spending some time in this area. Find a café; walk the streets; watch the people of Paris live.
The love-lock-bridge – no longer exists. Not the answer you were hoping for? I know; I was bummed out too. Not too long ago they had to remove the locks from the bridge because the weight was making the bridge structurally unsound. It’s a shame. I was looking forward to seeing it in its former glory. However, the bridge still stands and has a beautiful view of a split in the river through the middle of the city. I recommend keeping it on your list. There are paths running right along the water where people can walk or sit. There are even still a few light posts that are still covered in locks.
Palace of Versailles – is amazing! I will admit, I am a bit bias – palaces and castles hold a special place in my heart. Versailles is more than a palace. It is an entire area still maintained as if the royal folks are still around. There are a lot of options for tours – all of which can be found online. No matter which package you decide to get. BUY YOUR TICKETS ONLINE! The line is extremely long. If you buy online you can set an entry time and skip the line saving you hours! I recommend going there right away in the morning. The opening times of the gardens, buildings and exhibits change. Be sure to check online and plan accordingly. You can easily spend a full tourist day lost within this beautiful place on the outskirts of Paris. Like most tourist days, bring your walking shoes. The gardens are big! There are golf carts available to rent. But either way, they’re big. If you are unsure which ticket package to buy I would go for the “passport” which allows full access to everything worth seeing.
All of the places I have mentioned can be reached by public transportation. We always do a lot of walking in cities we visit because we like to see the streets and experience life in that city. But we used the metro system whenever our dogs were barking. 🙂
Overall, Paris is a wonderful place. It isn’t heaven on earth. It is just a big city. But it is one filled with life, love and so many cool things to visit! If it isn’t already on your bucket list; put it on there and make it happen!