Thursday, September 26, 2019

Paris Travel Guide

Our 10 day trip to France was an absolute dream. I always love returning to my favorite city, Paris, and I enjoyed getting to explore more of the French countryside this time, as well. Our trip started with three days in Paris, followed by Normandy and Mont Saint-Michel, and then the Loire Valley. We ended our trip with two additional days in Paris, which was perfect. 

For my travel guide, I figured it would be easier to share what we did in Paris in one post, and then the rest of our trip in a separate post. Traveling, as you know, is a passion of mine, and I also love getting the opportunity to play "travel agent." Whether I've been somewhere 100 times, or I'm visiting for the first time, I research relentlessly. I love creating fun itineraries, and although they may seem a bit more 'scheduled' or 'busy' for some, they work great for us. I love trips that are a mix of both planned and leisure activities. Without further adieu, here's a look at what we did in Paris! 

5-Days in Paris Overview

Day 1: Arrive in Paris, Tuileries Garden, Place de la Concorde/Fontaine des Mers, Place Vendôme, Rue Saint-Honoré, Palais-Royal, Galerie Vivienne, Passage du Grand Cerf, Église Saint-Eustache, Musée du Louvre 

Day 2: Hop-On-Hop-Off Bus, Notre Dame, Sainte-Chapelle, Arènes de Lutèce, Panthéon, Luxembourg Gardens, Église Saint-Sulpice, explore Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Ferris Wheel Ride in Tuileries Garden 

 Day 3: Palais Garnier, Hop-On-Hop-Off Bus to Montmartre, Sacré-Cœur Basilica, La Maison Rose, Rue de l'Abreuvoir, Vignes du Clos Montmartre, Avenue Junot

Day 4: Musée d'Orsay, Esplanade des Invalides, Pont Alexandre III, Grand Palais, Eiffel Tower, Champ de Mars, explore the 7th Arrondissement

Day 5: Place du Trocadero, Palais de ChaillotMusée Marmottan Monet, explore the 16th Arrondissement, Champs-Élysées, Arc de Triomphe, River Seine cruise 

Day One
We arrived in Paris bright early, and after a 40 minute taxi ride into the city, we were at our hotel and ready to take on the day! Our hotel, Hotel Regina, was situated directly across the street from the Louvre, making it the perfect location to visit several of the cities 'must see' sites. I based our first day on what was located closest to our hotel, and I would recommend when planning your own agenda, that you do the same. Since you'll have been flying and sitting for so many hours, it's always nice to move around after flying.

We started the day with a walk around the Louvre, before strolling through Tuileries Garden. We ended at Place de la Concorde, and then visited the Roman Catholic church, L'église de la Madeleine. Rue Saint-Honoré, was right around the corner, so we did a little shopping. The street has some of the best shopping in the city. This shopping haven has brands like Prada, Hermes and YSL, as well as smaller boutiques, and is home to Goyard's flagship/original store. Of course, you know I had to stop in, but sadly I left empty handed because they were sold out of the bag/color combo I wanted.

From there we stopped for lunch before going to Palais Royal. If you're on social media, you will instantly recognize this Paris "hot spot." It is dotted with black and white striped pillars of different shapes and sizes. I enjoyed getting to see the juxtaposition of an old palace as the backdrop for these modern works of art. After snapping a few pics, we walked to Galerie Vivienne and Passage du Grand Cerf.  Both of these are indoor shopping arcades, that house restaurants and bars, as well. The shopping was dismal at best, but both were worth a trip just to see the wrought iron facade, mosaic flooring, and glass ceilings.

We went back to our hotel and relaxed for a bit before we had a private guided tour of the Louvre that evening. On Wednesday's and Friday's (we arrived on a Friday) the Louvre stays open until 9:45pm. I had read several places that visiting the museum in the evening gave you the opportunity to visit the museum more intimately with less people around. Knowing how crowded the Louvre can be from previous visits, I definitely wanted to take advantage of getting the chance to see it at night. Also, by booking a tour with most companies, you get to skip the lines and go through a separate entrance, which saves a lot of time too.

When we finished our two-hour tour, we ate at one of my favorite restaurants, Cafe Marley. Cafe Marley is housed in one of the wing's of the Louvre, and is directly across from the Pyramid, giving you an enchanting, up close and personal view of the museum. A must visit! After dinner on our walk back to the hotel, we watched as the Eiffel Tower lit up and sparkled, a view which we could also see from our room. We booked one of the Eiffel Tower View Junior Suite's at the hotel - it was definitely worth the splurge - that was our view below!

Day Two
We started our day with a double decker tour of the city. I am a huge sucker for the double decker tour buses (total tourist) because they're a great way get the 'lay of the land' and see all the highlights. It also makes it easy to cover a lot of ground in a little time, and it's convenient that you can hop on and off whenever you please. After we completed our city tour, we had lunch at Villa Dondelli, a darling restaurant we had passed by the day before.

Once we were done enjoying our pizza and pasta, we walked to Notre Dame, which is closed/blocked off while repairs are going on. Unfortunately it looks like it is going to take quite a while before it opens its doors again.  We then walked down the street to visit Sainte-Chapelle, which has the most amazing stained glass windows - a must see!  

We crossed the bridge and visited a hidden gem, Arènes de Lutèce, which used to be a Roman arena dating back to the 1st century. Tucked away behind apartment buildings and a park, the arenas are easy to miss, but are definitely worth a visit! We then walked through the Pantheon, Luxemberg Gardens, and Saint Sulpice. We continued roaming around the St Germain area, the 'Arrondissement' (neighborhood/district) that was favored by Ernest Hemingway. We had dinner before taking in the sunset on the River Seine. We ended the evening with a drink in the Tuileries Garden, and a ride on the ferris wheel, which gave us amazing 360 degree views of the city and all its twinkling lights.

Day Three
We started our day a little later with a tour of the Palais Garnier, the Paris Opera House. Yes, the opera house where the Phantom is supposed to have lived. It was my third time visiting, but I love exploring the history of the building and seeing it's beauty. I was a little disappointed to find that they had installed some modern art on the grand staircase to commemorate the building's 350th anniversary (why?!?!?), but was still glad we stopped by. 

From there we took the double decker bus (we had bought a two-day pass) to Montmarte. Montmarte is one of Paris's most famous districts in the city, while still maintaining authenticity and feeling very "local." Home to Sacré-Cœur and the Moulin Rouge, this neighborhood has something for everyone (including some of the best restaurants and shopping).  After lunch, we worked off some of our calories by hiking up the hill to the basilica. Once we got to the top, we had a stunning view overlooking the entire city. From there we roamed around the neighboring stores, and watched several local artists live-painting. I love seeing all the good (and bad) works of art on display, and even picked up a small painting of the city.

From there we stopped for a quick stop in front of La Maison Rose. This 3-star restaurants has a 5-star picturesque exterior (it's pink), so you know I had to take advantage of the photo op. We then roamed the famous and noteworthy streets in the neighborhood, including Rue de l'Abreuvoir and Avenue Junot. We also made sure to stop by Vignes du Clos, a small hillside vineyard that's nestled in the hills of the neighborhood. The vines are said to have been introduced to the area in 944, and now they're the last remaining ones in the city! Unfortunately it was closed since it was Sunday, or we would have definitely tried it.

We then walked back to our hotel, so that we could enjoy the sunset from our patio and watch the Eiffel Tower light up! After taking in our gorgeous unobstructed views, we walked to dinner. We had googled some restaurants nearby, and based on reviews we went to try Les Antiquaries. A quick walk across the Pont Royal bridge got us to this delicious restaurant. We sat at a cozy table outside, and enjoyed our first of three, yes three meals here, during our trip. It was that good. 

Note: As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, to make this travel guide easier to read for those looking to go to Paris, I am combining all five days we had in Paris together.  We spent our first three days in Paris, and then we were gone five days, so actually day four and five below were really day nine and ten of our trip. 

Day Four 
Today we drove back to Paris from the Loire Valley (travel guide to follow). We checked into our hotel, The Prince de Galles, before dropping off our car at Gare du Nord. Returning our rent car was highly dramatic and included being locked in the parking garage while the fire alarms were going off for over and hour. It's safe to say once we got out of there, we were ready to enjoy (and salvage) what we had left of the day.

Our first stop was the Musée d'Orsay. Although the Louvre gets all the hype because of the Mona Lisa, I actually prefer the Orsay. They have an extensive Impressionist collection (my favorite), and had a temporary exhibit featuring works by Berthe Morisot. Lesser known than most of her contemporaries of the time, like Degas and Monet, Morisot was just as innovative, skillfully blurred the lines between "outside and inside" and private and public life. It was hard not to gravitate to and relate to her paintings.

After we explored the museum, we were were only a few blocks away from Les Antiquaries, the restaurant we visited previously. We debated trying somewhere else because well, it's Paris, but quickly changed our minds. Not only had our meal there had been amazing, but after the morning from hell we'd had at the train station, we didn't want to chance having a bad meal. Not only was our food great again, but the staff even remembered us!

After lunch, we walked along the Seine River before roaming around the Jardin des Champs-Élysées and past the Grand Palais. We then crossed the Alexander III bridge, which is not only incredibly beautiful, but has an amazing vantage point of the Eiffel Tower. After crossing the bridge, we walked down along the water again, past several floating barges that house restaurants and bars. This is a great place to stop and people watch, and is also filled with tons of locals, especially on a warm day.

We then went to Champ du Mars, the lengthy public garden/greenspace that spans from the Eiffel Tower to the L'École Militaire, the military academy. We sat here and rested our feet while taking in more gorgeous views of the Eiffel Tower. Afterwards, we went to dinner at Chez Pippo, a delicious pizza restaurant, before calling it a night.

Day Five 
We got up and strolled through the 16th arrondissement towards the Musée Marmottan Monet, our first stop of the day. On our way to the museum, we passed by Place-du-Trocadero and Palais de Chaillot. We enjoyed the walk to the museum as it was away from a lot of the other more touristy neighborhoods, so it gave us a true look at Parisian life.

The museum is discretely tucked away next to a park, and would be easily missed if you weren't looking for it. It houses over one hundred pieces of Monet's work, making it the largest collection under one roof in the entire world. It was absolutely amazing to see so many of his paintings and sketches, as well as paintings by other impressionist artists.

Once we finished at the museum, we went to a darling cafe in the neighborhood and had burrata and pizza. I wish I could remember the name of it, because it was delicious! From there we made our way back over to the Seine River to take a river cruise. I love taking a river cruise when I'm in the city, both during the day and at night if possible. It's a unique and fun way to see the city. Plus they tell you the history behind some of the things, which is great, and it's a wonderful way to get a perspective on where things are in relation to one another in the city. A must-do for first timers or avid visitors! 

Our next stop was the Champs-Élysées. On the first Sunday of every month, the famous shopping avenue is closed to traffic. As luck would have it, the final day of our trip was on the first Sunday of the month. Although the Champs-Élysées has several high-end flagship stores like Louis Vuitton, Versace, Gucci and Dior, it has kind of become more like Times Square than the chic epicenter it used to be. That being said, I knew getting the chance to roam along this busy street with no cars was an experience not to be missed! I also knew I only had a few hours left in our trip to get some last minute shopping in, so it made for the perfect excuse (see my massive shopping back from Christian Dior below!). We also made sure to go to the Arc de Triomphe, as well before we went to one last dinner and closed the chapter on a perfect trip!

Travel tips:
I knew there'd be zero chance that we could check into our hotel, so upon arrival we decided to get a room at one of the hotels that connected to the airport. After a long flight, there's nothing better than a shower, am I right? I highly suggest visiting an arrivals lounge (if the airport has one), or getting a room for an hourly or half-day rate at and airport hotel if you're getting in early to your destination. Although we were there for maybe two hours, it started our trip off on the right foot, and left us feeling refreshed and ready to take on the day.  

Buy tickets ahead of time to avoid waiting in long lines! Most of the main sites in the city have their own websites, making it easy to book ahead of time. The tickets can be easily download to your smart phone as well, so there's no need to worry about printing. Also, be sure to check the websites to see about days with extended hours (or days that they're closed), free admittance days, museum passes, etc.

When I was planning, I made sure to schedule each day so that we were in a certain area to avoid backtracking, or a lot of running around. We definitely did a lot of walking each day, but that's one of the things we love to do when we travel, so it was perfect for us!

I know this travel guide was lengthy, but I hope it will help you decide what to see and do when you visit Paris. If you have any questions or there's anything else you're interested in, let me know! 


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