I have spent a month of my life in Paris.
That’s like, one 300th of my life. I think. (Math was never my strong point.) Now, this might sound like a big or small percentage to you, but a month is quite a bit of time to be a tourist in one city, even one so scintillating as Paris! My month of visits were not consecutive, actually. Instead, I have been to Paris three times, each time with people who had never before experienced La Ville Lumière. . . quite a lot of tourism took place, and each time I discovered different facets of the glittering Jewel that Paris truly is among the dross of urban metropolitan meccas across the continents! Although I will never claim or pretend to know all the delights of Paris, I will share with you a few things that, in my humble opinion, you should not miss if you are planning to visit!
#1: The Café
When your feet first touch down in Paris, the first order of business (after settling into whatever temporary shelter you plan on!) – depending on when you get there – is to find some cheapy place to snag a bite to eat. (Airplane food just never cuts it!) This is not too hard, as long as you don’t expect a five-star culinary masterpiece for the price of 5 euro! Find a little nook with a lovely view and just quietly camp out . . . maybe sit in a cafe for a half hour, simply because you’re in Paris and you just should. . .
#2: The Musée Rodin
Then, when you’re as re-charged as your jet-lag allows, you should pack up your bag and wander off in the direction of Le Musée Rodin
on the Rue de Varennes
, but only if you want a gorgeous indoor-outdoor breathtaking fine art and sculpture experience. Hopefully you are not taking your trip too too
soon because it actually is closed for renovations until April 3rd. . . but it’s my favorite museum in Paris, and quite possibly the whole world. So, it is worth the wait. Many people go to Paris to see Le Louvre
, which is monstrously large and – truthfully- quite overwhelming! Le Musée Rodin
has an utterly different feel, an underlying tranquility; the small sculpture-laden château is nowhere near as overwhelming as the Louvre!
Although the Louvre houses thousands upon thousands of treasures worth-seeing (which are very cool if you don’t mind feeling a little dazed and in shock at all the stuff to see!), Le Musée Rodin is like a breath of fresh air! You walk through the little gate and feel like you’ve stepped back into the time of Rodin himself. Your feet will crunch on the white stones that scatter the path leading up to Rodin’s past home. If you’re lucky, the rose bushes that fill the gardens will be in full bloom and your first view of Le Penseur
(The Thinker) will be framed with a riotous array of petals, rendering the serious statue’s expression closer to a calm contemplative thought rather than a mental state of turmoil.
Most people only know Rodin’s Thinker, or at least know it best of all his work, but it is just the tiniest tip of the most incredibly exquisite ice-berg I have ever encountered. When you walk inside, you will see the most delicate and provocative sculptures you can imagine.
#3:Le Centre Pompidou
After viewing your fill of Rodin masterpieces, if it’s not late in the day and you still have time, I’d assess my mood. If I wanted to do some cool walking/exploring/shopping and see some awesome street performers and such I would head to the big square in front of the Centre Pompidou and chill there for a while. It’s honestly not a museum I would bother going into unless you’re obsessed with modern weird art, but there’s usually a lot of fun going on outside! I’d probably watch the street performers until I got bored and then I would go walk around le Marais district, which is pretty nearby and wonderfully full of cute cafés, patisseries, bakeries and both expensive and consignment shops. It’s a nice outdoor place to walk about and you see so much in Paris just by walking around.
If you have time, descending into the Catacombs
are ridiculously cool, but if it was my only day visiting Paris, I’m not sure I would make the catacombs the main event. Lots of stairs are involved and it’s a little bit depressy if you start to reflect alot on the plaques, but it’s a fascinating experience if you want to do something a little morbid!
After this part, I’d probably be hungry for dinner from all the walking, so I’d find a place to eat. You have a couple options at this point. Now if you’re in the Marais, doing Paris on-the-cheap, and you like falafel (not something you usually associate with France, I know) there are two places that are pretty much insanely famous to go to for falafel. They are right across the street from eachother (the more famous one is called L’As du Falafel).
This is not a convenient sit-down place but you can get food to go, so if you want a “real” restaurant and a chance to get off your feet, I’d go elsewhere. Actually, usually I’m not much of a one for recommendations, but if you want the classic French “steak-frites” which is delicious (although I think a little far away from this area, you might have to hop a metro), it’s called Le Sévero. They legitimately ONLY serve steak-frites and the menu price is fixed (I think around 19 euro) but they give you a lot of tasty food and they have good wine and desserts if you want to spend a little more… and it’s a nice place to sit and listen to street musicians and relax and eat.
If I remember, it’s pretty near a metro stop (not to mention it’s right by wherea whole bunch of famous people used to hang – Sartre, Hemingway and Picasso to name a few)
Okay, I know I’m talking about food a lot, but it IS unfortunately very possible- and even easy- to go to Paris and not eat well, so I think that’s something I want to give you an escape from if possible, I promise I’ll get back to the actual things-to-do soon! So, now it is crucial that you get dessert =D
, especially if you stayed in le marais for dinner, which doesn’t appeal to people who are tired from walking, but would probably be more convenient of a segue into the next things you want to do, since it’s very central.
If you are in Le Marais, you should totally walk south towards the Seine, which will take you right to the bridge over to Ile St. Louis. It’s the perfect stop-over for famous ice cream at Berthillon (Which is worth it – if you’re gonna do it, don’t go to a substitute that “sells berthillon icecream”, go for the real deal!)
#7: Notre Dame de Paris
After that keep walking through Ile St. Louis and you can walk right onto the Ile de France to see Notre Dame. It’s gorgeous and wonderful to walk through and see the rose window and such… sometimes you catch beautiful music too… but honestly, it’s not really worth going up the towers, unless you want to see the gargoyles much closer. I mean, it’s cool, but not the coolest thing in Paris to climb (which I’ll get to, don’t worry)!
#8: Les Bateaux-Mouches
So, now, you should totally walk back accross the seine from Notre dame (I don’t really recommend going over the bridge to the southern side because you’re immediately in tourist mecca for a while at that point -and I mean, the least-legit, most unlikeable parts of tourist mecca). Now if you are at this point as the sun is starting to set, you are in LUCK/have planned admirably, because one of the BEST things to do in Paris (particularly if it’s your first trip) is to take a bateau-mouche trip on the seine. Typically, you go down right next to the Seine (there are big signs and it’s not far from Notre Dame) and hop a boat, they leave about every 15 minutes and they cost about 8 euro and they are super touristy, but they also let you go all the way up and down the seine and see everything in a really laid-back, enjoyable way. Ride on top if you do this. I don’t know why you would ride inside, actually.
Now the reason why it’s ideal to do this at sunset or dusk (although I’ve done it in the day too and it’s nice then as well) is that , at this point, you’re gonna be wiped and might want to sit and enjoy Paris a little. BUT , more imporantly, it is gorgeous to watch the sun set on the Seine and see the Paris lights come on. REALLY gorgeous.
#9: The Ballet at L’Opéra Garner
Now, another evening option, if you want to do something more culturally heavy, would involve a little pre-planning, but is highly worth-it! If you have any inclination to go to a “show” of sorts, I would pack my best day-to-evening sundress rather than scrubby jeans for this day. Then, when you get to Paris/around 11 in the morning,go to the Opera Garnier ticketing booth (all the way around the left hand side of the opera, if you’re facing the front of the building) and get the last-minute tickets for whatever ballet/opera/show is playing.
I’d recommend the ballets. I’ve seen two. Tickets can be as cheap as 8-10 euro if you don’t mind craning your neck, and you can get some for like 30-45 euro that are actually pretty good. . . the first time I went to Paris, seeing the ballet was my absolute favorite thing I did.
If you do this, be sure to soak in all the beauty.
The Opera Garnier is STUNNING; you feel like you’ve stepped into an old movie set when you’re in a red velvet opera box. The interior is exceedingly glittery and over-the-top opulent, so be sure to explore it a little while you’re inside.
During intermission, you should also go out on the balcony and look out at Rue de l’Opera at night . . . while surreptitiously looking at all the snazzy people who dress to the nines for opera, which is also worth seeing!
There are two monuments in Paris that are wondrous for very similar and different reasons!
First, there’s the Eiffel Tower. People told me it was overrated. They were wrong. IF you go, I recommend going at night. Make sure you get to see the tower sparkle; the lighting of it is insane and every 15 min or half hour the whole thing twinkles and its impossible to capture on a camera or film, you just have to see it in real life! I love the Eiffel tower and, in my opinion, it’s TOTALLY not overrated. Going up to the top, however, is overrated. It’s just not that exciting to see the Paris skyline from that angle. . . it is exceedingly tiny and doesn’t have a whole lot of things you know to look for, especially without the Eiffel Tower being prominent on the skyline to distinguish the fact that you’re in Paris! It is great to go underneath, sometimes choirs sing underneath, which adds another dimension to the loveliness. Very magical to see! It is however a teeny bit hard to get to.
It’s a decent walk from the center of town, although it never seemed like it would be before I set out. Unfortunately, there is also only one metro stop near La Tour Eiffel, and it’s a little distance from the Champs de Mars. Also important to note: it stops running kind of early and you’ll want to make sure you get the last train back to wherever you are staying, unless you feel 100% comfortable walking the poorly-lit way back. down the Seine. Ultimately this is all your call and if you are not one to like the eiffel tower in general, just pass on it, you’ll definitely see it from the boat and/or on the skyline a lot.
So, a final place I must mention, which is going to be food-related (sorry), is Ladurée, a bakery that’s been on Rue Royale since 1862.
It’s somewhat expensive and fancy and pretty fabulous; like the Tiffany’s of Patisseries (probably not a place I’d go to for a meal/any extended period of time if I only had one day in Paris…), but the one thing that is super famous from Ladurée and totally worth trying if you feel like getting a Parisian treat, are the macarons.
They’re obscenely good. Eating a vanilla bean macaron, or maybe a caramel one, might be how I would like to die.
They’re better than chocolate. Which is a big deal. They’re beautiful too, which sounds weird, but is true!