How many days to spend in Paris, what are the things to do and what are the most beautiful places to visit, especially in spring? This was our first to France and we spent a week in Paris. If you would like to learn more about Paris, check out this guidebook from Lonely Planet!
The places described in this article could also be visited in a shorter time period, just some time should be allocated for waiting in line (at least 40 minutes to an hour). I did get a feeling that even spending a month in Paris would not be enough to get a glimpse of the main sights!
The first moment to hold my breath, all eyes on the window, is still in the airplane, landing in the Charles de Gaulle airport, when I see a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower. Of course, that is the one place I am most eager to see! As much as I would like to explore Paris off-the beaten path, I want to start with the numerous places I have seen in photographs and movies along the years!
Looking through the cab window I eagerly observe Paris, as it is. The first red light makes me wonder if I am in a movie, as everyone crossing the street seems to have a baguette in their hands or in a bag! And indeed on the other side I see a bakery. Later during the week I see more of the same sights, and every bakery was bustling with life at all hours!
Observing the people on the streets, it seems that men are the ones setting Paris apart from other European countries as The Capital of Fashion. All ages, all sizes yet almost as directly from a fashion magazine, every little detail taken into consideration.
The other thing I notice is the sheer amount of people here. Although the city itself is 2 million and urban area is 11 million, the number of tourists reaches 18 million for city and 32 million for the urban area per year! Year after year London and Paris are in the running for the second most visited city in the world. Most of the tourists are American and you do hear English a lot on the streets. Contrary to what I had heard before that don’t even try the “hello!” ad you will just get discouraging looks, most French I speak to, understand English perfectly.
The City of Parks
Going deeper in the city I can’t stop cheering, as I see more and more fresh green leaves and finally a grand sakura tree! I had prepared well for my trip and had a whole list of places to visit for the best cherry trees, yet on the first day I understand that there is no need to follow a plan, as every park seems to have one! And there are plenty of parks, over 400 in Paris, and visiting those was one of my primary goals. The bright colored bushes, trees are in every square and little corner, so you are bound to see sakuras on every stroll!
Me and my husband spend the first afternoon in Parc Monceau, which is not considered to be a typical French garden but more similar to the informal English ones. We see magnolias in full bloom, petals on the ground, fields of daffodils, forsythias, white and pink cherry trees and hundreds of children enjoying the long French lunch playing in the park. Many adults are enjoying a meal sitting in the grass (still wearing suits!), and sports fans are doing practice runs preparing for the marathon. There are many, many people here during the lunch time! Another thing to consider is the lack of pavement in the park, so you will get some dust on your shoes!
We chat to one of the garden keepers, who tells us about the gracious camelias near the little house here and we learn the park is open from sunrise to sunset (same as other parks in Paris), but six houses have direct access to park at all times. The first impression of Paris is wonderful! The park is so beautiful that I can understand why Monet used to paint it.
Continuing with the parks, we visit Jardin des Champs-Élysées (near the gorgeous bridge over Seine, near Grand Palais and Petit Palais, and Esplanade des Invalides is on the other side of the river, with the complex of military history objects and the tomb of Napoleon).
Without any masses of people we enjoy more sakuras, primroses and tulips, and can’t stop touching lush green grass.
Many people sit in the grass and it seems to be allowed unless the signs specify not to (these parks usually have plenty of benches and chairs). People just go over the little fence and enjoy a picnic. Of course, for the grass it’s not the best thing, it can be seen especially well in Champ de Mars near Eiffel Tower, as the middle section of the lawn remains closed most of the time during our visit and there the grass is much greener than on the sides where there is little left of it.
Although rules say no alcohol in the parks, we see many enjoying their wine and you can buy a bottle of beer or wine in the evenings from the many guys walking around with a little bag and offering drinks. What one should definitely avoid is leaving any food behind in the park, as rats are a big problem in Paris (there are twice as many rats as people here!), and in the evenings near Eiffel Tower we saw dozens of them. So do wash your hands after sitting in the grass!
But continuing about flowers, Champ de Mars has plenty of nice trees for those through-the-flowers pictures of Eiffel tower. A good view is from Trocadéro as well, and it too has quite a few sakuras there. You will also see many party people here in the evenings.
Another lovely park to enjoy, walking in the linden alleys, enjoying tulips and ducklings in the pond, is Jardin du Luxembourg, where is the Luxembourg castle and French senate. That’s why there is a guard at the gate, but it does look like he is guarding the tulips!
Children have fun with the little country-themed ships in the main fountain, ride ponies and play in the playgrounds. Adults work on the laptops (there is wifi in many public areas), eat lunch, read or sunbath. You can also see how bees live in this park, smells some lilacs (already in April!) and sakuras here.
After visiting the Louvre or Musée de l’Orangerie one should definitely come by Jardin des Tuileries, where policemen riding horses follow that everything is in order, more sakuras and apple trees bloom, there are some peculiar shaped bushed and more flowers. One should be mindful of their belongings in this park, as with the many visitors there are many more touts here. We saw how police was chasing away some of them, but they just run to the metro where horses can’t follow them, and are back after a minute.
One of the main sights in Paris, of course, is the Eiffel Tower! Visited by over 7 million tourists per year, and considered to be ugly in 1889, when it was built, it is now one of the most recognizable places in the world. Standing at 324 m, it used to be the tallest building in the world for quite some time.
I liked the details in the tower – the stairs, the rivets, the railings. Turns out, it was almost demolished, but due to it’s height and usability for antennas, it was saved. Eiffel Tower is not just a tall building without much function, as often it is these days, it has great historical significance and many inventions were made or tested here.
When visiting, know there are two security checks, you can skip the line if you have bought the tickets in advance online. First and second floor elevator tickets are 11 euros, third floor 17 euros. Walking up the stairs yourself ticket costs 7 euros and cannot be purchased in advance.
There is a separate entrance at the “leg” for those. It is definitely worth to come to Eiffel Tower after dark as well! Although all the touts will be here as well, the light show is worth it, and it’s nice to see it from the side of Trocadéro as well as from the bridge Pont de Bir-Hakeim.
View from the tower is impressive, but since you are on the tower, you will miss seeing the tower, so going to Montparnasse tower is worth as well!
Montparnasse viewpoint is on an office building roof, 210 m up in the air and the best time for a visit is around sunset and sticking around for the Eiffel tower light show. You should come at least an hour or an hour and a half before sunset to have time to go through security and wait in the line. It is allowed to bring tripods with you and ticket costs 17 euros.
The main view is towards Eiffel Tower, which is illuminated after sunset, the famous ray of light and also every hour for 5 minutes the sparkles are on. We only found out about the sparkles from a guy standing next to us nearly at the moment when we started packing up the tripod, so good thing we talked! The tower is well protected with glass walls (there are holes for the camera gear) and a little roof on the sides, but a warmer jacket still won’t hurt.
There are so many museums in Paris! It’s especially convenient to visit for those who live in the EU and are younger than 26, as then entrance is free. Many museums have a free entrance on the first Sunday of the month, the full list is here. Some sightseeing places are actually museums, so if you fit the age group, definitely ask if there is free entrance for you or perhaps, a discounted one, if you are not citizen of EU. Be sure to have your ID with you.
Museum Sundays are extremely popular, so museums will be even more crowded than every day. We visited Musée de l’Orangerie to see the tapestry sized Nymphae (Waterlilies) by Monet (also Renoir, Picasso and other in the basement). Musée d’Orsay was on our list as well, but seeing the enormous queue, we decided to visit it some other time. As Louvre in free on the first Sundays of the month only until March, we had to pay full price for April visit, 15 euros. For some reason when checking the tickets online I see a price of 17 euros, so perhaps, it changes because of the day of the week.
Louvre visit brings up some of the brightest memories from Paris, we spent nearly half a day here and this is a place one could return dozen of times to!
They say it would take you nine months to just glimpse at every exhibit here! Of course, we wanted to see the Mona Lisa, and those who say that it looks like a stamp on the wall through the crowd on phones and pads, are right. As I had left my phone in the hotel, I had some enjoyable walk and actually saw something with my own eyes and not just through the camera! A tip for seeing Mona Lisa up close – move to the left side of the crowd and stand next to the guards, then you get an excellent side view.
Most of all I wanted to see the Egyptian collection, but it was closed on the day of our visit. But there was still plenty of other things to see. I especially enjoyed the hall decorations and the halls themselves, as the numerous paintings just become a blur after some time. We did see people who stopped at every painting and took a picture of it. What for?
You can come back to the Louvre during the day, and we actually were stopped by a Russian couple on the street asking if we would give our tickets to them, since they hadn’t been inside yet.
To enter Louvre, you can use several entrances. We used the one in the basement at the shopping mall. Entering during lunch time there were absolutely no lines, but it did seem that the main entrance upstairs was crowded all day. Buying tickets took only about 10 minutes (the online system was down on that day) and soon we were inside. If you have a backpack, it is possible to leave it in the locker room (with code key), there are smalls cafes, souvenir shops as well as some very fancy chocolate, mustard, tea and cosmetics stores in the shopping mall.
Louvre is yet another place to visit twice – also come by in the evening to see the illuminated pyramids and the buildings! You can walk through the gate, listen to street musicians and exit on the other side, at the river.
Notre Dame de Paris
One of the most grand cathedrals of the world, Notre Dame de Paris is here, in the heart of Paris! The building works begun at the end of the 12th century, and the cathedral has been rebuild many times, suffered through was and it was almost demolished, but thanks to Victor Hugo novel it was even restored!
There are two main sights – one is through the main gate (with security, as always) to the inside and one is upstairs, with the entrance on the left. The narrow steps will take you up to the chimeras, gargoyles and other statues (10 eur per person, tickets inside after security).
The queuing can take a really long time (only 200 people are permitted up at once), so as soon as you arrive to cathedral, get a spot in the line and wait! Then one of you can stay in the line and the others can go and see the inside to save some time. There are two uppers decks, so don’t miss the stairs to the highest one! Thick net covers the platform and pictures are possible through the torn out holes. There is a small entrance for the bell tower as well. Guards will rush you if you take too long.
The inside of the cathedral is grand as well! At least thirty minutes should be planned for the visit, looking at the stained glass, altars and paintings. There is a museum of jewels inside and a crypt is near the main entrance. There is a nice souvenir shop inside, but prices are quite steep, for example, rosaries cost several hundred euros, small stained plastic decorations are 15 euros.
Some of the most beautiful sakura trees are near Notre Dame de Paris cathedral. Seeing the many grand trees I just hope the ones we have at home in Riga will grow as big and some day we will have as many flowers are Paris has!
One of the places we did not want to miss where the catacombs. There is an exhibit dedicated to the history of these tunnels, starting with information about how the limestone was dug up, how tunnels formed and were forgotten until they started to cave in and finally how the bones from the overflowing cemeteries were moved here, the remains of six million people. At first the bones were moved chaotically, and just later the compositions of altars and and crosses were done. The church used to object to showing the sacred bones in public, but Catacombs became a popular tourist destination and these days boasts an all-death related things souvenir shop at the exit.
Although just some of the tunnels hold skulls and tibia bones, these days all of the tunnels are called catacombs. Because of the tunnels there are no tall buildings in the area, as there is no place for the foundation of such structures. There are also interesting discoveries related to the tunnels, for example, in 2004 a fully operational home cinema was discovered in one of them! Owner was never found.
Catacombs are closed on Mondays and various holidays, so check when they are open! Entrance is 12 euros per person, and again, you will probably need to wait in a line for an hour or even more. There is a timetable of the busiest times on the website, but we did not find it to be accurate, as still had to wait for an hour even during the marked less busy time.
Montmartre and Sacre Coeur Basilica
We went to Montmartre closer to the sunset time, as we heard there is a great view from the Sacre Coeur to the Eiffel Tower. You can see the tower from the fences at the top of the hill, but the view is not worth the drive, as the upper deck of the church is closed during sunset. The church itself is open til 11 pm and is indeed a very beautiful one.
Climbing the stairs in the front of basilica (and fighting the friendship bracelet touts), we finally where up at the beautiful building, where hundreds of other people were enjoying the view while getting seriously drunk. Again, you can by laser beams and Eiffel tower sculptures and also some beer and wine from the guys, who stop by you every minute and ask again, ii you really don’t want any beer or wine.
When we wanted to sit down at the steps to relax a bit, we quickly discovered the unbelievable stench of human urine surrounding the place. This is actually a serious problem in all of Paris. So then we walked to tiny streets, had a crepe with nutella and banana, some ice cream and watched the artists work on paintings.
Soon it became dark. It’s a very lively place up there after dark, and I must say this is the area where I probably got the worst impression of Paris, I actually did not feel safe here.
The Triumph Arc, Ladurée macarons, La Défense and living in the 8th
Living in the 8th, we really appreciated not staying on the main streets where life doesn’t stop at any hours, but being more in the side streets. We saw charming little cafes with beautiful flowers decorations, little parks and alleys, and cute bakeries. The closer we walked to George V metro station, the more beggars we saw. Also, the most expensive hotels in the city seemed to be here and the fanciest shops, with a queue outside all day long.
Living next to the Arch we saw it from all sides, every day. Seemed that the viewpoint from it might be a bit less popular than some of the other, higher places and tripods are allowed here as well. Actually, a very good view of the arch was also from Place de la Concorde and the 3300 year old Egyptian obelisk.
The other arch we wanted to see was La Grande Arche de la Défense in the business district, opened in 1989 celebrating 200 years of French Revolution. It used to be open to public until the incident of 2010. There are government offices in it, and there is a metro and rail station under it and a highway.
La Défense is a business area with many skyscrapers that can be seen from other parts of the city to be behind the Eiffel Tower. We walked here in the evening, taking pictures of the skyline and saw passing by business people as well as intense fight near the mall.
Finally, since we lived next door to famous Ladurée where macarons originate, we just could not pass the opportunity! One costs 2.10 eur and there is especially good hot chocolate. The store is open until 11pm, so you can come later when the crowds have passed. Speaking to the store assistants we learned that they are happy to take a picture of you but not so happy about the numerous pictures of them on the internet. And yes, this is the spot of Gossip Girl Blair macarons!
Rue Cremieux and the Flower Stores
One of the places often mentioned as off the beaten path is Rue Cremieux, the little street of colored houses, pretty cat drawings and cute little flower pots.
Visit on a sunny day and it will be especially charming! Actually, flowers and flower pots are very popular in Paris, the stores selling those are on every corner and you have plenty to choose for your balcony! Stores are worth a visit too!
Versailles castle usually is mentioned as a part of the itinerary if you visit Paris for at least three of four days, as almost a whole day has to be planned for it!
Getting there will take time, so as will waiting in the line and seeing at least the basics inside and in the garden!
The numerous rooms, halls and the famous Hall of the Mirrors are some of the must-dos! Many groups visit Versailles, so sometimes it’s worth to wait a little before you move on, until the bigger group passes. Complete silence must not exist here, so many people are here at once!
Audio guides are included in the ticket and are supposed to be very good, but mine unfortunately didn’t work that well.
Apart from the castle, the gardens are worth a special mention. In early spring they are not as grand as during the summer, as there were no flowers there at all, but the beautiful fountain and fresh leaves made it worth anyway! It was the opening day of the fountains season on our visit, and check in advance if you would like to see those, as normally they are not operational.
During our visit some were working during the day, but most only were turned on in the afternoon for an hour and a half. Unfortunately, just the basic walking tour takes you two hours. It’s interesting that the fountains used to be pumped manually when the king was passing by, but now the system is able to support all of them at once.
As we wanted to get an overall impression of the gardens, we rented a golf cart for 32 euros per hour, every additional 15 minutes will cost you 8 euros. What they don’t mention to all is that just to do the allowed route will take you an hour and you will not have any time for stops and taking the pictures! The cart only works in the predefined area (it stops if you drive out of the area). But at least we got some impression of the size of the garden.
Probably a better way for exploring are the bicycles, those cost 7.50 eur an hour. Versailles in not a cheap place to visit, add 27 eur per person on a fountain day for entrance! But fountains were definitely worth it – with some dramatic music in the background, Enceladus grove was the most impressive in my opinion, built in 1675 and depicting Enceladus trying to break free from stones.
After visiting Versailles we ate in the Blue Roi cafe nearby. The pasta was not really worth it, but hamburger was definitely a great choice!
How to get to Versailles? You will need a train ticket, just a regular metro one will not work (a Polish group near us in the train had a long explanation to give to the control). Despite what you can read on the internet of the Versailles passport combo ticket with the train, they assured me in the train station, this ticket combo does not exist already for several years.
The entrance ticket is best bought online, and the train ticket at the station (you will need RER yellow line C). The ticket will be valid for both the metro and the train. The train has several routes, so pick the correct one – Versailles-Château – Rive Gauche. One way ticket is 3.55 eur, and we bought two each for each way. Plan roughly 40 minutes for the way, and you need to get out at the last station. Afterwards exit and follow the masses, or just turn to the right and then to the left at the large crossing.
What else to see?
We did not get a chance to see so many things! So there is something for the next time, museums Fondation Louis Vuitton – Frank Gehry’s, Pompidou, Musée d’Orsay, shopping district Marais and the famous cemetery.
We just walked by the Pantheon, but would be nice to see inside, and perhaps, a cruise on the Seine is in order too! Moulin Rouge was another one of those outside-walk places, and there is Lido and Crazy Horse as well! Probably a few families plan for a Disneyland visit, but we skipped it as we have visited the one in the USA. And it would be lovely to see the many tiny streets and local places we did not get a chance to visit this time! Paris can be visited again and again!
Security, Safety and Cheats
Few days after return home I read on the news that there has been a shooting in Paris, on Champs Elysees, between Zara and Marks & Spencer stores, exactly where Rue de Berri comes out, where we stayed for the last few nights…
After sharing my impressions with the friends who have visited Paris three or five years ago, many say Paris does not sound the same. The terrorist attacks and the refugees are a problem here. There is an impressive number of police officers with guns on the streets, most of the time they were chasing the beggars and the touts, in some places we saw them helping themselves to a souvenir or two from the touts offering or a whole bouquet of rouses.
But, it was a bit scary to be waiting in line to Catacombs and suddenly the surrounding streets are closed, and everyone exiting Denfert Rochereau station gets their things searched and a Deminage car shows up. Since it was on the next day after St. Petersbourg bombing, you start to think the worst.
Every location had very strong security measures, some places even to, so leave your pocket knives at home! Don’t plan a picnic and Eiffel tower visit at once, as all your forks and knives will stay in the bin.
Speaking to female solo travelers, I was told that they recommend not to walk alone at night because mugging is common (and threats using a knife), and metro station loudspeakers keep warning about pickpockets. So, be a tourist and hold your backpack on the belly… Also, leaving your things on the ground and walking around is not the best idea.
There are whole articles dedicated to scams of Paris – rose gifters who then ask for 5 euros, the Syrian children petition scheme where you need to pay after you have signed, people selling magnets and figurines (same prices everywhere in stores as well), playing the guessing game with the hidden object or the ring scheme. In my opinion the “friendship bracelets” of Sacre Coeur steps are the worst. They will forcefully try to tie one around your arm, and then ask a fee. If you don’t pay, they can start pushing you around and wallets disappear. In my experience hiding your hands and being very loud and serious about saying NO! Works, but still, it is very disruptive and I am surprised police hasn’t been able to remove these guys, especially knowing how widespread this problem is.
I read “A Year in Merde” some time ago, so I was wondering if it is true that you have to be careful about where you walk, and I can say that it is still true to some extent. Actually, the dirtiest places overall are the metro station hallways, where it really stinks of urine and you can see numerous “We are Syrian family” beggars. Busketing in the metro is popular too, inside the train people show theater, sing, play instruments, in the hallways it is a licensed type of business.
Would all the touts stop me from visiting Paris? No, but one has to be ready for this. And, to be honest, some of the discomfort in Paris is caused by the masses of tourists, so wake up early before everyone else and use this time.
How to Move Around in Paris
To get to the city center from the airport you can use train, bus or a cab. Cab price is around 50-60 euros, and although price is supposed to be fixed, mine wasn’t. Some say Uber is better, as it’s hard to catch a taxi as there aren’t that many of those and all are members of a union.We used the metro (05:30 till 00:30), daily pass Mobilis for zones 1 and 2 cost 7.30 eur (you can check in the machine which stations you plan to visit and which zones are those). Some day we used the carnet tickets, the packages of 10 separate tickets that cost 14.50. One single ticket is 1.90 eur. You can move line to line with one ticket.
Although the metro seemed more chaotic that, for example, in Taiwan, I think it’s the fastest way to move around. Most trains are new, some lines run only with the old trains where you have to open the door yourself (some tourists didn’t know how to do it and would run to the other doors). Some forums say it’s not worth to pay the price of the ticket and you should just jump over, I tend to disagree – I saw about 5 controllers during one week, so 60 euro fine is definitely more expensive.
There are many beautiful stations worth a visit, such as Cité, Hôtel de Ville, Louvre Rivoli, Bastille, Concorde, Abbesses, Varenne, Arts et Metiers! Also, don’t use the elevators, as often stairs are the prettiest part.
Where to Live in Paris
One of the top questions I had was which arrondissement to pick for staying? There are 20 of them, and some areas have more expensive hotels than the others. Paris really is the city where you can get rooms for several thousand euros and some go for AirBnB (if you have not registered yet, use this link and get a discount for your first stay!).
We didn’t want to spend a fortune, but wanted to live centrally near a metro station. In the end we picked the 8th, and Hôtel Royal Garden Champs-Elysées and the last few nights stayed in Hotel California, which is mere 100m from the location of the shooting. Doing a split booking for several nights to optimize on the coupons, we paid 90 euros per night for superior room, including breakfast ( and 75 euros for the one day we didn’t have it).
There were two stores nearby where you could buy strawberries for 1.50 eur for 500 g, and snacks, and there was free Evian water and tea in the room. Some say breakfast should be eaten in the cafes on the street, but we really enjoyed our hotel breakfast! Also, city tax (a few euros per person), will have to be paid on the spot. It might be a good idea to pick a room towards the yard, as AC is only turned on in summer, and rooms can get hot and opening windows to the street will make it much more loud for you. However, street facing balconies are part of the Parisian experience!
Eating in Paris
One of the first things we noticed was how everyone would eat outside, often, tartar. The tables are so close to each other you can barely push by and you will definitely hear conversations three tables away from you!
Visiting several restaurants, looking for authentic onion soup or just looking for a quick meal in a diner type of chain restaurant Hippopotamus (turned out to be the slowest service we saw all week), as well as trying touristy places and even lebanese food (Paris is famous for other countries food), we were disappointed. Probably the only good service and food we tried in Mucha Cafe not far from Musée d’Orsay, but the bowl of soup did cost 9 euros, but at least we didn’t need to wait for two hours.
Speaking to few friends who visit Paris often, I learn many have had the same experience, so it must not be easy to find good food. Next time I would probably research the restaurants beforehand and not rely on just finding a reasonable place. Of course, you won’t starve and there is plenty of fast food (in one place I saw three McDonald’s in a 200 m radius) and it will be cheaper too, just 3-4 euros per person. But something local would be nice. Locals seemed to mostly eat in the parks what they had brought from home, something from a bakery or take away from cafes.
We will definitely come again! There is something to be done during every season, and it is as beautiful in cloudy days as it is in rainy. So many names for the city – the city of light and lovers, but for us it was the city of spring! It was a dream to see it in spring for a long time, and finally it came true!
If you enjoyed this article, be sure to read about other destinations that are lovely in spring!
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