I don't know how many times I've been to Paris... my first trip was in high school, then I went back a few times in college including a semester studying at Ecole Polytechnique just outside the city. It's a very, very popular destination, so even though I haven't been back since 2005, it's the number one place people ask me about visiting for advice on things to see. My travel books for Paris are lent out the most often. (Note: The majority of these photos are from my trips in 2005; I visited the city for Spring Break, summer break, and a semester that year.)
|Notre Dame, Tour Eiffel, Madeleine, Napoleon's Tomb|
I think just about everyone hits the Eiffel Tower, Louvre, Bateaux-Mouches on the Seine, Champs-Elysées, Arc de Triomphe... Those are pretty standard tourist stops that I don't need to talk about. A few that I would mention that are also worth a visit if you haven't seen them:
- Musee d'Orsay, which is in a beautiful old train station, and better than the Louvre if you love Impressionists and sculpture. Seriously, if you are a big Impressionism fan and only have time for one, go to d'Orsay.
- Musée Carnavalet is a museum dedicated to the history of Paris. It takes you from prehistory on, and I believe it's underrated and under-visited by people because they stick to the most iconic places. I found it to be fascinating.
- Les Invalides, the pretty gold-domed building near the Tour Eiffel that has a great military museum and Napoleon's Tomb inside. When I went, my military ID (yes, even the American one!) got me free admission. It's worth it just to see Napoleon's tomb; such a grand resting place for a small man.
- Saint-Chappelle, a gothic cathedral built for royals, with the most incredible stained glass windows and painted ceilings. If you're looking for a church as pretty on the inside as the outside, this beats Notre Dame.
- Les Catacombes, if you're not claustrophobic and want to go underground and see where they stashed millions of bones. They needed to move a lot of old graves and they used vacated mines as ossuaries.
- Panthéon, a columned building that contains a crypt filled with impressive residents including Victor Hugo, Voltaire, Jean Monnet, Marie and Pierre Curie and Emile Zola.
- Centre Pompidou, for modern art. It's basically the Lady Gaga of art museums.
- Musée Picasso, a small but pretty museum if you're a fan of the artist.
- La Conciergerie, the oldest remaining part of the original Parisian royal palace, used as a prison in the French Revolution. I went because Marie Antoinette spent her finals days there.
|Louvre, Musée Picasso, Centre Pompidou... and I was selfie-ing before smartphones.|
Amélie, a 2001 movie, along with Moulin Rouge, brought more people to Montmartre, a hilltop area on the outskirts of Paris proper. It's definitely worth a trip because of its amazing flea market, cheaper souvenir shops, GORGEOUS Sacré Coeur basilica, and more. Just don't get sucked into the Moulin Rouge stuff, it's an expensive tourist trap.
|Sacré Coeur, Moulin Rouge|
Versailles is probably one of my favorite places on Earth. If you travel to Paris and don't have time for Versailles, I pity you. You should dedicate AT LEAST a half day to Versailles, if not a full day. I'll caveat this with the fact that I LOVE reading about Louis XIV and Marie Antoinette, so this site is super important. I even did the Paris-Versailles in 2005, where you run 16km from the Tour Eiffel to Versailles. (Note: It's almost all uphill.) So spending time inside the palace (a MUST!) and walking the grounds (free) is super special. If you're on a budget, you can skip the palace and explore everything else for free! It's a fascinating estate with tons of history.
I think the other buildings away from the main palace are just as fascinating, especially Marie Antoinette's Hameau, a replica country village she built to escape palace life. It's like a Disney village of sorts, and you can imagine the ignorant young royal hiding away there.
|Hall of Mirrors|
Some more random tips....
- Journées du Patrimoine (Heritage Days) in the city mean lots of places are free to visit, and you can visit buildings that are normally off-limits. I visited the Élysée Palace, which is where the French President lives, not normally available for touring.
- Refills on everything cost extra, and I've noticed in general that Americans drink/hydrate more than I've seen French people do! At a restaurant, you can always ask for a free "carafe d'eau", a carafe of house/tap water, if you're penny pinching and plowing through bottles of Evian. Better yet, make it a carafe of the house wine, because why not? It's cheaper than Coke.
- I don't think the view from the top of the Eiffel Tower is worth waiting and paying for. The best views of Paris have the tower *in* them, so a view from the top of the hill at Sacre Coeur, Notre Dame, Arc de Triomphe, even Tour Montparnasse (the ugly 'skyscraper') would be a better panorama IMHO.
- In hotels, if you want a double bed, be sure to ask for a "grand lit" as many European hotel rooms still do twin beds. Also it's worth checking on ensuite bathrooms, as in older hotels/inns those are not an automatic standard with a room!
- You can save money by buying your one-trip Metro passes 10 at a time, asking for a "carnet", pronounced car-nay.
- European hotel chains can offer very efficient lodging at a lower price. Not hostel cheap, but like Holiday Inn type prices. My favorite of these is Hotel Ibis, and there are a couple in great spots in Paris. Expect a tiny, modern room with just enough space for the bed, with an ensuite shower/bathroom. Basic breakfast. But if it's just a home base to sleep in each night, it's not a bad choice. I also stayed at a nice Best Western by the Louvre once that was really nice. Try to stay closer to the city center in the lower-number arrondissements.
Have you been to Paris? Did I miss any of your favorites?