Earlier this week, I ran into a friend who was excited to tell me he and his family will be visiting Paris for the first time this summer. He asked for advice on what to see and do. I immediately began thinking of all the wonderful things available in Paris. Unfortunately, my friend’s visit will only be for a couple days, so I’ll have to pick out the highlights.
My friend is going with his wife and two high-school-age daughters. The girls might not want to spend a full day in an art museum. All attractions should be ones that can be covered in a shorter length of time, since the family would like to see as much as possible on their two-day trip.
Paris is a very walk-able city. Although I wouldn’t suggest walking from one end to the other, many museums, monuments, and other attractions are within easy walking distance from each other. If you have access to the internet, I’d suggest using a mapping program like Google Maps to show you the most convenient walking route.
Mapping programs can be helpful when using the Paris Metro. They can help direct you to the correct Metro stop and route. If you won’t have access to internet, download a Metro app that can be used offline. I’ve used Paris by Metro for years – it was free when I got it, but it now costs $.99. There are other free and pay apps available – see which one you like best.
For nearly 120 years, Paris Metro tickets were small paper passes – cute enough to scrapbook. Changes are scheduled to be made in April of this year when these paper tickets will no longer be used. For a short visit, the Navigo Easy pass is recommended. The pass is expected to cost €2, with (re)loadable tickets costing the same as the paper ones, €1.90 per ride or €14.90 for a pack of 10 rides. Paper ticket packs are shareable, but I’m not sure that will work with the card.
Everyone visiting Paris should go up the Eiffel Tower, right? Not necessarily. My friends will be visiting in July – time of the long lines. If they are not able to purchase their Eiffel tickets in advance, they might have to wait in line for a couple hours to ascend the tower (with crowds of people).
A different option for seeing Paris from above is to climb the tower at the Notre Dame cathedral. From the top of the centrally located cathedral, the view of the city is 360º. From the Eiffel Tower you can see 360º, but the tower is at the edge of the city, so the view is kind of one-sided. Time slots for climbing the Notre Dame tower must be reserved, but the reservation system is easy and you don’t need to reserve months in advance.
The Louvre Museum is another must-see attraction that I might recommend skipping. The museum is huge. If you have a short time in Paris, you could spend the entire time at the museum and still not see it all. The Louvre includes works by a few of my favorites – Vermeer, Rembrandt, David, and Da Vinci (Mona Lisa) – but I’d rather see works by impressionists – Monet, VanGogh, Pissaro, and Renoir – which are not a Louvre specialty.
Instead of the Louvre, I’d recommend the Orsay Museum or the Orangerie. The Musée d’Orsay, built in a former train station has a large selection of impressionist works in addition to other collections. Spending 3-4 hours in this museum, you can cover all the best works. It is easy to navigate and well organized.
The Orangerie is a smaller museum also highlighting impressionist works. The upper floor houses two rooms whose walls are covered with Monet’s large Water Lilies paintings. The lower floor has a nice, although somewhat small, collection of paintings. The Orangerie provides a good introduction to art for young people (or those who think they don’t like art museums). It can be covered in 1-2 hours.
To Skip or Not to Skip
Although I recommend thinking twice about ascending the Eiffel Tower, I do not think you should skip it altogether. Seeing the tower from across the Champ du Mars park and seeing it closer up are sites not to be missed. I would also recommend seeing the tower from across the river if there is time.
Seeing the Louvre from the outside is also interesting – worth a trip even if you don’t go inside. I.M. Pei’s Pyramid is fascinating, and a stark contrast to the museum itself. A smaller inverted pyramid is located in the train station shopping mall near the underground entrance to the museum.
If you visit the tower at Notre Dame, be sure to walk through the church itself. The line is usually long, but it moves quickly and entrance to the cathedral is free. The three rose windows are beautiful from the inside. A walk around the outside of the church shows a great example of flying buttresses.
Other Recommended Sites
For people interested in music (or fans of artist Marc Chagall), a tour of the Paris Opera House – Palais Garnier – is highly recommended. Tours are given in English at set times, and reservations can be made online. If you by chance get my favorite tour guide, Irene, you will be in for a treat.
Galeries Lafayette (Lafayette Galleries) are just down the street from the Opera House. This large department store is an example of classic meets modern. If you go, be sure not to miss the stunning stained-glass ceiling in the center rotunda.
Shopping at the galleries is fun. My favorite section is the home store which is located in a separate building across the street. The lower two floors make up an elaborate market selling tasty Parisian food and extras. Look for fleur de sel (sea salt) and Angelina’s hot chocolate mix. Don’t miss the spice counter – it smells as beautiful as it looks.
The Arc de Triomphe is an amazing structure and so is its modern counterpart, the Grand Arch. I recommend them both, although for a short trip, the Grand Arch is located too far from the center of town. The Arc de Triomphe is located at the end of the Champs-Élysées, a fun, although expensive, shopping street.
There are so many good choices for food in Paris that it would be hard to recommend only one or two.
- Breakfast – Breakfast is often available for an additional fee in hotels and although very tasty, it might be expensive. A croissant, chocolate croissant, or snail (raisin croissant) is an easy and inexpensive on-the-go breakfast.
- Lunch – Pick a café. They all have menus posted outside. Crêpes and galettes (savory crêpes) are popular light meals. Or, visit a market for a baguette, jambon (ham), cheese and fruit, and have a picnic in a park.
- Dinner – Cafés serve dinner and can be a less expensive option. Classic French restaurants are found all over the city. I have a few favorites, but there are also many listed on review sites.
Most importantly, for your first trip to Paris be adventuresome in the food you choose. Try snails, foix gras, and duck – these are rarely found on menus in the states. Duck, one of my favorites, is on nearly every Parisian restaurant menu. Real French Onion Soup and Crème Brûlée are also good choices.
Paris for the First Time
If you are thinking about Paris, I encourage you to go. If you plan carefully, even a short time in the city will be memorable. When you are in Paris, keep your eyes and ears open so you don’t miss anything. Savor each bite of the food you eat.
Paris is one of my favorite travel destinations – just writing about it makes me anxious to visit again. I’m excited my friend and his family will have this experience.