I've been taking pictures of Paris all my life, long before I got a camera. The Louvre, Notre Dame, the Arch de Triomphe, the Musee d’Orsay, and the Eiffel Tower are all images that have been entrenched in my mind’s eye, but only recently caught between the lenses of my digital camera.
Ernest Hemingway called Paris a “movable feast,” and I have to say I totally agree with him. Paris is the number one visited city in the world with annual visits of over 45 million people. They come for the love of art and history, food, culture and to shop. They come for the love they have, the love they want or the love they lost. They come because Paris is for lovers—period.
Walking in Paris is one of the great pleasures of visiting the City of Light. It is possible to cross the entire city in a few hours. Central Paris is divided into districts called arrondissements, numbered from 1 to 20 in a clockwise spiral from the city center. Arrondissements are commonly referred to by their number. You might, for example, stay in the “5th’’, which would be written as 5e (SANK-ee-emm) in French.
Keep in mind that you may have to adjust your itinerary in case one of the days you’re in town happens to fall on a Monday (when most museums are closed) or a Sunday (when most everything else is closed, and those that remain open tend to operate on reduced hours).
Need to know: The Metro is a very convenient and inexpensive mode of transportation with stops at all the major tourist destinations. Combination tickets offer the most value. Ask for assistance at the ticket booth or go online for fare information in advance. For travelers under the age of 26, there is a special ticket (Jeunes 26) that you can purchase for use on the weekends or holidays, good for one day of unlimited usage of the metro, RER, bus, and trams. Double-decker bus tours also offer hop-on hop off tours that are reasonably priced and offer an alternative to a lot of walking.
For the theater, there are two kiosks, on the forecourt of the Montparnasse railway station and at the Place de la Madeleine, offer tickets for that day at reduced rates.
The VAT can be refunded for goods, but not services. Visitors pay a tourism tax which is fixed by the local authority and varies from 0.15 to 1.07 euros per person per day and will be included in your hotel bill.
Restaurants usually charge for meals in two ways: a prix-fixe menu (also called a “menu”) or "a la carte". Prix-fixe includes two or three courses, with cheese and/or dessert, and sometimes a half-bottle of wine for a stated price. Ordering items separately is a la carte and can be much more expensive. Almost all restaurants include a 15 percent service charge (service compris). Otherwise service is non compris and a 15% tip is appropriate.
What to skip ... this time: The Louvre. For those who come to Paris and think they must capture that obligatory shot of Mona Lisa’s lifeless smile, I actually recommend skipping this museum on a short trip. It’s not that I’m not a lover of the Louvre — there is just no way you can do the museum any real justice in just a few hours crammed between other activities, you’d be better off checking out the I.M. Pei pyramid out front and moving onto other attractions.
The Eiffel Tower is better appreciated, during a brief visit, from afar (or underneath). While the view of the city from the second platforms is incredible, it probably isn’t worth the money or time spent waiting in the snaking lines that encircle the base. Climb the steps of Montmartre, Notre Dame or the Arc de Triomphe instead.
Always free: Notre Dame Cathedral (small fee to climb the tower), flea markets, Pére Lachaise Cemetery, Palace of Versailles gardens (except Sunday).
Take a memorable stroll
To get a great orientation of the city on foot while seeing many of Paris’ major sights, you can walk from the Arc de Triomphe to Notre Dame. This walk takes about 1 to 2 hours without any stops. Start at the top of the Champs Elysees (at the Arc de Triomphe) and begin walking towards Place de la Concorde. On the way, you’ll see the major designer stores (Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Christian Dior, Yves Saint-Laurent, Gueriain, and Lancome, to name a few) of Paris’ on most famous avenue. You’ll also pass a McDonalds, Five Guys Burger and Fries, Quick Burger (the French rival) and a few very high priced restaurants. Once you’ve passed the main shopping area, you’ll see the Petit Palais and the Grand Palais to your right.
At Place de la Concorde, not only will you be mesmerized by the traffic, you’ll be able to see many of Paris’ major monuments around you. In front of you is the Tuileries, behind is the Champs-Elysees and Arc de Triomphe, behind you to your right is the Tour Eiffel and Musee d’Orsay, and finally, to your left is the Madeleine. Continue straight ahead and enter the Tuileries Gardens passing by fountains, flowers, and all the lovers in the park.
Walk along the Seine until you reach Pont Neuf. Gliding across the Seine below are the grand sight-seeing boats. Pairs of lovers strolling hand in hand and others sitting close together along the water’s edge locked in embraces. Cross Pont Neuf and walk through the Latin Quarter, cross the river again to reach Notre Dame Cathedral on Ile de la Cite. Afterwards, visit Berthillon’s, the best ice cream in Paris located on the smaller island of on lIe Saint-Louis. Enjoy your cone while perusing the booksellers stalls along the banks of the Seine. Take a moment to flip through the antique and second-hand books, comic strips, post cards and prints. Enjoy a fantastic dinner in the Latin Quarter. After dinner take a leisurely walk back along the Seine to the Eiffel Tower and watch it light up the sky.
Meet the local color
Visit the Luxembourg Park in the ritzy 5th Arrondissement. Meander through the beautiful sculptured gardens with statuary, watch the children sail boats in the fountains or play in the kids area (small entrance fee), smell the countless varieties of roses and fruit trees or take up residence on a bench and do nothing at all. C’est la vie!!
Take the Metro to Montmartre, one of the most colorful neighborhoods in Paris. If you can’t find what you’re looking for there, it doesn’t exist. Mingle with the street vendors, munch on nutella-filled crepes or roasted chestnuts, try a hand of “three-card monty,” and haggle with the souvenir hawkers who don’t take “no” for an answer.
Visit the Moulin Rouge made famous by the can-can dance and marked by the big red windmill on the roof. Walk up, or take the funicular, to the top of the hill. Sacre Coeur (Sacred Heart) is a Romanesque Basilica with an awe inspiring view of the city. The locals take lunch (or a lover) here to watch the sunsets unfold below.
What did you miss??
All that glitters is not gold, unless you are visiting the Palace of Versailles. This is a great day trip from Paris, if the weather is nice. The gardens were the envy of many European Monarchs and the hall of mirrors is a spectacle of glass, light and reflection. There is a fee to enter the Palace, but the gardens are free except Sunday when the Musical Fountains dazzle with musical syncopation.
The Musay d’Orsay is a beautifully converted train station filled with many Impressionist paintings, sculptures and photographs from 1848-1914 from celebrated artists like Monet, Manet, Degas, Rodin, and Gauguin.
Avoid “animosity” by trying to speak a few phrases in French (hello, goodbye, how much, where is…) Don’t assume everyone speaks English (Parlez-vous Anglais?) Make sure to say hello and goodbye to shopkeepers (it’s considered rude otherwise, its akin to coming into someone’s home and not speaking). And most of all, don’t forget your camera!