I’ve wandered the streets of many a city in many a country, but none compare to Paris. Here’s why.
You can’t miss the entrance to one of the most famous museums in the world. The tall, glass pyramid that’s surrounded by the 14th century royal palace looks somewhat out-of-place. Built to better flow visitors into the museum, the pyramid came with scrutiny due to the contemporary design set among classical architecture.
Once inside the pyramid after you and your bags will be screened, proceed to the ticket counter to buy tickets (10€ for adults, ages 17 and younger free) for entry and for a guided tour via headphones (English-speaking tours are an additional 9€ for adults). You can bypass the guided tour on tape, but with 30,000 works of art on display at any given time, finding your way through the palace could be daunting.
The Louvre gift shop is located at the museum entrance, where you’ll find a bookstore on the first level and more pricy souvenirs such as glass, prints of famous artwork and statues on the second.
We decided to take the tour on tape that allows visitors easy access to the collections. Because we were pressed for time, we took the 45-minute Masterpiece Tour. Although we walked past hundreds of paintings, statues and artifacts, the audio tour only covered the three most well-known works of art in the museum: the Venus de Milo, the Winged Victory of Samothrace and the Mona Lisa.
From oversized paintings by Monet and Da Vinci, to sculptures and statues, the Louvre is the most impressive collection of artwork I’ve ever seen. Housed in the former Louvre Palace, artwork lines the walls of the high ceilings in long corridors and large ballrooms throughout the property.
According to our guide John from the Fat Tires bike tour (mentioned below), if you lined up Louvre’s collection of artwork side by side, the artwork could span 13km, or 8 miles. And if you spent just 30 seconds viewing each piece without taking any breaks, it would take nine months to see the entire collection.
Carousel de Louvre
Located outside the entrance of the museum, this shopping mall houses many familiar retailers like Apple (we bought a European iPhone charger because we didn’t have any converters with us), Starbucks and Swarovski. We spent two afternoons here taking a break using the free WiFi at Starbucks.
Taking a guided tour of unfamiliar cities is a great way to get a feel of the layout of the city while learning the history. This English-speaking bike tour, recommended to us by a friend and by the Frommer’s guide book) was such a unique way to explore Paris. It met at 11 a.m. at the southeast leg of the Eiffel Tower (called Pilier Sud) where John, a very informative mid-20s guy from London, introduced an up-close perspective of one of the most recognizable sites in the world. After the introduction, we walked to the bike shop a few blocks away to pick up our very comfy California beach cruisers and set out on our four-hour tour.
The group, made up of an Aussie couple and several others from the U.S., navigated in and out of squares, parks, roundabouts and quaint side streets as we learned about the most famous gems of Paris: the Eiffel Tower, notable military compounds, Napoleons tomb, the Louvre, the Tuileries Garden where we stopped for a quick bite to eat, and much more. Lunch consisted of a typical Parisian menu: painini’s and Crepes accompanied with wine and cappuccino.
Throughout the tour, John and the other tour-goers were more than happy to take our photos in front of the monuments, so we got some of the best snapshots on the tour. We took the tour on the last full day in Paris, but my recommendation would be to take it on your first full day so you can better navigate the city and learn about sites to visit that you might not have otherwise known to see.
After the bike tour, you can walk back to the Eiffel Tower and make the trip up to the top (for those not afraid of heights!). We chose the stairs entrance (€4,70) and climbed to the second level where you can find a gift shop and purchase tickets to the elevator to the top for €13,40. If climbing almost 1,000 stairs sounds like a chore, you can take the lift entrance to the second level for €8,20.
Although the elevator ride to the top is frightening, the views are worth it. We didn’t get to see one of the most famous sights in Paris, the Arc de Triomphe, since its in the northern part if the city, but we did manage to spot it from the top.
The fashion in Paris is unlike anything I’ve witnessed before. Almost every Parisian is dressed to the nines. No wonder street style has become so popular here. Men with leather coats, expensive shoes and rich scarfs, and women in fur, knee-high boots and designer bags fill the windows of cafe’s on the street. I’ve never seen such a fashionable society.
But it’s no wonder. Many say Paris is the birthplace of fashion, with those like Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Yves Saint Laurent housing their flagship stores here. Coco Chanel’s apartment is located above the Chanel store, although it’s not open to the public. I guess you have to have the status of Rachel Zoe to take a private tour. But thanks to Vogue for giving the non-fashion elite a tour!
Photos do not do this famous cathedral justice. One of my favorite sites to explore in European cities are the cathedrals. And Notre Dane was no different. Surrounded by the Seine river, its gothic towers and spires give just a peek of what lies behind the towering doors at the front entry. Inside, original architecture and adornments have been suspended in time like the sarcophagus that are tucked inside. Long halls on the sides are framed by massive archways with small alcoves branching out that are filled with faint, warm light from the sun shining though the colorful stained glass. As we toured the cathedral, a band, similar to the Vontrapp family I thought, sang “Here I am to Worship” in French, making this one of my favorite parts of our trip.
Since we had no direction once we landed in Paris, we planned our activities in Paris before we choose our lodging. Paris is smaller than I imagined, but it can still take 45 minutes to walk from one side of the city to the other, so we wanted move around the city according to where we planned to tour that day.
The first hotel we stayed in, Le Placid, was in the 6th Arrondissement. It was just a 20-minute walk to the Louvre, and just another 10 minutes to Notre Dame along the river Seine. This 19th century, 11-room hotel was a former private home and now offers guests quaint street views with a medium-sized living space. The bathrooms are upgraded, and the large soaking tub was a great way to end a long day of walking. It was centrally located to great shopping, restaurants and grocery stores.
After staying here for two nights, we moved across the city to the 7 EIFFEL hotel in 7th Arrondissement. Also a boutique hotel, this artsy stay with 32 rooms was located on a small side street, with a 10-minute walk to the Eiffel Tower. Although great shopping and dining was limited near our hotel, we did enjoy the more mom-and-pop options in our neighborhood, like the italian restaurant located a few steps outside our door.
Both hotels came with robes and slippers, free WiFi, a bar, a safe, hair dryer and cable tv (although CNN International and BBC World were the only English channels.)
Like most major U.S. cities, cabs are widely available and surprisingly don’t cost as much as expected, but most drivers’ English was limited. So we toted our iPad around and typed out the addresses to show the driver our destination. It’s better to catch a cab off the street rather than have your hotel call for one. We learned that the cabs start the meter as soon as they’re called, so you may be getting into a cab with 5€ already on the meter.
Paris does have a metro, but I imagine with such low cab fares and the walkability of the city, it would be a less than ideal option to find your way around the city.
We are always on alert when traveling, especially in foreign countries. But the one scam we learned of from an American couple we sat next to at dinner one night was a first. Well-dressed locals will walk by, stop and pick up a gold ring off the ground and then ask you if you dropped it. When you say no, they will then proceed to tell you that it’s such a nice ring, if you give them however much money for it, they’ll let you have it. It was such a far-fetched idea we didn’t believe it, but two days later it actually happened to us. Twice! It was probably my camera hanging around my neck and Shane’s ski hat that gave us away that we were tourists.
Paris may have once been known as a breeding ground for sex and partying, and if you look close enough, it’s may not be a far cry from what it is today. Although you won’t find brothels and burlesque shows on every corner like you probably once could, there are still a few options to experience Paris as it once was.
The Crazy Horse Saloon is one of those spots. It’s one of the most famous burlesque shows in the world. Tickets range from 50€ to 120€ depending on the seating, which includes two cocktails or a half a bottle of champagne per person. The theater is draped in red velvet, from the curtains to the walls to the seats. To keep with the burlesque tradition, the dancers are topless, with the rare flash of the backside as well. I assume some of the shows in Vegas were based upon this one, with the same type of high-leg kicks and other artful dance moves thought the show. And I can imagine not much as changed since it opened in 1951.