FRANCE – Paris
Once we took the the purple line all the way west to Balard and walked along the Seine to the Bastille. It took 4 hrs with a lunch break, but it’s a fun way to see Paris. Also, if you’re planning on visiting the museums, get a museum pass – it’s cheaper and you get to cut in line.
JUMP TO – eiffel tower – trocadéro – arc de triomphe – champs-elysées – hôtel des invalides – musée rodin – place de la concorde – musée de l’orangerie – jardin des tuileries – palais garnier – musée d’orsay – louvre – colonnes de buren – montmartre – saint sulpice – le jardin du luxembourg – sainte chapelle – notre dame – marché aux fleurs et oiseaux – latin quarter – le centre pompidou – parc montsouris – canal saint martin – musée carnavalet – place des vosges – bastille – père lachaise – château de vincennes – parc floral
DAY TRIPS – palace of versailles – giverny
The Champ de Mars, the lawn by the Eiffel Tower, is my favorite place for a picnic. We see a couple get engaged and play soccer with some French kids. The view atop the tower is like looking out of a plane window. Jaclyn, Annisa, Adam, and I take the steps down through a jungle of crisscrossing metal bars. (metro: Champ de Mars/Tour Eiffel or École Militaire)
I’m not a huge fan of the Trocadéro. It’s packed with people taking pictures of the Eiffel Tower. Besides, I think the better view is from across the Seine in the Champs de Mars. So Ashley and I ride the carousel instead… (metro: Trocadéro)
arc de triomphe
You can climb the stairs up to the top for a view of the Champs-Élysées for a few euros. There are tunnels to the arch, so you don’t have to kill yourself crossing traffic. (metro: Charles de Gaulle/Étoile)
During Christmas, they have a market along the street with mini wooden chatlets that sell vin chaud (mulled wine), winter hats, and other festive stuff. (metro: Champs-Élysées/Clemenceau)
hôtel des invalides
Beneath the gold dome is the tomb of Napoleon Bonaparte. The rest of the site, which used to be a hospital for soldiers, is now a military history museum. (metro: La Tour-Maubourg or Invalides)
The Thinker, The Gates of Hell, and other artwork by Rodin. (metro: Varenne)
place de la concorde
The link between the Champs Elysées and the Tuileries Garden. Sometimes with a Ferris wheel. (metro: Concorde)
musée de l’orangerie
Closest thing to visiting Monet’s Giverny. It’s a great little museum with these curved panoramas and some other impressionist paintings. Closed Tuesdays. (metro: Concorde)
jardin des tuileries
A beautiful garden/park in the center of the city near the Louvre. (metro: Tuileries)
The opera house. I sneak onto a tour with a bunch of retired couples. I clearly stick out, but I think the tour lady assumes I’m someone’s grandson. We watch the ballet dancers casually practicing for their performance of Camille. (metro: Opéra)
Maybe my favorite museum. Along the Seine in a former train station with giant clocks. It has works by Van Gogh, Degas, Renoir, Monet… (metro: Musée d’Orsay)
The Mona Lisa is here along with nearly 35,000 other pieces of art. We get a multi-day pass so we can visit a little at a time.
The Mona Lisa’s smaller than I expect, especially since right before, you’re looking at these floor-to-ceiling masterpieces.
You could spend a lifetime here and never see it all. (metro: Louvre/Rivoli)
colonnes de buren
Black and white stripped columns people like to sit on in the courtyard of the Palais Royal. (metro: Palais Royal – Musée du Louvre)
It’s where Sacré-Cœur and most of the movie Amélie is filmed.
You can take the funicular up to Sacré-Cœur or climb the 300 steps. We do the stairs. A street performer sings “Gimme Hope Jo’Anna” and plays the guitar. It’s a gorgeous view of the city.
Moulin Rouge and some sex shops are by Blanche metro station on Boulevard de Clichy, so maybe not the best place to take the kids… (metro: Abbesses, Anvers, or Blanche)
When we open the great doors, we’re hit in the face by powerful organ music. Annissa, Eryn, Jaclyn, and I attend a mass. (metro: Saint-Sulpice)
le jardin du luxembourg
I prefer these gardens over the Tuileries, but they’re both beautiful. Little kids like to sail toy boats in the big fountain. (metro: Luxembourg)
Stunning stained glass windows. The chapel was built to house the Holy Relics (Christ’s crown of thorns, part of the cross…), but then they moved them… Still worth visiting though! (metro: Cité)
Quasimodo isn’t real, but the cathedral is. You could spend an entire afternoon just studying the detailing around the doors, it’s so ornate. (metro: Cité)
marché aux fleurs et oiseaux
Because how many other bird & flower markets do you know of? The market street is lined with birdcages and large barrels filled with seed. There are entire rooms filled with flowers with only a small space left open for you to walk. Even overhead, there are vines growing. Flowers daily, but birds only on Sundays. 8am-7pm. (metro: Cité)
The Latin Quarter is the area south of the Seine (Left Bank/Rive Gauche) in the center of Paris around la Sorbonne. And a trip here isn’t complete without a stop at Shakespeare & Co bookstore. (metro: Saint-Michel)
While you’re in the area, check out the less frequented, Saint-Étienne-du-Mont. (metro: Cardinal Lemoine)
le centre pompidou
Taking the escalator up the side of the Pompidou Center inside a giant gerbil tube, you get one of the most stunning views of Paris. Inside is Europe’s largest modern art gallery and a funky restaurant called Georges. Some of our group gets henna tattoos in the slanted plaza below. (metro: Rambuteau)
If you’re looking for something a little more off the grid, Parc MontSouris is not the tourist destination that the Luxembourg or Tuileries Gardens are. Great for a morning jog. (metro: Cité Universitaire – don’t confuse it with plain ol’ “Cité”)
canal saint martin
For a lazy afternoon, head down to the canal, which has been taken over by hipsters and young professionals over the past decade or so. Antoine & Lili, a funky boutique, anchors one corner, while Le Sesame and Chez Prune are two cafes along the canal that offer good, but not exceptional food. (metro: République)
place des vosges
A square green space in the Marias, one of my favorite areas of Paris with cool shops and cafés. In one corner of Place des Vosges is Victor Hugo’s apartment, which you can tour. L’Ambroisie, a Michelin 3 star, is in the adjacent corner. And Café Hugo is in the opposite corner. There’s also a chocolate shop nearby that makes chocolate shoes and displays them in the window like a shoe store. (metro: Chemin Vert or Saint-Paul)
The Bastille was formerly the site of the king’s prison until the citizens stormed it in July 1789 (that’s why they have Bastille Day and also why France is no longer a monarchy). Today, the Bastille is the site of the best farmers market in Paris (on Thursdays and Sundays from 7am-2:30ish). (metro: Bastille)
Famous cemetery where Oscar Wilde, Édith Piaf, Jim Morrison, and (most of) Chopin are buried. Chopin’s heart was cremated and is back in Poland. So heartless Chopin resides here. And you thought frozen Walt Disney at Disneyland was weird… Oscar Wilde’s tomb is covered in red kisses. (metro: Père Lachaise)
château de vincennes
It began as an old hunting lodge for King Louis VII back when Vincennes was a forest and not a populated suburb of Paris, and was later converted into a castle. (metro: Château de Vincennes)
A botanical garden by Château de Vincennes. (metro: Château de Vincennes)
château de versailles (palace of versailles)
Once a home of the French monarchy, now a popular tourist attraction. Inside is complete extravagance. Rooms are lavishly decorated with painted masterpieces on the ceilings. There’s also the famed Hall of Mirrors where they signed the Treaty of Versailles to end WWI.
My favorite part is the lawn where you actually have some space to breath after visiting the crowded rooms inside. You can rent a row boat or have a picnic. Le Nôtre’s perfectly manicured landscape gets more natural the farther you walk away from the palace. If you go on a weekend between April-October, you can catch the fountains spouting when they turn them on for a few hours (11am-12:00pm and 3:30-5:00pm. Neptune Fountain 5:20-5:30pm).
Out of sight and to the right of the Grand Canal is Marie Antoinette’s Hamlet. If you get the full ticket, you can visit this whimsical village, that I didn’t even know existed the first time I was here.
To get to Versailles, take the RER C to Versailles-Château (Rive Gauche) (C5).
You can pick up the train anywhere along the line in Paris, such as Champ de Mars–Tour Eiffel, Invalides, Saint-Michel-Notre-Dame… as long as it goes to Versailles-Château (Rive Gauche) – not all will. You’ll need to buy a special ticket in Paris, not the normal metro ticket, but it should be less than 10 euro round trip. Also remember US credit cards don’t always work at the metro station kiosks, so bring cash.
The Palace is closed on Mondays, but the grounds/park are open everyday and don’t require a ticket. If you’re only interested in the park there’s a couple quiet side entrances at the end of Allée Saint-Antoine and Allée des Matelots (the grounds are so big they actually have named driveways!), but use the main entrance if you plan on touring the palace.
giverny – monet’s garden
Claude Monet’s home and the inspiration for all his water lily paintings. It’s comprised of a flower garden, Japanese water garden, and residence. Giverny is like a living, changing piece of art. And that’s what makes it so cool to visit. Come in September and you might see blackberries ripening on the bushes, or arrive in the spring and you can see the flowers starting to blossom.
Open daily from late March to the beginning of November from 9:30am-6pm (last admittance at 5:30pm).
Giverny is in Vernon about an hour and 15 min from Paris. There’s a train from Paris to Vernon. And then from the station, you can take a taxi, bus, long walk, or rent a bike from one of the nearby cafés like Les Amis de Monet, which I think is the best way. It’s about 3 1/2 miles from the station to the gardens.