Twenty-four years ago, we spent nine days in Paris, working on a Frommer guide. This self-guided trip worked, but about half the time we either didn’t know where we were or were lost. This time we were in France for two weeks, where our river cruise would include 5 days in Paris and 10 days of cruising on the Seine to Normandy. All our days would be led by professional guides, something new to cherish at this point in our lives.
From this trip, I tried to sketch a guide for the first visitor to Paris. It is wise for travelers to define their main targets in advance: is your trip dedicated to visiting sights, museums, fine arts and fashion, food and wine, sports or of the relaxed Parisian lifestyle?
Before our Grand Cercle cruise (from Paris on the Seine to Normandy and the D-Day beaches), we had booked the pre-trip tour of Paris. So we left from Sacramento to Atlanta, then to Charles DeGault airport, then to the Citadines Center Saint Germain hotel. A few blocks from the Seine from Notre-Dame Cathedral; just a few blocks further downstream is the Louvre Museum. From this location on the river, we could practically walk to about 80% of the critical destinations we wanted to revisit.
Paris, with an estimated population of nearly 2.2 million and a metropolitan area of approximately 12 million, represents 20% of the total French population. The city is the fifth most populous city in the European Union and one of the most densely populated cities in the world. With many major attractions, many are within walking distance. The city was among the first to electrify and expand its streetlights, earning it the title of “City of Lights.”
For centuries, Paris has been a global center of finance, diplomacy, commerce, fashion, gastronomy and culture. We saw many of the main attractions that the City of Lights offers, spread across the city’s 20 arrondissements (districts). The city’s metro, the second largest in Europe, will allow you to quickly move around the city within a few blocks of your destination, at any time of the day.
On our first evening of our pre-trip to Paris, some of our travel companions booked a dinner and cabaret show at the famous Moulin Rouge, quite a breathtaking spectacle. We chose to explore the restaurants a few blocks from our hotel, choosing a charming sidewalk cafe near a metro entrance/exit, allowing us to watch the Parisians; Overall it was a lovely evening.
Museums ? It is said that you could create a different museum every day for a year without running out of destinations to visit. Start with the Louvre or the Musée d’Orsay. If fine arts or museum experience is your primary goal, it’s helpful to put together a target list with as many choices in advance. The Trip Advisor app is always useful, as is the official Paris website.
At the Louvre, the largest and most visited museum in the world, take time to admire the Mona Lisa and Michelangelo’s statue of David. Leonardo da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa in the early 1500s by an Italian noblewoman, eventually acquired by the French nation and on permanent display at the Louvre since 1797.
The Musée d’Orsay is located on the left bank of the Seine. Located in the former Gare d’Orsay, a Beaux-Arts station built between 1898 and 1900, the museum primarily houses French Impressionist and post-Impressionist art dating from 1848 to 1914, including paintings, sculptures, furniture and photographs. Although it is still a large museum, it feels more intimate than the Louvre.
With a full day in Paris, we visited the Louvre (briefly), Musée d’Orsay, Eiffel Tower, Luxenberg Palace and Luxenberg Gardens, although we covered over 10 miles that day. With cute sidewalk cafes at almost every intersection, there’s no shortage of libation stops along your way.
The Eiffel Tower is visible from many places in the city. Built for the 1889 World’s Fair and designed to last just 20 years, the tower was so famous and profitable that it was never demolished. Take a nighttime stroll along the river (or river cruise) and admire the Eiffel Tower with its twinkling, twinkling lights at night for a truly memorable experience.
Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral (meaning “Our Lady of Paris”), simply called Notre-Dame, is a medieval Catholic cathedral built on an island in the Seine, a fine example of French Gothic architecture. Attributes such as the pioneering use of ribbed vaulted ceilings and flying buttresses, beautiful rose windows and high-quality sculpture set it apart from other cathedrals in the country.
A devastating fire in April 2019 forced the cathedral to undergo a complicated and expensive renovation, which will not be completed until the end of 2024. One can still tour the cathedral to see the progress of the construction work.
On another full day, we visited the Sacré-Cœur Basilica at the top of the Butte de Montmartre. This beautiful church is one of the city’s most popular tourist destinations, while the Montmartre district is full of fascinating shops and restaurants surrounding the hills.
Once again, first-time visitors should organize their thoughts and plans before venturing into this charming City of Lights – and plan a series of eating and drinking stops to enjoy the laid-back Parisian lifestyle so closely linked to the hundreds of open-air sidewalk cafes.
For more information
Grand Circle Cruises, GCT.com; Official Paris visitors website, parisjetaime.com; TripAdvisor travel app.
Contact Tim, [email protected]; where are you traveling?