Paris… The City of Light.
The nickname has historical significance that spans beyond the modern reference toward Paris’ well-illuminated landscape. However, after witnessing the ambient glow that coats the metropolis at dusk, it’s challenging to find a more fitting moniker for France’s oft-romanticized capital.
Continuing the narrative that began with my visit to London, Paris was the second destination on my mini-European adventure. Similar to London, this was my second trip to Paris. My previous visit lasted only a weekend and, in keeping with the fast and furious pace of my current expedition, this experience would be the same, so I had to work fast to absorb as much of the city as possible.
After a 2+ hour Eurostar train ride from London and navigating the Parisian Metro (subway), I exited the underground station onto the Champs-Élysées and in broad view of the Arc de Triomphe. Even in the rain, I had to pause momentarily and gaze upon the handsome monument situated on Paris’ most famous roadway.
The weather, weight of my bags and travel weariness getting the best of me, I marched on to my hotel located just blocks away on Avenue Marceau. Luckily, my room was ready upon arrival, so after dropping my bags, changing into dry clothes and mapping my exploration route – I promptly fell asleep. I had intentions of maximizing every minute of my stay in Paris, but my body had other plans.
Daylight allows you to clearly marvel at the intricacies of French architecture, as well as the city’s other beautiful features, but I now believe that Paris is truly meant to be experienced at night. So after waking from my accidentally well-timed slumber, I journeyed from my hotel at dusk to one of the world’s most famous landmarks – the Eiffel Tower.
Again, I’ve visited Paris previously, but I had not seen the Eiffel Tower at night. I’m not the most sentimental person, but even I must admit that viewing the colossal structure illuminated against a darkening sky is special. And watching the light show at the top of each hour is the proverbial “icing on the cake.” Experiencing the Eiffel Tower in the evening is a definite “must do” for any traveler.
After viewing the tower from Trocadéro, I walked downhill and across La Seine (river) to its base and then continued across Jardin du Champ-de-Mars until I reached the well-appointed École Militaire. In addition to capturing a nice photo of the military training facility, I snapped more images of the Eiffel Tower, including one during the light show.
From here, I ventured into the tony 7th Arrondissement and strolled along the cafes, restaurants, bakeries and shops that line the streets of this elegant Parisian neighborhood.
I studied French during high school and college, but my grasp of the language was “non-functional” at best. I’m serious. I was told during my last trip to Paris, as well as on a trip to Quebec, “Please speak English.” Years later, I’ve somehow retained some of my “non-functional” French, so I figured I’d try again to speak it.
Amazingly, I actually made sense! So much so that when ordering in French at a bakery, I began to apologize halfway through because I was sure that I was butchering the language, but to my surprise the shopkeeper said (in French), “No, I understand you.” I counted that as a win.
My next destination was Musée de l’Armée, another of the city’s well-illuminated military buildings that displays majestically against the darkened Parisian sky.
With night slowly creeping closer to dawn, I ventured back to the Champs-Élysées to mingle among the crowd while admiring the popular retail shops and bottom-lit Arc de Triomphe.
After about 30 minutes, I had traveled as far as my feet were willing to take me, so I retired to my hotel for the night.
The following morning, I woke to the sound of housekeepers in the hallway. I thought they were getting an early start, until I realized it was 10 am and two hours later than I had planned to start my day. (Sigh.) Since this was my final full-day in Paris, I had to get moving fast so I could make the most of it.
I began with a brief return visit to the Eiffel Tower. From here, my plan was to save time by traveling via Metro to my next destination. However, the station was nowhere near where the map indicated, so I ended up walking along Quai Branly and Quai d’Orsay until I reached Pont Alexandre III, one of Paris’ most ornate arch bridges. Honestly, walking turned out for the best because I was able to view more beautiful buildings, including Musée Air France and the broadside of Musée de l’Armée, and walk across Pont Alexandre III along the way.
After crossing the bridge, I immediately encountered Le Grand Palais and Le Petit Palais. Again, the intricacies of French architecture are incredible and the facades of these buildings greatly showcase the classic craftsmanship that enhances the romantic lure of the city.
My next stop was to Place de la Condorde where the seemingly out-of-place giant Egyptian Luxor Obelisk is flanked by two ornate fountains and a not-so-historic ferris wheel.
After passing the ferris wheel, I entered the renowned Tuileries Garden. I definitely noticed a level of serenity that differs from the rest of Paris while walking the pathway that cuts through the park. In addition to the manicured landscaping, sculptures from the 1800s, the Grand Bassin Octagonal and the Arc du Triomphe du Carrousel decorate the historic public gathering place.
By the time I reached the far end of the garden, the sun had finally made an appearance. Honestly, I think this was the first time I had clearly seen the sun since leaving the States and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Just beyond the Arc du Triomphe du Carrousel sits the Louvre, Paris’ most notable museum and home of Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.
As expected, lots of people were standing in line for entry, as well as just buzzing about, taking photos and enjoying the sunshine. I visited the Louvre on my last visit to Paris and saw the Mona Lisa (Yes, it is smaller than you expect.), so I didn’t have the need to venture inside. Plus, with only a few hours of daylight remaining, I had a few more places to visit before sundown.
From the Louvre, I took the Metro across town to the hilltop neighborhood of Montmartre and Sacre Coeur, the Roman Catholic basilica. Historically an artist’s community, Montmartre was filled with tourists and locals navigating the tight, winding roads that led to the dome-topped church. It’s a bit of a trek to get here, so after taking a few photos, I sat down at small sandwich shop to grab a bite to eat before working my way back downhill.
After a quick downhill walk, I arrived in Pigalle – Paris’ red light district. Not really in the mood to explore the seedier side of the city (maybe next time), I took a few photos, including the Moulin Rouge cabaret, and headed back to the hotel.
Hungry and still holding onto several Euros, I showered and made my way back to the 7th Arrondissement for dinner. I dined at La Terrasse and enjoyed a great meal. The host and waiter both spoke English and had great senses of humor that enhanced the experience and capped off my last night in Paris.
After eating, I tried to re-visit the bakery where I successfully communicated in French, but it was already closed. C’est la vie. After capturing one last photo of the Eiffel Tower, I hopped on the Metro, returned to the hotel and caught a few hours of sleep before my 7 am flight home.
Au revoir, Paris!
Quick Paris Travel Tips
- Similar to London, I purchased a multi-day Paris Metro pass before leaving home. It allows for unlimited daily rides, so you don’t have to worry about purchasing additional tickets.
- I recommend studying the Paris Metro system map (PDF) before arriving. Learn the difference between the various lines and rail systems, as well as the stations where you will need to switch trains to reach certain attractions. Parisbytrain.com is a great resource.
- I booked a room at Hotel Le Belmont via Hotel Tonight just before leaving London and received a great same-day deal. It’s about a 10 minute walk from the Charles de Gaulle-Étoile Metro station and the Arc de Triomphe. If you use the HotelTonight app, which I highly recommend, feel free to use my personal promo code LRANKIN9 for $25 off your booking.
- Street vendors, individuals asking for money and the “Do you speak English?” survey girls can be very aggressive. I was asked for money within 10 minutes of arriving at Gare du Nord. Ignoring them or saying “Non!” will usually send them away.
- Paris is very safe, but pickpocketing is widespread and I unknowingly witnessed it on the Metro. When the train stopped, the thief pretended to be thrown off-balance and stumbled into the person next to them. Within seconds the thief stole items from a backpack and exited the train. The victim didn’t realize what had happened until the train was en-route to the next station. Thieves comes in all shapes, sizes and ages, so keep money, your passport and other valuables out of easy-to-access places, like backpacks and back pockets, and stay aware on crowded trains and while visiting popular attractions.
- Finally, view the Eiffel Tower from Trocadéro (Metro lines 6 & 9) before walking downhill to see it at ground level. It gives you a great, slightly elevated view of the famous landmark, as well as École Militaire and the 7th Arrondissement.