For a city where its grand boulevards look like they’re straight from all the movies, its café culture is magnetising, to even its rooftops applying to be UNESCO World Heritage recognised; it can be hard to decide how to spend 5 days in Paris.
Lucky for me then as I was preparing for my third visit in the city of love at the end of last month, I thought organisation is key. I knew what to expect, yet I also knew what I had missed in previous visits too.
Whilst this isn’t exactly a guide on the top things to see in Paris you must see – after all, I’m no Parisienne expert – this is more a personal account to inspire any future trip to the French capital. Which, if the spirit of Paris could speak, then it would tell you too to avoid planning it, discard any Paris itineraries and discover your own secret corners of a city that’ll stay with you for a lifetime.
- Arrival in Paris
- Père Lachaise Cemetery
Being from the UK, I may be flying in, catching a train, boarding a coach or even driving into Paris – so I can choose to arrive at any time of the day; early or late.
Whatever time you arrive, don’t overdo it on your first day in Paris. Pick a sight that’s a walkable distance from your hotel, hostel or AirBnb. For me, that was Père Lachaise Cemetery – an unusual suggestion for those who haven’t been initiated, but probably the most beautiful cemetery I’ve ever wandered within. (Even in death, Parisienne’s do it in style.)
The final address of famous artists who’ve ever claimed Paris as their home rest here, such as; Edith Piaf, Frédéric Chopin, Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison. After I dipped my toes in some exploring, I ended my day at a café for dinner with a glass of French wine.
“Even the pigeons are dancing, kissing,
going in circles, mounting each other.
Paris is the city of love,
even for the birds.”
― Samantha Schutz,
- Jardin du Luxembourg
- Galeries Lafayette
Whether you have one day in Paris, or two weeks; missing out on Montmartre would be like missing out on the artistic heart of Paris. Renoir, Van Gogh and Picasso all lived here, so this should set the scene. Located on the highest hill in Paris, the Sacré-Cœur also sits here and looks over Paris with incredible views.
After walking this quarter’s charming streets, I headed south of the River Seine to stroll around Jardin du Luxembourg. Dedicated to the children of Paris by Napoléon, these lush gardens make a good spot for a picnic lunch. (Or just nibbling on some macarons!)
A hidden gem I hadn’t discovered in my previous visits was the rooftop of Galeries Lafayette. The luxurious department store provides a free view and is a sight to see itself. (Even though I couldn’t afford any of the designer names within it…) A stained-glass dome is at the centre of the building and on the clear day when I visited, I snapped some beautiful sunsets of the Paris skyline (Eiffel Tower included) on the top floor; the rooftop.
“… you’ll have to fall in love at least once in your life, or Paris has failed to rub off on you.”
― E.A. Bucchianeri,
- The Palace of Versailles
The trip from Paris to Versailles (outside of the city) isn’t that long itself. But the estate is so vast it requires a day, at least, to explore. I’d missed out on Versailles too in my previous visits and so the former home of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette was a must do for me this time.
It really took my breath away; the palace, Hall of Mirrors and gardens as far as the eye can see. I didn’t manage to see it all in the 8 hours I had. So if I were to go again, I’d consider hiring a four-person electric car (like golf carts), get around by the shuttle train or rent a bike.
“Paris is a hard place to leave, even when it rains incessantly and one coughs continually from the dampness.”
― Willa Cather
- Disneyland Paris
Disneyland Paris isn’t a necessity when you don’t have kids, but considering it’s the only Disney park in Europe I’d have to travel a long way to find another one.
Sadly, I never experienced the *real* magic by visiting when I was young (a lot younger), but I had a blast on my first visit when I was 16. This time round I particularly noticed how child-focused it really is (which of course it should be). Or I could just be getting older… For anyone who loves Disney though, it’s easily accessible from the city of Paris for a day out.
“Paris isn’t a city, it’s a world.”
― Lepota L. Cosmo,
- Arc de Triomphe
- Eiffel Tower
The famous Arc de Triomphe probably comes second on everyone’s Paris to do list (after the Eiffel Tower, bien sûr.) Surprisingly, I’d only glimpsed it from the street previously, but even more surprisingly, when arriving at the back of the queue to climb its 284 steps to the top there wasn’t a long wait. (Most main attractions in Paris have some of the longest queues I’ve seen!)
Now a roundabout, with 12 exits, you can point out a number of other monuments from the sweeping views above it. (Never try to cross the road, there are underground subways.) I was lucky enough to see Sacré-Cœur all the way in Montmartre!
One of these 12 exits is probably the most famous street in Paris; Avenue de Champs-Élysées. (Beauty lovers: stop off here for Sephora!) Luckily it’s only 2km long too, so you can stroll past all the designer names that line Paris’s most expensive avenue and reach Place de la Concorde. If you keep going, through Jardin de la Nouvelle France you’ll reach the Louvre, too.
This time instead of getting lost in the artworks at the Louvre (I have done this before and it’s worth a visit), I indulged in a bit of retail therapy before setting sights on true icon of Paris.
Queues spiral out of control at the Eiffel Tower, but don’t let this put you off. (Learn from my mistakes; book in advance!) The harder decision is to choose which time to venture to the top; during the day or by night.
Paris was more ‘Paris when it drizzles’, rather than ‘Paris when it sizzles’ on my first visit. Meaning the view from the Eiffel Tower, by day, was almost non-existent. By night, it quite literally sparkles, every hour on the hour. Luckily, I went for the latter this time.
The next day, sadly I was on the train home. Have you been to Paris? What are your favourite things to see and do in Paris? Share your tips, experiences and in the comments section!