Recently we spent 3 days in Paris before our fabulous “Paris & Normandy” River Cruise… what a great city!
If so, then you’ll want to read this blog post to get some great tips to enhance your experience during your visit and learn how to conquer Paris in 3 days as we did! (Keep in mind, depending on what River Cruise itinerary you book some of what we mention below may already be included in your trip)
If you have less time in Paris, don’t worry, you can pick the top attractions in this blog by taking a few notes and start with your favorites once you get there…
…that said, you REALLY should follow some of the tips we provide or you could end up like many others who visit Paris- unable to see what they wanted to due to long lines.
Paris is one of the most visited cities
in the world annually- so pre-planning
is a must to get the most of your visit!
First though, we need to cover a couple important things…
You will fall in love with Paris IF you are fore-warned about how things work there and if you understand WHY prior to visiting.
Many people we know who visited Paris without this knowledge have a “I wouldn’t go back” outlook but don’t let that be you. Likely what will happen (once you read below) is that you’ll be surprised at the differences from Canada and the USA and then, like us, you’ll find Paris a delightful city that you WILL want to visit again.
Here is what you NEED to know:
1. The French will come off slightly cold and standoffish. They are not being rude- that’s just the culture and nothing to be offended by.
Once you speak to someone from Paris, you will find them warm. Especially by knowing a few words in French which will quickly earn their respect. So brush up a little. Hello, goodbye and thank you are enough.
But if you want to dive in, here you go…
2. Another thing different from home is that in France the waiters at restaurants are there to deliver you food and nothing more…
…yes, we know it’s odd as in North America many waiters chat you up, flirt, etc. but again, it’s just the way things are there.
FYI, tips are appreciated but not expected in France. Usually people will tip for special service (like having dinner at one of the restaurants in the Eiffel Tower for example). If you tip 5-10% is the norm… 15-20% like we’re used to here isn’t common at all over there.
Thankfully things are not
the same as they are at home
when we travel the world- otherwise
what would be the point of traveling! 🙂
3. Although locals will tell you they do not speak English (even though they can speak WAY more English then we can speak french most times) they are simply being modest & polite.
***Engage anyways and you will find this to be true.
This reminds of something else we love about French traditions…
4. The French are quiet and speak softly- even in large groups.
We found it refreshing to walk into a french restaurant where kids are not screaming and adults are not being boisterous. You’ll likely find yourself doing the same and will enjoy it! 🙂
Ok. Now that you are armed with this precious knowledge, you could simply stop reading right now and head to Paris, but it may be in your best interests to read about our strategies to seeing everything you want to see in Paris.
Our Strategic Plan
We researched Paris heavily before our trip and came up with this plan to conquer Paris in 3 days before our Paris & Normandy River Cruise. It worked out very well.
Our first day wasn’t all that exciting as it included a “no other alternative” red eye flight (grrrr) with little sleep so we decided to plan NOTHING other then relaxing to prepare for the next day’s long excursions in Paris…
…very smart way to do it by the way, if we must say so ourselves! 🙂
And no matter what time you arrive, we don’t suggest planning a big day of excursions and sight seeing as you will be jet lagged, out of sorts and tired… so take the first day to acclimatize, have a nice French dinner, take a short walk about and most important, get a good night sleep! (Here’s what we did for night #1’s dinner in Paris… Yummy! :-))
In the morning we were refreshed, which is key! (See smiles below).
We showed up to the Notre-Dame Cathedral at 9:15 am and would suggest you do the same (even 15mins earlier is good which will save you more time) if you want to climb the tower– arrive no later then this to get in line to climb the Notre Dame Tower’s 400 steps. If you don’t do this, the line gets crazy busy with multi hour waits, but this way we were able to walk up and enjoy the city views from above that were well worth it…
… Note: In line we spoke to a couple who were on their 3rd attempt to climb the cathedral steps. Luckily, this time they showed up early enough and finally were able to get in so don’t make their mistake and be late!
Another Tip: A good picture to take is this one with the Gargoyle and the Eiffel Tower, get one yourself once up top! Cool huh?…
Afterwards, enjoy the Gothic architecture of this UNESCO world heritage site Cathedral which has a fast, no hassle line at this time of morning. Tip: No worries about covering up for this church. But no photography can be taken inside unfortunately. It’s not St. Peter’s in Rome but still detailed to perfection in her own style and definitely worth the visit.
Next we went down to the Paris Archaeological Crypt (just in front of the Cathedral) which to be honest we found underwhelming… but were able to get in for free as it was included in the Paris Museum Pass which we would HIGHLY recommend purchasing. The link above will tell you all about it…
…but the main benefit to buying the Pass is saving “hours of time” by skipping the LONG lines at the Louvre, steps to the top of Arc de Triumphe and the second line at Saint Chapelle. Our passes were 42 Euro per person & well worth it! (They included entrance to Versailles as well)
Next, we walked a short distance to Saint Chapelle. EVERYONE has to line up at the front entrance but once inside, if you have the pass, then you can skip the second line inside and go straight in.
Once inside the church you’ll be impressed by the art work dating back to 1248 and if you love stained glass you will certainly appreciate a visit here, have a look at this…
After exiting Saint Chapelle we took a left towards the Seine river, crossed over the river and headed toward the Louve. Look at how beautiful it is in Paris along the River:
Along the way we stopped for lunch at Brasserie du Quai which was delicious. We had homemade pizza, icy cold beer (which we loved as it cooled us down from the July heat) and a goat cheese salad. Yummy!
Then we went to the famous Louvre (where we skipped a BIG line using the Paris Museum Pass). It is one of the largest museums in the world holding tens of thousands of exhibits over an area of 60,600 square metres. As you can imagine, once inside you can spend hours!!!
Here we are getting ready to go in…
Personally, we wanted to spend only about one hour there as we’re not huge Museum fanatics so we went right to the section where the Mona Lisa was first and then walked about enjoying the other collections. The Mona Lisa painting is smaller than we anticipated, but you have to visit her in person anyways, you just gotta! 🙂
TIP: If you are planning to spend an entire day at the Louvre, then you can forego this tip. But if you are going in to “check it out” then we would suggest going to the website prior to your visit to Paris and take notes of what you want to see because once there, you will NOT have a chance to see it all as it’s just so big. This way, you will feel completely satisfied!
Next, we walked through the lovely Tuileries Park. It was so peaceful we took advantage and sat, took a nap on a couple of the parks comfy chairs in the shade and also enjoyed a ice-cream. Highly Recommended to regain your energy.
We then did a little window shopping while we walked the famous Avenue called Champs-Élysées. It is known for its theaters, cafes and luxury shops. You would likely know it from watching the very end of the Tour de France each year as the cyclists race to the finish at the Arc de Triumphe.
Tip: Don’t eat on the Champs-Élysées as it is well known for lazy service, mediocre food and inflated prices.
In the picture below we took this shot from the top of the Arc de Triumphe looking down into Champs-Élysées…
…here we are in front of the monumental Arc de Triomphe…
To climb the 284 steps to the top of the Arc de Triomphe we again used our nifty Paris Museum Pass to skip the long line. The views are amazing as you can see above.
Disclaimer: We do NOT get paid for any of the recommendations we give in these posts. We wanted to say that as we have mentioned the Museum Pass a bunch of times in this blog but we bought it just like anyone else would. All these tips are strictly to help you have an even better experience then when we were there, K? 🙂
We visited The Palace of Versailles today (again using our Paris Museum Pass). It’s the “palace of all palaces” for it’s size. Even after seeing Buckingham Palace and many others, we haven’t seen any palace quite this big. Here we are just inside the gates…
It was built as a retreat from the crowds of Paris for the French Monarchs. Walk through the Chateau and it’s dozens of rooms, but of all the rooms it’s the Hall of Mirrors that’s undoubtedly most impressive, famous, and historic.…
check out the expansive Gardens and it’s statues & fountains…
Once you arrive be sure to get a map, many people including us were finding it hard to navigate landmarks in the gardens. If you have a disability and even if you don’t, a golf cart or peddle bike can be rented as it is just too big to see it all… highly recommended!
Remember: Once you leave the Palace (even to go to the gardens) just note that you CANNOT go back inside the Palace. So do and see everything first before leaving and then head to the gardens and towards the lake for some lunch. On the grounds there are multiple places to eat casual food or to sit and dine.
Little TIP: There are NO public restrooms on the second floor of the palace. Most are on the ground floor near the Entry and souvenir shop.
Next, after returning to our hotel for a quick nap & shower we dressed up and voila…
…we went to “58 Eiffel” for dinner. It’s one of the two restaurants in the Eiffel Tower you can enjoy. There we are in the picture above- in our glee!
We investigated it thoroughly and even though you can book an early or late dinner and pricing depends on which table you choose (closer to the window the more expensive) we went with the 9 pm seating with window seat access which was the priciest option. We figured if we were going to do it, we were going to do it right! 🙂
The experience didn’t disappoint.
We had one of the best seats in the house, the wine was free flowing (which surprised us as we thought it would be limited) and dinner was delicious. Just check out a few things we had…
You may be asking, “Is it worth the $$$?” We will honestly tell you that it’s overpriced but it’s truly about the EXPERIENCE. So don’t hesitate, just do it!! You’ll be glad you did. 🙂
TIP: We picked the 9pm dinner so that we could get the best of both worlds- get scenery in daylight and night-time views with a wonderful sunset in between. For you, simply Google the sunset for your arrival date and pick the dining time that corresponds with that. Easy peasy!
Now, to close, here are a few more…
1. Despite what you read online, you CAN use your credit card for most purchases in Paris (if that’s what you’d like to do). You really don’t need many euros- unless you like dealing in cash.
2. July is HOT (as is most of June & August) so bring a hat to protect your skin & to keep your body temperature cool.
3. Bring good walking shoes with good support as it is an enjoyable flat walk-able city but it’s a good hike from Notre Dame Cathedral to the Arc du triumphe including all the stops in between.
4. As you already know Europe is expensive. In Paris expect to pay 300-400 euros for a basic small hotel room in the good locations & 2-3 euros for a 500 ml bottle water…
5. In restaurants, expect to buy water as they don’t always give you tap or filtered water for free.
6. French bread is delicious & truly a dining experience in itself. That and the cured meats are inexpensive in France… so enjoy them in Paris!!
7. If you are licking your lips thinking about the bread then you’ll want to take a visit to Rue Cler (see picture below)- this street is a traditional Parisian neighborhood that’s traffic free. Shopping for groceries is the backbone of everyday life there. Great place to assemble a picnic and walk to the Eiffel Tower to enjoy on the grass!
8. For pre or post hotel stays, bring a converter plug for your electronics.
9. Be aware that air-conditioning is not commonplace in Paris, so you’ll need to pace yourself in hot summer months… just slow it down and take your time! 🙂
Well there you go, some thoughts from our time in Paris that we hope help you enjoy your time there!
You can see more pictures here of when we were in Paris and when you’re ready to enjoy your own Paris & Normandy River Cruise or Bordeaux River Cruise or a Burgundy & Provence River Cruise in Southern France (or all 3 of them during the same trip as we did) let us know, we’d be happy to help.
We Appreciate You!
Nancy & Shawn
Your Trusted Cruise Experts!