On the night of my flight to Paris, I checked my email on the way home from dinner to discover my one way, overnight flight to the city of lights was “delayed” and wouldn’t be departing until 4:00 pm the following day. This flight marked the start of the second half of my year of travel. My plan was to start with three days in Paris, then make my way to Eastern Europe to more budget-friendly cities. This delay was but a small blip on an otherwise epic adventure throughout Europe that I’ll share in various posts.
But for now, I want to share with you my very first trip to Paris and the three magical days I spent there. Admittedly, I was very nervous about traveling to Paris. I speak absolutely no French and had heard terrible stories about the “rudeness” tourists from the US experienced in Paris. I am incredibly happy to say that my fears were completely unwarranted. I was met with nothing but kindness by the Parisian even though I couldn’t speak their language.
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Three Days in Paris
The flight did eventually depart the following day and I arrived jet lagged and excited! I also Couchsurfed for the first time ever in Paris and my host graciously agreed to allow me to stay for an extra night to make up for the cancellation. This meant I would still have my three full days in Paris! I could still see all the sights I planned to as a Paris. Here’s how I spent my time on my very first weekend in Paris.
The First 7 Hours in Paris
I flew into Orly airport and before leaving I purchased a two-day museum pass and a 10 ticket transit booklet. There are 2, 4 and 6-day museum passes that include free, skip the line access to over 50 museums and other sites. Once you activate your pass, you can begin seeing the sites within the allotted time frame. For in-depth information about which museums and monuments are included, check out the Paris Museum Pass Website. I used it to see The Louvre, Notre Dame, Sainte Chapelle, and the Conciergerie.
Then I made the hour-long journey to the heart of Paris. This was the first time I’d taken public transit from an airport and I was proud of myself for making it without getting lost! After meeting my host and showering off the travel. I decided to catch my first Parisian sunset. What better place to do this besides the Arc de Triomphe. But first, I needed food. A friend recommended a restaurant that will only ask you how you like your steak cooked, which sounded perfect.
Le Relais de l’Entrecote
I wandered along the Champs-Elysees doing some light window shopping. Wondering if one day, I could afford something in these shops, what would I buy? Would I even want to spend my money on something behind these windows, or spend it on a luxury window seat instead?
Probably the window seat.
I arrived at Le Relais de l’Entrecote and joined the queue of mostly tourists lining the sidewalk. Thirty minutes and a very hungry tummy later, I was seated at a small table outside of the cafe. From my seat, I could see the top of the Eiffel Tower and watch as dusk began to settle over Paris. I told the waitress I wanted my steak medium and a glass of red wine. The beautiful thing about this place is once you finish your first serving, the waitress comes around with platters of steak and french fries to refill your plate, at no additional cost. I had my fill and continued on to the Arc de Triomphe, a belly happily full of steak and fries.
Arc de Triomphe
Situated in the middle of a very busy road, the Arc de Triomphe is an impressive structure. I wanted to use my Paris Museum Pass to watch the sunset from the top of this Arc, so I made my way to the underground entrance. Yet, when I saw the queue (yes, even with the pass) I realized I’d likely miss the sunset while waiting. I returned to the street and joined the line of people trying to get the perfect Instagram shot from the middle of the road. Locals must be used to this now as they paid no mind to the people in the middle of the road and the police just made sure no one got hit!
I returned home to my Couchsurfing house by way of the Eiffel Tower, catching my first full glimpse of this structure. Seeing it for the first time at night across the river is a memory I’ll not soon forget. Jet lagged and happy, I fell into a peaceful sleep.
First Full Day in Paris
I arose early the next morning with plans to get to the Eiffel Tower as it opened to beat the lines. Yet as I walked out of my apartment, I was greeted with a street market. Instead of rushing past the stalls filled with deliciously fresh produce, I purchased a sweet potato, eggs, an avocado, and fruit. Opting for an unrushed and filling breakfast.
I still made it to the Eiffel Tower by 10:30 am. The line in security seemed quite short and I was hoping this meant the lines inside wouldn’t be terrible. I was wrong.
Sitting on a bench underneath this gigantic structure, I took a moment to just appreciate where I was, and I wondered if climbing up would be worth the time. Ultimately, I decided it would and queued up. Surprisingly, it only took about 40 mins to purchase my ticket and begin climbing the steps. With each step, the layout of Paris becoming more and more apparent. I didn’t realize there would also be a long queue for the lift to the top, so I jumped in that as I continuously snapped photos of Paris below.
They are really good at fitting as many people as possible on the lift to the top, which means the line moves relatively quickly. At the top, there is a champagne bar if you’re feeling so inclined and the views are fantastic. Unfortunately, all of those people you shared the lift with and all of those before are packed in at the very top. It’s crowded and quite frankly, I don’t think it was worth the time. Considering almost as soon as I was at the top, I wanted to go down for some breathing room.
Les Jardins du Trocadero
I took the lift back down to the second floor, used the restroom (always use the restroom when it’s free), and headed out from the crowds. I crossed the street to gain a different perspective, and some photo ops, from Les Jardins du Trocadero, along with everyone else. From my photo spot, I spied a crepe stand, so I purchased a Nutella crepe and sat in the grass with a view of the Eiffel Tower. I’ve never liked Nutella until this point. Something about it on a crepe, in Paris, with a view of the Eiffel Tower, makes it extra special.
Pro Tip: Find a crepe stand hidden away. My crepe cost €3 euro while the shops on the main road sold the same crepe for €5 euro.
Make Time to Wander
From the Eiffel Tower, I wandered in Champ de Mars and found a shady spot to people watch. It was a hot summer day, the park filled with groups of people picnicking. Men walked by with buckets filled with wine and beer bottles for the thirsty tourists.
Cap Off the Day with a Run Through the Louvre
It was around 4:00 pm when I arrived at the Louvre. It closed at 6:00 pm, so I thought I was a genius because most of the people would be gone, right? I failed to remember that it was, in fact, a Saturday. Forgetting what day of the week it is is a happy side effect of travel.
I activated my museum pass here, which meant I didn’t have to wait in line for a ticket. Alternatively, you can get a skip the line ticket if you plan to only visit the Louvre! Once inside the Louvre, I realized that a Saturday afternoon in summer is actually when many people visit. I’d come to the Louvre for two reasons, to see the Mona Lisa and the Victory of Samothrace (Nike) sculpture. So, I booked it to the Mona Lisa, zigzagging between tour groups, families, and wanderers.
The Mona Lisa was surrounded by people snapping photos of her and I decided I just did not have the energy to elbow my way to the front. I enjoyed the view from the outskirts, amazed at just how small she is in comparison to many of the other artwork that flashed by me as I walked quickly to meet her. Somewhat anticlimactic I must say.
From here, I followed the signs to the Nike which is located at the intersection of three staircases. Hello, crowds! A quick snapshot and a moment of awe at the power of the Goddess Nike, then I tried to escape the Louvre as quickly as I entered. Did you know there’s a shopping mall in the Lourve? That was a surprise as I followed the signs for the exit and was suddenly surrounded by shops underground. I had a moment of claustrophobia as I tried desperately to reach the street. Which I finally did.
I returned home to my host’s home, joining her and her boyfriend for a few glasses of wine and freshly baked bread. After which, I promptly fell asleep after a full day of doing the most touristy, and crowded, things in Paris.
The Second 24 Hours
I awoke feeling sluggish, the nine-hour time change taking its toll. Since I’d activated my museum pass the day prior, I had another day of museums and monuments ahead. But not before another farmers market fresh breakfast and a bit of yoga! Today, I headed out to explore the Paris islands, Ile de la Cite and Ile Saint-Louis.
It was a beautiful stroll from my host’s apartment to Notre Dame along the banks of the Seine River. I took my time, stopping for photographs and wandering down different alleyways than Google Maps suggested. Eventually, the walls to Notre Dame came into view.
Along one wall, sits a kiosk to receive a time slot to climb to the top of the chapel to oogle gargoyles and take in the view. My time slot was four hours in the future. Happy that this gave me plenty of time to go inside of the chapel and explore a bit more of the island I joined the line to enter. I have a thing for old churches and to be honest, the inside of Notre Dame was a bit disappointing. It was overcrowded with tourists, I was in and out in about 5 minutes. So I had 3 hours and 55 minutes to kill, what to do?
Sainte – Chapelle
The church that most impressed me was just a 5-minute walk from Notre Dame, called Sainte-Chapelle. I was able to skip the ticket line with my museum pass and walked into the first floor of the Cathedral. At first, I was underwhelmed, I thought it was supposed to have nothing but beautiful stained glass windows. There were a few on the first level, but the slightly hidden winding staircase in the back of the chapel led to the second floor. As soon as I entered the room, my jaw dropped. Instead of having walls, it had stained glass windows. Blues, purples, and greens filling the space. It is the most impressive church I’ve seen.
I wandered out of Sainte-Chapelle, incredibly grateful for the opportunity to behold such a sight. As I wandered down the road, still in awe, I passed another museum, the Concierge. Since it was on my pass, I figured why not and entered. This building was practically empty, save a few school tours. It was once a French Revolution prison where Marie Antoinette was kept. It had many interesting facts about the Inquisition and Revolution to give me a bit of perspective on the history of France.
But, I’m not a huge fan of spending my days learning about history and my stomach was rumbling. So I meandered along the banks of the Seine to a small square called Place Dauphine. In the center is a triangle shaped park and the streets are lined with inviting cafes. It’s a fairly hidden area, filled with more locals than tourists, which was a great reprieve after a day and a half of being surrounded by fellow tourists. I opted for the crepery Le Dauphin, enjoying my crepe and green juice as I watched a group of men play Petanke. Petanke is what you likely know as Bocce ball. I learned Petanke is the original Bocce ball, but the Italians were much better marketers.
Climbing the Tower of Notre Dame
The time had come for my climb up to the top of Notre Dame. I underestimated the challenge of 387 steps with no place to rest. Breathless and telling myself I need to do more cardio, I crossed the threshold to the top. All of Paris laid out before my eyes. Gargoyles came directly into my view. I’ve never seen a gargoyle close up before and they are incredibly creepy, yet cool at the same time.
Some were eating animals, others scowling at the crowds of tourists below, and a few were simply just sitting for hundreds of years. There is also access to a gigantic bell that has rung over the city for years. While the top is slightly crowded, they do a good job of limiting the number of people there at the same time.
After my jaunt up the steps, I tried an ice cream from Berthillon Glacier. I almost missed Berthillon Glacier as it’s just a window on the side of a building. But it should not be missed. It’s a family-run ice cream shop which uses only natural ingredients and is absolutely divine. I got a scoop of chocolate and a scoop of passionfruit. Both were excellent. A few months after visiting here I watched an Anthony Bourdain show about Paris and he visited this location as well. So, you know it’s not just me, it’s legit.
Wander in Le Marais
In the evening, I meandered the streets of Le Marais which is filled with winding medieval streets and contemporary shops. I’m not sure they were selling falafel back in medieval times, but they sure are now and it makes for an excellent, cheap dinner option. I paired it with a box of 7 macarons from Pierre Herme and enjoyed them both as I watched the sunset over the Seine river.
That evening, I rented a French movie called Amelie that my host recommended I watch before exploring the streets of Montmartre, which is exactly what I had planned for my final day in Paris.
The Final 24 Hours in Paris
No alarm for me this morning, I had nowhere to go and all day to get there. My host ended up not coming back the prior evening, so I spent the morning slowly waking up, making breakfast, writing, and of course planning the next section of my trip. Once I finished, I made my way to Montmartre which turned out to be my favorite part of Paris. Talk about saving the best for last.
Meandering in Montmartre
Exiting the metro a hoard of tourists greeted me coming down from the Sacre Couer. Instead of swimming upstream, I turned left down an alleyway and was immediately grateful for the quiet backroads. I wandered through winding cobblestone streets and found a coffee shop that reminded me of home. Maybe because Americans were working behind the counter or maybe because of the delicious chai latte and quiche I enjoyed. Either way, I was quite happy.
Filled up and energized, I headed back into the streets of Montmartre. I passed incredibly charming cafes, bakeries, pastry and bread shops, as well as a multitude of bookshops. I could’ve easily spent my entire three days in this neighborhood, popping in and out of local shops without getting the least bit bored.
The Sacre Coeur
Eventually, I made my way uphill to see the Sacre Coeur. It’s a gorgeous church situated at the highest point in Paris. Which means it has fantastic views of the city. And also, So. Many. Tourists. I opted to not enter the church. Instead, I found some space on the steps below to take it all in and listen to some young boys play an acoustic reggaeton song. Can I even say acoustic and reggaeton in the same sentence? Only in Paris!
The area surrounding the Sacre Coeur is filled with cafes and shops, that may be good but are also likely overpriced. Even though I was quite hungry, I decided to walk a bit further away from the tourist section of Montmartre. I found the cinema from Amelie and the cafe she worked in which was fun. But more exciting than that was passing a cafe and seeing a woman drinking a green beverage. When I walked inside, I saw she was drinking a matcha latte and I immediately ordered one to satisfy my craving!
The Last Paris Supper
One thing remained for what I wanted to do during my time in Paris. I wanted to buy a baguette, some cheese, and a bottle of wine for dinner. On my way back to my host’s home, I easily found a baguette, but the butcher and cheesemonger were closed. Apparently many shops are closed on Mondays! I was able to find some solid cheese and meats at the local grocery store. My initial plan was to take this down to the river, but I’d walked so many miles that day (15 to be exact-ish) that I figured the couch would suffice! I packed up and said my goodbyes to Paris!
Thoughts on My First 79 Hours in Paris
I packed a lot into a little time. Cramming two heavy tourist days back to back was exhausting. Looking back, I should’ve spread it out a bit more and taken my time. Overall, I loved Paris. I found the people to be incredibly friendly, I never felt unwelcome by my utter lack of the French language and getting lost was my favorite part. Paris holds so much charm in its winding, cobblestone streets. No detail goes missed in Paris.
I’m glad I got all of the major tourist items off of my list in my first Paris go around. The next time I visit, and I know there will be a next time, I plan to take it more slowly. Spend more time reading books in cafes, walking slower, and just taking in the atmosphere.
Have you ever been to Paris? What was your first visit like?
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