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picante's avatar

Will you help me plan to the perfect week in/near Paris?

Asked by picante (11492points) February 22nd, 2012

I’ll be visiting Paris in early May, and I’ve begun to list my “must-see’s.” I’d love input from the collective. Tell me your favorite Parisian sights and sounds. Give me the inside skinny on any of the landmarks noted below. Tell me about your favorite dining experience. And I’d love to make a couple of day trips to wineries in the surrounding countryside – tell me what you’ve experienced.

I have on my short list the following experiences: Eiffel Tower, The Louvre, Luxembourg Gardens, Notre Dame, Arc de Troimphe , River Seine, Pere-Lachaise Cemetery, Les Invalides, and Blvd. St. Germain.


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17 Answers

janbb's avatar

@thornimud and I will gladly be your tour guides!

First, go visit the cutest grandson in Paris. Seriously, I would recommend two sightseeing orientations: the Big Red hop-on/hop-off bus tour of central Paris highlights. There is an English audio guide and if you stay on the bus, the tour takes 2½ hours, but you can also get off at any of the stops (many are places you list above) and then get back on another bus. The other tourist trip I would recommend is a bateaux ride down the Seine at sunset . This starts in front of the tour d’Eiffel and then on the return – after dark – you will see the Tour all lit up in gold. Spectacular. The bus trip starts from the Eiffel Tower and other places as well and you can get a combo ticket for the bus and the boat if you want.

Montmartre – where the best-beloved grandson lives – is touristy and crowded around the Place du Tertre and Sacre Couer but still worth walking around in the afternoon and evening. Enjoy the views and musicians from the front of the Sacre Couer and look at the artists in the Place. However, if you meander down some of the streets at the back of the Butte de Montmartre such as Avenue Junot, rue Norvins and rue de Caulincourt, you will discover real magic. If you have the time, there is a small museum of Montmatre that is well worth a visit.

Another museum you might want to go to is the Musee D’Orsay which houses a wonderful collection of Impressionist and post-Impressionist art.

Go to St. Denis (not far from Notre Dame) for the wondrous blue stained glass windows. Stroll around the ile St Louis and the ile de la Cite. Leave time for cafe sitting and people watching, particularly at the thin, fashionable French. Eat a croissant from a different bakery every morning and do a taste comparison. Look in shop windows, particularly patisseries and boucheries/charcuteries for the beautiful displays.

As for where to go on day trips, I like Normandy a lot and not necessarily for the WW 2 sites. Honfleur is a lovely fishing town; Rouen is a great small city. They are both somewhat at a distance so you might not want to go there. However, two shorter excursions are Giverney where Monet lived and worked and Chartres Cathedral which is stunning. Both are easy train trips from Paris. Most people go to Versailles – I’m not enamored of it; it is crowded, ostentatious and overwhelming but you might want to go there.

As in any city, wander and wonder.

thorninmud's avatar

While it’s awe-inspiring to look up at the Eiffel tower, I wouldn’t recommend going up it. It consumes too much time. If you want a nice panorama, go to the steps of the Sacre Coeur on Montmartre instead; it’s free and there’s no wait.

I’d also skip Luxembourg. For a spectacular garden, go to Bagatelle instead; it will be breathtaking in late May.

Notre dame, yes. Try to see the hidden but absolutely spectacular Saint-Chapelle while you’re in the neighborhood. Oh, and go across the river from Notre Dame and visit the tiny and humble St. Jean le Pauvre. It’s pre-gothic, and parts are much older than Notre Dame. Its grounds also have the oldest tree in Paris, propped up to keep it from collapsing.

Pere-Lachaise, definitely.

Invalides only if you’re a military history buff, or a Napoleon enthusiast.

Blvd. St. Germain is interesting more for the people who used to hang out there than for what it is today. If you want to go pay your respects to the ghosts of your favorite authors, go ahead. Otherwise, you’re just paying too much for coffee.

Stroll around the Marais area (4th arrondisement, near Hotel de Ville) to get a feel for what Paris was like before Napoleon had his way with it.

Avoid the Champs-Elysee like the plague. Absolutely nothing of interest there.

Don’t go to Bastille either, because there is no more Bastille. You’ll just find a column and a Metro stop in a sketchy neighborhood.

For pastry, look up Dalloyeau or Lenotre. You can’t go wrong with any of their stuff. For chocolate, make a pilgrimage to the original Maison du Chocolat on rue du Faubourg St. Honore. If you go there, you’re close to a really good cheese shop, Alleosse, on a nice little market street.

Just so you know, you’ll have to go pretty far from Paris to get into decent wine country.

janbb's avatar

(When I said St. Denis, I meant Sainte-Chapelle. @thorninmud got it right.)

thorninmud's avatar

But actually, Saint Denis (the cathedral, not the neighborhood in Paris) is a worthwhile visit. The building itself is fantastic, and it’s where many kings of France are buried. It’s in a town of the same name a short train ride (RER) north of Paris.

janbb's avatar

@thorninmud Have you ever been to Auvers where van Gogh lived for a time? I’ve wanted to go there and it is not far from Paris either.

ragingloli's avatar

You will need a lot of explosives to destroy all these. I can not help you with that.

thorninmud's avatar

Nope. I’ve never been to Giverny, Monet’s garden, either.

Which reminds me: if you’re a Monet fan, there’s a great little-known museum in Paris with some of his most famous works, the Musee Marmottan.

picante's avatar

Jan and Thorn (if I may call you by you first name), this is fabulous feedback!! You can well believe I’ll be heeding much if not all of this. And I’d love to see the cutest grandson in Paris,Jan!! Thank you so much.

janbb's avatar

@picante And you know if we could meet there, I would love it.

SpatzieLover's avatar


thorninmud's avatar

Correction in my first post: The church across the river from Notre Dame is St. Julien le Pauvre, not St. Jean le Pauvre

lifeflame's avatar

I was in Paris for a year. Seriously, the greatest pleasures about Paris is going down all the side-streets and discovering new things. I remember deciding with a friend on “a day of madness”—where we said we would first bus that passed our way, and get off when we felt like it. We ended up in this beautiful scrap yard, and just walking down the Seine on the outskirts of Paris.

I completely second @thorninmud about not going up the Eiffel Tower (just take lots of pic from the bottom) and really, just get out of the tourist areas. There are so many cute churches aside from Notre Dame (which is arguably impressive).

My favourite quartiers have to be the Marais (3e), and I don’t know what your budget is, but if it was as strapped as mine, there’s really good ethnic food on Faubourg Saint Denis (10e).

thorninmud's avatar

Some cool shops:

Fauchon Fantastic food displays. Don’t buy anything, just look.

Dehillerin Cookware shop straight out of the last last century.

Mariage Freres Amazing tea shop, even if you hate tea.

Printemps (the Blvd. Haussmann store) A spectacular old department store. Just go into the main building and look up. Then leave, money in hand.

Laduree Famous macarons.

I’m pretty sure all these are Googleable if you can’t find them, let me know.

picante's avatar

Thank you, LifeFlame and Thorn for your thoughtful input! Love the shopping while not spending advice, Thorn!

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picante's avatar

I wanted to follow up with all who provided fabulous input to help me plan my week in Paris. It was completely magical. Top to bottom. I took all of your suggestions and was able to execute on most—my agenda included a “major” tour each day with lots of time for backstreet strolling, bistro dining, people watching, etc. One day was spent touring the Loire valley, visiting three chateaus and enjoying a meal prepared by one of the local vintners, made from vegetables grown on his estate. It was simply magical.

It’s impossible to name my “favorite” activity since every moment was special. But I will say that the Montmartre area was enchanting. I thank you so much for your incredible direction and narrative of your experiences. I felt that you were with me ;-)

janbb's avatar

Thanks for the update. I’ll be there in two weeks, based near my son in Montmartre. Isn’t it magical? Too bad we couldn’t overlap there.

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