IMG_0337Paris is such a treasure chest of marvels that one could spend a lifetime unpacking them and still not get to half of them. It’s why so many people who visit France never get out of the City of Light. But those folks are missing out on a completely different view of French life. To me, one needs both to understand and appreciate France.

IMG_0366 2
Le Palais de Justice, on Île de la Cité, a few doors from the entrance to Sainte-Chapelle.

Since most people don’t have infinite vacation time, it’s necessary to prioritize and to be efficient, while still allowing for serendipity. A strict schedule is a bad idea! But so is running back and forth needlessly.

IMG_0352
View from Sacre Coeur. Paris is vast.

What kind of traveler are you? Are you up for walking? How much walking? I am happy to walk for 10 hours straight but I’ve found that most of my travel companions over the years would prefer somewhat less than that. The more you walk, the more you need to know where you’re going so you don’t backtrack.

DSC_0643
Notre Dame.

On the other hand, wandering aimlessly and enjoying the architecture, shop windows and passersby is a time-honored tradition in France, which invented a word just for that: flâner. Your schedule should include a bit of flânerie in each neighborhood; it’s how you’ll spy the perfect souvenir in a little boutique that will remind you for years of your trip: a scarf, a book, a bag, a dish, a picture. NOT an Eiffel Tower keychain or a Paris T-shirt (though, if you USE them, why not!). It’s when you’ll get the photos that capture the spirit of France—in the streets and not in a museum gallery.

IMG_0365
Not judging. You do you.

Which images do you conjure up when you think of Paris? Which things do you absolutely have to see? Notre Dame? The Eiffel Tower? Sacre Coeur? Pont Neuf? The Louvre? Les Champs-Élysées? Are you interested in history? Architecture? Art? Fashion? Food? All of the above?

IMG_0356
Jeanne d’Arc. The sort of thing one runs into in Paris, just there in the middle of a street.

Break it down again. History: which periods? Roman? Medieval? Renaissance? Art: what kind? Impressionist paintings? Modern? Sculpture? Street art? Decorative arts? As wonderful as the Louvre is, it’s a pain to get through security and deal with crowds (I saw the Mona Lisa once, kind of, in a terrifying mob of people, almost all of whom held cameras over their heads to snap photos. WHY? They can see photos, without strangers’ hands and cameras, on the Internet! Why do people take photos of art anyway? Go to the gift shop and buy the post card!). Either head for less-frequented galleries or go instead to one of the smaller museums specializing in whatever’s your jam. Le Musée de Cluny is all about the Middle Ages; Arénes de Lutèce are Roman ruins. Le Musée d’Orsay has Impressionists; le Musée Marmottan has Monet; the Picasso museum has Pablo; the Rodin museum has sculpture, including the Thinker; le Centre Pompidou has modern art. Paris has no shortage of museums. Some of the smaller ones are likely to be the most memorable, because you won’t be in a crush of people. Museums like Musée Nissim de Camondo (full of fine art and furniture), Musée Jacquemart-André (15th to 18th century art) and Musée Cernuschi (Asian art) are all in former mansions around Parc Monceau in the 8th arrondissement; the park also is a delight for people-watching.IMG_0339P1000868IMG_0357Only you can say what interests you. Don’t feel pressured to see the Mona Lisa when what really trips your switch is Louis XVI furniture—instead head to the Louvre’s Richlieu wing, first floor, rooms 500-632 (the 600-rooms are in the Sully wing, but you will flow through to them), which display European decorative arts—fabulous palace rooms full of antiques. Or go to the Musée Nissim de Camondo. Or take a day trip to Versailles.

If you really want to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower or to the Louvre, buy your tickets in advance! This will save you a huge amount of time. In fact, in both cases, you have to select a time and date; otherwise you have to stand in line and hope there is still room. (The Louvre is closed on Tuesdays, as well as Jan. 1, May 1 and Dec. 25. In addition, some of the rooms are closed on different days, so look at the schedule to be sure that you can get into the collections you want.) Louvre tickets here; Eiffel Tower tickets here.IMG_0362 2Plan your day by starting with the musts, because you might run out of time for everything on your list. Also, keep in mind the habits of other tourists: they sleep in a little, because they’re on vacation, after all. They have a leisurely breakfast at their hotel or in their rental. Then they mosey out to start sightseeing around 11. Some say, “oh, heck, it’s almost noon, no time for seeing big Sight X,” and they do some little thing before having lunch, hitting the tourist trail in force around 2 p.m. In other words, the worst time to do anything touristy is in the afternoon.IMG_0337I would aim for seeing the Eiffel Tower at 9 p.m. It’s open until 11:45 p.m. Make sure to get there early because even with pre-purchased tickets you have to stand in line for airport-style security. The site says it takes 2.5 hours for a visit to the top because you have to change elevators and there are lines. But you are unlikely to be in line with a lot of families with small children; even most adults are going to be at dinner then—in fact, plan your meals accordingly. (If you have kids, I would skip going up and instead go to the top of the Tour Montparnasse or the top of the Arc de Triomphe, both of which give you views of the Eiffel Tower and of the city from up high, without the long waits.)

IMG_0342
The Arc de Triomphe.
P1000862 2
The view from the Arc de Triomphe. See what I mean?
DSC_0480
And with zoom.

Similarly, at the Louvre, consider getting there first thing (it opens at 9 a.m.) or go on Wednesday or Friday night, when it’s open until 9:45 p.m. In fact, the museum’s own Web site advises this. They even have an app that shows how busy the museum is. This is key if what you’re dying to see are the Egyptian mummies, whose galleries typically are a miasma of sweating humanity and no matter how much your kid is into the topic it will be a disaster that is difficult to escape from—you just have to follow the flow. Another tip: unless the weather is great, enter via the Métro station to avoid standing in the long line to the Pyramid in the courtyard.

It’s hard to say which neighborhood you’ll be in at mealtime, so the best thing to do is to pick a restaurant as you would a bottle of wine. There are telltale signs of very good or very bad, which I elaborated on here.

P1000892 2
The courtyard of Hotel des Grandes Ecoles.

IMG_0334

I’ve stayed in many places in Paris, but my favorite hotel is Hotel des Grandes Ecoles in the 5th arrondissement. It is one of the few places in Paris where you are likely to wake up to the sound of birds singing, thanks to its lush interior courtyard (in fact, you might want to ask for a courtyard room when you reserve, although it’s on a very quiet street).

P1000897
View from the hotel courtyard toward the street. Charming.
IMG_0371
Place de la Contrescarpe, steps from the hotel and at the top of rue Mouffetard.

According to the Earful Tower podcast (go subscribe now if you’re a francophile!), the 5th is the best district for flâner, because you can wander from the Arènes de Lutece to the Pantheon to rue Mouffetard (that market street in the Amélie movie) to the Latin Quarter around the Sorbonne. It also has the Jardin des Plantes, the Grande Mosquée (excellent tea room; I used to frequent the hammam but hear it isn’t so great any more), the Institut du Monde Arabe (beautiful architecture, interesting exhibits on art, history and culture, and great views from the rooftop café) and, my favorite thing in Paris: open air (summer only) Argentine tango dancing on Friday and Saturday nights at the Jardin Tino Rossi, right next to the Seine.

IMG_0367
The Pantheon. More than just the burial place of France’s most eminent personalities, the Pantheon’s central hall has Foucault’s pendulum, which demonstrated the Earth’s rotation. Science! Another theme to seek out in Paris!

The 1st is the place for fashion, with rue Saint-Honoré lined with boutiques. Hotel Costes is a hangout for the fashion crowd and has such wonderful service. I once had a six-hour lunch with a friend there—the waiter discreetly refilled the water carafe but never were we pressured in the least to wrap it up and leave. Coco Chanel’s original boutique, at 31 rue Cambon, is just off rue Saint-Honoré. The Palais Royal courtyard is rather hidden, but you’ll recognize the iconic striped columns. The Louvre also is in the first. And nearby is Pont Neuf, leading to Île de la Cité, a charming place to explore and also home to the stained-glass wonder that is Sainte-Chapelle.

 

And you’re right by Notre-Dame, also on Île de la Cité. However, Notre Dame is in the 4th, the Marais, packed with interesting shops and cafés. It’s also home to the Picasso museum, among many others. My other favorite secret place in Paris is the Marais Dance Center, hidden in one of the oldest courtyards of Paris at 41 rue du Temple and dating to around 1580. You can sit at the cafe in the courtyard and look up, “Rear Window” style, at ballet in one window, salsa in another, waltz in another…Walk down the boutique-lined rue des Francs Bourgeois to Place des Vosges, where you can sit (not on the grass) and watch very chic parents with their very chic children at the small playground, while a busker sings exquisite opera aided by the acoustics of the surrounding arcades.

IMG_0353 2
Sacre-Coeur.

Montmartre is in the 18th, a bit farther from the center. From Sacre-Coeur you get great views, and the surrounding streets—except for Place du Tertre, which is unpleasantly touristy—are charming. At the tiny Square Suzanne Buisson, you might find locals in a game of pétanque; one day when I did, I watched a while, amused, and when I left they stopped playing and tipped their hats!

IMG_0349 2
The Abbesses Métro entrance.

Montmartre is kind of off the path, and you’re likely to take the Métro (Line 12 to Abbesses or Line 2 to Anvers) and then possibly the funicular, which offers great views. You can combine it with some of the little museums near Parc Monceau, which is on Line 2 of the Métro. In fact, you could start at the Arch du Triomphe for day views, take the Métro to Monceau, then the Métro again to Anvers/Montmartre. That is, if you like views, museums and parks. But it also includes plenty of gawking in little streets around Montmartre.P1000891The Eiffel Tower is in the 7th, along with some great museums—Rodin, d’Orsay, Maillol (one of those charming little ones). It’s also home to le Bon Marché, the oldest of the grands magasins, or department stores. However, they aren’t really close together. I would wander from Musée d’Orsay to the Musée Rodin and then over to the Bon Marché and maybe on to the Jardin du Luxembourg and its little pond where kids (some of them with gray hair) sail little boats, though it’s technically in the 6th. Then I’d go back separately to the Eiffel Tower after dark.

IMG_0361
The Pantheon entrance. More is more.

This post has devolved into a lot of rambling. The point is to encourage you to pick your top destinations—YOURS, not some blogger’s! Or your friends’!—and to look at what else interests you nearby or on a convenient Métro line and to consider opening times and lines so you can make a plan for each day that’s both enjoyable and efficient.

Métro map here.

Questions? Your tips?

IMG_0345
Place de la Bastille.
Advertisements

31 thoughts on “Paris Tips: Timing Is Everything

  1. I love this post! I’m a flaneur so the art of wandering is what I was after on our trip to Paris. We stayed in the Latin quarter near Notre Dame and did the Place Vendome thing at the palatial Park Hyatt. The Marais was my favorite area, and I was just awed and speechless most of the time. We walked everywhere – took only one bus ride. I want to return to Paris next year when Carnavalet reopens. Thank goodness I was there before it closed for renovations! And I hope to visit the South of France before any Paris trip is scheduled and want to check into your property! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This post is a keeper. I want to do it all 🙂 soaking up the atmosphere instead of rushing around madly will be the best souvenir. Good memories are made up of the feeling of a place for me. Well that and the perfect find at a flea market or a Brocant….
    Ali

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The key to success at a brocante is taking one’s time.
      A drive-by (or walk-by) is enough for certain sights; I’m more impressed by the exterior of Notre Dame than the interior, and the views of Paris are good from many places besides the Eiffel Tower. It frees up time for other things that are best experienced slowly.

      Like

  3. I enjoyed this post. I agree that it’s a good idea to schedule in some “unscheduled” time to just walk around and be a Flâneuse! Your tip about doing what you want and not what a guidebook recommends is so important. For instance, I followed the suggestion of a guidebook that said to go to Notre Dame in the morning (to beat the crowds) then walk to the Louvre. In hindsight, I would’ve started at the Louvre first (like you said it opens at 9) and then walk to Notre Dame. There will be crowds at both places, but I would have liked more time at the Louvre when my energy level was higher (in the morning). I like your advice to buy tickets online in advance (whenever possible) for major attractions to save time. Thank you for sharing your tips!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That is such a good idea to consider your energy levels.
      Also, Notre Dame is more doable with crowds (rarely a line to enter), but too many people in one gallery can really spoil the experience at the Louvre. That would indicate doing the Louvre first.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Yes, yes, and yes. However, Sainte-Chapelle is on Île de la Cité, not Saint-Louis. I’d add the cookery shops on rue Montmartre, Saint Eustache/ Montorgueil quartier, and new park area at Les Halles, especially if you’re traveling with children.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Actually both Notre Dame and Sainte-Chapelle are on Île de la Cité. It’s easy to confuse because the Jardin de JeanXXIII behind the cathedral is tout en face d’Île St. Louis—right in view from the Café de Flore en l’Île on St. Louis.

        Liked by 2 people

  5. Some great tips here – thank you!! At the louvre, there are two other doors, Porte de Lion and Passage Richelieu, where there are usually few people waiting. Only thing is that you have to have pre-bought tickets, they don’t sell tickets on those doors.
    As for the Musee de Cluny, it was closed for renovations the last time, and from what I could find the museum won’t be fully open until 2020. I’m sure it’ll be spectacular then!!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, the Carnavalet is another museum on my ‘must see’ list!! There’s so much to do and see in Paris. Lucky for us, the TGV gets us there in around four hours from Beziers/Narbonne!! And if booked early enough, the price of a return can be pretty reasonable!!

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Oh, and there is La Coulée Verte which starts near the Opera Bastille, and is Paris’s answer to the high line! A planted walkway on top of an old railway viaduct. The arches below have some wonderful craftsmen in residence with their workshops and shops!

    Liked by 2 people

  7. This post is so on point, not only for visiting Paris, but when traveling in general. There is only so much one can take in in one day. And after 3 days of walking/visiting, it’s good to have a day of relache, when I’d go to discover certain neighborhoods that I spotted the previous days or trips.
    Paris is vast and there is so much to see that you must be very clear and focused on your priorities. For me it was art, fashion, and culture so I rented a studio 5 min from Louvre, where I spent 2 mornings and one afternoon. I would have a picnic for lunch in the Tuilleries garden and go to the Musee de L’Orangerie, Place Vandome or further towards Champs Elysees. Also, pick the right time of the year to visit, walking for hours in cold, heavy rain or heat is not fun.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good points. We don’t always have much choice about when to travel–either it’s off-season because of schedule/budget or it’s summer because of kids. Fall is definitely the best time–good weather (more reliably dry than in spring), no crowds. The Louvre is pricey, so I can understand people wanting to do it all once. But some things just aren’t that much better in person (Mona Lisa). Pick and choose.

      Like

  8. Heartily agree that all travellers should “curate” their trips to Paris according to what their own priorities are, and not succumb to groupthink! Love your suggestions. Will pass them on to a niece who will be visiting Paris soon.
    (Two very small issues you may want to correct: the last photo I’m sure you meant to identify as Place de la Bastille (rather than Concorde), and the Hôtel de Ville is in the 4th arrondissement.)

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Don’t forget Cimitiere Pere Lachaise, all those famous dead people to visit. There is a map you can get there that tells you who is where. Kardec’s tomb seems to always have people and flowers, he was a spritualist or mustic of some sort, don’t really know but his grave is great. For something different there is the Musee de la Chasse, which is taxidermy — very well done speciments, most or all of them quite old. Camondo is one of my favorites, interesting and sad history, very human scale and beautiful objects. Musee des Arts Decoratifs is good, many different sorts of things. A boat ride on the Canal St. Martin from Arsenal to La Villette. Bastille Market is really one of the biggest and best. There is also one of the bus lines, it might be 7, which is a free tour of many of the most beautiful architecture in the heart of Paris. I prefer the bus, not the metro, as there is more to see and you are not stuffed together with other riders to the point where you have to struggle to get off. Metro is faster if you have to get there of course. Well I’m sure I’ve forgotten something wonderful …..
    bonnie in provence

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I enjoyed Père Lachaise, but I am not sure too many people would want to squeeze it in if they have only a few days in Paris. I went on a Christmas Day once, since nothing else was open. There were plenty of people at Jim Morrison’s grave.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.