Thursday, 26 October 2017 - 17:00
Paris has been my primordial dream city for as long as I can remember. The first time I got there was on a high school bus trip - I had exactly one night to see what I have been reading and dreaming about for years. After a quick climb in the Eiffel tower to say hello and do a reconnaissance of all the monuments, I walked through the entire city (from the Eiffel tower to Notre Dame and back) until morning with no map and no food. Five years later I visited Paris with my mother, and though we did get a grasp of the metro, we still ended up walking huge distances, the longest stretch being actually inside the Louvre. Thinking back to the entire trip that cost me 200-300 euros for both of us (crowded, smelly bus and 1 star hostel included), paying for a hop on hop off tour would have still been a very smart investment. My longest stay in Paris was for two months in 2007, when I felt too Parisian to do the touristic thing, and I explored every corner of the city by metro, while surviving on sandwiches and brioches to afford entrance fees and books. In time, Paris and I developed a relationship half harmonious, half discordant - a mix of drab, rainy days of exhilarated exhaustion in front of the city's architectural wonders, and serene moments of sunny contemplation over coffee or wine in its most iconic squares. Now I visit as an old friend who does not need the introductory tour, knows the public transport well enough to not waste too much time with orientation, and luckily affords the treats at restaurants and cafes.
Although I was initially thinking to give you a rundown of my favorite spots in the city, thinking back to my own experiences I realized that for the first couple of times in Paris, one does need a little more support than in other cities. Paris can be capricious and demanding, on top of expensive and unpredictable in terms of weather. One would need a well oiled strategy to divide and conquer, as well as breathing space to enjoy and bond with the city. So for a three-day itinerary of Paris, I would recommend the easily accessible setup of a hop on hop off tour alongside my personalized suggestions. This would allow you to get a nice overview of the city's outline and monuments, while at the same time give you the purpose of looking for authentic locations at a few, distinct stops.
The most comprehensive tour I found, which nicely offers the possibility to purchase a three-day ticket is this one: Paris Comprehensive Hop On Hop Off Tour. Booking in advance will allow for planning ahead - for example finding a hotel in proximity to one of the tour stops (Gare du Nord(RER access for airport)/Gare de l'Est/Republique), in addition to allowing you to call a certain neighborhood "mon quartier" for the time of your stay. Be sure to reserve at least one evening to get to know the said neighborhood, maybe in search of a restaurant for dinner. Can't afford to eat out? Stock up before your tour starts. Now that you are familiar with your quartier, look for the nearest boulangerie (bakery) that could replace the overpriced breakfast offered at the hotel, a Brioche Dorée (affordable restaurant/café that also offers menu formulas), or the nearest Monoprix or Monop (the most convenient supermarket, also selling pre-packed snacks and sandwiches). This will get you to a maximum of 30 euros/day expenses with food, to which you should add the cost of the hop on hop off tour (around 30 euros), the RER to and from the airport (about 20 euros), and a stack of 10 tickets for public transport for 14,5 euros. As the tour operates usually between 9.30-18.00, you could start early/continue on late at specific tour stops that are also connected to the metro. Decide ahead which museums you would like to visit and purchase the tickets beforehand. Not only will this save you time during the visit, but it will also give you a clearer feeling of how much time you can spend at each stop.
For starters, here is the map with the four routes included in the hop on hop off ticket. Below, I will break down for you a list of customized activities to choose from on each of the three days. The online version of the map is here: www.isango.com/ActivityLocationMaps/PHOHO2017.pdf
Day 1 - The Green Tour
On this day you will get an overview of the town's most iconic monuments. It's the tour you should be doing if you had only one day in the city. To customize your itinerary, choose two activities from the list below, depending on your interests. As the Green Line intersects with all the other lines, you could plan activities from the suggestions for the next two days during this day as well (for example, if you are not a big museum fan). I have included options for panoramic views of the city on all three days, saving the best for the last day. If you can help it, I promise it's going to be worth the wait.
- A quiet garden to enjoy the city, offering a unique perspective as well as the option to browse through your purchased books or have a picnic, is the Coin du Vert Gallant, located behind the statue of Henry IV in the middle of Pont Neuf. It is perfectly accessible during your stroll along the river banks.
- Easily missed, but worth a stop is the Church of Saint-Germain-l'Auxerrois, located right behind the Louvre. It's not only a particular blend of Roman, Gothic, and Renaissance elements, but also the place from where the beginning of Saint Bartholomew's Day massacre was signaled through ringing the church bells.
Day 2 - The Yellow and Orange Tours
Now that you know Paris quite well, it is time to dwell into its artistic atmosphere, and stroll in the Montmartre, Montparnasse, and Latin quarters.
Your first half-day should be spent on the Yellow Line, with a stop to visit the famous Sacre Coeur Basilica. It is worth stopping for coffee at the nearby Place du Tertre, to get a feeling of the atmosphere of the Montmartre where Renoir, Picasso, and Dali resided at one point.
Spend the rest of the day on the Orange Line, and make sure to include stops to visit the Notre Dame Cathedral and the Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés.
Day 3 - The Blue Tour
One thing which you hopefully will take advantage of is that the Green, Orange, and Blue Lines intersect in the Latin Quarter. In this area, distances are also shorter, which will help tailor your visit to your own liking. There are three main stopping points on the Blue itinerary (Jardin du Luxembourg/Panthéon, Hotel de Ville/Centre Pompidou, Le Marais), four if you include the panoramic viewing of the city. How much time you can devote to each area depends on what you've been doing over the past couple of days, but do take heart - there is absolutely no wrong way of spending time in Paris.
Whether you decide to end your stay in Paris at a restaurant on rue Mouffetard or on Boulevard Montparnasse, or maybe even at your now favorite café close to your hotel, you should definitely feel your heart in harmony to that of the city. Exhaustion should vanish quickly faced with the unexpected truth that Paris is no longer daunting and intimidating, expensive and impersonal, but an old friend whom you will gladly visit again.