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How to customize a three days in Paris hop on hop off tour

Thursday, 26 October 2017 - 17:00

Anca Țigan


How to customize a three days in Paris hop on hop off tour

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.

  • Panoramic views of the city can be seen from the Eiffel tower and from the rooftop of the Arc de Triomphe. If you do the latter, be sure to notice the breathtaking geometry of the historical axis which has these four monuments perfectly aligned - La Grande Arche de la Défense - Arc de Triomphe - Obélisque de Louxor sur La Place de la Concorde -Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel.
  • Hiding in plain sight between your tour stops 17 and 18 is the Musée Rodin, established by the sculptor himself in his former residence and garden. It is a unique place disconnected from the pace of the city, where you can understand the universe of Rodin at leisure, through a walk in the garden. One of my definitive favorites.
  • Getting away from the crowds will definitely be on your agenda once you spend a half day in Paris. You can do this right in the heart of the city - at the Louvre. Get off the bus at stop no.4, and once you are frustrated enough trying to take a picture alone in front of the pyramid, ask yourself what is the oldest part of the Louvre still standing (as a royal residence, the palace had been continuously expanded between the 12th and 17th centuries). To answer your question, go behind the pyramid and look for the passage to the Square Court (Cour Carrée). There are significantly fewer tourists here, and the Renaissance façade is the oldest part of the Louvre Museum. Exit the court towards the Seine and you are facing the Pont des Arts, arguably the most romantic bridge in Paris. It is worth exploring the Seine river banks on foot between here and your stops 5-7, as they are lined with the famous green boxes of the bouquinistes selling not only books, but also cartoons, journals, stamps, and cards. 

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.

  • Visit a world-class museum. Although you have limited time at your disposal, both the Louvre and the Musée d'Orsay are on your itinerary. One way to include a museum visit in your day is to take advantage of the long opening times (9 - 21.45) which are on Wednesdays and Fridays at the Louvre ( the museum is closed on Tuesdays), and on Thursdays at Musée d'Orsay ( the museum is closed on Mondays).

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.

  • Hiding in plain sight on the Île de la Cité, one street away from Notre Dame, is the royal chapel La Sainte Chapelle, an absolute gothic masterpiece on the must-see list.
  • A quiet garden to enjoy the city, take a break, and admire the majestic Notre Dame from a different angle (its front is by no means its best feature), is the small park behind the cathedral, featuring the very elegant Fountain of the Virgin (Fontaine de la Vierge).
  • Easily missed but totally worth it, for both book aficionados and foodies, is the option to take a walk from Notre Dame over the Pont au Double (stop to admire the cathedral from its Left Bank side) to the famous Shakespeare and Company bookstore. You can still spend some time at the bouquinistes' during this walk. From Shakespeare and Company walk to your bus stop no.36 through the authentic Saint Severin neighborhood, filled with affordable restaurants and home to the eponymous church, which is also worth a short visit.
  • A panoramic view of the city can be seen from the observation deck of Tour Montparnasse. 
  • Getting away from the crowds for an exploration of the Montparnasse district would allow you to compare it to Montmartre, which you saw earlier in the day. Beginning in the 1910s the artists residing in Paris slowly migrated to Montparnasse from Montmartre, forming a vibrant community that grew during the interwar period, fueled by arrivals from all over the world. The cafés (Le Dôme, La Closerie des Lilas, La Rotonde, Le Select, La Coupole) where these not so well off intellectuals would meet and discuss are still in business, and could be a good alternative for a late dinner. The Boulevard du Montparnasse is well serviced by the metro, so you can easily return to your hotel.  

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.

  • If you were able to resist the temptation to see a panoramic view of the city on the previous two days, congratulations! The panoramic terrace of the Institute du Monde Arabe (stop 72) will totally reward your patience.
  • Getting away from the crowds is counterintuitively very easy in the Luxembourg gardens, where students and locals enjoy their lunches, books, newspapers, or chats. There is nowhere in the city I felt more at home in Paris than here, coming with a baguette and a book after work every day. From here, walking up Rue Soufflot, you will reach the Panthéon, hosting the earthly remains of representative French citizens and Foucault's pendulum. A short walk behind the Panthéon is the rue Mouffetard, featuring a market, restaurants and cafés, a must-see for all the foodies.
  • Easily missed, but worth a stop is the eclectic church of Saint-Étienne-du-Mont, on the left side of the Panthéon. It contains the reliquary of Saint Geneviève, the patron saint of Paris.
  • Hiding in plain sight at your next stop ( no.76 Hotel de Ville, and walking directly up the street - the Centre Pompidou - museum of modern art, also worth a visit) is my favorite Paris museum, the Atelier Brancusi. The seminal work of this pioneer of modern sculpture (member of the Montparnasse artist community) is stored according to his instructions in a two-room workshop on the Place Georges Pompidou. The entrance is free, but the visiting times are restricted.
  • A quiet garden to enjoy the city, which you should definitely not miss, is the city's oldest planned square - the Place des Vosges in the heart of the Marrais district (your third stop for the day - no. 75). The now-trendy district of Le Marrais hosts not only restaurants and fashion houses, but also the world famous Musée Picasso.

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.

Tour Eiffel
Tour Eiffel

Historical Axis
Historical Axis

Louvre
Louvre

Louvre
Louvre

Henry IV/Pont Neuf
Henry IV/Pont Neuf

Coin du Vert Gallant
Coin du Vert Gallant

Coin du Vert Gallant
Coin du Vert Gallant

Saint Michel/ Quartier Latin
Saint Michel/ Quartier Latin

Pont des Arts
Pont des Arts

Notre Dame
Notre Dame

Notre Dame
Notre Dame

Fontaine de la Vierge
Fontaine de la Vierge

Fontaine de la Vierge
Fontaine de la Vierge

Luxembourg
Luxembourg

Pantheon
Pantheon

Place des Vosges
Place des Vosges

Bastille
Bastille


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