Our 30 days in Europe started with a red eye flight from North Carolina at 6pm to Paris, arriving at 8:20 am. We did pay for a slight upgrade in coach to two seats by the window – totally worth it to not be in the middle row and to avoid middle seats/sitting next to strangers for such a long flight – but otherwise it was a long night with little sleep. We arrived in Paris pretty groggy still, it was dreary and gray with light rain. This is when I think we realized we didn’t really have much planned.
I had previously reserved a hotel room for 3 nights in Paris but I didn’t really do much planning in terms of how to get there besides knowing the address of the hotel, a screen shot of the location on a map and the name of the train line/station that was recommended on the hotel’s website. Otherwise, we had purchased a Eurail pass that was good for 15 travel days that I had read about and knew we needed to reserve train tickets at some point to get to our next stop.
Here are some of the specifics about the trip, highlights, lowlights and things we learned:
Paris, France: July 10-13, 2017
- Free wifi is available inside the Paris airport, if I recall it isn’t available after you go out past security after picking up your checked luggage.
- The Metro/Subway and train station are all connected to the Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport and you can just follow the signs to these stations.
- Metro/Subway passes can be bought at the airport. If you need more than a ride/day pass they must be bought in the office and you can’t use the machines. There’s a $27 week pass to buy that we were told is the best deal if you need to take the metro more than 3-4 days. You have to then go to a photomaton booth (outside of the ticket office) to get your photo taken and stick it on the pass for $5. This was quite the ordeal as the first Photomaton booth was broken and wouldn’t take payment after going through all of the motions to get your eyes lined up correctly to take the photo (you get 3 tries before you have to start over). The next booth worked, the photos printed and then we had to figure out how to cut them small enough to fit on the passes. We ended up just tearing them and there is adhesive on the pass itself.
- After we got our passes, we had to figure out the routes to take to get to the hotel. I recommend downloading the Paris Metro Map and Routes app to use for offline metro directions/map access for free.
- Before we left the airport we decided to buy train tickets for the next leg of the trip since the train station was at the airport and we knew we’d be back.
- The Eurail station is in the airport near the subway office. You can buy tickets for multiple train trips here. We ended up buying tickets from Paris to Brussels and then Brussels to Prague. We did have trouble buying eurorail tickets after Prague. The Eurail employee explained that it could be because Prague is more than two countries from France so their system was limited.
- Everyone was very helpful and spoke English well at the Eurail office.
Hotel: Hotel du Printemps ($250 USD for 3 nights)
- It was very close to a couple of metro stations which made it very accessible to take multiple metro lines to and from the hotel.
- Clean, it had great AC, blackout curtains (which helped with the jet lag), good breakfast – hard boil your own eggs. Free and good wifi – which we found important everywhere since we didn’t plan much ahead of leaving for this trip.
- Small shower? There weren’t many cons for this hotel. I think we were frustrated initially getting to the hotel because with a red eye we were tired/unshowered and just wanted to be able to check into our hotel room – which understandably wasn’t available at 1pm so we dropped our bags in a holding room and tried to start exploring Paris… lessons learned about risks of flying a red eye.
Sites: Here are some of the major sites we went to. We spent a lot of time in Paris walking along the Seine River and wandering through the streets. I can’t say that we did a lot of the major tourist attractions because we were wandering and jet lagged and trying to figure out the metro still. We did try to make it to the catacombs and didn’t because we got there too late in the day and the line was 3 hours long. That was one lesson learned, if you don’t want to wait in lines in Paris either book skip the line passes or go to smaller/off the beaten path type stuff… or perhaps visit during a season other than tourist season?
- Ile de Cite
- Sainte Chapelle – This was our first stop in Paris after dropping off our bags at the hotel. It was a great kick off to a dreary day and still one of my favorite places we visited in Europe. It cost $9/person to enter. It was so beautiful! I initially was hesitant to go on the day we did since it was overcast and all of the photos I had seen online were so stunning I thought there wouldn’t be enough light that day to show off the stained glass but I was pleasantly surprised. There was so much light – all of the glass was beautiful! I Would have liked to see a concert there, but the schedule didn’t allow – next time!
- Shakespeare and Company bookstore – we stopped here but found it to be very touristy.
- Notre Dame Cathedral – great views from the outside, ever since I was a kid I remember seeing photos of Notre Dame’s architecture and thinking how amazing it looked. I was not let down seeing it in person. However, there was a LONG line to go inside so we passed.
- Arc de Triomphe on the Champs de Elysee
- This was fantastic to see. It was like it popped out of nowhere, you come up from the subway and it’s right in front of you in all of its glory.
- It was a little confusing to figure out how to get out to the monument itself since it is surrounded by a giant round-about with fast moving vehicles. Turns out, you go underground to get to the Arc, back into the subway area and there are signs about where to go. There was a long line here too but you can actually pass the line to get up to the circle for free. The line is for those paying to climb the stairs up to the top of the Arc.
- Lots of fancy shopping on Avenue des Champs Elysee, we walked the Champs for a long time looking at all of the fancy shops. It’s a beautiful street. They were practicing for bastille day when we were there and a bunch of jets and helicopters flew over us which was somewhat disturbing until we figured out what it was for.
- Eiffel Tower
- I think it was surprising to realize how easy it is to see the Eiffel Tower from multiple points in the city, and then when you get close to it it’s so big it’s difficult to see the entire thing. It really is a statement making monument.
- We found that there were great views from below. We didn’t go up but it’s $6 to climb the stairs and then $18 to the very top in an elevator but the lines are SO long. I believe, if you know when you’re going to Paris far in advance you can get tickets to skip the line but I’m not sure. I have heard it’s much less of a line in the off season however.
- Musee de L’Orangerie – This museum features Monet’s Waterlilies. It’s $13/person. It was a quick and easy museum to navigate with big bang for your buck in that we were able to see a few great pieces in a short amount of time without getting lost/overwhelmed in a museum such as The Louvre.
- Musee de Rodin – We actually ended up buying tickets to this museum on accident but after investigating it more it seemed like something we’d go for so we checked it out. It’s mostly outdoors so a nice day is needed. It was a beautiful garden full of Rodin and his student’s sculptures. There are some indoor parts to the museum too but I really enjoyed that we could be outside for this museum. If you are not familiar with Rodin (like I was not) he did a lot of work with Dante’s Inferno and had a large sculpture of The Gates of Hell and many smaller pieces relating to that work as well.
Food: In general, Paris is full of lots of little tourist trap places. If there is person outside of the restaurant advertising to people passing by, the restaurant is probably not worth your time… unless you’re starving. We did find some great spots however. We LOVED La Jacobine in the Latin Quarter where Chris and I both ordered Duck (mine was confit and was superb!) and likely the best cheesecake ever… we still talk about their cheesecake. It sounds like you have to make a reservation there for peak times but we were there late at night and they had a table available.