You can understand why people fall in love with Paris. Cobble stoned streets, exquisitely styled buildings, a romantic history, picturesque tree-lined boulevards and chic coffee shops all accentuated by the evocative Seine River. Paris in Spring is simply enchanting!
We were full of anticipation, after having spent the last couple of weeks in both Brittany and Normandy. Arriving in Paris, with a plan to return the next Autumn, we decided that we would focus on the most renowned sites in the city.
We booked a campervan site via a third-party booking site. It wasn’t cheap at €43 a night but sometimes it’s justified. Our decision was based on its reasonably central location to Paris (about 15 kilometres distance) so that getting there wasn’t too involved.
Setting aside two full days, we easily accomplished what we had planned to see, without the need to race about. Whilst we did our fair share of walking, the purchase of a 48-hour Paris Travel Pass for use on all the public transport networks (metro, tramway, bus, RER and SNCF) helped our cause immensely. In hindsight, it was a wise move because Paris is well served with an excellent public transport network. The Pass cost us about €20 each and was valid for travel within three zones. It saved us the hassle of purchasing new tickets each time we needed to go from A to B via C and D. It also gave our feet time to have a breather!
Our two-day itinerary:
Bastille, Notre Dame, Basilica du Sacre Coeur, Montmartre Cemetery, Arc de Triomphe / Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the Eiffel Tower.
Louvre Palace, Tuileries Gardens, Place de la Concorde and the Parc Floral de Vincennes.
(The only attraction we booked online tickets for was the Louvre Palace. We needed an early start to beat the crowds – it worked! Cost per ticket was €15.)
So here is a more detailed breakdown of our two-day romance of Paris:
Day 1 in Paris
Formerly a fortress and later a prison, the Bastille has long been a symbol of the revolutionary movement in France. Unfortunately, it was raised to the ground in 1789. Therefore, what we see today, built in 1793, is a tribute statue and fountain to the revolution, called the Place de la Bastille.
This Catholic Church, completed in 1345, is one of the best examples of French Gothic architecture. Taking nearly 300 years to build, its gargoyles, spire and stained glass windows are much admired. It has an idyllic location on the Ile de la Cite right in the heart of Paris. Look for the street Parvis Notre-Dame Place Jean-Paul II which will give you some great views.
Basilica du Sacre Coeur
Montmartre has been a place of worship from the time of Druids in ancient Gaul. The Basilica of the Sacré-Cœur began construction in 1875 and was completed in 1914. This limestone Basilica houses one of the world’s heaviest bells, weighing in at 19 tonnes. The best views are had from the leafy ‘Square Louise Michel’ which lies at the foot of the Basilica grounds with steps on both sides leading up to this church.
You wouldn’t normally expect a cemetery listed as an attraction, but what makes this a place of interest is not only the ornate 19th-century graves but the 40 plus cats that call this quiet place home. While there, we talked to a Parisian woman who fed these felines each day. She warned us that most of the cats were particularly cautious of humans. Perhaps the spirits at work?
There is one entry/exit point to the cemetery, which is down a flight of stairs off Rue Caulaincourt. Entry is free.
Arc de Triomphe / Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
This colossal national monument was inaugurated in 1836 by the King of France and dedicated to the armies of the Revolution and the French Empire. Beneath the Arch lays the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Within it are the remains of a soldier killed in World War One. The ‘eternal flame’ is re-lit every evening at 6:30 pm in remembrance of those who lost their lives.
Access to the Arc de Triomphe is best via the subways so you can avoid risking ‘life and limb’ dodging the circular road traffic. Look for the underground tunnel on the Avenue de la Grande Armee side of the circle. Halfway along the subway, you reach steps that rise towards the Arc. Normally you pay a fee (€12 ticket) to climb the 284 steps to the viewing platform inside the Arc but it’s worth noting that these times are free:
The 1st Sunday of the month between 1 November and 31 March.
Famous the world over, the Eiffel Tower is a result of a humble design competition. Paris was to host an International Expo to celebrate the Centenary of the French Revolution and wanted a monument to be built in its honour. The Eiffel Tower was the winning design. As such it became the entrance to the 1889 Paris International Expo. Standing at a height of 324 metres, which is about the same height as an 81-storey building, it is the tallest structure in Paris. Would you believe that it was meant to be a temporary structure? The plan was to demolish the structure in 1909 but it was saved because it was re-designated as a giant radio antenna!
We found prices on essential items like ice cream and bottled water nearly doubled in price when bought from vendors close by the tower – needless to say, we still enjoyed it!
Day 2 in Paris
The Louvre Museum is actually housed inside the palace. To secure an early start we booked online tickets. However, we then needed to collect our paper tickets at a small convenience store close by the museum entrance. The early start certainly paid off as we were presented with an uninterrupted view of Leonardo Da Vinci’s masterpiece, the ‘Mona Lisa’. The various collections of art, sculptures, paintings and drawings from past civilizations around the globe could keep you enthralled for hours. It’s very interesting! Even the eye-catching Glass Pyramid which heralds the entrance to the museum captures your intrigue.
Separating the Louvre and the Place de la Concorde are the French formal Tuileries Gardens. With carefully tendered gardens, backdrops of some of Paris’s most famed attractions and walkways winding past fields of attractions, it is no wonder that people flock here. Best of all it’s free and found right in the heart of Paris!
Place de la Concorde
Statues and fountains decorate this busy large public area bordering the Tuileries Gardens. On each corner of the octagonal square stands a statue that represents a French city. In the heart of the square, erected here in the early 19th century, stands the eye-catching 3200-year-old obelisk from the Temple of Ramses II, Thebes, Egypt. In fact, during the Revolution, a guillotine was installed here and used to behead, among others, King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.
Fancy a bird’s eye view? Then treat yourself to views from the ‘Roue de Paris’ Ferris wheel right beside you in the square.
Parc Floral de Vincennes
Feel like escaping city life for a while? Situated just 10 kilometres east from the heart of Paris, lying on 34 hectares, is this beautiful botanical park. Bring your picnic basket and maybe you’ll get to see a concert or exhibitions. Additionally, the Park also offers a mini-golf course for those inclined to swing a club! Bus stops are close by the entrance which makes getting there very easy. From May 1st to October 31st, expect to part with a couple of euros for entry.
We spent two days absorbing the wonderful Parisian sights and sounds. There is no question that Paris is a beautiful city to visit. Moreover, this magical city left a lasting impression on us and our love affair with this city is certainly not over.
Do you have a love affair with Paris? How did you fill your days of sight-seeing there?
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Being an Australian boy brought up in the country, I learnt at an early age to enjoy the freedom and beauty of nature. Leaving Australia at the age of 20, although I didn’t know it then, would be the beginning of a life of adventure. So join me here on our travels and see the world through my eyes.