On our month-long trip to Europe last summer, we used Paris as our home base. The cheapest flights from the States went through Paris, and it worked well for combining our budget airline portion of the trip with renting a car for the continental Europe explorations. So our time in Paris was chopped into two pieces, bookending our travels. Here’s a few of our favorite things to do and see in Paris!
Visiting the Musée d’Orsay was the #1 Paris suggestion I got! The building itself grabs you right as you walk in. A former train station, the main gallery is expansive and bright, with its glass ceiling and massive ornate clock. That gallery houses the sculpture collection, with layers of marble stretching out before you. There’s a section on the construction of the Opéra National de Paris, including an enormous cross-section of the entire building. My favorite exhibit was the Impressionist and post-Impressionist wing: Renoir, Cezanne, Monet. Van Gogh has his own section! I could’ve spent days here.
Notre Dame is another must-see. There’s always a line, but its worth it. There’s plenty to see on the outside: a massive statue of Charlemagne in the front courtyard, and point zero, where all distances in Paris were measured from. Can you spot a headless John the Baptist amongst the hundreds of statues decorating the front? Inside, walk as slow as possible to soak in the space. It’s one of those buildings that seems so impossibly beautiful and so distinctly sacred that its worth savoring. Before you leave, make sure to walk around to the back side of the cathedral – I think the outside back offers a beauty all its own, and it’s the building where I finally got to say, “Oh, that’s what a flying buttress is.”
Where Notre Dame wows you with its scope, Sainte-Chapelle draws you in with its color. The stained glass takes up so much wall space on the second floor that you’re surrounded in rainbow diffused light. What parts of the walls that aren’t glass have been covered in painted-on columns and tapestries, complete with “folds” of fabric painted onto the flat walls. The riot of color creates an otherworldly feel, as if you stepped through its doors to another place entirely. One that’s alive with color yet still quiet and intimate, even when full of tourists.
If you check out Sainte-Chapelle, don’t be afraid to wander afterwards. It’s inside gates that also include some of the city’s administrative offices, and we even managed to stick our head inside a courtroom or two. It’s way nicer than your average city hall, and it was fun to have a quick wander.
This should go without saying, but give yourself some time to wander. There’s so much to see, whether it’s the booths along the Seine or the tucked away courtyard gardens or the million corner cafes beckoning you to enjoy an espresso and croissant. Our first afternoon in the city we just walked. Heading away from the city center, we got a taste of Paris beyond the tourists: couples stretched out in the park, people calling out to each other as they walk their dogs, restaurants setting up for dinner.
No surprises here, France has incredible food. It’s rich and savory and meant to be a savored experience rather than merely a means to getting sustenance. We had terrific crepes (both savory and sweet!) at Chez Suzette along the Rue de la Huchette, along with cider served in traditional cups. I ordered a salad once and I don’t really advise it: it was mostly lardon and mustard vinaigrette and eggs and tomatoes with a touch of lettuce thrown in, so you may as well do as the Romans do and eat the good stuff. We had a fantastic last dinner in Paris at Le Trentehuit, complete with a restaurant dog who sat on your feet as you soaked in the Parisian evening air.
The patisseries are not to be missed, for any meal. We got breakfast at them every day and weren’t above dealing with mid afternoon snack needs by splitting a Croque Monsieur and some macarons. Please, for all that is good, don’t skip trying macarons.
If you’re like us and you’re trying to make your Euros stretch as far as possible, don’t overlook the grocery stores. My favorite meal in Paris was the night we bought local cheese, baguette, prosciutto, apples and French wine to take back to our Airbnb! We dished everything up and ate on our balcony, reveling in our view of Sacre Coeur in the privacy of our own space. It was perfect.
These are just a few highlights of the wonderful things Paris offers! I didn’t even touch Montmartre or Sacre Coeur, which are both dear to my heart and could hold a week’s happy wanderings on their own. I haven’t yet been to the Musee de l’Orangerie or the Palais Garnier and am dying to go next time!
What are your favorite things to do in Paris??
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