So…Paris!! We went mid February of this year and it was everything I thought it would be. The French capital had featured high on my bucket-list for quite some time and I’d had a yearning to visit since my eighteenth birthday. Luckily I was able to convince (bully) one of my friends into joining me and after a disconcerting start, we had a fantastic time.
We flew from Gatwick, London and despite checking in in plenty of time, found ourselves frantically running to our gate (this is so me). Of course, like any other excitable travellers who do things right, we were taking advantage of the many food outlets available to us. Honestly it’s like heaven opens its gates when I pass through security at an airport. Anyway, we’d been busy gorging ourselves on maple syrup pancakes and time had just flew (if you pardon the pun). We fast walked…then ran, me almost puking up the gastronomic excellence I’d just demolished (I think I forgot to mention the greasy bacon and thick chocolate milkshake I also consumed…) only to find that despite being two of the last to arrive at the gate, the flight was delayed. After about 30 minutes we made it onto the plane and soon after, landed at Charles de Gaulle airport on a bright crisp winter morning. So far, so lucky.
The next hour was filled with a lot of nervous laughter. Minutes after landing we encountered a somewhat unfriendly taxi driver who couldn’t (or wouldn’t?) speak a word of English and was no more responsive to my pigeon French. What’s more, when we eventually reached the address of our Airbnb, our host was no-where to be seen and not responding to my recent messages. However, thankfully things did turn good because Michelle (who was actually rather nice) eventually arrived and our new home, a small but sleek and modern studio flat, suited us down to the ground.
We were very aware that we only had 4 days in which to explore and thus sightseeing began immediately! After waving goodbye to Michelle, dumping our suitcases and freshening up, we stepped out to explore the local streets. The location of our Airbnb (Rue Jean Nicot) was perfect because not only were we in close proximity to all the notable sights, but there was also a wonderfully traditional boulangerie at the end of the road! (From which over the course of our short trip, a number of mouthwatering pastries were purchased and swiftly consumed).
La Tour Eiffel
We soon found the Eiffel Tower – only a slow 10 minute walk from our studio, and immediately I was in awe. I know people must say this all the time but seriously, I was impressed. The architecture is truly remarkable, and while everything around it resembles this century, the Eiffel stands out like a sore thumb because it doesn’t belong. However, I have a passion for history so for me, it was glorious. Are tourists who visit London equally impressed by Big Ben or The Houses of Parliament? I’m not sure, but I do know that the Eiffel Tower is definitely on my list of top 5 extraordinary monuments I have ever laid eyes on (among St.Vitus Cathedral in Prague to name but one).
- Prepare for a long queue. Even in February we waited around an hour and a half!
- Ensure you’re in the right queue – stairs/elevator. We queued for an hour before realizing we were in the stairs queue and not waiting for the lift!
- Be aware of security checks. Due to recent terror attacks, bag checks and metal detectors were compulsory before climbing the tower.
- If visiting in colder months, wrap up warm.
Musée du Louvre
A place we both wanted to visit was of course the famous Musée du Louvre. With it’s iconic glass pyramid, miles of decorated corridors and over 35,000 pieces of impressive artwork, it did not disappoint. I read somewhere that if you were to gaze upon every single piece of art adorning the walls of the Louvre, it would take you around 9 months!
- It’s huge. Don’t underestimate the size of the museum and if you have time, set aside a whole day so you can fully appreciate the artwork on show.
- More security checks.
- The Mona Lisa, the most famous painting housed at the Louvre is by comparison, tiny; and in my opinion, rather an anti-climax. You may even have to queue in order to sneak a mere glance, either that or fight your way through the sea of tourists and selfie sticks before it.
- Look up. There are countless beautiful paintings that decorate the ceilings of the Louvre – don’t miss them!
- It’s free! For EU residents under the age of 26. So remember your passport or driving license and if you live in the UK, hurry!
Another monument we were fortunate enough to explore was Notre-Dame. Even more impressive in person than I imagined. Once again, the detail in the architecture was fantastic and the whole building was a lot taller and grander than I thought it would be. Inside, I’m struggling to find words for the huge stain-glass windows that decorate the walls of the cathedral – beautiful just doesn’t do them justice. The use of a multitude of bold and vivid colours ensured that when the sun shone, rainbows danced across the floor. It is very quiet inside with a number of people praying; I believe the others were like myself in that they were so mesmerized, they just didn’t have the words to speak. As it was a gloriously sunny day, we decided to also climb the cathedral. I’m not great with heights but I always like a challenge and I really wanted to take the opportunity to see Paris from the top of this great medieval wonder.
- It’s free! Again for EU residents under the age of 26.
- Be aware that it’s high, and confined. There are around 400 steps leading up to the top of the cathedral and the stairway is extremely narrow. I am not a fan of heights nor confined spaces such as lifts but I did make it. Those who are really not great with that sort of the thing might want to think twice before ascending.
- Be prepared to wait. The queue to climb the stairway is on the right of the building (left as you look at the cathedral front on) and is long and shady. For safety reasons, there are only around 20/30 people allowed to ascend at any one time. If you find yourself waiting in the queue you may want to look to your right where you will see a number of cafes/creperie stalls selling food which will fuel your climb and occupy you whilst you wait 🙂
- Flashing cameras are not permitted beyond a certain point in the cathedral.
Musée de l’Orangerie
I am not a huge art person so I was not aware of this museum before researching the best Paris attractions online. Having said that, I can appreciate impressive paintings when I see them and like the Louvre, this place is full of inspiring artwork by famous artists including Matisse and Picasso. However, the real show-stopper is the top floor where you’ll find eight of Monet’s Water Lilies canvases. Because these paintings are just so huge you could find yourself spending quite a while here. Every time I looked I saw something different – a brush stroke, a reed, another water lily. The colours Monet used – blues, greens, purples are calming and consequently I think they are paintings we could have admired for hours.
- Free entry, once again for EU residents under the age of 26.
- Get here early. The l’Orangerie is not huge and fills up fast. If you want to get clear views and good pictures (tourist free) early entry is essential.
- Security checks.
Les catacombes de Paris
The catacombes were for me, very eerie. I wanted to visit them because although morbid, I was interested as to why and how these remains had come to be there and furthermore, I had never seen anything like it before and so, it was a very different experience for me. In the late 1700s, there were hygiene problems in Paris and one of the reasons for this was the overflowing cemeteries. Consequently, it was decided that millions of bones would be exhumed and stored in disused quarry tunnels, and so became the catacombes. The tunnels are home to the remains of over 6 million people, which is just mind-boggling. These remains, skulls and bones of every part of the body can be seen up close; there are no barriers or glass that separate you, they are literally inches away. The bones are stacked on top of each other, in some places extremely carelessly, although just thrown like rubbish into a pile. There is no identification, no sense of who these people once were and for me, it all seems a little barbaric. This is not to say that I did not find the experience interesting or that I do not understand why this solution was implemented at the time; although, it was always going to be a short-term solution.
- Arrive early! Due to the fact that only 200 people are allowed in the catacombes at any one time, the queue for this attraction can be huge. We arrived 15 minutes before official opening time and the queue was already quite long. In total we waited about an hour and 30 minutes!
- It’s a long way down. The steps down are not particularly steep but it does seem like you’re descending forever! If you don’t feel comfortable being deep underground, the catacombes are not for you I’m afraid.
- It can feel claustrophobic. Some of the tunnels that you pass through are not very high so be aware that if you’re tall you may have to bend and if you’re really not good with confined spaces, think twice before visiting!
- Uneven floor. The ground in places can be uneven and rocky so be sure to wear sensible footwear.
- No flashing photography or touching is permitted. The tunnels are dimly lit but staff ask that you do not use the flash when taking photos. However, you can use the light on your phone and take a picture that way.
- Steep steps up. When leaving the tunnels and ascending, the steps are steep but considerably less than the descent, no more than 50 I believe – if memory serves me correctly!
- Don’t visit if you’re easily disturbed. As for the reasons mentioned above and as you can see in the pictures, the catacombes can be upsetting.
I hope my writing about my experience has helped anyone thinking about visiting Paris! Sorry it’s so lengthy, I am one to babble on sometimes! All in all though, it is truly a wonderful city and the food especially cannot be beat 🙂