Allons à Paris! Let’s go to Paris! Music to my ears whenever my husband suggests a Parisian holiday! I love Paris any time of year. The City of Lights conjures up images of the Eiffel Tower, the Champs-Élysées, the Arc de Triomphe, and other iconic landmarks. Of course a trip to Paris would be incomplete without seeing its famous sights, but do you just want to see Paris or would you rather Experience Paris?
I remember our first trip to Paris, so busy rushing from sight to sight and not really experiencing this great city. Sure we saw all the “must see” landmarks, gawked at the Mona Lisa (I think that’s required!), enjoyed a crêpe or two, drove down the Champs-Élysées, and bought the regular tourist souvenirs; I was exhausted, but not completely satisfied. To be fair we had 3 days to “do” Paris with my aunt and uncle, not enough time to really experience the city. I vowed to return, and return we did, many times!
On that first trip we hired a car and driver, it was great! He took us to all the sights, minimal walking involved. But to really Experience Paris you need to get off the tour bus so to speak and wander the magical streets on your own. Yes your wanderings will take you to the popular tourist attractions, but when you get there don’t just stop for a few photos and move on, wander in, have a meal or snack at the local cafés or picnic at one of the parks, window shop the fabulous stores, and immerse yourself in the culture, art, cuisine, and people.
Don’t just “do” Paris! Here’re some great ways to experience Paris. I hope they inspire you to find the Paris of your dreams!
1. I think most first time visitors make the Eiffel Tower there first stop. It’s definitely a must see! But don’t just peer at it from a far, go ahead climb it! I know the lines can be daunting, but there are a couple of ways to go up the tower without too much hassle.
You can buy your tickets online . Lift tickets with access to 1 & 2 floors are €11 per adult. Access to the top including first 2 floors are €17 per adult. You can’t buy stair tickets online, they must be purchased from the ticket booth for €7 per adult)
Or my favorite way, reserve a table at one of the restaurants in the tower!
58 Tour Eiffel located on the first floor is a trendy restaurant with a menu designed by Chef Alain Soulard. He was one of the chefs on Master Chef’s Alain Ducasse’s team.
Believe me it’s an amazing way to experience the Eiffel Tower!
Lunch starts at €41.50 per person. That includes a starter, main, dessert, and beverage. Dinner starts at €85 per person. It includes a glass of champagne, starter, main, and dessert.
Your reservation includes a lift ticket to the first floor. Pick-up your lift ticket at the restaurant’s kiosk at the foot of the tower. After your meal walk up to the second floor or purchase a ticket to the top from the kiosk on the second floor.
Located on the second floor of the Eiffel Tower, Le Jules Verne is a restaurant owned by Master Chef Alain Ducasse. They’re a bit pricier than 58 Tour Eiffel, but it’s well worth it. Alain Ducasse is one of my favorite chefs, in fact my daughter’s wedding reception was at Mix, his Las Vegas restaurant. The food was amazing!
Lunch at Le Jules Verne starts at €105 per person. It includes an appetizer, main, and dessert. Dinner begins at €190 per person for 5 dishes. These prices don’t include beverage, but they have an awesome wine list!
Your reservation includes a ticket to the second floor on the restaurant’s private elevator. Present your confirmation number and ID at the restaurant’s office at the south pillar of the tower, you will be escorted to the private elevator. After your meal you can purchase a lift ticket to the top from the ticket office on the second floor.
Should you decide to reserve a table at one of these restaurants try and reserve a window table overlooking the Trocadéro, the view is awesome!
If you’re not interested in dining at either restaurant just purchase your lift ticket online. You can change your mind and walk in for lunch or dinner at either restaurant as long as there’s availability. Or if you get hungry grab a snack at self service buffets on the first and second floor.
Toast your trip to Paris and ascent up the tower at the Champagne Bar at the tower’s top floor. A glass of bubbly starts at €13. What a wonderful way to Experience Paris!
2. To really experience the tower don’t take the lift, WALK! If climbing 700+ steps isn’t for you consider walking down, at least part way. You’ll get amazing views of the inner tower! [spacer height=”20px” id=”2″]
3. Experience Paris and get a unique Eiffel Tower vies; grab an outdoor table at Le Bistro Parisien. Located quayside at the foot of the tower along the Seine this popular bistro is a great place for a gourmet snack or meal anytime of day.
My husband and I spend hours sipping wine and munching snacks here. It’s a great place to people watch, there’s lots going on at the quay! And you get terrific shots of the tower looming just above you![spacer height=”20px” id=”2″]
4. Hop on the metro to the Trocadéro station for classic Eiffel Tower views.
From the metro station head to the Esplanade du Trocadéro which is actually the roof of the Chaillot Theater. There’s always a festive atmosphere there.
You’ll see people from around the world gather there to take photos of the tower. [spacer height=”20px” id=”2″]
But that’s not all going on, it’s a local favorite as well. The last time we were there we watched some talented kids doing tricks on their skateboards.
While you’re there you visit the museums, theaters, or restaurants nearby. Or walk down the steps and wander the Jardin du Trocadéro. The garden is famous for its fountains and statuary.[spacer height=”20px” id=”2″]
5. Stake out a spot on the grass at Place des Vosges, a popular open space in the heart of Paris’ trendy Marais district.
Built in the early 1600’s Place des Vosges is one of Paris’ oldest and most beautiful squares. Many famous people including Victor Hugo, Cardinal Richelieu, and Georges Dufrénoy once called the stately mansions that line the square home.
Today you can picnic or snooze on the grassy lawn in the middle of the square, stroll along the arcaded covered walkway lined with art galleries, shops, and cafés, or visit the home of Victor Hugo and the other museums there.
But this place is not just a tourist spot, it’s actually part of Parisian life. There’s an elementary school and synagogue located there.
The best thing is access to this square if free! It’s a relaxing way to spend a lazy afternoon!
6. Enjoy the cafe scene. Pick an area; Rive Gauche, Île de la Cité where Notre Dame de Paris is located, around the Place de la Bastille or Place de République, along the Champs-Élysées or the Rue des Rosiers, Montmartre, or anywhere Paris. You’ll find outdoor cafes lining the streets of this wonderful city.
Take a seat, sip some wine, and watch the world go by. You should be aware that enjoying a snack or drink sitting down is more expensive than grabbing that same snack or drink on the go. Cafe’s usually 2 list prices for each item, one price for take-away and a higher one for dine-in. The same cup of coffee is €2-3 if you take it to go and €6 if you sit down at a table.
7. Immerse yourself in art! Many of the world’s greatest works of art are housed in the museums around the city. [spacer height=”20px” id=”2″]
Of course the Louvre is a must see, after all you can’t leave the city without a glimpse of the Mona Lisa’s secretive smile. You and the thousands of tourists crushed in the room where the painting hangs! But there is much more to see at the Louvre, I still haven’t seen everything and I’ve been there 3 or 4 times already![spacer height=”20px” id=”2″]
If you’re not liking crowds head to the Musée d’Orsay, it’s my favorite! Housed in a former Beaux-Arts railway station the d’Orsay is home to the largest collection of impressionist and post-Impressionist masterpieces in the world.
It’s a lovely museum and not too crowded. You can take your time wandering thru the different exhibits.[spacer height=”20px” id=”2″]
Another less crowded museum is Les Invalides, a complex of museums dedicated to the military history of France. It is also the resting place of France’s war heroes including Napoleon.[spacer height=”20px” id=”2″]
After you’ve walked thru the museums and visited the church and the Tomb of Napoleon stroll thru the gardens, they’re delightful.
You can peek at the top of the Eiffel Tower in the distance.
Avoid long lines and buy your tickets for these museums online![spacer height=”20px” id=”2″]
8. Climb to the top of the Arc de Triomphe. The Eiffel Tower isn’t the only monument you can climb! The Arc de Triomphe located at the top of the famed Champs-Élysées has panoramic views of the city.
You can start your day at the Arc then stroll down the boulevard for a truly Parisian experience. You’ll find most of the designer shops along the Champs-Élysées and the areas around it, including Vuitton and Channel’s flagship store. You’ll also find car showrooms along this famous street.
Take your time, stroll and shop! When you get hungry stop by for a pastry at Fauchon at Place de la Madeleine.
It’s a great way to experience Paris; shopping, eating, and sightseeing, what more can you ask for?[spacer height=”20px” id=”2″]
See the city from the river for a different perspective! You’ll sail by the Île aux Cygnes an artificial island on the Seine where the smaller replica of the Statue of Liberty stands.
10. EAT! The best way to experience any place is by trying out local cuisine. This is specially true in Paris. From food trucks to fine dining Paris is a foodies’ dream. Home to many of the great chefs of the world Paris has no shortage of food establishments.
Whatever you’re craving you’ll find it in Paris. One of my favorite areas to find great food is the Jewish Quarter in the Marais district along the Rue des Rosiers.
There are many ways to experience Paris, there’s something for every budget! If picking up a suit at Channel and dining at Le Jules Verne is your thing or grabbing a pastrami sandwich from at the Rue de Rosiers and enjoying it on the lawn of Place des Vosges is more your style either way is a fabulous way to experience Paris!
On our last trip to Paris I wanted to do something different and exciting; as if just being in Paris wasn’t exciting enough! I think this was our fourth or fifth trip to the City of Lights and we’d pretty much made the regular tourist rounds; the Eiffel Tower, Louvre, Notre Dame, Rive Gauche, and all the other must sees of the French capital. Not that you can see everything you want to see in a few trips, I’m not even sure you can do that in a life time!
Paris is an amazing city! There is always something to do and see. The place is filled with art and culture. I’ve been to more than my fair share of museums multiple times; the Louvre of course, the d’Orsay my favorite, Les Invalides, Pompidou Center, and more. I’ve viewed the Eiffel Tower from just about every perspective; from the Seine, the top of the Arch de Triomphe, the Trocadero, and from within the tower. And we’d taken day trips to Versailles, beautiful, but not quite exciting unless you get a thrill from the slow moving electric cars you can drive around the estate.
This time I talked my husband into a hot air balloon ride. It couldn’t be that much different from parasailing I reasoned, and he loved to do that! Luckily we were in Paris during the ballooning season which is from April to October. So I booked our adventure with France Montgolfiere a couple of months before our trip. The tickets cost 399 Euro, just under $450 for a couple, that was the best deal they offered at the time. That’s how we found ourselves Ballooning Over Chateau de Fontainbleau on a cool October evening!
Fontainbleau is a commune in the metropolitan area of Paris. It’s located 55.5 Km south-southeast of the city center and is known for its scenic forest and historic Chateau de Fontainbleau which once belonged to the kings of France. It is easily accessible by Ter trains departing from Paris-Gare de Lyon. Take the train to Montereau / Montargis and get off at the Fontainebleau-Avon Station(Zone 5). The trains run from about 6 am to 11:30 pm. The train ride is just over an hour. Once at the station you can walk to the chateau, just follow the signs!
Here’s what to expect once you’ve booked yobur tickets, by the way be sure you include your contact information when booking AND be sure you have your cell phone turned on to make and receive calls and text messages in Paris.
A day before your flight you must contact the number on your ticket to confirm your flight, they will give you instructions on where and when to meet. They will also tell you that he will contact you the day of your flight if there are any changes. Remember this activity is dependent on weather and wind conditions, if either aren’t favorable the pilot may cancel the flight. Should your flight be canceled they will reschedule or extend the validity of your ticket. I’m really not sure if they issue refunds for cancellations due to weather, you should contact them for more info before booking.
On the day of your flight dress comfortably with comfy footwear, leave the heels at the hotel. Arrive at the meeting spot at the appointed time and wait for the pilot to pick you up. Unless you booked a private flight there can be up to 15 to 17 people with you, depending on the basket size it can hold up to 19 people. You can’t miss the pilot’s van, not only does it have the company name on the side it’s towing the basket behind it!
In our case we choose the 5 pm flight so we met the pilot in front of the Chateau de Fontainbleau around 4:30. He determines the take-off spot, it will vary depending on wind direction. We got lucky and took off on the chateau grounds! You will drive to the take-off location with the driver and fellow passengers. You’ll probably find a second balloon at the spot with you, it seems they travel in pairs. It sure makes for amazing photos!
At the take-off spot your adventure begins! The pilot and his helpers will unpack, set up, and inflate the balloon. Passengers are expected to help too! It’s part of the experience! It takes many hands to hold down the balloon while the pilot inflates it! The balloon is anchored to the van and ground, but it still needs to be held down!
The husband and the other men did most of the helping, the rest of us snapped photos![spacer height=”20px” id=”2″]
Once the balloons are inflated it’s time to climb into the basket. [spacer height=”20px” id=”2″]
With baskets loaded and anchor ropes released the balloons start to rise. You get an awesome view of the other balloon as it rises not far from your basket! That’s just the beginning!
You’re in for an amazing ride! We flew over the chateau and surrounding forest before drifting over the French countryside. The ride takes about an hour, it goes by all to quickly!
While in the basket you will need to be standing, there are no seats, but believe me you wouldn’t want to sit down anyway, you don’t want to miss anything![spacer height=”20px” id=”2″]
It seems all to soon the pilot will tell everyone to bend your knees, crouch down and hold on to the basket, you’re about to land. When the pilot gives these instructions do so immediately! That’s the only warning you will have and it means that landing is literally seconds away! So hunker down and hold on, the landing can be bumpy!
The basket hits the ground, ending up on its side, and dragged a few meters along the ground before it comes to a complete stop. I have to admit this was my least favorite part of the adventure! But it lasts moments and soon you’re crawling out of the basket.
You’re met on the ground by the ground crew who will help stow the balloon and take you back to the meeting point. In our case the farmer and his family came running out to greet us, it seems we landed on his farm. It turned into a festive occasion with everyone pitching in to fold and stow the balloon.[spacer height=”20px” id=”2″]
Finally the traditional landing toast! Trust the French to do it right complete with bubbly, glass flutes, and flowers![spacer height=”20px” id=”2″]
After the toast the crew will take you back to the initial meeting spot, or in our case they drove us back to the station for our ride back to Paris.
You can choose to hang out in the town, you can even stay there if you like. There are many hotels in the area. You may want to spend some time there to tour the Chateau, hike in the forest, or just hang out in the town.
We had arrived early to explore the town and have lunch at a local creperie so after our flight we were ready to return to Paris.
I know this adventure wasn’t cheap but it was so worth every penny! It was amazing! I know we will remember it for the rest of our life! Actually I’m thinking of doing it again sometime!
France Montgolfiere offers balloon rides in several areas in France including Chenonceau in the Loire Valley. Check their website for more details!
Here are some photos from our Ballooning Over Chateau de Fontainebleau adventure!
The Loire Valley located in the middle stretch of the Loire River in Central France is known for its vineyards and orchards that line banks of the river. It’s famous for its wines, historic towns, and architecture. The central part of this river valley was added to UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites in 2000. This designation includes the area around the Loire River as well as the areas around its tributaries.
The area is dotted with beautiful Chateaux collectively called Chateaux of Loire Valley. These Chateaux illustrate Renaissance design in France. Many of them played historical roles dating back from the 11th. Century. They were owned or visited by historical figures including Cathrine de’Medici and Leonardo Da Vinci.
You can spend a lifetime visiting all the Chateaux, there are over 300 of them! Today many of them are privately owned and serve as homes, some of which open their doors to the public, others are operated as hotels or B&Bs, and still others are government owned and have become major tourist attractions.
Naturally a visit to the Loire Valley Chateaux was on our bucket list. The only remaining questions were which ones and how to get there. Well the answer would depend on your interests.
If you’re crazy about castles and are on a mission to see as many of them as you can then you’re best bet is to stay in the Loire Valley and hire a car. Driving to each chateau is really the easiest way to go. You can also book organized tours that will take you chateau hopping to several of the most popular ones.
But if you’re only interested in visiting one or two it can easily be a day trip from Paris once you decide on which ones you want to see. The valley is about a 3 hour drive or 2 hour train ride from the capital. Totally doable in a day.
We took a day trip from Paris to visit Chateaux Chenonceau and Clos Luce in nearby Amboise.
Chateau Chenonceau is located in the small town of Chenonceau. It spans the Cher River one of the Loire’s tributaries. It is probably the second most visited chateau in France, its popularity surpassed only by Verasilles.
Its construction was started by Thomas Bohier, revenue collector for King Francis I in 1515 and finished by his wife and son in. In 1535 it was confiscated by the King to pay off debt and was later given to Diane de Poitiers, duchesse de Valentinois by Henry II, son of Francis I.
It was de Poitiers, Henry’s mistress, who built the bridge over the Cher and also built extensive gardens. After Henry’s untimely death his widow, Catherine de’ Medici forced Diane to deed the castle to her.[spacer height=”20px” id=”2″]
It soon became her favorite castle and she constructed the galleries above the bridge as well as the stables and more gardens. It was in this chateau her son Francis II married Mary, Queen of Scots in 1560.
Thru the centuries the castle was owned by several powerful noblewomen thus earning its name “Château de Femmes” or “the castle of six ladies”. Each lady adding her mark to make the castle the beauty we see today. For more history on this chateau click here!
A visit to the chateau is like stepping back in time. It is filled with many works of art, exquisite furniture, and beautiful floral arrangements. You can see Cathrine de’ Medici’s room as well as that of Diane de Poiteier’s. The kitchen and its vast fire pit are interesting as is the gallery with the checkerboard style floors. After a tour of the chateau you can wander thru the gardens and maze, stop in one of the restaurants for lunch or a quick snack, have a picnic in the picnic area, and browse the gift shop.
The castle is open year round and admission is 13 Euro for adults (17.50 Euro with audio guide) and 10 Euro for kids 7-18 (14 Euro with audio guide). Click here for more info!
This chateau isn’t exactly easy to get to from Paris, but it’s definitely worth the trip. To get there we took the TGV from Paris’ Montparnasse train station to St. Pierre des Corps where we transferred to a local train for the 20 minute ride to Chenonceaux. The chateau is a short walk from the train station, you can’t miss it, it’s the largest building around! Click here for timetables and ticket prices!
From here you can take the train, drive, or hire a cab to the town of Amboise which is just 12 Km way. (We hired a cab for under 20 Euro). There you can visit:
Chateau de Amboise another beautiful castle visited by many historical figures over the centuries.[spacer height=”20px” id=”2″]
Clos Luce where Leonardo da Vinci spent the last 3 years of his life. He died in his bedchamber there on May 2, 1519.
A small museum dedicated to Leonardo’s knowledge of engineering housing 3D animations and 40 models: aeroplane, automobile, helicopter, tank, and more is located in the chateau.
We had planned to visit Clos Luce, but once we got to Amboise it was late afternoon and we were tired. We grabbed a snack in town then made our to the train station and returned to Paris. We were back at our Place de la Republique hotel in time to get ready for dinner.[spacer height=”20px” id=”2″]
Walk way to the chateau
Ground floor of the Medici Gallery which is built over the bridge
Gallery Window overlooking the Cher
Five Queens Bedroom
One of the many fresh floral arrangements in the chateau
[spacer height=”20px” id=”2″]Chateau de Versailles, or the Palace of Versailles, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in the town of Versailles just 12 miles southwest of Paris. When construction began in 1623 by Louis XIII Versailles was a country village; today it is a wealthy suburb of the French capital.
It was originally built as a hunting lodge and enlarged by Louis XIV, the Sun King. He moved his royal court to the new palace thus making the court of Versailles the center of political power from 1682 until 1789 when the royal family was forced back to Paris after the beginning of the French Revolution.
Hall of Mirrors
One of Versailles’ most famous residents was Marie Antoinette the wife of Louis XVI, they were the last monarchs to live in the Palace. Versailles is famous not just for its residents and buildings but also as a symbol of the absolute monarchy of the Ancien Regime and for historical events that were held in its grand galleries, particularly the Hall of Mirrors. The Treaty of Versailles which ended World War I between the Germans and the Allied forces was signed in the Hall of Mirrors on June 28, 1919.
Today the Palace of Versailles is a museum of French history and art exhibit site. It also hosts political functions form time to time, most recently President Hollande gave a speech before a rare joint session of parliament there following the Paris attacks in November 2015.
The Palace complex is vast and sprawling with private apartments, galleries, chapel, opera, and subsidiary structures including the Grand Trianon and Petit Trianon located on the grounds close to the main chateau. Versailles is also famous for its extensive gardens, statuary, and fountains. They are spectacular!
So if you’re a history buff, an avid gardener, or just love beautiful things Versailles is a must see when you visit Paris. It’s an easy day trip from Paris accessible via trains, coach, or private car, and of course you can join a tour offered by many travel agents or your hotel’s tour desk.
I’ve been to Versailles twice, once by private car and another time by train. Hiring a car and driver is the most expensive way to go, but if you’re traveling with older people (we were traveling with my aunt and ailing husband at that time) it is probably the easiest way to go. The cheapest way to get there is by train, assuming you can figure out Paris’ complex train and metro system. Here’s a link that will give you step by step directions to get to Versailles from Paris by train! A round trip ticket cost 7 Euro per person, it’s a bargain! Once you reach the town it’s an easy walk to the chateau, just follow the signs, it is after all a major tourist attraction!
You can purchase your entrance tickets online or at the ticket office before you enter the palace. (If you’ve booked an organized tour entrance tickets should be included). Buying a ticket can be somewhat confusing as they offer several types. The best “buy” would be the 1 or 2 day passport. These include admission to the Palace, the Trianon palaces, grounds, and Marie Antoinette’s estates.
The cost of a one day passport is 18 Euro or 25 Euro from April to October because it includes access to the Musical Garden Show or Musical Fountain Show. A two day passport is 25Euro or 30Euro with the Musical Garden. The two day passport must be used on two consecutive days. Neither passport gains you admission to the Fountains Night Show which cost 24 Euro and is available every Saturday from June 18 to September 17 every year.
You can also buy tickets separately, just the Palace (15Euro) or the Trianon Palaces & Marie Antoinette’s estates (10Euro). Admission to the Musical Garden Show is 8 Euro and the Musical Fountain Show is 9 Euro. Click here for more info!
They also offer several guided tours. Guided tours cost 7 Euro each in addition to the price of your admission ticket.
I told you it was confusing! We usually just buy the one day passport, makes things easier and gives you access to everything including the exhibits.
Now there are many things you can do in Versailles. It’s a great place to take the kids too! You can start by taking a tour of the main chateau, actually you can take all the tours if you like, but if you have kids it will get boring pretty fast. You don’t necessarily have to take the guided tour, the audio guide included with the admission works great as does the map of the palace and grounds.
When you’ve had your fill of period furniture and exquisite artwork you can wander out into the gardens. That’s really where all the fun begins, for young and old. The gardens and fountains are spectacular! There are so many activities you can do in them. There’s a mini-train you can take to the Trianon palaces and other garden attractions or you can rent an electric car. We rented the car and drove ourselves all around the grounds, it was a blast!
Train tickets are 7.50 Euro per person. Electric car rental is 32 Euro an hour. It was so worth it!
At the Grand Canal you will find restaurants with outdoor seating. Stop by for lunch or a snack! You can also rent a row boat to paddle in the canal, rent a bike, go on a guided tour of the Grand Canal on a Segway (35 Euro for 1 hour or 55 Euro for 2 hours), or go shopping! [spacer height=”20px” id=”2″]
If you’re up for more tours head over to the Petit Trianon, Marie Antoinette’s private retreat or the Grand Trianon also called the Marble Palace. Or you can just wander around the gardens and admire the trees, flowers, fountains, and statuary. Perhaps grab a drink from one of the beverage carts located around the grounds.
What ever you decide to do in Versailles I’m sure you’re visit will be memorable!