Europe trip with 3 Days in Paris - Itinerary and Sightseeing Tips
Dennis and I traveled to Europe for the first time in May for our 5 year anniversary. Our trip was right before the summer tourist season began (which begins after Memorial Day) so the flights and hotels were more reasonably priced despite booking only a month before! We actually flew into Amsterdam first for one night then headed right to Paris the next day by train. In our post, we'll share our travel experience in Paris as well as the attractions and additional tips and suggestions for exploring Paris in 3 days. Our step counter exploded (figuratively) from all the activity!
Transportation in Paris
Paris du Nord is the train station in Paris and a major transportation hub. Since we started in another country, we took the high speed train (Thayls) from Amsterdam Central Station to Paris du Nord Station and arrived in under 3.5 hours (TGV takes 5 hours). Travelers can use the inner city train if traveling from the airport or to/from French cities like Versailles. At the boarding platforms, train systems had different colors and displayed the train system on the side of the train. Each train boxcar had a number which matched with the carriage number on your train ticket and the seats were numbered inside. I booked my train tickets on B-Europe (using a credit card with no transaction fees). If traveling between countries, book fast trains as soon as your travel dates are confirmed. Early on, tickets are cheaper but are non-flexible, while later tickets are more flexible but prices increase as more tickets are sold! Inner city tickets seem to be set prices and can be used anytime during the day listed on your train ticket. My favorite resource for European trains was Seat61.
We took public transportation the majority of the time. After purchasing the subway tickets, slide your ticket into the ticket slot which marks your ticket used (returned to you) and allows you to enter. Once inside, you can transfer between multiple subways until you exit the one-way turn style to the surface.The subway ticket machines also sell packs of 10 tickets at a discount which can also be used for public buses. We bought 10 tickets at a time and shared the tickets (5 trips worth per purchase). Google maps was our resource for selecting which trains to take. In the subways, we referred to the train number and end stop to head in the right direction. The trains were fine most of the time but extra crowded during rush hour. Often, passing on boarding the very first train was the difference between super crowded and one with breathing room. Of course, beware of pickpockets in crowds.
Public Buses / Tour Buses
Buses give the scenic view that you can't see from underground while in the Subway. Of course, these buses are also affected by street traffic so take more time. The public buses accept the tickets used on the subway but only sell single ticket rides at full price. As a visitor, the tour buses are the easiest way to explore the city because it will introduce you to all the major attractions of the city and usually include hop-on hop-off stops. Some tour buses even have live tour guides but all should provide headphones to listen to a pre-recorded set. Big Bus Tour is the one we used during our trip. Since the tour bus routes are set, this is perfect for leisurely exploring the city. If you planned to hit destination after destination, it would be more efficient to take the subway to get around quickly.
Dennis is a cyclist (will bike for food) and we were enthralled to find the Velib biking system in Paris! There are many stations around the city where you can pick up or drop off a bike. First, you select a rental period (i.e. 24 hours is 1,70 EU), enter your bike's station number, then pull out that bike. The first 30 minutes are free but if time goes over, it's 1 EU for the next half hour, then 2 EU for the next, then 4 EU for every half hour after. You can continually rent and return a bike for free during your rental period as long as each separate trip is under 30 minutes. When returning your bike, make sure your bike station light turns green and beeps to signal that it was properly returned. You do have to wait 1-2 minutes before you can grab a bike again. Also, if a bike has an issue, return it to the station with the seat facing backwards to indicate repair is needed.
Note: There will be a 150 euro hold on your credit card per rental which will be removed within a couple of days after returning the bike. We suggest printing a receipt at your final stop in case of any issues.
The default is walking. It's free but you should wear comfortable walking shoes. I've been told you can also UBER but we did not use this option while in Europe.
Lodging in Paris
I picked out a budget hotel with a queen bed for our stay in Paris. I figured we could travel around easily with public transportation and this hotel would allow us to spend the savings on attractions. Depending on what you want, you can also pick your hotel close to all the popular attractions at a higher cost but closer to the comforts of your lodging. Luckily our accomodations got nicer as we continued this Europe trip!
Sightseeing in Paris
We were in Paris for three full days and took it easy on the arrival and departure days. We arrived in Paris du Nord station (above) after a morning train ride and dropped off our suitcases at our hotel. We asked the hotel staff for ideas on where to go nearby. He suggested checking out the market near Mouffetard which was within 15 minute walk. We wandered around exploring town near Mouffetard for another hour or so before heading back to the hotel. Since we were still quite jet-lagged, we ended up taking an afternoon nap and waking late in the evening. A small snack from the market was all we grabbed before calling it a night. The next couple of days would be busy! Because Paris is quite a large city, planning your trip is handy though be flexible since you may discover something worth a little more of your time!
Paris Itinerary Day 1
On Sunday we picked up some quick but tasty sandwiches from a nearby sandwich shop and headed toward our first destination, the Louvre Museum. We didn't purchase tickets ahead of time but showed up approximately 20 minutes before it opened at 10am. On this cloudy Sunday, there were only about 30 people ahead of us. The museum is closed on Tuesdays.
Louvre tips: Arrive early. Once the tour groups arrive it takes a long time to get inside because they have to do a metal scanner and bag check for everyone. Alternatively we've read that the side entrance from the Carousel de Louvre mall has a shorter line in the morning.
Once the museum opened, the line moved relatively quickly and we took an escalator down one floor. Tickets were available for purchase around the corner at the cost of 15 EU per person. Buying them online is an extra 2 EU a person but allows you to select an "entry" time. We'd recommend not overpaying for those 'fast-pass' travel services because you can easily book your own entry time without the upcharges.
We spent a couple hours wandering around The Louvre. The statues were the most entertaining for taking pictures!
The paintings were gorgeous and plentiful! We snuck ourselves into some pictures as well.
Here are three of the most famous Louvre artworks we had the pleasure of viewing: The Mona Lisa, Vénus de Milo and Winged Victory of Samothrace. The statues are quite large but the Mona Lisa is surprisingly TINY! We'd recommend seeing the Mona Lisa or the Venus statue early in your visit since these are lower to the ground, thus easily blocked by other visitors. Since the Winged Victory is on a high pedastal, it is easier to visit at any time of day.
Louvre Tips: This museum is huge! Get a map to keep track of areas that you've been. We were there for 5-6 hours including lunch and still missed some sections of the museum despite our fast pace around the museum!
After walking through most of the museum, our feet were tired and we made one last stop at the glass pyramid underground, which was accessible without buying tickets to the museum. We also took a photo up top!
After exiting the museum, we decided to head to a metro stop a little further down so we could walk through the Tuileries Garden. Here's the mini Arc de Triumphe du Carrousel along the way.
At the end of our garden walk through the was the huge ferris wheel and also Place de Concord where we went all out tourist and popped some pictures.
We also happened to catch a special parade to pay hommage to Sainte Jeanne d'Arc (Joan of Arc). We ended our day here because our feet were quite beat after walking for hours in the museum. It was back to the hotel to relax and see if we could beat the jetlag!
Additional suggestions: If you aren't museum'ed out, you can also visit the nearby Musee d'Orsay or Orangerie Museum which are both open until 6pm. The Tuileries Garden is open until 9pm.
Total steps at the end of day 1 - 20141
Paris Itinerary Day 2
On Monday, we took the metro to Place de Concord where we left off the previous day. While walking to the Arc De Triumphe, we discovered the Velib rental bikes and hopped on. We continued our journey toward the Arc but made the mistake of riding ON the sidewalks... this proved to be VERY difficult because of all the pedestrians and we later realized we should have been on the road with the cars and buses! Lesson learned (and luckily nobody was hurt).
Arc de Triumph opened at 10am and there are two underground passageways on either side (you aren't allowed to cross the busy streets around it). Once there you're free to walk around it but you'll have to pay 12 EU (additional 1 EU processing fee for online) to take the stairs up. The lines weren't long that day. Large backpack aren't allowed due to the narrower space so pack appropriately.
Almost 300 steep stairs were climbed up... Now that's exercise for getting the optimal views! There is a special access elevator for those who really the assistance.
At last, views from the top of the Arc De Triomphe. You earned it after that stairmaster trek! Notice how tiny the Eiffel Tower is from here! We picked up souvenirs including a special no value EU bill with the landmark on it and a pressed coin with the landmark.
We then took the metro to Place de Trobador, which had a nice view of the Eiffel Tower. The closer you get to the Eiffel Tower, the more street merchants you'll see selling mini eiffel towers and other souvenirs. If you didn't buy your tickets ahead of time or you want to save some money, you can take the Eiffel Tower stairs for 7 EU. It will be about 700 steps total to get to the 2nd level or just half of those to reach just level 1. From level 2 you can pay 6 euros to take the elevator the rest of the way up. Champ du Mars is just on the other side of the Eiffel Tower but we didn't walk over for this visit.
We also ended up meeting a nice man and his mother who donated their Big Bus Tours passes to us since they were flying out soon. Here's the elevated view from the top of the tour bus as it drives around the city. If you want to take a leisure route around Paris, start with one of these tours and ride around the city with a view. This ride also saved our feet from additional walking and we incorporated a few more places (from a distance) than originally in our itinerary. You can also hop on and off at the stops at your own pace. Upon finish, we took a subway back to the hotel.
Additional suggestions: The afternoon would be a nice time to visit Sacre Coeur which is open until 10:30pm (though we suggest visiting during daylight hours). Not far off is the Montmartre area which is a potential night out activity.
Total steps at the end of day 2 - 16768 (may be off slightly due to biking)
Paris Itinerary Day 3
On Tuesday we explored a few areas closer to the hotel. It was also our anniversary so the evening was scheduled to be a nice dinner followed by night views of the Eiffel Tower!
Notre Dame is free on the ground level and opens at 8am. For another Paris city view, you can climb the towers for 8,50 EU which opens up at 10am. The line curves around the building and they take in groups of people every 15 minutes or so try to get in line early if you want to go up. The view from the top is supposed to be very nice.
Additional suggestions: You can continue to explore this area by visiting the nearby St Chapelle stained glass church (opens at 9am) or medieval royal palace Conciergerie (opens at 9:30am). There is a 15 EU discounted package for visiting both.
We rented bikes again and cycled our way to the next destination, the Jardin du Luxembourg. I believe we hit some uphill on this ride so it was some effort to get around! There's also a cool pond to the right of the palace where we relaxed in the shade for a bit. We grabbed lunch at our chosen spot then headed back to the hotel for another nap and to dress up for our anniversary dinner. No more bikes or sweating for us!
Additional suggestions: You can continue to explore this area by visiting the nearby Pantheon (open until 6:30) or the Catacombs of Paris (open until 8pm, closed on Mondays).
Cheers for our 5 year anniversary! After dinner and wine, we wandered back to the Eiffel Tower for a romantic NIGHT view. The lights twinkled for 5 minutes on the top of every hour starting around 9 or 10pm. It's beautiful and something that should be on your Paris to-do list.
Additional suggestions: The Seine River also offers 1-hour river cruises that are amazing close to sunset! I believe one of the docking stations is really close to the Eiffel Tower so this could be a precursor to the nightly twinkling.
Total steps at the end of day 3 - 17523 (may be slightly off due to biking)
The next day our train departed in the morning so we said goodbye to Paris. Next time we'll throw in a day trip to Versailles Palace and any other attractions we missed on this trip! 3 days is not enough to see everything!
Additional Paris Tips
Try to use the restroom in your hotel if you can. Public restrooms may charge you so carry around euro coins to pay. Also, they aren't as clean as the US.
Buy large water bottles and carry in your backpack. Restaurants only have tap water or expensive bottled water. Even soda is 3 to 5 euro so beer and wine in Europe are a better buy as low as 4 to 5 euro.
Be careful of pickpockets! Signs are everywhere from the train station, tourists spots, and even in the room with the Mona Lisa!
Many places close on Sundays including the local supermarket so stock up on supplies the day before.
Check on import restrictions if you plan to purchase anything to bring home. From what I read, you may not be able to bring French cheeses back through US customs. French cheeses which are made with unpasteurized milk are banned. Also, they need to be commercially packaged or vacuumed sealed. Enjoy the cheeses while you're there because it's the freshest you'll find!
We'll be writing about Paris Food next! Have you been to Paris? What are your favorite sights and attractions?