by Travel writer Lynne Christen
There are many reasons to travel to Paris for a long weekend. Beauty: Paris is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It is a feast for the senses. History: The rich history is a feast for the mind. Food: Paris offers some of the best cuisine and finest wines in the world, a feast for the palate. Romance: Paris is synonymous with romance. It is a feast for the heart and soul.
Is a long weekend enough time to “do Paris?” No. But, it is a start. Since the advent of the Euro, travel bargains to most of Europe are scarce. A four or five day tour package (purchased in n-Euro currency) that includes hotel, some meals, some tours and still allows time for leisurely explorations typically saves 35%-50% over independent travel. It pays to check with your local travel agent or go online to nationally recognized tour companies like Abercrombie & Kent, Cosmos, Globus, Tauck and Trafalgar and compare packages and prices.
Best time to go to Paris? Spring and fall offer crisp nights and temperate days. late April and May, chestnut trees are in full bloom. Delicate blossoms float down covering the sidewalk with a pink carpet. Rows of colorful flowers line pathways and windowboxes. Monuments and museums are not swamped by throngs of tourists. Sidewalk cafes are brimming with patrons lingering over expressos or vin blanc. Romance is tangible. Couples stroll hand-in-hand stopping for a kiss along the Seine. It’s contagious.
On arrival, make the Eiffel Tower a first stop. Pictures do not do it justice. The first glimpse of this grand structure leaves you breathless. Soaring 1051 feet into the sky, the Tour Eiffel dominates the Paris skyline. Arrive early or late in the day when lines for the lifts are shorter. Soaring upward, all of Paris lies at your feet. On a clear day you can see 40 miles. Famous Jules Verne Restaurant is on the second level, but plan ahead for lunch or dinner. Reservations are required two or three months in advance.
A Seine River cruise with Bateaux Parisien or Bateaux Mouche offers another charming perspective of Paris. The Seine River flows eight miles through the heart and soul of Paris dividing the city the Left Bank and the Right Bank. These huge, glass-topped barges glide along this historic waterway. At the Ile de la Cite, the flying buttresses and enchanting gargoyles of Notre Dame tower above. (A bit of travel trivia: What is the purpose of the imposing gargoyles atop Notre Dame and Sacre Coeur? Scare away birds or protect the people from evil spirits? No, they are actually decorative gutters funneling rainfall away from the buildings.) Choose a sunset cruise and watch the Paris come alive at night.
Get your bearings on land with L’Open Tours. These double-decker tour buses blanket the city with four different routes and 50 hop-on, hop-off stops. On a clear day, the open upper deck offers fantastic views above the traffic. A running commentary via headphones in several languages offers history and highlights of important sites. When the mood strikes, hop off for must-see sights or to shop the enticing boutiques and landmark department stores like La Samaritaine. Buses run on a ten minute schedule, so there is rarely a wait for the next bus. A one-day pass is currently €26 or purchase a two-day pass for €29.
Don’t miss a “hop-off” visit to Sacre Coeur and Montmarte. Sacre Coeur perches gracefully atop a steep hill. The view from the top is worth the climb. Stroll side streets where Toulouse Lautrec, Picasso, and Matisse kept studios. Today, hoards of would-be artists offer their talents for personal portraits. Cozy cafes and trendy clubs entice visitors to linger. This is a people-watching paradise. Linger at a sidewalk café with a toasty grilled ham and cheese sandwiches topped off by rich-beyond-belief Grand Marnier crepes. You will later dream about those crepes. Also in Montmarte, a dinner show at the Moulin Rouge is a production extraordinaire including exotic French can-can showgirls, a talented ventriloquist act and astounding acrobatics.
And, no trip to Paris is complete without a visit to the Louvre. If you spend only 20 seconds before each exhibit, it will take three years to see them all. When time is limited, a private guided tour is a smart move. Zip past long ticket queues as guides whisk their guests through the original underground fortress and moat built in AD 1190 and upward through room after room of sensory overload. View Venus de Milo, Winged Victory, Three Graces and dozens of magnificent Greek, Roman and Etruscan sculptures. Skirt large tour groups to focus on masterpieces by Michelangelo, Delacroix, Picasso, Van Gogh and others. Stand in awe before the Wedding Feast at Cana, one of the largest canvasses in the Louvre. Then…there she is. The most famous painting in the world. The Mona Lisa. Don’t forget your camera. Unlike many art museums, photography is allowed through most of The Louvre. Art lovers also appreciate Musée d’Orsay; less overwhelming than the Louvre.
For independent explorations, the Paris Metro is an easy and convenient way to get around Paris. No matter where you are in Paris there is a Metro station within 550 yards. Trains are fast, clean, bright and entertaining. Don’t be surprised if musicians step onboard your train, perform, good-naturedly “pass the hat” for tips and exit at the next stop. It’s part of the Paris experience.
Paris is also a city that should be savored by leisurely strolls along side streets that are treasure troves of specialty boutiques, gourmet cheese and bakeries and intimate sidewalk cafes. And, don’t miss the hourly special illumination at the Eiffel Tower. Beginning at 9 p.m. for ten minutes each hour, thousands of tiny strobes turn the tower into a mesmerizing masterpiece filling the sky with twinkling lights like glittering diamonds.
All too quickly a long weekend is over and there is much remaining to see, shop, savor and share in and around Paris. When you fall in love with Paris, one trip simply piques the appetite for another taste of the City of Light.
Lynne Christen is a freelance travel writer living in the USA. She is author of Travel Wisdom-Tips, Tools, and Tactics for All Travelers, 101 Vacation Rental Tips and 101 Cruise Tips.