Lessons in Living a French Life

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Today's Weekly Voilà: The Perfect Paris Itinerary For a 3 Day Visit


The Perfect Paris 3 Day Itinerary

Visiting Paris for the first time can feel overwhelming. The crowds - negotiating the metro system - the language barrier - so many places to see. How do you decide?
Best advice: Take a deep breath and reconcile yourself to the fact that you will not see everything you want to in three days. I have been exploring Paris for decades and every time, I discover something new. You will have a wonderful experience if you allow yourself time to wander the neighborhoods and relax with a glass of wine in an outdoor café. This is very much a part of the Parisan experience. Don't over schedule your days. That being said, it is important to have a basic plan. Take note of which sights are a "must" for you and be sure to note which days they are closed. Nothing worse than heading to Versailles to find out they are not open on Mondays. (By the by, the Louvre is closed on Tuesdays.)

My second piece of advice: Rest as best as you can on the plane trip over. More likely than not, you will be arriving in Paris in the morning and you will want to use that first day to explore the city and reset your clock by going to sleep that evening. If you are tempted by a nap - resist - and go take a relaxing stroll through the Tuileries Gardens. Enjoy a dinner near the Tour Eiffel and watch the lights come on. There is always a restful boat trip down the Seine River to get an hour overview of the city and experience some of Paris' beautiful bridges up close. I promise you will feel invigorated by the sites and sounds of the city and wake the next morning well rested and ready for all the day has to offer.
Going into the photo vault for this one. June 2007. It was our children's first time to Europe. The space in front of the Eiffel Tower looks very different now. Before you could saunter right under her but now there are points of entry, security lines, and bag checks. Glass walls surrounding the perimeter. Budget time for such things. Summer is high tourist season so waiting will be a big part of your experience. The month of September is my favorite time to visit Paris. 
When I'm asked for suggestions for a Paris itinerary, I reply that it truly depends on your personal interests. I love to visit the flea markets and fabric shops around Montmartre, so I make time for that. But that's me. Every visit to Paris, I dart into the Louvre to say "hello" to my favorite Botticelli fresco. You might not be into Botticelli but I guarantee that you have to see the Louvre. Even if it's just to introduce yourself to the Mona Lisa. (Be ready for the crowds and don't be disappointed by her small size. Spend some time in front of her.)

My third piece of advice: Be sure to get a Paris Museum pass. This pass allows you to skip most lines at more than 60+ museums and attractions. It is a must. Take in a bit here and there and make notes on which places you would like to visit again and spend more time. I promise there is something for everyone.
Hard to pass by a French patisserie and not want to indulge. Meringues are a speciality in the city.
I promised you a 3-Day itinerary. So here we go:

Day 1:
Notre Dame. I like starting where the history of Paris began. Enjoy walking the Ile de la Cité. Download a Paris walking tour and explore. There is so much to see. Yes, the line to get into the cathedral is long but moves fairly quickly. You have to see the Rose Window from inside. Your stay doesn't have to be long. I enjoy the exterior of the church more than the interior. There is a little park at the back of Notre Dame with a crêpière just across the street. Grab a little bite to eat and rest on a park bench. (There are free restrooms here in the park. Take advantage. The public bathrooms at the front of Notre Dame will set you back 2 euros a person! Crazy.)

Sainte-Chapelle. You have not seen stained glass windows until you have experienced these 15 enormous 13th-century beauties. If you decided to forgo the line at Notre Dame, all will be forgiven when you see this chapel built by Louis IX. It served as this palace's place for royal worship before the Louvre became the château of choice for the kings of France. It is one of my favorite places in Paris. (Your Paris Museum pass provides you entrance so skip the line for tickets. You do, however, have to go through the security lines with everyone else.)

Eiffel Tower. For your first evening, take in Paris' most iconic site. Enjoy one of the nearby cafés or if your wallet can take the hit, enjoy a meal at one of the restaurants on the upper levels. How often are you going to get this chance? Reservations are required. To avoid the long lines to go to the top, walk up to the first level and ride the elevator from there. You'll have some fabulous views of the city. And given the climb, you will have deserved that French dessert after dinner.

Still not tuckered out? Then now is the time for that boat cruise down the Seine. Try to catch a boat just before sunset. Paris at night is spectacular.
Day 2:
The Louvre. Start your day here right when it opens and before the crowds inundate the museum. You'll be the first to see the Mona Lisa and have a chance to enjoy her before she is spoiled by all the tourists taking selfies with her. Even if you had a week, you would hardly scratch the surface of this collection. But don't despair. Pick 10 pieces of art that you really want to see and discover new favorites along the way. (Squeeze in Botticelli's fresco, The Three Graces. It will not disappoint.)

Tuileries Gardens: Once the gardens reserved only for royalty, now can be enjoyed by all. Have a picnic on a park bench (keep off the grass . . . it's a French thing) or stop into one of the cafés in the park. It is a great spot to rest after your morning in the Louvre and people watch.

Musée d' Orangerie: Monet's waterlilies are here. Enough said. (Aren't you glad you have that museum pass? Admission tickets add up quick.)

Ladurée: A French luxury bakery that has been making macaron since 1862. It is my sweet indulgence. Plus the packaging is beautiful and I love to use the boxes to store my special things. I always stop in at the shop on the Champs-Élysées. However, I should note that this famous street has lost its allure for me. Once Sephora and McDonalds came in, the neighborhood lost its charm. I prefer to hop the metro over to Place de Vendome and Rue Cambon for some true window shopping. The House of Chanel windows are always a favorite.

Montmartre and Sacre-Coeur: Determined to fit more in? Then head up to Montmartre for some dinner and music. Let me say that this neighborhood is not what it use to be. It is overrun with tourists. Locals can't afford to live here anymore. And the shops are filled with unnecessary plastic objects from China. Now, my parents were in Montmartre circa 1957 and stumbled on a little nightclub with some singer by the name of Edith Piaf. Those were the days. But you can still get a little bit of a feel of old Paris here. Go off the beaten path of souvenir shops and restaurants serving spaghetti bolognese. You can't get lost once you are on the hill. The Sacre-Coeur is an enormous white church that will serve as your beacon. You see it from everywhere. Explore the hidden streets, minding your wallet and purse of course, and take in the view of the city below minus all the people. I head to Marche St. Pierre, the Mecca of fabric shops. It feels a bit like the 1950s up here. Use a good map and see if you can imagine Paris in the early 20th century.
Take time to explore the streets of Paris. Some of the most wonderful shops and restaurants are often just around the corner.
Day 3:
Today, you have to make a difficult choice. Versailles or another day exploring Paris: The Marais, the Latin Quarter, the Museum d'Orsay, medieval tapestries, catacombs, Roman ruins, flea markets and shopping. It is a difficult decision.

To be sure, Versailles is an entire day in and of itself. Only 30 minutes from the center of Paris and easily reachable by train, this palace was the center of French court life in the 18th century. Be there right when it opens because the lines (yes, plural) are long even with a museum pass. (Go online and see about adding a special tour for 10 euros extra or so. Well worth it for the additional historical highlights, and most importantly, you get to skip the endless line to get in. Think 2+hour wait.) If nothing else, skip the line and thus the tour of the palace, and head straight to the gardens. Your day will be filled with two more palaces on the grounds with no wait, Marie Antoinette's hamlet where she would dress as a peasant and pretend that she didn't have a care in the world, and beautiful hidden ballrooms and secret spots to discover. The Grand Canal offers you and your partner the possibility of a boat trip and there is a lovely café that serves typical French food since the mid 19th century. If you are lucky enough, the late 17th-century fountains might be operating to give you a lasting impression of what life might have been like if you were French royalty. (Actually, the Queen's Hamlet is my favorite part. I could have never lasted in those wigs and shoes.)
Paris. My favorite city. It takes your breath away in more ways than one. You'll be exhausted after three days but you will have seen some of the world's most beautiful sights. You won't soon forget them.

A few last words of advice. Remember to say, "Bonjour" and "Au Revoir" when you enter and leave a shop. It is just good French manners. Be patient; meals are not to be rushed and you must ask for the bill. And lastly, bring home truly local and Parisian products for friends and family. I like to stop at my favorite gourmet grocery store, Le Grande Epicerie, next door to Bon Marche on the Right Bank. It is to die for. Lovely restaurant upstairs too. I promise, you will find all the chocolates, jams, wine, honey, spices that you could ever want. I hope you have a chance to experience the City of Lights one day. For me, the above is three days of heaven. 

À bientôt mon amie,