Say you find yourself with three days and decide to go to Paris. (As bizarre as this might seem to us Americans, there are people who are lucky enough to live THAT close.)
What to do? How do you plan? There’s so much to see that you immediately create a “go to” list in your head.
If you are short on time, take our advice: make the trip personal.
When we planned our trip, we had to think about what we wanted and prioritize. It was tempting to pile on the sights and events, but we had to be realistic. We weren’t likely to eat our dinner on the run, so time had to be allocated and we had to think about what we would like experience.
Task One: Where to stay?
We knew that we were going to the Louvre, so we wanted a hotel that would be near, spacious, and romantic. We also knew that we were going by Eurostar, so I began by searching their site for packaged deals.
I went through what felt like countless options before narrowing it down to a few nice hotels. All were beautiful and at great locations. I had never selected a hotel on my own, so it was all overwhelming. I basically went with reviews, but the reviews were all positive and it felt more like a selection between a cream puff and an éclair.
What sold the Hotel Regina to us (or me, I should say, since hubby didn’t really mind where we stayed) was the spaciousness of the hotel rooms. This seemed important since we would be traveling in a cramped train car for hours and the last thing I wanted was to be staying in more cramped spaces. The décor was of the antique/romantic variety and many said that they were treated well (something I was really worried about, but was met with only kindness and courtesy). I booked for two nights and chose a mid-level room. With the hotel done, it was time to fill out the itinerary.
Task Two: What to do? Plan a few activities! (but be realistic)
Museums are like black holes – you enter and only barely escape with aching feet and blurry eyes. They can suck a complete day away and while we can be fast gazers, we have been known to get carried away. According to Wikipedia, Paris has 153 museums. That’s a lot of stuff to look at. With only three days, we acted like complete tourists and opted for the grandest of them all – the Louvre.
However, we decided to go with a guide group to see the highlights. Reason: the black hole effect. The Louvre is massive and with so much to see and so many people, we thought it would be a good use of time to go with a tour guide and have them do all the hard work (we went with Cityrama). This turned out to be one of the best bits of the trip. Our guide was informative, knew the layoutlike the back of her hand and she was considerate to the group. We got more out of our few hours in the Louvre than if we had just stumbled in with map in hand and nothing but the barest of insight (not to mention we got to skip to the head of the line). If you’re going to go to a museum like the Louvre, I highly recommend a tour guide. It might be more costly, but the experience is incomparable.
Seeing all of Paris in three days is obviously impossible. We knew we wanted to see the Eiffel Tower, but beyond that, we weren’t sure. There’s too much to see and do that you have to be a native to get to point A and B (through Z) with efficiency. So, we hired a native (or at least someone more native than us). I searched around and saw advertised a bike tour of Paris. Biking in Paris during the spring? How much more romantic can you get without the Seine, a sunset and a lovely bench?
The Fat Tire Bike tour group met under the Eiffel, so we were able to see the gigantic tower and hear some interesting facts from our animated guide. We then walked to the tour office and were passed onto our bike guide who was funny, loud (essential when navigating the busy streets), and fluent in French (she was Canadian). The tour took us around the Dome Church, the Military School, the Great and Little Palaces, the Louvre, and the Eiffel Tower. We saw more in less time than it would have taken otherwise, and it was an adventure. I would never have thought we’d be able to bike Paris, but we did and it was a great way to get around and feel a part of the beautiful city.
The two tours were on separate days, which left us the afternoon and evening free. This free time was a bit trickier to plan. The weather conspired against us, so we didn’t get to just stroll about like I wanted to (no Orange Center Madeleine for us, boo!). Instead, we hazarded the Champs-Elysees, which took all afternoon and a stroll along the Seine the next afternoon. While the Champs-Elysees was a bit of a waste of time (outside of the Pierre Herme store and the Arc de Triomphe, there really wasn’t much more to look at than what we could at our own mall), the Seine was more scenic and was a great way to see the river and Paris without the crowds.
Task Three: What to eat? A bit of what’s expected and what’s familiar.
Being a vegetarian meant that I wasn’t all that excited about French cuisine. Most of what everyone gushed about weren’t places we could actually go to, so I opted to splurge more on desserts than meals.
Our first restaurant was Aki – it’s always good to try out a cheap Japanese joint when traveling abroad. We know the food well and it’s easy to order. Aki was a tiny restaurant with tables nearly joined together to the next, but the food was superb and cheap.
The other meals were a combination of cafes (both in the Tuileries and the Louvre) and McDonald’s. I know. You go to Paris where the food is purported to be the best, and you eat at McDonald’s. I should hang my head in shame. Grant it, the food was subpar to even our own Mickey D’s, but it was fast, easy and stress free (except for being yelled at for trying to take a picture of the menu).
What I cared more about, however, were two things: macarons and a patisserie for breakfast. We found both and we didn’t penny-pinch. I bought a 12 assortment of macarons from Pierre Herme that I can only now dream about and so many croissants, palmiers, and montblancs (the montblanc was from Angelina’s) that life was buttery and good.
Planning a three day trip can be stressful, but it’s a lot of fun if you try to keep in mind your own interests. We never felt rushed off our feet and we had enough to do without wandering the streets. Were there things I wish we could have done? Sure! I wish we could have gone to the Opera National de Paris, Notre Dame, and the catacombs. The way I see it, we will just have to go back, won’t we?