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  • Janis Nunez

France: Paris and a day trip to Reims

Updated: Jul 1, 2023

July 2018. We spent our 20 year anniversary in Paris. Sounds cliche I know, but you would not believe the number of people from all over the world that we met doing the same thing. It was amazing, it was beautiful, and we will definitely go back.


BEFORE YOU GO


ADAPTER: You will need an adapter for your electronics. I got these on amazon for our trip: ADAPTERS. If your items do not have Worldwide Voltage, you will also need a converter. I give tips on my Planning Your Vacation blog post.


PHONE: Contact your cell phone provider to see what is included. T-Mobile gives unlimited data and texting, but charges $0.25 per minute for calls. I have read other companies require you to get a European SIM card to use your phone, so just contact your provider to find out before you leave.


PHOTOGRAPH: You'll need a smaller than passport size photo to be used on the Navigo Decouverte metro pass (exact photo size is 3cm tall by 2.5cm wide) if you decide to use it.


AUDIO TOURS: I like to use RICK STEVES PARIS AUDIO TOURS. Even if you don't use the audio tours, he has some walking tours with maps that can help you plan your days in the 20 Arrondissements (neighborhoods) in the City of Light.


WHERE TO STAY: Originally we were going to get an Airbnb in the Montmarte neighborhood. But we ended up using points to stay at our hotel for FREE. There is good and bad news in this. The good news is that we were right down the street from Notre Dame, and within walking distance to so many wonderful places. The bad news is that hotel rooms are very small in France, and the photos on the website did not accurately depict the place we were staying, but we made the most of it. The lobby and stairway had no air conditioning. And the tiny elevator could tightly fit two people.


When choosing where to stay in Paris, it's a good idea to look at the 20 arrondissements (neighborhoods). If you are utilizing the metro, like we do, you will be able to get from one to the next with no problem. We stayed in the 6th arrondissement. It was close to the Fountain Saint Michel, and a short walk to the Cathedral of Notre Dame.




WHEN YOU ARRIVE AT THE CHARLES DE GAULLE AIRPORT


TRANSPORTATION: Navigo Cards can be purchased at the airport. These cards can be used on the metro, bus, RER, tram, Montmartrobus, Noctilien and funicular in Montmartre. It is a contactless smart card that costs €5. Once you have the Card, you put your pass inside of it. We chose an all zone week long pass for €22.80.



This is where you will need the photo you took before the trip in the 3 x 2.5 cm dimensions. Place the photo on the pass and write in your name. Then just put the pass inside of the plastic Navigo Card. The Weekly Navigo Pass is valid from Monday at 12 am to Sunday 11:59 pm. Since we arrived on a Sunday, we bought separate RER B tickets to get from the airport to the city (€10.30 each).


We did rent a car when we left the city, but there is no need for a car if you are staying within the city. We took a day trip to Reims for Champagne tasting, and you definitely need a car to do that.


PARIS MUSEUM PASS: The museum passes come in 2, 4, & 6 day passes. They give you free, direct access to monuments and the museums for unlimited visits. We purchased the 6 day passes for €74 each at the airport. You can get more info at the PARIS MUSEUM PASS WEBSITE. There is a list of of museums and monuments on the website. Look up the sites you want to see and start adding entrance fees individually. Keep in mind you get faster lines with the pass which is a huge time saver. Then decide if it's a good purchase for you. The pass is activated at your first entrance by writing in the date and your name. The pass has a map and information on the 54 sites where you can use it.


CURRENCY: In France they use the Euro. It helps to have a currency converter app on your phone. We took out money from a local ATM. Call your bank to find out what the fees are for you to make a withdraw and to make purchases before you go. They will probably also have a currency exchange fee, but ours was minimal. Notify your bank and credit card company before you travel so that they will not decline any purchases you make while out of the country.


GROCERY/PHARMACY: This trip we didn't need a lot of groceries since we were staying at a hotel, but we definitely needed water. It's hot in July. The pharmacies are separate from the grocery stores, so if you need some headache medicine or feminine products you need to go to the pharmacy.


SIGHTSEEING


Since our Navigo Passes were not valid until Monday, we decided to walk and get familiar with the area we were staying. There is so much to see.


THE LATIN QUARTER


Right outside of our hotel was Saint Michel Fountain. There is a large statue of the archangel Michael. The immediate area surrounding the fountain is called the Place St Michel. There are a number of bistros, art stalls, book stores and restaurants. A day into our trip we found the best place to grab a baguette sandwich and sit by the fountain.


A short walk takes you to Saint Severin Church, a gothic/medieval church with gargoyles on top warding off bad spirits. We also stopped by Saint Julien Le Pauvre, which is the oldest church in Paris. It's right around the corner from the Shakespear and Company Bookstore. Churches are FREE, so definitely take time to explore the different churches.


We stopped for a cafe in Place de la Sorbonne Square. The building behind us is the University of Paris (the Sorbonne). We also spotted several Banksy works. He is a famous, anonymous street artist.



The Pantheon is open every day 10am-6:30pm. It is covered by the Museum Pass, or you can pay €9. There is also a crypt below that you can go into.



We also stopped at the Cluny Museum and used our Museum Pass. It's very small and nothing really exciting, unless you like unicorns (not adding photos). TONS of unicorns. A place that we wished we spent more time were the Luxembourg Gardens (below).


The Luxembourg Gardens are the largest in the city, and a great place for a picnic. The whole park covers 55.6 acres! There are sculptures throughout the gardens, ponds with children sailing boats, older men playing dominoes, and tourists trying to take it all in. It is open to the public daily.


The Luxembourg Palace is used as a government building today but was first built for King Louis XIII’s mother. It was also used as a French prison, and then Napoleon moved the senate to the palace. When the French Senate is not meeting, it is open to the public by reservation. Check to see if it is open while you go, I hear it is amazing, and that is saying a lot with all that Paris has to offer in terms of art and architecture.



In the morning we started off with an espresso and croissant. My favorite was the Pain Au Chocolat (chocolate croissant). We were lucky to be close to several boulangeries, so we could grab our breakfast and go sit on a bridge and enjoy the Seine River. Other days we would sit at a cafe and people watch. Then off to sightseeing.



The Cathedral of Notre Dame is FREE, but there is a fee for the tower and crypt (you can use your Museum Pass here). We tried to go to the crypt several times and it was closed. Get there early as the line gets very long as the day progresses. Right outside of Notre Dame is Paris Point Zero (last photo). This marks the exact center of the city and it what is used to measure the distance of Paris to all other locations.


A short walk from Notre Dame is the beautiful Saint Chapelle. It is open 9:30-18:00 daily. Use your Museum Pass to enter. You will go through security, but your pass will allow you to skip the line. We went relatively early and there were no lines. It is stunning. You can get more information from the SAINT CHAPELLE WEBSITE.



Right next to Saint Chapelle is the Conciergie. It is a medieval royal palace that became a revolutionary tribunal and Marie Antoinette's prison. It is open 9:30-18:00, and is covered by the Museum Pass.



A quick stop for lunch around the corner from our hotel, just down from Saint Severin Church. I love that they expect you to take your time and enjoy.


Then we were off to Pierre Herme for macarons. DO NOT MISS PIERRE HERME. You are thinking it's just a macaron, right? It's not. It's THE BEST macaron you will eat! We took our macarons and ate them in the Place Saint-Sulpice. We sat on a bench sipping espresso, tasting macarons with the Fountain of the Four Cardinal Points and Saint-Sulpice Church in our sights. It was wonderful.


Saint-Sulpice Church is one of the tallest churches in Paris. It has 21 chapels, and three paintings by Delacroix, including Jacob Wrestling the Angel. People who have read The Da Vini Code head here too, as it has several references to St-Sulpice. Remember, churches are FREE, so take advantage of it. They also have GUIDED TOURS.



If you go in July, you will want to take breaks to get air conditioning and a cold drink. Our hotel had excellent air conditioning. It was nice to have a small balcony to look out at the city and St. Michel fountain.



The Arc de Triomphe is covered by the Museum Pass or €8. You get to it by going underground. Do not attempt to cross that busy round about! You can climb to the top for a panoramic view of Paris. There are 284 steps to get to the top, but the view is so worth it!



Walking back from the Arc we enjoyed walking through the streets and finding beautiful fountains in the most unsuspecting areas. Finally, we stopped and enjoyed dinner on a cobblestone street around the corner from our hotel. The table wine in France is amazing. This is the place to buy wine people! We brought back bottles of wine and Champagne from different areas that we visited in France.



My favorite museum that we visited in Paris was definitely Musée d'Orsay. It's opens at 9:30am. You can use your Museum Pass here. It pays to get there early. The last photo shows some of the lines waiting to get in when we were leaving. There are two line options, so if you got the Museum Pass, make sure you go to that line.



The Rodin Museum opens at 10:00am. It is covered by the Museum Pass or costs €10. The Rodin includes The Thinker, a garden of statues, and his personal art collection which includes Van Gogh. It's a must see in Paris. We found it fascinating that the building was not air conditioned and that they had all of the windows open here.



Sweet shops are so tempting! We bought some delicious cookies and treats here.



The Eiffel Tower on our 20th Anniversary! The most iconic place to visit in Paris is, of course, The Eiffel Tower. You can get tickets online or wait in line. This site is NOT Covered by the Museum Pass. It costs €25 for a ticket with a lift to the top (€19 if you take the stairs). The key if you don't get tickets ahead of time is to get there early. We went when they first opened. I think we waited about 30-45 minutes and headed up. When we left the line was ridiculous and snaked around the grounds.


Another way to skip the line is to have a reservation at one of the restaurants. All of the restaurants were booked for this day. My husband really wanted to eat in the Eiffel Tower on our anniversary, so we took some advice I read online and went to the restaurant right when it opened for lunch to see if we could get put on a walk-in waiting list.


To our surprise we were seated right away. The reserved tables have outer views of the city. We were seated on the interior (and did not care one bit!). You can go to 58 Tour Eiffel casually dressed. It is located on the first floor of the Eiffel Tower. There is a photographer that comes around and takes photos for purchase, but you can ask your waiter to take a photo for you for FREE. Our lunch was delicious, and what they called a "picnic style" lunch. One of the best meals we had in Paris.



Then we headed over to The Lourve.


The Louvre was formerly a royal palace, and is the world's largest art museum and a historic monument in Paris It includes the Venus de Milo, Winged Victory of Samothrace, Mona Lisa, Liberty Leading the People, and so many more famous works of art. The museum opens at 9:00am. The earlier you go the better the lines will be. We went after going to the Eiffel Tower and had to wait a short while to get in. There are a few options for entrance, so check those out to see which may be best for your time of visit.


Take a look at the LOURVE WEBSITE to make a plan before going. It's huge. The museum has more than 380,000 objects and displays 35,000 works of art in eight curatorial departments with more than 652,000 sq ft dedicated to the permanent collection. We wrote down the pieces we wanted to see, headed to them, and then left. It does get very crowded as the day progresses.