Paris in the Spring. There’s absolutely nothing like it. I’ve heard said it’s a once in a lifetime trip. However, after my first trip to Paris and a full five days doing all the things, I hope it will be one of many trips in my lifetime.
Accommodations and Where to Stay.
The Charles Hotel and Apartments by the Eiffel Tower.
When arriving in Paris, we chose to stay by the Eiffel Tower (one block away.) This move was strategic as with littles in tow, we wanted a homebase that served as a way to enjoy the city while trying to keep bed times. Every hour on the hour, from 9PM to 1AM, the Eiffel Tower sparkles for about 5 minutes. It was magical to take in this view on the daily. Yes, this place is a splurge and was possible by splitting costs on a family vacation. Was it worth the splurge? Every single penny. We found this location through Airbnb and our stay was phenomenal.
Transportation to and From Paris
When it comes to booking flights for Paris, the earlier you book, the more likely you are to find amazing fares. For us, traveling from NorCal is no simple feat. Because of this we opted to fly from San Francisco and make the four hour drive from Redding. While it can be frustrating, it’s absolutely worth the value in savings. By booking 10 months in advance, we were able to find round trip flights from SFO to Paris for $600 round trip through Expedia.
Getting around the City.
The Le-Bus Direct from CDG
I initially was hesitant about this option. Boarding a bus, in a foreign city where my French knowledge consisted of a brief memory from 8th grade French class (we’re talking the level of bonjour, merci, and wee over here), and heading an hour into the city? I can’t tell you how easy catching this bus was. With a place to board the shuttle and purchase tickets outside of exit 32 at CDG airport, I took line two to the Eiffel Tower. A one way ticket takes about 1 hour of travel time and will cost you 18 euro. It is beyond simple with multiple pickup times per hour, making it an affordable option to get into the heart of the city quickly. (We’re all for this after 14 hours of travel time when jet lag is real.)
The Metro and RER
A huge thing to know ahead of time. The RER, Metro, and buses are run by seperate companies. When traveling through NYC, I would recommend buying a Metro pass for the duration of your visit. When visiting Paris, you’ll want to buy tickets in books of 7 based on your trips and plans getting through the city. It’s the most affordable option without having your itinerary planned on the daily. Most trips will cost you 1.7 euro each way, whereas trips to Palace de Versaille, Eurodisney, and the Airport have varying costs due to the length of trip.
Ride share apps and Uber
As we were traveling as a group, there were times where piling into a car made far more sense than paying for 4 tickets on the subway. Make sure to download multiple apps for price comparison and, in our case, the moments when drivers would take all of our group in a single trip.
Restaurants and our favorite meals of the trip
Near the Eiffel Tower:
Boulangerie Saffron 55
Don’t get me wrong, when in Paris there are plenty of boulangeries to choose from. However, the definite con of staying near the Eiffel Tower meant our food options within the neighborhood were somewhat limited. On the last morning in Paris, after saying goodbye to family, I headed to this boulangerie based on Google ratings. Once I arrived, the smell of fresh pastry filled the space as cases were filled with stunning sweet breads and pastries. Located a 7 minute walk away from our lodging, they offered amazing bread and coffee. The total was 2.6 euro for a chocolate croissant and cafe au lait, coming in as the most affordable meal for the whole trip.
Near the Moulin Rouge:
Old school French food at old school French prices. Whether you’re looking to be more adventurous or simply want to stick to French classics, this restaurant is a hidden gem. We recommend getting there early if you don’t have reservations. (The line forms and will easily wrap around the building during dinner service.) While there we ordered most of the main dishes – beef, salmon, and chicken all served with various sides. For a starter we shared the cauliflower gratin which was amazing.
On Ile San Louis:
This ice cream shop is known around the world. While there make sure to try the wild strawberry flavor- it is incredible. Head to the center of Ile San Louis and go to the Salon, where you will find full service, including what they’re most known for- ice cream bombs. Filled with layers of ice cream, they serve up to groups of 8 and are stunningly beautiful. If you’re looking for a quick stop, simply head next door to the pastry and ice cream counter where short order scoops are available.
When in Paris…book the lunch of lifetime at Arpège. (This was a complete surprise from my older brother. Needless to say, we know how to celebrate sibling day really, really well.) We opted for the tasting menu from world renowned chef Alain Passard. Holding 3 Michelin stars for over 30 years, you can see the care and passion he puts into every course. At the conclusion of our meal, he kindly came to greet our table. Everything from the menu cards to collage artwork, stained glass, and ceramic designs come from the chef himself. Unlike traditional French cuisine, he chooses to highlight flavors of the garden, using common vegetables elevated to fine dining status. It’s the best meal I’ve ever had. It has also been rated as one of The World’s Top 50 Restaurants last year.
Attractions and Points of Interest
I put this first on the list as was one of my favorite parts of the trip. Filled with stunning stained glass, the reverence of this space is unparalleled to any other cathedral I’ve visited. I took it all in and it is a MUST visit on your trip.
Musse d’ Louvre
It’s classic and known for all the right reasons. Make sure to spend some time taking in the glass entrance, the Tuileries garden, and the plaza as well. They are equally stunning in nature and vastness of space. Upon arriving, stop at information. (This was something we didn’t do and I wish we had. With two littles in tow, we had strollers throughout the museum, however, it was NOT very handicapped friendly or accessible, with many areas of the museum that were undergoing renovations which held the elevators or ramps, making us stuck or walking great distances to get where we needed to go.) Take time to ask questions and hit the highlights of the museum. While the Mona Lisa was phenomenal to take in, don’t overlook other stunning sites like Napoleon the III’s apartments.
Musée de l’Orangerie
While the Louvre is world renowned, this museum was by far my favorite. Filled with Monet’s famous water lilies, Renoir, and Picasso, it houses impressionist paintings and is stunning in nature. We spent most of our time in the rooms with the sets of Water Lilies paintings and then worked quickly through the rest of the museum.
Paris Opera House
If you loved Phantom of the Opera, make sure to book a guided tour of the Paris Opera house. It is stunning, including paintings of Chagall, statues, carvings, and a beautiful rose marble. No detail in this space is overlooked. Currently housing both the ballet and the opera, they flip shows frequently and have shows available for booking throughout the course of your trip. (It’s the perfect night out in Paris.)
Palace de Versaille
Head to the Palace that is glorious in size and beauty, steeped in French history. Book tickets ahead to skip the line (which at Versaille is incredibly long on the plaza) and plan for a whole day, exploring the rooms of the palace and the gardens. For lunch stop in to the Angelina bistro location inside the palace and enjoy a simple lunch.
Running through Paris, many of your sites and attractions you will find yourself walking along the Seine. Take time to enjoy the history and the whimsy of walking around the city.
When you’re walking around head to this stunning Arch. It’s a simple site (no tours, no tickets required) to behold and worth the quick stop.
It’s the crown of the city. Whether you’re staying nearby or not, head to the Eiffel Tower as often as you can. Every night from 9PM-1AM, it sparkles for 5 minutes. Join others on the lawn with picnic blankets and champagne at least once during your visit for both the evening and a relaxing lunch on the lawn.
Apps that saved the day and are worth downloading before the trip.
When traveling back from Paris, my flight was rough at best. I opted to use the Hotel Tonight app to book a room near SFO and save a bit of money. The best part? I found a room at The Westin SFO for $129 to sleep of jet lag before my four hour drive home. I love this app for both road trips and flights when I need a quick booking and simple navigation on my phone.
With booking ahead, I found flights for an affordable amount through Expedia to get there. Booking 10 months in advance and finding a centrally located international airport, I was able to book incredible rates at $600 USD round trip. I checked back a few weeks later and the prices had jumped to $1200 for the same itinerary.
Without Google Maps, we would have been completely lost in the city. Use this to navigate public transit, subway routes, and to quickly choose walk vs. ride to destinations.
I discovered this app later in the trip, but it was a lifesaver when it came to ordering at small, corner cafes. By using the camera and hover, it will populate the menu with English translation. An absolute and complete game changer when traveling internationally.
WHAT TO KNOW BEFORE YOU GO.
Where you can, book and reserve ahead of time.
Most tourist attractions have tours and tickets that must be purchased ahead of time to skip the line. Also, check hours at your attraction before you arrive in Paris to plan out your trip. Many museums are closed on Mondays or Tuesdays of the week to give employees a day off.
Operating hours are different than what you will find in the US.
With attractions opening between 10 and 11 and closing at 5:45-6, you will find yourself wandering the city for about an hour and a half prior to the start of dinner service (most restaurants open at 7:30 for dinner). It’s a strange time as most shops mirror museum hours. Depending on the size of your group, you can either return to your hotel to get ready for dinner or take in a green space. There were many days where we chose to relax by the Tuileries, walk along the river, or take in the Eiffel Tower before dinner with a double espresso in hand to stay warm.
Plan for the bulk of your trip cost to be found in food and lodging, not flights.
Getting to Paris is affordable, staying in Paris is not. Choose when and how you’ll spend your money. Some places are worth the splurge while others definitely are not. Avoid eating near tourist destinations to find more affordable pricing with meals. Then again, it’s Paris, so I encourage some budgeting prior to the trip to truly enjoy the vacation.
Purchase an international SIM card or data plan prior to departure.
I wish I could say navigating the city is simple. However, by knowing minimal French, I can’t recommend this enough. Get an international data plan through your carrier that will allow you to use your smartphone internationally. If you’re looking for a more affordable option (and travel internationally often), purchase an international SIM card that you pop in upon arrival.
We hope you loved this city guide! Paris, was an absolute dream and we can’t wait for our next trip to this city.
Have any questions about an upcoming trip? Any places you loved that we’ve missed?
Drop them in the comments below. We’d love to hear from you!