I'm not sure this will be much use to many people currently planning their trips to Paris as I didn't visit any museums/art galleries, and didn't even go up the Eiffel Tower. However I picked up so many tips from this forum before my trip that I thought I'd write one anyway. Hopefully someone somewhere will get something out of it! This was mine and my husband's first trip to Paris, and after a busy few months at work we decided against a busy itinerary and instead chose to spend lots of time sat outside cafes and just 'mooching' around. We're not big into museums or art, but love seeing fabulous buildings.
Got an early flight from Manchester to CDG with Flybe. I'd rather have gone on Eurostar for the experience, but with limited holidays left from work it would have eaten into our time in Paris too much, so flying was more convenient. I'd be interested to hear of anyone else's experience of Eurostar, as (of course) we want to go back to Paris so might try the Eurostar next time.
I was determined to use the RER to save spending money on a taxi, and was armed with a step-by-step photo guide of how to get to and use the RER from CDG. But honestly, we didn't need it. The directions to the RER are really well signposted throughout the airport and the ticket machines have instructions in English as well as French. Once at the platform there was a big sign that told us all trains go to Paris, and on the train there were handy maps listing all the stops. It was very easy and we didn't need to refer to our guide once. The train took around half an hour to reach Chatelet Les Halles, which is a very big station and so can be a bit intimidating, but thanks to someone on here advising me which street/metro line to head for, we found our way out with no problems and popped out very near to Rue de Rivoli as advised, which was perfect.
After checking into our hotel (Emeraude Louvre Montana, just off Rue de Rivoli in the 1st arrondisement) we dumped our things, and ten minutes later we were sat outside a lovely cafe on the very nice Rue de Rivoli with a bottle of wine and the sun warming our skin. We spent a very pleasant couple of hours there, had some lunch, then headed to the Seine to find a batobus. The batobus stops are easy to spot, and we saw one on the other side of the river outside Musee d'Orsay. We bought five-day passes, then took the the boat up to Notre Dame and back. There is minimum commentary on the batobus (which I expected) - just someone announcing the stops really, but our intention was to use it as a means of transport rather than a tour, so that was okay. The batobus stops at the major sites such as Notre Dame, the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower, and runs every 17 minutes.
In the evening we had dinner outside a cafe on Rue de Rivoli called L'Imperial (I think). We both had a tasty beef bourguignon with lovely creamy mashed potato, and endless baskets of bread. We stayed there for a couple of hours with a bottle of wine, then took took the batobus to look at the Eiffel Tower from the river.
We took part in the Bike-about tour on Saturday morning, which I can't recommend highly enough. We're not into traditional tours, finding them a bit dull, so this was ideal as it was quirky and interesting, with unusual sights like the shop of dead rats, the space-invader graffiti artist, beautiful tucked-away corners and squares we would never have found on our own, award-winning bakeries, the oldest house in Paris, a stray cannonball, and the most expensive restaurant in Paris.
The rest of Saturday was spent relaxing outside a cafe with a bottle of wine (we deserved it after our touring morning), then in the evening we took the batobus to the Latin Quarter which we'd seen quite a lot of on the bike tour, and had dinner near the St Michel statue in a lovely square. We had planned to have a mooch round the area there after dinner as we were so taken with it during the bike tour, but it rained very hard so we stayed at the restaurant and had a bottle of wine instead. We got very wet walking back to the hotel (the downside of the batobus finishing running at 9:30), but we were tipsy and didn't mind.
On Sunday morning we had a mooch along the Seine, and along the way bought croissants from a bakery, eating them on the bridge at Pont Neuf (which my husband wanted to see as it featured in the Bourne Identity, so he thought that was very cool), and then wandered up to Notre Dame area, crossing the river and wandering around a bit more back down the other way and looking in shop windows. In the afternoon we wandered the other way, down Rue de Rivoli, through the Place de la Concorde, and down the Champs Elysee Avenue. Our feet were very tired by then so we caught a tuk to the Eiffel Tower (great fun and a terrific driver who pointed out various sights to us). We wandered around the base of the tower, but didn't go up. Our bike tour guide said it's cheaper to go up another building for a view of Paris, with the added bonus that you can actually see the Tower from it, but the name of it escapes me now. I thought it was a good tip, and one to remember for my next visit (if I can remember the name of the flipping building that is).
We then got on the batobus back, and went to Angelina's on Rue de Rivoli with the intention of treating ourselves to afternoon tea, but it was hugely busy with the queue for a table out the door. Neither of us fancied standing in a queue after all the walking we'd done and our sore feet, so we went into the shop part instead, bought two very expensive cakes to take away, then sat in the Tuilleries garden to eat them, which we hugely enjoyed and whiled away an hour there.
On Sunday night we took the Vedettes Pont Neuf boat when it got dark to see Paris at night (around 12 Euros each). This is an hour-long trip with commentary, and it was lovely seeing the city at night, but badly timed as the boat left the Eiffel Tower behind five minutes before it started glittering so we missed it. We saw it later that night though from the Tuilleries garden (which actually ended up being very romantic as we both stood cuddled under an umbrella outside the Louvre with no one around, watching the tower glitter), but I really wanted to see it up close.
Monday - home :-(
In hindsight ...
Three nights is absolutely not enough: I would like to go for at least a week next time.
The area I stayed was a terrific location a couple of minutes from the Louvre, the beautiful Tuilleries Gardens, the Rue de Rivoli and the Place de la Concorde, but on a return trip I would prefer to stay in the Latin Quarter as it seemed more lively at night and generally a more interesting and quirky area, from the brief glimpse I got of it.
We bought the Batobus five-day ticket for 21 Euros and used it as a way of getting around as it had several convenient stops. I'd do this again, but I was disappointed that it stops running at 9:30, which made nights out away from where we were staying a bit more difficult, so we ended up spending two of our three evenings in Arr. 1 where we were staying.
The hotel was nice - it's redeeming feature is that it's in a great location, but the air conditioning unit was useless and the room was small and hot (and smelled of cigarette smoke). It suited our purposes for three nights as somewhere to sleep, but I would prefer an apartment in the Latin Quarter for my next trip. (Any links to holiday apartments please anyone?)
To save money next time, we would have picnics in parks and bring our own wine - but saying that, we didn't see anyone else drinking alchohol in the Tuilleries gardens and we wondered if drinking is banned outdoors? Does anyone know?
Comfy footwear is a must! I wore what I thought were comfortable sandals, but after hours of walking my feet were aching and I really wished I'd brought trainers or something. I saw all kinds of fashions/footwear (including a couple wearing matching Hard Rock Cafe t-shirts, matching black shorts, and white trainers), and wouldn't have felt self-conscious in trainers at all.
Our bike tour guide recommended the Musee d'Orsay over the Louvre for people like us who don't know much (if anything) about art. He said there are paintings in the Orsay which we would recognise by people like Van Gogh, Monet, etc. so it's a bit more interesting if you're not into art galleries/museums as such, but like to see some culture at least. I wish we'd had time to visit (around sitting outside cafes :-)) but will definitely fit it in on our next trip.
All in all, it was a wonderful trip, but we didn't have enough time there - we both agree we will go back next year and stay for a week. We feel we missed out on wandering the Latin Quarter, Ile St Louis, going into Notre Dame, and the Musee D'Orsay.
One last note: we had no mishaps, no pickpocketings, no scams, etc. - we felt as safe there as we do in our home-town of Manchester. Anyone planning their first visit at the moment, please don't worry about all the posts about this: so long as you're not stupid (we sat next to a family in one restaurant who had a backpack gaping open right next to my husband - it would have been so easy to take something out of it without them noticing) and take sensible precautions as advised on these boards, you will be fine.