We had many things to do when first arriving in Madrid, to prepare for our masters degree program. We did not know how long it would take to finish, so we did not know our exact travel date until the day before we begun. Hence, we did not get our tickets till very last minute.
It turned out that the airplane tickets had tripped in price, as the departure was not far off. It turned out traveling by bus was the cheapest option at that point. We took Eurolines for 60€ each. It was a 16 hour bus ride, but a third of the cost of a flight!
With all are electronic devices and backup batteries charged, we were ready for the long haul. It turns out a 16 hour bus ride is not that bad, as its overnight and you sleep for most of it. The bus stopped for dinner and breakfast, but bring your own food and snacks to avoid terribly overpriced rest area food.
Arriving in Paris at lunchtime on the 29th, we had the afternoon to sightsee with our luggage on our backs, so why not walk a whole bunch?
We started off at Jardin des Plantes, the main botanical garden in all of France. Being late August, it appeared to be right at the beginning of the end of flower season. Several flower types were gone, but most were in full bloom.
As the weather gets colder in Paris, have no fear, the botanical garden features many artistic gourd, pumpkin and squash patches.
Being part of the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle, there are several museum buildings within the garden grounds, including the Galerie des Enfants and the Grande Galerie de l’Évolution. Both these museums are part of the same ticket at 9€ for under 25 years old and 11€ for adults. Hours are available through the links above.
No, we didn’t teleport to Rome, really! There is also a building in Paris with the same name. Originally built as a church, completed it 1790 and only remained a church for one year. It now serves as a mausoleum for distinguished French citizens, including Alexandre Dumas, Louis Braille and Victor Hugo.
In the square surrounding the Panthéon there are many gorgeous buildings, with the opportunity for an awesome photo, no matter which direction you face.
The Panthéon has beautiful architecture both inside and out. The building is open from 10:00AM to 4:00 PM daily. Tickets are 7.50€ for adults and free for children under 18.
Just four blocks down the street from the Panthéon are the vast Luxembourg Gardens. Within the gardens is a “small” castle and a large octagonal fountain.
Imagine Central Park, but in Paris! There are plenty of seats and grass to rest and soak up the warm sun. You can also rent little wooden sail boats for your children, or those adults young at heart, to push around the in the big fountain.
We spent some time in the park sitting and talking, as we were carrying our luggage with us. In the middle of the afternoon, we had trouble finding enough space for the both of us to sit. Empty seats were filled in a matter of seconds.
After a nice rest in the park, we continued on to L’Hôtel national des Invalides. Originally built in the late 17th century as a hospital and facility for sick and injured soldiers, it now serves as so much more.
Les Invalides still has a small facility for elderly or incapacitated soldiers, but its major purpose now is as museums and burial place for some French war heros. Arguably, the most important part of the complex is the burial site of the little ol’ Napoleon Bonaparte.
A combination of contemporary and military museums make Les Invalides one of the best places to learn about France’s vast and complex history. Even if museums are not for you, the buildings themselves are a beautiful example of Baroque architecture.
After Les Invalides, we walked across the Seine River on the Pont Alexandre III, one of the most beautifully ornate bridges in the city.
Just on the other side of the river, are the Grand Palais and Petit Palais. They were built, along with the Pont Alexandre III, for the Universal Exposition of 1900. Both buildings were designed in the Beaux-Arts architecture style, which itself was designed in France.
The Petit Palais is home to the City of Paris Museum of Fine Arts. The museum is pen Tuesday to Sunday from 10AM to 6PM. On Friday, temporary exhibits are open late, until 9PM. While admission to the permanent collections is free, temporary exhibitions range from 5 to 11 euros, with youth and elderly discounts available.
Across the street is the Grand Palais, home to the Galeries nationales du Grand Palais and the Palais de la Découverte, a science museum. I tried to compile a complete price and hours list, but it depends greatly on which galleries you visit, and your age. I would check the website for the galleries and science museum for the most up to date information.
As the sun was starting to go down as we finished up at the Grand Palais, we chose to head down the river to see sunset at the Eiffel Tower along with the nightly light show.
The Eiffel Tower is very busy during and after sunset, so be aware of your pockets and valuables. Also, just be aware that everyone else is also there to take photographs of the tower, so if you are tall like me, make sure the tourists behind you can see too!
After the light show we grabbed some crepes nearby and headed back to sleep at a friends flat.
We spent the day of the 29th with a friend in Paris, so only saw a few things that day. Our first stop of the day was the Sacré-Cœur Basilica. The basilica is located on the highest hill in the city, which provides a wonderful panoramic view. The only downside is you can not see the Eiffel Tower from this view.
At the base of the basilica is a small, yet highly ornate, carousel for a nice break for children.
The Sacré-Cœur Basilica is open for sightseeing and prayer every day from 6 am to 10.30 pm. You can also climb to the top of the dome, for an even higher view of the city of Paris! The dome is open daily from 8:30AM to 8:00PM (May to September) and 9:00AM to 5:00PM (October to April) with an admission fee.
The Sacré-Cœur Basilica is located on top of the Montmartre hill, one of the tallest spots in Paris. Behind the basilica is a beautiful neighborhood and tourist area. It is the perfect area to spend a weekend afternoon at a cafe or wandering through tourist shops. There is even a arts market, with an endless array of choices.
We spent the rest of the afternoon with a friend at several different cafes in the area, before heading back to her house to pick up our luggage and head to our hotel.
The next morning, we woke up early and refreshed. We started by walking to the Parc Monceau. The park was created in the late 1779, for public enjoyment. it features a handful of small constructions of well known monuments, including an Egyptian pyramid, a Chinese fort, a Dutch windmill, and Corinthian pillars.
The park is busy with people of all ages, doing everything from picnics to exercising to feeding the ducks. There is no shortness of activities to do in this relatively small park. Make sure to bring your camera for some great photo opportunities.
After the park, we headed to the iconic Arc de Triomphe. The arc, dedicated to those who fought in the French Revolutionary wars, was completed in 1836. It became a rally point for military parades, most famously during the Second World War by Germany, and after the war by the Allies.
To reach the and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier you have to cross underneath the street Place Charles de Gaulle via an underpass. Don’t waste your time trying to crossing the street, as the cars will never stop.
If you would like to buy tickets to go up to the terrace of the arc for the most beautiful panorama of downtown Paris, you need to purchase a ticket in the underpass. It is open daily; April to September from 10 am to 11 pm; and October to March from 10 am to 10:30 pm. Tickets are 9.50€ for adults. You do not need tickets to see the arc, just to go up to the top!
Av. des Champs-Élysées
Avenue des Champs-Élysées starts at the Arc de Triomphe and continues south east, straight to the Louvre museum. Along the 1.9 km(1.2 mi) road, is home to stores for many of the world’s upscale brands. If you are looking for Louis Vuitton, Cartier or other expensive brands, this is the place to spend an afternoon.
Have no fear if this sounds out of your price range or interests, there’s always a McDonald’s…
Place de la Concorde
The Place de la Concorde is a large square at the end of the Av. des Champs-Élysées. The square is home to several famous monuments and at the center of everything you must see in Paris. Do not be surprised if you pass by this place more than once.
The Luxor Obelisk once stood at the entrance to the Luxor Temple in Egypt, where its twin still stands to this day. The obelisk was given as a gift to France in 1829, and placed at the center of Place de la Concorde in 1836. An obelisk covered in hieroglyphics might seem out of place in Paris, but it goes to show how powerful France once was in the world.
-Fontaine des Fleuves
Also in the Place de la Concorde is the Fontaine des Fleuves. The fountain pays homage to the water based industry and navigation of France. There was plenty of restoration work going on around the fountains when we visited, but you were still able to get a good view.
The Louvre Museum is one of the most famous and largest museums in the world. It is also home to Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, if you have ever heard of it…
The museum has expansive art collections of all forms and backgrounds. If you like any specific type of art, the Louvre most likely has some within its collections. If you go during the summer season or any holiday, be aware there can and will be long lines for entry and in the more popular exhibition rooms.
The Louvre is open Monday, Thursday, Saturday, Sunday from 9AM to 6PM; Wednesday, Friday from 9AM to 9:45PM. The museum is also closed on Tuesdays.
Tickets cost €15 for adults, and free for children under 18 (under 26 if EU resident). Avoid waiting in potentially long lines by buying your ticket online through Advance Tickets.
Special note: From October to March access to the permanent collections is free for all visitors on the first Sunday of each month.
After sometime at the Louvre, we walked to the Île de la Cité, a small natural island in the Seine River. The island is home to the world known Notre-Dame Cathedral. While we did not see any hunchbacks this time, the Gothic architecture is something to marvel.
The cathedral is open every day of the year from 8:00AM to 6:45PM. Entrance is free of charge.
No trip to a European city is complete without visiting a Holocaust/Shoah memorial.
The Mémorial de la Shoah has several exhibitions, including the history of Jews in France, the filming of war crimes by Allied forces at the end of the war, and a memorial wall with names of 76,000 French Jews deported during WWII.
Entrance to the museum is free, but I always suggest making a donation to help with the upkeep, curation and continued education going on at the memorial.
The museum is daily, except Saturday, from 10AM to 6PM. On Thursday it is open until 10PM. The memorial is also closed on national and major Jewish holidays.
The Château de Versailles is located only 20km outside of the city of Paris, and now is considered to be a suburb of the metropolis. The light rail goes directly there from the center of Paris, making it a perfect day trip for only a few euros each way, per person.
The château, a distinguished UNESCO World Heritage Site, has a long history, from its beginnings in 1623 to today. Once the centre of political power in France, the palace is now home to the Museum of the History of France.
Some of the most famous rooms within the expansive castle are the Hall of Mirrors, Chapel, Opéra house, and outside, the gardens of Versailles.
Entry to the palace costs €15 for adults and is free for those under 18, or under 26 years old who are residents of the European Union. Entry to the surrounding gardens holds an additional fee. You can also purchase your tickets online if you wish, but there is not much of a line at the palace itself.
The Palace is open daily except Mondays, while the garden and grounds are open every day. The hours depend on the season, so it is best to check their website for the most up to date information.
We stayed at the Hôtel De Nantes, located at 3 Rue Boulay, Paris. While the hotel is near the edge of the city, it is only two blocks from the metro stop, so a relatively decent location. The cost of a room ranges from 38 to 60 euros, depending on the number of beds and in-room accommodations.
We had a washbasin in our room, but shared a toilet and shower with the whole floor. There were no issues with waiting to shower, as the hotel was not too busy.
We highly recommend this hotel. The accommodations are comfortable and the staff is friendly. It is much cheaper than staying in the center of the city, but its proximity to the metro makes it just as convenient.