My boyfriend Alex is currently away on an internship in Switzerland, and instead of one of us visiting the other, we decided to meet up halfway – and Paris seemed like the perfect place! We spent five nights there over the last week, arriving last Wednesday. There are so many attractions in Paris that we simply didn’t have time to do them all, but we did manage to spend Thursday at the Eiffel Tower, Friday at Versailles, Saturday at Notre Dame and Saint Chapelle, and Sunday at the Pantheon and the military history museum.
The Eiffel Tower
This is the obvious one – the one we felt we couldn’t possibly leave Paris without having seen – so we did it first. We thought it’d take us somewhere between ten minutes and half an hour: we’d turn up, look at it, say “yep, that’s the Eiffel Tower alright, and it looks just like it does in the pictures”, take our own pictures of it, and then leave.
How wrong we were.
We wandered around at the base of the tower for a few minutes, then decided to go up it. The queue for the lift was ridiculously long, so Alex persuaded me to take the steps. I’d like to point out that I’m not particularly fit, and it was nearing midday and at least 30 degrees Celcius (if you use Fahrenheit, that’s HOT – at least, for pasty English people it is). As a result, the steps felt like literal hell.
The views were good though.
We went as far as the second level – to get to the top, you have to pay for another ticket, and then wait in the very long queue for the lift. We were hot, tired, and, most importantly, hungry, so we gave this a miss.
This was without doubt our favourite attraction. We intended to get up early to spend the whole day there, but we’re bad at mornings so that didn’t happen. Instead, we set off at around 11, which meant we got there at about midday. Pretty much everyone on our train was going to Versailles, so we just had to follow the crowd from the train station.
And then queue. A lot. It took us about 45 minutes or so to get in.
Audio guides are given out for free here, and it’s definitely worth getting one, as the commentary sheds some really interesting light on all the art and grandeur on display, such as all the symbolism from Greek and Roman mythology. It really added a lot to our visit; without it, what we were seeing wouldn’t have meant much.
Our feet were already pretty tired by the time we’d completed the kings quarter, but we continued nonetheless, heading first to the battle gallery (a long hall fall of huge paintings portraying historic French battles), and then to the gardens, where we took the suggested two-hour route that covered the highlights but by no means everything. We also could’ve taken a tour to the further-afield estate (including the Grand Trianon, the Petit Trianon, and Marie-Antoinette’s estate), but we didn’t have time.
If you’re planning on going to Versailles, I’d recommend doing it over two days – there was a lot we didn’t see, and yet our feet were aching so much we didn’t want to stay longer than we did. I’d also recommend going early in the morning; I’m pretty sure we arrived at the busiest part of the day.
This is a little-known Gothic church not far from Notre Dame which Alex’s colleagues claimed is better than Notre Dame when they recommended it to us. It’s certainly less busy and takes less time to look around as it’s smaller. Whether it’s as beautiful as Notre Dame or more so, I can’t say – Notre Dame was closed when we visited.
The stained glass windows here are incredible and definitely worth seeing.
On Sunday morning we went to the catacombs, only to realise that, with such a long queue that was barely moving, we wouldn’t have time to do everything else we wanted to do if we stayed.
So, we left and went to the Pantheon instead. And I am so glad we did.
The art and architecture are breathtaking. And if you go on a tour up to the top of the dome, you’ll get an amazing panoramic view of Paris, as well as a view of the inside of the church from the gallery near the ceiling.
You can also explore the crypt, and see the resting places of Victor Hugo and Marie Curie, among many others, as well as displays on the history and architecture of the Pantheon.
And the Luxembourg Gardens are within walking distance, so if they are on your to-do list (or you just want somewhere to have a picnic lunch), you easily can visit both in the same morning or afternoon.
The Military History Museum and Napoleon’s Tomb
Le Musée de l’Armée was one of Alex’s priorities, not mine, and I didn’t think I’d enjoy it.
But Napoleon’s tomb – which is part of the museum – was beautifully built and impressively decorated.
And the exhibition on antique armour and weaponry was full of interesting artefacts (and lots of shiny things). I actually found that it inspired me to think about the world of my fantasy story, and gave me a great starting point to research weaponry and the military for writing purposes.
We also began looking through the exhibition on the first and second World Wars, which was interesting as it discussed alterations to the French army before WW1, and displayed the uniforms of many different armies involved in the war. Unfortunately, though, the museum closed before we could see much of the exhibition, and we had to leave.
Our Experience with AirBnB
We booked our accommodation through AirBnB, a site where people rent out their spare rooms or their entire apartments. Alex has used it before and has had good experiences with it, but it was my first time using it and I was the one who did all the booking. So typically, it all went wrong.
The night before I was due to travel (about eight hours before I was due to travel, actually), I had a message from our host informing us that due to problems with the toilet, we wouldn’t be able to stay in her apartment. She also had the nerve to tell us that she hoped we’d still enjoy our trip regardless, which felt pretty inconsiderate since she’d just ruined or even cancelled our trip. Rubbing salt in the wound is an understatement.
So my parents and I stayed up until at least 1am (bearing in mind I’d hoped to get up at 6) phoning AirBnB customer service to try and get them to help us find a new AirBnB. And yet, after a mostly-sleepless night of stress and anxiety (think so much adrenaline you can’t feel your limbs, hyperventilating and crying uncontrollably, and stomach knots that prevent you from keeping your breakfast down the following morning), I still set off to the airport with nowhere in France to stay.
I suppose you could say it put a damper on the start of our holiday.
Eventually, my mum booked us two nights in an Ibis Budget hotel just so that we weren’t homeless in a foreign city (Mum, you are an absolute lifesaver). We tried looking for several other AirBnBs once we were already in Paris, but it was too short notice and they couldn’t take us. In the end, we gave up and booked the Ibis Budget for the rest of the nights even though an apartment would’ve been much nicer (we’d have had a fridge to cool down our water before we drank it!! Mmm, room temperature water in 30+ degree heat…), and it would’ve been much cheaper. If we hadn’t, the hassle would’ve completely overshadowed our long weekend away.
We also managed to get some money back – a full refund on the cost of the original AirBnB apartment, plus some compensation to cover the extra hotel costs. This meant that we paid pretty much the same amount we should’ve paid for our accommodation in the first place, but of course it didn’t make up for the panic and the inconvenience. (Well, panic on my part, anyway. Alex was quite calm about it all – or so he claims!)
So it all turned out alright in the end, but it was a wild ride in the meantime!
And I can safely say I’m not using AirBnB again.
Notes for anyone planning on going to Paris
- If you fly into Beauvais airport, it’ll save you hassle and (a small amount) of money to purchase a return shuttle bus ticket online before you go. It takes about an hour and twenty minutes to get between Porte Maillot (the bus station) in Paris and Beauvais, which will be especially important to bear in mind on your way back.
- The Porte Maillot, Charles du Gaul (main airport) and Gare du Lyon (main train station) metro stations are all on Line 1, which will take you straight into the centre of Paris, and as it’s the main metro line, you can change onto pretty much any line to get almost anywhere in Paris. A single metro ticket (which costs €1,90) is for one journey, no matter how many changes you make; the ticket only stops being valid when you leave the metro system through the exit barriers. Though it’s a little out of date and prices have since changed, this website goes into more detail about the various metro tickets you can get.
- As you’ll see if you read through the page linked above, if it’s a weekend and you’re under 26, you can buy a “jeunes” (young person’s) metro day pass for just €4 for zones 1-3, compared to about €7 for a day pass on a weekday or for anyone over 26.
- Metro tickets aren’t the only thing under 26s can get discounts on – bring your student card if you have one and ID for as proof of age as many attractions will give under 26s and/or students free or discounted entry. The Pantheon, the military history museum, and Saint Chapelle were all free for us, as was Versailles palace, though this is only when there are no events on. This is also the case with the gardens of Versailles, but fountain shows and music shows, which are on most Fridays and weekends throughout the summer, are classed as events, so we had to pay (though we did get student discounts). However, it’s worth noting that some places offer this for under 25s or under 24s, rather than under 26s.
- Make sure to research attractions in Paris and prioritise the ones you actually want to do over the most popular places. There’s an awful lot to do, and places tend to take longer to get to and look around than you think. We actually found that we enjoyed the lesser-known places like the Pantheon and Saint Chapelle than the more famous places. And the queues weren’t as long!
- Expect security everywhere. I can’t think of a single landmark we visited that didn’t have some sort of security. At the very least, you’ll have your bag checked at the gate, but don’t be surprised if you also have to go through a scanner like you would at an airport. Don’t worry about your things being confiscated, though (I kept worrying I’d have my water and sun cream taken off me) – they’re only looking for weapons.
- The announcements at certain metro stations will remind you of this, but it can’t hurt to say it again – beware of pickpockets!
Where would you like to go in Paris? If you’ve already been, what would you recommend seeing there? Let me know in the comments!
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