Visitors to London may not consider a quick weekend side trip to Paris, but it’s not only possible, it can be stress free and enjoyable.
While I lived in Ireland, I flew into London because it was cheaper and quicker than flying into Paris. The airports in Paris are far outside of downtown and can be an expensive cab ride or a long Metro ride (especially with luggage).
Instead, I booked a tour through London-based Premium Tours for a 2-day trip to Paris via the Eurostar. The Eurostar is the train connecting London and Paris via the “chunnel”, the 12 km tunnel under the English Channel. The advantage of taking the Eurostar to Paris is that it drops you at the Gare du Nord train station in Paris, right across the street from the very acceptable Mer’cure Terminus Nord hotel where I stayed overnight.
Premium Tours has several tour package options for Paris, and I selected the Paris Superstay With Lunch on the Eiffel Tower. This tour consists of a panoramic tour of Paris upon arrival, admittance to and lunch on the Eiffel Tower, a cruise down the Seine, a tour of the highlights of the Louvre, and an overnight stay with day 2 free for what you want to do. They provided an unlimited day use pass on the Metro for day 2 (the Paris Visite pass) and Paris maps.
The tour left from the St. Pancras Train Station in London at 6 a.m. and the Eurostar takes 2 hours 15 minutes to get to Paris. I didn’t even realize we had gone through the chunnel until I discovered we were in Paris.
Upon arrival, we got right on the bus for a 1 hour tour through the city seeing (i.e., passing by) the Opera House, Arc de Triomphe, Champs-Elysees, Louvre, Place de la Concorde, and the Eiffel Tower. We stopped for a photo op overlooking the Eiffel Tower, then journeyed to the Tower itself.
The Eiffel Tower is ugly compared to the rest of Paris, there were too many tourists for May and too many people aggressively hawking cheap goods.
Fortunately, because we were part of a tour, we bypassed most of this chaos and took an elevator to the 1st floor, where we lunched in one of the restaurants in the tower (Le 58 tour Eiffel). Lunch consisted of champagne and wine, bread, chicken, potatoes and tiramisu. The lunch was average, but the view of Paris and the River Seine was stunning.
Afterward, we had some free time before our river cruise and several of us walked up to the 2nd floor for a better view. There are incredibly long waits for the elevators, but the stairs were hell. Probably 30 flights with really no place to pull off and rest. My legs and lungs screamed, but I made it and was rewarded with a more panoramic view of Paris. There was also a 3rd floor, but the line was quite long for the elevator; as was the line for the elevator back down, so we had to hustle all the way down to the ground, which was long but easier. Still it took at least 15 minutes.
Next, we had a 1 hour sightseeing cruise down the River Seine (Bateaux Parisiens was the cruise company). The cruise was enjoyable and a good way to see a lot of interesting architecture in Paris including Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower. Each seat had a listening device with several different languages, but I missed most of the commentary as I was standing up, moving around the boat, taking pictures and getting a good look at Paris.
Some Pictures from the Boat Cruise:
We visited the Louvre next, which is huge (4 km if you walk all the way around). You could have a private tour with our guide Charlotte, go around by yourself or do something else. I’m not a real museum person so I did some sightseeing on foot. I walked miles (it felt) to Notre Dame Cathedral. It appeared closer on the map, don’t be fooled.
I walked right along the Seine, watching sightseeing boats go by and the sidewalk was packed with vendors hawking similar souvenirs. I liked Notre Dame (the outside, at least. Too long of a line to get in).
Place de la Concorde
I returned to the Louvre and strolled down to the Place de la Concorde nearby. It’s the largest plaza in Paris, with an obelisk and 2 fountains. It is also where Marie Antoinette (and a thousand others) was beheaded during the French Revolution.
That evening, another woman from my tour (Daisy) and I did a little independent sightseeing. We walked first to Sacre Coeur, situated on a high hill in Paris. According to its official website (sacre-coeur-montmartre.com/us/basilique.html), a number of saints have visited here and a Benedictine Abbey stood on the site until the French Revolution (nuns beheaded, Abbey destroyed).
Sacre Coeur was a bit difficult to find from our hotel, but if you’re a woman in Paris, holding a map, on a street corner, we found there are plenty of men wanting to help you to your destination.
Sacre Coeur is a church high up on a hill overlooking Paris. We climbed up to it and were accosted by hucksters at its base. I think they target single women because they kept trying to get my attention. One at Sacre Coeur actually grabbed me, but I fended him off.
Then we tried to find the Moulin Rouge (made famous by that Nicole Kidman movie). We had no idea where that was and we walked and walked and walked and asked people for directions, many of whom didn’t speak English. We eventually found it in Paris’ red light district! We took photos here, then quickly hopped the Metro to go to the Arc de Triomphe.
Arc de Triomphe
The Arc was built in the 1800s to honor those who fought for France. Names and wars are inscribed on the Arc, and there is a Tomb of the Unknown Soldier as well. (see more info at the official site http://www.arcdetriompheparis.com).
If you want to get to the Arc de Triomphe, you have to go through the underground tunnel to get to it (a 7-lane roundabout surrounds it so you can’t cross above ground). We had a devil of a time finding the entrance to the tunnel, despite asking numerous Parisians and working with several other tourists to locate it.
The Arc is very pretty lit up at night and as a bonus we could see half the Eiffel Tower lit up from there. Definitely get out and see Paris at night. You can pay extra to take stairs to the top as well, which we did not do on this trip.
The next day I was on my own and I had two things I wanted to see: Versailles and the Catacombs. I took a tour to Versailles through Viator, specifically their Versailles Guided Tour With Optional Fountain Show ($87.56). I’ll have a separate post about Versailles later, as it was such a visually stunning place. For now, here’s a preview:
I returned to Paris about 1 p.m. and took the Metro to the Catacombs. The catacombs run under Paris streets and sewers and it is where they put all the people buried in the cemeteries at the time of some pandemic as they thought all the dead bodies caused it. Some famous people are down there as well as some people executed during the Revolution. We walked through a 500 meter corridor first before getting to the tombs. It was a really long corridor and the whole system wasn’t well lit. The “tombs” themselves were corridor upon corridor of stacks of human bones. Skulls, arms and legs – didn’t really see hands or feet. Sometimes the entombers tried to ‘decoratively’ place the bones to make a pattern. It was actually a bit sad to see so many thousands (?) of people dug up and dumped down there. Water dripped on our heads and sometimes the ceiling was low.
After leaving the catacombs, I wandered until I hit a Metro and found my way to the Louvre since I had extra time. I saw a few “masterpieces”, the Mona Lisa (a very small painting surrounded by a mass of people), Venus de Milo (also surrounded by a large group of visitors), the Code of Hammurabi, the Bourghese Gladiator and lots of paintings, sculptures, friezes, large Egyptian artifacts. You would need at least a full day to really see enough of the museum.
Need to Know
In late afternoon, I returned to the train station for the train back to London. I enjoyed Paris the two days I went there, and hope to go back some day. Some things I learned in just the short time I was there:
- There’s no takeout in France. They expect you to sit down and enjoy your food.
- The Metro is dirty, rickety and not well kept and is crowded most times of the day and night. But it gets you close to most of the major attractions and is really easy to find your way around. Be careful, though, as it doesn’t necessarily run late at night.
- It’s true, not many French speak English or are willing to admit it, but neither did I get a sense that they were looking down at me for not speaking French. I met one man on the Metro who appeared to sit next to me specifically to try out his English.
- My feet are killing me! Paris is not really a town to walk a lot in.
- Be a pedestrian at your own risk. There aren’t a lot in the way of crosswalks and the French ignore them.
- Travel light at Paris’ sights. They search your bags everywhere.
- Paris has 2 classes of shopping items – cheap tourist trinkets and wildly expensive exclusive high-end shops. Lots of street vendors and hucksters.
If You Want to Go
http://www.premiumtours.co.uk/ Luxury Paris 2 Day Superstay With Lunch on the Eiffel Tower $289 Phone: US 1-888-990-1209 Viator http://www.viator.com Versailles Guided Tour With Optional Fountain Show $95.66 (current price). Other Versailles tours are available.
Mer’cure Terminus Nord Hotel
The Mercure Terminus Nord hotel had a small room, virtually no towels, and one slow elevator, but it had charm. It is inexpensive and centrally located to the Metro, train station and most tourist sites, however, so it was good for my adventures.
http://www.mercure.com/gb/hotel-2761-mercure-paris-terminus-nord/index.shtml Address: 12 Boulevard de Denain, 5010 – PARIS, FRANCE Phone: (+33)1/42802000
More Paris Photos