40 Hours in Paris
Published: August 2012
As a writer, I’ve always been a bit of a romantic, so naturally going to Paris has always been a dream of mine, filled with visions of strolling alone the Seine, sipping coffee at a café and watching the Eiffel Tower glittering at night.
Instead of taking the train from London to Paris, I opted to take a coach. The National Express Euro Lines travel to destinations all over Europe. My coach left from Victoria Coach Station at 10:30 pm and arrived in Paris at 7:30 am.
When I got to Paris in the morning, I hopped on the Metro to get into the city centre. I bought a two day unlimited Metro, bus and RER pass for zones 1-3 for €15, which covers almost every area of note except for Versailles.
I took the Metro to a stop in the centre of town and wound up on St. Germain de Pres. I found a patisserie for a cheap pastry and espresso to get me going and then got on the RER to Versailles around 9 am. Since Versailles is in zone 4, the ticket wasn’t included in my unlimited pass, but it was still less expensive to buy a separate ticket for one trip than to buy the extended zones pass.
If you want to go into the palace at Versailles, get there before 10 am and plan on spending a full day there. The line to get in at 9:45 was already at least 45 minutes long. I decided to save the palace for my next trip to Paris because I was on such a tight schedule. I did walk around the grounds, which are beautiful and free to the public. There are 800 hectares of gardens, hedge-walled mazes, ponds, sitting areas and even cafés. Versailles Gardens was one of my favourite parts of Paris. I spent a two hours just exploring the grounds. Those who want to cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time can rent bicycles or golf carts.
After Versailles, I headed back into the city to grab a quick lunch and continue sightseeing. I went back to Saint Germain and had a Panini on a baguette and another espresso at a small sandwich shop on Rue Bellechasse. I learned that if you’re willing to get off the beaten track, you can find some great and inexpensive eateries.
Once I finished my lunch I headed to the Musée d’Orsay, an art museum in a repurposed rail station famous for its impressive collection of impressionist paintings. It houses mostly French art from the late 19th and early 20th century, including works from famous names such as Renoir, Degas, van Gogh and Monet. Even if you’re not a huge fan of impressionist art, the building alone is worth seeing. The ceiling of the main room is a giant glass skylight and windows on the upper floors give fantastic views of the city along the Seine. Because I’m a student, I was able to get into d’Orsay for free, but they also have a number of days and special hours that have reduced admission for everyone. Another option is the Paris Museum Pass. For the cost of the pass, holders get entrance to over 60 monuments without waiting in the long queues, including d’Orsay, the Louvre, Notre Dame, the Arc de Triomphe and the palace at Versailles.
I checked into the Auberge Internationale des Jeunes (AIJ) hostel in the Bastille district. The hostel is exactly what you’d expect for place where all the guests are under 26. The rooms were equipped with bunk beds and everyone had their own safe. There was a common area where patrons hung out in the evening and a complimentary breakfast of toast and espresso was served in the morning. The Bastille district wasn’t my favourite area, but it’s full of inexpensive shops, cafés and bars.
I went back to the city centre to go to Notre Dame, but it was almost 5 pm and the queue was enormous. I crossed the river and had my first French crepe with Nutella at Croissant Doré on Blvd. St Michel. I decided to do some exploring and took a long walk around the neighbourhood, but ended up hopelessly lost. While I don’t recommend getting yourself completely lost in a foreign city, do get away from the crowded tourist spots and take a few back streets and see what you find. This is the best way to really get a feel for a city and these little side streets usually have the best food and the most interesting shops.
That evening, I headed to the Louvre for the extended Friday hours when the museum is free for anyone under 26. I saw the Venus de Milo and took a photo of the Mona Lisa.
As the sun started setting, I took the Metro over to the Eiffel Tower and got dinner and wine at a café. The food was nothing spectacular but it was worth it to sit and have a glass of chardonnay while I watched the sky darken around the Tower. I sat in the grass on the Champ de Mars and watched the Tower until 11 pm when it starts glittering with flickering white-blue lights.
Saturday morning I was up at 7:30 to start the day. I skipped the hostel breakfast in favour of a pain au chocolate and an espresso from a patisserie in Saint Michel then headed over to Notre Dame. I got there at 9:30 and was able to get inside the cathedral without waiting in a queue. I didn’t go up to the top of the famous bell tower, but it’s worth seeing the inside of the building anyway. I did a self-guided tour, but audio guides are available in multiple languages. Visitors are also allowed to take photos.
From there I took the Metro to the Arc de Triomphe. Again, since I was pressed for time, I didn’t go up to the top of the Arc, but I did get to see it from the Champs Élysées surrounded by the iconic Place Charles de Gaulle.
I did some window shopping on the Champs Élysées, looking in all the expensive, high-end shops. I was getting hungry again, so I grabbed a savoury crepe with cheese and tomatoes.
My afternoon was spent following in the footsteps of some of my favourite authors who lived in Paris in the 1920s—namely Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. I had a list of the still-standing cafés and bars that they used to frequent, and I was determined to see as many as I could.
I started in the Montparnasse district, which was a haven for emigrant artists and writers in Paris during and after the first World War. I saw La Rotonde, Le Dȏme, La Closerie des Lilas on the Blvd. du Montparnasse and took a picture of what used to be the Dingo Bar where Hemingway met Fitzgerald for the first time. Montparnasse is a colourful neighbourhood with an interesting culture and history. It’s also much quieter and less crowded than the more popular districts. It’s worth a visit, especially if you’re looking for a quiet afternoon in the city. I headed back to Saint Germain de Pres and saw Les Deux Magots, Café de Flore and Brasserie Lipp. I only missed two of the very famous spots—the bar at The Ritz and Harry’s New York Bar.
After that it was back to Saint Michel for yet another Nutella crepe (they really are better in France) and some souvenir shopping. Most of the tourist shops had really cheesy gifts and nothing really worth buying. My advice would be to get your souvenirs in museum or site gift shops.
I got dinner at another café near Notre Dame, but it was almost inedible. I realised that most people go to cafés just to get coffee or a drink; if you’re feeling hungry, stick to restaurants, brasseries, patisseries or small food vendors. Unless a café comes highly recommended, you’ll probably get an overpriced, mediocre meal. I was really hungry, so I ended up grabbing another baguette Panini before taking a sunset stroll along the Seine.
My bus for London left at 11 pm on Saturday night and it was nearly empty, so I got an entire row to myself to stretch out and sleep.
Paris was beautiful and I’m very glad I got to see it, but it was also a stressful trip. The language barrier and the hordes of tourists made for a very hectic two days. I want to go back, but next time I’d like to go in the spring or fall so I can see what the city is like when it’s not the height of tourist season. As beautiful as Paris is, I was very happy to get back to London.
40 Hours in Paris
Kelly has finished her internship with the Travel Channel and is currently in her final year at Florida State University working on her degree in Editing, Writing and Media. She loves taking long walks around cities and trying local cuisines. She has developed a fondness for steak and ale pie.