We just returned from an extended stay in Paris, and thought we’d drop in with a trip report to cover our experiences, share photos from France, and recap random stuff from our travels before diving into the dozens of individual posts we now need to write about Paris.
Unlike our past trips to France, which have usually split our time between Paris, Loire Valley, Disneyland Paris, and other locations, we spent the bulk of our time in the city this trip. While we did go to Disneyland Paris, it was a quick visit as compared to our normal ~5 night stays there.
One of our goals this trip was to take a deeper dive into the many things to do in Paris. While we revisited favorite spots like Musee d’Orsay and the Louvre, the trip was pretty much exclusively ‘new-to-us’ attractions, points of interest, and areas of the city. In large part, this yielded far better results than expected.
A big thing we didn’t do much this trip was have dinners at restaurants. I have to be honest here: this was mildly devastating. Dining in Paris is one of our favorite things to do, and although we still stopped at boulangeries daily for desserts and sandwiches, we only did dinner out twice.
The upside here was that we saved a ton of money, and also learned a good amount about French supermarkets. We made over a dozen trips (no joke!) to different grocery stores, and found not just our favorite chains (Carrefour/Franprix) but also our favorite locations of each.
Since this was a longer stay, it simply wasn’t pragmatic to eat out for every meal both in terms of cost and healthiness. Traveling to France has become more expensive over the last couple of years, and we saw this reflected in the prices of everything from food to lodging.
Hotels and Airbnbs are definitely the most noteworthy way that costs have increased. When we visited around the same time two years ago, France was in a tourism slump. Since then, visitor numbers have been surging, and this is readily apparent in pricing. We paid more for an Airbnb that was the size of a glorified closet this trip than we did for a sizable flat two years ago.
Despite the size, we really can’t complain too much about our Airbnb. The location was great–on Rue d’Armaillé less than 5 minutes from the Arc de Triomphe–and even though it didn’t have a full kitchen, we did have a fridge, stovetop, and microwave.
The silver lining to the small apartment was that we didn’t want to spend much time there. Most days, we were out the door by 10 a.m. and didn’t return until 11 p.m. or later. We used the Metro a good amount, but also walked at least 12 miles per day.
Most of our days were spent exploring museums, public parks, and neighborhoods we hadn’t spent much time in previously. I know it sounds snarky to call traveling and having fun in one of the most amazing cities in the world “research” but a lot of it was exactly that.
We visited places that we otherwise wouldn’t have for personal leisure travel, did a ton of walking in random parts of town, and tested out prospective itineraries via the Metro–all of which will be useful for future Paris planning posts.
Four days of our trip were spent trying to maximize our use of the Paris Museum Pass, and I think we ended up hitting around 80% of the places on the list that are within Paris. In hindsight, I wish we had bought the 6-day pass, as the incremental cost over 4 days was minimal, and we could’ve knocked out everything.
We previously wrote about our experience using the 2-day version of this in our Paris Museum Pass: Is It Worth It? post. As is probably obvious given that we purchased the pass again (and for a longer duration), the titular question of that post is an emphatic yes. This time, we got well over double the value of what we paid for the pass from it.
After our Paris Museum Pass ran out, we slowed our pace a bit. The focus became on arrondissements and neighborhoods of the city, and doing other museums/major points of interest not covered by the pass as we explored.
Again, we learned a lot from wandering, most of which will be put to use in future posts. Since I don’t want this trip report to simply be a teaser to “stay tuned for future posts,” I’ll share a couple of big takeaways. First, Musée Marmottan Monet is one of the best museums we’ve experienced in Paris.
We went to this museum for its collection of Monets, but it delivered far beyond that with other Impressionist art and the former hunting lodge in which it’s all housed. It’s difficult to call a museum that holds the world’s largest collection of Monet paintings “underrated” but that’s apt here.
I’m still thinking about this museum and how it ranks as compared to others in Paris. It’s definitely in my (and Sarah’s) top 3, but it very well might be #1. Before making any definitive proclamations, I want to settle from the excitement of our visit there–I’ll have a full post about Musée Marmottan Monet and a list of our favorite museums in Paris very soon. (There’s the teaser!)
The other small revelation was Montmartre. We’ve been here before to see Sacre Coeur, but (as we write in this post about the church perched atop Montmartre) were less than enthusiastic about the surrounding village.
We had heard many positives about Montmartre, so we decided to give it a second chance, this time without an agenda–just wandering. While our previous observations about street vendors and the touristy areas hold up, there are still a ton of side streets and charming areas in Montmartre.
Our time in Montmartre made me eager to revisit even more and potentially stay in this area so I could get up and photograph the sunrise. The more touristy areas in Montmartre are definitely much before the hordes of visitors arrive.
Some of these streets are still quite lovely…it’s the crowds and purveyors of trinkets that make them unpleasant during the middle of the day.
We also finally went up into the Eiffel Tower. As I noted in our Top 10 Things to Do in Paris, France post, this is something that always seemed to get bumped from past trips, and it was sort of nice having such a major bucket list item ‘undone’ in Paris.
The Eiffel Tower was an interesting experience, and I’ll have a ton more thoughts about the highs, lows, mistakes, and tips from our visit. We actually almost cancelled our planned trip up at the last minute when we missed the cut-off for taking the stairs. Ultimately, we decided it was probably a bad idea to have such a glaring hole in our coverage of Paris, so we did it.
Another thing we did every chance we could get that I really enjoyed was the evening openings for museums. We’ve done these before, but I can’t underscore how superior the nighttime experience is, especially at Musee d’Orsay and the Louvre.
If you’ve visited the Louvre, have you ever seen the atrium below the entrance pyramid empty? That’s how almost every gallery looked during our evening visit.
In fact, I have zero interest in going to the Louvre again during its normal operating hours. We did it a couple different nights, and it was great. The obvious advantage is crowds in the galleries, which are a fraction of their daytime numbers, but lines for security are another huge upside.
I’m currently working on our 2-day Paris itinerary (which is impractical to the extent that almost no one only has 2 days in Paris, but I want to start small and build up) and am having a hard time with the possibility that people might not be able to go on a Wednesday or Friday. Night is so far superior to visiting during the day that it’s a challenge.
Working on the research for those itineraries was a big part of the trip. There’s a lot I can figure out via Google Maps, but there’s something to be said for testing the various options. Google has no clue whether a particular route is a prettier walk or a certain Metro station has interesting art, and so on.
A lot of our time was thus spent criss-crossing the city in a deliberate set of seemingly haphazard routes. We’d walk one way, and take the Metro right back the other direction. This might sound like a hassle (and to her credit, Sarah was very patient with it!), but a lot of interesting discoveries were made in the process. What can I say, I’m a geek who enjoys that type of thing.
Of course, we also had a lot of fun, too. I’d love to use the “research” excuse to justify all the poor decisions I made at boulangeries, but the reality is that was entirely for fun.
Same for the late nights taking photos or waiting for the perfect sunset light. It didn’t need to be done for any blog post, but it’s fun for me.
On the photography front, one thing I discovered is that Paris is simultaneously one of the most satisfying and frustrating places to take photos in the world. There is beauty everywhere, and it’s unlike any other city in the world in terms of architecture and sublime ‘streetmosphere’ scenes.
Unfortunately, these quiet scenes don’t always translate well to photos–or at least to my photos. Most places are beautiful because they are dimensional environments that your eyes can wander, and you feel fully immersed in a romantic and stunning place.
In photos, things like parked cars, street signs, advertising, random people, etc., all add clutter that your eye can sort of mute while it’s wandering. The same thing doesn’t happen with a photo. Between that and trying to make street scenery compelling (and distortion-free) from front to back is a real challenge.
Again, at least it is for me, as someone who primarily shoots landscapes. This trip taught me that I really need to up my street photography game. I still took a ton of photos and even stumbled into some good ones, though.
In other scenarios, photographing Paris is like shooting fish in a barrel. I dare someone to take a bad photo inside Palais Garnier, the Palace of Versailles, or the many other lavish interiors.
The biggest challenge there is avoiding crowds, which can be a very big challenge at times, but the architecture itself is beyond photogenic. (Pictured above is an empty room at Musee d’Orsay that’s normally quite crowded…another benefit of evening openings!)
Speaking of Versailles, we made another return visit there to see the Musical Fountains Shows and Musical Gardens for the first time. It was…not impressive. Generally speaking, I’m really torn on Versailles.
Versailles is excess at its finest, which is fun to see, I suppose. On the other hand, it’s overwhelming for the visitor and there are lower-profile, more ‘bit-sized’ places in and around Paris that do opulent interiors and grand gardens just as well, albeit on a smaller scale.
This isn’t to say you should skip Versailles, but I don’t think it’s the unequivocal must-do a lot of Paris planning resources make it out to be. I should probably break that down in a full post, though.
Some other random things…
By chance, we finally visited %ARABICA, as they had opened a pop-up stand in a random courtyard while they build their full store. It was totally by chance, but there was no line, so we had to do it.
This is a trendy, up-and-coming coffee shop that I’m predicting will be the “it” coffee all over the world within 5 years. There are two locations in Kyoto, and they always have lines of 20+ people when we pass. We’ve never tried it there because we have no interest in waiting an hour for coffee, but it definitely lives up to the hype.
Speaking of things from Japan finding their way to Paris, we also stumbled upon UNIQLO.
This was a bit odd to see in Paris, and the store somehow managed to put an upscale twist on UNIQLO. It seemed fairly well received (and was busy).
Of course, we also had to stop at the Disney Store on the Champs-Élysées.
Didn’t see anything special or any must-haves, but these plush Parisian Minnie & Mickey are cute.
Changing gears from the innocence of Disney, here’s an outdoor urinal. This is many we spotted along the River Seine, complete with a million dollar view of the Eiffel Tower.
Per CNN, “an attempt by officials in Paris to tackle public urination by installing open-air urinals, or ‘uritrottoirs’ has outraged some residents of the French capital.” Personally, I am totally on board with Paris increasing its number of public restrooms. This might not be the best way to do that, but it’s a start.
In terms of places you probably should not publicly urinate in Paris, Rue Cremieux has to rank near the top of the list. This is famous as the most-Instagrammed street in Paris, thanks to colorful facades and ornamental features.
Here are a bunch more photos, all of which speak for themselves, I think:
I have 3,457 photos I’ve yet to go through (most of those will be deleted, but still–a pretty big number!) so I’ll have plenty more photo updates from Paris in the coming weeks (realistically, in the coming months) in addition to the itineraries and planning posts. I’d like to return to some of the photo-emphasis on this blog, and I certainly have no shortage of unused photos for that!
Overall, it was an excellent trip to Paris, and even though we’ve gone once or twice per year for each of the last several years, we still are learning new things about the city. The wealth of museums and great bakeries continues to astonish me, as does the beauty and grandiosity that Paris just seems to ooze everywhere. Those of you who have gotten sick of nonstop Japan posts should rejoice, because it’ll now be a mix of those and Paris posts for the next few months as we start posting our itineraries and tips for the various places we visited…so stay tuned.
If you’re planning a trip to France, we recommend starting by consulting our Ultimate Guide to Paris, France to plan all aspects of our vacation. You should also check out our other posts about France for ideas on other places to visit!
Thoughts on anything we mentioned in this Paris trip report? If you’ve been to Versailles or the Eiffel Tower, did you find them overrated? Any thoughts or tips of your own to add? Questions about other things we did or upcoming posts? Hearing your feedback—even when you disagree with us—is both interesting and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts or questions below in the comments!