Paris, France Trip Report: Fall 2018

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! 

Your Thoughts

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!

22 replies
  1. Jo
    Jo says:

    Thank you for writing this! I am going to Italy for three months and I have been debating on doing a weekend trip to Paris for a while (It’s only a short flight from Milan-my based city). After reading your stuff I think I decided that I will do two minitrips to Paris-One for Disneyland Paris (as a Disney Fan I feel like it is something I really want to do) and one for the city of Paris. So yes-A Two day trip guide would definitely be useful. I can’t pack it all in in three months but I’m so excited for this experience.

  2. Caz
    Caz says:

    Hi Tom,
    I would find a 2 day itinerary for Paris really helpful.
    I live in London and with Paris only a short hop on the Eurostar for a city brea I would love to know what you and Sarah reccommend as an appetizer for the city!
    I’m going May next year and if you have any specific tips for that time of year, that would be great too.
    Finally, where did you take those amazing photos of Sacre Coeur at dusk from, was it from the Eiffel Tower?

  3. Alan Conceicao
    Alan Conceicao says:

    My general take on Versailles matches yours – yes, it is super opulent but I’ve seen a lot of “super opulent”. I also find that I enjoy that stuff a lot more when it isn’t filled to the brim with tourists wielding selfie sticks of seas of tour groups led around with flags. Not really surprising, I know. The proximity to Paris I think is what drives the interest in it vs. a lot of more pleasant to visit monster palaces in Europe or (IMO) more interesting historical sites that are just a bit further out like Provins.

    Would love to know what parks you visited in the city: obviously there’s a ton, with Jardin d’Acclimatation being of most interest to theme park folks. I’ve never made it to Musee de Arts Forains (Carnival Art museum with some gnarly antique rides indoors), but will push harder next time I’m around since it requires making advanced arrangements to see it – was that something you had looked at?

    • Tom Bricker
      Tom Bricker says:

      We’ve done Versailles previously when it was far less crowded, but even then it was just too much. After about the 20th lavishly-furnished and decorated room, I get the point. The only reason we came back was for the musical gardens and fountains, and the presentation there was underwhelming. We’ve visited several chateaux in the Loire Valley that are the same general idea, just presented more succinctly and arguably in a more tasteful manner.

      As for gardens, my favorites are probably the obvious ones: Tuileries and Luxembourg. Although not technically in Paris, Vincennes is another nice, sprawling park that’s similar to Bois de Boulogne.

      I had never even heard of Musee de Arts Forains; after perusing their site and looking at photos for a few minutes, I’ll definitely make a point of booking a tour next time we’re in France. Thanks for that.

  4. Carly
    Carly says:

    Glad you guys had a great trip! You can never go wrong with Paris. Do you have other locations on your travel bucket list that you have planned?

  5. clara
    clara says:

    Gorgeous photos! The staircase one is mesmerizing.

    I’ve only been to Paris once, and it was 10 years ago, but I do recall feeling that the payoff of Versailles wasn’t quite worth the effort of trekking out there. It’s really hard to go to Paris and not go to Versailles, but I bet a lot of people are somewhat let down by the experience, given the crowds and hassle.

  6. Kayla
    Kayla says:

    Wow, I was going to comment on some of the photos I liked but then you just threw in tons if awesome ones. I’ll have to revisit this post and just scroll through photos.

    I’m glad you like Musee Marmottan. It’s been so long since I’ve gone now I’ve forgotten a lot. Part of me wondered if it was as amazing as I remembered, or if it was jetlag scrambling my brain. Guess it really was amazing.

    • Tom Bricker
      Tom Bricker says:

      It truly is a great museum. I think it also benefits from being out of the main tourist area, and also not accepting the Paris Museum Pass. Definitely a different type of experience!

  7. Kevin
    Kevin says:

    That is a mind-numbing number of photos! Thanks for taking the time to cull/edit/share with us; the ones you chose for this post are great. The photo of the bikes in front of the cafe is a testament that your street photography skills are better than you think.

    I agree about visiting the Louvre at night. I channeled my inner Bricker and was the last non-security person out of the museum on a Friday last fall. It was neat to wander around with very few other people in the exhibits. (I’d also take your thoughts on Versaille even farther – I wouldn’t put it on my “must do” list in France.)

    Perhaps this will be answered in a future post, but I’m curious from where you took the photo of Sacre Coeur through the clock?

    • Tom Bricker
      Tom Bricker says:

      We made a point of doing a different evening opening each of the 4 nights of our Paris Museum Pass, and part of the reason I wish we would have done the 6 day pass is for a couple more evening openings. Such a superior experience to daytime.

      Lots more photos are (potentially) on the way, albeit probably not until the more substantive posts are done. I haven’t even begun to edit our photos from Cuba, Key West, so I also need to get to those.

      The Sacre Coeur shot is from the top floor of Musee d’Orsay.

    • Kevin
      Kevin says:

      Thanks! I thought that looked like the Musee d’Orsay clock, but I did not recall that you could see Sacre Coeur from there.

  8. Sara
    Sara says:

    It’s super fun for a native Parisian to read your impressions as a well-travelles outsider! I also advise people with no kids to go to the evening museum sessions. My father who was an art historian always said it was useless to spend more than an hour in a museum since at some point your brain just saturated and can’t take any more visual stimulation ( maybe as a photographer you have more endurance). He always told me to pop into museums, get two or three rooms in, and return another day. I usually do that at the NYC Met for example!

    • Tom Bricker
      Tom Bricker says:

      An hour sounds short, but he’d be the expert. That’s part of why I’m not incredibly keen on the Louvre. I’m sure it’d be great as a local; you could go and digest it bit by bit over the course of months or years. As a tourist, it’s just overwhelming.

  9. Comfort
    Comfort says:

    Great post. I am looking forward to the itineraries. Your photos are inspiring and I agree, do speak for themselves, but I would love just a quick caption underneath saying where they were taken. Often when I see photos you have taken I think I would love to go there, so knowing where “there” is would be helpful.
    So in short, give me more stuff for free and then let me criticize it. 😉

    • Tom Bricker
      Tom Bricker says:

      “I would love just a quick caption underneath saying where they were taken.”

      Originally, I intended to do that, but then I edited too many photos for the post and had already spent so much time on it that I decided to scale back.

      I think locations will become clear with future individual posts on almost everything here. So basically, gotta force you to keep reading the free content if you want to know! 😉

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