First weekend in France (TAPIF) and a 72-hour Paris Itinerary
Whether you have 72 days or 72 hours to spend in this city, you are sure to never run out of things to do. So the question is, "how do I pick what to do if I only have a couple days?" Well, hopefully this gives you a template or at least grists the mill for your own itinerary making.
I moved to France a week ago to teach English in three primary schools in a city just an hour west of Paris by train. For the next 7 months, I'm contracted to teach 12 hours per week, which gives me lots of time to explore, further develop my French, and work on other projects (including a conference presentation in November!). But something I've realized is that even with all the time in the world to get out and see the sights, it is still incredibly helpful to build your sight-seeing around one or two main parts or focuses. This allows you to avoid the back-and-forth of navigating transportation between sights in unfamiliar places and make even the most out of the most stressful aspects of travelling.
I flew in to Paris on 9/24 and spent a three days in Paris before taking the train to my town. It had been three years since I visited to Paris as a college student where each days was planned out by a professor, I was excited to revisit some of things I saw before and make the most of my time before moving on to my town. So with three and a half days, here's what I saw and some tips for getting around Paris to the points you want to see most. If there's anything I would say about planning a short trip to anywhere with a very different time zone, language, or culture, it would be to start out slow and ramp up as you go so you don't reach the middle or end and feel completely jet lagged still and exhausted. So, if you compare my first day and a half with the second and third days, you'll see the difference in how much ground I was able to cover (and truly enjoy!) For the full itinerary and a few tips for each stop, keep scrolling, but if you're stopping through looking for some quick ideas, here's the "short story":
Bullet list itinerary:
//arrival day - "Day 1"//
water and phone SIM card errand
largest monument closest to your hotel/airbnb/hostel
walk, explore the shops on the way home, search out a night club or Parisian speak-easy (if that's your thing)
bedtime (set your alarm!!)
//Day 2// 6th arrondissement & Latin Quarter
Bibliothèque de Sainte-Genviève
Lunch in the 6th
the Cluny Museum
Place de Saint-Michel
Dinner at Le Départ de Saint-Michel
return to hotel for an extra sweater or change of shoes
Go see the closest monument to your place of stay lit up at night (pick the next closest one if you want to see something fresh) and get a yummy dessert at the closes café to enjoy the scene with a treat
//Day 3// Musées (and Palais Garnier)
Croissant and café from the boulangerie or pâtisserie closest to your hotel
Musée de l'Orangerie
Walk through the Tuileries to the Louvre Optional Swap:
Louvre Museum ~ Palais Garnier
Sainte-Chappelle ~ Eat at le Sarah Bernhardt
Conciergerie (if time) ~ Sainte-Chapelle
Walk by Notre Dame de Paris
Browse Shakespeare and Company
Dinner at Café de Flore or Les Deux Magots
What to carry with you:
water bottle (water is not as easily accessible as in the USA, so be prepared)
chapstick or gum
portable cellphone charger and cord
sweater (wear layers! see below)
rain jacket (or umbrella) and light-weight scarf (rain and chilly breezes can come out of no where)
headphones (turn you google maps alerts on and wear these while walking to avoid looking down at your phone all the time or appearing like an easy catch for any tourist targeters).
a tote bag (it's common for people to carry a purse and a tote bag on their shoulder, but you can also just carry a tote bag for simplicity. If you stop by a market, you'll need this, too, as you have to pay for bags in France. If you don't have one already, just pick one up as a souvenir at any museum you visit or local shop. Most of these bags fold up very small so if you want to avoid double bagging, just fold it up and put it in your purse or backpack).
metro tickets! (some metro points do not have a ticket kiosk, so it's always a good idea to have a couple extra on you or buy an extra when you can).
birdy alarm keychain (or your personal favorite security device as pepper spray is illegal in France. I would clip this to the outside of my purse but keep it tucked in the from pocket for easy access while walking alone at night in case I ever felt unsafe or got lost).
Now, to make a long story longer:
8h15 - 12h
Touched down at CDG, went through customs and baggage claim, and taxied to my hotel in the 7th arrondissement/district (the customs experience was quite the experience so be on the lookout for another post on that). Once at the hotel, I took about 45 minutes to set my things down, take a break, find a phone service store, and store to pick up some waters.
Walked to the phone service store to get a French SIM card. I think the jet lag and emotional fatigue of preparing all month to move, saying goodbye to my husband for 7 months, flying, not sleeping very much on the plane, and not being very familiar with the arrondissement the phone store was in, I hit a road bump here. I stopped in a grocery store to pick up some waters and search for a service provider location. The service provider location I initially found and went to had moved locations, but I didn't realize it until I got there. After walking 30 minutes to get there, I found a current location another 20 minutes away which I didn't realize was in the opposite direction of my hotel, but that was ok. Once I got to the open location, it was smooth sailing.
Since most US carriers offer international plans that are not very cost effective for any situation, here's what worked well for me. Before I left the USA, I set up with my American provider to have the 10$/day international service plan just for the day of my arrival. When I landed, the first the I did was walk into a mobile service provider store. There are several in France, including Orange and Free. This is a great article by thelocal.fr that describes the difference between the two and a few other options. I went with Free because it makes the most sense for me since I'm living here for 7 months but I also would like to be able to call home and FaceTime my family. Free has a 20$/month SIM card that includes unlimited call, SMS text, and video calls to all of Europe and the USA. They have a slightly lower priced plan that is the exact same except that it exludes USA. So, if you are coming from the USA and prefer to use you main phone outside of WhatsApp, then take a look at this plan. In the Free store, they have little vending machine/kiosks where you put in your information, processes your payment (it accepts credit cards and I believe the staff can process your payment if you prefer to pay with cash) and then it pops out a SIM card. The store member can help you pop out your previous SIM card and insert the new one, or they have a space by the kiosks where you can do it yourself. Make sure you put your USA SIM card in a safe spot so that you can reinsert it when you get back to the States.
Once I got my SIM card, I ubered back to my hotel. Taking the metro with multiple switches when you're jet lagged is something I chose not to do, but if you have a travel buddy and can tag-team tracking through each line change, then that is also another transport option.
I walked over to the Eiffel Tower-Champs de Mars to meet some of the other people doing the TAPIF program this year, met some friends and got to hear where they are placed this year, and went to find something for dinner before heading back to my hotel as the jet lag really set in. The wonderful thing about Paris is that it's hard to find a bad place to eat. Most of the time, you'll be weighing location and price range, but no matter where you go, the food will be delicious. I found this café, Le Bosquet, a couple streets over from my hotel. I ordered the "Gratin de ravioles fraîches du Royannais, salade verte" (oven-baked cheese and cream ravioli with salad), and the St. Croix du mont vin blanc. On the way back to the hotel, I picked up a few more waters before heading to bed.
Cafés in France do not function like American restaurants, so here's a few things that are helpful to know. At some, a server will meet you at the door and welcome you in IF you want to eat inside. If you prefer outside, go ahead and seat yourself. If a server must seat you, he or she will let you know. Don't feel bad if that happens, because cafés do function as a world of their own. Additionally, if you're not sure what to order, then ask the waiter! "Recommendation?" is the same in French as in English :) Same for your drink selection if you want the full wining-dining experience. Lastly on café tips for now, don't feel bad if your waiter is very direct with you - your waiter's job is simply to take your order, serve your food, and deliver your check at the end of your meal, other than that, they will leave you alone to enjoy your meal. If you are in a rush, be sure to ask for "l'addition" when they bring your food, or you will be waiting a while before leaving after you finish if you are in a rush. But other than that, take a "when in Rome" approach and do as the Parisians do. Here are some helpful tips from Nomad Lane about some hidden rules of Parisian sidewalk cafés to help you feel confident and acquainted with café culture the minute you step under the glinting canapés and take your seat.
Sunday, I slept in later than originally planned, but that ended up being ok! Better to be rested and sight-see and enjoy the evening than be grumpy and tired and have to turn in earlier and miss the evening hours in the City of Lights.
After I woke up, I spent an hour or so planning out what I wanted to see that day and over the next few. Especially when I'm travelling by myself, I prefer to have a list with each of the places I want to see so that I don't have to be on my phone plotting out what makes the most geographic sense in terms of order. I also highly recommend working in a circle if possible, meaning that you start in a place close to your hotel/lodging and work out and back in so that at the end of the day, you are pretty much right back where you started and transit back to where you are staying is simplified. Be sure, also, to make sure that every place you want to visit is actually open! I was all ready to leave when I realized 2/5 of my destinations were closed, so I had to readjust and plan to double back to the particular arrondissement another day.
13h-fin de la journée
By the time I got up and out with a plan for the day, it was about 1pm. So, I hopped on the métro to the Panthéon in the 5th arrondissement. I had initially planned to visit a beautiful library there as well, but it was closed. So if you make it to the Panthéon, check out La Bibliothèque de Sainte-Genviève. Inside the Panthéon, there is the Foucault pendulum, which was created in 1851 to show the earth's rotation. The pendulum hangs from the top of the dome and is suspended over a circular, 12ish foot diameter, mirror which amplifies the visibility of the pendulum in the ornate interior, and gives the viewer a stunning view of the frescos on the decorative ceilings. When you go to the Panthéon, be sure to book an entrance ticket ahead of time to skip the line. It is the same price, only it allows you to skip the ticket line and enter the building when you arrive. I would also highly recommend the extra couple euros to go up in the top of the dome, but be sure to book this ahead of time as it sells out since only a certain number of visitors are allowed each daily (**your entrance ticket does not include "panorama" access**).
I grabbed a quick Five pizza right across the street from my next stop, The Cluny Museum. Although cafés are always a solid option for a sit-down meal, if you are looking for a quick bite between sights, then some delicious options are pizza and kebab. Both are easy to walk and munch or fit a park bench to sit on and eat. If you take this same intinerary, the Panthéon-Pizza-Cluny route has the Parc Samuel Paty just to the side with plenty of benches to finish up your snack on. This park is dedicated to a Sorbonne professor who was tragically lost in a terrorist attack a few years ago, so before you head into the medieval history museum, you can read a little bit about some not-so-long-ago history on your way in.
The Cluny may be my favorite museum in Paris, even though it is much smaller than most others. If you like the medievals, this is the museum for you. It hosts many sculptures that were rescued from falling sites of the Middle Ages, including busts of ancient kings and the famous La Dame à la licorne (woman and the unicorn) tapestry that was so popular in the 80s and 90s. This museum closes at 18h15, so be sure to make it there in time to see all they have. If you are of a Christian background, you will also find very interesting the busts of the kings of Judah and Esther and the religious art of the second floor. This is by far my favorite period of history, so if it's yours too, be sure not to miss it.
18h30 I headed north and ended up at the Place Saint-Michel, a small square where a night market is held in the centre, surrounded by a fountain and several cozy cafés. I stepped into the café, Le Départ Saint-Michel, to sit with a hot tea and some people watching since it had started to rain. While I sat, I also planned out the next two days to avoid another slower morning and attempt to get through the rest of the jet lag by having two fuller days after getting lots of sleep. I checked my list of what I wanted to see over the next two days, made a Google Maps plan with my starting and ending points making a circular route throughout the day.
Taking a moment to organize the next day at the end of the previous day is a great way to plan your trip on the more simple level because it does several things for you. First, it minimises the time you are looking down at your phone trying to figure out where you are going, therefore eliminating potential times where you could be targeted by anything uninvited. This is important especially if you are unfamiliar with the area you're in and are a new solo traveller. Second, it gives you flexibility to see where you end up if you prefer to take things a day at a time but still have major points you want to prioritize. Third, at the end of your trip, you have a travel journal complete at the end of a trip without the mental load of remembering everything you did - it's a lot easier to cross off things you decided to skip and add things to your notes rather than remember every single thing you did and saw. Fourth, it gives you a plan and minimizes dead travel time because even as you work your way through the day, you are seeing sights on your list and most likely adding some along the way.
20h45 On the Place Saint-Michel, local artists, chefs, and vendors were holding a night market in front of the Fountain of Saint-Michel. I circled the market, enjoying the smells, exploring the goods, trying the baked good samples, until I found an art stand with lovely illustrations based on city murals the hosting artist has created for cities all over France. The artist struck up a conversation and showcased some of his work. He was a very warm and kind man that was genuinely excited about his art and how it showed the cities that he loved. I purchased this 5x7" print of the Eiffel Tower. Go check out this artists portfolio at www.muralisme.fr!
22h00 After the night market, I headed back to the hotel along the Seine to drop off my things and head to the Eiffel Tower for a crepe and a FaceTime call before heading to bed (pro-tip: the crepe stand by the Eiffel Tower will let you mix filling combinations, you just have to ask and the staff usually speaks multiple languages). I recently got married in July, so my husband and I are doing 7 months apart from each other in our first year, so we love a good FaceTime call. Sharing exciting things, like the twinkling Eiffel Tower, makes the distance feel smaller at the end of a long day.
My original plan for today was Day 3 below, but I adjusted it a little since I'd been to the Louvre but never le Musée de l'Orangerie or Sainte-Chapelle.
10h-12h30 Boulangerie stop at the Boulangerie des Invalides. As yummy as a croissant or pain au chocolat is with a coffee, I prefer something salty for breakfast most of the time, so I went with a café allongée (the equivalent of an Americano but much closer to the size of an espresso shot) and un croque monsieur (basically a ham and cheese sandwhich with melted cheese on top) and set off for the Musée de l'Orangerie.
Le Musée de l'Orangerie houses specific collections of Monet's waterlilies and several other Art Deco-era, from Renoir to Derain and Modigliani (any From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basel E. Frankwieler kids out there??). The artists in this collection are all linked by the art dealer who saw their work and marketed it to galleries and exhibits.
Monet's waterlily panels are displayed in an infinity-shaped room combination where four panels are displayed in each, with the guiding idea being the panels are eye-level and all surrounding with no skylights or windows to create the effect of being in the waterlily pond yourself, with only the shadings of light to give you an orientation to the movement of the water and lilies. The the second of the two rooms, the second four panel set is the same pond but surrounded with weeping willows with their shadow and movement creating a darker set between the two rooms. I've always loved the waterlily paintings but had never seen the weeping will set, and seeing them in the panorama set up was breathtaking. It was relatively crowded, but then again, it was a weekend.
In the lower level of the museum, the other
artists of the collection are found in a rectangular oriented hall in a rectangular oriented hall with rooms for pairings of artists. I was not as familiar with Derain, but his work in this collection includes two frames of flower stills that initially look like they have glitter on the edges of the petals, but it's really just his use of light, shadowing, and very light colors agains the black background.
There were also some Matisse works, and I loved this one, "le Boudoir," for it's illustration-inspiration look, light colors, and simplicity. Matisse and other artists often used pyramid/triangle lines in their paintings to highlight the structure and direction of the image they created, and this is clearly visible in the lines of the table, curtains, and angle of the chair with the woman leaning to the side. the table essentially creates an arrow for the eyes to follow to the standing woman in blue, and the lines in the carpet draw the eye to the woman in the chair. Having not been in hardly any museums since Covid, this museum was a highlight of the weekend.
12h30-16h I left the Orangerie and headed to the Palais Garnier. You can take the métro or walk through the Tuileries Garden. If you walk, you will see more of the performance and designer shopping stores along the way, and the walk is only a few minutes longer than the métro. Even though I had visited Paris before, I had never been inside the Palais Garnier. The famous opera theatre is the setting of the Phantom of the Opera, but it is also the center for the Paris Opera Ballet, the oldest ballet company in Europe dating back to 1669! The ballet itself is 107 years older than the US of A. This ballet company is one of the four most famous and competitive in the world among the Moscow Ballet, the Mariinsky Ballet (St. Petersburg), and the Royal Ballet (London). 95% of the dancers are French, most of the company dancers are trained at the ballet school there, and their titles of principal dancers are "danseurs étoiles," or "dancers of stars." Étoile has more of a celestial context than "star" in pop star or movie star, although their fame does (and has historically) not excluded stardom in all its contexts.
The ornateness and guilding of the Palais Garnier was overwhelming to the level of the Versailles Hall of Mirrors. I could go back again just to sit and star at the dome of the theatre. Although the architecture style is technically Italian, there is no doubt that this is one of the most iconic French monuments. What is more is that it still functions as a running opera and ballet theatre for the most talented and well-trained artists of the music and performing arts world.
18h30 Usually dinner starts between 7pm and 8pm in France, but I still had a few more things I wanted to see before things started closing for the day, namely Saint-Chapelle, Notre Dame de Paris, and the famous Shakespeare & Co. bookstore. So, I took the metro from the 9th arrondissement back to the 4th where I came across Le Sarah Bernhardt. If you are doing anything in the 4th, I highly recommend this café. The servers were friendly and helpful, there are plenty of seating options, the menu is traditional, delicious, and reasonable, and it's just a few minutes away from Châtelet métro stop in the direction of Notre Dame.
While Notre Dame is the "main church attraction" in Paris, just around the corner is no small treasure: Saint-Chapelle. This 12th century chapel was commissioned by Louis IX with a budget of 1/2 the national funds, however, the architect is unknown and the chapel has endured revolutions and wars, window restorations, secularization (once used as a filing center for the next-door court house). While many of the panels have been restored over the years, the French people disassembled the windows during the World Wars and reassembled them when peace finally was restored. Check out Snippets of Paris' full post on this chapel and be sure to put it on your own Paris itinerary. You won't be disappointed.
Since April of 2019, Notre Dame has been under reconstruction due to a tragic fire that destroyed part of the church. Today, you can't go inside like you used to, or even up close as it is blocked off by scaffolding and tents, but you can still get a glimpse of the full force the church was before the fire by walking around the church and admiring the view from the sidewalks around it. I crossed the street, passing Notre Dame on my left and continued across the Pont au Double to Shakespeare & Co. This is an English language bookstore in Paris and it has been around since 1919. The original location, operated by Sylvia Beach, functioned as a hub for the literary era of the 20th century and its literary stars. It closed in 1941in the face of World War II and today's location was opened in 1951 by George Whitman who carried on the legacy Beach had fostered. Here is a fascinating interview of Sylvia Beach where she discusses the opening of the shop, the authors and figures that frequented it, and the role it played in Paris during the War.
I headed back to the hotel to pack up for the train the next morning, and spend my last evening reading and enjoying the cuisine of a little Italian café next door.
9h00 This morning, I got up and finished packing up the rest of my things, rearranging them to fit best in the luggage rack on the train, and walked to the nearest boulangerie to "prendre un croissant" (lit. take a croissant) to eat on the train. In France, even if you are not actaully buying a croissant but rather another pastry, you still use the same expression.
10h00 I ubered to Gare Montparnasse - the driver's brother actually lived in Charlotte, NC, two hours from my home - and boarded the 1-hr train to Verneuil Sur Avre where my prof. réferent met me at the station.
A couple things to know for taking a regional or high-speed train:
The stations functions similarly to airports where there are platforms ("terminals") for all the trains depending on if their route is regional or more local.
There are screens that list the porte ("gate") each train is departing from, but the porte number only populates once the train arrives, which may be as close as 15 minutes to the departure time. So, if you don't see your porte number on your ticket or the board, just be patient and feel free to ask someone if it doesn't populate.
When you book your ticket (which you must do ahead of time), pick your seat strategically if you have luggage with you! If you will have bags with you, choose a seat in the cars towards the front, back, or middle, as they are most likely to have luggage racks by the doors. There will be overhead racks above your seat, but they are not full carry-on size and hold smaller bags and there is typically no room to put a suitcase by your seat without blocking the walkway or your neighbors' leg room. The last thing you want is to have to drag your suitcase or backpack (families, think strollers) through each coach car looking for a luggage rack because your coach doesn't have one and then travel all the way back to your seat. Choosing a seat in a car with a luggage rack also allows you to keep an eye on your belongings if you are travelling alone, as well as have a smoother de-training as your bags will be right by the door.
My prof réferent drove me around the town and took me to the apartment where I am living this year. The owner, a Verneuil local, has been kind enough to let me rent a room and live with her for 7 months. Housing in France can be time consuming to set up and difficult to arrange with the necessary utilities like gas, water, heat, wifi, etc, so I'm very thankful to have found housing so easily compared to other assistants in the TAPIF program. Here's to 7 months in Normandie!