Picture of the Notre Dame garden area Paris

Paris – The Left and Right Banks

Dr. Seuss was right,–“oh the places you’ll see!” To be brutally honest, if anyone returns from Paris and says that they were not impressed, this is one place I would be willing to bet all of my belongings and my bank account that they did it wrong.

It’s like an unwritten rule that Paris is considered amazing, whether you have made the venture there or not.  Renaissance architecture, macaroons, easy to get around, breads to-die-for (come on – they even eat chocolate croissants for breakfast YUM).. I actually was lucky enough to get engaged here for crying out loud.. *swoon*.

Paris is not the city that you want to show up to without doing any research beforehand.  I have known a couple folks that expected to show up, fall in love, and indulge over candlelit dinners surrounded by red roses at every turn.  This can all happen–you just have to know where to go. People forget this is a LARGE city.

The Seine River divides Paris into the Right (North) and Left (South) banks. While there are considerably better arrondissements (numbered districts/areas – there are 20 total) to stay than others, the attractions are spread out across the banks. Luckily, lots of walking and the easy to use metro system  make it extremely easy to get around here.

Some Left Bank Action..

Eiffel Tower  You can go inside for the thrill of saying that you’ve done it, just know that it was built to be admired from a distance though. Pick a restaurant with a view of the Eiffel Tower (as opposed to eating IN the Eiffel Tower).  At night, the Eiffel Tower glistens like a never ending firework.

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Musee d’Orsay – This Museum is in a building along the Seine that used to be an old train station. I don’t know about you, but I think that old European train stations are just beautiful. This one has a giant  gorgeous clock in the main hall. The various rooms house some renowned artists work- including pieces by Edward Degas and Van Gogh. His self portrait can be seen here, but not the Starry Night.

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Luxembourg Gardens – If you ever wanted the potential to get lost in a park, go here. Extensive gardens and pathways for jogging/walking. Beautiful flowers (if the season), and kids push wooden boats with sticks in the large fountains. The Luxembourg Palace views are included.

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There is a lot of great shopping and cafes full of Parisian charm on the left bank.

Tip:  Always use the bathroom (toilettes) while you’re in any coffee shop, bar, or restaurant. As with most places in Europe, you can’t just pop in and use the toilet without making a purchase.

Notre Dame Cathedral – Ok so not really on either side of the Seine. It’s actually located on a tiny island on the Seine. This area is called Île de la Cité.

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The beautiful facade of the Notre Dame Cathedral
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Garden behind Notre Dame. A good spot for a crepe break.

There is the most divine crepe at the little cart to the left of the Notre Dame Cathedral.  If you are facing the entrance, walk to the left down the street alongside it. About halfway to the back, on the left side of the road, is a little crepe stand that fries them fresh!  (J’adore Nutella et banana!) Bonus:  There is a garden behind the cathedral to sit and enjoy your crepe!

La Conciergerie – Also located on Île de la Cité, this is a former palace turned prison which is now open for viewing of the various rooms and chambers inside. This building held all of prisoners prior to their beheadings including Marie Antoinette. Along with a few other sites that I’m mentioning, entry to La Conciergerie is included should you have the Paris Museum Pass. More about the Paris Museum pass and sites it covers can be found on their website.

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Some Right Bank Action..

Place de la Concorde The Egyptian Obelisk marks the spot of where the Guillotine once sat..  really kind of eerie to think that. This Obelisk separates the Tuileries Gardens from the beginning of the Champs Élysées. Keep marching the Champs Elysees and you will come to the Arc De Triomphe. This famous Arc (there are Arcs all over Europe) was built to honor Napoleon and all that were involved fighting in the French Revolutionary War.

Champs Élysées – Runs from Place de la Concorde to the Arc de Triomphe. The Tour de France cycling race ends here. Lined with upscale stores, you will pay about ~$19 US (depending on the exchange rate at the time) for a beer if you find yourself thirsty while walking along this famous stretch, but it that isn’t completely unexpected since it is one of the most famous roads in the world and also maybe the most beautiful (thus, the name). Perhaps it is better to simply walk it and enjoy that beer somewhere off the main drag – your choice!

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The Egyptian Obelisk with the Arc de Triomphe behind it. In between the two is the Champs Elysees. Do not be fooled, the Arc is much further away than it actually looks. But you could use the exercise, right?

Try to pick a hotel in a good location. I suggest one in the 1st arrondissement (district).  You should be able to find a hotel here which is centrally located and easy walking distance to Notre Dame and the Louvre (in either direction).  We stayed at the Hotel Tonic Louvre and it was perfect!  We woke up to the smell of fresh bread EVERY morning.  There was the most delicious, lovely, little bakery right around the corner for breakfast. EXCELLENT shopping all around!

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One totally random yet so fun to do is a show at the Moulin Rouge! By far one of the BEST performances I have seen thus far in my life. The venue is small and considered a tourist thing to do, but it’s quite the show. You can plan to see everything from topless cabaret dancers doing the can can, to miniature horses, tricks and elaborate costumes and music.. You’re packed in like sardines, but what a heck of an experience!

Montmartre – A large hill in Paris, it’s not exactly walking distance from the City Center, but it’s an easy metro ride. Check out all the artists painting right on the streets, relax in a cafe, or pop in to the Sacré Cœr. Beautiful setting..

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The Sacré-Cœur Basilica in Montmartre.

Palace of Versailles – An easy day trip from Paris (~40 min on the RER C train right at Saint-Michel metro station). It’s remarkable and fully explains why (in just the site of it) there was a French Revolution. It’s only about ~40ish minutes train ride from Paris city center.

I love this city.

The Louvre – an extremely large museum and central landmark. The Louvre.is.HUGE. I heard something before from a colleague that if you spent 40 seconds looking at every item in the Louvre, you would be there for over 2 years. 2 YEARS! Seriously.. there’s that much. I visited there late in the afternoon, which worked out perfectly because the crowds have died down a bit by then..

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The Louvre used to be a Palace – where Louis XIV grew up as a child before moving to and creating the grand palace of Versailles. Also, the Louvre is closed on Tuesdays.

If you know of the Louvre, you probably know that the famous Mona Lisa resides here. Do not be disappointed, as she is much smaller than you are picturing.

Guess what? There is a “secret” entrance to the Louvre. Most people enter through the enormous glass pyramid and take the elevator down to the many hallways going off in all different directions. If you have a MUSEUM PASS (totally worth it), you can enter secretly. When you walk under the archway, before coming out to the courtyard with the big glass pyramid entrance, look right. There is an escalator that will take you in without nearly as long of a wait. This is for tours and Museum Pass holders only! If you didn’t know to look for it, you would be fixated on the glass pyramid in the courtyard and pass it right up!

Again, you will never see everything in the Louvre. Hit the high points: Mona Lisa, Winged Victory, Venus De Milo.. Try to see some of the Egyptian sarcophagus.. And of course- discover some things on your own. Find an exhibit interesting? Look it up and see why it’s in the Louvre!

Other Right Bank beauties:

Galeries Lafayette Paris is a shoppers paradise in general, but the Galeries Lafayette is so stunning with its stained glass cupola ceiling.

The Garnier Opera House – This beauty actually has an underground river below it. Phantom of the Opera lovers will find this quite interesting.

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The Garnier Opera House.

Unique Metro Stations.

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The Palais Royal Metro Stop. How cool?!

Europe is obviously never a bad idea. But, the summer is when most shop owners are on vacations of their own. And it’s hot and crowded with tourists. Consider going in Spring or Fall instead, if possible. Don’t expect to see all of Paris in 1 day, 2 days, or even 3 days. Go in with the attitude that you will return some day, and you won’t be disappointed.

I can’t get behind the Foie gras or the escargots, but I can get behind just about everything else about Paris. This is definitely a city you remember long after the trip is over. Everything is so beautiful and we personally had no trouble at all with Parisians treating us differently being from the U.S. I think we made the most of our vacation here and returned home – bling included 😉 with certainty we would return..

Now it’s your turn! If you had the good fortune of visiting Paris and also had a stunning experience, what would you recommend?

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