Ron Swanson may have colored my expectations of Paris too much beforehand, making me think it would be too much for me, but it was one of my favorite places I’ve visited so far in Europe (which I also say every time, but it’s true here too). Like London, the streets in Paris are really pretty and clean, lined with cream colored buildings with black roofs that have a nice look. My biggest complaint, besides not having longer to visit, is that the city is very expensive. In Bologna, you can throw back a coffee at the bar for a euro but in Paris you can expect to pay four or fives euros for a coffee and table service.
1.) Musée d’Orsay–The Louvre is incredible and is surely one of the top art institutions in the world. I was impressed by it but equally overwhelmed. On the way to the Mona Lisa (which I saw over a sea of tourists with the dreaded selfie-GoPro-combo-rod), my friend and saw some paintings by Giotto and Botticelli which I really liked.
While the d’Orsay is also very touristy, I would say that I preferred what I say of it to the Louvre. The fifth floor houses an incredible selection of impressionist paintings by Monet, Renoir, Degas, and Sisley. There’s a great Van Gogh exhibit as well on one of the lower floors. After visiting here for an hour or two, I felt like I’d seen a good amount of what it had to offer, but the Louvre left me feeling daunted by how much I had to see. On a return trip to Paris, I’d dedicate a day to the Louvre to get a better handle on it. At any rate, bring your student ID to gain free admission to Paris’s great museums. You technically have to be EU to merit free admission, but if you study abroad in Europe they’ll likely give it to you no problem.
2.) Montmartre–After visiting the d’Orsay, my friend and I hopped on the metro (which is easy and has very frequently running trains, so take advantage of it) and got off in the Montmartre neighborhood. It was overcast for most of my visit, but at this point late Saturday afternoon it was starting to clear up and the air was really fresh after a little rain. We walked up through the Montmartre neighborhood to get to Sacre Coeur, our last tourist stop of my visit. The neighborhood was full of cute shops, cafes, and restaurants that would have been great to explore if we’d had more time. At any rate, our walk up the hill was really refreshing, and we came up to Sacre Coeur from behind through a little park where kids were sliding down a wall and some adults were playing badminton. There were no tourists there, and it was a really peaceful, relaxing spot which would be great for a picnic or reading a book. As soon as we approached the church and turned the corner, it instantly became a mob scene, which was kind of funny to see how tourists can concentrate in such small, famous areas that they don’t notice the nice spot just around the corner. The church was nice inside with mosaics on the ceiling, but I’d say Ravenna’s mosaics are better and have a quarter of the tourists.
3.) The Seine–On Friday afternoon, my friend and I headed from the Hôtel de Ville to the Seine to go for a walk with a box of macarons to accompany us (From McDonald’s? Yes. Still good? Also yes). We continued for a really long time, just talking and catching up after not seeing each other since last semester at school, and we ended up passing underneath that famous love lock bridge (apparently somebody comes around with pliers at night and takes locks off so that more tourists can put their own lock on) and then reaching the Eiffel Tower, where we stopped to take some pictures and subsequently find a cafe for a hot chocolate after all that walking. It was a really scenic, and also quiet, walk which was a good way to walk off a great lunch from a boulangerie.
4.) Zéro de Conduite–Friday night, my friends and I went to a bar that my friend and travel advisor Roxy recommended. We got there maybe around ten when a couple also arrived and shortly after it filled up. What’s so special about it? The bar is Disney/cartoon themed, so all the drinks are named after French cartoon characters. To order your drink, you have to draw the character your drink is named after on a whiteboard and then the bartender brings you your drink in a baby bottle (which you get to keep). If you go, it’s an experience and you pay for it (16 euros per drink, but you keep the baby bottle which costs 10). While expensive, it’s something that I don’t think you can do pretty much anywhere else.
5.) Sainte Chapelle–Finally, I’ll finish with the first place I visited, Sainte-Chapelle. Visiting the church is free when you flash your EU student ID, though you still need a physical ticket. The stained glass in the entry-room/gift-shop is nice, but when you climb the stairs to the chapel you realize why this place merits the visit. The chapel is lined with very tall, gorgeous, and intricate stained glass windows conveying all sorts of religious scenes. I was glad I brought my glasses along with me because the detail in the windows is incredible. The line wasn’t too long to get in on Friday midmorning when we went, and I think it’s absolutely worth half an hour out of your visit to the city. It’s near Notre Dame, which we didn’t actually go inside, but from what I’ve heard Sainte-Chapelle is the more beautiful of the two.
Here are some of my other picks:
- Secco–within ten minutes of the d’Orsay. A cheap boulangerie which has great quiche Lorraine, brownies, and eclairs
- Le Fetiche–a restaurant in the 16th with steak tartare and some good French classics
- Le Balto–spot for hot chocolate or a cafe au lait by Sainte–Chapelle
- Louvre–One of the best art institutions in the world. Come prepared to spend hours here, crammed in with tourists. Bring your student ID and try to find a quieter gallery where you can spend some time
- Eiffel Tower–I don’t think I really need to explain this one
- Love Lock Bridge–I walked under it while walking along the Seine. It’s fun to watch people put their locks on, but they recently took them off because they were weighing the bridge down
- Catacombs–didn’t visit but on my list for a return trip to Paris
- Le Marais–pretty neighborhood to walk around
- Le Paris Blog–a photography blog that features some good places to check out in the city.