Paris is one of those cities that’s on practically everyone’s bucket list. Paris is the perfect gateway to expand your travel footprint into France.
Paris is one of those cities that's on practically everyone's bucket list. If you're visiting from the United States, there's a high chance your layover may be at Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG). Consider arranging a stopover to explore the City of Lights! If you're within Europe, you can arrive by high-speed train. Paris is the perfect gateway to expand your travel footprint into France. I took the Eurostar from London to Paris for a brief, 48-hour visit to la Ville Lumière, and I'm here to share how simple it was to hop a̶c̶r̶o̶s̶s̶ under the English Channel.
Day 1: Train + Louvre
From London, I headed to St. Pancras International Station. This is the terminal for Eurostar's lines to Paris and Brussels. Follow signage for the Eurostar trains and proceed past passport control.
The 2.5-hour train ride is technically 3.5 hours if you consider the time zone change, as Paris is 1-hour ahead of London. Enjoy the scenery through the country side until you arrive at Paris' Gare du Nord station.
When you get off the train, it feels like you're in another world. After such a short train ride, the localization of signs all around you have completely changed. Signs that you were used to seeing in English are now mainly in French. Don't stress though! A lot of the words on the signage are easy to translate; pictograms can also help reassure that you know how to read French (or at least give you some sort of confidence... fake it until you make it, right?)
Since you've sat on a train for the past couple of hours, the perfect stop would be to get the blood flowing and stay on your feet for the rest of the day. Easiest way to do this? Visit the world's largest art museum. And trust me, a campus with 652,300 square feet of artwork, you're going to be doing some walking. The glass pyramid that you see is just the entrance facade, and just the beginning of the indulgence of artwork.
Some must see pieces are:
- Mona Lisa - Leonardo da Vinci
- Winged Victory of Samothrace
- Liberty Leading the People - Eugène Delacroix
- Venus de Milo - Alexandros of Antioch
Day 2: Bus Tour + Tour Eiffel
After a long day of walking, your legs are probably sore, and your feet are covered with calluses. Don't let that ruin your trip! Find a double-decker tour bus company, buy a 24-hour hop-on/hop-off pass, and ride the tour around the city. I used Big Bus Tours and rode on their classic line, which hits all of the main attractions that you have to visit while in town. Some of the highlights are:
- Louvre Pyramid
- Place de la Concorde
- Champs-Élysées *
- Arc de Triomphe
- Notre Dame
- Eiffel Tower
Since it's hop-on/hop-off, you can take advantage of the points-of-attraction at every stop. But if you just want to see the whole city, I recommend riding the whole route and listening to the pre-recorded tour in one of many languages. The only minor downside is that they played Joe Dassin's "Aux the Champs Élysées" over-and-over-and-over-and-over again when suitably driving along the Champs-Élysées.
Hop off at the Eiffel Tower station and pass through security checkpoints to enter the courtyard and walk in, around, and under the Eiffel Tower. If the lines aren't too long, you can take an elevator to the top of the structure for 25€ per adult. There are better views of Paris from high above though - keep on reading!
Day 3: Sky High Sunsets - Notre Dame, Arc de Triomphe, Eiffel Tower
Now that your legs have recovered (hopefully) from riding a bus all day and doing some light walking, it's now time to climb some steps. The first stop for the final day in Paris is the Cathedral de Notre Dame.
Explore the inside of the Cathedral and take a moment to absorb the beautifully crafted stained-glass and reflect with the silent ambience. Head to the north side of the building and grab a bite to eat - perhaps a crêpe! You'll need some energy for the next activity - stair climbing!
You'll have some time to allow the food to digest, as the queues for summiting Notre Dame can be lengthy. It took me about an hour and a half to get to the front of the line and start my ascent. The climb is 422 steps, but each step is worth the vantage point that you get of the city.
Q: Referencing my earlier comment about the best vantage points of Paris, what's the key monument that establishes Paris for being "Paris"?
A: The Eiffel Tower, of course!
So, if you take a picture of Paris from the top of the Eiffel Tower, would people be able to recognize it as Paris quickly, as the Eiffel Tower wouldn't be in the frame?
Thankfully I had been working out on the Stairmaster in the weeks before I travelled! The ascent took me about 15 minutes; expect crowding and narrow spaces.
Enjoy the fresh air above the city away from the cars and admire buildings in the distance - most notably the Eiffel Tower standing strong. In peak seasons, you may encounter a time limit above the city. Since I went during an off-peak season, I was able to stay up for as long as I wanted, which felt like 15 minutes, though it took over an hour.
Next, take a taxi, rideshare, or the RER to Charles de Gaulle - Étoile. Walk under the tunnels and end up at the Arc de Triomphe. Again, more steps to the top, but not as much - 284.
Enjoy the sunset above the city as you come almost eye-to-eye with the Eiffel Tower, and you can see Place de la Concorde in the distance. Admire how traffic drives around the freely-flowing Place Charles-de-Gaulle, a traffic circle with twelve intersections, no traffic lights, and no regulatory signage.
And for the grand finale of the trip, head back to the Eiffel Tower at night. Pass through security and lounge inside the courtyard. Every hour, on the hour, the tower flashes its 20,000 strobes for five minutes. I would post pictures of it if I could, but the light fixture is considered art and is under artist copyright. I'll let you make the trip and enjoy the experience in person, both the lights and the City of Lights.
After all, no photos, videos, or words can do it justice on how beautiful Paris is, along with how easy it is to make Paris a weekend-getaway destination.