If you are a lover of art and culture, exquisite food and wine, and upscale shopping, then Paris should be your next stop on the map. The capital city is the perfect mix of all of these elements and is a metropolis that should be at the top of your bucket list if the categories above are subjects of interest. If you’re now on board for a visit, utilize the two-day itinerary below to optimize your time in the “city of lights.”
Spend the morning touring the Musée d’Orsay. While it may not be the renowned Louvre, the museum is still wonderful and should be listed as a “must-see.” The institution is home to a collection of exhibits from the 1800’s featuring Impressionist artists, such as Cezanne, Manet, Monet and many other notable Impressionists. Admission into the museum is a measly 12 Euros and well worth the cost. Be sure to grab a map as you enter as the collection locations often change. Pro tip: Before heading into the museum, download to your phone “Rick Steves Audio Europe”–a free downloadable app available to Android and iPhone users. The app features a playlist specific to the museum, and it will provide you with an audio guide to listen to as you are touring the facility. Of note, the museum is closed on Mondays.
For lunch, head over to Arpège, a critically acclaimed restaurant which has earned three Michelin stars. Voted consistently as one of the top restaurants in the world, this fine dining location is essential while visiting Paris if you’re willing and able to drop a decent amount of euros. The better deal here and the reason for dining at lunch is that the price differential of the tasting menu for lunch compared to the tasting menu for dinner is substantial (think: a difference of almost 200 euros per person). But remember, you’re on vacation, so why not splurge a bit for the midday meal option? For the lunch tasting menu, enjoy fourteen courses (mainly vegetable-based) with the option to add a wine pairing at an additional cost. Pro tip: Plan to spend three hours here.
After lunch, make your way over to the Champs-Élysées for one of the best shopping experiences in Paris. This well-known area consisting of designer stores (think: Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Dior, etc.) will undoubtedly keep you occupied for a few hours. Be sure to bear in mind your VAT options when making purchases. Eligible items for the VAT refund include anything over 175 euros within one store on the same day. Of note, remember to have your passport on you, as you will need this in order to complete the required form which you will present at the customs desk at the airport before leaving the European Union to qualify for the refund. Additionally, while not all stores participate, most of the luxurious establishments in this region of the city do; however, it always best to ask if there is any uncertainty.
Once you’ve finished up your shopping spree, journey over to Le Baron Rouge for a well-deserved glass of wine and a bite to eat for dinner. This charming, small cafe boasts a friendly wait staff and a fun vibe. As for food, the charcuterie is not to be missed! Side note: if you’re a fan of oysters, be sure to stop by on a Sunday when they are shucking them by the half dozen.
If wine is your drink of choice, make your way to La Dernière Goutte to check out some of the wines specific to France. From Champagne to Syrah, this quaint boutique shop will not disappoint with their varied selection. If you happen to be in the area on a Saturday, drop in for a free wine tasting between the hours of 11:00am-7:30pm and chat with some of the local winemakers about the production of the featured vintages.
After you’ve had your fill of wine, head over to La Creperie du Cloitre for a savory or sweet crepe, or even both as a lunch option. If you have not had a Nutella crepe by this point in your trip, here is your opportunity. And, if the weather is nice, grab a seat outside and take in the views along with some of the amusing people-watching.
When you are finished savoring some of the delicious crepes that Paris has to offer, walk over to Notre Dame for a lesson in history and culture. Famous for its French Gothic architecture, this cathedral dates back to 1163 when the stone foundation was first laid. Admission into the cathedral is free; however, if you wish to tour the crypt, it will cost you 8 euros and 8.50 euros to tour the towers. For one of the many spectacular views of Paris, opt to pay the 8.50 euro fee and head up to the towers.
It would be a sin to come to Paris and not see the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo, so be sure to make time to visit the Louvre to complete your afternoon of culture. Tickets to the museum can be purchased for fifteen euros. As previously mentioned, download the Rick Steves’ tour regarding the Louvre for a free audio guide while walking through the Louvre. Pro tip: There is a side door which is another entrance (separate and apart from the main entrance) that is not as well-known called the Porte des Lions entrance. Be on the lookout for this entrance to avoid any long lines as this is somewhat of a secret entrance given it is a bit elusive. Lastly, the Louvre is not open on Tuesdays.
After being on your feet for most of the morning and afternoon, make your way to Luxembourg Gardens for a justified break. This beautiful green space is the perfect place to have a snack before heading to dinner. Grab a baguette and some cheese on your way to the gardens or just stop by to rest and soak up the floral scenery.
Venture to 58 Tour Eiffel Restaurant for dinner. Of course, you will see the Eiffel Tower while trekking around Paris, but why not dine there? Offering some of the best views in the city, this dining experience is truly a treat. The venue features a variety of menus to meet everyone’s budget, with two dinner services–one at 6:30pm and one at 9:00pm. Of note, reservations should be made well in advance, especially if you would like an ideal view.
After dinner, grab a ticket for the Seine River Cruises through Bateaux Parisiens. This river cruise lasts for approximately 60 minutes and is a great way to see some of the Parisian sites from a different perspective, and not to mention, the perfect way to end your time in Paris. The fare, which is 15 euros can be purchased at two locations: the riverbank area close to the Eiffel Tower or the riverbank area close to Notre Dame. As the schedule is dependent on the time of year, make sure to check this in advance: http://www.bateauxparisiens.com/en/practical-info/timetables.html. This company also offers lunch and dinner cruises if you would rather save this for one of your mealtime activities.
If you have an extra day in the area, plan to take a day trip to Versailles. The palace and grounds are extraordinarily beautiful and worth the visit if your schedule allows for it. Pro tip: get there early as a line forms quickly at this popular estate.
Things to know before leaving:
Currency: France utilizes the Euro. Major credit cards are widely accepted; however, consider exchanging currency to Euros prior to arriving for a more favorable exchange rate.
Tipping: By law, Paris and other cities in France include a 15% service charge on the bill at restaurants. If you had exceptional service, however, feel free to leave an extra 5% or so in addition to your payment. This additional tip goes directly to your server; whereas, the tip included on your bill is divided among all the waiters and waitresses at the end of the day. As for taxis, it is customary to leave 10% of the final fare.
Heads up: One thing to know before traveling to Paris is that some of the public toilets require you to pay a small fee to utilize the facilities, so it is not the worst of ideas to carry a bit of change with you when walking around the city.