How to See Paris in a Day: Research, Prepare; Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame; Batobus, Check-List, Itinerary
Paris, Capital of France
Paris is flamboyant, artistic, romantic, adorned with grand monuments, graceful and impressive architecture and a colourful history. It’s easy to explore the main sites of this pretty, compact city in a day, to give you a taste of what’s on offer and an appetite to come back to savour the whole feast.
I had promised my granddaughter that I would take her to Paris so when the family arrived in France for their 2012 holiday with us, everything had been organised for our day ‘à deux’.
Symbol of Paris
For a day free of worry with no unpleasant surprises, where hardly a minute is wasted, you should:
- Research and Prepare
- Buy tickets in advance where possible
- Have pocket money for extras & contingencies
- Make a priority list of sites you most want to see
- Plan your route
- Have a travel check-list
- Take a written Itinerary with you
(all prices quoted as at Summer 2012)
Research and Prepare
Transport times & fares
Research the choices of train (or other transport) times and fares - it’s cheaper in France to buy tickets in advance, either via the net or at a station. I bought ours at the local station, for return travel (aller retour) Bourges/Paris Austerlitz. It’s a journey of just over 2 hours with 3 stops. The service is on time, efficient and fast. For 1 adult + 1 child round trip, it cost 87€50 (about £75.00 at the time).
You have to remember to put your ticket into the yellow 'franking' machine at the entrance to the platform; it's obligatory. I was told off gruffly but the ticket inspector on the way home but she had a change of heart when I pleaded English ignorance of the system as a first-time user of the excellent French trains! She became charming and explained all.
Rise & Shine!
Be prepared to get up early to make the most of your day! We allowed plenty of time to get our train (in case of punctures or any unforeseen circumstances) and were in Paris just before 9am, ready for our 10 hour adventure!
How do you want to Travel around Paris?
Metro/RER train, Riverbus, Open-top bus tour and shanks’ pony* are at your disposal. Using the net before coming away, I had found several river boat companies which offered varying services. I decided on ‘Batobus’, a company which has 8 river stations along the Seine with boats that travel anti-clockwise from ‘Jardin des Plantes’ to ‘La Tour Eiffel’ and back, starting at 10am, the last one leaving the Eiffel Tower at 9.30pm. Boats are every 20 minutes in high season (see below for route).
We bought a day-pass from the boat-station on arrival (it can be done online but you have to pick them up from one designated place which wasn’t convenient for us). Starting from ‘Jardin des Plantes’ was useful for us as it’s just outside Austerlitz station; cross the main riverside road and walk left down the river bank past the River Police headquarters. Watch out for the little kiosk with ‘Batobus’ written across the top (it’s not that obvious).
The day pass was 15€ (adult’s) + 7€ (child), so 22€. You can then hop on, hop off as you please, as many times as you want during the day. This is a great way to see many of the famous sites and buildings plus a host of others. It gives you an overview and a chance to decide what to revisit for a closer look. It also gives you endless photo opportunities.
Guide & Map
There is a brilliant pocket book called ‘Eye Witness Travel, PARIS, Pocket Map & Guide’ which provides all the information you could possibly need for your day out as well as interesting facts, historical and otherwise, of many sites. The map is accurate and the information comprehensive; it has illustrations and is invaluable to have with you - make sure it’s on your check-list! (See book reference below.) I bought mine in my local branch of ‘The Works’ at home.
You may not be able to decide on everything in advance but the more, the better. Train tickets are the biggest expense so, if nothing else, do try to book those. The riverbus tickets are the same price regardless but there are cheaper prices for passes lasting 2 days or more (also available at each riverboat station).
Other tickets, such as for the Eiffel Tower, can be bought online (you need to book the lift well in advance) and you can find some deals, usually for parties of 10 or more. However, if you want to avoid the queues for the lifts, even when you’ve booked, get there early. To save the hassle of the lift queue, climb up the stairs (escaliers); it’s also a lot cheaper (8€50 total for 1 adult and 1 child). If you’ve only got a day you don’t want to waste 2 hours of it in a queue; yes, that’s right, 2 hours! Anyway, walking is less crowded and good exercise plus you get better views all the way up and down!
Structure of La Tour Eiffel
Don’t forget extra euros for souvenirs, gifts, food and drink and for any unforeseen expenses. A credit card is fine, of course, but there are always times when you need cash (must have an ice-cream!). You might decide to take the metro or a bus ride or just buy a souvenir from a road-side stall. Don’t forget 50c for the loo - when you gotta go, you gotta go! A word of advice - free facilities are usually not that good. A ‘pain au chocolat’ (like a croissant with chocolate chips in - we had one each for breakfast, outside the station) will cost you about 1€50 and an ice-cream about 3€. If you see nomadic souvenir sellers in the parks, bargain with them; we got a large Eiffel Tower reduced from 20€ to 5€! That leaves you with plenty for the loos!
Sites of Paris
Know where you want to go and do stick to it. You can modify a little as you go or add something en route but don’t go out of your way as this will take more time than you think and could risk missing out one of your priority sites.
We had already decided on certain landmarks; the Eiffel Tower was number 1, then the Arc de Triomphe and the River Seine itself. Everything else would be a bonus - my granddaughter's easy to please!
Planning a Route
Knowing what was required, I planned our route to make it as easy as possible. One reason I chose the Batobus, apart from it being a convenient starting point by the station, was that we could go straight up the river to ‘La Tour Eiffel’ and see so much on the way; L’Hotel de Ville, the Louvre museum, Le Petit Palais, Le Grand Palais and Notre Dame, amongst many other imposing facades, as well as bridge upon bridge upon bridge and life along the riverbanks.
Boat from Jardin des Plantes to Eiffel Tower
Walk across river to Trocadéro
to L’Arc de Triomphe,
down the Champs-Elysées (the Elysian Fields)
towards the Tuilleries Gardens
to the Louvre Gallery
Boat - hop back on Batobus at ‘Louvre’ river station
back round past Eiffel Tower, Musée d’Orsay & St Germain des Prés
maybe get off for Notre Dame Cathedral
I thought we’d be lucky to cram all that into a day but that we’d have a go!
Make up your sandwiches the night before and put them in the fridge; we’d also have crisps, biscuits and bottles of cold water.
My check-list put my mind at rest; I knew I wouldn't forget any essentials in the morning:
PURSES + EUROS!
CAMERAS (& charged batteries!)
JACKETS & SUN HATS
NOTEBOOK & PEN
PARIS POCKET GUIDE
SUNGLASSES/GLASSES/SUN CREAM STICK
HAYFEVER TABLETS (in case of stings)
GAVISCON (in case of indigestion!)
FACE WIPES (good for keeping cool, wiping dirt, soothing feet!)
BAG EACH, GOOD SHOES or SANDALS SOCKS (in case of cold or sore feet)
The socks came in handy as did the face wipes. Should you develop a blister caused by those terrible gravelly pavements they love so much in France, wrap a face wipe round the blister and the toes to each side, put a sock over the top and you'll be comfortable for the rest of the day - much better than a plaster.
Even though you may have the transport times in your head and know where you’re going, I find it’s less worry and a safeguard to have it all written down clearly, to refer to when needed. For example:
6.49 am train from Bourges, arriving Paris Austerlitz 8.52 am (2h 3m journey time)
19.08 pm train from Paris, arriving Bourges 21.11 pm (87€ 50 total for returns).
Batobus from ‘Jardin des Plantes’ river station 10am, up to ‘La Tour Eiffel’
Walk across to the Trocadéro (maybe lunch there) (We did have lunch there.)
Walk to L’Arc de Triomphe, down Les Champs-Elysées (pavement cafe? - did that too), to the Louvre (see glass pyramid? no, time running short for seeing Notre Dame)
Batobus from ‘Louvre’ river station back round to look at anything else we wanted to see (Notre Dame)
Back to ‘Jardin des Plantes’ river station in time to catch train
(The Jardin des Plantes and the Tuilleries gardens are free and well worth a visit if you have time.)
Did it Work?
It Worked a Treat!
The research and planning is definitely worthwhile doing. Everything fell into place; no worry about checking transport and timetables, leaving us free to enjoy it all. Even the weather was on our side.
All the grand buildings along the banks of the Seine are majestic; photo opportunities abound.
We noticed one bridge where the railings were covered in padlocks on which were initials; a strange decoration. Later, we saw more and found out why (answer below!).
Excitement, Exercise & Views
The Eiffel Tower soon comes into view; more photos to take and then we went ashore to begin exploring.
Such a structure! We attacked the 360 steps to the first floor, my granddaughter with vigour, I less so!. Then only another 369 to the second!! Not for the faint-hearted but manageable.
Stupendous views; at our feet the Parc du Champs de Mars (in which the tower was built), over the river Le Palais de Chaillot behind the Trocadéro gardens and fountains. We picked out L’Arc de Triomphe, in the distance Montmatre and Le Sacré Coeur Basilica. You can take the lift from the second floor to the top but another long queue would have wasted too much time. There’s a reasonable souvenir shop on the second floor of the Tower; I was expecting higher prices here for a captive audience but perhaps they’re suffering from the low economy too!
So much in such a Compact Area
The Trocadéro is a good area in which to relax, with its fountains and statues and the grand facade of Le Palais de Chaillot (which now houses three museums and a theatre); a good place to lunch before a short walk to the Arc de Triomphe.
My young companion was amazed that the Arc was in the middle of such a huge roundabout (Place de Charles de Gaulle); it used to be surrounded by buildings at the time of Napoleon Bonaparte but they’ve long gone. An underpass takes you to the foot of the arch. The columns tell the story of Napoleon’s battles and of the campaigns of WW1; there is the tomb of the unknown soldier from WW1 with the eternal flame burning, lest we forget (sadly, we do).
A Saunter & Refreshment
A walk down the broad, lively Avenue des Champs-Elysées, lined with designer names, is fun. Have a rest at a cafe for a drink and a gateau, experience the French pastime of sitting outside at a table and watching the world go by, babbling conversation all around you. I explained that this avenue was built for the rich and famous with many high-class shops - then we spotted Macdonalds and Burger King and had a laugh! We just had to go into one of the exclusive fashion shops, dresses and coats upwards of 400€! Of course, we ordered a few - I wish! Lovely though.
La Place de la Concorde & down to Le Louvre
At the opposite end of the Avenue to L’Arc de Triomphe is La Place de la Concorde, with its 3200 year-old obelisk from Luxor, hieroglyphics carved into the surfaces.
We were wilting a little in the heat by then! If you are not a keen walker, then shorten the journey with a metro trip or hire a ‘pedal’ carriage at the Arc de Triomphe, to take you down to Place de la Concorde.
If you then go straight on you will come to the Tuilleries Gardens or if you turn right, down towards the river, you’ll see the beautiful Petit Palais and Grand Palais. We chose the latter and then turned left down to the Louvre.
Padlocks & Love
There’s a pedestrian bridge across the river opposite the west end of the Louvre, called ‘Le Pont des Arts’ where they often have exhibitions and where there were even more padlocks on the railings. I looked this up when I got home; someone started a craze, on this bridge, of putting lovers’ names on a padlock, locking it to the railings, then throwing the key into the river, symbolising undying love. I wonder how many of those lovers are still together?
Notre Dame & Home
Hopping on and off the boat means you can pick and choose; we took the Batobus once more at the ‘Louvre’ station, back round to Notre Dame where we disembarked to look at this impressive Gothic cathedral. There is much security at all the sites and the bag search had resulted in two very long queues. If you have time, it’s worth the wait; if not, take a walk round the square in front, see the statue of the warring Emperor Charlemagne standing high on his horse, charging into battle, then take a walk round the peaceful gardens between cathedral and river.
Over the bridge (more padlocks), past artists selling paintings and creating caricature drawings, takes you back to the river station; you can continue round and round all day!
For us, though, back to the Jardin des Plantes and over to Austerlitz station for our train. Our total for the day, including train and Batobus and incidentals but not our packed food, was around £140; not bad for a day out for two in Paris.
The Sites of Paris
We had ‘done’ Paris and managed to pack in a surprising amount without totally exhausting ourselves. It gave us the appetite to go back to explore more, go into the gardens and museums, walk some of the quaint back streets and artists’ quarters. Of course, it would take weeks, possibly years to see all of this wonderful city. All the more reason to return again and again. ‘Au revoir, Paris!'
Don’t be daunted by traveling around a city for the first time; with careful thought and preparation it can be a fascinating and exhilarating experience.
Go on, try it! You’ll be glad you did.
to go by Shanks’ pony (or shanks’ mare), meaning to walk, comes from the term ‘shank’ for the lower half of the leg, knee to ankle.
Do you have any travel tips? Let us know!
A few more Interesting Facts
- built by Gustave Eiffel for the 1889 Universal Exhibition
- ironwork pattern of girders for strength & stability
- was world’s tallest building until Empire State Building (1931)
L’Arc de Triomphe
- Place Charles de Gaulle
- 12 avenues radiate from centre, one of which is Avenue des Champs-Elysées
- foundation stone 1806
- depicts many of Napoleon’s battles
- lists of campaigns on pillars
- tomb of unknown soldier from WW1
- art gallery (1848-1914)
- impressionist paintings
- converted railway station
Père Lachaise Cemetery
- 70,000 tombs
- including those of Jim Morrison, Edith Piaf & Oscar Wilde
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
Some of the Buildings to be seen from the River
- Le Palais de Justice
- La Cathédrale de Notre Dame
- La Conciergerie
- L’Hôtel de Ville
- Le Louvre Art Gallery
- Le Grand Palais’ glass roof
- L’Institut de France which houses L’Académie Française (which regulates the French language; dictionaries etc.)
- La Tour Eiffel
Batobus stations: Boats have a continuous circuit, anti-clockwise, round the north side of the Ile de la Cité to La Tour Eiffel, then back south of the Ile to Jardin des Plantes.
The 8 stations are:
(from east to west)
Jardin des Plantes - Hôtel de Ville - Louvre - Champs-Elysées - Eiffel Tower,
then back eastwards via
Musée d’Orsay - St Germain des Prés - Notre Dame, to Jardin des Plantes.
The site gives you a useful map of the 8 stations.
‘Eye Witness Travel, PARIS, Pocket Map & Guide’ ISBN 978-1-4053-5320-5
French Phrases to Help You on Your Way
Où se trouve [place name] ? Where is (the)........ ?
(e.g. la station de métro / metro station)
Je cherche...... - I’m looking for.......
C’est combien? - How much is that?
Où sont les toilettes? Where are the toilets?
s’il vous plaît (see vou play) -please
Pardon M’sieur*/Madame! - Sorry (if you bump into someone)
Merci M’sieur/Madame - thank you
Same word for tickets, but pronounced ‘tickay’
Je n’ai pas de liquide - I have no cash
Je n’ai pas de monnaie - I have no change
Le train part à quelle heure? At what time does the train leave?
*Always put M’sieur or Madame before or after a request, for general politeness.
© 2012 Ann Carr