I’ve written before about my relationship with Paris. While it has not been my favorite city, it is not a surprise that when we have visitors from the States, they want to go to there. It’s so easy to get to Paris from Gent. We can walk to our nearest train station, make one change in Brussels or Lille, and be there in about two hours.
This happened in March of this year and I was excited to give Paris another visit. We went with family, including children, and enjoyed a two-night, weekend stay. It’s so easy to get there, I like the idea of being able to go for quick trips and explore a little bit more each time.
What We Did
Because we were visiting with a family with children who had never been to Paris, and it was only the second visit for our son, we did a lot of the traditional tourist activities. It was actually nice to repeat some activities and delve into them a little deeper than I had before.
As a general travel tip, I recommend getting the Paris Visite pass for the metro. You can get them for 1, 2, 3, or 5 consecutive days for unlimited metro use and it makes the process so easy. We used it to get around all weekend. Even the kids were pros at it.
We arrived late in the afternoon on a Friday and went to Sacré-Cœur. The kids loved running up the stairs to the top of the hill, competing to see who could spot the Eiffel Tower first.
After finding it and taking in the beautiful views of the city, we went into the Sacré-Cœur Basilica itself. By chance, a service was starting while we were there which was very interesting to see. It was beautiful inside, but photography was not allowed. I am sorry I can’t show you!
Place du Tertre
We left the Sacré-Cœur and walked through the Place du Tertre. This square full of local artists was not as quaint as I remembered from our first trip. The square and surrounding architecture were, but I seemed to remember at least some of the artists actually painting quaint Parisian scenes. On this night, they seemed to all be cheesy caricature artists. We walked to dinner nearby, and then headed back to the hotel for the night, passing Moulin Rouge on the way.
Place du Trocadéro
The next morning, we grabbed a quick breakfast near our hotel and headed to the Eiffel Tower. We got off at the Trocadéro metro stop. This is a well-known spot to take in a great view of the Eiffel Tower. We snapped some truly touristy photos there before walking to the tower.
Since the Eiffel Tower was closed the last time we tried to go up, I was glad we had the chance to go back and get our son to the top. Even better, he was able to do it with cousins his age.
We tried to buy our tickets in advance, but even a few weeks in advance, the online tickets were already sold out. So, we had to wait in line. I read a few articles (here’s one) about different ways to skip the line or reduce wait time. Our plan was just to get there as early as possible and deal with it. It ended up not taking too long, maybe 2 hours total wait to get to the top.
“Flamme de la Liberté” (Liberty Flame)
After the Eiffel Tower, we walked to lunch. On the way, we passed the Liberty Flame, a monument that was originally given to France in 1987 by the International Herald Tribune to symbolize the friendship between France and the United States. It has since become an unofficial monument to Princess Diana as it sits above the roadway where she was killed in a car accident. I found this interesting article from The Telegraph explaining the background.
Maybe I’ve just been clueless, but I didn’t realize this existed and had not realized the exact location of her accident. It was kind of a shock to walk by this and put all the information together. While morbid, it was interesting to see. I am glad we happened to pass by it unexpectedly.
We went to the Louvre, this time with the intention of actually going in. If you read about my previous visits to Paris, you know that I have walked by the Louvre, but never in! We didn’t have a lot of time to spend inside but decided to at least see the Mona Lisa and maybe a few other pieces if possible. I had read a few articles and guide books about how the museum has multiple entrances, some of which have shorter wait times. (Here’s one of the articles).
We used the entrance underground which you can access from inside the adjacent shopping mall. This worked out well for us, too well, in fact. We split up the group so that some of us would wait in line and some of us would buy coffees at the mall’s Starbucks for an afternoon pick-me-up. The Starbucks wait ended up being longer than the Louvre’s. Those of us in the Louvre line ended up circling back and re-entering the line two or three times before the rest of the group joined us.
Once we were in, we followed the signs directly to the Mona Lisa. I wish I could say it was a good experience, but it wasn’t. It was crowded, hot, stuffy, and just generally unpleasant in my opinion.
It was nearly impossible to see the painting up close. To be honest, it didn’t seem worth it.
I took more pictures of the crowds than anything else. I spent the rest of the time enjoying the other artwork in the room that no one else was paying any attention to, and trying to keep my bored, antsy kid happy and out of trouble.
After seeing the Mona Lisa, it was clear that some of the kids were getting tired and restless. I love and appreciate fine art, but at this stage of my life as a parent and a traveler, if the kid is about to fall out, I’d rather leave the museum. We split up our group again and two adults took most of the kids out to play in the Tuileries Garden, while the other adults and oldest child stayed and saw a few more things in the museum.
The Tuileries Garden sits between the Louvre and the Place de la Concorde. We let the kids blow off some steam here. They got to run around, play with strangers’ dogs, dance with street performers, and generally get their wiggles out and happy attitudes back after starting to get grumpy from a long day of standing in lines. After spending time in the gardens and getting our whole group back together, we walked around the area, shopping and ultimately finding a place to eat dinner.
Place de la Concorde and the Grande Roue
After dinner, we walked back to the Place de la Concorde. There, we had crepes from street vendors and rode the Grande Roue, Paris’s giant ferris wheel. We were hoping to see the hourly Eiffel Tower light show and as luck would have it, it happened while we were riding the Grand Roue. It was a perfect ending to our two fast days in Paris with our family members who were leaving early the next morning.
While writing this blog post, I was surprised to learn (via this Guardian article) that Paris has decided to close the attraction effective this month. I saw other sources claiming it would close even earlier. Can any of my Paris readers confirm, is it gone? If so, I will feel even more nostalgic about our family’s quaint evening ride, eight of us shoved into one swinging car, on our final night in Paris together.
Easter in Paris
The next morning was Easter Sunday. Our guests headed back to the States very early, so my husband, son, and I were on our own again after our fun week of showing them around Belgium and touring in Paris.
We had a moment in the hotel when we were deciding what to do with the day, how long to stay in Paris, and when to head home. I was amused and impressed by my son who said he really wanted to stay and walk around and see more of the city. He wanted to stay more than I did! He has really gotten used to exploring new cities. I love seeing him enjoy it.
We grabbed breakfast at the bakery next to the hotel, then took our bags and stored them in lockers at the train station so we could walk around the city more comfortably.
I knew that the Marché Bastille was open on Sundays. Since I had read that Lonely Planet considers it one of the best in Paris (see here), we went to see for ourselves. It did not disappoint!
We basically ate our way through the market, sampling small dried sausages, crepes, baguettes, and fresh fruit. We could have tried so much more. If you love a good food market, I recommend paying this one a visit!
Place des Vosges
We walked from the market to the Place des Vosges. This is one of the oldest squares in Paris. We sat for a bit and enjoyed the views before heading to the train station to go home.
Where We Ate
I mentioned how much we enjoyed food at the Marché Bastille. We also enjoyed crepes made by street vendors throughout the city!
We got our breakfasts every morning at a nice bakery near our hotel, Maison Landemaine.
We had a really nice lunch at a café near the Eiffel Tower, Café de L’Alma. I give them extra props for pleasantly accommodating a party of eight (with four kids) without a reservation.
We all enjoyed a fondue dinner at La Pierrade near the Sacré-Cœur.
We had a simple dinner of sandwiches and croques at La Colombe, a small café near the Place de la Concorde. We were the last guests they served before closing, but they were very nice about it, and even alerted us to a potential pick pocket who was eating nearby. Great service!
Where We Stayed
We stayed at the Hotel Le Cardinal in the 9th Arrondissement. It was close to the Place de Clichy metro. It was a very clean, modern room. I would definitely stay there again if we wanted to be in that part of Paris.
Perhaps the best part of visiting Paris for us is how easy it is to get there. We rode the train back to the station near our house and walked home. It doesn’t get any easier than that!
After three touring trips to Paris (and one volunteer trip), it still isn’t my favorite European city, but I appreciate it more. I am intrigued by the idea of future short trips like this one where we can explore small parts of the city more in-depth, a little bit at a time.