Paris, France. Literally, One Day In Paris.
Updated: Apr 9, 2020
If you had just one day to see major sites of Paris, consider this your walking guide.
We tortured ourselves on a recent visit to France, taking in the Paris sights and touring seemingly the whole of the Normandy coast in 7 days and about 1200 miles (this included Belgium as well but that's part two of this story). Clearly there is more to France than Paris, but if you're going to start somewhere in France, pass the baguettes and land feet first in Paris. We flew into Paris, Orly Airport, on a Monday and maximized our marathon of one and half days in the city. Once on the ground and clearing the hoards of fellow travelers of various hygienic distinction, we picked up our rented mule, hitched up our gear and headed out into the gray overcast morning light of city. Orly Airport is just south of the Paris, it's a little less crowded than Charles De Gaulle (which is north of the city) offers fewer amenities, but it's growing and also allowed for an easy escape. To get to our destination in Asnieres Sur Seine (northern Paris suburb), we navigated the outer ring highways to proceed north. Traffic in Paris is "fairly" civilized, even in heavy conditions with the only real "unsettling" aspect of the commute being mopeds and motorcycles splitting traffic (i.e. riding in between moving cars). You could almost feel them sliding down the side of your vehicle as they pass, but since we didn't encounter any mangled flesh, crushed helmet speed bumps, no harm, no foul, just ride on, ride on, ride on. Rule of advice when highway driving in France, keep right if you're not passing. On city streets, be assertive but not aggressive and you'll make your way just fine. A GPS or Navigation is bound to be helpful if you're driving, request one from the rental agency you might be using. Once we set our destination it was an easy drive to our Airbnb rental in Asnieres Sur Seine. Why north of the city? Less congested and available street parking. Paris is a difficult city to find street parking (and what would you expect from one of the most visited cities in the world?), but there are parking garages a plenty near most of the tourist spots, use them. They're not God-awful expensive but not grilled cheese cheap either, it is however effective and time saving. Asnieres Sur Seine is a meek little hamlet, quiet but true to Parisian form with cafe's and shops in abundance. We walked out our door, bathed ourselves in the culture, faux Parisians or not. Our location was strategic to our starting point, the Arc De Triomphe which being in northern part of the city, is a great starting point if you plan to walk to all the places in Paris you might have fingered in the pages of countless travel magazines and said to yourself "someday, yes someday". We adjusted to our lack of sleep in the past 12 hours, adjusted overnight flight attitudes and took the brief ride over to the Champs Ellysees (found underground parking). Once there, we pointed ourselves in the direction of the Arc De Triomphe and embarked on a walking tour to see the most notable sites of Paris. If you choose to see Paris this way keep it casual, wear comfortable shoes, be reasonably fit and take in a few bistros or cafes along the way to enjoy the laissez faire life. Great food is in abundance, especially if you get off the Champs Ellysees for a minute or two and venture down the side streets. This was Paris in a day.
The Arc de Triomphe
The Arc de Triomphe from its position at the top of the Champs Ellysees seems to be the gateway to all of Paris and French history. It is both majestic and a reminder of French freedom fought and died for. It is grand in scale, 360 degrees of stone legacy with innate renderings of historic battles and inscriptions of honored French legends. From the top of the Arc de Triomphe you can almost view the whole of Paris. It's a must visit when you visit the city of lights. If you want to see the view from the top of the Arc de Triomphe, order your tickets ahead of time and avoid the lines. Once you've had your fill of history at the "Arc", head southwest and in the distance you'll see Paris's tallest and most famous landmarks, the Eiffel Tower.
The Eiffel Tower
Symbolic of all that is Paris, the Eiffel Tower looms large. From a distance it is a familiar site, but up close it is an intricate collection of weaved iron that has been artistically rendered. Its true dimension and gravitas is revealed walking beneath or scaling the structure. At its height all of Paris will lay beneath your feet, take a moment to breathe it in. The Eiffel Tower being one of the most famous landmarks in the world will be congested with fellow travelers. To avoid the lines you can and should order "timed visit tickets" ahead of time. You can choose between the 2nd level, which offers some great views or the Summit, the very top, where all of Paris seems to welcome you. It is mesmerizing. After your visit of the Eiffel Tower start toward your next destination by walking east to Avenue de la Bourdonnais, follow it SE to Avenue del Motte Picquet, make a left and follow it through Park Esplanades de Invalides on your right. Once through the park, a familiar friend, the Seine River appears (you've reached the Seine River when see Quai d'Orsay Street). Cross Pont Alexandre Bridge make a right walk three additional blocks east and you'll find yourself at the Place de la Concorde and the Louvre Museum.
The Louvre Museum
The Louvre Museum is world class site, one that would take several days, if not weeks to see it in its entirety. If you do decide to visit, again, purchase tickets ahead of time to avoid the lines. Once you're inside, choose what collection or collections interest you most and spend your time there. The Louvre has far too much offer to see in one visit, so plan your time wisely if you're on a schedule. Of course if you're just checking off the box of the places that you've visited in Paris, the Louvre offers many picture taking opportunities including its iconic pyramid dome.
The Cathedral de Notre Dame
From the Louvre head south- southeast to Quai Francis Mitterand, turn left walking along the Seine River and in about 10-15 minutes you'll see the towers of Notre Dame in the distance. Whether religious pilgrimage or taking in the historic sites of Paris, Notre Dame de Paris is not be missed. Impressive and surreal from gargoyles, intricate stone carvings to flying buttresses, the structure is classic gothic architecture. Re-imagined through the centuries Notre Dame still stands as a beacon in the city today representing both religious and French history. It's also simply beautiful. We walked this route in a day, but it can be done over several days.
Other sites that can be seen by altering your walk through the "city of lights" are the Luxembourg Gardens, the Montmarte, Place de la Bastille, the Latin Quarter, Musee Rodin and the Musee d'Orsay. It can be a memorable day if you choose this walking option so pace yourself, take in a cafe or two and enjoy.
The following day we visited the Catacombes de Paris before heading to the Normandy region.
The Catacombes de Paris
Here's your chance to walk among the dead. Forget graveyards by full moons, try 110 meters deep in the earth with the remains of just under 2 million french citizens from days gone by. A collection of souls from various graveyards throughout Paris, the Catacombs made way for modern Paris by re-purposing the acreage of the cities graveyards (there were many) and in the process removing the remains of the deceased. Through 18th century urban renewal, the Catacombes were born . Bone by bone, skull by ghastly skull they are stacked neatly here. It is both ghoulish and informative. Bring a sweater if you're the chilly type and wear sensible shoes with traction if you're the fall down type. You'll also need a little stamina as the climb out of the Catacombes is as steep and daunting as the climb down. Once you're down there, good and deep in the earth, reasonably close to hell, it's about a one and half miles among the dead and reburied. Fascinating.