The Complete Guide to 5 Days in Paris

Seine river running through Paris

A know-how and 5 day itinerary of a trip Paris, especially for the ones who have long dreamt of it and adore the cliches.

PARIS FRANCE, OCTOBER 2016

I think I am a sellout. Show me a movie based in Paris, and I will play “French Cafe Music” from YouTube on speaker being utterly insufferable. That is, perhaps, the loudest collateral damage of my travels – local music being made unbearable to people around. It brings back memories, and the made up memories, and a bottomless pit of desires to revisit Paris.

We are subjected to so much adoration for Paris, that it is impossible to not borrow the sentiments of admiring the historic city. But it is easy to notice that even with high expectations and pop culture representations of the city, Paris does not fall short. It creates a romantic experience in one’s heart and a hole in one’s wallet. The romance of Paris is unlikely to be with another person, and is unreservedly towards the city itself. After all, a lover is the same anywhere in the world, but a sandwich is better in Paris. A lover has the same smile on any happy day, but the cheese aisle in a grocery store is far better in Paris.

Convince yourself it is better to see Paris on foot. It is true, and has nothing to do with the expensive transport prices. Paris is more charming above ground than under, and a wine or two later the environment above ground can ignite dreams of moving there and finding inspiration (and new wives) like Hemingway or Fitzgerald. Such is the effect of Paris, one might fool himself to be capable of great talent, or a zealous rendezvous. But it is also encouraging to lose sight of oneself in the great city, and blend in with the sentiment that the streets flow. Vintage, rich and lavish, Paris becomes a manifestation of artistic desires. Maybe that is why millions of us are attracted to it. Paris is a promise waiting to be fulfilled.

THE COMPLETE TRAVEL GUIDE

  1. Summary & Basic Information
  2. Itinerary
  3. Financials
  4. Food
  5. Things to do
  6. Essential Information
  7. Additional Things to know

SUMMARY & BASIC INFORMATION

I ticked Paris off my list with a great deal of planning, the best phase of traveling to a place. I was prepared with places to visit and food to eat, all the art to see and Paris themed songs to listen to, reminding myself to not attempt a french accent. Learnt basic words to try to fit in and made no efforts in dressing for glorious travel pics. I won’t be exaggerating when I say I looked like a clean hobo. Or an ugly bohemian. The areas I visited covered both Left and Right Banks of Paris with famous sites and some of my personal favourites.

Sites I Visited (standing outside and staring counts as visiting)
  1. The Louvre
  2. Musee D’Orsay
  3. Notre-Dame de Paris
  4. Pont Neuf
  5. Pantheon
  6. Pompidou
  7. Arc de Triomphe
  8. Eiffel Tower
  9. Catacombs of Paris
  10. Sacré-Couer (Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris)
    Other Shortlisted Were:
    Montparnasse Tower, Montparnasse Cemetery, The Carnavalet Museum, Trocadero
Areas I visited
  1. Ile de la Cité – Ile Saint-Louis
  2. The Tuileries
  3. The Champs-Elysées
  4. Les Halles
  5. The Latin Quarter
  6. The Opera District
  7. Bastille
  8. Montmartre
Personal Pilgrimages
  1. Shakespeare & Co. (iconic bookstore)
  2. Marché des Enfants Rouges (old French market known for its eateries)
  3. Monoprix Stores (the best grocery store ever)
  4. Galeries Lafayette (a place to imagine self in a makeover montage)
  5. Coco Chanel’s Studio (a place to walk by fast)
  6. St Etienne du Mont (location where a taxi picks up Gill in Midnight in Paris, ideal for whimsy)
  7. Pont Alexandre III (another Midnight in Paris location)
Areas and Sites Elaborated
  1. Ile de la Cité – Ile Saint-Louis
    These are the island that are situated in the middle of the city, while also in the middle of the Seine.It is the location of Notre-Dame de Paris (beautiful gothic church) and the Conciergerie (an old prison). A fun game to play here is to guess the prices of real estate.Be liberal with your guessing. You can also head to the town hall from here and enjoy the large square with a traditional looking carousel.
  2. The Tuileries, Concorde and Rivoli
    The epitome of Paris visuals lie in this area, as it hosts the Louvre and a gorgeous walk towards Arc de Triomphe via Place de la Concorde, while crossing gardens with ducks.
    The Louvre
    The fancy huge ass museum that hosts art we studied in school but forgot about, the painting Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci, Winged Victory of Samothrace, Great Sphinx of Tanis, Eugène Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People (iconic painting representing France), The Virgin of the Rocks by Leonardo da Vinci (the one was in The Da Vinci Code), La belle ferronnière (a lady painted be Da Vinci), The Virgin and Child with St. Anne, Portrait of Baldassare Castiglione by Raphael (gives the feeling of deja vu), Bacchus by Da Vinci, The Wedding at Cana by Paolo Veronese (beautiful GIANT painting right opposite Mona Lisa, worthy of more attention), fruit like paintings by Giuseppe Arcimboldo (detailed faces made with fruits igniting no hunger because of creepiness).
    :: To truly learn from the museum with the availability of funds to spare, take a audio tour. The place is not well designed for people without the tours, and one is left guessing or using google for learning the history or value of the paintings.
    :: Every Friday 6 PM onwards entrance to the museum is free for under-26s of all nationalities with a valid ID. Also, during October to March, admission is free for all on the first Sunday of each month.
  3. Place de la Concorde – Best known Parisian square ideal for utilizing the camera.
    Rue de Rivoli – Hotels, cafes and classic Paris atmosphere. This area is historic, and is a good site for people watching and croissant eating. Roam here, devour the buildings and let yourself get enchanted by all the cliche feelings flooding in.
    Egyptian Obelisk – Tall tower looking out-of-place surrounded by crepes and tourists.
  4. The Champs-Elysées
    One of the most famous streets in the world, it has brands we know by names and cafes with eye popping prices. My speed here was pretty fast, jumping from menu to menu in amusement.
  5. Les Halles
    Location of The Centre Pompidou, the area is filled with interesting food shops and normal people being busy and visibly not on vacations. Also has a huge underground mall with the metro station Chatelet.
  6. The Latin Quarter
    Oh the place where the artists walked and got inspired, this area is easy to use as a time machine for magnificent made up memories of rotating pig on skewers and flapper girls going in and out of bars. Apart from nostalgic imagination, it does have the very famous bookstore Shakespeare & Company, where if you find a stranger, you must talk. Also located is the Pantheon where famous people are buried (Marie Curie, Victor Hugo, Voltaire). Another beautiful site is the baroque fountain of St. Michel, where a statue of a think is killing another thing. From here one will see the numerous book stalls by the Seine, where time is judiciously spent.
    :: I believe Pantheon can be skipped. While it was a great building to see both inside and outside, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it people who are not interested in architecture. Another interesting museum is perhaps better use of those Euros.
    :: Have wine with peanuts here.
  7. The Opera District
    To visit the Ritz hotel and walk till Galeries Lafayette and finally shop at the big Monoprix.
    :: Visit the cheese aisle in Monoprix and purchase dried meat that looks like ribbons. Meat for snack is the dream.
  8. Musee D’Orsay
    Old railway station converted in to a museum, the navigation of this museum is brilliant. It progressively takes you towards the more complicated and popularly known art, includes painting by Vincent Van Gogh, Edward Munch. Impossible to miss is the radiant Musée d’Orsay Clock, an original from the building’s history as a railway station. Notable paintings here are Van Gogh’s self portrait, Olympia by Édouard Manet (a nude woman being served with flowers by a black servant, worth researching before the visit), l’origine du monde by Gustave Courbet (google it in privacy), Whistler’s Mother by James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Poppies by Claude Monet, Starry Night Over the Rhône by Van Gogh, Van Gogh’s Bedroom in Arles by Van Gogh, Fritillaries by Van Gogh, The Floor Scrapers by Gustave Caillebotte (this single painting left me transfixed) and The Painter’s Studio by Gustave Courbet (the display there explains the painting well).
    :: Area behind has cute little cafes with less design and more French people visiting.
  9. Montmartre
    Location of Sacré-Couer, to be visited for a good hike and one of the best sights of Paris. The hike builds good appetite and leads to happy exhaustion.
  10. Catacombs
    Catacombs is an underground ossuaries where about 6 million bodies are buried. In the 18th century, after unfortunate incidents with overflowing burial grounds and poor practises with overcrowding, to expand the city many graveyards were removed and the graves were shifted here. As a result, the place is rightly creepy and dingy, and most people visit with companions, solo travelers must latch on to other solo travelers and support anxieties and claustrophobia.
    :: The queue to enter Catacombs is 2 hours long, and it may not be the best idea to visit the place if you are looking for more traditional and time efficient places. I, however, took an hour and a half walk to the place, which made the trip worth the while. There are also many tours that skip the queue time that may be worth your consideration.
    :: An ossuary is a place where bones of dead people are placed.

ITINERARY

Note: Add few more kilometres to each day for strolling and detours. All distances are calculated from the shortest walking distance between the mentioned points of interest.
Day 1 – [Walk] Pont Notre-Dam, Ile de la Cité > Hotel de Ville > Louvre > Tuileries > Champs-Elysées > Arc de Triomphe > Eiffel Tower > Latin Quarters
Distance = 12 km.
:: Also include walking in 3-4 hours of walking in Louvre. Long walk this day but it takes you to Eiffel Tower near sunset, which I can guarantee is the best time to see it. Tour Latin Quarters at night and end up at Shakespeare & Co.

Day 2 – [Walk] Musee d’Orsay > Pont Neuf > Rue de Rivoli > The Opera District
Distance = 4 km.
:: You may go to Opera District via Pompidou (longer route) or via Tuileries/side of Seine/Palais Royale (shorter picturesque route)
:: Can also extend to a visit to Moulin Rouge.

Day 3 – [Walk] Notre-Dam > fountain of St. Michel > Pantheon > [Walk/Metro] Moulin Rouge
Distance = [Walk] 2 km.
:: See Moulin Rougue in night with all its lights, Notre-Dam in the day for all its glory.
:: Moulin Rougue can also be done on Day 2 after Opera visit.

Day 4 – Catacombs > [Metro] Sacré Couer
:: Spend day at Montmartre.

Day 5 – Marché des Enfants Rouges > The Centre Pompidou > Rue du Pont-Neuf > Palais-Royal
:: Roam around to your favourite parts.
Distance = 3 km.


FINANCIALS

Food – 137.5 Euros
Drink – 15.2 Euros
Transport – 27.5 Euros (including one side airport transfer)
Entertainment – 43.5 Euros (tickets and street performers)
Shopping – 65 Euros
Hotel – 0 Euros (as I was mooching off my beloved friend)

Tickets breakdown:

Louvre – 15 Euros
Musee de Orsay – 9 Euros
Pantheon – 6.5 Euros
Catacombs – 10 Euros


FOOD

Traditional Paris Food

– French Onion Soup
– Beef bourguignon (beef cooked in red wine)
– Croque Madame (for breakfast)
– Ratatouille
– Steak frites (Steak with fries)
– Steak Tartare (raw beef served with spices)
– Escargot (snails cooked with garlic and butter)
– Foie gras (if you can digest it)
– Creme bru le
– Fon dan chocolat
– Mille feuille, coffee tart, anything from a bakery

Food I ate (with locations)

_ Croissant and Coffee (Brioche Doree for breakfast)
_ Croque Madame (small cafe behind Musee de Orsay)
_ Bagel sandwich, crepe, baguette sandwich at small sellers
_ French Onion Soup (at Le Grange)
_ Macaron, Cinnamon Rolls, Tart, BAKED GOODIES from several bakeries
_ Oysters
_ Beef bourguignon (at La Cave Gourmande near Sacre Couer)
_ Ossobuco (at Marché des Enfants Rouges)
_ Wine (at Le Lutece in Latin Quarters), in bottles, from bottles
_ Buy fresh salad leaves, mozzarella balls and cherry tomatoes, maybe little pesto. Make a salad, save on food and spend on wine.


THINGS TO DO

– Read a Paris themed book in Tuileries, or outside of a cafe.
– Have wine in Latin Quarters.
– Eat a baguette sandwich.
– Give change to street performers (my favourite was a lovely old man playing the accordion on a bridge over Seine near Notre-Dam late in the night).
– Have a croissant and coffee combo.
– Find cheap oysters with good beer.
– Buy cheese.
– Eat cheese.
– Take a sunset picture of Eiffel tower and watch it sparkle (literally).
– Walk on a lock bridge (but don’t put a lock, it is bad for the bridges).
– Sit on the steps of Sacré Couer.
– Visit a pet shop in central Paris.
– Jump on Les Deux Plateaux of Palais Royale area.


ESSENTIAL INFORMATION

Duration of stay

4-5 days are sufficient for Paris. While there are arguments that Paris has so much to see and it requires more time, the same often applies to many more remarkable cities of the world. So it is best not to take that too seriously. A crash course of Paris can be done in 3 days, and anything below that is a challenge that may or may not be a happy experience. Divide the sites of interest in regions and visit each one by one for a relaxed and fun visit.

Transport

Metro in Paris is the easiest way to cover long distances. The metro system has schemes when buying tickets in bulk (like 10, 20) can give one a discount, and so it is best to buy them together. If you are staying far from the city’s tour sites, best to get 2 tickets for each day in Paris to commute to and from your place of residence, also include few more tickets for the different regions that are on your visit list. Rest of the part I recommend on foot. You can also pick weekly or daily unlimited passes based on the zones you wish to travel to. Also available are buses and trams, and of course taxis, or as I call ‘the chariot of Lord Rich’.

One ticket = 1.90 Euros
Visitor Pass = Starts at 5.80 Euros for one day, rates based on days and zones

The card for zone 1-3 card is usually adequate to explore central Paris freely.The card for zones 1-5 card are useful to see attractions that are outside Paris, such as Disneyland Paris or the Chateau de Versailles, and also includes commute to and fro Paris airports.

Take updated information here.
For travel pass: click here
For travel pass 2: click here

Use the RATP website to find routes from one destination to another. You may still use Google maps, but cross check its recommendations against the RATP results.
RATP website: https://www.ratp.fr/en
RATP Map: https://www.ratp.fr/en/plans-lignes


ADDITIONAL THINGS TO KNOW

– Learning basic French words could take you a long way. The most noticeable benefit is how french people smile at one’s attempts and help with order, directions, etc. Perhaps it comes from a cocktail of french pride mixed pity for other races.
Bonjour /bon zor/ = Good day (greeting for hello, said in day time)
Bonsoir /bon swah/ = Good evening (said in night time)
Au revoir /oh-ruh-vwah/ = Good bye (applicable both times of the day)
Merci /mer-sea/ = Thank you
Pardon /pahr-doah/ = Excuse me or sorry
Madame /mah-dahm/ = Ma’am (respectful greeting to a woman)
Monsieur /mis-eeyuh/ = Sir (respectful greeting to a man)
Oui /we/ = Yes
Non /no/ = No
– In France, cars are on the right side of the road. So are the people. On escalators, stand on the side to let people pass you by. It is an unspoken rule of escalators.
– Pick-pocketing is a problem in Paris, especially on metros.
– Do not gamble on streets, the tricks are designed to give you a small win to lure you in and then steal your money.
– Drink tap water in France. Bottled water is in fact expensive compared to coffee or beer. Tap water is perfectly safe to drink in France.
– Do not put out cigarettes butts on the street. It is a huge problem in Paris and there is a fine against it.
– Book tickets online for museums, especially the Louvre and save time in the queues.
– In metros, do not throw out ticket till the whole journey is over. You might notice that authorities do not actively check, but they do in fact make periodic checks and it wouldn’t be a pleasant experience to try and explain that you’ve thrown out your ticket.
– Also, in metros, most trains don’t have automatic doors but a button to press to open them, both inside and outside.
– Public toilets are paid, so keep change handy OR use the bathroom at a cafe and also have coffee.
– Buy breads small cafes instead of grocery store. Grocery store wouldn’t give you bad bread, so buy if convenient.

Click here to read my very unnecessary travel log.

S A V E   F O R   L A T E R

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