Playing Tourists in Paris
Paris has been one of my favorite cities since I first visited when I was eleven years old. This was my fourth time to the City of Love and Shaun’s very first. We spent 5 nights in the heart of the city in an adorable Airbnb in Le Marais — a cozy quartier in the 4th arrondissement, popular for shopping and dining along the network of cobblestone lanes with a classic Parisian feeling. We were lucky enough to experience Paris in both rain and sunshine, each equally romantic and charming.
Paris in the Rain
If you’ve seen Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, then you understand the romanticization of Paris in the rain. Like Owen Wilson’s character says…
“This is unbelievable! Look at this! There’s no city like this in the world. There never was. Can you picture how drop dead gorgeous this city is in the rain? Imagine this town in the ’20s. Paris in the ’20s, in the rain.”
I’ll add that Paris today is equally drop dead gorgeous. The city shines whether it’s pouring or not. Plus, it gives you more reason for the frequent cafe pitstop!
Arc de Triomphe
The Arc de Triomphe is an iconic monument in Paris built in 1806, standing center of twelve streets in a star-shape including the famous luxury shopping boulevard Champs-Élysées. Enjoy views of the city in every direction, including the nearby Eiffel Tower.
Our visit landed on a cloudy day with an obscured view, so I suggest you try to plan for a sunny day to fully appreciate the excellent views. Expect ticket lines and come prepared for climbing spiral stairs… 284 to be exact!
Château de Versailles
12 miles southwest of Paris stands Château de Versailles, the palace of French royalty from 1689 until the French Revolution in 1789. With previous residents like Louis XIV and Marie Antoinette, Versailles is a symbol of the absolute monarchy of the Ancien Régime, designed with the utmost extravagance and luxury in mind. Highlights inside are the Hall of Mirrors and the Queen’s Chamber, but our favorite part was exploring the Royal Gardens.
Keep in mind you have to purchase an RER train ticket to get to Versailles, because it’s out of the city limits where the Metro runs. There are several ticket options depending which tour you prefer and which sections to see (for example, our ticket did not include the Petit Trianon, Marie Antoinette’s private estate). So plan ahead and absolutely purchase your ticket online beforehand to skip additional waiting time on-site.
Just half a block down from our Airbnb was the Centre Pompidou, which houses the Musée National d’Art Moderne (National Museum of Modern Art) and ever changing special exhibits. For our visit, they had a small but wonderful exhibition on Jacqueline Picasso, the muse and second wife to Pablo. The building itself is a sight to be seen, with its exposed skeleton of brightly colored piping. The courtyard just outside the museum is a great place to hang out and people watch, beside the wild water fountains and Salvador Dali mural (below).
On the first Sunday of every month, the museum (and many other monuments) are free! Even if you aren’t super interested in visiting the Centre Pompidou, still consider buying a cheap 3€ ticket to access the rooftop. Paris has quite a low-standing cityscape, so even though the Pompidou is only 6 stories high, it provides far reaching views of the city.
Under the Sun
Luckily, we also got to enjoy Paris with blue skies overhead. We explored the Opéra Garnier (below), which has always been one of my favorite pitstops after falling in love with the story of The Phantom of the Opera. In addition to enjoying a picnic by the Seine River at night, strolling along the bridges during the day is also wonderful.
Walk on the West Side
Beginning at the Musée du Louvre, we admired the exterior and indulged in dorky photo ops, but did not pay to enter. Adjacent to the Louvre are the Tuileries Garden (below), where locals and tourists alike were soaking up the sun as we walked by. Passing through the garden, you pop out the other end to the Place de la Concorde, where during the French Revolution, King Louis XVI was executed by guillotine in 1793. Today, the centerpiece of the Concorde square is a obelisk covered in hieroglyphics gifted from Egypt in the 1800’s.
Montmartre and Sacré-Cœur
Montmarte is the highest hilltop neighborhood on the edge of Paris in the 18th arrondissement, with the basilica Sacré-Cœur as the focal point. Sacré-Cœur (translates to Sacred Heart) is a beautiful Roman Catholic Church just over 100 years old. Since Montmarte is the highest point of the city, there are obviously extraordinary views to behold. There are dual grand staircases leading up to the church, a perfect place to pause for several photo ops.
Warning: Although you should always be hyper-aware of pickpockets in Paris, but the worst scammers seem to hang around the base of Montmartre. Shaun and I had three or four men surround us and aggressively grab our arms, attempting to tie a string around our wrist. Their trick is that if they are able to tie the string, then they demand you pay them for the “bracelet.” You must be forceful and push them away ASAP. They are excessively demanding and even groped Shaun’s pockets. Luckily I was able to keep one hand firmly on my purse while shoving them off.
Adjacent to the Sacré-Cœur is the Place du Tertre, a cobblestone square packed full with artists and cafes. There are dozens of artists selling their work and actively creating art, like the man below. There are even more portrait artists offering to draw you for as cheap as 10€.
Want More Paris?
Also, to get a deeper glimpse into the city by rain or shine, watch this 4 minute intro clip from Midnight in Paris. It perfectly captures the beauty of the city in both weathers.