Imagine yourself on a great 5-day trip to Paris. How would you design your days to have the most engaging and captivating experience, while traveling independently and keeping to a budget of under $5000 for two? What will you do with your precious travel time? Why would you want to do these things and have these experiences? And how will you arrange them and accomplish them, with a maximum of enjoyment and a minimum of frustration or overload? What are the stories that bring to life the places you visit? How do you best immerse yourself so your experiences are absorbing and memorable?
Join us in your mind’s eye on just such a remarkable 5-day trip to the “City of Lights.” History to walk around in. Phenomenal food. Parks and cafés. People-watching opportunities. Eating outdoors, with views of cathedrals or rivers or palaces. Fountains and gardens, with benches for pausing. Outdoor markets. Charming shops. Unexpected encounters.
Start with a Perfect Day 1
Today you will arrive in Paris, after an overnight flight, in time to check in (or drop off your bags) and begin your walk-about before lunch. Your “home base” for the next five nights will be the Left Bank (“La Rive Gauche”) of the Seine, historically known as the artistic part of the city. Your apartment or hotel will be located within a few blocks of the river on the Left Bank, or on Ile Saint-Louis, the smaller of the two islands in the middle of the river.
Learn Your Neighborhood
After checking in, take a walk-about to learn your new “neighborhood,” locate your shops, and stock up on wine, cheese, bread and deli. Then head for the river and cross the bridge to Ile de la Cité (“Island of the City”). This larger island was the original seat of Paris, birthplace of Roman river commerce, and the location of the 4th-century cathedral that was replaced by the 12th-century Notre-Dame.
Pass in Front of Notre Dame on Ile de la Cité and Note the Statues of Kings
As you pass in front of Notre-Dame, pause before the entrance to absorb its grandeur and to study the statues of kings above the door. The heads of these sculptures are replacements. Tragically, the original heads were loped off during the Revolution by Parisian mobs that mistakenly took these to represent French monarchs, when actually they are the ancient kings of Judea and Israel.
Lunch with a View of the Notre Dame Buttresses
You will return later for a visit inside this magnificent cathedral. But, for the moment, walk on by on your way to lunch at an outdoor table at Brasserie Esmeralda, located at the end of the island, across from the cathedral buttresses. Since this will be your arrival lunch, make it a feast, and toast the start of your trip. From your table, look across to the smaller island, Ile Saint-Louis, to spot Le Flore en L’Ile, the restaurant where you will be having dinner later this evening.
Walk Around the Island
After lunch, take a walk around the island and orient yourself to the flow of the river. Stand with your back towards the smaller island. You are now facing downriver. From this vantage point, the Left Bank will be on your left and the Right Bank will be on your right.
Walk downriver, looking across the river towards the Right Bank (“La Rive Droite”). Take in the grand buildings across the river. The Right Bank is more tightly packed with impressive buildings than the left, including the City Hall (Hôtel de Ville), and, further downriver, the massive former palace that is now the Louvre, and the Grand Palais that was built as an exhibition hall for the Universal Exposition of 1900.
Wander Through the Flower Market
During your walk, watch for the Flower Market (Marché aux Fleurs) on your left. Take a few minutes to wander through this colorful maze of flowers and garden shops. You may decide to return later to spend more time at this lovely market.
Round the Tip of the Island, Heading for Sainte Chapelle
When you reach the end of the island, with views downriver toward the Louvre, walk through the park and back up the other side toward the incomparable Sainte-Chapelle, built in the 13th century to house Louis IX’s collection of relics of Christ. This small chapel is remarkable and unique, with its exquisite 49-foot tall 13th-century stained glass windows, at their loveliest in late afternoon. You may stop now to view the windows, or possibly return later for a memorable concert with the chapel as its setting (having purchased your tickets before your trip).
Pick up Your 4-Day Museum Pass to Skip the Lines
Stop to purchase your 4-day Museum Pass at the shop across the street from the Sainte-Chapelle entrance. This will save you from waiting in museum lines for the remainder of your stay in Paris.
Pass by Crypt Archéologique
When you complete your full circuit of the island, you will find yourself back in front of Notre Dame. As you cross the square, spot the entrance to the Crypt Archéologique, located beneath the area in front of the cathedral. You may want to return later to explore these ancient archaeological remains, dating back to the Romans in 52 BC, that were discovered here during excavations in 1965.
Enter Notre Dame and Find a Seat
This time, venture inside the cathedral. As you move through the doorway, look up! Study the pictographic images overhead. Also, take a closer look at the kings above the doorway. You will have a chance to see the “real” heads of these statues later in your trip when you visit the Cluny Museum. Once inside, find a seat and sit awhile to look up and around and take it all in. If, by good fortune, you to arrive while the magnificent organ is thundering, seize the opportunity to stay awhile and listen.
Possibly Climb the Cathedral Tower
Back outside, check on the slow-moving line of people patiently waiting to climb the cathedral tower. If you aspire to going up the tower yourself, decide if the line is short enough to join it now, and climb up to see the stunning views and to make an up-close visit to the gargoyles. If the line is too long, come back early tomorrow, before the crowds gather.
Dinner with a View, Followed by an Evening Cruise of the Seine
Take a deep breath, and settle in for a relaxed dinner at an outdoor table at Le Flore en L’Ile on the little island, Ile Saint-Louis. You have arrived! And here you are in Paris as evening falls. After dinner, board an evening cruise down the Seine, from Notre Dame to the Eiffel Tower and back, enjoying the spectacle of Paris aglow at night.