You cannot get to Paris direct from Bruges. To get to Paris from Bruges, you have to stop and change trains in Brussels, which has a very pretty train station. From there we took the Thalys train to Paris. On this train, there was plenty of room for our luggage and comfortable seats with Wi-Fi, and complimentary food and wine. Again, it was well worth the few extra dollars for first class.
We'd initially planned to take the metro to our hotel, but once we arrived in Paris we heard that we'd have to climb a number of steps at the metro. Since we both had 50 pound suitcases, we decided not to use the metro. There were men inside the station quoting us 40-60 euros for what we thought would be a taxi, but we later learned that taxi drivers will not negotiate--they just use the meter. Our instincts told us we should just use uber instead. Even though there was a 2.5E surcharge at that particular time, it cost us less than the amount we were quoted by the men inside the station (36 euros), and we were picked up within 1 minute by a driver in a BMW who was extremely nice. This was the perfect way to begin our trip in Paris.
We stayed at Hotel des Academies et des Arts in the 6th Arrondisement. This is a lovely boutique-style hotel with an elevator, which was perfect for us. Most importantly, it is very close to a metro station-- only 1 block away. The rooms are small, but it had everything we wanted for our stay in Paris: a well-configured room with 2 twin beds. We had enough space for everything. It had a cozy bathroom with tub and shower, air conditioner and heat, a safe, and free Wi-Fi. The hotel also offers a nice continental breakfast with croissant, yogurt, cappuccino, and fresh juice for a little bit extra. When we arrived, we were greeted by a very nice gentleman at the desk. He took pleasure in explaining the layout of the city to us. Very warm staff. The only negative about the hotel was that the Wi-Fi did not work very well in our room, so we had to go to the lobby to use the internet if we needed to be online for a while. The lobby was roomy and quite pretty, with several different seating areas.
For our first morning there, we hired a guide from Tours by Locals to show us around Paris. Alois met us at our hotel. She gave us a quick lesson on how to use the metro system (I used my credit card to purchase a book of 10 tickets, known as a carnet, for 14 euros) and then we were ready to begin our day.
Our first stop with our tour guide was Notre Dame Cathedral. During our walk from the metro stop to the cathedral, Alois gave us interesting information about the city and other sites we passed. After walking through Notre Dame (short line), we explored other areas of the city including the Conciergerie, Place Dauphine, Pont-Neuf, the grounds of the Louvre (can’t believe how big it is), Tuilieries Gardens--so peaceful and beautiful--and Pierre Hermes Macarons. It was in this store that my wallet was almost stolen from my purse (see Travel tips below). We also went to the Opera house, and then to the Galeries Lafayette department store. Something I noticed while walking the streets with all of the high-end stores were the beautiful window dressings at each store. Every store’s display was so well presented. Galeries Lafayette is the MOST beautiful store--it is "vintage," but still thriving! When you walk in, be sure to go to the center of the store and look up at the gorgeous stained glass ceiling. Then you can take the elevator to the top floor, where there is a beautiful rooftop deck with incredible (free) views of the city. It was so great to spend our first day touring Paris with a local guide who gave us her personal insight into Paris. She was very knowledgeable and fun to be with.
If you would like to visit the Eiffel Tower, I suggest that you purchase your tickets in advance. They go on sale exactly three months in advance at 8:30 a.m. Paris time. This is what you will need to do if you want to buy advance-sale tickets (and not have to wait in line): choose several possible dates and times, and then go online at exactly 12:30 a.m. PST. You must be precise with your timing, as they sell out quickly! While I was not able to get our first choice, we did get tickets for a time slot we were happy with (9:30 PM to go to the very top). I was so amazed that tickets for the day we wanted were completely sold out within 5 minutes! Note: To get to the Eiffel Tower: my metro app suggested the metro exit at Bir-Hakeim, but when we returned to that area the next day, we realized that the better/closer exit was Trocadero. This was a much nicer walk through a lovely park area, and a great way to approach the Eiffel Tower. Once we arrived at the Eiffel Tower, we went through security fairly quickly but then waited in line to go up each of the two elevators and then the steps to the top. The views were amazing, and it was windy but fun. Every night at around 11:00 PM, there is a nice light show (the lights go on and off) for 5 minutes, so plan accordingly. It is stunning--a must-see, in my opinion.
While in Paris, we used the two-day Paris Pass (they also offer 4- and 6-day passes). The Paris Pass includes 3 cards: the Museum Pass, the Attraction Pass, and a Transportation pass. Each card can be used for 2 days, but you don’t have to start them all on the same day.
We started our next day in the city using our Paris Pass Attraction card with a visit to the Montparnasse Tower, where you go to the top and can see the entire city (including the Eiffel Tower). The view was incredible. There was no line to go up to the top, but there was a short line to exit, as we were behind a large group of kids. After stopping at a street vendor selling Nutella crepes (my favorite), we then went (used the Paris Pass) for the hour-long Bateaux Parisiens River Cruise down the Seine River . You catch this boat at the foot of the Eiffel Tower. There are a few different cruise companies, so be sure to look for the name of the company before you walk down the many steps to the river. The line was long but the boat was so large that everyone was able to get on, so don’t be discouraged if you see a long line. We sat on the second (top) level, which was beautiful, but if you want to listen to the audio guide, you need to sit inside on the first level where they have hand-held devices with narration.
After the river cruise, we picked up our "Hop-on/Hop-off " bus passes (also included with the Paris Pass) to use the next day. It's strange, but they insist that you pick up the bus pass at the office in the center of town (near the Opera National de Paris--formerly the Palais Garnier, a beautiful building and area). Note: If you want to use the bus with the Paris Pass, you cannot hop on the bus unless you first pick up the bus pass at their office, so plan accordingly. We arrived at the office at 5:00 PM, so they allowed us to use the bus pass that evening too. They explained that while typically the bus pass is good only for one day, if it is activated after 4:00 PM, to be fair, they allow pass-holders the right to use the pass on that day as well as the next. So off we went: we hopped right on the bus and started exploring. As with the other city passes, they give you headsets, but I always carry my own. After a long day with lots of walking, we welcomed the bus ride through the city as we sat and learned tidbits about many great landmarks and buildings. We hopped off of the bus at the Champs-Elysees and shopped and explored, and then had dinner there. After dinner we returned to the bus and really enjoyed a fabulous 2-hour night tour of this great city (this was the night tour and does not make stops, so you stay on for the entire 2 hours). The city lights of Paris are quite spectacular. The bus driver also timed it perfectly so that we ended up in front of the Eiffel Tower right at 11:00 to watch it light up.
I have to include a comment about the impressive transportation system in Paris. It’s almost like a puzzle when you try to figure out which lines connect. I was blown away by how quickly the trains arrived: we never had to wait any longer than 2-4 minutes. I used the RAPT app for guidance and it worked great.
The next morning we visited the church at Saint-Chappelle. With our Paris Pass, we were able to walk right in without waiting in the long line. After that, we went to the Deportation Memorial, which is a bit hard to find but located right behind Notre Dame. This is a small memorial dedicated to the 200,000 French victims of the Nazi concentration Camps. Down a set of stairs is a small hallway with thousands of tiny lights commemorating those who died. It was very touching. Afterward we walked across the bridge at the corner to Ile de la Cite for lunch. We loved our visit there. It was so nice to sit outside at a café, meeting and talking to other cafe guests and locals next to us. We met the most interesting people.
Our next stop was the museum Centre Pompidou, a modern art museum (also free admission with the Paris Pass). This museum has paintings by many famous artists such as Matisse, Picasso, and Kadinsky, as well as many unique works by others including videos, symbolic objects, and more. It is very different. Our next stop was Europe’s largest and grandest museum, the Louvre (included in the Paris Pass). Note that the Louvre is closed Tuesdays and open late on Wednesdays and Fridays. We entered underground by the carousel. Luckily, there was no line for security and, with our Paris Pass, we were able to walk right in. This museum is so big that you really do need a plan. My plan was to follow the Rick Steves Louvre podcast. It really made for an enjoyable day. His podcast focused on the most popular pieces and guided me through the museum while offering concise explanations and details about the most significant pieces, such as the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, and The Winged Victory of Samothrace. Once I finished the Rick Steves tour, I strolled around the museum admiring other works of art. I loved the sculptures. I even discovered Napoleon’s apartment. It was really cool to see and I recommend that you make a point to see it. For dinner that night, we went to Breizh Cafe in Marais; they serve great crepes and have reasonable prices. Note that this is a popular but small restaurant; it gets crowded, so you should make a reservation.
For our last day in Paris, we still wanted to cover a few more museums. We started at Musee de l'Orangerie (included with the Paris Pass). This used to be an arboretum with orange trees kept for the palace--hence the name--and now it is one of the best museums in Paris. Note the Rodin sculptures in the outside garden. It is conveniently located near the Tuileries Gardens and features Monet’s fabulous huge "Water Lilies" paintings, which encompass 2 rooms of the museum in a beautiful display of calmness and serene peace. There are also incredible works of art downstairs by Picasso, Matisse, and Renoir, among others. We rented the easy-to-use audio guide; well worth it for $5.00. I finished before my friend, so I walked outside through the Tuileries Gardens to the shops and restaurants on Rue de Rivoli and enjoyed a nice lunch. It started to rain a bit so I called an uber (for 9 euros) to take me to our next stop, Musee Rodin (also included In the Paris Pass). We loved the beautiful and peaceful outdoor sculpture garden with Rodin’s many special works of art, including the famous “The Thinker.”
We were so exhausted that day, we decided to linger over a nice long lunch/dinner. We took the metro to Saint Michel area and sat in one of the lovely cafés along the Seine and enjoyed a wonderful meal. We then took the train to the Musee d'Orsay (also included on Paris Pass) . This museum is closed on Mondays and open late on Thursday nights until 9:45, so we planned in advance to go there that night during their evening opening time. I listened to Rick Steves’ podcast and, again, it really made my visit enjoyable, informative, and fun. I felt as if I was on a scavenger hunt looking for each piece as he guided me through the museum. There are magnificent works of art here, and the building is also a work of art in and of itself.
On our last morning in Paris, we walked only a few blocks from our hotel to the grand Luxembourg Garden, which is open to the public. Along the way, we passed a number of great shops and cafes. Once in the gardens, we admired the beautiful gardens and statutes. This area used to be the private backyard and garden for the Luxembourg Castle, which is still there today. Although we didn't have time to eat there, we noticed a very pretty restaurant serving crepes right next to the entrance of the castle. It was very crowded and looked inviting. We wanted to eat there but, alas, our time in Paris had come to an end. We had to go and catch our train to London.
Re: Paris Museums: Since there are so many, here is a list of our absolute favorites that we suggest you do not miss:
L'Orangerie--houses Monet’s Water Lilies. See both the upstairs and downstairs--allow at least 1 hour. Near the Louvre.
Musee D'Orsay--also near the Louvre. Allow at least 2 hrs. Worth it if you've never been. The building alone--a former train station--is amazing.
Rodin Museum is really an outdoor sculpture garden and is peaceful and cool. The "Thinker" statute is there.
Other random tips for Paris:
METRO: Buy a "carnet" on your first day there. It's the best value for metro tickets. When taking the metro, be aware that sometimes the doors do not open on their own. You may need to push a button or a lever to open the door from both the inside and the outside of the train. Many stations do not have escalators or elevators, so if you are carrying heavy luggage, think twice about taking the metro. In addition to their large color-coded maps at all of the stations, I used the app RATP to help guide me with the metro. It is so easy and fun: you just plug in where you want to go and it will tell you what trains to take and where to exit.
Make a plan with your family that if one person does not get off of the train in time to just get off at the next stop and wait for you there. It didn’t happen to us, but we did see that happen, so it's best to have a back-up plan, just in case.
The best store to buy macarons is Laduree. There are several locations in Paris, and they all have quite a large selection of flavors; all are great. Other popular macaron stores are Hermes and Pierre's. This is a nice treat to buy on your last day there and bring home to your friends and family. Don't believe them when they tell you they "have" to stay refrigerated...ours weren't and they were fine.
Try to go to Ile de la Cite--it's a cool small island just behind Notre Dame cathedral. You just walk over the short bridge and you are there. Great small cafes and great ice cream. We had a good meal and met great people at La Chaumiere, the very first cafe right over the small bridge. Most cafes have decent prix fixe meals. The Crepes Suzettes were delicious!
The best time to go to the Eiffel Tower in the summer is around 9:30 or 10:00 p.m. to catch the sunset. Even if you decide not to go up to the top, this is a must-see from the street. Plan your day so that you are in front of the Eiffel Tower at around 11:00 p.m. to see the light show at least one time during your stay. I think the time changes, so check with your hotel as to the time.
Three cathedrals worthy of a visit: Notre Dame, St. Chappelle, and Saint Sulpice.
Hop on/hop off bus is worth it in Paris and is a great way to see Paris at night.
Über is great way to get around in Paris
In France, it is polite to always greet a person by saying “Bonjour” before asking for help.