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I have to admit that I was skeptical when one of the girls I was traveling to Paris with suggested that we fit in all of the top sights into our first day, leaving us time to do whatever else we wanted to with our remaining days in the city. How exactly were we supposed to fit all of Paris’ top sights into one day? Don’t people take a whole week to do that? But then I looked into it a little more, and it turned out that it was totally possible. At least in theory. And so, off we set.
We started our jam-packed day at The Louvre. When we stepped out of the metro station, we followed the small crowd through to the main courtyard. It was our first sight of quintessential Paris and we were in love.
Although we wanted to go into the museum at some point, the line that Sunday morning was far too long for our taste. We decided to return at a less busy time, but still spent a few minutes taking pictures outside of the famous glass pyramid – just in case we didn’t get a chance to come back.
From the Louvre, it was time for the big showstopper…
The Eiffel Tower
Since it was an absolutely beautiful day out, we decided to walk from the Louvre to the Eifell Tower. This was easily the best decision we made that day. According to Google Maps, the walk takes about 45 minutes, but it was easily less than that. We actually set out without maps at all, and simply used the looming tower in the distance as our guide. It’s pretty hard to miss, really.
Our walk took us through the Jardine de Tuileries, past the Place de la Concorde, and along the Seine.
Soon enough, we found ourself gazing up at France’s most well known landmark from its base. The cherry blossoms had just come out for spring and it was absolutely beautiful. I’d wager a pretty good guess that, for those of us who had never been to Paris before, it was this moment where it all became real to us.
We had bought picnic food from a market close to our apartment the night before, so once we were done taking a million pictures we sat down to eat our lunch on the Champs de Mars. Picnicking in front of the Eiffel Tower. It was the quintessential Paris experience.
Once our stomachs were full, we walked over to Trocadéro for some pretty perfect views of the tower from afar.
After that, we backtracked a little bit – mostly thanks to not looking at a map before we set out in the morning – and found our way to…
It took us a few minutes to get our bearings when we left the metro station, but soon enough we saw the famous spires of Notre Dame rising up in front of us.
After getting enough pictures of the outside of the cathedral, we joined the line to get inside. There, we marveled at the beauty of the cathedral that we had all heard so much about.
Although I’m not religious, I’ve always loved visiting churches and cathedrals. I just can’t help but appreciate all of the hard work that went into them, and I find them to be a great place for reflection and a moment of rest in an otherwise busy day. I usually spend ages staring at the votive prayer candles and thinking about things that I’m thankful for.
Our final stop that afternoon was the Musée d’Orsay. I absolutely fell in love with this museum and its main atrium, which is completely breathtaking.
I spent a great deal of time photographing all of the statues, and an even greater deal of time in the Van Gogh section of the museum. Other than Starry Night, which I only saw through a crowd, this was the first time I had ever seen a Van Gogh work in person. I was completely awestruck by just how three dimensional they were. You can see each individual brush stroke stand out from the canvas, and I was captivated.
We headed back to our rental apartment after the Musée d’Orsay, completely exhausted from our first day in Paris. We had planned to go out again after dinner to see the city at night, but fell asleep way before this. Thankfully, we had the time to do this the next night, but if you only have one day in Paris then you’ll have to pick yourself up again and get going, because Paris at night is not to miss.
Champs-Élysées and the Arc de Triomphe
On the following night, we took the metro from our apartment after dinner to the Champs-Élysées. Our first stop was Ladurée – the inventor of the French version of the Macaron. We each bought six macarons in different flavours for a little more than 12 Euros, and sampled our first outside of the shop. We just couldn’t wait. For one of the girls in our group, it was her first time ever trying Macarons – and they were mouthwateringly delicious.
From the Laudrée storefront we walked the short distance to the famous Arc de Triomphe. We stood on the other side of the roundabout for a long while, staring wistfully at the arch and trying to figure out how to get to the other side. I had read that there was an underground walkway, but it was nowhere to be found. For a hot second, we considered trying to run across the street.
Lo and behold, it was simply on the other side of the Champs-Élysées. We felt pretty dumb after we figured that out, but hey, we were under the Arc de Triomphe! That was all we really focused on after that.
The Eiffel Tower
The Eiffel Tower at night is a completely different beast from the Eiffel Tower in the day. At around 11pm, we were the only people at the Jardins de Trocadéro, gazing out at the sparkling Eiffel Tower and eating the rest of our macarons. It was the perfect end to the perfect evening.
One Day in Paris – If You Go
Even though seeing all of the top sights in Paris seems daunting, it’s actually totally doable. Whether you only have one day in Paris or you want to save the rest of your time for exploring more off the beaten track parts of the city, I think that this itinerary was pretty much perfect. The only thing that I would change is starting with Notre Dame and then walking to the Louvre. It turns out this only takes about 15 minutes and it would have been a way smarter way to structure our day.
If you want to enter the Louvre, there is usually a pretty long line to make it through security. We tried to go through the ‘secret’ Port des Lions entrance that I read about. Unfortunately, this has apparently been turned into a group only entrance since those tips were written. So the only way to get in as an individual visitor is to suck it up and wait in line at the main pyramid entrance. Tickets cost €15 or are free for residents of EEA countries under the age of 26.
THE EIFFEL TOWER
We did not go up the Eiffel Tower, but if you want to you can probably find time in the schedule. As of March 2017, tickets to the top cost €17 for adults. Reduced tickets are €14.5 for youth aged 12-24 and €8 for children over the age of 4. Children under 4 go free. If you want to skip the line, consider climbing the stairs up to the second floor.
After 4:30pm, tickets are half price to the Musée d’Orsay. They are always free for residents of the EEA under the age of 26. Be sure to check out the view from the top floor!
If you’re in the mood for some Macarons, Ladurée is definitely the place to go. The Champs-Élysées store is open until 11pm most nights, so a stop there is the perfect addition to a nighttime visit to the Arc de Triomphe.
At night, the Eiffel Tower puts on a five minute light show every hour on the hour. It’s an absolute must see.