How to spend one day in Paris
Paris is my favourite city in the world. Maybe tied for first place with New York. The reason I love Paris so much is there is so much you can do in one day without using any mode of transportation. The only vehicle I used all day was a Uber to get from my hotel near the airport to the Arc de Triomphe. And that’s when I began my day. At 9 am at the Arc de Triomphe on 12th May 2014. The goal was simple. Walk and see as much as I can in 12 hours. That’s not to say I looked upon this day as a Marathon. I intended to sit and drink as much coffee and wine as I could throughout the day. Before I even start, let me apologise for the image quality. All I had on me was my Nexus 5, a phone not renowned for its camera but the battery sure did surprise me that day. So let’s start with the Arc de Triomphe.
As you can see, they were working on the Arc de Triomphe when I was there. Hence, the scaffolding. It didn’t detract much from the beauty of the structure and I walked around it to take it all in. Then I started walking down the Avenue des Champs-Élysées towards the Eiffel tower. I really didn’t know a street can be so beautiful. And the people. I could spend an entire day here just people-watching.
Walking towards the Eiffel tower, I came across the Flamme de la Liberté which has become some sort of unofficial memorial for Lady Diana and it is truly stunning.
This is also where I got my first glimpse at the Eiffel tower. I know travel hipsters will advise against doing ‘touristy’ things and visiting the Eiffel tower but screw them. It’s worth a visit if for no other reason than its historical significance. Also, why would you want to miss this view?
I crossed over on the Pont de l’Alma and walked to the Eiffel tower through, what I can only describe as a back entrance(?). It was completely deserted and gave me the opportunity to sit alone for a bit at the Eiffel tower. That’s not something I thought I could ever do. So it was now approximately 9:45 am and I was at the Eiffel tower.
This is where I saw a group of Americans on a Segway tour of Paris. This is the most American thing I’ve ever seen and I really doubt it can be beaten. After spending some time walking around and resting at the Champ de Mars, I headed for Les Invalides. The museums were too expensive for my taste and I also figured I didn’t have enough time to do the museums justice so I roamed around the grounds and wandered into the Dôme des Invalides to look at Napoleons burial site.
So, after I left Dôme des Invalides, it was around 11 am and I decided it was time for breakfast. I wandered the streets and into Coutume Café to have a healthy breakfast.
Okay, it might not be healthy, but it was definitely delicious.
I should take this moment to make a point. The joy in travelling isn’t in following an itinerary so stop when you want to and where you want to. Saunter as much as you want to and remember it’s your trip. No one else's. The reason this day stands out so much is that I did everything at my own pace when I wanted to. Although the photos might show a few places, my most cherished moments weren’t captured on film since they were when I was walking around the city.
Now comes one of my favourite memories of the day. The Église Saint-Sulpice. Notre Dame is the more popular chapel by far but Saint-Sulpice is massively underrated. I’m not a religious person and I don’t even cop out by saying I’m spiritual. I’m really not, but there’s only one other place that gave me the feeling of reverence Saint-Sulpice did and that’s the Golden Temple in Amritsar. Just take some time to sit down and take in the peace and quiet. It really is a thing to behold.
It was around 12:10 when I left Saint-Sulpice and then I proceeded to stroll around some more. People watching and walking into as many gardens as I could and then I decided it was time for lunch so I headed to Crémerie-Restaurant Polidor. A charming little place with more history than some countries. I was told it used to be a favourite of James Joyce and Hemingway amongst others. It was here that the myth of rude Frenchmen was thoroughly dismissed. I met the nicest French lady who suggested I walk along the Seine and gave me directions to the Louvre. We talked for a while about travelling and how I’m enjoying France. She was with an American gentleman who did the 2nd most American thing I’ve ever seen. Apparently, he had been travelling to France every year for 4 decades and he still didn’t know a lick of French. All kidding aside, he was a huge James Joyce fan and told me Joyce's favourite haunts in Paris. The food was undeniably great but the company was better. And even though I don’t usually click pictures of food, I did find this Chocolate mousse too charming to leave unclicked.
It was around 1:15 pm now and I decided to head for Musée du Louvre. As with the Eiffel tower, you’ll find detractors who’ll suggest not visiting the Louvre but you’re in Paris. Unless you have a serious distaste for the arts, it is definitely worth a visit.
Now, once again, I’ll remind you, I wasn’t walking from place to place with a schedule in hand. Paris is a beautiful, wonderful city and the only way you’ll get the most out of it is by taking your time and walking at your own pace. Don’t rush, take it all in and admire the city, its architecture, its history, its people.
The walk to the Louvre took a fair amount of time but there’s so much to look at on the way, time flies. It was around 1:55 pm when I got there and even before you go in, walk around the grounds a little. Musée du Louvre is iconic for a reason. As always, take your time, take some rest and relax.
I’ll get the main part out of the way first. The Mona Lisa is disappointing. Don’t go in expecting some sort of weird epiphany and you’ll be fine. There are thousands of works of art in the Louvre for you to appreciate so you’ll be fine. I found ‘The Wedding at Cana’ right opposite the Mona Lisa very impressive.
I was in the Louvre for a little over 2 hours. Nowhere near enough to see everything there is to see but enough time for a quick walk and look around. Now, I will catch a lot of flak for what I did next but as I said, I’m in Paris, I’ll do the touristy things. No shame in my game.
With that done, I decided to head to Notre Dame de Paris. Once again, I can’t stress enough that this is your trip. See what you want to see, skip what you want to. Don’t rush from destination to destination. Between two places is where the true journey lies.
I took a quick detour at Institut de France while heading for Notre Dame. If you stop to appreciate the architecture of every building in Paris, you’ll never leave. When you get to Île de la Cité, make sure you make the time to walk around Notre Dame first, it’s beautiful in the inside for sure but the building itself is a work of art.
As much as I loved Notre Dame, Saint-Sulpice has a special place in my heart. Maybe it’s because Notre Dame was crowded, it never captured me the way Saint-Sulpice did. But you’d have to be blind to not appreciate Notre Dames beauty.
After Notre Dame, I decided it was time for a drink and a quick meal. In Bastille. Now, I must warn you, it’s quite a walk. Much further than I anticipated. Usually, it wouldn’t be an issue but considering how much we’ve walked earlier, it might be a bit of a pain. With the detours I took to walk around, it was at least 3 kilometres. I stopped by at Shakespeare and Company for a bit and I’d return later for a talk by Ned Beauman (and free wine).
I had one main reason for going to Bastille: Absinthe. I’m sure there were other places that served absinthe but I decided to discover Bastille as well. Remember what I said, the joy of travelling lies between two destinations. There was so much to see in Bastille and it just felt completely different from the rest of the city. It also had a disproportionate number of pastry shops but I’m not complaining. Eat and drink as much as you can in Paris. It’s worth it. The place that took my Absinthe-virginity is called La Fée Verte. The Green Fairy. Two things about the place, the bartender was gorgeous. The absinthe nearly — and pardon my French here — knocked me the hell out. But it was definitely worth it. Next time I’m in Paris, I’m definitely trying it again. Oh, and I washed the Absinthe down with some wonderful Crème brûlée.
I was nearing the end of the day. It was nearly 6:30 pm and I needed to be at the Eiffel Tower at 10. I was done with everything that was time-dependent so I decided to take the advice of the lady I met at Polidor and walk along the Seine. And as much as I enjoyed the rest of the day and I did enjoy it, what follows is perhaps my favourite part of my favourite day.
Now, I still had two things I wanted to do before I started walking to the Eiffel tower so I rushed to Shakespeare and Company for the talk by Ned Beauman on his book Glow. I was still buzzing from the Absinthe and the wine at the function so I don’t remember much from that time but it was a lot of fun. Then I walked around the Latin Quarter. I only wish I had more time there and I’m sure next time I’m in the city I’ll spend at least one day exclusively at the Latin Quarter.
And then began my walk down the Seine. Words can’t describe it and neither can images. The people I met on the way, the weather, the view… Perfect is an understatement. The pain of walking nearly 12 hours straight pretty much vanished as I was walking along the river. I decided to go to Notre Dame again and saw a couple getting their wedding pictures clicks, which, I admittedly found adorable. I met some of the nicest people and shared a beer with two guys just sitting there. If you’re ever in Paris and you don’t have time to do anything else, just walk along the Seine and take everything in. It’s worth it.
It was 9:30 pm. I was 30 minutes ahead of time and I was at the Eiffel Tower. So I did what any sane man would have done. I sat down on the grass, bought a cheap bottle of wine from the hawkers there and appreciated the most beautiful city in the world.
At 10 pm, it was time to go up the Eiffel tower. It was a fitting end to the day, I got to look upon the city I walked across. And it was as beautiful from the sky as it was while I was walking through it.
And that was the end of my day in Paris. My phone battery died soon after. My feet were swollen the next day but it was well worth it. I can’t begin to emphasise just how wonderful this day was for me. And luck was on my side. You can see in some of the pictures that it rained that day. But always at the best time. It first rained when I walked into Polidor and then it stopped as I was just finishing lunch. It rained when I walked into the Louvre and it stopped as I walked out. It was just luck that I had the good fortune to meet so many wonderful people that day. Kind strangers, the best part about travelling. It doesn’t require deep analysis to say I’d recommend Paris to anyone. But more importantly, I’d recommend travel to everyone. Just travel. When you get the time, if you can spare the money, travel. Don’t wait too long and don’t stress yourself out too much. I’ve learnt over the years that travelling isn’t just about discovering the city or the country you’re in, it’s more about discovering something about you. Sometimes, travel changes you and sometimes, you discover something you’ve always had within. As final tips, I’ll reiterate something I’ve repeated time and again. Don’t stick to a timetable. All I knew is when and where I was going to start and when and where I was going to end. I knew when certain things open and close but the 13 hours I had, I chose to spend it doing whatever I wanted to do. And finally, cherish the journey. I don’t remember the Louvre and the Notre Dame as much as I remember the walk from the Louvre to the Notre Dame. Always remember; the joy of travelling lies between two destinations.