Typical Tourist: Paris, France
Typical Tourist is a series to help you figure out which of the most famous and reviewed sites in a city are actually worth visiting. Let me do the reconnaissance work for you!
Before we get into this list, I have a confession to make. I’m something of a stereotypical traveler. I may even stray into the dreaded tourist category. (Insert gasp here.) Now, before you click away from my website never to be heard from again, I don’t mean tourist in the fanny-pack wearing, unobservant, rude kind.
(Except for the one time in Armenia I was told that I talked too loud and it was the most shameful moment of my international career. Actually it might be the most shameful moment of my entire life. But, I digress.)
I mean tourist in the sense that I find myself in awe and drawn to some of the most popular sights in any city or country. If enough people go there, it must be worthwhile, right? Maybe. But, not always.
While I may never be the blog that gives you the coolest or most hip hidden gems in any city, I will always be ready to offer an honest opinion on the highlights of the city. What was worth it? What should you expect. Let me help you determine what to visit and what to skip.
Trying to pick the most popular sights in Paris was tricky, especially since you could ten different bloggers and get ten different lists. The four that I picked are four that seem to me to be classically Paris, at least, in my mind.
Visiting the Palace of Versailles was the entire reason that I chose Paris as a destination. Seriously. I had spent so some much time reading about Marie Antoinette, Robespierre, and the Reign of Terror that any sight associated with this time period rocketed straight to the top of the my list. It probably seems fairly elementary, but I wasn’t ready for how Versailles busy is. I’ve seen bloggers and reviewers suggest everything from getting in line before it opens to being the absolute last people there. I opted for the early morning option and, let me tell you, it does not lessen the crowds. (You might have better luck later in the day. Or maybe there is no beating the crowds – I’m not sure.)
For me, the crowd really ruined my experience. Even though they give you an audio tour and you can go at your own pace, I felt like I was constantly trying to crane my neck around someone in front of me or aim my camera just right to get a photo without a million people in it. Part of this was my own fault, as I had expectations of a much more relaxed and awe-inspiring visit. Not so much.
Verdict: If you, like me, feel like you couldn’t possibly go to Paris and not see Versailles, then by all means go. Adjust your expectations and bring your patience. Even with all the chaos, I still was glad I went. (If/when I ever get back to Paris, I will probably give Versailles another shot and try going later in the day. Maybe the second attempt will be the charm!)
The Eiffel Tower
Flubbing my trip the Eiffel Tower is probably my biggest regret of my trip to Paris, even if, in the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t that big of a mistake. I had assumed that the best way to see the tower would be to take a combination of the stairs and the elevator all the way to the top. After such a magical time at the top of Notre Dame (and my own proclivity for anything that involves climbing), I assumed that the Eiffel Tower would be similarly dreamy. It’s not. The top levels are encased by either plastic or wire, which make sense for safety, but does something to ruin the view and experience.
After climbing (or riding) to the top and coming back down, I figured that I would then be able to snap a gorgeous photo of the entire structure. A victim of the physics of large buildings and my own naiveté, I thought that the famous platform where everyone takes photos of themselves with the tower in the background would be nearby and entirely evident. It’s not. Unprepared and unsure of where to go, I managed a decent photo from a few blocks away and called it a day.
Verdict: Skip actually going up in the tower. Seeing it up close is an awe-inspiring reminder of scale and size, so just take it in from the ground and then head off to one of the more famous observation points. (The area around the base of the Tower tends to be full of people looking to scam tourists, so be aware.)
As someone who does not like scary or creepy things, the Catacombs was an odd addition to my itinerary, but I felt like it was also a definitive Parisian sight. Just as weird and eerie as it sounds to walk underneath the city surrounded by bones, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it. (Enjoyed it? Didn’t hate it? Pick whatever phrase seems the least offensive…) Thankfully the entry tickets are timed, crowd control really isn’t an issue in the tunnels.
Verdict: Go. (Unless you are claustrophobic.) An unintentional bonus was that I went in the late afternoon so I entered the catacombs during the day and exited to find that the sun had set. Just a little extra bit of creepy.
Within an hour of landing in Paris, I had dropped my suitcase at the hotel and was already staring up at the stone façade of one of the most famous churches in the world. (And yes, I also had songs from the Disney movie stuck in my head.) Similar to Versailles, Notre Dame is also a very crowded experience. However, the open layout of the cathedral and flexibility with which you can view different areas makes for a much more relaxed visit.
While the inside of the church is beautiful, the true magic is found far above the pews and stained glass. Around the left side of the building is the entrance for the Notre Dame tower climb. See the gargoyles up close and get a different view of the Eiffel Tower and the streets of Paris. Working hard to climb all those stairs only makes the view that much more special. If anyone asks me about my time in Paris, this is the number on recommendation that I have. A bonus is that they only let a certain number of people up at a time so you’re guarantee a to beat the crowds and have plenty of time and space for pictures.
Verdict: Obviously, Notre Dame is part of any classic Parisian tourist experience. Take it one extra step (or, in this case, lots of extra steps) and see if from a different perspective. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.
What are your favorite tourist spots in Paris? Did I miss one? Let me know and maybe I’ll add it to my future itinerary!