Don’t worry, everyone. After weeks of writing, long, flowery, probably over-descriptive posts on our around-the-world trip, I’m going to revert to something a bit more practical for our description of Paris: namely our version of the ubiquitous trip report.
As you’ve probably figured out by now, our crack Leap Forward team 1 likes to do things a bit differently. Lot’s of great people have written some great things about Paris (The Points Guy, Mommy Points, Ernest Hemingway), but we want to try and put our own spin on it and on trip reports in general.2 The format and what exactly we write in these things are still in flux, so if there’s something you’d like to see that you’re not getting, make sure to let us know.
So without further ado, let’s kick off the first of our “Four Days In…” series with Four Days in…Paris!
Paris is one of those cities that everyone says to visit. I knew I’d get there eventually, but it kept getting pushed further and further down the list. It wasn’t in the initial plan for our around-the-world trip, but in order to make Madagascar and Buenos Aires work, we had to come through Paris twice, so it made sense just to schedule a longer period of time to see it.
As I mentioned before, it was part of our around-the-world trip. I was there for four days total; one day after flying from Moscow on my way to Madagascar and three days after flying from Madagascar on my way to Buenos Aires. Paris is not that difficult to get to, but it can be expensive. Weather during the winter is hit or miss and the throngs of tourists during the summer scream “stay away” to me. Do this: go in early-to-mid spring. You may hit a day of rain (as we did), but odds are you’ll have some great weather (mostly sunny, highs around 70, lows around 40).
Getting from the airport (Charles de Gaulle- CDG) is an easy 40-minute train ride right into the heart of the city. It costs about 10 euro, but is clean, comfortable and runs fairly often. There are other ways to get into the city, but this is the one that you’re going to want to take.
You’re probably going to pay a lot of money to stay in Paris. You can do it cheaply, but I’ve never been the biggest fan of hostels.3 If you’ve got hotel points or free hotel stays, this is the place to use them.
We stayed for three nights at three separate hotels: the Hilton Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport, the Park Hyatt Paris Vendome, and Trianon Palace (a Hilton-Waldorf Astoria property in Versailles). We’ll have a more in-depth review of the properties at a later date, but here’s the basics on each one:
The airport Hilton was more out of convenience. With only about 22 hours in Paris before our relatively early boarding for the flight to Madagascar, we didn’t want to stray too far from de Gaulle. It hit all the things you’d expect an international hotel chain to hit: free breakfast and a lounge for diamond members, large rooms, and impeccable service. Mike used 40,000 HHonors points to book the room.
The Park Hyatt Paris Vendome was a little bit different; it’s widely considered to be one of (if not the best) Hyatt properties in the world. It’s located fairly close to several of the major Parisian sights (it’s within walking distance of the Louvre museum). But if you’re staying there, the hotel in and of itself is part of the experience. It’s lavishly decorated and the staff are extremely considerate and efficient with all requests. We stayed in a suite, paid for by one of the two free nights given to me by applying for the Chase Hyatt credit card.4
Our final day in Paris, we spent in Versailles and stayed at Trianon Palace, a Hilton-Waldorf Astoria property. It was literally a palace that was part of Versailles. Mike’s diamond status with Hilton got us an upgrade to the main property, as well as free drinks in the bar (which at 20 euro apiece, I wasn’t about to buy otherwise). He used Citi ThankYou points to book the room at full price, so not only was the room free for us, but he also earned points for staying there. Not bad for what used to be a retreat for the King of France!
Four days in Paris is enough to see the major things, but you’re still going to feel like you need to come back and spend more time. I prioritized seeing the major sights while there:
The famous cathedral didn’t disappoint, but it was pretty much exactly what you’re expecting: a giant Catholic Church with stunning gothic architecture. Don’t miss the gargoyles on either side!
Originally built as a church, but now functions as a mausoleum. They’re currently doing construction on the dome, so it was hidden from view.
The Eiffel Tower
The most well-known symbol of Paris. It’s similar to the Washington Monument, the St. Louis Gateway Arch, the London Eye, and other tall structures that people probably pay too much to go up in. You need to go there and see it, but I opted not to pay to go up in it. I don’t want to seem to cynical here, though. It’s a spectacular piece of architecture and you really need to see it in person to appreciate that.
Carved from the limestone that built the city, the catacombs house the dead of millions of Parisians far underground. If you’ve been to catacombs in other cities, you know what to expect. But what you won’t expect is the sheer size of it. I walked for nearly an hour, surrounded by stacks of bones higher than my head. They only let in 200 people at a time, so the line can get a bit long. That’s a blessing and a curse; without the line snaking around the circle, it would have been almost impossible to find!
The Louvre Museum
If it’s possible to undersell the most famous sight in (arguably) the world’s most famous city, the Louvre is undersold. I had one art history class in college, which gave me enough knowledge to know what I need to see when I go places like the Louvre. On Wednesdays, the museum is open until 9pm (it normally closes at 5pm), so I assumed giving myself four hours should be able to let me hit everything I needed to see. Wrong. Everywhere I went I kept seeing pieces of art and history that I’d at least heard of in passing. By the time I needed to leave, there were still several things I wanted to see that I didn’t get a chance to. If for nothing else, I’m going to have to come back to Paris to see more of the Louvre.
Best known as the palace of Louis XIV, XV, and XVI (before the last had an unfortunate run-in with a guillotine), it stands today as one of the most decadent examples of monarchy-era France. It will take a full day to get out to see it and if you’ve got other things you want to see in Paris, you can prioritize those. But if you’ve got the time, it’s absolutely worth it. The train runs out to Versailles, so while it takes some time to get out of the city, it’s fairly easy to do. We’ve seen a lot of big important houses on our trip around the world, this was probably the last one and it did not disappoint.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Good: As I mentioned before, the Louvre. If you’ve got one day in Paris, this is what you go see. Even if you’re not a fan of art or history, it’s pretty difficult not to be wowed by how many things you’ve heard of are in one place. There’s literally miles and miles of art to see, so you may want to do a bit of planning in advance. There’s an iPhone app that will guide you through much of what you need to see while your there. It’s $2, but I don’t know if I’d been able to see half of what I did without it.
Bad: Not to dwell only on the Louvre, but probably the second most famous piece, the Winged Victory of Samthrace, was being restored while I was there, so I didn’t get to see it.
Bad: There’s very little in the way of explanations for any of the pieces in the Louvre and what there is, is totally in French. Without a guide or without the iPhone app, you’re literally just looking at painting and sculptures without any context.
Ugly: From this picture, where would you expect the tour of Versailles to start?
If you said the giant gold archways in the center of the palace or any one of the smaller stone archways that line the edges, you’d be wrong.
If you said that tiny entrance in the middle of the three arches off to the far right that had absolutely no markings, you’re obviously cheating (or have been there before). We walked through some of the smaller rooms for about half an hour, wondering “is this it?”, before finding the actual start of the tour. Come on guys, let’s get some better signage!
Tip of the Trip
You’re going to be waiting in lines quite a bit in Paris. To avoid one of them, you may be able to buy your ticket to Versailles at your hotel (if you’re staying in Versailles). If not, swing by the gift shop (it’s on the left, across the street, at the top of the hill, before you enter the preliminary gates). You can buy your ticket there for the same price, sans line waiting.
Come on, just tell me what to do already! (TL;DR)
Park Hyatt Paris Vendome (if you can swing it)
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- Not our Leap Forward team on crack ↩
- Knowing me, I’ll probably write a thousand-word post on why we’re doing it this way, so for those of you who do like me over analyzing things, just hold tight. ↩
- my personal favorite way to stay is Airbnb ↩
- If you’re a platinum or below, you get two free nights at any Hyatt just for applying for the credit card and meeting the minimum spend. If you’re a Diamond member, you get two free nights in a suite. ↩