We've recently spent just 23 short hours in Paris jet-lagged but having a terrific time. It's inspired us to come up with some ideas on exactly what you could do with just a single day in this classic European city. First up, Katie offers suggestions on a full day mixing major sites and Parisian staples.
Katie's first stop is a good, solid cup of tea from the kettle at the hotel. Paris is pretty expensive and there's no reason to over-pay for something that can be found right in your room. (She is aware this is cheating...you can take the girl out of Britain but you can't convince her there is anything better than a good black tea with milk and sugar.) From there, grab a crêpe with some French ham and cheese tucked inside - doesn't matter where - an inexpensive street stand will do just fine. It'll also allow you to have a stroll down a Paris street, roam along the river or take in the view of the Eiffel Tower from the nearby park while you eat.
From there, it's time to get an early start and arrive before 9:00 AM (opening time daily, closed Tuesdays) at the Louvre. The Musee du Louvre is, quite honestly, so very, very large that you can easily get lost in just one section of it for the entire day. A prolonged visit or a guided tour is a joy but with only one day in the city, your best bet is to formulate a plan of attack and hit the areas that are most important to you. Katie's starting in the Egyptian Antiquities department where she's surveying the magnitude of a statue from the Ramesseum and the grace of husband and wife Ahkenaton and Nefertiti holding hands. From there, make a short stop in the Greek, Etruscan and Roman period where Aphrodite (known as Venus di Milo), Discobolus, the Fighting Warrior, the Head of a Youth and Winged Victory are all must-sees.
You're tempted to just give in at this point and spend the entire day exploring the interior of the Louvre but you'll have to resist. Hit the paintings, paying special attention to the da Vincis and "The Wedding at Cana" which is the painting that sits directly opposite the "Mona Lisa". Of course the "Mona Lisa" is a masterpiece and you'd be crazy to miss it but don't skip Veronese's massive-scale, rather epic painting which is the largest in the collection. (And, yes, the "Mona Lisa" is smaller than you think it is...) From here, force yourself out of the museum and over to the gift shop to pick up a few keepsakes before you exit the building.
From here, it's a beautiful walk along the north bank of the Seine to the Île de la Cité and the magnificent Notre Dame Cathedral. Visiting the cathedral itself is free although appropriate dress is requested and it's always important to be respectful of a house of prayer. Stop to reflect or to light a candle and contemplate the number of pilgrims and tourists who have entered this space. The south rose window is a must-see as is the emotionally-moving statue of the Mother and Child in the transept. It'll cost you eight and half Euro to climb the bell tower like Quasimodo but the astounding view of central Paris and a close-up encounter with the collection of gargoyles that dot the building's roof-line are your reward for hiking up the 387 stairs to the top.
Just a three minute walk away from the Cathedral to the south of the Seine is Rue de la Bûcherie. At number 37, you'll find Shakespeare and Company, one of the most famous English-language bookstores in the world. Dive into this treasure chest for book-lovers and take home a great novel, a historical tome or a picture-book of Paris...there's likely something for everyone here and they've been providing great reading material to English-speakers since the 1950's.
We've now shopped and explored straight through lunch so we're stopping at one of Paris' many bakeries to grab a snack to keep us moving before heading to the wine shop. There are probably hundreds of wine shops and even supermarkets that will provide a good bottle of French wine at a reasonable price. It might be difficult to pick incorrectly. We like Nicolas Wine Shops which are actually a local chain scattered about Paris. The flagship store can be found at 31 Place de la Madeleine but on our day-tour we're visiting the location near our hotel at 35 Avenue de Suffren, close to the Eiffel Tower. It's much smaller than the main location but the staff is terrific and we appreciate the individual attention we received during our last visit. (Bringing wine back from your trip? It absolutely has to go in your checked luggage so we recommend one of these handy storage bags to ensure a safe journey home for your bottles.)
Take a breather and have a glass of French wine as you enjoy dinner at one of Paris' many bistros. Katie's favorite dish is the classic steak frites which just might be worth the transatlantic flight from the United States all by itself. After dinner we're heading to the Théâtre du Châtelet just north of the Île de la Cité to take in a musical. During the winter months, the Châtelet often features an English-language or translated production of classic family-friendly favorites. This year will see An American in Paris presented with first-rate casts, musicians, sets and costumes. It's great French theatre made easy for people like Katie who don't necessarily understand French. The Théâtre du Châtelet is easily accessed via the Metro at the Châtelet stop but it's not terribly easy to find your way out of that station. There's upwards of twelve exists so look for the one closest to Voie Georges Pompidou which is immediately around the corner from the theatre entrance or be sure you've got access to a good map of the area.
Thus ends our single-day Parisian adventure. Is there still much more to see? Of course there is but this sprawling city of art, history, architecture, flavor and beauty can be experienced, albeit briefly, in one great day and give you plenty of ideas for your next, hopefully longer, visit.