When the COVID-19 travel window opened up in the spring of 2022, we decided to make our move out of the country and spend four days in Paris and another four in Copenhagen. Let’s talk about Paris in this post, with Copenhagen to follow in a future post.
First, a disclaimer. This isn’t one of those posts where you’re going to get a suggested itinerary of famous or even overlooked places to visit. We didn’t have much lined up — the plan was to walk and have some happy accidents in our travels. And that we did.
Why We Went To Paris
This was my first time visiting Paris. It wasn’t really on my list previously because it’s one of those places that Americans swarm to, and I’m honestly kind of contrarian.
But while looking for good flights abroad from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, I uncovered a reasonably priced flight on a good airline aboard a good airplane. WestJet flies from Sky Harbor to multiple destinations in Canada, but the one that caught my eye was the flight to Calgary. From there, we could board the WestJet 787-9 Dreamliner to Charles de Gaule Airport outside of Paris.
From there, I envisioned plenty of options since Europe has excellent rail connections.
Also, I knew my daughter, 7, would love it. She’s wanted to see the Eifel Tower thanks to a Netflix/Disney show called Miraculous, which is set in Paris and shows a number of the city’s landmarks.
What To Do In Paris With A Kid
Fortunately, my daughter is a pretty sturdy walker and she’s spent a lot of time traveling. We made the first point on our itinerary to see the Eifel Tower. Her reaction to her glimpse of it was one of my favorite moments as a dad.
Other than that, we pretty much just spent four days walking (late May is extremely pleasant in Paris for people from Arizona) and taking the Metro around. We made two visits to the Eifel Tower area. On our walks back, we found a few highlights.
Arenes de Lutece
I’ve never heard a single American tell me “hey, you’ve gotta go see the Arenes de Lutece!” That’s a crime. It’s such a cool place to walk around.
Picture this: an arena that could sit 15,000 Romans as they watched gladiators and chomped on otter’s noses and ocelot spleens. Now, it’s surrounded by apartments, and people of all ages just chill there on relaxing afternoons.
It’s also free and there’s a playground nearby. The little person enjoyed it just as much as her parents did. We probably spent about 90 minutes there walking around and letting her sample the playground.
Grand Palais/Les Invalides
The Grand Palais looms pretty large in Paris as you walk back east from the Eifel Tower along the Seine. Even though it’s closed temporarily, it’s still fun to walk around it and check out all the statues and monuments.
We didn’t go into Les Invalides, but we walked around the grounds. It’s essentially a series of military museums, and it’s huge in scope. It would be easy to spend an entire day there, maybe more.
Les Invalides also happens to be right near the best coffeehouse we found in Paris, which we’ll get to a bit later.
I should point this out: If you’ve been to Washington D.C., you’ll notice some overlap in the architectural themes. I’ve heard about this in the past, but I didn’t expect it to be so prominent. There’s no subtly in the similarities.
Musee de l’Orangerie
OK, let’s add to the list of places we walked past but didn’t go into. The Musee de l’Orangerie is engaging enough outside that you barely need to go inside (especially if 20th Century European art isn’t your thing).
The grounds are so pleasant that just walking around outside of it is a treat. You might even notice some wandering goats chomping on the grass. It’s shady and picturesque, so be ready to take a few photos.
If you’re walking from west to east, you’ll stumble across the Louvre as you leave Musee de l’Orangerie. Look, the Louvre is a madhouse. It’s crowded and you have to get tickets in advance.
We did a fly-by of the pyramid, snapped a photo or two and continued on.
What a cool place to find as we walked! We would up here after leaving Arenes de Lutece. We just stopped at the playground for a bit. While the little person played, we just enjoyed the views of the Seine. I’m sure there are plenty of shops and restaurants, but even 30 minutes of playground time was extraordinarily nice.
Coulee Verte Rene Dumont
This is another one of those places Americans don’t talk about because they’re busy blathering about all the tourist places. But the Coulee Verte Rene Dumont is seriously one of my favorite parts of Paris.
It’s an elevated walkway about 5k long built on an old railway grade. At street level, you’ll find all sorts of shops and restaurants. As you head further east, you’ll find yet another mind-bogglingly pleasant park called Jardin de Reully. On the Saturday we visited, the Jadrin de Reully had some sort of event going on where they had activities for kids — just games and toys. Our 7yo was absolutely nuts about it, and we spent as much time there as she wanted.
Walk the Coulee Verte Rene Dumont multiple times during your stay. It’s a handy navigational maker — more importantly, it just reflects an advanced level of reusing old parts of a city and wrapping them into an engaging plan for a fun city.
Things I Didn’t Get To
Damnit, the Catacombs have terrible hours. I need to go back to Paris just to see them. I really wouldn’t mind another visit to Le Invalides. And good lord, just look at the Parc Bagatell le Rosaraie!
I also wouldn’t mind hopping on a boat and just cruising around the Seine. I also had a huge urge to hop on a train and just ride around aimlessly. Because that’s how I discover stuff.
That’s just scratching the surface. There’s just a ton of stuff to stumble across during four days in Paris, whether on train, by boat or on foot. I know you’re supposed to trudge off to the usual spots, but I am asking you to save room for random rambling. You will absolutely not regret it.
Where We Stayed in Paris
Hotel prices are kind of stiff in Paris, especially on the weekend of the UEFA Champions League Final*. We found a nice place called Novotel Paris Gare de Lyon, which is right near the similarly named transit hub. It’s close to restaurants, shops and walkable streets. It’s about 45 minutes from Charles de Gaulle.
Where to Drink Coffee and Beer In Paris
Wherever I go, I seek out the best coffeehouse and breweries around and compare them to my usual places back home.
By far my favorite place to drink coffee in Paris was Bleu Olive. We ran across it randomly on the way from Ecole Militaire to Arenes de Lutece.
To frame this for any first-time visitors here, I like the more basic drinks like a wet cappuccino, a flat white or a cortado. I got a flat white at Bleu Olive, and it was the perfect temperature (able to drink it immediately) without a bit of bitterness. My wife’s cappuccino was just as good.
As for beer — Cave à Bières was the best beer bar we found. It’s an extremely small place, but relatively quiet. They have a nice selection of styles, from hazy IPAs to stouts to Belgian ales. I was a bit lost in the moment, so I wasn’t very good about taking notes. I did take a bottle back to our hotel since the bartender mentioned it was a collaboration between Cave à Bières and a local brewery — I dropped a review of it on Untappd.
What About Food In Paris?
You’re probably wondering about where else to eat in a renowned food city like Paris. Let’s just say you have a lot of choices from all parts of the world.
I wasn’t very diligent about tracking our food since a lot of what we ate, we ate while wandering. Since our French is three steps below “terrible” we also weren’t 100% sure what we were ordering.
I will tell you this: The small local markets are fantastic. Load up on olives, fresh fruit, cheese and stuff it all into your hotel fridge. Carry some dates around with you as you walk the city.
The restaurants will also attempt to load you full of carbs, and they make some great omelets. I also had what appeared to be a pot roast at one place near a train station, and it was about as tender and savory as anything I’ve had before.
Getting Around In Paris
The Paris metro/subway system is great. It will get you close to virtually anywhere you want to go. It’s pretty easy to navigate.
One thing surprised me: It’s relatively old-fashioned with ticketing. I would’ve happily shelled out for a weeklong pass of some sort. That didn’t seem to be an option. The machines dispensed paper tickets, which are different values for kids and adults. It was sometimes hard to tell which was which on the fly.
Still, it’s overall not bad at all. There are some clanky older trains mixed in with some newer ones. But they all come regularly and pretty much on time.
Summing It Up: Four Days In Paris
Paris is full of historic, iconic landmarks. And yes, you should go see the ones that matter to you for one reason or another. But It’s also absolutely vital that you leave some room for spontaneous wandering. The places and people nobody has mentioned to you will likely become some of your best memories.
That’s always held true for me — in Paris, the effect seems magnified because I’ve not met another American who’s gone to Paris who has mentioned anything beyond the obvious. That’s a huge miss.
Paris has a huge upside for walkers who like to wander. Because of that, I enjoyed it even more than I expected to. The typical tourist attractions make nice anchor points, but the things I found walking between them is really what I enjoyed most about Paris.
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