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PARIS

‘Avoid the Eiffel Tower’ – What to see if you’re visiting Paris for just one day

With its dozens of world-famous museums, galleries and monuments, Paris can feel a little overwhelming if you're only here for a short time - so what are the real 'must do' activities for the city of light? Readers of The Local had some suggestions:

'Avoid the Eiffel Tower' - What to see if you're visiting Paris for just one day
The Eiffel Tower (R) and the gothic Saint-Jacques Tower (L), seen from a rooftop in Paris. (Photo by JOEL SAGET / AFP)

As Paris fans, we would recommend that you come for at least a week, but that’s not always possible, so we asked our readers for suggestions on what to do if you only have one day in Paris.

Here are their tips:

Walk

A common piece of advice was not to worry about trying to visit every museum and gallery, but simply to walk and enjoy the views, taking frequent breaks in cafés.

French has a special word – coined in Paris – for the activity of strolling aimlessly and enjoying the view (its flâner or flâneur/flâneuse for the person doing the strolling) and we strongly advise that people take this hint.

In terms of where to go, the vast majority of respondents recommended simply strolling along the Seine. Most said to be sure to stop by Ile-de-la-Cité while on this balade

Some had specific routes to recommend, like Kate Gooderham, who lives in Florida but has visited Paris several times. She said: “I would walk the Seine from the Eiffel Tower to Notre Dame including both the Right and Left Banks. Stop and have a coffee or a wine when you get tired. Soak up the atmosphere. Then promise to come back!

“That is what we did our first time when we only had 24 hours. At night the Eiffel Tower twinkles on the hour. It is a treat to see.” 

Another specific route came at the recommendation of Twitter user “Amarins” who attached the Google Maps walking tour they would recommend:

Paris is also home to many charming, small streets – many of which are located in the Marais or Latin Quarter – that are worth visiting if time permits. 

READ MORE: The ten Paris streets you just have to walk down

After walking down the Seine, Sally Bostley from California recommended taking a taxi from Pont d’Iena to the Marais. “From there it is a picturesque walk through the Marais to the Place des Vosges, the most beautiful square in Paris.

“Take rue de Birague out of Place des Vosges and make a quick stop at the Ile Saint-Louis. There are lots of restaurants there, but the big draw is the Berthillon Ice Cream shop. If weather permits, it is the best ice cream in Paris.” 

If walking is not possible, consider a boat or bus tour

This was a common tip. If you are not a fan of walking, or perhaps you are unable to walk for long periods, there are definitely other ways to take in all the beautiful views of the city.

Bus tours are a great way to see the city in a short amount of time. There are hop-on, hop-off services that will give you a good overview of the city.

Boat tours are another great way to see the city along the Seine, and they are available for those with budgets of all sizes.

For a more affordable option, Bateaux Mouches offers river cruises up and down the Seine several times a day. This boat ride takes you along the water, underneath the city’s famous bridges, all while pointing out monuments and neighbourhoods along the way. The commentary is available in several languages, including English.

For more expensive options, you might consider a dinner or lunch cruise. These typically run between one to two hours long, and they are a great way to enjoy a meal while taking in the panoramic views of the city.

If you are looking to get around Paris using the Metro system, keep in mind that many of the underground subway lines are not wheelchair accessible (apart from line 14).

However, all bus lines in Paris are accessible to wheelchair users, and all buses are equipped with a low floor and a retractable pallet for on and off-boarding. 

While most sidewalks in Paris are flat, some are paved with bricks or cobblestones – making them uneven.

Cafés

Sitting on a café terrace watching the world go by is one of Paris’ greatest pleasures and many people recommended that you break up your walk for a coffee/beer/glass of wine/Aperol spritz and a croissant/sandwich/croque monsieur at regular intervals.

You’ll never be far from a café in Paris.

Eat authentically

Many readers suggested specific restaurants across Paris – from the Hemingway Bar at the Ritz and “if budget permits, a Michelin one star lunch” to simply popping into a “neighbourhood brasserie” – the overall advice is best summed up as “eat in a nice restaurant but save room for a pastry and coffee later,” as one reader responded. 

As for where to go, according to Debbie Nilsson, from Sydney, Australia, when visiting Paris for a day trip, head to “any cafe/restaurant not on the tourist trail.”

Nilsson recommended “[Going] a few blocks off the track and [finding] a café restaurant that appeals to you. Check out the menu in the window/at the door.”

She also advised seeking out happy hour options, when possible: “there are lots and they all differ slightly.”

When eating in Paris, keep an eye out for whether the sign says “Service continu” or not. This will help you determine whether the restaurant closes between lunch and dinner hours, as many do. 

While in Paris, try to have at least one pastry. This won’t be too hard because there are boulangeries (bakeries) on most corners. For one respondent, the best place to eat French pastries is at the Carl Marletti shop: 

If you have time, several readers recommended meandering through a market, as this is a great way to have fresh, authentic cheese, fruit, and much more. You can check on the city hall website ahead of time to see which markets will be open the day you are visiting.

Pick ONE museum or gallery

If you’re only in Paris for a short time, accept that you can’t possibly take in all the galleries or museums and dashing around them is no fun.

Many museums and galleries in Paris can take up an entire day – in the case of the Louvre you could easily spend a week, so be strategic and pick one, then you have the time to enjoy it.

The most-recommended by Local readers was the Musée d’Orsay – housed in a former train station and home to a large collection of impressionist and post-impressionist art – as the best place to go to.

Others suggested smaller museums such as the Rodin, which is dedicated mostly to the sculptures of Auguste Rodin, or the Orangerie, located by the Tuileries Gardens and also home to impressionist art, namely eight large murals of Monet’s Water Lillies.

While a few readers counselled against visiting the Louvre on your one day in Paris, one of those who did suggest making the trip to the world’s most visited museum – Christine Charaudeau from the United States – advised “[picking] something you want to see because there is too much for a few hours visit.”

If you are interested in seeing the Mona Lisa, keep in mind this is the most visited exhibit in the museum. The painting attracts around 30,000 visitors each day, and if you are interested in joining that group, you will likely have to wait in line, particularly if you visit during a busy period.

Most museums in Paris allow visitors to book tickets online, with specific entrance hours – booking ahead of time can be a way to save some time in line on your one day in Paris.

Additionally, if you happen to be visiting on the first Sunday of the month, you can benefit from free entrance into many of Paris’ museums, like the Museum of Modern Art, the Pompidou and the Musée d’Orsay. You can learn more HERE.

READ MORE: Ten of the best day trips out of Paris

If you have more than one day

If Paris does work its magic on you and convinces you to stay more than just one day, there are a lot of options.

In addition to the more obvious attractions, here are some of the recommendations from Local readers;

Some said to head to the Luxembourg Gardens, a creation of Marie de’ Medici dating back to the 1600s. 

Others recommended crossing the river and heading to the Canal St. Martin. This is a lovely place to stroll, with plenty of shops and restaurants lined against the canal. It is also a great place for a picnic, if you have time.

While on the right side of the river, two other suggestions were brought up by several readers: visiting Père Lachaise, the largest cemetery in Paris and climbing up the Sacré Coeur. 

READ MORE: Paris’ Sacré-Coeur to be (finally) classified as a historical monument

Walking around a cemetery might sound depressing, but 3.5 million people come to Père Lachaise each year to do just that. It is home to the graves of several famous writers (like Oscar Wilde), artists and musicians, and the cemetery itself is filled with unique architecture and sculptures. 

As for the Sacré Coeur, many readers recommended attempting to visit if you have time during your one-day trip. From the top of the steps, you can see a beautiful view of the entire city. The basilica itself – which was only recently named a historic monument – is iconic and free to enter, and the streets around Montmartre, though hilly, are known for being charming.

And finally, try to avoid…

Readers were almost unanimous in their advice to not go up the Eiffel Tower. Many cited large crowds, while others simply said that the wait would be too long to reach the top. One respondent advised simply doing the “short walk up to second floor – that’s enough” instead of the elevator to the top.

Others also recommended avoiding the Champs-Élysées. This famous avenue is filled with shops, and it is always bustling and busy with traffic, although there are plans to pedestrianise it and make it a more pleasant space to stroll in. 

Earnest Chambers, a respondent from Los Angeles, said that he would “definitely avoid” the “crowds on the Champs Élysées.”

Some readers were more specific, recommending staying away from this part of the city on “Saturdays” or weekends, when it is most congested.

Disney was also a popular tourist attraction several readers suggested avoiding if you only have one day in Paris. The theme park is accessible from the city, but it is along the RER trainline and typically takes about an hour to get there from central Paris.

In fact, the Disneyland Paris website recommends “three full days” to visit the parks: “Two days for Disneyland Park and its five magical themed lands, one day for Walt Disney Studios Park and its four action-packed zones.”

Finally, several readers recommended avoiding specific neighbourhoods and parts of the city at night, particularly those directly surrounding train stations, such as Gare du Nord. If you have to transit through Gare du Nord make sure you keep an eye on your belongings, the place is notorious for pickpockets. 

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FRANCE EXPLAINED

Bears, lemons and pig-squealing: 9 of France’s strangest festivals

From pig-squealing competitions to men in bear suits, these are some of France's most bizarre traditional festivals.

Bears, lemons and pig-squealing: 9 of France's strangest festivals

France is home to hundreds of festivals every year, from small local celebrations to internationally renowned events such as the Strasbourg Christmas market, Nice Carnival and the Lyon Fête des lumières. But there are other festivals that are, frankly, a bit strange.

Here are France’s 9 strangest festivals;

Fête du Citron

When life gives you lemons…create a festival involving over 140 tonnes of citrus fruit and invite about 230,000 visitors annually? That is pretty much what Menton, a town on the French Riviera did in 1928 when a hotelier in the region wished to increase tourism. Known for its delicious lemons, Menton has grown the fruit since the 1500s and shipped them all over the world.

The hotelier’s idea, which came into fruition in 1934 ended up becoming a world recognised three-week festival, where the city and its garden show off giant sculptures – some over 10 metres in height – made of lemons and oranges, amid parades, shows, concerts and art exhibits. 

Fête de l’Ours

Recently added to the UNESCO ‘intangible heritage’ list, the Bear Festival takes place in the Pyrenees, along the border with Spain. Stretching all the way back to the Middle Ages, the festival has some surprising components: it involves a man dressing up as a bear and chasing humans.

At the end of the festival, the humans catch the man in the bear costume, and ‘skin’ him (take off his bear costume) so he can become a person again.

READ MORE: What you need to know about the French bear festival recognised by Unesco

It is intended to be a celebration of the end of winter, and while it was practised in all villages in the region up to the 19th century, it still occurs in three villages in the Haut Vallespir, located in the Pyrenees-Orientales département.

La Pourcailhade (Festival of the Pig)

Every year the small village of Trie-sur-Baise in the Pyrenees hosts a unique festival dedicated to pigs. Throughout the celebration, you’ll see pigs in various forms – from piglets to pork and people in pig costumes. The Pourcailhade is known for one moment in particular: the pig squealing competition, where participants get on stage and attempt to give their best pig imitation. 

The festival first started in 1975, at the former home to Europe’s largest pig market, and it usually takes place in August, though the festival had a six-year pause and made its comeback in 2018.

There are also piglet races and competitions to see who has the best pig-costume, but the cri de cochon (pig squeal) contest is something to behold, as shown below.

The Underwear festival

Captain Underpants would fit right in to this village in the south of France, located the Lot département.

Started in 2016, this festival is meant to pay homage to a reporter who made the little town of Montcuq famous across France during a nationally televised segment in 1976. During the celebration, participants can compete with one another in games from sumo-wrestling to a race (in underwear).

The sausage and pickle festival

Andouillette might be one of the French foods that foreigners find least appealing, but its cousin, andouille, is perhaps a bit more appealing…though possibly not enough to join a contest for the fastest andouille and pickle eater.

READ MORE: Readers reveal: The worst food in France

Every August 15th, the village of Bèze, located in eastern France, hosts a festival celebrating the sausage. One key moment is the competition to see who can swallow one kilo and 200 grams of tripe as quickly as possible, all with their hands tied behind their backs. The festival also crowns a queen of andouille and a king of the pickles, and the proceeds go toward helping children with disabilities.

This is not the only andouille centred festival in France. Another one, the “Fête de l’Andouille” which takes place in northern France involves a very important step where the crowd tries to catch pieces of andouille thrown at them from a balcony.

Fêtes de Bayonne

Known as France’s wildest festival, the Fêtes de Bayonne are a five-day party celebrating Basque cultural identity, and they take place in Bayonne every summer. 

Starting in 1932, the Fêtes can be controversial because they have traditionally involved bull fighting, or corrida, which some French lawmakers have been working to outlaw.

READ MORE: Could bullfighting finally be banned in France?

Aside from the bulls, the festival consists of lots of singing, dancing, sports competitions, traditional dress, and crowd-surfing. 

Festival-goers wear red and white outfits to symbolise the northern Spanish province of Pamplona, though some purists wear the colours of Bayonne: white and blue.

One of the most notable parts of the festival is the paquito chocolatero – a type of crowd-surfing where a person is passed over a chain of people sitting on the ground. The Fêtes de Bayonne have beaten the world record for the longest chain of people several times, most recently in 2022, a chain of 8,000 people passed one person over the crowd.

The Historic Ladle Festival

In practice since 1884, the Fête Historique des Louches, this tradition takes place in northern France in Comines. The legend goes that the Lord of the town was imprisoned in a high tower, and to show his people where he was being held, he apparently threw a wooden spoon with his coat of arms from the tower.

The festival, which takes place each October, has plenty of other activities, including a pageant, but the most noteworthy part is the parade where wooden spoons are hurled at the crowd. The goal is to walk away with the most ladles, proving to everyone that you truly deserve to live in the town of Comines.

The Gayant Festival

Close to the border with Belgium, the city of Douai in France’s north engages in a festival to celebrate three large statues, representing a giant family. Called the “Gayants” – they symbolise the city and according to folklore, they helped the villagers survive battles, invasions and wars over the centuries. The procession involves a parade where the giant statues are taken around the city.

This is another French festival that was registered in the “intangible cultural heritage” list with UNESCO, specifically under the category of “Giants and processional dragons of Belgium and France.”

Festival of the Unusual Taking place in Finistère, on France’s western coast, this festival has been going on for almost three decades.

Every July 14th, villagers come to demonstrate one of their “unusual talents,” whether that be throwing an egg or demonstrating how long they can peel an apple. One highlight of the festival is the race – where contestants try to go faster than one another on bed frames with rollers. Some contestants use the festival as a way to show their prowess in the Guinness Book of World Records – one village member broke the record in bending beer caps at the festival.

While France’s many festivals might seem a bit odd to foreigners, they still pale in comparison to some festivals taking place in the anglophone world, such as the Cooper’s Hill Cheese-Rolling event in the UK, where participants race down a 180 metre hill to try to catch the Gloucester cheese rolling down it. 

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