The City of Lights, the City of Love
over 4000 restaurants. So much to eat, so little time!
Lyon. I love this place! It is often said that France's second city is Marseille. But, for me, it will always be Lyon.
A place where you can visit a beautiful 19th Century Basilica above the city, and just a 5 minute walk away, see a 1st Century Roman theater still being used today.
Walk along your choice of rivers going through the city. Visit the Parc de Tete la d'Or, 260 acres of rose gardens, water, and paths.
Have a coffee and croissant at Place de Bellecour, the largest pedestrian square in Europe.
Museums, galleries, statues, fountains, bridges...and if you enjoy food; over 4000 restaurants.
This place is magic!
Clearly, Paris is more iconic, but I have found Lyon to be more laid back, more colorful, and definitely with more trees and green, including the nearly 300 acre Parc de la Tete d'Or.
The Musee des Beaux-Arts doesn't have the 400K+ pieces of The Louvre, but its selection is fantastic from the 15th century through the Impressionists. And, like all museums in France, work from the 1910's like Matisse and Picasso is housed in the modern art section.
If you like food, Lyon is held as the gastronomical capital of France with more than 4000 restaurants.
For the history buffs, this city has beautiful 19th century churches just a 5 minute walk from a Roman Amphitheatre, that is still in use today.
Riverside walks along the Rhone and the Saone and rambles through the public gardens give a little chill time to a trip. Bring comfy shoes!
This city seems to have a little of everything!
Basilica of Notre Dame de Fourviere
Basilica of Notre Dame de Fourviere
Theatre Gallo Romain
Cathedral of Saint-Jean-Baptiste
Cathedral of Saint-Jean-Baptiste
Place de Terreaux
Getting around in Lyon
First getting to Lyon is simple. You can, of course, fly in. The airport isn't far out of town. However, in all my visits, I have yet to fly in. I always take the train, and have done so coming form Frankfurt, Milan, Marseilles and Paris. So, you see it is easy to get to. Even if I want to fly, I will land in Paris or Frankfurt, then take the train. It is usually faster and cheaper.
Once arriving at the train station (Lyon Part Dieu), you will want to take the metro system which can get you anywhere in and around Lyon. You can of course look for a place to buy tickets, but that is no longer necessary. As of the summer of 2022; you can pay with contactless credit card. When riding a bus, simply wave your credit card in front of the validator near the entrance (usually next to, or just to the left of the driver). When departing the bus, wave your card at the validator towards the rear door of the bus. The obvious key here is to enter at the front and leave at the back or the readers will not know if you are coming or going. But, that is something to remember if you have visited other cities where it is common to enter at any door. And, also so not forget to wave the card getting off. If you do forget, you will pay the maximum fare that is possible on that route.
For the underground metro and the funiculars, it the same idea. Just wave your card at the underground entrance, and wave it again at the exit. The metro system is so extensive, that I never take taxis or Uber in Lyon.
Favorite places to visit in Lyon
Musée des Beaux Arts
This may be my favorite all in one museum in France as it covers an extensive collection all the way from Middle Ages to the French Impressionists. It is housed in the 17th Century Royal Abbey of the Sisters of Saint-Pierre right on the Place des Terreaux. As of 2022, entrance is only 9 euros, so it is a great value. Don't miss the sculpture gallery on the first floor!
Basilique Notre-Dame de Fourvière
Built between 1872 and 1884, this is the building in which I usually start any visit to Lyon. The Cathedral on the hill is impressive, and you can climb the tower for an even more impressive view of Lyon. But, if you do not feel like climbing, right next to the Basilica is the Esplanade de Fourvière with incredible views of the city, and a little cafe to grab a snack, coffee or some ice cream. If you are visiting in the summer, I would start the trip at the Roman Theatre 5 minutes away instead of here; so you can visit the basilica second, and depart by walking down the hill through the rose garden.
Théâtre Gallo Romain de Lyon-Fourvière
One of the main reasons I love Lyon so much is that you get such a sense of French history, but also Roman history. Here, you can visit a theatre that was built as far back as 15BC, and still in use today for concerts. in Roman times, it was backed by a 30 foot wall, but today it is open so you an have a better view. Feel free to walk the theatre for free, and you can also enjoy the museum for a small fee.
Cathédrale Saint-Jean Baptiste
If you leave the Basilica on the hill by foot, down through the Rose garden, keep going down to Saint Jean Baptiste. It is only a 15-20 minute total walk, and goes through a beautiful neighborhood. Though you will probably take longer for frequent stops just to look at things. This cathedral has centuries of history. Built in the 12th century, the stained glass is from the 13th and 14th century, the astronomical clock is from the 16th century, and the bell is from the 17th century.
Head into the Presqu'île neighborhood. "Presque Ile" means "Almost Island" and it is fitting as it sits between the two rivers coming through town. the Saone and the Rhone so it feels like an island. My favorite place in this area is Place Bellecour centered with an equestrian statue of King Louis XIV. I love to grab a snack and a drink, and just enjoy the view. You will now get a great sight of the Basilica from below.
Parc de la Tête d'Or
Summer or winter, a favorite walking place. Featuring a botanical garden, a rose garden, and a zoo (free); this 290 acre (117 hectares) 19th century park is a must to visit.
Rivers and neighborhoods
It is not just a place, but, like Paris; just walking around the city brings you to see so many beautiful scenes, plazas, and buildings. Walk along either river, or both. Explore the Presqu'île neighborhood or go up the hill to the La Croix-Rousse. There is hardly a neighborhood that will disappoint.
Something about Paris just keeps drawing me back. There is something about the art, history, and architecture that just fills my spirit whenever I walk these streets, visit the museums, sit in the plazas and cafes. I can't put my finger on it. It is just everywhere.
Arc De Triomphe
Luxembourg Palace and Gardens
Notre Dame Cathedral
Pont Alexandre III and Grand Palais
Tuileries and Eiffel Tower
Tuileries in the spring
Pont Alexandre III and Eiffel Tower
Getting around in Paris
Get used to the metro. It is so much easier and faster than taxis or Uber and seems to be set up so that there is always a station just a few minute walk from where you want to be.
For years, I have been buying booklets of single use t+ metro tickets that are good for transfers within 90 minutes. And, I have become used to watching for different zone prices; but finally, Paris is going all contactless in 2023.
But, for now, there are still ticket options.
My early response to using the metro app for Paris in the spring of 2023 (Bonjour RATP) is that I still use paper tickets. The reason for this is that unlike other cities the Paris app is not truly a pay as you go. It is meant for people who buy a Navigo pass and want to top it off over their phone. This is handy, but it still means you are prepaying for tickets. And, also means I will likely leave Paris with unused money left on the app. Further, you need to download a second app to see if your phone is compatible, and for unexplained reasons, my 1 year old Android phone is not compatible. So, I still use the old fashioned paper tickets in this city. I hope that someday Paris will evolve into a truly pas you go city, like Lyon where you just tap your credit card on and off transport.
If you are on holiday and plan to be out and around the city every day; the best deal is the Paris Tour travel pass (Paris Visite) which gives you unlimited travel during your stay. Just choose the number of days, and the zones you will need, and you are set for the trip.
Another very popular way to get around Paris are E-scooters. I think they are more popular here than anywhere else I have seen. But, that may not hold in the future. Many in Paris do not like them, and the deputy mayor of Paris has even suggested they all be banned. Personally, I have never used one in Paris. First, they don't seem particularly safe on the roads. Second, I agree that they litter than landscape of a beautiful city. Third, I don't know the city by heart, and I need to navigate. That can be difficult while trying to also ride safely. But, each to their own...and for now, they are still a popular option.
Favorite places to visit in Paris
Wow...where does one start? I say again, this is the most visited city in the world for a reason. There must be 100 incredible places to visit (probably many more).
What I will put here is just my humble opinion. With a caveat...I am always discovering new places I enjoy every time I go back. My favorite way to explore Paris has always been on foot. There is something special about the streets of Paris that make it more enjoyable to walk than anywhere else I know.
Notre Dame Cathedral
Even though I want to find new things, I still try to start every trip to Paris the same way. Take the metro the the Saint-Michel Notre-Dame station, walk out and see Notre Dame. It has been closed since the 2019 fire, but is scheduled to reopen in time for the Paris Olympics in 2024. Regardless, it is still a magnificent building that draws huge crowds.
After stopping at Notre Dame, I walk west down the river...maybe cross over at Boulevard de Palais to see the outside of St Chapelle and the Conciergerie (also great places to visit), continuing west towards The Louvre. It is a magical 20-25 minute walk.
The most visited museum in the world. Rightly so!
At any given time, there will be about 35,000 items on exhibit, but the museum has over 400,000 items total.
Housed in the 13th century palace, it covers nearly 800,000 sq feet.
The best advice I can give about seeing the Louvre is that you WILL leave without having seen everything, so do not worry about it going in. You could spend a couple entire days in The Louvre, and that would still be true.
However, if anything cool came out of Covid was that The Louvre put their entire collection of 480,000 pieces online.
Other advice I can give if you have never been is that if you want to see the main attractions...think Mona Lisa...you will encounter large crowds surrounding them all. I have seen so many people that will waste 10,20,30 minutes trying to find a place for that prefect selfie. it is not worth it! Enjoy the art, and then go enjoy some more art. Plus, all the people that are jostling for that perfect spot as close as they can get are just ruining the experience for everyone that just wants to see the art. Nobody went there to watch you get a selfie!
So, just get a map and enjoy. Or, do like I do every time...get a map and end up lost anyway. The place is delightfully bewildering. Don't worry. You will find your way out eventually,
A 10-15 minute walk from The Louvre, across the river, brings you to my second favorite museum in Paris. Though much smaller than The Louvre (what isn't?), the 5 levels of Musee D'Orsay have an incredible collection and now you can also see the French impressionists (on the top floor)...the one thing lacking at The Louvre.
The heart of Paris. Just sit, have a coffee and a "pain de chocolat". Watch people, enjoy the sculptures, and if it is spring or summer, the flower gardens are wonderful.
Musée de l'Orangerie
The smallest of my favorite museums. Yes, it is The Water Lillies by Monet that I come for. I don't know anywhere where it will feel so natural to just sit and reflect on an art piece. So much so, that you will be there with dozens of other people just sitting and contemplating.
But, on the lower floor, there is also a really great collection of permanent art, and always a fascinating temporary exhibit.
The Eiffel Tower
Well, because. That's why.
You can get great views of The Tower from so many places. And most of the best places are crowded with picture takers. But, if you want to be one of them, and I have been...my favorite is the corner of Rue de L'Universite and Ave de la Bourdonnais . Or from the Bassins du Champ de Mars. or, across the river from the river side of the National Marine Museum.
I have never taken the elevator up the Tower. it can be pricy and the lines are long. But, I have walked up.
One of my favorite places for a few reasons. Mostly, it has a great art collection and is housed in a beautiful building. But, also it is free, and that is always a bonus. And, finally, it sits in a perfect location between The Tuileries and the Av. des Champs-Élysées. And, next to maybe the prettiest bridge in Paris, Pont Alexandre III
Probably the youngest item on my list. In the Montemarte neighborhood, itself just a wonderful lace to explore. This church was only completed in 1914. But, the church and the location are breath taking. The view from the steps over Paris is wonderful. You will understand why hundreds of Parisians are just sitting on and around the steps.
Père Lachaise Cemetery
Famous cemetery with the likes of Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison & Maria Callas. It is the burial place of over 1 million people, and still holds 10,000 funerals per year. There are records of tours happening here since at least 1808, and is now visited by 3 million people per year along its 15 kilometers of paths.
A smaller, unassuming museum and garden just to the east of The Tomb of Napoleon. This will really open your eyes to the incredible scope of work of this artist known for his emotion evoking sculptures.
About an hour outside Paris, it is well worth the time to get there. The former Royal Palace is now the home of 60,000 pieces of art in this 17th century chateau with 2300 rooms over nearly 700,000 sq feet. There is also 2000 acres of gardens to enjoy, which you can walk around for free. There are many chateaus around Paris, but this is my favorite.
Paris parks and gardens
One of the many things that makes Paris so special is the numerous green spaces to enjoy.
Yes, I know Paris is all about museums and cafes...and that is true. But, it would be a disservice to your visit to not set aside some time to enjoy the outdoors, also.
There are some places that are easy and obvious to see. Like the Tuileries, or the gardens at the Chateau de Versailles, or the Champ de Mars in front of the Eiffel Tower.
But, to really see Paris like a Parisian, you need to also see places like the Jardin des Plantes where you can enjoy the park, a botanical garden, a zoo, and even a Paleontology Museum.
Or, the Luxembourg Gardens, where you can sit on the lawn, or around the pond for lunch, and even see the French Statue of Liberty. Or, just stroll around and enjoy the numerous sculptures.
How about stopping at the Père Lachaise Cemetery? Not as quiet as most simply because there are millions of annual visitors. But, you can see a great many monuments to historical figures here such as Molière, Eugène Delacroix, Georges Seurat, Oscar Wilde, or Jim Morrison.
And, if you really have some time, get to the edges of the city, and see the larger parks like Boulogne Woods (846 hectares, 2090 acres) or Vincennes Woods (995 hectares, 2458 acres).
Paris on the Cheap
Yes, Paris has its iconic attractions…and they are icons for a reason. They are the most visited, most photographed, and among the most interesting things to see. However, if you have been to Paris before, and have seen The Louvre, the Musee D’Orsay, the Eiffel Tower, etc.; or, if you want to extend your trip on a budget, you may want to try some of the lesser-known places, and some of them don’t cost a cent.
These suggestions are not exhaustive of the things Paris offers for a limited budget, but they are things that I find interesting.
Parks and Woods
Certainly, no trip to Paris would be complete without a visit to The Tuileries. The grand garden on the west side of the Louvre, it is a favorite for tourists and locals alike. Either starting my day there with a coffee and pastry or visiting in the middle of the day for lunch, I enjoy this place every time I go to Paris. Sitting in the shade on the western side of the park is relaxing, but sitting among the statues and flowers on the east side is better! Plus, from the east side, you have views of the Eiffel Tower, the Musee D’Orsay and The Louvre.
If you want more parks, Paris seems to have them in abundance. Not to be missed is the Luxembourg Gardens. Sit near the pools and enjoy a view of Luxembourg Palace or sit on the grass and just watch the world go by. Plus, you can also espy one of the replicas of The Statue of Liberty near the west entrance.
Jardins de Plants is more than just a park. You can stroll around the garden and enjoy the flowers for free, but you can also stop in the zoo (13 euro), or the Natural History Museum (10 euro), if you want to spend a little money.
If you want a grander experience of nature, head to the forests to the east or west side of the city. Bois de Vincennes on the east side and Bois de Boulogne on the west side together encompass about 20% of the entire area of Paris. You won’t see much of the landscaped gardens in the woods, but there are plenty of walking paths through the trees, and along the ponds.
Bois de Vincennes is much easier to get to by the metro. Plus, at this place, you can add some paid visits if you like. The Chateau de Vincennes, and the Floral Park of Paris are right next to the woods. Additionally, you can stop and do some window shopping in the cute town.
Rome has its Spanish steps, and Paris has the Basilica of Sacre-Couer in Montemarte. The steps leading up to the hillside basilica overlook the Louise Michel Square, and indeed the entire city. A wonderful view, but be prepared for the crowds as this place is no secret! If you want an even better view, you can climb the nearly 300 steps to the basilica dome (for a fee, of course). But, seeing the Basilica itself is free.
Pere Lachaise Cemetery
okay, some might find visiting a cemetery a little creepy, but this is one of the most visited places in Paris for a reason. 3.5 million people visit here each year to enjoy the history, visit the graves of the famous, enjoy the numerous sculptures and monuments, all set on over 100 acres with more than 4000 trees (with 76 different species).
Get a map and look for the graves of Jim Morrison, Frederick Chopin, Edith Piaf, Oscar Wilde, and Gertrude Stein among many others. You can even stop by Victor Noir’s grave for some luck by rubbing the statue on his…well, you know!
Estimates vary wildly and say between 300,000 and 1 million people are buried here. Including those that have been disinterred over the centuries, the number goes much higher. There are still 10,000 services there each year.
Palace of Versailles Gardens
This one is a little tricky for 2 reasons. Yes, you can visit the gardens for no charge, and they are amazing! But, you will spend a bit on the metro to get there and back. Plus, once you are there, you will definitely want to buy a ticket to go in the Palace.
But, if you stick with the free side, you will enjoy 3 sq miles of landscaped gardens, pools, and statues.
It took nearly 40 years to build and plant this garden in the 17th century. At times there were thousands of laborers on the task. And, about every 100 years, the garden needs to be totally replanted. This was last done after the storms of 1999.
Champs-Élysées and Arc de Triomphe
stroll along this famous boulevard, do as much window shopping as you like, and enjoy the impressive Arch at the end of the boulevard. Sure, climbing the arch to the top costs money, but standing under it is free!
There are a surprising number of full time free museums in the city. Here are my favorites, though there are many more!
My favorite is likely the Petit Palais
Located between the Tuileries and the Champs de Elysees, the Petit Palais houses art from the Renaissance to the 20th century. Just because this museum is free doesn’t mean that its collection isn’t impressive. Here, you will see art from the likes of Rembrandt, Rubens, Delacroix, Monet, Rodin, Pissarro, etc., etc. Also, despite its name, the building isn’t all that petit. It just is compared to the Grand Palais across the street.
85 rooms of history from the Paleolithic to the 20th century. A fascinating take on everything from the Roman era, the golden century, the French Revolution, to the World Wars. Including an incredible amount of art and artifacts. This museum is set up really well. It progresses chronologically, starting with an intro, then to Paleolithic, winding through room after room, ending with the 20th century. If you are into history, this place is fascinating.
Musee d’art Moderne de Paris
Not to be confused with The Pompidou, which is incredible to visit, but costs 15 euro; the Musee d’art Moderne de Paris is next to the Tokyo Palais and is free to see the permanent collection. (temporary exhibitions do charge a fee). The museum houses a great collection of modern and contemporary art including Henri Matisse’s “Danse” and Mallee-Stevens’ “La Fee Electricite”. Both of those pieces are set up in their own rooms. Also, downstairs, there are many rooms of various artists, with a very wide range of interests. This museum is well worth a visit.
Musee de la Vie Romantique
Housed in the home of painter Ary Scheffer, built in 1830; the ground floor is dedicated to George Sand, a 19th century author that penned more than 70 novels, and the next floor consists of works by Scheffer, a 19th century romantic painter known for works based on literature like the works of Dante and Lord Byron.
Maison de Victor Hugo
Hugo’s apartment, set up with original furniture, plus artifacts and sketches. For fans of this 19th century author of The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Les Miserables, it is an interesting visit.
A house, garden and studio, this museum highlights the work of Antoine Bourdelle, a student of Rodin. This was his active studio from 1885-1922 and was opened as a museum in 1949. It contains not just the work of Bourdelle, but also his own art collection including Rodin and Delacroix. Today, there are over 500 pieces in this museum.
Musee de la Liberation
Two separate museums documenting the lives of liberator General Leclerc and resistance leader Jean Moulin. The museum opened in 1994 honoring Moulin, and was moved to its present location in 2019, marking 75 years since the Liberation of Paris.
Museums that are free on the first Sunday of each month, all year round
If you happen to be in the city for this magic day, your options are incredible!
Place Georges Pompidou, Paris 4th - Metro Hôtel de Ville / Châtelet - Les Halles
60 rue Réaumur, Paris 3rd - Metro Arts et Métiers
Hôtel de Mongelas - 62 rue des Archives, Paris 3rd - Metro Hôtel de Ville / Châtelet - Les Halles
6 rue de Furstenberg, Paris 6th - Metro Saint-Germain-des-Prés / Saint-Michel - Notre-Dame
Musée national Gustave Moreau (free of charge outside the temporary exhibition period)
14 rue de la Rochefoucauld, Paris 9th - Metro Trinité
43 avenue de Villiers, Paris 17th - Metro Malesherbes
Musée national du Moyen Âge - Thermes de Cluny (closed for renovation work. Reopening scheduled for fall 2021)
6 place Paul Painlevé, Paris 5th - Metro Cluny - La Sorbonne / Saint-Michel - Notre-Dame
Jardin des Tuileries, Paris 1st - Metro Concorde
1 rue de la Légion d'Honneur, Paris 7th - Metro Solférino / Musée d'Orsay
Hôtel Salé - 5 rue de Thorigny, Paris 3rd - Metro Saint-Paul / Châtelet - Les Halles
Palais de Chaillot - 1 place du Trocadéro et du 11 novembre, Paris 16th - Metro Trocadéro / Champ de Mars - Tour Eiffel
293 avenue Daumesnil, Paris 12th - Metro Porte Dorée
37 quai Jacques Chirac Portail Debilly, Paris 7th - Metro Alma - Marceau / Pont de l'Alma
6 place d'Iéna, Paris 16th - Metro Iéna
Place Charles de Gaulle, 78 - RER Saint-Germain-en-Laye
28 avenue André-Morizet, 92 - Metro Marcel Sembat
Place du Général de Gaulle, 60
Place du général Leclerc, 02
Route des Granges, 78 - RER Saint-Rémy-lès-Chevreuse
Avenue du Château, 92 - RER Rueil Malmaison
Place de la Manufacture, 92 - Pont de Sèvres
Château d'Ecouen, 95 - Garges - Sarcelles
Musée départemental Maurice Denis (scheduled to reopen in 2021)
2 bis rue Maurice Denis, 78 - RER Saint-Germain-en-Laye
16 rue Auguste Gervais, 92 - Metro Mairie d'Issy
Place de la Libération, 94 400 Vitry-sur-Seine
Aéroport le Bourget, 93 - RER Le Bourget