Paris, in my humble opinion, is a gorgeous city. From the get go, one is enthralled by the sights, sounds, smells and people. Oh, the ever so fashionably dressed people! Paris is a city for lovers. Lovers of art, history, culture and food.
A corporate incentive trip to Paris should be for at least 4-5 nights. Here’s a quick weather chart.
The best time to visit would be May through October. It’s warm, sunny and packed with tourists. A complete cultural milieu!
Paris is connected via direct flights from most major Indian cities. One can get some really cheap fares on a few European & Middle Eastern carriers if you don’t mind a ‘one hop’ flight. Indian passport holders are required to obtain a Schengen visa to visit France. More information about the visa is available here.
Hotels start from EUR 75 upwards. But the lower end of the spectrum will mean that you would choose a 3-star hotel with a continental breakfast. Most Indian travellers on a corporate incentive prefer to be pampered (and why not! They’ve just hit their sales targets…and then some!) and more often than not, one would settle for a hotel in the EUR 150-200 range. This would get you a hotel on the fringes of the city centre, in some nice neighbourhoods and a full buffet breakfast.
Let’s start with the Eiffel Tower. In my honest opinion, it’s a little overrated. It’s crowded and similar views can be had from at least 3 other locations. We’ll get to that later. Firstly, ‘skip the queue’ tickets are sold out usually 3 months in advance. I’ve never really had a customer plan that far in advance! But if you do, these tickets are only sold online and here’s where to get them. The only other way is to queue up like everybody else. First, you queue up to get through security check and then once again to buy tickets. Everyone has to queue up. You can’t pay someone to do this for you. Once you get your tickets, you go straight to the elevator, and you guessed it, queue up again to get to the second level. A couple of quick side notes – the queue to take the stairs is usually non-existent and it’s only 674 steps. Takes about 15-20 minutes at a leisurely pace. The second level is the best viewing level. Really nothing spectacular all the way at the top. Once you get to the second level, it’s advisable to queue up right away for the elevator to the top. The queue snakes around the periphery of the tower and you can enjoy the view and take all the pictures you want. Then comes the descent. Once again, it’s all the same queues on the way down too! My pro tip – get there latest by 9 am! Another tip – take the stairs to level 2 and buy tickets to the top from there. Usually much quicker. There’s a mezzanine level below the second level where one can buy souvenirs, coffee, drinks, and snacks.
Oh…and do come back once the sun sets (usually around 10 pm in the summer) for a lovely picture of the Eiffel Tower once it’s all lit up!
Next stop – Seine river cruise. The boarding point is across the street from The Eiffel Tower so it makes sense to do this right after your visit. The cruise is the best opportunity to take pictures of all the monuments and historical buildings that line either side of the Seine and listen to some commentary to get you up to speed on history.
Then there are cathedrals and churches – free to visit most of them but do bear in mind that there is an EUR 10 fee to go up the towers at Notre Dame. The view is equally as good as from the Eiffel Tower and the queues are much shorter.
Another great spot for a panoramic view of the whole city is from the Basilica Sacré-Cœur located in the posh Montmartre locality. The best way to see the sights here is a walking tour and you will see picturesque views, a statue of St. Denis, the home of the famous singer Dalida, the cafe Van Gogh used to frequent, a quaint vineyard, chic street art and the famous Moulin Rouge. Read my detailed blog on this walking tour here. Pro tip – Do try and catch a show at Moulin Rouge. It’s an amazingly well-choreographed cabaret. The performers, the costumes, the music, and the sets will leave you spellbound!
Though, by far, the prettiest chapel is La Sainte Chapelle.
Also recommended is a walk through the Latin Quarter located on the left bank of the Seine, famous for the Sorbonne university, its lively student atmosphere, and many bistros.
Last but not least, is a walk through the Jewish Quarter, more commonly referred to as Le Marais, located on the right bank of the Seine.
Moving on to the museums…and there are so many!
The most famous one being the Louvre with its famous glass pyramid and Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel (not to be confused with the other Arc de Triomphe!) – home of Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and the famous statue of Venus de Milo.
One monument you’ll see a lot of as you drive around Paris is the Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile. It stands in the centre of the Place Charles de Gaulle, at the western end of the Champs-Élysées. Speaking of which, Champs-Élysées is your go-to avenue for high fashion shopping in Paris.
One can find many souvenir shops around the Notre Dame or at the foothills of Montmartre. You will surely be inundated by the many African immigrants trying to sell you cheap Eiffel Tower keychains, etc. A good flea market to visit would be the one at Saint-Ouen, for everything from cheap clothes, shoes, souvenirs, wallets, bags, belts, etc.
On a parting note, if you have some more time, do take in a visit to Chateau de Versailles and Chateau de Fontainebleau. The former was built by Louis XIV and the latter has been a residence of many French monarchs including Napoléon Bonaparte.