Paris. Maybe it’s just me, but when my brain turns to mushy romantic tropes, Paris comes to mind. Lovers strolling the Seine, gentle rain falls. You kiss under a large umbrella for two.
Atop the Eiffel Tower, you sip Champagne and stare dreamily into one another’s eyes, basking in your luck at love. End scene.
So how did I end up traveling solo in Paris?
My youngest child had secured a scholarship for a study abroad in England for the first three weeks of summer and needed to fly out of O’Hare Airport, about three and a half hours from our home. Since I was going to be driving him there anyway … I figured I would squeeze in a little trip.
But why Paris, and why solo?
Aside from the aforementioned idyllic fantasy of romance, there were a couple of intriguing reasons: It’s iconic. The art. The green spaces. IT’S PARIS. Why should I wait to be with a partner, when I could go solo and see all of the things I wanted to see?
I have to say, in the final week or two leading up to the trip, my anxiety, per usual, went bonkers. I was worried about getting around by myself, ordering food in a foreign language and generally navigating a week in Paris alone. In addition, I was talking to a guy I liked and thought, “UGH, should I have waited on Paris? What if this works out?” (Spoiler, it didn’t.) I don’t normally worry about being lonely on trips. I had done 12 days solo in Ireland a few months prior and had a great time by myself. But IT’S PARIS.
I was worried about being lonely if I went alone.
At the end of the day, loneliness is a concept. A state of mind. You can be lonely in a room full of people you know. You can feel completely happy and full among strangers. I know lonely. I thought that I’d be sad or lonely when I was at the top of the Eiffel Tower, that place that resides inside restless romantic hearts like mine. But I wasn’t. As I watched the couples around me, I thought, “I might come back here someday, with my person.” But I know nothing can replace the feeling I had of knowing I took myself there. I. TOOK. MYSELF. TO PARIS. And then I bought a ridiculously priced three ounces of Champagne to celebrate.
So what were the highs and lows of being solo in Paris? Let’s do a quick speed through my week. Julianne and I have also compiled 17 Travel Tips for Paris, and I’ve put together a post on what my costs were for this trip.
I did these three on my first day while existing on about three hours of sleep after a trans-Atlantic flight. Do not recommend it. With only five days there, I felt like I needed to get to this right away, and it was a bit aggressive.
I left my hotel on foot and headed toward the Montmartre neighborhood, about 20 minutes away. I stayed in the 8th Arrondissement specifically for its location near Montmartre, the Eiffel Tower, and the Louvre. For those like me who aren’t clear about what an Arrondissement is or why they exist, this is a detailed view of all of them that includes some history if you want to read up on it. Succinctly, the city is divided into sections, and the division plays into voting and other government functions. I think it’s charming that it looks like a snail on a map.
I walked past fruit stands and flower shops, small groceries, and stores, getting the lay of the land, and turned my GPS toward Montmartre. Here is where I feel like I could have done better. I had read so much about the neighborhood and had a detailed map to walk, but I was SO TIRED. I set my sights on Sacre Coeur and walked that way. Up and up and up steps, I wandered around a bit until I found the entrance. I always enjoy European churches, and Sacre Coeur did not disappoint. What a beautiful structure. I didn’t spend a lot of time inside, just long enough to light candles for a few people and make my way through.
I had dinner reservations at La Maison Rose at 6:30 and had about two hours to kill. I should have walked more than I did. I tend to avoid the touristy areas, and the shops were quite crowded, so I walked the fringes of the neighborhood a bit. Eventually, I found a perch up the hill from La Maison, and people-watched for about an hour. It was so interesting watching people taking pictures in front of the restaurant. It was also disturbing to see how many people had no problems blocking traffic to do so. It creates such a dangerous situation. And I’m sure for residents, it’s unbearably frustrating.
I honestly didn’t even know why La Maison Rose was famous until maybe two weeks before my trip. It’s an iconic spot. I just thought it was pretty, so I wanted to eat dinner there. I was seated outside on the sidewalk and continued my observations of people while I ate dinner and drank my wine. I finished off my meal with a lovely dessert, paid my tab, and walked back down the many steps and hills toward my hotel.
Paris during the golden hour is just breathtaking. Trying to cram this beautiful area into my first day with no sleep was not my best idea. I wish I had put it later in the week.
I mean, what can you say about the Louvre? It’s one of the most famous and iconic art museums in the world. Some of the world’s most renowned art lives there. And it is always busy.
I started in the Richelieu Wing at the sculpture gallery kind of by accident. I love sculptures, and this area was very quiet, which made it a nice place to start. There were so many beautiful pieces, but my favorite was The Four Captives by Martin Van Den Bogaert. I didn’t have a mission to see any particular works; I wasn’t there to just peep the Mona Lisa; I had no plan, and I just wandered. I particularly loved Napoleon’s apartments. Before the Louve was a museum, it was a palace and home to multiple French leaders, including Napoleon III. Its history dates back to the late 12th century. Napoleon’s apartments have been mostly undisturbed for 150 years and are beautiful.
As I wandered, I stumbled upon more than one famous piece of art. I eventually succumbed to the lure of seeing the Mona Lisa, which was much smaller than I had imagined. The room was very crowded, with people lined up to get a closer look. I skirted the outside of the line, got close enough to grab a quick photo, and got out of the room. When my feet had had enough, I left. You could spend days upon days at the Louvre. I highly suggest reading Julianne’s piece on her trip to Paris. She’s a true art lover, and when I read about her trip I immediately wanted to go back to the Louvre and explore it better!
I left the Louvre and walked over to Tuileries Garden next door. There was a little coffee/food truck, so I stopped, got a cafe creme and a croissant, and ate at a little table, watching families enjoying the park.
I wandered the rest of the afternoon, from the Pont Alexandre III bridge, the most ornate bridge in Paris, to Jardin des Abrods du Petit Palais and back to my hotel for a little siesta and shower. Despite traveling at the end of May and the temps being in the low to mid-70s, I was often warm and in need of a cool down by 5–6 p.m. each day. Walking all those miles really warms you up!
Around the corner from my hotel was a restaurant called L’envue, where I often stopped for a bite, a drink, or both. On my way to my Eiffel Tower excursion, I fortified myself with a pear tart and cappuccino. Fueled by sugar and caffeine, I headed out.
A lot of my trip comprised happy accidents, and as I wound my way through the streets toward my destination, I ran across several: Place de la Concorde, Fountain des Fleuves and then, magically, Tulipes de Jeff Koons. I’m already a big fan of Jeff Koons, and tulips are my favorite flower, so accidentally finding this impressive sculpture filled me with joy. It was a lovely spot to pause.
Back across Pont Alexandre bridge, I stopped in at Le Crecutement Cafe. Unfortunately, I was unable to get a table outside to peep the tower, but I sat inside and had a lovely meal.
So, the Eiffel Tower. I didn’t know what to expect. I mean, obviously, I know what it looks like, but I didn’t know how I would FEEL. I’m an emotional person; a good sunset will give me all the feelings. But walking up to the Eiffel Tower, I just got choked up.
It was early evening; the sun was just starting to hit that peak golden hour as I arrived at the line for my entry time. I took the elevator up to the very top, walked out onto the platform, looked out over Paris, and I thought, WOW. “I’m here, a kid who never even dreamed of seeing Paris, is standing here. I have brought myself to Paris. I am standing at the top of the Eiffel Tower.”
There are kids from my neighborhood who didn’t make it to adulthood, and for so many reasons, it’s a bit of a shock that I did. That I made it HERE. I never, ever, take any trip for granted. I feel like the luckiest person on earth every time I step foot on a plane, let alone into a new country. I got teary. I soaked in the moment. I walked slowly and took in every inch of the view from every angle. Then I bought the aforementioned three ounces of Champagne and toasted myself. My heart was filled.
I took the elevator down, walked out into the dusk, and snapped pictures of the tower lit up with its twinkling lights. TWINKLING LIGHTS! And then, a rat ran across the grass in front of me, and I yelled “Ratatoulli!” like a good American tourist. Never mind that in the movie, his name is Remy.
I strolled back across the bridge, through the narrow streets toward my hotel as darkness descended.
Before I started asking around and doing research (very little, by the way) before my Paris trip, I’d never heard of Musee d’Orsay. I was told it was a must-see, and I love art museums, so I booked my tickets and went with zero expectations. I didn’t even know what art was housed there. I mean, for someone with a travel site, you’d think maybe I’d have done more research for my trip, but I didn’t. (I was busy working on this site, actually!)
Let me say this, if I had to choose between Louvre and Musee d’Orsay, I’d pick d’Orsay. For the very simple reason that it’s much less crowded and easier to take in than the Louvre. I am easily overstimulated and can have a short attention span. I get exhausted by too much of anything. The quiet energy at d’Orsay was perfect for me. It was still busy, but not Louvre busy. Sometimes I have to work hard to manage my anxiety and the quieter atmosphere here really helped.
If like me, you aren’t familiar, the Musée d’Orsay was originally built as a train station to bring visitors to the 1900 World’s Fair. Architect Victor Laloux built the Gare d’Orsay with modern features such as luggage ramps and elevators, as well as the 400-room adjacent Hotel d’Orsay. It’s been an art museum since 1986 and houses some of Monet and Renoir’s most recognizable works. I’ve been to enough art museums to have seen pieces here and there. But seeing Monet’s Rouen Cathedrals, five of them all lined up, was breathtaking. Seeing the subtle differences in light from painting to painting, it’s just stunning. I stood there, mouth agape, tearing up. AGAIN.
The entire building is interesting and unique. There is a spectacular restaurant that is beautiful but fills up quickly. I went to the cafe instead, which was interesting on its own. The food was great, and the service was quick! A great reason to be solo in Paris? I never had to wait for a table!
After I’d exhausted my time at d’Orsay, I moseyed over to the Place de l’Odeon and had an Aperol at the cafe on the plaza. I don’t like Aperol Spritz all that much, but they are pretty! I topped off my water and headed over to Jardin du Luxembourg. I was so excited about this. You’ll notice a theme in my travels: art and gardens. I can’t help it; that’s what I’m drawn to. The thing I love about gardens is watching residents live their lives. Seeing families out for the day. Gardens aren’t usually packed with tourists, but with people enjoying the green spaces in the cities where they live. It’s my favorite. As I walked into the gardens, the first thing I heard was a band at the bandstand playing Bruno Mars — “Locked out of Heaven,” of all things! I had to laugh. My first stop was Fontaine Medicis, nitially built in 1630 by Marie de Medici, the widow of King Henry IV. It’s truly beautiful. The juxtaposition of the Bruno Mars song layered over this historical fountain was just too amusing. I loved it. Jardin du Luxembourg is huge. There is a geometric forest, English and French gardens, and a pond. It’s a total of 61 acres (for my U.S. friends). I knew I wouldn’t walk it all, so I sat by the pond and watched children push around little wooden sailboats and felt like I was in a movie until I was ready to move on.
I was randomly walking, and the sun had this building all lit up, and there was hardly anyone around, so I snapped some pics and thought, “I wonder what that is.” I didn’t even look it up until I got home, thankful for the Google lens feature on my Pixel for identifying where I was. This is one of my favorite shots of the trip. I set my phone up on a light pole and used the timer and the .07 setting so my phone was not very far from me when I took this. There was also no one around — perfect!
I had to take a bus and use the Metro to get to Versailles. If you have read anything about my forays with public transportation, you will know how stressful this was for me. I’ve written a piece with Tips for Public Transportation if you want to check that out. Hot tip: Make sure you carry some cash. I had some issues using my credit card at the ticket machines. I found out later that when it asks for a PIN for your credit card, just wait a minute, and it will skip over that part. I didn’t know that then and got frustrated and switched to cash. Regardless, it was surprisingly easy. The French public transportation system is laid out well and has good signage. With my trusty Google Maps app, I was set. Unfortunately, some work was being done on one of the train lines, so I had to use a bus/Metro combo.
Versailles is rich in history and visually stunning. (I mean, there was little in Paris that wasn’t visually stunning to me…) But Versailles is so over the top. Use the hyperlink above to read about the history of the palace and its use over the centuries. Whenever I am in places like this, I think about the disparity between those who ruled and those who served. You look at this estate and see the luxury, but you know behind that were people whose lives were simply to labor to keep this estate running for this small handful of rulers. For thousands of years, through today, this has been the makeup of society. After a while, the luster wears off of the experience when you think too much about why and how these opulent places exist.
The gardens were so different from what I was expecting. It’s such a masculine space. I encourage you to check out the map to get a feel for the sheer size of these gardens. There are giant square plots filled with trees and hedges that make up paths that lead to fountains. So many fountains. The fountains do not run all of the time, and there is a schedule for when you can see different ones come on. I didn’t figure this out until I walked most of the grounds. It’s massive. You can rent a golf cart or take this little train around, but I wanted to see it on foot.
The very first fountain I came to, I laughed. It was so absurd. I just pictured the artist pitching their idea to the king. It’s a deer of some sort on its side with water shooting out of its mouth and a dog standing on the back of it, with water shooting out of ITS mouth. What was the pitch for that? I imagine the artist was like, “I can’t believe they bought that idea,” and walked away laughing with a pocket full of money. Or at least in my head, that’s how it went, and that makes me happy.
Some of the fountains were beautiful, and some were borderline grotesque. Some of them were dedications to the king’s children. All of them were designed to show off his power and wealth. As I wandered through the quiet spaces, getting lost among the trees, I wondered about the secrets stored there. The covert meetings of lovers. Of servants and royalty finding quiet spaces to breathe, to think, to love, to rage, to hide. It moved me.
Arch d’triumph and Av. des Champs-Elysees
I went. I saw. I took a photo. An incredible amount of people played frogger with traffic instead of using the underground to get to the Arch. It was kind of terrifying, and I didn’t stay long. Be smart. Be safe.
I’ll get right to it. I wanted to see Jim Morrison’s grave. Yes, a lot of famous people are buried in this cemetery. But I was obsessed with the Doors for years. One of my ex-husband’s first gifts to me was a book of Jim Morrison’s poetry. My ex-husband and I had often talked about how cool it would be to visit Jim’s grave. I had to do it. I had another successful subway ride to the 11th Arr. and easily found the cemetery. I literally put Jim Morrison’s grave into Google Maps, and it gave me walking directions right to it. Old cemeteries evoke strong emotions in me. All those people and their descendants. All those stories, the lives lived. Many forgotten. Just forgotten. What is my legacy? How many generations will know of me? I know very little about my grandparents, nothing about my great-grandparents. The stories are mostly lost — talk about prime existential crisis fodder.
Jim’s gravesite is fenced off, so you can’t get right up to it. When I arrived, there were two men there; one was playing a Doors album on his phone and drinking some kind of wine. He was really having a moment. A few people came and went. I took some photos, hung out for a few then wandered away. I thought about my ex-husband and flashed through our early years.
As of this trip, we have been divorced for 21 years. Almost twice as long as we were married. I found a spot to sit and had myself a bit of a cry. I cried for our young 20-year-old selves, who would lie in the grass and talk about lyrics, our lives, and our future. I cried for our 30-year-old selves, who went through a challenging and contentious divorce. I cried for my ex-husband, who has a permanent disability caused by a hard job and the awful healthcare system that failed him. He will never see Paris, and I cried hard about that.
When I got home I sent him the picture from Jim’s grave. He told me that about the same time I was crying in a cemetery in Paris, he was being flooded with memories of us during his middle-of-the-night insomnia. Forever connected through our three children and our 13 years together.
As I left the cemetery, it started to rain. It seemed fitting and poetic. I flipped open my umbrella, wiped off my face, and decided to walk to Notre Dame Cathedral and explore the Latin Quarter.
Notre Dame is still closed due to the fire in 2019. However, I got a glimpse of it, an impressive landmark despite the scaffolding.
The Latin Quarter is a popular place for travelers, and I can see why. It’s incredibly scenic and charming. I mean, all of Paris is, but I enjoyed this area. I wandered up and down streets without a plan. I walked by Shakespeare and Company but declined to wait in the incredibly long line to go in. I wandered through a flower market and past stores. I found a little jewelry store and bought a ring. I ended up in a bookstore and bought books for my kids in French and for the aforementioned person with whom things would not progress, but he’s got a book of artist quotes in French and an inscription of Je t’aime bien.
With the rain and the bright colors of street art, fruit stands and awnings over restaurants, the romance of Paris was literally in high color, and this might have been my favorite day. Just me, the patter of rain on cobblestones, and no agenda.
I ended up back at L’envue, the little restaurant where I had so many glasses of wine and desserts. Where I had the same waiter several days in a row who would make me order my wine in French, and we would laugh at how badly I would continue to butcher my phrasing, but I was trying, and he was kind. I met a couple from Atlanta; the wife frequently travels to my hometown for work. They asked me if I was afraid of traveling alone. More afraid than just being alive in my country? No. Generally, people are kind, and I’m careful. I have things I do to stay safe. Do I get lonely? After a week alone in Paris, I can honestly say no. Did I miss people? Yes. Could I imagine someday coming to Paris with someone I loved, someone I wanted to be with? I can. Will I? It’s hard to say. But I can say with certainty that I have no regrets about going alone. I took myself to Paris.
And I enjoyed every last minute.
Paris is a city where you can lavish your time, money, and heart. I took a quick spin and went a pretty cheap route. I was afraid I’d be lonely or heartsick or sad about being single in Paris. But it turns out, this was the trip I needed. I needed to be reminded that I can do things that challenge me. That being solo in a new city leaves you open to experiencing it in a wholly open way. And you can always go back someday, and show your person all the places you discovered when you were brave and did it alone. Or maybe I’ll go to Paris solo again, who knows!
However you choose to see Paris, embrace it with your heart wide open; she will meet you right where you are.