12 hours may sound too short to tour Paris but if you have a long layover, you can actually enjoy the best of Paris if you know what to do. What you really want to do depends on your interest. But Paris is full of delightful historical attractions, excellent food and lively entertainment spots to choose from.
The Notre Dame Cathedral
If you love exploring historical attractions, then the best place to start is the Notre Dame Cathedral located in the eastern half of Paris. Regarded as one of the best examples of French Gothic architecture, the Notre Dame houses some of the finest specimens of the Neo-Gothic periods including paintings, sculptures and furniture.
You can climb atop the North Tower to enjoy a bird eye's view of Paris. The view is particularly breathtaking at sunset when you can see enjoy the beauty of the famed stained glass windows.
The imposing beauty of the Notre Dame was nearly destroyed during the radical era but was later restored by one of France's best known architects, Viollet-le-duc.
The Cathedral is open to visitors from 6:45 am until 7:45 pm in the evening. If you're interested in exploring the crypt, you have to visit between 10:00 am and 6 pm but you might want to remember that the crypt is closed on Mondays.
Admissions are charged at roughly $ 10 plus another $ 4.30 for the crypt. Children under the age of 14 are allowed free entry. You can also request a free guided tour of the Cathedral at the information desk.
If you get hungry after your tour of Notre Dame, there is this wonderful cafe right across the street from the Notre Dame called the 'Cafe Panis'. This is a popular cafe that offers a spectacular view of the Notre Dame and an excellent menu. Prices may a little on the higher side (be prepared to pay more for food than you would in the US) but the experience is worth it.
No trip to Paris, whether short or long, is complete without paying a visit to the Louvre Museum. The Louvre is situated on the banks of River Seine and the building itself is as fascinating as the priceless collection it houses. The collection includes some of the finest paintings like the famed Mona Lisa among many others.
The massive museum spans an impressive 15 acres and displays close to 35,000 pieces of art. The Louvre is open everyday of the week except on Tuesdays. The timings run from 9 am in the morning until 6 pm in the evening. On Wednesdays and Fridays, closing times are extended until 9:45 pm. Tickets to view the Louvre is roughly about $ 20 for a full pass. If you're under the age of 18, you go in free.
There are plenty of picturesque cafes and restaurants close to the Louvre. You might want to try Cafe Diane, that overlooks the Louvre and the Tuileries Gardens. You can choose from a long list of delicious foods. Choices include salads, hot main courses, pies and sandwiches.
Top Must-Try French Foods
You must try what is called 'Croque Monsieur'; this is a grilled ham and cheese sandwich that has cheese melted on the sides as well as on top. The 'Croque Madame' is a variation that also contains egg. You can also try ordering what is called 'Confit de canard' or pan fried duck served hot with potatoes.
If you're feeling homesick for a good old steak, opt for the French avatar, the 'Bouef Bourguignon'; this is succulent beef cooked in red wine and served with a side platter of bacon, mushrooms and onions. If you're partial to seafood, then you may want to try the 'Plateau de Fruits de Mer'; a delicious blend of prawns, oysters, crab and shellfish.
The Moulin Rouge Cabaret is worth a visit if you are visiting Paris at night. They have shows starting at 9 pm and 11 pm but the tickets are pretty steep at roughly $ 90; this does include half a champagne bottle. If you're lucky enough to visit in summer, you can attend free music concerts from late June at several places in Paris.
How to Get Around in Paris
The best and most economical way to get around is to purchase a one day pass. Paris has at least 300 metro stations which can take you wherever you want.
You can do a lot of exploring in Paris in 12 hours but remember to invest in travel insurance as a precaution against loss and theft of baggage as well as other contingencies that may arise.