I arrived in Paris in the afternoon on a TGV from Nice, and knew that I would likely be pretty exhausted from my business conference and the travel. So what do you do to make the most of your first 12 hours in Paris? I decided to figure out the Metro and get from Gare de Lyon to my apartment in the 7th arrondissement (easy), meet owner, get keys and shower (done and done), find something delicious to eat (hello Rue Cler fromagerie and boulangerie) and take a five hour night ride through Paris.
I’m kind of obsessed with maps and globes, knowing exactly where I am at any given time, and having a general sense of how to get around. Having Paris at the end of a trip though meant I’d be sticking to walking and the Metro as much as possible to keep my Euros for activities and food, and I was mildly worried I wouldn’t be able to properly navigate the city. So I decided on a night bike tour with Fat Tire Bike Tours, so I’d have a better understanding of where things were on my next two full days.
Nearly midnight at the Eiffel Tower, the sky was a dark, inky indigo-black. Great for illumination!
The Fat Tire guide (Nick) was very dry and funny, but informative: who knew there were 20,000 lightbulbs adorning the Eiffel Tower for the hourly sparkle effect? The group was about 20 strong, so sizable range of people and comfort on bikes (two people got brushed by taxis, two fell off their bikes at various points) but from my perspective it was a fun way to map the city and get a strong idea of what’s where. And the photos… well, Paris is known as the City of Light due to the great thinkers and philosophers during the Enlightenment, but the shoe definitely fits in terms of a gorgeously illuminated city.
Institut de France and the love locks on the Pont des Arts
The high point for me was definitely speeding through the courtyards of the Louvre at night. Nearly deserted except by some strolling couples and a few groups of friends, the building was breathtaking in the moonlight. I felt as though I were in a movie, and (with 19 others and a guide) had the Louvre all to myself.
Red bicycles match Claude Lévêque’s red lightning bolt in the pyramid at the Louvre
We biked on, with ice cream at Berthillon and wine on the Seine boat. Between the biking and boating, we were treated to numerous different views of iconic Paris landmarks like Notre-Dame de Paris and the Eiffel Tower. But some of my favorite views were of (mainly) young people gathering along the banks of the Seine, taking advantage of the nice, crisp weather and clear conditions to mingle for free by the river. It seemed like a perfect thing to do on a Thursday night, and more often than not, they would wave enthusiastically as our boat meandered its way past Île de la Cité and Île Saint-Louis.
I’d recommend a night bike tour to any first time visitor to Paris: you get a general lay of the land under your own steam and see beautiful parts of the city illuminated, contrasting well with what the city will look like by day. I would caution that you need some level of biking skill/confidence in order to appreciate the sights around you. You don’t want to be constantly afraid of falling or getting hit by a car while you are riding down the streets of Paris with minimal visibility!