For my last full day in Paris I was determined to use the Hop on Hop off bus like it was intended. I wanted to use it to go down to the Eiffel Tower, get off for pre-lunch at a local tea shop that had a cafe and get all the mandatory Eiffel Tower photos, before hopping back on to grab real lunch near Notre Dame at the Shakespeare and Company cafe. Then I wanted to take it back to the Opera to finally use my Paris Pass again for the 2:30 tour of the Opera before swapping to the other bus and driving past Moulin Rouge. I had big dreams.
I had gotten the map for the Hop on Hop off Bus tour at the Big Bus shop on my first morning in Paris. Tickets generally are €35.10 online (€39 if you buy it there/on the bus) and there are various stops you can start and stop at. I stopped at the one nearest my hotel which was the Opera stop. I took my own headphones and went up to the top of the bus to weather out the cold so I could see better. The Opéra Garnier bus stop (#3) was where I could take the red bus down to the Eiffel Tower. For a full list of the red stops and their local attractions check out the list here. The red route runs from 9:30 am to about 5:41 pm and comes every 10-15 minutes.
The Eiffel Tower
My first goal was stop #1, which meant I had to ride the bus all the way through the route. Which was fine first thing in the morning and it was a good way to see more things and learn about them. I do however highly highly suggest getting off at stop #10, Trocadéro. I kind of wish I’d done that instead of pushing through straight to the Eiffel Tower. Trocadéro has gardens and museums in the area but it also has a very beautiful flat platform with a stunning view of the Eiffel Tower. I really wish I’d gotten off here and taken advantage of it. But I was stubborn and had a lot on my to do list so I stayed on and got off at the Eiffel Tower.
I didn’t go up in the Eiffel Tower. A huge shocker I know. If there’s a tall building around where I can go up and get a view I’m usually pulled like a magnet. My problem was I didn’t really have time and it was a cloudy day so I felt like there wouldn’t be much to see anyway. Plus it wasn’t included in the Paris Pass. When chatting with a local she told me she agreed with this choice because sometimes you need to book a reservation in advance to go up. You can learn more about making it up to the top and how to do so here.
Instead I braved the early January morning rain and cold to walk around the tower taking touristy photos and in the hunt of a near-ish tea shop that was on my list that had a cafe. I arrived in time to find out they wouldn’t open for another half hour at least. Some places you can easily mill around and shop until the cafe opens, but this wasn’t that type of place. It was a fancy type of place where the staff (a man in a fancy suit) stayed with you in an extremely polite manner so you couldn’t easily browse on your own. Which is, nine times out of ten, my least favorite way to look around. Let me walk around, pick up tins of tea, sniff them, and then if I need help I’ll come talk to you. Some places, like David’s tea are made for you to have to interact with the staff, because all of the tea is usually behind the counter. But that wasn’t the case. Either way I gave up, made my way back to the Hop on Hop off bus stop and headed towards Notre Dame. I’d already seen Notre Dame several times. I’d seen it at least once a day since I’d arrived. Same surprisingly, with the Eiffel Tower, but in that case it was more or less a glimpse of it sparkling away in the distance.
Once upon a time, pre the fire, Notre Dame, was a place you could go into and explore and because most of the audio guides are pre-recorded and haven’t been updated they don’t reflect current reality. Depending on your route you might end up with a live guide. I highly suggest if you get one give them a listen. Some of the information they have is pretty much exactly the same as what’s been pre-recorded. But others have been updated or include fun extra tidbits. In the case of Notre Dame I got a live guide who said it’s been estimated that the repairs will take between 5-20 years. So it’ll be awhile before anyone can really go back in.
I had lunch at Shakespeare and Company’s cafe which is the only thing I did around the Notre Dame stop (That’ll be in the next post) Then I hopped back on in the hopes of making it back to the Opera by 2:30, which is when my passbook promised me that the Paris Pass would get me into a tour of the opera.
About halfway towards the Opera I realized there was no way if I stayed on that I’d make it in time. The whole route of the red bus is 2 hours and 20 minutes. So I hopped off and switched to local transport and rushed myself back to the Opera. (Only to learn that they had been sold out since 10 am. More on that in another post.)
Arc de Triomphe intermission
I didn’t stop at the Arc de Triomphe. This monument is at the end of Champs-Élysées, a famous shopping street in Paris. The audio guide had a couple of songs playing inspired by the area that I got hooked on. The Arc was built between 1806 and 1836 and is meant to honor those who have fought for France. Inside the arches are the names of generals who fought as well as the wars fought, during Napoléon’s era. You can go below the Arc and visit the tomb of the unknown soldier and the memorial flame (re-lit at 6:30pm every day) or you can go up the forty stairs to the top. (There is no other accessible way to the top).
Now here’s the real true warning for the Arc de Triomphe and that’s getting to it. Do not try to cross on the ground level. The area is an insanely busy traffic circle without crosswalks. People try to cross here or get pictures here and it’s very very dangerous. Instead you need to go underground and through a tunnel on the Avenue de la Grande Armee. This tunnel can also be accessed from Wagram exit of the Metro. The guide warned that many accidents are caused because people try to cross the traffic circle to get a picture or just to get closer. Do not do this.
After wandering around the Opera on my own and getting a snack nearby I headed to the next stop, Louvre-Pyramide / Big Bus Information Centre (#4). This is the only stop where you can switch to the other line. No matter the package or deal you can switch between the red and blue lines. For a full list of all the blue stops and their attractions look here. The blue line does not run as often or as much as the red line. It starts at 10am and ends at 5:30pm. It comes once every 30 minutes or so and some of the stops are drop off only. Which means you can get off and explore but you’ll have to take public transit to the next bus stop that does pick ups.
I had no plans to get off the bus. On the one hand I doubt I could’ve. I was so utterly exhausted that the idea of getting up out of my seat was difficult. It was already dark out and I didn’t want to get lost at night in an area I was unfamiliar with. So I prepared to sit on the top level of the bus in the cold and take everything in. I only had a small goal. I wanted to see Moulin Rouge lit up at night. I had had interest in Sacré-Cœur but several blogs warned against being around the church at night when you’re by yourself. I caught glimpses of it on the route between buildings but never long enough to get a good look.
I was the only person on board the bus. The bus driver even stopped at one point and came up just to make sure that he did in fact have a passenger. I rode it all the way back around to #4 and really just had a lovely time sitting for an hour and ten minutes learning about a part of Paris I’d run out of time to explore.
I originally decided to do the Paris pass for the Hop on Hop off. I thought for some reason that it’d make getting around Paris during the strikes easier. On the one hand it did. Except if I was in a hurry, which I was most of my trip to Paris. But I got to the Eiffel Tower without being squished onto a bus like a sardine as I had during every other time I’d taken the bus during my trip.
If you do the tour, I suggest bringing your own headphones that you like. They do have some but you have to dig them out of a box on your own. There’s usually not anyone on board to help you after you pass the driver. Each time you get on the bus, either the red route or the blue route you need to scan your QR code receipt. To board the first time I had to scan my Paris Pass.
I also highly suggest downloading the Big Bus app. If for no other reason then to see how far away the next bus is. It’ll also let you know which buses have live guides on them, which are full of other information, you just need to listen on a different channel. It’s only available in English. The regular pre-recorded audio is available in: English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Japanese, Brazilian Portuguese, Arabic, Mandarin Chinese, and Korean. At each seat there are two audio jacks just switch yours to the correct language or the live guide.