Home of the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and Mona Lisa – but Paris can be whatever you make it
MONA Lisa's amused smile said it all as she gazed out across the 20-deep throng of phone-wielding gawkers jostling for a selfie.
The lure of Leonardo da Vinci's masterpiece continues to generate huge queues outside the ludicrously large Louvre some 500 years after he laid down his paintbrush, took a look at the canvas and thought: 'Not bad!'
Ten million people flock there every year, most seemingly choosing the day we visited. It would apparently take 100 full days of your life to merely glance at each exhibit inside what is one of the world's greatest visitor attractions. If it's on your must-do list for that trip to Paris, tip one is buy your tickets online in advance then sashay past the enormous queue to join a considerably shorter one. Trust me, it's worth it. You can then consider blasting through a 'greatest hits' tour (no mean feat in itself) or wander at will.
Stepping back from the scrum, I spotted my daughter emerge smiling from the front row under the watchful eye of a security guard. I remember doing much the same with The Ramones at Glasgow Barrowlands. Leaving my son contemplating the marbled majesty of the Venus de Milo, I escaped to the wonderfully woody and delightfully deserted African folk sculpture section.
And that's the thing about Paris: it can be whatever you want it to be. Walk willingly into the tourist trap or explore your own blank canvas. If travelling with older children, let them decide where they'd like to go. Our teenage daughter fearlessly navigated us via the Paris Metro to all manner of delights we'd never have considered otherwise, the sweetly poignant Wall of Love for one and the (ridiculously expensive) Café des Deux Moulins in Montmartre, where much of the fantastic film, Amelie, was shot for another.
Our son's keen appetite ensured we didn't pass up the temptations of the city's countless fantastic bakeries. Which brings us to tip two: buy a baguette. Any time, anywhere. If you're on a shoestring budget, these always fresh delights could see you through the entire trip.
The hugely popular Bateaux-Mouches boat trips up the Seine are worth considering to see the city from a fresh and relatively relaxed angle. If you take the view that you can't go to Paris without scaling the Eiffel Tower (trust me, you can but each to their own), get your ticket and timeslot before you leave home. Otherwise, the queues are bonkers.
My favourite tower moment came while exploring an interesting-looking side street. Round a corner and, without warning, there she was. Breathtaking. Up close and personal, she's seen better days. It's fascinating though to see and touch the very nuts and bolts and rusty rivets holding her together.
The views are fantastic, though no better than from the surprisingly poignant Arc de Triomphe looking down the snooty Champs-Elysees. Be warned: you'll need to hoof it up every single step but the panoramic views that greet you are worth the effort.
When it comes to getting around, I'd argue that the only way is down. Use the Metro to slide silently across the city before emerging blinking into the daylight through its magic portals to explore its starkly contrasting arrondissements. If you can, just walk 'til you drop, stopping occasionally at any one of those thousands of pavement cafés to indulge in one of the greatest pleasures the city offers: people watching.
Several of the city's many (free) public parks are also a delight for the very same reason. Take your pick – and picnic.
We were forced at one point to go inside one of those restaurants to answer an urgent call of nature when there was simply no alternative. A stereotypically charming French waiter ushered us inside when we explained our predicament. "How lovely," we thought. That pee ended up costing us about €30. But my son tells me the burger he ordered was good and the bladder relief was sweet.
Tip three: when you have the chance to go, go. If you don't, keep an eye open for the nearest McDonald's – there's even a (posh) version on the Champs-Elysees.
Want to go celebrity hunting? No problem. Use the Metro to seek out Pere Lachaise and you'll spot everyone from Jim Morrison to Chopin and Edith Piaf. They're all dead, mind, but it's fascinating to wander through this enormous final destination for some of the great and the good. The cemetery is a great place to ponder your mortality and is so big you'll find a map at the entrance and may spot an eccentric guide in jaunty hat leading tours.
There's no end of guides and guidebooks for your visit to Paris. I'd recommend ticking off your must-sees and then following your nose. It may lead you to Mona Lisa or Monet but whatever you do, don't miss the baguettes...
Need to Know
We chose EasyJet from Glasgow Airport which was cheapest on our dates, proved hassle-free and has an online app which works for check-in.
Booking your car parking with NCP at Glasgow Airport in advance keeps the cost down and gives you the convenience of walking two minutes to get to departures and check-in areas.
For early flights and for a stress-free start to your holiday, consider a night at the airport's Premier Inn. It's all-you-can-eat self-serve buffet breakfast is a real hit with children and the wi-fi is decent.
Paris Tourist Office offers some good information to get you in the mood