This blog posting represents the fifth in the “Le Havre as a Port Stop” series and focuses on Paris
The City of Lights in a Lightening Fast Day Tour.
When your cruise ship docks at Le Havre, you will not be short of things to do or places to go and see. Therefore, I cover this port stop in several blog postings as there are simply too many options. I have broken the primary choices into the following six categories:
Normandy - The Landing Beaches
Normandy - Other WWII Related Sites
Normandy – The Cities/Villages to Visit (Carentan, Rouen and Bayeux).
Paris – The City of Lights in a Lightening Fast Day Tour
Le Havre and Honfleur
Paris is one of those iconic European destinations that people usually put on their bucket list. The Eiffel Tower, Louvre Museum, Notre Dame, Catacombs, Arc de Triomphe, Champs-Élysées and other locations too numerous to mention, are places people have heard of, seen in movies, or on the news and want to visit in person. When the famed Notre Dame Cathedral burned in 2019, people who had never been to France, let alone Paris, grieved for the damage to an iconic landmark that felt like an old friend.
Those who have read my book “Postcards to Alice”, know that Paris remains the only location in the world where my husband’s native tongue (French), has been mocked because of his Canadianized French accent. Therefore, getting him into Paris is a chore and even the promise of a fast visit wherein I pay for lunch is not sufficient enticement to get him willingly into that city. Consequently, if we arrive in Le Havre and I want to go to Paris, I know that I will be on my own. For me, the city is well worth many repeat visits so a sole day trip from Le Havre is not an issue.
If you intend to do a shore excursion from the port of Le Havre to Paris, please be aware that it takes about two and a half hours to drive the 197km to Paris from the location of your docked ship. That is 2.5 hours if there is no heavy traffic. You have the choice of taking a ship’s organized tour, a self booked private outing or renting a vehicle and going on your own. I suggest if you are going on your own, that you take the highway and pay the tolls costs. You will find it much faster.
With a minimum of five hours of your shore excursion time taken up with transportation to and from the port, you have to choose your destinations in Paris with care as you will not have a great deal of time to spend there and traffic can be heavy and slow depending on the time and day of the week for your trip.
Paris – A Brief History
Paris is a unique and historic city. It began life as a small fishing-based gathering of inhabitants around 259BC. Since then, the picturesque site along the river Seine has been continuously inhabited despite undergoing regular pillaging and looting.
A Celtic tribe called the Parisii are believed to be the first to settle the area with regular inter tribal wars taking place over the years. The Romans get credit for the first officially recorded invasion in 52 BC. As was their custom, the Romans absorbed the locals into their society, introduced more structured civil laws as well as new gods into the area. Most importantly, the Romans gave the site more permanence in the form of a fortified town, aqueducts, paved roads and the name of Lutetia Parisiorum.
As centuries passed, more raids occurred, the Romans departed, and the Germanic Franks invaded. With the arrival of the Franks, the territory in which Paris is located, became officially known as France after them. As time passed, the city shortened its name to Paris and continued to grow. The Scandinavian Vikings dropped in on a regular basis for a lot more pillaging.
Attila the Hun was set on sacking Paris in the fourth century but was met with great resistance and the city, with the reported divine help of Saint Geneviève, survived. If you participate in shipboard trivia, you may be asked who the patron saint of Paris is, and you now know the answer: Saint Geneviève.
In 508, Clovis I (a Frank), made Paris the capital of France and it stayed the capital despite numerous wars, plagues and a lot more pillaging. I could at this point go on about the various attacks, wars, revolutions and horrors that the city has undergone over the centuries but the main purpose of this blog is to acquaint you with modern Paris and what you can see when you visit.
Almost all the tours, be it ship arranged or privately booked tours, stop to see the Eiffel Tower on the Champ de Mars. Built and designed by Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel for the World’s Fair in 1889, this is one of the most iconic symbols of Paris and receives about 5 million visitors a year. Standing at a height of 1,063′ (to tip), it is possible to get excellent shots of the tower from all sides.
If you are going to go to the top of the tower, I strongly urge you to buy tickets in advance as the line ups can be long and if you want to make the most of your shore excursion, you do not have a lot of time to wait in a line up. You can buy your tickets online, in advance of your visit. Remember, other passengers from your (and quite possibly other) ship(s), will also be arriving in Paris around the same time and the tower is a busy stop. Even with a pre-booked entry time, delays can be expected ad the lines long. If it is a clear day, the views from the tower are excellent.
If you examine the tower closely, you will see names printed in relief on the sides. There are seventy-two of these names which represent French scientists, engineers, and mathematicians. The names were placed there in recognition of their contributions to science. I have included a picture of one of the names (an ancestor of my great grandmother but alas that fact is not on any trivia question). A trivia fact that may make a trivia game is that Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel, is also responsible for the creation of the Statue of Liberty.
I have included a photo of the Moulin Rouge (which means “Red Mill” in English), as some shore excursions will include a quick photo stop. Located at 82 Boulevard de Clichy, 75018 Paris, the Moulin rouge is a cabaret dinner show and features the cancan dance. The original venue opened on October 6, 1889 but burned in 1915. The current building dates from 1921 with the outside being a replica of the original building. Because the shows are in the evening at 9pm and 11pm, most shore excursions do not stop for long at this location. If you do want to see a show, check their website for possible matinees.
Arc de Triomphe and the Champs-Elysées
The Arc de Triomphe de l'Étoile is usually another photo stop on a day trip from Le Havre. Located at the western edge of the Champs-Élysées and dead center in Place Charles de Gaulle, it is the center piece where 12 avenues meet. From above, it looks like a star with the broad avenues stretching out from the monument, hence the addition of the moniker “de l'Étoile” which means star.
Napoleon commissioned the monument on July 29, 1806 in part to celebrate his Austerlitz victory. He did not live to see it completed and died 15 years before the piece was finished in 1836.
If you are driving yourself and doing a self guided tour, you may have difficulty finding parking. I suggest parking further away and walking to the monument. Because the monument is the meeting point of 12 avenues, it is extremely busy. Place Charles de Gaulle is in the middle of a roundabout and dangerous to navigate. Look for, and take, the pedestrian underpass which takes you to the center of the square. If you are on a guided tour, your driver may drop you off for a set period of time and then pick you up at a designated spot.
Because time is short on a day trip, the urge to take some quick photos of the monument and leave is strong, but I urge you to pause and take in the detail of this outstanding piece. Elaborate, informative and stunning, the detail on the four pillars show four victories and war scenes. Battles encompassing the revolution and the Napoleonic victories are covered. If you look up, you will see the names of 558 generals inscribed. The names that are underlined, are the generals who died in battle.
I recommend either taking the stairs or elevator to the top of the Arc to the viewing platform. There might be an entry cost to the Arc depending on the time of the year and your citizenship so check in advance of your trip. There is a small museum on the top floor but every time I have been there, it has been crowded.
At the very top of the Arc, you will find that there is an excellent view of the Champs-Élysées, the Grande Arche de la Défense and the Place de la Concorde. Most importantly, you will gain an appreciation of the skill drivers need to negotiate the crazy traffic encircling the park.
As noted, you will have a great view of the Champs-Élysées and it is a beautiful street. If you have a chance to walk a bit of it, you will see seasonal flowers, beautiful building detail and a lot of high-end stores. However, if time is running short, a drive along the avenue will suffice. Just remember if you are driving yourself, traffic can be a nightmare and the drivers appear to be somewhat casual with respect to rules of the road.
This amazing cathedral is reportedly built on the site of a Gallo-Roman temple dedicated to the Roman god of Jupiter. The cathedral was built between 1163 and 1345 although there has been continuous work over the centuries. Dedicated to the Virgin Mary, it is an excellent example of French Gothic architecture. The stained glass in this cathedral is stunning as are the wood carvings. The spire was destroyed in the 2019 fire, but the stained glass was saved.
At the present time, the cathedral is closed due to the reconstruction underway and it is not anticipated to reopen until approximately 2025. Until it reopens, a stop for a look at what can be seen through the construction framework and a quick photo is about all that can be accomplished at this location.
With Notre Dame closed to visitors, an alternative cathedral is the Sainte-Chapelle. Built between 1241 and 1248 on the Ile de la Cité, it has outstanding stained glass windows and is structurally beautiful.
This outstanding example of gothic renaissance architecture started in 1213, as a small church but was expanded over the centuries. A building spree between 1532 – 1750 resulted in the large structure we see today. Located at 2, impasse Saint-Eustache, 75001 this cathedral is well worth a visit.
If you want to see the Louvre, I suggest you buy your ticket in advance and plan on making it your primary destination from the port. The museum is huge, and you will need to set a time limit for viewing because it is easy to lose track of the hours when moving from exhibit to exhibit.
Originally built in 1190 as a fortress, it was reconstructed as a palace in the 1500s. The Louvre has undergone many changes over the years. One of those changes occurred in 1989 when a new entrance was designed by architect Ming Pei. This new entrance is called the pyramid.
The first time I saw the entrance to the Louvre, I was disappointed. To me, the pyramid entrance looks out of place and a jarring intrusion in an historic setting. It is said that the more you see the pyramid, the more it will grow on you. So far that has not held true for me. The more I see it, the greater my feeling that this just does not aesthetically fit. That being said, at night, the pyramid is striking with the lights shining through the glass.
Inside the Louvre, treasures await. Usually people head directly to see the Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci and the statue of Venus de Milo, however there are many, many stunning works of art to keep you entranced. The Sleeping Hermaphroditus and Liberty Leading the People are two that immediately come to mind.
I believe that if you want to tour the Louvre, you must make it your primary destination from the port. Once finished, if you have time to see anything else, then you can do quick photo stops because you will not have a lot of time remaining before you must head back to port. If you want to see a number of places in Paris, then make the Louvre a photo stop only.
I have now given you an overview of the Paris hi-lights for a shore excursion from Le Havre. I will be covering Paris in more detail in an article I am writing that expands on Paris as a pre or post cruise trip.
But for now, as you can see from this blog entry, when your ship is only docked at Le Havre for the day, you must choose your Paris itinerary carefully with a view to your limited time. Remember, visiting Paris on a weekday will increase your travel time to, from and within Paris. For the return to port, I suggest you build in time for traffic delays and expect the trip to take at least 3.5 hours on a weekday.
As always, if you have any questions or would like to make comments, please feel free to add them to this entry.
I would like to give a special nod to Bria-lynn Willard who is a talented writer who has provided me with a number of these pictures and given me permission to use them in this blog. If it were not for the generosity of people like Bria-lynn and others, there would be few photos in my blog as my photographic skills are best described as "poor".