By Rick Steves
Seeing the City of Light floodlit at night is one of Europe's great travel experiences and, for most, a great finale to a day in Paris. For about the cost of two seats on a big bus tour, you can hire your own cab (maximum four passengers) and have a glorious hour of illuminated Paris on your terms and schedule. The downside: You don't have the high vantage point and big windows. The upside: it's cheaper, you go when and where you like, and you can jump out anywhere to get the best views and pictures.
This is a circular, one-hour route — from Notre-Dame to the Eiffel Tower along the Left Bank, then back along the Right Bank. Or tailor-make your own plan, starting and ending where you'd like, and making any stops along the way that traffic will allow. Suggested stops are listed in bold on the list in "Taxi Instructions," below ("petit arrêt" means "little stop"). To make it more of a party, bring a bottle of red wine and some chocolate to enjoy each time you hop out of the taxi (not in the taxi).
Taxis have a strict meter and this suggested loop takes about an hour. If your cabbie was easy to work with, add a 10 percent tip; if not, tip just five percent.
Traffic is sparse and lights are bright between 22:00 and 24:00. If you leave Notre-Dame at about half past the hour, you'll get to the Eiffel Tower as it twinkles (the first five minutes of each hour after dark). You might talk the driver into taking four people in a cab, though this is tight for decent sightseeing (with three, everyone gets a window).
Clip and save the map and instructions for the driver, and make sure the cabbie understands the plan (and enjoys the challenge). Review with the driver exactly where you hope to stop before you start. And you're on your way. Roll the windows down, learn your driver's name and use it, work with him to select a good radio station, and turn the cab light on to read if you like (this is no problem for the driver). Stop when you want (remembering the meter runs when stopped). Some cabbies might speak a little English; if not, learn and use the following key words:
|What is your name?||Comment vous applez-vous?.||coh-moh vooz ah-play-voo|
|Slower, please.||Lentement, s'il vous plait.||lawn-tuh-mohn see voo play|
|Stop, please.||Arrêtez, s'il vous plaît.||ah-ret-tay see voo play|
|Wait, please.||Patientez, s'il vous plaît.||pah-see-yahn-tay see voo play|
|I love Paris!||J'aime Paris!||zhem pah-ree|
The Tour Begins
Start at Notre-Dame (taxi stand just in front, on left). Drive over pont d'Arcole to Hôtel de Ville, then turn right along the Seine (the white stripe of light is a modern bridge connecting the two islands).
Cross Ile St. Louis on pont Marie. Stop on the bridge (pont de la Tournelle) just after the island, get out, and giggle with delight at the city and illuminated Notre-Dame. Then turn right along the Seine on quai de la Tournelle past Notre-Dame.
Drive west along the entire length of the long Louvre (once the world's biggest building — across the river), then under the Orsay Museum (above you, on left). The National Assembly (on left) faces place de la Concorde (on right). The ornate pont Alexandre comes next (on right).
Turn left down Esplanade des Invalides to the gilded dome of Les Invalides, marking Napoleon's Tomb. As you approach the grand building, watch the illusion of the fancy dome sinking behind the facade. Circle left around Invalides for a close-up view of the brilliant dome. Get out at place Vauban (behind the dome) and marvel at its symmetry.
Take avenue de Tourville to avenue Bourdonnais, which runs alongside the Champ de Mars park (former military training grounds that now serve as the Eiffel Tower's backyard). Turn left onto avenue Joseph Bouvard, leading to a circle made-to-order for viewing the Eiffel Tower. Get out and gasp.
Pont d'Iéna leads from directly in front of the tower across the Seine to place du Trocadéro for another grand Eiffel view (get out again and walk toward the tower to get the best photos and to enjoy the night scene here).
Avenue Kléber leads through one of Paris' ritziest neighborhoods to the Arc de Triomphe. Battle twice around the eternal flame marking the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and Paris' craziest traffic circle. Notice the rules of the road: Get to the center ASAP, those entering have the right-of-way, and any accidents are no-fault (insurance companies just split the costs down the middle). ). As you circle, notice the uniform boulevards reaching out like spokes from this hub. Try to find the huge and modern La Grande Arche in the distance opposite the Champs-Elysées.
When ready to continue, say the rhyme, "Champs-Elysées, s'il vous plaît." Cruise down Europe's grandest boulevard — past fancy restaurants, car dealerships, and theaters — to the bold white obelisk marking the former site of the guillotine, place de la Concorde.
Circle once (maybe twice) around place de la Concorde, picking out all the famous landmarks near and far. Stop at the center to look up the Champs-Elysées. Then continue east (reminding your cabbie the next stop is "Pyramide") along the Seine on quai des Tuileries (the two train-station clocks across the river mark the Orsay Museum) and sneak (via a taxi/bus-only lane) into the courtyard of the Louvre for a close look at the magically glowing pyramid. Stop here.
Return to the riverfront along the Right Bank and pass the oldest bridge in Paris, pont Neuf, and the impressive Conciergerie with its floodlit medieval turrets (this is where Marie-Antoinette was imprisoned during the Revolution). Turn right on pont de Notre-Dame and you complete the loop back where you (and Paris) started, at the Notre-Dame on the Ile de la Cité.
Greetings, Monsieur/Madame. We are tourists and would like a tour of Paris at night. Are you willing to take us on the following route? We expect to be with you an hour with a few short stops. We will pay the metered rate. How much do you expect this to cost?
Bonjour, Monsieur/Madame. Nous sommes des touristes et nous voulons faire un circuit touristique de Paris illumminé. Est-ce que c'est possible de suivre la route suivante? Nous resterions avec vous une heure, avec quelques petits arrêts. Nous paierons le montant indiqué sur la compteur. Combien cela va t-il coûter approximativement?
- Hôtel de Ville
- Pont Marie
- Ponte de la Tournelle (arrêt)
- Quai de la Tournelle
- Musée d'Orsay
- Esplanade des Invalides
- Place Vauban/Eglise du Dome (arrêt)
- Champ de Mars (place Jacques Rueff — arrêt)
- Tour Eiffel
- Pont d'Iena
- Place du Trocadéro (arrêt)
- Avenue Kléber
- Arc de Triomphe (2 revolutions)(arrêt)
- Place de la Concorde (1 ou 2 révolutions)
- Quai François Mitterand
- Musée du Louvre/Place du Carousel/Pyramide (arrêt)
- Quai du Louvre