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Happy accidents ,undiscovered gems -London, Paris


Jun 21st, 2016, 09:33 PM
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Happy accidents ,undiscovered gems -London, Paris

Hello everyone. Our family of 4 will be in London October 9-12 and Paris 12- 17. I know we don't have much time. Really only 2 days in London and 4 in Paris . Due to that , I could use some advice. What have you seen or done that everyone should, but probably doesn't and what was truly underwhelming and made you think , " I wish I hadn't used my precious vacation time on that" ? It seems our best vacation moments have been happy accidents with few exceptions. What are your happy accidents?
Cjar is offline  
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Jun 21st, 2016, 11:46 PM
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The London Eye is ok but I'd rather spend that time doing something else. PIcadilly Circus is just a giant roundabout and if you were not planning on shopping, skip it. There is some pretty stellar dim sum in Chinatown. The British Museum will take at least half a day.

A drive by/walk by of the Eiffel Tower is sufficient. The Mona Lisa isn't worth the wait. The catacombs are worth the time.
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Jun 22nd, 2016, 12:37 AM
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Thanks, spark chaser. That is exactly what I was looking for. Anything more people should do that they don't?
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Jun 22nd, 2016, 12:46 AM
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Anything more people should do that they don't?

Take their time. Stop at a cafe and people watch.
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Jun 22nd, 2016, 02:43 AM
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In central London, walk everywhere and take the back streets.

There are genuinely undiscovered (or at least less documented) gems on practically every corner in central London.

And whilst I agree with spark (no surprise there) regarding the Eiffel tower, I'd say that seeing the Mona Lisa is worth anybody's time. Just because the world and his wife wants to photograph (or be photographed next to) it doesn't mean that one of the of the most famous paintings in art history isn't worth seeing at least once. In my opinion anyway.
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Jun 22nd, 2016, 03:03 AM
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Agree not to go up the Eiffel Tower or see Mona Lisa.

Paris Ideas:

Take a self-guided walk through the Ile de la Cite & Left Bank...most tour books have one.

Carnavalet Museum has the history of Paris.

London ideas:

Take a self-guided walk from Trafalgar to Westminster Cathedral (but don't go in unless you are really interested), then a boat to the Tower of London, which is, IMHO, the one thing you should see if you can't see anything else...takes the better part of a day, however.

Skip the London Eye and Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace.

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Jun 22nd, 2016, 04:56 AM
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London: Sir John Soane's Museum and the Inns of Court nearby. In winter, you can see Sir John's house by candlelight, bt sunset may be too late when you are there.

Red House, William Morris's house out in the 'burbs. The house is great and is getting better -- they keep finding stuff they didn't know was there -- and it is way out in Bexleheath where tourists are very thin on the ground.

The Wallace Collection. A wonderful collection of pictures in a less-touristed area of London, donated by a very strange man who also gave the green cast iron horse fountains that you see all around


Yes, find a Wallace fountain, but also go to view the Eiffel Tower from Trocadero, on the other side of the Seine, not from underneath.

The Montparnasse Cemetery is nice and level and a lot less crowded than Pere Lachaise. Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir are the superstars, but I accidentally came upon Eric Rohmer, my favorite film director, and all kinds of other people. There are a number of monuments by Nikki de St Phalle -- bizarre, as the French would say -- and some extremely sleek monuments, especially those for some tasteful Japanese.

Walk the Canal St Martin. It is not tourist free but less-touristed. Visit the Hôpital St Louis a couple of blocks off the canal. It has a lot in common with the Places des Vosges and is untouristed, partly because it is still a real hospital.
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Jun 22nd, 2016, 05:05 AM
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In London, someone recommended the 1/2 price theater tickets and it was one of our favorite moments.
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Jun 22nd, 2016, 07:56 AM
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So have you been to both of these cities before? Since you don't say that you have, I'm assuming you do have some interest in the sights but just don't want to take too much time on so so sights?

I think the Tower is the iconic destination in London, then a river cruise would be a pleasant "drive by" of many of the other major landmarks. We also really liked the Globe Theater - another unique sight, as in "not another cathedral!"

Paris, again a river cruise is a good overview and then you could choose a Paris Walks in a part of the city that appeals. Cafe sitting is always enjoyable, a quick visit to one of the cemetaries or parks would be pleasant as well.
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Jun 22nd, 2016, 08:35 AM
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Nor fighting the crowds to get within 100 yards (90m) of it. Wanna see a da Vinci, go to Krakow and see Lady With an Ermine - far larger and better and easier to view.

Musee d'Orsay > Louvre.

Tower > everything else (make sure you and hubs each have a one-day travel card from a national rail station and a 2for1 voucher from www.daysoutguide.co.uk for the Tower - save the 22 quid for you or hubs and maybe for the hobbits depending upon their ages).

For shopping Jermyn Street > Regent Street.

Whereas Tate Modern demonstrates why "modern art" is a phrase renowned for its 50% accuracy, the National Portrait Gallery is an excellent art gallery and a history lesson in one.
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Jun 22nd, 2016, 08:55 AM
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London - The British Museum hour and a half highlight tour, then meander for a bit without exhausting yourselves.

Paris - Paris-Walks tours. At twelve euro pp you get to see a particular neighborhood on a two hour group walk with loads of history and local info as you go along. Check out the web site and choose among St. Germain, two Islands, Hemingway, the Marais (two of these), all of which I have taken and highly recommend.
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Jun 22nd, 2016, 09:00 AM
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Oops - meant to add for London - our family did the "Duck" amphibious bus tour which starts out on the ground, goes around Central London for a bit then - plop - into the Thames for a short cruise on that famous river. It was really a memorable and fun event for us.
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Jun 22nd, 2016, 12:42 PM
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In London get a bus (eg from Trafalgar Square to St Paul's Cathedral), sit upstairs and look at the upper floors of buildings as you go past. What seems like a load of modern plate glass shops from the pavement will reveal centuries old architecture above.
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Jun 22nd, 2016, 01:23 PM
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We have been to Paris many times and the 'kids' from ages about age 8 to 17 always enjoyed walking up the Eiffel tower.
As teens we sent them up solo with friends and waited in a nearby cafe.
They also enjoyed going to the top of the Arc du Triomphe, the top of Notre Dame and the top of the Montparnasse tower.
So I wouldn't rule out the Eiffel Tower.. it depends on what you want to do with your time.
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Jun 22nd, 2016, 04:02 PM
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All of your responses are so kind and exactly what I hoped for. I am always so thankful for Fodorites willingness to help and make suggestions.

sparkchaser- I wholly agree about just being where you are and I am trying to learn from past mistakes. As hard as I try, I always seem to have too much on the plate. I'm sure it's just that I truly believe that I will never be back to these places again, but as mentioned, our best family travel moments have been totally unplanned.

Jay_G - My son is a huge Da Vinci fan , so Mona Lisa may be nonnegotiable. Is the situation any better if you go on a Wednesday or Friday night when the museum is open later?

Ssander- We used Galttech walks for Greenwich Village in New York and one I found on every trail for the Oltrarno. I'll be sure to check both sites for self guided tours. When you say take a boat from Winchester Cathedral to the Tower of London, do you mean there are boats just hanging around like a vaporetto you can just pay the fare and hop on or do you need to make prior arrangements?
My daughter is interested in the poets corner so we have to enter Winchester Cathedral. Do you know if the tombs in the cathedral are similar to Santa Croce in Florence as far as aesthetics ? Santa Croce was one of my favorite places in Florence.

Ackislander- Great food for thought. I need to research the many places you mention in London. Thank you.
As far as Paris goes, is there a particular spot you like at the Trocadero? Am I wrong that there is a spot on Pont Neuf (?) that offers outstanding views of the left and right banks?

I also love cemeteries although my family can't fathom why.

Suec1- We've never been to London or Paris and yes, we want to get the best experiences out of our brief time there.
We will definitely try to walk by the Globe. I think The Merchant of Venice is playing while we are there, but there were only tickets for the groundlings left when I checked a couple of months ago and I felt that maybe a 3 hour play wasn't the best use of our very short 2 days. It's too bad. My daughter read Merchant of Venice last year in school. Alas, exterior viewing will have to do.

BigRuss- You are not the only one to prefer Musee D'orsay over the Louvre.
Please explain what you mean by travel cards. I read something about a card you purchase and affix a passport size photo to and then you can get discounts at some attractions. Is that at all on the right track?

Does the Tate Britain still have a collection of preraphaelite paintings or was that a traveling exhibition that has moved on? I've always had a soft spot for them.

Also what is this I'm reading about secret passageways in Paris. Is this a worthwhile thing to further investigate?

Thanks to all.
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Jun 22nd, 2016, 04:42 PM
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Our GD's favorite places in London were:
Tower of London & Tower Bridge (she sees it often on TV & movies and shouts "I stood right there."
Climbing hundreds of stairs to the top of St. Paul.
IMO, skip a boat ride on The Thames (just not very pretty.)
Definitely see a show (many choices)

In Paris:
Definitely a boat ride. Day or night, it's stunning.
Yes, The Eiffel
The Louvre, the plaza is memorable (she says the same, I stood right there) the inside not so much. Google The Mona Lisa & see hundreds of people taking a selfie.
Walk along The Seine & left bank at night for all the street entertainment.
Light a candle in Notre Dame, very impressive.
Ile St. Louis
Gelato in the shape of a flower at Amorino. Several locations, Google it. Ile St. Louis, St. Germain, etc. Better than Berthillon IMO.
Luxembourg Gardens (we were there last Oct. & the trees were gorgeous)
Pedestrian streets of the left bank

Don't waste your time:
Champs E....biggest disappointment in Paris. View it from the end of The Tuilleries.
Invaldes.......huge, gray, & boring.
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Jun 22nd, 2016, 05:07 PM
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Cjar, Poet's Corner is in Westminster Abbey, and a docent's tour of the Abbey is both beautiful and filled with history. The British Library is great. Theater is great. Afternoon tea is fun. St. Paul's Cathedral is lovely. The parks are wonderful. The Victoria & Albert Museum, the British Museum, Chinese restaurants, Indian restaurants, fish and chips, the Churchill War Rooms, the Imperial War Museum, so many things to do in London. Look at a good guide book and choose your favorites. Many sites are free of charge.

In Paris, do see Sainte Chappelle, preferably on a sunny day for the full glory of the stained glass windows. Musee Jacquemart-Andre and the Cluny Museum for the unicorn tapestries are good, too. I was blown away by the Mona Lisa; copies do not hold a candle to it.
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Jun 22nd, 2016, 06:11 PM
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Westminster Abbey, not Winchester Cathedral (typos by both of us).

Follow-up comments:

Paris: Yes, we also love Amorino's gelato.

Paris: If you have already been to the main churches (St-Chapelle & ND) take the 13 metro to Saint Denis. IMHO more mystical than either of those, plus the tombs of most of the French monarchs back to the 6th or 7th century.

London: You catch the boat at Westminster Pier...just walk down the stairs at the bridge and you'll see it. It stops at the Tower...and I believe it qualifies for the Day's Out 2-for1 vouchers, too.

London: I created a self-guide for taking the #11 bus from Victoria Station to St Paul's...I'll try to find the link to it...and don't forget to sit on the upper deck.

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Jun 22nd, 2016, 06:15 PM
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Here is the link to my self-guided #11 bus tour:


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Jun 22nd, 2016, 11:27 PM
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Thank you, ssander. I'll take a peak.

None of us has any desire to see Champs Elysees. Good to know we're missing nothing.
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