We bought a Paris Pass online that gave us discounted fares for a number of attractions as well as public transit. It saved use a considerable amount in individual tickets, though we were locked into the businesses with which they contract.
After picking up our passes, we decided to do the BigBus, an on-and-off open top bus tour that offered 2 routes and 16 stops. We knew this would help us to get oriented, as these always do no matter what city we are visiting. We took the “Classic” route first, which drove by all of the major sights including the Louvre, Notre Dame, Musee d’Orsay, the Arc de Triomphe, the Eiffel Tower, and the Opera House. Undeniably the most picturesque was the drive down the Champs Elysees.
We got off the bus at the Opera House stop and had lunch at the Cafe de la Paix, a famous landmark facing the Palais Garnier (aka Paris Opera House). Not only was the service good, but the food was excellent—I had the best ever Croque Madame (grilled ham and cheese sandwich with a fried egg) and Bob enjoyed his turkey-bacon club sandwich. Best part, though, was that going there fulfilled one of my Bucket List items: to sit and linger at that cafe, with a view of the opera house and great people watching.
Afterwards, we re-boarded the bus to take their “Montmartre Route” that goes through the Montmartre district, home of the famous Moulin Rouge, and the basilica Sacre Coeur. We drove past the Moulin, but didn’t even get a glimpse of Sacre Coeur–only an announcement that we were coming to that stop. We visited that area during our 2004 visit and hadn’t planned to do that hill/stair climbing again.
I have to say I do not recommend the BigBus for an on-off tour of Paris (unless you buys the Paris Pass like we did, which I’m not sure I would recommend either). In 2004 we took the l’Open Bus, which still operates; it offers 4 routes and 50 stops and provides a much better overview of the City.
I definitely recommend taking an on-and-off bus tour if you’ve never been to Paris before–or to any other city around the world for that matter. It’s the best and most economical way we’ve found to discover new places.