Have I told you about the time I fell in love with Paris?
Paris is one of the world’s most historic, romantic and magnetic cities. I had high expectations yet worried about going there in case they were shattered. Countless movies had made me romanticise it, picturing myself cycling through the streets with cheese and baguettes in my basket, a Chanel beret on my head (perched at a quizzical angle), leaving a trail of expensive perfume in my wake.
The negative nellies (that I try to avoid) write off Paris as ‘expensive, full of rude people that smoke rather than eat and lots of dog poop. How wrong could they be? Regardless of what you’ve heard, there are few places in the world that are more welcoming to travelers. And the magic of the city itself pulled me in and bewitched me in a way I didn’t even dream of.
While an extended sojourn in the City of Lights would be fantastique, most of us tend to visit for a long weekend. From the UK it’s cheap and easy to hop on a Eurostar and get to the city in a few hours – amazing right?
What brought me to Paris?
My husband surprised me with an anniversary trip to Paris a few months ago so I hadn’t planned where to go or what to see. However, a bit of googling later (plus some preplanning on his part in terms of booking restaurants) means I had the perfect city break – a recipe I want to share with you all.
One word of warning, the beauty of Paris is just soaking it up. Don’t even try to squeeze in everything– it can’t be done. You have to let go of some of the more time-consuming “must dos” and focus in on a few delights to give you a memorable experience. Save the rest for a subsequent visit, because once you’ve been to Paris, you’ll definitely want to come back.
1. Sip Coffee by the Seine
Let’s ease on into this. No need to dive into your Parisian adventure head first. Just because you don’t have all the time in the world doesn’t mean you have to act like it. After you get off the plane or train or after checking in to your hotel, head to one of the myriad cafes across the Seine from Notre Dame or just one down the road from your accommodation. I challenge you to find a bad cup of coffee in Paris! Few things in the world are as peaceful as sitting at an outdoor cafe and watching the river/people flow by as you sip some coffee and savor a croissant. Cafe culture is an essential part of the Parisian experience, so don’t skip it in the name of time.
2. Get a Bus Tour
Some people hate tourist buses but I love jumping on one and getting my bearings when I visit any city. There are plenty of tours departing all over Paris so you can plan what you want to see. With only a weekend to work with, thing like joining the line-up to enter the iconic Notre Dame cathedral aren’t advisable as you’ll waste half a day so gaze at it from the bus. You can always hop off at Notre Dame and simply poke around the cobblestoned streets of Île de la Cité and gaze upon her familiar facade when you pass. If you’re ready for another tasty treat, get an ice cream cone at Berthillion, perhaps the city’s most revered parlors (and that’s saying something). Please note the bus is a compliment to your visit. The best way to engage with Paris is on your two feet so you can really get involved.
3. Peruse Shakespeare & Company
On the Left Bank, you will find Shakespeare & Company Bookstore, an old Hemingway hangout and perhaps the most famous independent bookstore the world over. This is where I really felt I was in my spiritual home. This place has an incredibly varied selection of material (mostly in English) and has a cool vibe worth checking out. The atmosphere is the real draw, here, so feel free to wander in and flip through a few titles before making your selection, as the management seems just happy to have the company. If you’re a true bibliophile, check out the other booksellers along the Quai des Grands Augustins, which is like a heavenly outdoor flea market for book lovers.
4. Cafes, wine and cheese
Is it lunchtime yet? I spent so much time stopping off at cafes for wine and cheese. The best thing is Parisians see nothing wrong with a midday wine and snack – it’s sociable and savored. Much like the coffee, even in tiny cafes you’ll find great wine. In the UK we tend to sell big glasses of foul acidic grape juice where as in Paris the house wine was a beautiful Burgundy or Sancerre. Delicious! Before we move away from my bookish theme, if you want to drink in a cafe with a literary pedigree, there’s always the Café de Flore or Les Deux Magots in Saint-Germain-des-Prés. They may be seen as cliché and touristy, but if you only have a short time in Paris, might as well go for something with that bistro feel you can’t fake elsewhere.
5. Musee D’Orsay
You cannot come to Paris and not visit a museum and pay respect to some of the great artists it has birthed or developed. Spend the afternoon at the Musee D’Orsay. It opens until 6pm (9:30pm on Thursdays) so you have time to hone in on your favorite artists, including Manet, Monet, Degas and Van Gogh. Just the Belle Epoque building alone is a treasure, so even if the art doesn’t grab you, that giant clock will.
6. Spend an Evening in Le Marais
Take the metro to Bastille and spend the evening strolling around Le Marais, a historic (now hipster) district full of ethnic cafes, cozy bars, falafel stands, galleries, boutiques, restaurants and nightlife galore. You don’t need a plan here. Just wander until something strikes your fancy and grab a bite to eat and an after-dinner drink. It’s a Parisian people-watcher’s paradise.
7. Get spooked in the Catacombs/appreciate the beauty of the cemetery
The title of this one is a worry and a little morbid right? Trust me it’s not. Get up early for an unusual yet memorable Parisian experience. Who can resist the chance to see a series of tunnels built on the collected remains of more than six million people? I know, it might sounds morbid, but underneath the city of Paris is one of the most expansive testaments to history and human ingenuity ever recorded. Tours are lead through the catacombs on a daily basis in both English and French. Its sheer scope will haunt you. The Père-Lachaise cemetery is home to the graves of such greats like Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison. The site itself is magnificent yet peaceful, the resting place of many great Parisians. Walking round there and seeing the tiny tombs for mourners to pay their respects is both grounding and strangely beautiful.
8. Soak in the Sacré-Cœur
Even if you’re not religious, Sacré-Cœur is worth the trip because it’s also the highest point in the city. The grand old domed basilica sits on a hilltop overlooking the rooftops of the entire crowded yet gorgeous city. When you’re moving through the city on and under the streets, it might be easy to forget just how massive Paris is. Sacré-Cœur will remind you. Be careful of the groups of men scamming near here. Many will try and tie string on your wrist and ask for money in return – just walk on by. Time saving tip: don’t bother lining up for the funicular railway up to the basilica. Sure, it’s hilly and there are a lot of stairs, but it’s not too onerous and walking will save you precious time. Right by Sacré-Cœur in the 18th arrondissement is the artsy neighborhood of Montmartre. To be honest, it’s kind of a tourist trap of tacky souvenirs and caricaturists, but there’s still something atmospheric and historic about it that’s worth exploring.
9. Stroll the Champs-Élysées
If you have enough energy to walk from Arc du Triomphe to Place de la Concorde, then fair play to you, otherwise stay on your bus for this bit. All roads seem to lead to the Arc that was commissioned by Napoleon back in 1806. There’s a great view from the top if you think you can spare the time. If not, enjoy ambling down the famed Champs-Élysées, the grand boulevard full of famous shops, hotels and sidewalk cafes. If you’re not interested in shopping, it also makes for some of the best people watching in the known universe though the cafés will be some of the most expensive you encounter so make that coffee last. The tree-lined street is always bustling (and the traffic situation will blow your damn mind). If you’re around the Arc De Triomphe at night, try Le Hide restaurant where I had the best dessert of my LIFE – making sure you reserve a table though as it’s popular with locals and tourists alike.
11. Indulge at Angelina
On your final morning, fortify yourself with enough calories to last you a year with a hot chocolate and breakfast at Angelina’s on Rue de Rivoli. You can literally stand a spoon in this thick, rich, molten magic. Their signature pastry is the Mont Blanc, but there are other divine dishes to start your day off on a less indulgent foot. Grab some colorful macarons on your way out to snack on later. Angelina is a splurge so if you don’t fancy this, there are bakeries down every side street offering delectable delights for any palette – even savoury ones!
13. Enjoy the Jardin de Tuileries
The Louvre was too overwhelming to squeeze into a short city-break, so we simply strolled around the outside of the building (the mix of old and new is impressive), and then crossed the street to the Jardin de Tuileries (mainly as I needed a toilet). It’s a quintessential manicured Parisian park, full of fountains, statues, ponds, pathways and more. If you decide against the Louvre, you probably have time to pop into the Musée de l’Orangerie at the far end of the jardin to revel in Monet’s water lily murals.
14. Don’t Miss the Eiffel Tower
You have to hit up the city’s most famous landmark, right? Okay, so it might be a shamelessly touristy thing to do, but the 984 foot tall behemoth is a site to behold from every angle. To be honest you can’t miss it poking over the buildings, dominating the city every way you turn. There are long lines to get up to the top. So, your best strategy is to plan a picnic on the Champ de Mars lawn in front the tower or find a cafe with a view. For a special splurge, however, make a reservation at the Michelin starred Jules Verne restaurant for either lunch or dinner, where you can enter via a private elevator and dine overlooking Paris. We had our anniversary meal here and the tasting menu was c’est magnifique, however I don’t think we will EVER spend that much on a meal again. Plus, Donald Trump dined there a few weeks ago which has put me off slightly.
15. Take in Some Jazz
The Aristocats is one of my all time favourite Disney films so listening to some jazz in Paris was something I was determined to squeeze in. We found ourselves heading up a deserted side street on a Sunday morning only to discover to one of the coolest locations, Le Resevoir, an atmospheric Parisian jazz brunch club and bar. The sultry tones of a Parisian jazz singer were an unusual but soothing accompaniment to a basic but delicious buffet breakfast. My tip – make sure you book but don’t arrive too early as the place doesn’t start filling up until 2pm.
There is so much I still need to tell you as this city really caught my heart and it’s hard to do it justice in one article much like it is in one weekend. I hope my article gives you a taste of what to expect and encourages you to visit for the first time or to return and try something new. Bon Voyage!