When I first moved to London, Paris was not a city high on my list. It always seemed overly touristy in my mind, and I pictured French people as being so rude and snooty that they would completely ruin any attempt at vacation there.
Well, I’ve now been twice, and I have to say that a piece of my heart is in Paris. Let’s take a look:
The First Time
My sister Averi and I went to Paris for 2 days in December. This trip wasn’t super planned out, so we didn’t always know where we were eating or what we were going to do next, but that added to the fun. We stayed only 1 night, at the Holiday Inn in Montmartre. When we got off the train around noon, we went straight for that area. We ate some crepes for lunch (mediocre) and saw the Sacre Coeur before checking into our hotel.
After a few minutes of relaxation, we set off to see the big sights. First there was the Eiffel Tower in the daytime, then the Trocadero, then some dinner at a random cafe we found on the side of the road. I am incapable of ordering anything else if there is duck on the menu, so that’s what I had. Averi had a Caesar salad (as she did almost everywhere we went). After dinner, we did the Arc de Triomphe and Champs Elysees, then went back to the Eiffel Tower, and this time up to the top.
I expected the top of the Eiffel Tower to be about like the London Eye: kind of cool for a minute, but ultimately disappointing. But let me tell you, that view is absolutely magical. I could have spent hours up there.
On the way back to the hotel we stopped at the Moulin Rouge, which both of us wanted to see. Don’t worry dad; we didn’t go in. A stroll through Montmartre found us back at the Holiday Inn for the night.
The next day, we went to the Galeries Lafayette first. This giant (and I do mean truly giant) department store is super expensive but really beautifully decorated for Christmas. At one point, a woman came up and asked Averi where she got her headband (Forever 21), and instead of trying to explain she just took it off her head and handed it to the lady, and I think that’s just about the most telling anecdote I have of my sister.
We did a quick walk along the river after that, seeing the Louvre pyramid and then Notre Dame (doing a little impromptu Christmas shopping at some cute stalls by the Cité metro station), before heading back to the train station to leave. Au revoir, Paris!
The Second Time
My friends Bailee and Lauren came over from Atlanta to visit last month, and we decided to pop down to Paris for three days. We took the train in on a Wednesday morning and left Friday after lunch.
The first day we were there, I had a school assignment to work on (sigh), so while they went to lunch and saw the Sacre Coeur, I was a good little girl and went to a Starbucks to work on my story. Once we met back up, we went to our Airbnb.
I have to tell you guys, this place was amazing. It was in such a great part of the city (just north of the river near Notre Dame) so that it was easy walking distance to almost everything (notable not the Eiffel Tower or the northern parts of Montmartre). Everyone talks about staying in Montmartre, but I much preferred the area we stayed in this time (I couldn’t tell you the actual name of the area, but it’s just west of Le Marais and just north of Il de la Cité). We were on a street that we were really concerned about at first because of all the bars (we thought we wouldn’t get any sleep), but once we got up to the flat (on the 5th floor of the building), it was completely silent. And we paid so much less than we would have for even the crappiest of hotel rooms.
After getting settled, we hopped down to Luxembourg Gardens (way overrated but in a cool area of the city). We then saw the Eiffel Tower in daylight, grabbed some dinner at a place called the Yuppies Cafe (sounds ridiculous but was actually pretty decent, and I had the best Caesar salad ever [I know, I know]), and headed up to the Champs Elysees and Arc de Triomphe. I’ve got to admit, the Arc de Triomphe does not disappoint, even the second time.
The Eiffel Tower was also just as magical the second time around. One of my friends was pretty scared of heights, so I’m not entirely sure she enjoyed it, but I was in heaven. We ended the night chilling on the steps outside the Trocadero watching the Eiffel Tower light up.
The next day started with a journey to get croissants that ended up including some book shopping. Bailee had the fabulous idea of getting children’s books in French, so I ended up with Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince; written in French originally) and Le Bossu de Notre Dame (The Hunchback of Notre Dame; obviously relevant to Paris). We attempted to go to the Marche Enfants de Rouges, but it wasn’t even open yet. Oh well. We stopped for coffee at a place called Hubsy, where I definitely want to go back and just sit. The barista was super nice. We also learned that carrying beverages around with you on the go is definitely an American thing, but we did it anyway. It’s not like we were fooling anyone with flawless French or unmistakable Parisian style.
Then we went to Cité, ate lunch at L’annexe (charcuterie, cheese, baguette, and red wine, of course), and went inside Sainte Chapelle and Notre Dame. Something I didn’t know before was that there is a ‘zero point’ outside Notre Dame: a spot that is supposedly the exact centre of Paris! Apparently no one else knew about it either, because no one was taking pictures, and we were able to just hop on the spot and snap some photos.
We next meandered past the Louvre pyramid and through the Tuileries Gardens, ending up at the Musee de l’Orangerie. This is the museum that was built to house Monet’s Water Lilies. I’m not usually a huge museums person, but this was the most incredible experience. I could have spent all day looking at just those 8 paintings. In fact, I think we were there for over an hour. After we left the museum, we headed to Laduree for macarons (because duh) and then headed for dinner.
The meal I had at l’Epouvantail might have been the best meal I have ever had. The three of us each got a starter, a main, and a dessert for 24 euros each (not the cheapest but was certainly a good price for how delicious things were), and we split a bottle of wine. My favourite dishes were the squid starter, the duck breast entree, and the molten chocolate cake dessert. The thing that I liked most about this restaurant though was how we felt while we were there. None of us spoke French, which sometimes made us feel limited to the more touristy things, but my friend who recommended this assured me we wouldn’t feel out of place, and he was right. It was a bit off the beaten path, but it still felt relaxed. The waiter spoke English, and unlike most of the other servers we had he seemed really excited to have Americans in his restaurant. It was small and intimate, but we still felt like we could laugh and have a good time. And the most important part: bottomless baguette.
On our final day, we stuck to the basics: croissants and shops. We basically spent the whole morning making our way from our flat to the train station on foot, stopping for some weird breakfast food outside the Passage des Panoramas (just skip trying to find real breakfast food in Paris and stay with crepes and croissants). We also went to Du Pain et Idees, a delicious patisserie near the canal. I even bought a hat that looks good on me, which is an incredible accomplishment if you know my hat struggle at all.
Which trip was better?
I think each was really special in its own right. The first was lovely because I was experiencing the magic of the city for the first time, and everything was marvelous. It was also Christmas, so there were some cool lights and decorations that aren’t there the rest of the year.
I definitely ate better on the second trip, which is important to me. I also preferred where we stayed the second time, and I think we did more varied things. But I think part of that was a product of having already been there and being able to navigate around what I knew to avoid.
What would be your perfect (somewhat touristy) day in Paris?
Wake up late. Then stroll down the street to the southern portion of Montmartre for some delicious pain au chocolat for breakfast. Walk all the way to Montparnasse, craning your neck at the gorgeous buildings along the way. Grab a crepe as a snack (Le Creperie De Josselin is supposed to be the best). Go book browsing at Shakespeare & Company. Look out for the little pink house on the next street over. Get a coffee at Hubsy on Rue Réaumur and read from the book you just bought. Then bounce down to the Musee de l’Orangerie and sit in awe of the Water Lilies for a bit. Go to the Eiffel Tower once it’s dark, and treat yourself to a ride to the top. All the way to the top. Way better than the first floor, I promise. Then go sit on the steps at the Trocadero and watch the tower twinkle on the hour. Hop on the metro and zip over to Sainte Paul, and have dinner at l’Epouvantail (you saw that coming). Drink lots of wine. Go to bed happy.
Any top tips for Paris?
Find out before you go how much you’ll be using the metro. If you will be on it a lot (bookings across the city, can’t walk very far, etc.) then go ahead and get yourself a zones 1-3 pass for the time you’re there. But if you like to walk and can do so comfortably for what you need to do while you’re there, skip the pass and just get a pack of 5 or 10 single tickets if necessary.
Also, all the wine is great. Even the cheapest bottle is better than an expensive bottle here in London.
The Eurostar is nice, but a flight is sometimes just as cheap or cheaper (though times are less flexible and the airport is further from the city). Do your research.
Have you ever been to Paris? What were your favourite things there? If you were to go, what would be at the top of your list? Comment to let me know!