I received some feedback that my blog has as much in-depth Paris content as Donald Trump has diplomacy, so here it is, especially for you Rach (not Rachael).
Paris. The city that’s as elegant and sophisticated as it is romantic and historic. The city that does bread, pastries, crepes and cheeses like nowhere else in the world. The city that has more gold than Queen Elizabeth. Then there’s the grand boulevards and historical landmarks that dominate the city sprawl, while corner cafes, stylish boutiques and flower stalls are hidden finds.
When I recently spent eight days in Paris with the husband, my itinerary was comprehensive (it had a fricken table of contents), attempting to capture the best of the city of love in just over a week. A huge mission! One that even Tom Cruise would flinch at. So there I was, spending hours and hours researching and finessing the plan, crafting away as if I was writing a historical account of World War I. After all of that, it’s only fair I share it.
Where to stay in Paris
Each area, or arrondissement as they’re called in Paris, has a distinct character – some are arty, some elegant, some bohemian – so it’s best to do a bit of desk research to see what will best suit your personality.
Having said that, Paris is so compact and the metro so amazing, that it’s easy to get around and explore areas beyond where you’re resting your head each night. For the first four nights of our trip, we stayed in Boulogne-Billancourt at the Radisson Blu (thank you Jude’s work for paying), which was relatively roomy and comfortable. Before we left, everyone told me that Boulogne-Billancourt was the Wollongong of Paris, but it was so easy to get anywhere via the metro that I don’t understand how it could possibly be considered the boon docks.
The latter half of the trip was spent in the 15th arrondissement at Le Marquis Eiffel. The hotel was beautiful, arty and boutique. While being within sneezing distance of the Eiffel Tower was like Nutella for a metal asparagus-crushing tourist like myself, the area in general is quite snoozy, with little night-life. If I had my time again, I’d stay in St Germain, which is one of the most fashionable neighbourhoods and has lots of cafes, bars and shops.
How to get around in Paris
To drill the point home, it’s super easy to get around Paris courtesy of the metro, which stops so frequently between stations that you never have to walk for longer than 15 minutes. Plus, if you want to cut the walking time down even further, you can chop and change between train lines as frequently as Australia changes Prime Minister.
I strongly urge anyone visiting for more than a couple of days to invest in a Navigo Week pass, which gives you access to unlimited travel across Paris’s bus, train, metro and RER network. You can purchase a week pass from the automated machines at any metro station, setting you back €22.15 or AUD $32.
Flying into Charles de Gaulle Airport, you can catch the metro or Roissy Bus into the city centre. However, most of the metro stations have more stairs than the Eiffel Tower (no lifts or escalators), and unless you don’t mind hauling your luggage up and down stairs after a 24-hour flight, I’d just invest in a taxi from the airport (which is around AUD $75).
Day 1: Day trip to the Palace of Versailles
The gold, the gardens, the grandeur! France’s Palace of Versailles is ridiculously ridiculous. Yet, it’s totally worth making the 30-minute train ride from Paris and battling the crowds, as this historical theme park is a four-course feast for the eyeballs. Allow plenty of time, as it will take up the whole day to get here, get around and get back.
Day 2: Picnics, parks and one Eiffel Tower
Start the day by exploring the cobblestone back alleys of St Germain, uncovering boutique shops, antiques and enough bookstores to sink the Titanic. While you’re here, from the ample food stalls, hunter-gather cheeses, charcuterie, crepes and all the bread you can carry for a picnic in the nearby Luxembourg Gardens.
Luxembourg Gardens will leave you a hot stuttering mess, struggling to take in the perfectly-groomed lawn, cute sailboats bobbing about on the pond and row after row of faultless flowers.
Walk off lunch by following the banks of the Siene River, heading west, getting distracted along the way by buskers, bars and beautiful view after beautiful view. Then all of a sudden the Eiffel Tower will come looming into sight, your eyes will lock and it will be love at first sight.
Day 3: Shop the Champs-Élysées, then dinner and drinks in St Germain
From boutiques and markets to the big fashion giants and haute couture fashion houses, shopping and style is everywhere in Paris. At the very least, looking at all the uber fashionable Parisians walking the streets will inspire you to up your fashion game.
For a serious shopping mission, head to:
- Champs-Élysées – for global chains like H&M, Sephora and Zara.
- Boulevard Haussmann – for French department stores Galeries Lafayette and Au Printemps.
- Les Halles and Rue de Rivoli – for the sprawling four-level mall Forum des Halles and other global chains.
- St Germain – for boutique fashion, books and antiques.
- Le Marais – for young designers showcasing their creations.
Catching the metro back to St Germain, we had dinner at Le Petit Zinc (update: now closed) and highly recommend it. With ample seafood, art nouveau decor and friendly service (our waiter even helped us with our French, and when I say our French, I mean Jude’s French) what’s not to love about this typical French brassiere?
Kicking on, we then had cocktails at the nearby Prescription Cocktail Club, where getting past the doorman is like taking a French test. If your French vocab doesn’t extend much beyond s’il vous plaît and merci, I’d recommend giving this one a miss. However, once inside, the French test is worth it. The place oozes New York speakeasy-style, with bowler hats as lampshades, impeccably-dressed waiters and on-point cocktails.
Be warned that during the week the metro trains don’t run much beyond midnight in Paris. We got back to Boulogne-Billancourt with the station’s roller door clanging shut behind us. We very nearly turned into pumpkins.
Day 4: Notre Dame Cathedral and Arc de Triomphe
If you intend on seeing any of Paris’s tourist attractions, another solid investment is the two-day Paris Museum Pass (or four-day or six-day if you’re super keen). For €48 or AUD $70 (four-day, €62; and six-day, €74), you get free entry and express access to over 50 of the city’s museums and monuments.
First stop was Notre Dame Cathedral, with its incredible gothic architecture and stained glass windows. While the cathedral is free to walk around (once you get through the snaking line that is), the Paris Museum Pass will get you up into the towers at no extra cost. This was an absolute (unexpected) highlight for me. It might have taken us two hours to navigate the queue and is incredibly claustrophobic in the spiral staircases but my gawd it was worth it. The bells ringing behind you, the gargoyles looking menacing, the eye-glistening views across the city – it’s bloody breathtaking.
On the other side of the city, the grand old Arc de Triomphe is another tourist have-to-do. Again more spiral stairs, but this lung-burning climb is a particularly rewarding one, with the 360-degree viewing platform atop the national monument positioned smack bang in the guts of the city, therefore offering some of the best views of Paris. It’s also a bit of fun to look down and watch cars do the tango around the notorious Etoile roundabout below.
Day 5: The Louvre
Needing to use the Paris Museum Pass over two consecutive days, day five was dedicated to The Louvre.
With its labyrinth of ornate galleries and works of art in the tens of thousands, visiting this mother of all museums is a mandatory if in Paris. Highlights are personally sighting the Mona Lisa – if you want to look like a tourist turkey, go ahead and take a selfie.
At this point, I cannot recommend comfortable walking shoes more. I may have fitted into Paris with my patent leather brogues, but my feet resembled that of a Paris Opera Ballet School dancer and the bloodied stumps made exploring challenging.
Day 6: Tour of Champagne wine region and Reims
Day six involved a full-day tour of Champagne country, the historic town of Reims and the champagne houses of G.H. Mumm and Mercier. Here are some reasons why this is a pant-wetting great idea:
- You get to see some French countryside (it takes 90 minutes by luxuriously-air conditioned bus to get here).
- You’re educated on the art of Champagne making.
- Visiting the birthplace of Champagne will make all your wine friends jelly.
- You actually drive down Avenue de Champagne. I’ll pawn all my Troll Dolls to get this address!
- Buying Champagne here is much cheaper than in Australia.
- You get to visit Reims Cathedral – the cathedral where, in 1429, Joan of Arc led a battalion to recapture, so the king of the time, Charles VII, could be crowned.
- You take a miniature train ride through the Mercier cellars where bottles and bottles of Champagne are quietly cellaring.
- You get to drink Champagne all day!
Day 7: Montmartre, Sacre Coeur, Canal St Martin and a picnic underneath the Eiffel Tower
After ambling through the staircased streets of Montmartre – Paris’s tallest hill – you’ll be rewarded with the sight of the beautiful-domed Basilique du Sacre Coeur standing proud at the top, along with harp-playing musicians and a carnival-like setting at the base. Hand over €6 and climb a few more stairs to the top of the basilica – this is the first of many vantage points across Paris within the white church and the first of many dizzying, claustrophobic spiral staircases. The view will hurt your brain.
Up next is a short metro trip to the hipster heartland of the 10th arrondissement in the north-east of Paris. Here wander along the 4.5-kilometre Canal St Martin and take note of how gentrified, quirky, modern, un-Paris-like this area is. We stopped for a bagel lunch at the very pink, cool people hang-out Sesame.
If you’re not yet suffering from bread and cheese poisoning, you must spend the evening picnicking underneath the Eiffel Tower. Looking back on the entire holiday, this was my hands-down favourite experience. Although it took some serious arm-twisting to get Jude to agree to do it in the first place, who was convinced we’d just be harassed by the selfie-stick, alcohol and magnet-selling vendors that notoriously swarm the tourist hot spots (we weren’t, for the record).
When we were camped out underneath the tower, admiring one of the hourly night-time light shows, drinking our G.H. Mumm Champagne fresh from Reims, using my Paris map as a picnic blanket and indulging on treats we’d picked up earlier in the day from Rue Cler (an amazing market street), Jude conceded that an Eiffel Tower picnic is a damn good idea.
Day 8: La Defense, Île aux Cygnes, the Statue of Liberty (Paris-style), the Eiffel Tower (again) and the Siene River (again)
With its modern skyscrapers and abundance of glass and steel, France’s main business district, La Defense, is a complete contradiction to the old worldly glamour and sophistication of Paris as we all know it. Punctuating the skyline with its moderness, you need to catch the metro here just to see what the hell is going on. Then inspect the marble Grand Arch, which hides offices within its cube-like shape and is an ugly step sister to the Arc de Triomphe.
Back in the romantic heart of Paris is Île aux Cygnes – an artificial island in the middle of the Siene. The one-kilometre slither of land is a pretty place for a stroll, with its canopy of trees. It even has an outdoor fitness area, rock climbing wall and a (small) replica of the Statue of Liberty.
For us, we ended our stay in Paris with an intimate introduction to the beautiful Art Nouveau tower that needs no introduction. First we had dinner at 58 Tour Eiffel – the restaurant on level 1 of the Eiffel Tower – then climbed to the top of the metal asparagus, before jumping aboard a night-time cruise of the Siene River, which only reaffirms how heart-achingly beautiful this city is. All of this was packaged into a tour that included an optional Moulin Rouge show.
That’s it! Eight crazy, but beautiful, days in Paris.
Quick tips for visiting Paris
- Learn some basic French and make a genuine effort to speak it. At the very least, you need to know how to order, say please and thank you, and ask for the bill and bathroom.
- Be polite and respectful.
- Invest in an unlimited Navigo metro pass.
- Get to attractions early in the day, otherwise you’ll spend the best part of the day practicing your lining up skills.