That and I am just here to serve the yes-ers that have the travelling bug, of course.
So our latest foray saw us conquering the city of love, the one and only Paris. We stayed for 5 days just before my birthday. Be warned, we were (mainly) first timers in Paris, so we really OD-ed on all the touristy stuff, but even if you have visited before there might be a few gems in there to help you plan your next trip to this ultra chic city. Because I now firmly believe that Paris is not a place you should only visit once…
Today we have the ‘things to do in Paris’ instalment, but make sure you head back next week for some recommendations on the incredible food establishments that we visited.
So, first and foremost my biggest tip is do your research. There is so much to see, do (and eat) in Paris, and most people only visit for a City Break, so it really helps if you take some time planning your trip rather than hoping to wing it on arrival.
We spent a Saturday morning mapping out everything that we wanted to see. As you can imagine, it was a long list, but it helped us get an idea of our priorities and what was feasible (with the help of a map – I would thoroughly recommend the DK Eyewitness Pocket Map Guide: Paris. It has a really handy pull out map at the back, plus a tube map and some handy recommendations for places to eat).
Amongst the list of things we wanted to do, we knew a hop-on-hop-off bus was high on the list, so we could see as many of the main tourist attractions as possible, and we found the Paris Pass. You can purchase the pass for 2, 4 or 6 days, it seems quite pricey but gets you free entry to lots of museums and attractions as well, plus the hop-on-hop-off bus and metro travel. I umm-ed and aah-ed about whether it was worth it right up until the two days before we activated our passes, but I have to say I think we certainly got our moneys worth – and you can if you plan well. If you are going to see attractions outside of the pass, just make sure you pick the cheapest ones and leave the pricier ones (such as the Louvre) to the days you are going to use your pass. Plus, I can honestly say I thought it was worth it for the queue jump at the Louvre alone, that line went on forever…
Here’s my recommendations of the things to get on that to do list…but first up it’s where to stay and how to get there.
where to stay and how to get there
I can hands down say that Eurostar was one of my best travel experiences ever. It was so relaxed, you only have to arrive 45 minutes before your departure and you don’t spend hours going through passport control when you get to the other end.
It was honestly just a dream.
We stayed at the Grand Hotel Francais, which is not far from the historic centre. It is quite a quiet area, but works perfectly as a base. The rooms are small but nicely decorated, and breakfast comes as part of the package.
When we first decided on Paris I also looked at Air BnB and found some awesome places, I’m talking view of the Eiffel tower kind of epic. Unfortunately they weren’t available on the dates we ended up going, but it is definitely work a look.
travelling around paris
We used the Metro a lot, and it is very reasonable. You can either by single tickets, a pack of 10 or a mobilis card, which gets you a whole days travel wherever you want to go within the central zones (normally 1 and 2, though you can get some that will include zone 3 as well). I would say the latter is your most cost effective option if the weather is a little temperamental and you are planning to use it a lot, but if you are walking, single tickets or a pack will be fine.
One word of warning, we bought our first pack of 10 on the Eurostar on our way in because we thought it would be easier, but actually ended up paying more for them…so do wait and get them at the train station. There are machines everywhere with an English option so you will be able to get exactly what you need very easily.
things to do
Eiffel Tower river cruise
Originally I had dismissed the idea of doing a guided tour, it all just seemed a bit touristy. But I am so pleased that we relented after finding a discount code for City Wonders. We opted for the Eiffel Tower Night Tour with Seine River Cruise and I would highly recommend it.
You do have to walk around with headphones on while your tour guide gives you live commentary. You do look like a massive group of tourists. But that is what you are.
Our tour guide, Linda, was amazing. So knowledgable and funny, I learnt so much about the history of Paris and it was absolutely fascinating. The city, which was once renowned for its squalor, was rebuilt from the ground up, which is why there is so much beautiful architecture that seems to fit so perfectly together where other cities feel mismatched. Paris was having a cultural revolution while the rest of the world was having an industrial revolution and having a tour guide really helps you to unpick this.
The tour included a walking tour from the Trocadero down to your Seine cruise, champagne at dusk while you cruise up the river and queue jump for the eiffel tower. It was one of the very best things we did on our visit, I can’t recommend it enough. It was also fabulous to do at night, to see the city twinkling away. I would also recommend seeing other attractions at night as well as during the day, both the tower and walking through the Arc de Triomphe at night was such a surreal experience.
Tick all the tourist boxes
The Eiffel Tower asides, there are lots of other tourist boxes I would highly recommend you tick.
The spectacular Sacre-Couer (Sacred Heart) watches over the city from its highest point, and gives you incredible views of the city. It is well worth the visit and the climb to the top to get a better look. It is situated in the Montemarte area which was one of our favourites, with the arty vibes and cobbled streets.
The Arc de Triomphe was another attraction that we scaled to get a view of the city. It’s a fantastic vantage point to get a 360 view.
Notre Dame was awe-inspiring. We ascended to the tower on a particularly tumultuous day; the wind was whipping round us and moody clouds brought lashings of rain – and then seconds after beautiful blue skies. But temperamental weather aside, going to the top is worth it to get up close and personal with those gargoyles alone.
The Louvre is an obvious one that is worth a mention. I have to say though, it was my least favourite experience of the whole trip. To really get the most out of it you have to devote a day to exploring this epic gallery, really. We didn’t have that much time to spare so went particularly to see the Mona Lisa. And I have to say the organisation is pretty poor, instead of queuing past the crowd-pulling art, you are funnelled in where people push and barge to get their photo. I am pleased we saw it, but next time I would go to one of the smaller galleries such as d’Orsay or l’Orangerie which house the likes of Monet and Picasso.
Bike around the grounds of Versailles
A note on travel: If you are going to Versailles, bear in mind this is outside of zones 1 – 3, so you will need to get an additional ticket to travel there. There are no ticket barriers when you leave the central Paris stations, so you might think that you could get away with it, but when you get to the outer zones you need to produce your ticket to exit the station. We got out at the last zone 3 stop (because our Paris Pass ticket covered us that far) and purchased a one stop ticket to Versailles. It worked out ok and wasn’t too expensive.
I can assure you that the effort is worth it though. This palace is utterly decadent and thoroughly awe-inspiring. But perhaps the best bit is exploring the vast gardens and Marie Antoinette’s estate, which is quaint and intriguing. The best way to explore is hiring one of the bikes there. It adds to the fun but also means you can cover more ground!
See a Cabaret show
We initially looked at seeing a show at the Moulin Rouge, but the timing didn’t work out at all…and actually when I saw the Moulin Rouge I was decidedly underwhelmed…it’s situated between a fast food joint and an Irish bar and looks a bit plastic and tacky. But alas I digress.
We did go to a show at the Lido, and it was absolutely incredible. We went for the 9pm show, including a bottle of champagne and we were seated with a fantastic view of the stage. The show had us both hypnotised for its entirety, it was true showbiz and completely tasteful – with the obvious Paris sparkle.
Embrace the city of love
What with being the city of love and all, there are some cheesy love related activities that you can indulge in. And there are a couple in particular that I would recommend – they aren’t particularly time consuming and are nice things to do to soak up the loving atmosphere of the city.
One is the love locks bridge, Ponts des Arts. Now I should warn you that recently all of the locks on the bridge were removed (because all that love was weighing it down too much) and they are now boarded up so you can’t add new locks. But there are still areas down the side of the bridge where you can place your lock with your love and throw away the key (or keep it as a memento). There are actually lots of bridges adorned with locks in the city, but I think it is poignant to visit the original. If you forget your padlock you can normally get one from the street vendors for around 5 euros.
The other lovey dovey excursion that I really love was le mud des je’taime. Or the love wall. It’s up in the Montmarte area and is a tiled wall crammed full of declaration of love in an unthinkable amount of languages. It was beautiful to see. Perhaps not worth a trip in itself, but worth soaking up if you are heading to Sacre-Couer as it is just around the corner.
Book lovers unite
And finally, if you are a book lover you have to visit the renowned Shakespeare and Company, a book shot with wall upon wall of books (mainly in English). I am pretty sure it would be possible to spend hour upon hour in this shop, but I spared the boy by bagging myself a a rather pretty (and rather appropriate) clothbound copy of Madame Bovary.
So, that’s my recommendation for things to do and see in Paris. Next week I will be talking about our favourite places to eat…and I can tell you, the food was utterly delicious….