Paris was one of those cities that Alex had to convince me to like. I am not sure why I did not really like Paris the first few times I was there but for some reason I did not, perhaps I was too fixated on my love of Rome but either way it was not until my third visit to Paris that I truly fell in love with the city, think Owen Wilson in Midnight in Paris in love with Paris. I adore this city now, I would definitely name it as one of my favorite cities to visit. The great thing about Paris is that you can wander the city and explore it and just soak in being in Paris. There are fantastic sites of course but really the wonder of Paris is sometimes just being in Paris, grabbing a coffee at a cafe, having a glace in one of the parks, drinking wine by the Siene and having a fantastic meal. So apparently Paris to me means eating and drinking. So here is our mini-guide to Paris and what for us, makes for a fabulous stay in Paris.
One of the best things that Alex and I did when we stayed in Paris was that we rented a room in a private apartment through AirBnB. We were able to get a room in a gorgeous apartment just north of the Gare de l’Este right along a metro line. We had a room to ourselves and our host was absolutely wonderful. Staying in an apartment made us feel more like locals (which every traveler tries to become) and it was so much cheaper too than staying in a hostel. Hostels in Paris are expensive and for us the private room was a much cheaper alternative.
Wake up every morning and get a fresh baguette, butter, coffee and chocolate. There is no better way to start off your morning in Paris better than with fresh bread and coffee. Add a little butter or chocolate and you are good to go. Paris is known for their baguettes and who doesn’t want to look like a local Parisian walking down the street with a baguette.
One of the best pieces of advice I received before heading to Paris was to dress nicely. I know that as a backpackers we are not always thinking of fashion when we are packing but when you head to Paris its always good to bring something nice to wear. Paris is a very fashionable city and it is always nice to stroll the city looking good.
Visiting markets is definitely something you should do while you are wandering around Paris. It so nice to walk around the markets and shop for the essential Parisian picnic lunch, aka cornichons, a baguette, goat cheese, wine, and quiche lorraine (a delightful quiche with ham and cheese). One of my favorite markets that I found on my first visit to Paris actually, is located on the Rue du Champs de Mars near the Eiffel Tower.
Montmartre is a great neighborhood located on one of the highest hills in Paris; the neighborhood is known for the funicular that takes you up to the top of the hill and the view from the Sacre Coeur. Personally I took the stairs up to the top of Montmartre, but mainly because of all the quiche lorraine I managed to eat. Montmartre is also famous for the Moulin Rouge which Adrian mentions he visited during his weekend in Paris, and it is famous for all the French writers and artists who used to live here, such as Toulouse Lautrec.
If you would like to see any of Toulouse Lautrec’s paintings then you must head over to the Musee d’Orsay. This is probably one of my favorite museums in Europe and I will probably visit this museum every time I visit Paris. (The Louvre is worth visiting if you haven’t been but the Musee d’Orsay has my heart). The museum features one of the largest collection of French art from the impressionists to the post-impressionists. There are painting by French masters in this museum including Degas, Monet, Manet and Cezanne. Another fantastic thing about this museum is the giant clock and the view of Paris from the roof. It is almost worth coming to this museum just for the view.
After a day at the Musee d’Orsay relaxing with a nice meal is definitely what I want. One of our favorite restaurants in Paris is Chez George. This is a very traditional French Bistro and Julia Child used to eat here. Alex, our resident food writer, wrote one of our very first articles on this restaurant.
Another favorite activity of mine is to walk the gardens of Paris, there are so many beautiful gardens throughout Paris and there is nothing better than strolling the gardens and eating a glace (or ice cream).
One of my favorite stops in Paris is the Shakespeare and Co. bookstore in the Latin Quarter. The original bookstore was opened by Sylvia Beach, an American expat, in 1919. The bookstore was a very popular hangout for writers in the 1920s, including Ernest Hemingway and Ezra Pound, unfortunately the bookstore was closed in the 1940s during German Occupation. The new Shakespeare and Co. bookstore was opened in 1951 in honor of the one opened up by Sylvia Beach.
La Marais is another neighborhood in Paris that I love to stroll around and is located not too far from the Bastille. Today the neighborhood is a young neighborhood with lots of art galleries and phenomenal restaurants. One of our favorite restaurants is Le Colimacon on Rue Vieille du Temple. This a very small French Bistro. Their wine menu is organized by price which is lovely for those of us who know nothing about French wine and their menu is small, based on what is available seasonally. If you find yourself in Paris, do yourself a favor and eat dinner here.
After dinner it is always fun to go out and grab a drink. The Latin Quarter is one of the most popular places to grab drinks but I sometimes find it over crowded especially on a Saturday night. La Marais has some fun little bistro type bars and also there is an abundance of bars around Centre Pompidou which is about a 10 minute walk away. If you are not feeling a bar and its a lovely summer night, grab a bottle of wine and head to the Siene. Paris’ river is perfect place just to relax and enjoy the views, you will find access to the river all over the city and Pont Neuf is a great place to access the river as it is right by Notre Dame. You could also head on over to James Hetfeeld Pub , an American Pub our friends’ Adrian and Zoe discovered.
When in Paris I believe that you should stop and drink wine or champagne as often as possible. France is world renowned for both and it would be shame not to take advantage of it. If you can try to venture to Champagne, the region, which is not too far from Paris. This was the highlight of one of my trips to Paris and we even were able to explore the Champagne caves of Billecart- Salmon, a smallish family owned champagne house!
If you have time while you are in Paris, I would suggest visiting Versailles. Versailles is easily accessible from Paris, you simply take the RER C line from one of the Metro stations until the end when you reach Versailles-Rive Gauche. Versailles is absolutely huge! Between the palace, Marie Antoinette’s Petit Trianon and the gardens you will have plenty to explore. I also would suggest if you are there in summer see when they will be having music in the gardens. They play classical music and all the fountains are on, it is like you have stepped back in time.
My last and final tip for our Mini Guide to paris is to eat macarons any chance you have. These little cookies are a gift, they are light, crunchy and perfectly sweet. Eat them whenever you can!