I love Paris! It is about an hour’s flight from either Southampton or Heathrow and the change in climate is staggering – much more continental. I think Paris is best done in short bursts; there is so much to see but I strongly believe it is best to see it in foot, and there is only so much walking that can be done on one holiday. We picked a hotel on La Rive Gauche – Hotel St Paul. It was just a 3 star hotel but perfectly good; we were literally there to sleep so didn’t see the need for anything more. What is good about this location is proximity to the Latin Quarter where there is a myriad of bars, cafés for breakfast and restaurants for supper. It is a touristy area, but less so than near to the main sites; as a result, it is a little cheaper too and a little more real. In the evenings we didn’t see many other tourists and there was a great choice of walk-in restaurants.
We visited Paris on a particularly sunny and warm weekend and so focussed on what could be seen outdoors rather than lots of gallery visits, etc; on another visit I would like to see more galleries and museums but I think that is best on a winter visit. Here are some of my favourite places that we did visit and in order of visit which leads to a good little itinerary. We used the metro to break up the walking and found it very easy even with our basic French.
- The Louvre – stunning mix of old and new architecture, a staggering amount of glass
- From here you can take a short walk to see the other arc – it’s a lovely view through this arc, across Place de la Concorde and up to the Arc de Triomphe.
- Jardin des Tuilleries is a good next stop, there are reclining chairs around the lake and lovely views over to all the stunning French architecture that surrounds the park. I like this park in the same way I like Regents Park – it feels very unspoilt and the gardeners are clearly on top of making everything look perfect
- Next stop is Place de la Concorde – again some great views and from here you can see down to the Eiffel Tour. Staggering amount of traffic here, this is the first time on this little tour that we saw cars and reminded us why we didn’t have a hire car!
- The Orangerie is very near here and is a beautiful gallery, Monet’s finest paintings (staggered by their size), white-washed architecture and really just a chilled location to visit, but not so big that hours are lost there.
- From here we walked up the Champs Elysées to the Arc de Triomphe. An amazing memorial that shouldn’t be missed. Staggeringly clear and intricate, and peaceful too despite being such a popular attraction
- Lunch – we stopped on the Champs Elysées – not the cheapest location but the hustle and bustle was such a picture perfect French experience and superb for people watching (sadly for my husband my people watching was so extensive that I saw a beautiful (Hermes $$$$) watch on a neighbouring diner that I have since identified and received as a present!). There is something very relaxing about sitting in the sun next to a busy road with a bottle of good French wine.
- Rue de Montaigne – not a sensible road to walk down after a boozy lunch, so many designer boutiques and some rather stunning window boxes too! This is clearly one of the places to be seen and to see in Paris.
- From here onto the Eiffel Tower, a long walk up but staggering 360 degree views of the city – well worth the slog and any long queues. I didn’t have the legs to get right to the top; my suggestion: don’t look up and think about the very last climb as it will make you giddy! If I hadn’t have looked I probably would have bought the ticket and gone right to the top.
- Up early to visit Notre Dame – definitely somewhere to see before the crowds are awake and our hotel was ideally located for this. Again staggeringly intricate architecture – enjoy the outside and the inside!
- From here walk along the banks of the river, we found our way down to the Bastille where there are some great cafés for a spot of breakfast. Heading back towards the main city from here is a great street of privately owned shops (top tip: most of the shops are shut on Sundays so don’t leave your shopping for Sunday or you will be bitterly disappointed)
- From here we just ambled with no real direction, surprisingly there is always something to look at and the splendid architecture and cleanliness is not restricted to the main areas. There is a plethora of large ornate church buildings and even Banque de France and the Pompidou centre merit pictures.
- We ended up at La Madeleine and had essentially done full circle by this point as we were presented with a view of Place de la Concorde. Completely different style of architecture here – big and imposing with very little intricate stonework.
- We took the metro up to Sacre Coeur at around sunset and I would suggest this is a good time to go. Crowds gather on the green in front and there are a number of street performers – a really good buzz. The view over the city is beautiful and when it is dark it is obvious that the French know a thing or two about how to light up buildings well! Plenty of choice for dining – there is a big square that was buzzing, but we found a cute little restaurant in a back street where again we were the only English people (top tip here was to order by the demi-bottle, don’t think I would do this anywhere but France, but seems to be a popular way of getting an affordable nice wine from what we saw).
- On our final day we took the metro out to Versailles and had a lovely mooch around the gardens and a row on the lake. Worth the visit but we decided against the queue to see the house and enjoyed the gardens instead.