Paris is such a romantic, magical city but, like Rome, is another one of those that can be greatly influenced by your experience. My first trip to Paris was everything but. I was a poor college student living abroad, trying to pack in as many sights and museums into my long weekend as possible and eating dinner consisting of a baguette, Babybel (not even French cheese....what was wrong with me?!) and cheap wine from the Monoprix in my hostel room each night. By no means were my friends and I living like Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and the City and to boot the Parisians we encountered were rude so we had no desire to go to a bar. After leaving I never saw the appeal to return, but return I did, with my husband when he had to go for a work trip a few years ago. Thank goodness for that trip because it changed my entire perspective on the city so much that we are always looking for a good excuse to visit the City of Lights.
Paris is just a 7-hour direct flight across the pond for us East Coasters and both Air France and Delta offer several flights to Charles de Gaulle (CDG) per day out of Boston, New York and D.C. Once you're there, the Metro is a clean and efficient way to get you just about anywhere in the city. I recommend spending at least 3 nights, so you can at least see the city's icons and enjoy some Parisian culture. Here is my list of things to do while you're there as well as my favorite places to stay.
WHAT TO SEE & DO
See the Eiffel Tower twinkle. Every night, this famous landmark lights up the skyline but what's even more spectacular is that every hour on the hour it will twinkle for a minute. Wherever you are, pause and feel the magic. A great place to take this all in is from the River Seine or the Trocadéro. It doesn't get any more romantic than that. (Metro: Trocadéro, École Militaire)
Admire the views from the top of the Arc de Triomphe. This landmark's location in Place Charles de Gaulle where 12 major boulevards intersect make for some amazing bird's eye views, especially at night when the city is all lit up. I actually prefer this view over that from the top of the Eiffel Tower because you can actually see the Eiffel Tower, which in my opinion should never leave your sight during your entire stay. (Metro: Kléber)
Explore the city by bike. This is a great and fun way to get your bearings and get an overview of this city's landmarks. Plus burn some calories from all those croissants! There are tour companies that offer a guided option bringing you past all the major sights or you can grab a bike from the city's bike share (called Vélib) and venture out on your own. That brings me to....
Experience Saint Germain via a picturesque picnic cycle. If you're feeling extra Parisian and are looking for a more off the beaten path bike ride when you've already been there done that, I suggest hopping on your Vélib bike, grabbing some provisions from some local shops and ending your ride through this lovely neighborhood at a pretty park for a picnic. The bikes even come with a cute little basket to fill with baguettes and cheese and wine. Timeout can help you map out your route, just try to avoid doing this on a Sunday when many shops are closed. And while we're at it....
Discover Saint Germain on foot. Known by locals as the 6th arrondissement, this gorgeous area is filled with high-end retailers, art galleries, bookshops and quintessential Parisian cafes. Located on the Left Bank of the River Seine, the 6th is known as one of the ritzier, more upscale neighborhoods of Paris and where Hemingway used to hang out among other famous writers. Definitely dedicate an afternoon to strolling its boulevards and side streets and Paris will win you over. A couple memorable streets to check out are Rue des Canettes, with banners of French flags hanging above, and Rue de Buci near the intersection of Rue de Seine with beautiful flower markets and cafés. And of course you can't avoid (and you shouldn't) the main drag of Boulevard Saint-Germain. (Metro: Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Mabillon)
Wander the quaint, hip neighborhood of Le Marais. Located on the Right Bank of the River Seine is this area also known as the 3rd and 4th arrondissements. It is such a cool, fun area to explore and hang out in. Here you will find some good boutique shopping which is a nice break from the designer labels and this is the area that the Jewish population settled during WWII so today there are still many kosher patisseries, falafel stands, etc. Wander the streets-- Rue des Rosiers, Rue Vieille du Temple, Rue du Tresor, and the surrounding area. Very quaint and enjoyable with lots of cafés and creperies. (Metro: Hotel de Ville, Saint-Paul, Bastille)
Say hello to the Mona Lisa. Obviously. Located in the Museé du Louvre is this masterpiece by Leonardo DaVinci. It's quite a touristy thing to do but you can't go to Paris and not see this! The Louvre also offers much more to see and I recommend at least purchasing advance tickets that let you skip the line. Or if you'd like to make this a learning experience, there are plenty of guided tours offered by Viator and others. (Metro: Louvre-Rivoli)
Sit down for tea at Ladureé. A luxurious patisserie known for their macarons but they have other traditional French pastries as well. There are a few locations around the city, but be a traditionalist and go for the original. (18 Rue Royale; Metro: Madeleine, Concorde)
Shop 'til you drop. Paris is home to many of the famous designers we long to fill our closets with. You'll find many of them on or near Avenue des Champs-Élysées and Rue Saint Honoré/Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré in the Place Vendôme area. You'll be delighted to know that those French labels cost less when you purchase them in France. TIP: Hang onto your receipt, get to the airport early and go to a VAT refund desk to get extra money back from taxes. They will give you Euro on the spot or refund your credit card if you paid that way. (Metro: Concorde, Pyramides, Tuileries)
Snap a photo with some gargoyles at Notre Dame cathedral. This cathedral is a perfect example of French gothic architecture with gargoyle statues and a flying buttress. Free to enter the cathedral but you must purchase tickets and wait in a (long) line to climb the bell tower. (Metro: Cité)
Take a cruise down the River Seine at night. This city comes alive at night. After all it isn't called the City of Lights for nothing. A great way to see the city all lit up is on a relaxing river cruise. Boats depart Notre Dame area or Eiffel Tower area regularly and last for 1-2 hours. There are several operators--Vedettes Bateaux and Bateaux Mouches--to name a few. For a boat with a bar, check out Canauxrama.
WHERE TO STAY
SAINT GERMAIN for a smaller, more charming, upscale atmosphere on the Left Bank with local culture but still centrally located for seeing the sights. As noted above, it's quite a lovely area.
Hotel Verneuil - A charming boutique hotel down a quiet Parisian rue but in the heart of it all. Decor is classic French with luxurious toiletries from L'Occitane. Standard rooms are a bit on the small side, so I recommend upgrading if you can. There is a concierge to help with your stay, an honor bar in the cozy living room and a room for breakfast if you so desire. (8 Rue de Verneuil)
La Villa Saint-Germain - An upscale, sleek, sophisticated boutique hotel with many amenities you'd find at a larger hotel including a bar, breakfast room, room service and a gym. (29 Rue Jacob)
Hotel d'Aubusson - A grand, chic boutique hotel (and a little more of a splurge) with a lovely ivy-covered patio, jazz/piano bar & cafe previously frequented by literary giants Sartre, de Beauvoir and Camus. Rooms are spacious for this city and toiletries are by Hermès. Guests have access to various board games & video consoles as well as 24/7 room service. (33 Rue Dauphine)
Relais Christine - A 5-star hotel in a beautiful mansion setting tucked down a discreet side street. Rooms are on the larger side for the city, decor is that from a luxe country home and amenities include a relaxing spa, gym, breakfast room and honesty bar. (3 Rue Christine)
LA VENDÔME for a luxe, grand atmosphere on the Right Bank with all the high-end designer shopping in the heart of all the action.
Park Hyatt Paris Vendôme - This 5-star hotel is definitely more of a splurge but is one of the most luxurious places to rest your head. Decor is traditional and royal and the hotel has all the amenities including a lovely courtyard offering al-fresco dining. (5 Rue de la Paix)
Renaissance Paris Vendôme - A luxurious 5-star option with big name brand but boutique feel. Decor is contemporary and amenities include a spa with indoor pool and trendy hotel and champagne bar. (4 Rue du Mont Thabor)
Westin Paris Vendôme - A palatial, upscale, 4-star option with views of the Eiffel Tower and Tuileries Gardens. Amenities are what you'd expect for a hotel of this calibre and it boasts a restaurant with a charming courtyard. (3 Rue de Castiglione)
Now that we've got the basics down (you've got lots to do!), stay tuned for my next post which will be all about how to fuel your stay at my favorite haunts. Because that is just as important, if not more! Au revoir!