I just returned from a weeklong vacation in Paris where my husband and I celebrated our first wedding anniversary. All I can say is that I’m in love. With my husband? Well, yeah. We already knew that. But I have also fallen head over heels in love with Paris itself. Now that we’re back, I literally feel lovesick. You know that feeling you had when you first fell in love (or lust…or crush…or however you describe it), and all you could think about was that other person. Everything reminded you of them…every song on the radio, every picture, every person you saw on the street made you think of them. That’s seriously how I feel about Paris right now. I want to hop back on a plane and go back tomorrow. I want to LIVE there. I’ve got it bad.
If you’re looking for a romantic
I think one of the best things we did in planning for this trip was renting an apartment. Paris hotels are notoriously expensive and small, and an apartment allowed us to spread out and trick ourselves into thinking we were locals for a week. I am convinced there is nothing better than waking up in the morning in Paris and going out to get a fresh baguette to bring back for breakfast. We would wake up, make our morning bread run, come back and make the fresh oeufs (eggs) we got at the market, and turn on some Django Rheinhardt on our portable iPod player as we opened up our windows to let in the neighborhood sounds below us. It was my idea of heaven. We rented from A La Carte Paris and had a great experience. I highly recommend them! Click here to read more about Paris apartment rental agencies.
Paris is broken down by arrondissements, and our apartment was in the 4th, in an area called the Marais on the Right Bank. If you’re familiar with NYC, it’s somewhere between the vibe of a West Village and Nolita. We stayed steps away from Place des Vosges on Rue des Tournelles, which has cobblestone streets and a great mix of gay and Jewish residents, as well as really cute cafes, boutiques, and bars. I couldn’t have asked for a better neighborhood. If I could live in Paris, this would be my spot.
We were really lucky in that we had AMAZING weather while we were in Paris. Just when I started thinking that we had the worst weather luck (our two week
While you can never plan what kind of weather you’re going to get, if you’re trying to figure out when to schedule a Paris
While we were in Paris there were two fun happenings in the city at that time: Fashion Week and Nuite Blanche. Fashion Week is what you expect…lots of beautiful women walking the streets, but I seriously doubt that’s any different than a random day in Paris. I mean, every woman there is gorgeous. They all have an amazing sense of style, which is simple, elegant, and somehow stereotypical without that being a bad thing (I saw a ton of french stripe shirts and cropped black pants on locals, which I loved).
Saturday night (October 1) was La Nuit Blanche (translated as Sleepless Night) , which is the yearly arts festival where the museums and the entire city is up from dusk to dawn debuting live art installations. There was such an amazing energy in the air, with lots of drinking wine out of bottles on the street and music wafting through every alleyway. The biggest installation was called “Purple Rain,” located a couple blocks away from our apartment in the Marais at the Hotel d’Albret (hotels in Paris are not “hotels” in the typical sense of the word, but old public buildings, such as the Hotel de Ville, which is Paris’ City Hall). Conceived by artist Pierre Ardouvin, the installation was designed to make you feel like you were in the Prince song and film “Purple Rain.” You entered a purple-lit courtyard with an umbrella that shielded you from the man-made rain that was pouring down as snippets from the song played in the background. It was hilariously ironic and amazing.
This was my husband’s first trip to Paris, so we planned on visiting a lot of the classic Parisian landmarks, such as the Louvre, Eiffel Tower, Catacombs, Versailles, etc. But we also wanted to budget a large percentage of our time to strolling around and just “being Parisien.” This is sometimes easier said than done, and we didn’t factor in some of the lost time we would have being tired or hungover the day after Nuite Blanche, or the night we couldn’t seem to fall asleep and didn’t leave the apartment until noon the next day. But, that’s bound to happen when you’re so excited to see everything that you wear yourself out a bit. By Monday night we sort of reconfigured our plan and eliminated some things on our schedule so we could spend more time simply relaxing. So, things like Versailles and Montmartre came off our list and were put onto our “next time” one. Because when you’re there, you really just want to do what the Parisiens do best, and that’s finding the “Joie de Vivre.” For us, that meant lots of eating, drinking, and strolling.
Below is a sample itinerary that could be a great start for you if you’re planning a weeklong trip for a Paris
I spent a lot of time researching restaurants using websites such as Paris by Mouth, Chowhound, David Lebovitz’s blog, Haven in Paris, and books like Hungry for Paris by Alex Lobrano, Chocolate and Zucchini, and Mark Bittman’s Paris recommendations from the NYTimes. We ate three of the best meals of our lives on this trip thanks to these resources. Of course you’re going to have a dud here and there (we had two places we wish we didn’t eat at), but they just make the great places that much more enjoyable. One thing to note while you’re planning your trip, a lot of restaurants in Paris require reservations, and definitely for dinner (even if you just call a few hours before). With lunch you can get away with not having any, but if they ask if you have a reservation for lunch and you don’t, it doesn’t hurt to answer with a confident “Oui!” Worried about not being able to speak french? I highly recommend getting a conversational french CD before you go. I really like Pimsleur’s, and used it as a refresher course. If all else fails, just learn the basics. The one phrase we used the most was “Est-ce que vous parlez anglais?” (pronounced like essker voo pahrlay ahng-glay) and means “Do you speak English?” You can start every conversation like that, whether making reservations to french restaurants from the states, or in a restaurant or store or bar in Paris. Just be sure to start the sentence with “Bonjour” (hello) and “Merci” (thank you) at the end, followed by “au revoir” (goodbye). If you do that, you’ll find that Paris is a city with some of the world’s nicest people.
Day 1: Use this day to get oriented to whichever neighborhood you’re staying in. Check into your apartment or hotel. If your check- in is later (ours was 2) a lot of times your hotel or apartment agency will allow you to drop off your bags. I had freshened up at a local cafe we had breakfast in, dropped off our bags at our apartment next door, and basically just started wandering around. It’s tempting to start seeing sights right away, but if you’re anything like me you’re jet-lagged and really can’t stand to pay attention or wait in line. Instead, we walked around the Marais, and over to the neighboring Il St. Louis. We had lunch near our apartment at the super cute Robert et Louise, which I highly recommend.
After lunch, if you’re feeling tired make your way back to your hotel or apartment to unpack and take a nap. Then, head out to dinner after you’re rested. We had an 8:30 reservation at Le Gaigne, and had an unbelievably delicious 5-course meal that I’m still dreaming about. Yes, you’ll hear Americans in there, but you’ll also hear locals. I found that to be the case at our favorite restaurants. TIP: If you want to eat when a restaurant is lively, don’t go before 9. A bottle of wine and a cheese plate later, we strolled over to a bar facing the Place des Vosges called Cafe Hugo. I probably wouldn’t eat here, but it’s perfect for a a couple glasses of wine.
That first night of vacation is my favorite. You have the entire trip to look forward to, and all you can do is sit back and relish in your new surroundings. On Friday night after Cafe Hugo, we “probably” should have gone to bed, but we were high on being in Paris and stopped into Cafe Martini, located literally on the corner of our street. We deemed this our neighborhood bar and vowed to come back every night. We only went back once more, but that’s because it was closed a couple other nights we wanted to go. That’s another thing to remember about Paris. Bars, restaurants, stores, and sights will be closed for no logical reason. But, that’s also part of the charm. After another glass of wine we walked back to our apartment and went to sleep beaming after our first night in Paris.
Day 2: 7th arrondissement
Take the metro to the Champs des Mars to see the Eiffel Tower. Depending on the line (it’s always long), you can decided whether or not you can brave it to the top. Just know that you really get the best sense of the tower from the bottom. After all, when you’re on top of the Eiffel, you miss the point of actually SEEING the Eiffel Tower, and instead have a view out onto the city. There are much better places to get an entire view of the city, in my opinion, so save the time by not waiting in line.
From there, make your way to a lunch spot in the 7th. We went to Chez l’Ami Jean for lunch. One of the best parts of lunch was watching the chef, Stéphane Jego, meticulously arrange food on the plates before being picked up by the waiters. The lunch was definitely pricey (get used to that) but super filling and good. Next time I would order one or two dishes a la carte rather than the prix fixe simply because it’s too much food. We worked off our plates of fish, wild boar, and rice pudding by walking over to Les Invalides to see Napoleon’s tomb. Admittedly, I have a weird thing for Napoleon after reading the Josephine Bonaparte trilogy by Sandra Gulland, which is a great series to read before your trip. (What’s up with my obsession with 19th century composers and emperors??). After that, head over to the Musée d’Orsay and plan to spend about two hours looking at amazing art by Van Gogh, Monet, Cezanne, and my new favorite, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.
Side note: We also walked over to the french department store Le Bon Marche and it’s food counterpart, La Grand Epicerie, but I don’t think I would do it again. I’d much rather go into a small boutique or a charcuterie for speciality food items.
After walking all the way back to our apartment, we went back to put our feet up and rest for La Nuit Blanche. We had 7:30 reservations at Le Chateaubriand, one of those talked-about, blogged-about restaurants that we were super excited to eat at. This was one of two meals we didn’t think lived up to the hype. While two of the dishes had amazing flavors (octopus in squid ink and tuna with raspberries) every plate of the 5-course menu was smaller-than-tapas-sized, and each piece of protein was no larger than an inch. I was starving after, and ended up eating a Falafel sandwich 3 hours later..
We had a nightcap at Le Chateaubriand’s next-door wine bar, Le Dauphin, and then made our way back to the Hotel de Ville to see the Nuit Blanche festivities. After countless glasses of wine and a way too sugary Caipirinha at a hilarious gay bar that had pictures of SpongeBob SquarePants as a giant penis, we finished the night at our would-be “Cheers,” Cafe Martini.
Day 3: 4th, 10th, 11th
You know those anti-drug commercials where the kid says “I learned it from watching you, Dad!”? Well, don’t learn from me on how to do a proper Sunday. A combination of too much wine, Nuit Blanche, and jet lag meant we weren’t out of bed until 11 a.m. That late start and the fact that I forgot to check what time the markets close meant I missed out on seeing two of main things I wanted to see in Paris: the food market, Marche Bastille, and the flea market at Porte de Vanves. Something to look forward to, right? Don’t be like me and plan on hitting both of these at some point. (Marche Bastille is open Thursdays and Sundays, and the flea market is open Saturday to Monday 6:30am to 4:30pm.)
What we did get to see on Sunday, however, was great. In the morning we ate our baguette and got our coffee à emporter (to go) and walked over to Il St. Louis to see the bird market. The hubs had to do everything he could to stop me from buying one of the bunnies at this market, which had a handful in addition to hundreds of beautiful birds.
From there we took a not too expensive cab ride up to Cimetière du Père Lachaise to see the graves of Oscar Wilde and Edith Piaf. Yes, Jim Morrison is buried there as well (and of course you have to see it), but Oscar Wilde’s grave is the biggest treat by far.
Next, we headed over to Canal St. Martin, which is a fun and grungy area in the 10th. Grab a spot on the canal wall and people watch. La Verre Vole is a great choice for dinner (and ranks up there on Mark Bittman’s Paris Favorites list, something we referred to several times for good eats). After dinner, grab a drink at Hotel Du Nord , or a fun dive bar called Le Cinquante. We were there on the early side, but I heard the real fun starts after 8. Your other option if you don’t want to stick around Canal St. Martin all night? If you went to the food market early on, plan on making dinner in, or having dinner along the Seine (more on that, below).
Day 4: 1st, 18th
Get your museum on. A lot of the museums are closed on Tuesdays, so this is a great day to hit up places like the Louvre and Musee de l’Orangerie. I highly recommend the Musee de l’Orangerie, which is famous for the 8 water lilies murals by Monet (they are really spectacular).
I know this sounds crazy, but unless you’re a die-hard art fan who just has to see it, skip the Louvre. I know, I know, how can you go to Paris and not see the Louvre? Well, consider this: It’s hot. It’s crowded. And it’s overwhelming. That’s just not how I want to see art. I also have an attention span for art of about two hours. After that, I see nothing but walls. I’ve been to the Louvre three times now, and I just don’t see anything redeeming about it. I do really love the outside, so I think it’s worth a visit just for that , but otherwise I’d rather go see the Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature or explore another neighborhood. But if you have to go see it, make a plan of attack. We headed straight for the Mona Lisa, than Venus de Milo, than Winged Victory, than Napoleon III’s apartments. Then we were out of there.
After the museums, take a train up to Montmartre. Again, this got taken off our list, but if you have time and want to see the Sacre Coeur, plan on going up around 3 so you can see the sights and then still be up there in time for sunset. We opted on this day to see our Paris sunset from the top of the Centre Pompidou at the Georges Restaurant. You buy a ticket for the panaroma view ( €3) and then have a drink outside until the sunset (around 7:30 p.m. when we were there, so plan accordingly). The drinks are pricey, but the view is amazing.
After our sunset toast, we picked up some flowers and cheese for the apartment, and headed over to Café des Musées in our neighborhood for dinner, which was fun and great.
Day 5: 13th, 14th, 5th, 6th
Wake up earlyish and take the metro down to Denfert-Rochereau stop to see the catacombs, a series of underground tunnels that house the bones of over 6 million Parisians. It’s gothic and pretty interesting, and fun to be in the tunnels that inspired Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables.
Walk through the area of Montparnasse, stopping for a coffee at one of the cafe’s. We found our way to an amazing restaurant called L’Ourcine for lunch, which was one of our “top three.” We had a wild duck that was seriously one of the best things we’ve ever eaten.
After filling our bellies with all the deliciousness that was L’Ourcine, we made our way to the Jardin du Luxembourg and found a place to relax overlooking the Luxembourg Palace.
The chairs in this park (and all Paris parks) are awesome for napping. We grabbed two recliners and two regular chairs, propped our feet up, and dozed off in the sun. This is seriously the beauty of hanging out in one city for a week…time for naps after long lunches!
We made our way to the Latin Quarter from the park, and wandered through the cobblestone streets, checking out random sites (such as Paris’ narrowest building), old writer haunts, and of course Shakespeare and Company, which I loved.
Chances are, you’re looking for a light dinner at this point. Two great options are oysters, or a picnic dinner on the Seine (both of which I recommend you do at some point). We squeezed in an oyster snack one day at Huîtrerie Régis, and had the most delicious and fresh-tasting oysters I’ve ever eaten in my life. For 22 euros you get a dozen oysters, a glass of Sancerre, and a coffee. Prepare to wait awhile (for a seat and everything else…the place is tiny), but also prepare your tastebuds for awesomeness. Depending on your area, there are several great oyster places in the city.
One night, the hubs’ planned a romantic dinner on the Seine, and it was our favorite night in the city. I can’t recommend enough that you do this. We kept it simple with sardines (they are so much more delicious–and big!–over there), a baguette, brie, and a bottle of wine we bought at the store near our apartment.
We found a great spot to picnic overlooking the Notre Dame, and luckily right underneath a bridge (Pont au Double) where an accordion player was. One of my favorite things in Paris was seeing all the locals picnicking by candlelight on the banks of the Seine.
Day 6: 1st, 8th
Plan on exploring the area of Les Halles and the Champs-Elysees today (starting with Les Halles). Make sure you see the Jardin du Palais Royal, the Palais Garnier (which the Phantom of the Opera haunts…more on this below), the Arc de Triomphe, and any shops that interest you. We stopped at Faucon, G. Detou, and Maille, where we bought some amazing mustard. I had no idea that mustard in France was so much spicier than it is here. If I can compare it to anything, it would have to be wasabi. It’s unreal and delicious. At Maille you can buy a pot of mustard and keep bringing it in to get it refilled. There are special mustards on tap, such as the Vin Blanc, which we bought. Somehow it managed to come back safely in my suitcase, despite my conviction that I would come home to a bag full of mustard.
When you’re hungry, there are a lot of great places to eat/drink around Les Halles, such as Aux Tonneaux des Halles.
Try to time it so you’ll be finished in the Champs-Elysées (8th arr.) area by 7. Keep in mind there’s not a whole lot to see in the area (the avenue is touristy), so unless you have specific shops you want to see, focus on the Arc de Triomphe and the best view of the Eiffel Tower, which is from the Jardins de Trocadero.
For a great view of the city at night, hop on a Seine river cruise (just the cruise, not dinner). Check the schedules, but we did a 7:45 Bateaux Mouches cruise that left from Pont D’Alma in the 8th. The timing was perfect because just as you board the boat, the Eiffel Tower starts its light show (which takes places on the hour after dark and lasts several minutes until midnight or so). The cruise lasts 1 hour 15 minutes, and if the weather is good, it’s just a fun thing to do. The cruise ends at the same spot you picked it up, so plan on hopping on the metro that’s right there (Alma-Marceau stop) and going back to St. Germain or the Marais for dinner and drinks. If going to the Marais, we LOVED a bar called L’Art Brut in the 3rd. We had a charcuterie plate there one early evening that was so good I’m still drooling about it.
Plan on getting to the Notre Dame before it opens (10 a.m.) so you can avoid the lines if you want to climb to the top. After that, use this day to see anything you’ve missed that is on your “must do” list. For us, one of my must-do’s was lunch at Le Comptoir du Relais. Dinner at this restaurant is next to impossible to get a reservation for unless you’re staying at the hotel, Relais Saint-Germain. But lunch is on a first-come first-served basis, and was so delicious I can’t imagine dinner being any better!
There are notoriously long lines for lunch, so we showed up at 11:45, which is 15 minutes before it opens. There were already 4 couples ahead of us, which wasn’t bad. As soon as they opened they started seating us, and we got a great table inside next to the bar. There’s no prix fixe so you order everything a la carte. We split an order of escargots, which (I know I sound like a broken record) were the most amazing we’ve ever had. An order of oeufs mayonnaise, two delicious main courses, and two glasses of wine later, and we had another “best meal ever.”
For our last night, we had bought tickets to a ballet at Palais Garnier. The building is stunningly beautiful, and it’s just fun to get dressed up and see a performance. However, I baby-necked through the entire performance, so I think *I think* I’m more cultural than I am. So, we skipped out early (terrible, I know), cancelled our fancier dinner reservations, went home and changed into jeans, and headed out to a fun neighborhood spot called Chez Janou. We got a bottle of wine, an order of steak (with mustard!), and reminisced about the amazing trip we had just had.
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