Paris – the most romantic city in the world, with its grand boulevards, exquisite museums and imposing monuments – will leave you reeling. Step away from these areas however, and you’ll soon discover something altogether different. Local markets, boutique shops and artisan cafes scattered across different areas form a patchwork of village-like neighborhoods, each with their own set of characteristics never failing to charm and seduce. You might not have enough time to fall in love here but it only takes a day to fall for Paris…
Here is my quick fire guide to your perfect 3 days in the city of light (Skip to the bottom for my walking tour itineraries).
For a city in which the historical centre alone is subdivided into 20 arrondissements (districts), where to sleep can be difficult to judge for first timers. For simplicity I have grouped the ‘main’ districts into 5 broad areas, then listed a few recommendations in each.
(For a better idea of where each individual district is in relation to one another please follow this link: http://goo.gl/maps/nEvvZ)
To stay in the glitzy area surrounding the Champs Elysees (8th arrondissement), housing some of the most extravagant boulevards in central Paris, comes with a hefty price tag. A great place if you’re one of the world’s wealthy elite otherwise I wouldn’t be surprised if you end up peering through a fist sized hole in your wallet. Should you absolutely feel the need to replicate Carrie Bradshaw, check out 5 star Hotel Fouquet’s Barriere (http://www.lucienbarriere.com/en/luxury-hotel/Paris-Hotel-Fouquets-Barriere/home.html) or equally extravagant Hotel Plaza Athenee (http://www.dorchestercollection.com/en/paris/hotel-plaza-athenee).
A little more sensible in terms of location, if not cost, is the Right Bank area stretching from the Louvre and Les Halles to Le Marais (1st 2nd 3rd and 4th arrondissements). Covering the vast majority of must-see items for most tourists, its location is second to none. In particular the area of Le Marais, wedged between Les Halles to the West and Bastille to the East, offers a tad more in terms of affordability with easy access to most major sites and some of the more ‘authentic’ neigbourhoods. Check out the charming Hotel Caron de Beauarchais (http://www.carondebeaumarchais.com) or more affordable option, Hotel Jeanne d’Arc (http://hoteljeannedarc.com).
Further East the areas of Oberkampf and Bastille (11th & 12th arrondissements) are some of my favorite. A little scruffier around the edges, Oberkampft is a great spot with plenty of nightlife, while Bastille offers an authentic taste of everyday life for Parisians with a vibrant restaurant scene to boot. Check out the stylish and highly rated Hotel Fabric (http://www.hotelfabric.com/en/), or budget option Alfa Hotel (http://www.alfahotel.fr).
The Opera district and Montmartre in Northern Paris (9th, 10th and 18th arrondissements), not far from the main tourist attracts to the South, are equally lively. Montmarte in particular offers a massive amount of different accommodation to choose from with some fantastic views across Paris. Just be mindful when strolling some of the less touristy side streets – especially at night! For a great deal try to nab one of the Loft Paris apartments (http://www.loft-paris.fr/en/), otherwise Au sourire de Montamartre is a beautifully appointed B&B (http://www.sourire-de-montmartre.com). Budget travelers should consider Le Village Hostel (http://www.villagehostel.fr).
The Left Bank area stretching from the Eiffel Tower and St-Germain through the Latin Quarter (5th, 6th & 7th arrondissements) also has a great deal to offer. The 7th district around the Eiffel Tower, being the most expensive, is stunning, however not necessarily the best area for nightlife. St-German is another gorgeous area and second only to the Right Bank in terms of location. The Latin Quarter is student central, full of chic bars and wonderful eateries. Have a look at the highly rated Hotel Le Six (http://www.hotel-le-six.com/en/) or the beautiful Un Ciel a Paris B&B (http://www.uncielaparis.fr).
There are, of course, plenty of other options to choose from depending on what you plan to see and do. As always, if you’re particularly time challenged, the more central the better. My recommendation would be to choose a district that suits your particular taste and sightseeing goals first, then look for accommodation to suit your budget. Cross check what you find on some of the well-known travel review websites.
Few cities are as ripe for walking as Paris and exploring the various markets, boulevards, shops and sites of each individual arrondissements should absolutely, where possible, be done à pied (on foot). Given the size of Paris, however, and the distance between some of the major sites, to get between your desired areas of exploration, do as a local and take advantage of the metro.
Easily the most efficient way to get around, the metro has a vast network (19 lines) with stations all over the historic centre. Tickets can be bought individually or as a carnet (book of 10) while a Mobilis card allows unlimited travel for the day. Those who visit regularly or here for greater than a few days should consider getting a Navigo pass (www.navigo.fr), which works much like London’s Oyster or Hong Kong’s Octopus card.
Regular bus services provide another fun alternative that allows you to take in the sights between destinations. Traffic can, however, make it very frustrating, especially during rush hour and not recommended for those with little time to spare. For the same reason, but add to that the hassle of navigation and parking, I wouldn’t advise driving. (For more information on the metro, RER and bus systems visit www.rapt.fr.)
A fun alternative to all of the above, if feeling adventurous, would be to take advantage of the city’s bike share scheme Velib’ (http://en.velib.paris.fr). With 1800 stations scattered across the city, bikes are accessible around the clock. Traveler’s Tip – be sure to park your bike at a station within 30 minute intervals to escape additional charges. You won’t be charged when you take a new one.
A final option would be to take the Batobus (http://www.batobus.com). A hop on, hop off boat that goes up and down the river Seine stopping off at 8 major stations (tourist attractions) along the way.
If a city were rated by the number of Michelin stars most would probably guess Paris to sit top. Actually third world wide (Kyoto and Tokyo hold 1st and 2nd spot respectively), few cities can match the gastronomic flare held in the capital. From the 3 star grands restaurants, brasseries and bistros to the simple boulangeries, patisseries and cafes in between, you’re sure to eat well. The only questions remaining are what and where?
Below is my limited attempt at trying to answer those for you. I have outlined various recommendations under different categories and tried to tie a few of these into my walking tour itineraries at the bottom.
FRENCH FINE DINING (Gastronomic and Brasserie style restaurants): – let’s start with the top end gastronomic chew-your-arm-off expensive options. Triple star restaurants L’Astrance and Epicure, and two star Le Clinq are all culinary experiences worth their weight in gold (with which you will have to pay for). Yam T’cha run by Adeline Grattard earned herself a star by fusing both French and Asian flavors – also very well received. Other high-end and very popular brasseries include L’Atelier Rodier, FL Restaurant and Le Boudoir. I should stress some of these restaurants are once-in-a-lifetime for many so do your homework and book months in advance!
POPULAR FRENCH BISTROS (A little less high end – more traditional French food. Also some ‘new-wave’ bistros that serve less traditional but very exciting modern French fare): – For traditional French food Chez Toinette is one of my personal favorites as is Le Hide. Les Rillettes is also very well received specializing in Parisian style hamburgers and desserts. Meat lovers should check out Marguerite while seafood lovers should check out Le Suffren or Le Dome. Other great bistros on an inexhaustible list include Au Petit Sud Ouest, Frenchie, La Canaille, Les Papilles, L’Ange 20 Restaurant, Le Mere Michele and Le Petite Rose des Sables. I could go on…
WINE BARS (sometimes only cheese is served – other times a full kitchen with a talented chef running the show – focus is on wine tasting): – Cheese lovers should stop by highly rated L’Affineur Affine. L’Avant Comptoir is another great wine bar serving wonderful French style tapas. Le Cabinet de Sa Majeste is an excellent bar/restaurant while nearby Le Verre Vole is also very popular. Also worth checking out are Le Zinc des Cavistes, Taverne Henri IV or Le Quincave. Once again…
BOULANGARIES AND PATISSERIES (Bakeries and Pastry shops): – First up Ble Sucre is a fabulous bakery worth trekking across town for, as is Du Pains et Des Idees. Other great bakeries include Boulangarie Poilane, Le Coquelicot and Le Grenier a Pain. For the best patisseries have a look out for La Patisserie des Reves, Laduree or Pierre Herme. Also worth noting is Bertie’s Cup Cakery while Odette Paris is dedicated to perfecting the cream puff! For something a little different seek out Urfa Durum for some delicious quality Kurdish rolled sandwiches.
CREPERIES (Crepes (like a pancake) – FYI a galette is a savoury version of a crepe): – Two of my favourite creperies, located a stone’s throw from one another, are Galette Café and Little Breich. In the nearby Latin Quarter Au P’tit Grec is a creperie specializing in Greek style galettes and crepes. If you’re in the area you should also consider the highly rated Chez Imogene and popular Creperie Pen ty.
MARCHES (Markets): – As a market lover you won’t be disappointed in Paris. Check out personal favorite Marche aux Enfants Rouge (Traveler’s tip – try to grab a bite from the Moroccan food stall)! Other popular markets include Marche Bastille and Marche Rue Mouffetard. Also worth a peek is Le Grande E’picerie de Paris food hall.
CAFES (Cafes): – For some of the best both Malongo and La Cafeotheque rate highly amongst coffee connoisseurs. Those looking to combine some great coffee with brunch should head to Café Strada, Le Café qui parle or, already mentioned, Le Coquelicot. Angelina does some heavenly chocolate chaud (hot chocolates).
To be honest the list of truly great eating experiences in Paris is inexhaustible and I could go on and on. Cross check these and any other recommendations online to make sure you’re getting the absolute best from the capital of food. I’m sure I don’t need to remind you to book well (in some cases months!) in advance.
Most first-timers to Paris are well aware of what it is they want to see long before they pick up a guidebook and I’m sure my list will contain few surprises. Having said that, my suggestions don’t necessarily conform to the standard way in which you should see these places, nor do I believe, for example, you should spend all day queuing in line to see the Mona Lisa. Your time here (dare I say it) can be better spent! Below is a list of my top-sights with a number of alternative tips for the time-strapped traveler…
Visible from almost everywhere the Eiffel Tower easily affords the best views across Paris. To avoid the massive line ups during peak season be sure to book your tickets online (www.tour-eiffel.fr). Alternatively you can climb up the Southern leg or simply admire it from the ground with a bottle of wine and some cheese should it be a nice enough outside.
For Museums the list is long. The Louvre, considered one of the best worldwide, houses a monumental collection including that painting by that artist. To truly do this place justice you probably need a full day if not a week! If your time-limited you could do as most tourists – find Leonardo’s Mona Lisa then leave. Personally, if I didn’t have enough time, I would save it for another trip and spend two hours across the Seine checking out the stunning Musee d’Orsay instead.
Another great option for those short on time would be to visit Monet’s magnificent water lilies housed in Musee de l’Orangerie. Other museums you might consider include Musee Robin (think sculptures and gardens), Musee National du Moyen Age (beautiful medieval building and Roman baths) and the Centre Pompidou (contemporary art and cultural centre). The Grand Palais (Art Gallery) and Petit Palais (Art Museum) are both architectural gems also worth visiting.
While the Eiffel Tower is perhaps more iconic, the Notre Dame is where the real heart of town lay. In the middle of the Seine a stop should be made here if only to admire this beautiful cathedral from outside. While entry is free, during peak season you may find yourself waiting in line for some time. If you can’t afford the wait, take your picture- perfect snapshot then check out the nearby Ste-Chapelle for it’s beautiful stained glass windows.
The pristine white domes of Sacre-Coeur in Montmartre will also be on the list for many first-timers to Paris. Entry is free and usually without the (massive) queues found to get inside the Notre Dame. The views across Paris are worth the trek up here alone! Nearby a large number of fantastic bistros, cafes and bars surround – not to mention the fabled Moulin Rouge!
Also great for views the magnificent Arc de Triomphe is another must do. A stroll down the Champs-Elysees and glitzy neighbourhoods contained within the Triangle d-Or will (and should) inevitably ensue.
Like any great walking city Paris has an abundance of green areas worth the time taken to go explore. The Jardin du Luxemburg in particular is a gorgeous park and wonderful location for a bit of people watching. Also worth exploring is the Cimetiere du Pere Lachaise – 48 hectares of parkland housing some beautiful tombstones, includes the resting places of many famous people such as the Irish playwright Oscar Wilde.
Once again I could go on about what to see here in Paris but if you only have a few days I would stick to those outlined above saving some time for a number of activities outlined below. As always I recommend you do your research and, where possible, book tickets online beforehand so you can best manage your time. I have tried to include (most of) these in my 3-day walking tour itineraries at the bottom.
Below is list of things to keep you occupied if you somehow run out of things to see.
Paris is a city full of artistic talent. Whether it comes to singing, dancing, performing or otherwise you should try to catch some sort of SHOW whilst here. The opera houses of Palais Garnier or Opera Bastille are good places to start. If that’s not for you head to the Essaion Theatre for a truly special performance by Caroline Nin singing Edith Piaf classics. For comedy check out Le Point Virgule otherwise the Theatre des Nouveautes is doing a very popular comedy show at the moment entitled ‘How to become a Parisian in one hour?’ For cabaret La Nouvelle Eve is well received while Moulin Rouge is the most famous. Live music aficionados can choose from an inexhaustible number of venues including popular jazz bars Le Caveau de la Huchette and Le Caveau des Oublittes.
For NIGHTLIFE the choice of poison is typically, you guessed it, wine – please refer to my list of wine bars above. Aside from these the number of Live music venues, not to mention popular clubs and bars, are bountiful. Considered one of the best in town (at this time of writing) Candelera is a chic cocktail bar (behind a small mexican restaurant with the same name). Other great bars and clubs include Zelda, Inside bar, Bob Cool, QG bar and Maria Loca to name but a few…
For TOURS you trip wouldn’t be complete without some sort of wine tasting. For those wishing to go a little further, consider leaving Paris for the day by taking one of the very popular wine day tours (http://www.wine-day-tours.com). Alternatively Millesiwine does some fantasitic educational tastings (with dinner if you prefer) within Paris itself (http://www.millesiwine.com). Foodies should take one of the highly rated Culinary Tours of Paris, where exploring your neighbourhood of choice is combined with eating… a lot (http://www.culinarytoursofparis.com)! Those wishing to learn how to cook like the best can choose to take a class. Cook’n With Class is one of the best (http://www.cooknwithclass.com). Other great tours include Blue Bike Tours (http://www.bluebiketours-paris.com), or for those less inclined to cycling there a number of great walking tour companies to choose from (http://www.sightseekersdelight.com).
Other activities I haven’t mentioned include the cinema, amusement parks, sports and of course, shopping. Have a look online to make sure, what you ever you choose to do, you choose the best. I hope this article provides some good inspiration at the very least. – Below is a 3 day walking tour itinerary packing in the majority of major sites and activities to leave you fat, full and satisfied no matter how short your layover. Bon Voyage!
LAYOVER ESCAPADES 72 HOUR ITINERARY
Day 1 – The glitz and glamour…
Le Petit Dejeuner – Grad some breakfast along Rue Cler (A) or exit the metro at Le Motte Picquet Grenelle and stop by the wonderful bistro Le Suffren. Alternatively have a picnic in the Parc du Champ Mars before making your way to the Eiffel Tower (B).
Eiffel Tower – Make your way to the top or simply admire it from the ground if the wait is too costly. For lunch consider eating in the Eiffel tower at 58 Tour Effiel or save if for after. Other lunch options in the area include Au Petit Sud Ouest, FL restauarnt, Firmin Le Barbier or across the Seine, triple star L’Astrance.
Trocadero to the Arc de Triomphe – From the Eiffel Tower walk across the Siene to Trocadero. Turn around at the top of to marvel at the iron clad marvel once more before taking 3 stops on the metro getting out at Charle de Gaulle-Etoile. Follow the signs to the stairs on the northern side of the Champs-Elysees that lead you to the Arc de Triomphe (C). Purchase a ticket from the underground passage before scaling the 284 steps to the top of the arc for some more magnificent views. If you haven’t had lunch yet, or still feeling peckish, seek out nearby Le Hide (D) for some fantastic traditional French food.
Avenue des Champs-Elysees and the Triangle D’or – Make your way down the city’s most famous boulevard. Feel free to stroll the surrounding super classy Triangle D’or but make sure you stop by Laduree (E) for some heavenly macaroons and a chocolate chaud.
Pont Alexandre III and Musee de L’Orangerie – Continue down the Champs-Elysees till you reach Avenue Winston Churchill then hook a right. Admire the Grand Palais and Petit Palais before crossing the stunning Pont Alexandre III Bridge (F). Finish up the afternoon marvelling at Monet’s Water Lillies in the Musee de l’Orangerie (G) or across the Seine in the Musee d’Orsay.
Le Marais and Oberkampf – Grab some dinner then drinks in the gorgeous Le Marais area or hipster Oberkampf to top off the perfect 24 hours in the city of light. For dinner some choices include L’Ange 20 Restuarant, Frenchie and Le Dome, or in nearby Oberkampf, Le Petite Rose des Sables and Le Cabinet de sa Magjeste.
Day 2 – From left to right…
The Louvre or Musee d’Orsay – Start your second day with a stroll through the Jardin des Tuileres followed by a couple of hours in either the Louvre or the Musee d’Orsay (A). I leave the choice up to you. Make sure you grab a crepe (or galette) at either Galette Cafe (B) or Little Breizh once you’re done.
Pierre Herme and the Jardin du Luxembourg – Follow up your feed with something sweet at Pierre Herme (C) just off Place Saint Sulpice. Continue south from here till you enter the Jardin du Luxembourg (D).
The Islands – After a good stroll around the Jardin du Luxembourg head back north. Stop for a pick-me-up at Malongo before crossing onto Ile de la Cite. First up marvel at the beautiful stained glass windows of Ste-Chapelle (E) before qeueing inline to explore the majestic Notre Dame (F). Afterwards head across to Ile Saint Louis grabbing a famous Berthillon (G) ice cream before heading either south or north to finish your second day.
Le Marais or the Latin quarter – If you decide to walk north spend the afternoon exploring the bars, restaurants, cafes and shops of Le Marais. Consider exploring the unusual Centre Pompidou (H) (Traveler’s tip – there is a great viewing platform up top) before grabbing some dinner and drinks (see options from day 1). If you decide to head south from the Ile Saint Louis spend the rest of your day exploring the lively Latin Quarter. Dinner options include Pouic Pouic, Les Papilles or L’Avant Comptoir. Check out some live jazz at either Le Caveau de la Huchette and Le Caveau des Oublittes.
Day 3 – Bastille to Montmartre…
Marche Bastille or Pere Lachaise – Begin day 3 with a wonderful pastry or two from Ble Sucre (A) in Bastille. Follow this with a stroll around the cobbled lanes of Cimetiere du Pere Lachaise (B). Alternatively spend an hour or so fondling the fruit and veg at Marche Bastille (Check first to see if it’s open).
Marche aux Enfants Rouge and the Canal Saint Martin – Next up grab some lunch from one of the many wonderful food stalls at the Marche aux Enfants Rouge (C). Walk or grab the metro then spend the early afternoon around the Canal Saint Martin area. Stop by the beautiful Du Pains et Des Idees (D) for a little something and if you have room try one of the wonderful rolled sandwiches from Urfa Durum (E).
Montmartre – Take the metro once more before exploring the artsy Montmartre. Explore the stunning Sacre-Coeur (F) before watching the sun set over Paris. Get lost amongst the bars in Montmartre before grabbing dinner at Chez Toinette (G). Catch a show at either La Nouvelle Eve or Moulin Rouge. Alternatively (or after) head back down the clubs of Canal Saint Martin and Oberkampf to see out your final evening in the city of light.