It was the evening before Tim’s birthday and I had managed to keep the trip a complete surprise from him, all he knew was that we had a very early start the next morning and he needed to pack some overnight gear. Even on the tube at 5.30am he still didn’t know where we were headed, but I felt like I should tell him before we got to St Pancras.
The journey is such a dream on the train, minimal security, arrival 45 minutes before departure, no baggage allowance and straight into the centre of Paris.
When we landed I did have him warned but we got straight on with the sightseeing! We picked up our amazing Paris Passes (more about this at the end) from the station, and we walked around to the Sacre Coeur. What a sight! The wak up to the top was slightly strenuous if not short lived, but the view from the top was amazing. Inside, the mosaics and religious artefacts are beautiful, and it’s serene, but there is a distinct lack of something- or should we say je ne sais quois – about it, it doesn’t feel as powerful as some of the other churches we’ve visited on our travels. People do mention the ladies and gentlemen that will try their hardest to get your money – through flowers, putting bracelets on your wrist without you asking for them, or offering to take your photo for you – just be aware, not scared; we weren’t troubled by it at all.
From there it was just a short walk around the corner to the Dali museum. Tim has become a HUGE Dali fan since we visited the Dali/Duchamp exhibition so we planned the museum into our day. It’s not in the Paris pass but if you’re under 30 or a student you get a reduced ticket but it is so worth it. The statues, drawings and stories are great, and for a small museum they have a lot of works, it’s a great find hidden away in the hills of Paris!
A short metro ride later (information on travel at the end) we went to somewhere that neither of us had heard of, and didn’t realise the fuss until we got upstairs at Sainte- Chappelle. Using our Paris Passes to get in free and avoid the queues we used the free guides to look at the beautiful stained glass windows on the bottom floor, where we thought we were done. Then we went upstairs and were overwhelmed by the sight of the huge stained glass panel, it’s depictions of the stories of the Bible and the incredible detail in the panels.
Five minutes away in the heart of the Marais is a big, normal department store (BHV) where on the 5th floor you can find somewhere that was recommended to us by locals, by a chef and friends – Big Fernand. Typical American style burgers but so well put together in such a great way, and beer or wine; and coca-cola in glass bottles. It was the perfect inexpensive refuel pit stop for us to continue our adventures.
So, we knew it was going to rain, we just weren’t expecting the absolute torrential downpour we got caught in. So as we were all of five minutes away, we took refuge in the grand insides of the Notre Dame. Still a working Cathedral, it is pretty epic, very similar to Westminster Abbey if you have ever been there – but the History boffins among you will be able to work out how and why that is. With spectacular timing, we had our appointment to visit the towers. It is something you need to book in advance – you download the queue jump app and book when you want to go – but this doesn’t guarantee immediate entry – you still need to wait in line to get in, it just lets you into the line! It’s also include in the Paris Museum Pass and is SO worth going up. It’s quite a walk but the views and bits you can experience up there. It’s not the easiest attraction of you’re s ared of heights, but if you have a fear that you can push through you should go up! Experience the bells ringing and the views, experience the silly signs about graffiti and imagine Quasimodo and Esmarelda are below you, oh and don’t forget if you love souvenirs then you only get one chance to buy them – on the way up!
After the towers, and finding somewhere to wash our hands (turns out rain water and rusty hand railings don’t make for clean hands), we met up with Laurent. Laurent is in our extended family, and is the most intelligent, kindest man we have met on our travels. I know we rave about other free walking tours you can do in other cities, but that’s only if you have 3-4 hours to spare, which we did but with Laurent it was tailored to our loves. From hearing stories about where Sweeney Todd actually happened, to pointing out nuances from arrogant architects, the street designs and the Revolution, we had the best time learning about Paris with him. If you’re ever there you should do one – he can be found at Paris Historic Walks on Facebook
Because we didn’t want to leave Laurent’s company, he took us to a bar he knew we would like, and he wasn’t wrong! La Belle Hortense is the bibliophile’s dream, a cafe and wine bar in the the middle of a book shop, it’s perfect! The wine was excellent and the company was even better!
After we left Laurent, we knew that it was late opening at the Louvre as it was a Wednesday (well-timed or what!). If you get a chance to go of an evening rather than in the day when it is hugely busier, we would totally recommend it. What a magnificent museum. Firstly the architecture is simply stunning. There have been three main periods of building it and seeing it all mashed together, looking both completely normal and totally out of place at the same time is fabulous. The symbolism of the triangles is fab and their new sculpture is mind blowing. It is so big, and there is such a vast expanse of stuff that you can in no way do, particularly in the time frame that we had, so we had a look at the catalogue and chose some must see things to do ( we’ll do a 7 things to see at the Louvre post we promise). We saw some amazing ceilings, some headless statues some giant paintings and a sultry woman amongst others, have a look at our pictures of our highlights!
After the art, we went for a meander, because there really is nothing quite like Paris in the night time (thanks Owen Wilson). Our walk took us to an area where we were going to try a lovely place recommended to us for being French, brilliant and cheap…although beautiful on the outside it turns out that it is now only 2/3 of the above and the price was slightly too far out of our price range.
We ended up instead at an amazing contemporary restaurant called Le Brun and one can only imagine it is named after Monsiuer Le Brun rather than ” The Brown”, but we’re English, what do we know! The dinner was fantastic, every plate was beautiful, tasty and really decent portion sized and the carafe of wine we had was delicious.
Weary, exhausted and looking forward to taking off our rucksacks, we had one last site to tick off. We got the metro from dinner, and walked up to the Moulin Rouge as it was not too far from our hotel. Ok, for real here, neither of us are nervous travellers, and we will happily wander around London daily, but there was something not so lovely about the area in the dark, so perhaps if you are slightly more nervous or alone…do it in the light. The area has a lot of…er….ladies of the night wondering around, and the Moulin Rouge itself has the amazing neon lights you would expect. However, to go in to the club and see a show is so expensive, there is so much else in Paris that we didn’t want to even dream of spending the money on it.
Fifteen minute walk away was our hotel: Hotel de Flore. New in nature and commodities, but in an old building, it was great! It was well priced (we’re cheap when it comes to lodgings as we are never there), really clean, had everything we could need, quiet, safe and welcoming. They even went out of their way to add some birthday decorations for Tim as they knew we were there to celebrate! Highly recommended, you should stay there if you can.
Our morning started with a walk (and metro ride) back to see the beautiful Eiffel Tower. We chose not to go up it on this trip as it isn’t included in the Paris Pass, and in our opinion is very beautiful so the fact that we did other tall things that were included in the pass. meant we got to see the beautiful sights of Paris from up high, and those views included the Eiffel Tower.
We have got to the point of travelling together where we both know how each other work, Tim needs coffee and I need regular small feeding to keep up my energy levels. For breakfast we headed to a cafe that has views of the Eiffel Tower, and has remained basically unchanged since 1927, Jess’ deco dream. At Carette we had coffee and hot chocolate, almond croissants and mini pastries (careful if you order this – they are not at all “mini”, they are ginormous), marveled at the interior decor and the rows of macarons and then went on our merry way.
Place de Trocadero, named after a battle in Spain, and built for the 1878 World Fair, but the most important part of it is the views of the Eiffel Tower. Placed just across the Seine from the tower, the views through the gardens to it are spectacular – in fact, you’ll catch many a wannabe Instagram star taking their Paris pics there! Watch out for the dudes selling tourist souvenirs, lovely bunch but do try hard.
From there we walked around to the Arc De Triompe and jumped straight to the front of the queue with our museum passes. The museum itself is very clever, detailing the history of Paris and the different designs that the Arc could have had, it’s uses and similar ones around the world. One of Tim’s highlights, the views, once again were expansive and beautiful!
From there we threw a curveball. Something I had read about in Timeout much earlier in the year: an immersive art exhibition where you are part of the installations. Not covered in the Paris Pass, you can say you’re a student or under 25 and it’s cheaper, but it is well worth it. A giant old factory room, warehouse sized, where you can watch 3 different shows of different works – we were IN Gustav Klimt paintings. Somewhat unnerving, it was incredibly calming, and you are not under any strict timing so you can stay for as long as you like and admire the excellently designed room, and the bar! It’s called Atelier des lumieres and it is worth the slight detour for.
We jumped on the metro back to right by Notre Dame and went to one of the amazing places that Laurent recommended, a Paris cafe for locals, Chez Camille. Steak and wine later, we went to get Tim a final birthday treat before our last stop of the trip. We went to Popelini, although it isn’t ‘typical’ French pastry, and is only slightly cheaper than Laduree, it is magnificent the little cakes you can get! We went for a few flavours, salted caramel, passionfruit and a few of the specials!
Our final stop on the trip was the Musee d’Orsay,Tim’s dad favourite museum, and another beautiful building, something Paris is not short of. Again, there is a lot to see there, so we picked a few favourite artists from the list and went to see the collections of them that the museum housed.
With a stop at the supermarket before the train home, we managed to stock up on lots of cheap wine and some train snacks, the beauty of the Eurostar!
Before we leave you, here’s a bit of extra detail on travel and the Paris Pass that we used!
Eurostar is the best way to go. Sure you might be able to find flights for 1/3 of the price, but realistically with baggage restrictions, check in time, security and the hassle of no liquids, and travel at both ends, the extra money is definitely worth it!
When you’re in Paris, if it is only for a short period of time, the best way to do the metro is to buy a carnet of tickets – obviously the more you buy the cheaper they are – so get a pack of 10 and use them all, make sure you remember whether you need one to get back to where you’re going though so you don’t run out! It’s about £1.50 per trip in the centre of Paris, which isn’t too bad, but make sure you check on City Mapper whether it is worth walking or metro!
There are a few official ones on offer. The more expensive one covers things like boat trips and other things, but the best thing we did was plan what we wanted to see, and add up the costs as unfortunately not much in Paris is free unlike London. The one we opted for was the €48 Paris Museum Pass which we used and made profit from, even though we had to pay extra for Dali and Atelier des Lumieres. Well worth it if you’re doing as much as us!
Let us know if you have been and if we missed something you love, or if you’re going and want help planning your trip, drop us an email or leave a comment and we’ll get back to you!
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