Opulent architecture, the aroma of freshly baked pastries and bread, and beautifully dressed people biking…….. ah, Paree (sp!), “un chocolat chaud et un croissant, s’il vous plait!”
- Monaco was super clean and manicured. I don’t really know what else to say about it as we only spent the day there walking around the city centre (we were only doing a day trip from Nice, which is also quite modern), and the train to get to Monaco was incredibly easy and cheap. Also, we passed by some beautiful seascape on the train ride between Nice and Monaco as both sit along the Côte d’Azur (French Riviera), and indeed the water was beautifully azure! We spent time walking around Nice and just chilled.
- Avignon itself was a pretty cute town – we tried some delicious, good quality pastries there. The train ticket from Avignon to Paris was pretty pricey though!
So you might be wondering why I didn’t just fly straight to Paris in the first place; well, first, I wanted to experience the long train rides in Europe (the TGV trains are great!) and second, I wanted to check Pont du Gard off my bucket list!!!!
Haha, yes I know you’re probably like “uh… it’s just an aqueduct, Jen”, and oh, I know. But ever since that day I sat in my Classics class analysing and discussing the features of Pont du Gard, I have been blown away by the ingenuity of the Ancient Romans, and HAD to see this piece of work myself.
To get to Pont du Gard, we took a local bus from Avignon. And I was ecstatic when I finally saw the Pont du Gard! It’s just so surreal to see it sitting there in the middle of the forest. And not to quote Jean-Jacques Rosseau or anything, but he put it best when he said:
“.. The sight of this simple and noble work struck me all the more since it is in the middle of a wilderness where silence and solitude render the object more striking and the admiration more lively: for this so-called bridge was only an aqueduct.”
Ah, my inner Classics nerd was just so soooo happy.
I was truly in pastry heaven in Paris. I had freshly squeezed blood orange juice, croissants, and cereal baguettes with cream cheese and strawberries almost every day I stayed with my mum’s friend’s family. It was divine. After a few nights, we moved to our other family friend’s Parisian apartment, which we had all to ourselves! I was very fortunate to have both of these accommodations during my Spring and Winter trips as it allowed me to really live the Parisian lifestyle I’ve always dreamed of, and also spend a much longer time than I would otherwise have had in Paris!
The things that are always on everyone’s hit list (i.e. the classics, and for good reason too!):
- Eiffel Tower – obviously. You know how sometimes something so famous could be totally underwhelming when you see it in person? Well, France’s world-famous cultural icon was neither underwhelming nor was it overdone. This beautiful piece of wrought iron lattice tower sits purposefully at one end of Champ des Mars, and is also flanked by Jardins du Trocadéro across the Seine.
- TIP: See it from all the angles – from across the Seine, the view from Trocadero gives you that whole landscape view of the Eiffel Tower – take some fun snaps here and walk up to the breathtaking structure. After you climb the tower (you can walk up as well for a slightly cheaper price but this only takes you to the 2nd deck), take in the view of all of Paris! It was also great to take the lift as the view from the third deck is pretty great! Learn about the history of the structure when you’re up there as well as all the tidbit facts about this oh-so-famous landmark. When you pop down, stroll around Champ de Mars – you can gain a whole new perspective of the Eiffel Tower from this bit of beautifully manicured green space. Honestly, from any angle, the tower will look pretty damn fine. And did I also mention that the Eiffel Tower lit up is absolutely exquisite?! I would really recommend going up the Eiffel just before dusk, watch the sun set on Paris and the tower luxuriously sparkle while you’re up there!
- Food: I got a delicious vegetarian crepe from a place right by the Eiffel. (Check out my other blog post for my favourite food places in Paris.)
- Château de Versailles (Palace of Versailles) – if you’re heading out to Versailles, be warned, the queues are preeeettttty long. Even if you buy your tickets online ahead of time, you STILL have to wait in line! I think we waited for almost an hour before we got in! That being said, I would still recommend getting your tickets online because otherwise you might have to wait even longer… TIP: To really appreciate the palace, not just for its gradeur and opulent interior decoration, I would highly recommend using the audio guide which tells you about the history of the palace! My favourite place was the Queen’s chamber and the Hall of Mirrors. You can also wander around in the gardens too!
- Champ d’Elysees and Arc de Triomphe – I love that architecture and monuments are really given its full glory in France; one quite obvious example of this great ode is with the Arc de Triomphe, which sits at the centre of a dodecagonal configuration of twelve radiating avenues – one of which is Champ d’Elysees. Along with great history, you can just watch Parisian traffic fly by in this area. TIP: Note there is a little wee island strip on Champ d’Elysees where you can stand in the middle of traffic and take that instagram pic!
- Walk: Of course, you should also stroll down Champ d’Elysees – known for being littered (albeit in a beautiful way, of course) brand name stores. But more importantly…
- Food: Stop by at Ladurée for some delicious and oh-so-chic french pastries, macarons, and delicatessen – to go, or better yet (maybe do both even!), park yourselves down and really enjoy this gorgeous cafe like you know how your inner Marie Antoinette would love to. (I go into a lot more detail on my favourite patisserie and boulangerie in my Parisian food trail blog post!)
- Lourve – la la Lourve. Holy moly. An art museum like no other. There is just too much to see here (maybe way too much…) But honestly, this massive complex (which is an art in itself) houses some of the most important historical works of art – and it will truly knock you off your feet. How can you not feel inspired wandering through the Lourve’s hallways?! TIP: I would highly highly recommend the audio guide, which is really great! Listen to the artistic description and history of pieces of work that catch your eye, and follow an art trail of the famous works e.g. the Ladies of the Lourve, and more! Porte des Lions is also the least bustling of entrances. Note – you will definitely not get through everything even if you spend your entire day there, so have heart my art-loving friend – but hey, also spend some time outside the halls of the Lourve and wander around admiring the building, the pyramid, the alcoves, archways around the entrances of the Lourve too!
- Montmartre – The area of Montmartre is known to play host to a variety of things, including the Sacré-Cœur, which is the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris. Walk up the hill to the Sacre Crouer, turn around the corner (towards the left side of the Sacre Crouer), and bam! you’re heading down cobbled-stone streets, walk yourselves a bit further towards Place du Tertre (Artists’/Painters’ square). This is the place where artists congregate and draw, paint, sell, and will also draw or paint you at a price too. Even if you’re not going to get yourself drawn up, it’s still a wonderful place to explore. Expect chill vibes of artists drawing, painters selling their paintings, and street musicians. Wander around the streets, avenues, and laneways flanked on either with cafes, patisseries, bakeries, and gift shops (maybe check out Cafe des Deux Moulins if you’re an Amelie fan). Head down the hill from Place du Tertre, stop by for a crepe or two, and you’ll find yourself soon at the iconic Moulin Rouge, which is handily close to the Blanche metro train station! You’ll definitely find yourself easily spending more than an afternoon in this district as you wander down streets, nibble away at pastries, and watch street performers of all kinds.
- Notre Dame – Walking through these halls I totally saw those scenes from the Hunchback of Notre Dame come to life! Notre Dame is located in the area Île de la Cité, which is also one of the two natural islands in the Seine river.
- A modern addition Pont des Arts, the famous love-locks bridge of Paris. This little bridge is near the Lourve and will be on your way from the Lourve to many other popular sites (e.g. Musee d’Orsay or Notre Dame), so use that walking time wisely and stop by for a photo or two here!
As well as the classic sightseeing, I would also highly recommend the following places be added to your hit list:
- Musee d’Orsay will quickly become one of your favourite museums. A former train station turned museum, the architectural structure of Musee d’Orsay both stands on its own as an art piece and as the exquisite house of some beautiful and thought-provoking artwork. My experience at Musee d’Orsay was a lot more relaxed when compared to the overwhelming content and the hustle-bustle of the Lourve. There are also a couple of incredibly beautiful cafe/restaurants at Musee d’Orsay – Restaurant on the first floor and Cafe Campana on the third. What really caught my attention on the third floor though, and also a feature of The Cafe Campana, is the beautiful window-clock of the building, where you can get a peek of Paris from a very unqiue perspective. TIP: If you ever go to Musee d’Orsay, make sure you don’t leave without exploring the third floor and take in a magical glimpse of the Sacre Coeur from the clock!
- Musee de l’Orangerie should also be next on your hit list (TIP: You can get a combined ticket for both Musee d’Orsay and Musee de l’Orangerie for a cheaper price as well). An extremely serene and calming place, Musee de l’Orangerie also plays the perfect host to Claude Monet’s Water Lilies. The white elliptical room with its natural lighting really allows you to feel that sense of peace and calm, and makes the viewing of the Water Lilies an incredibly memorable experience.
- Biking and gardens: As with many other European cities, Paris has bikes for hire. Although a bond will be taken (about 100-200 euros), this will be returned – but be warned, it won’t be refunded for a couple of weeks so make sure you have sufficient funds for the rest of your trip!) A bike ride around Paris is very fun – and a great way to explore the city – nothing better than to have Parisian air flowing through your hair! I biked mainly around gardens since I wasn’t used to the left-hand driving when compared to NZ’s right-hand drive! Speaking of gardens and cool spaces, here are some great ones to check out (even in winter): Jardin des Plantes, Jardin des Tuileries, and Jardin du Palais Royal. Walk and bike along the seine – there are some really cool book and art pop-up (semi-permanent) little shops along the Seine.
- Walk: Seriously, just wander here and there and everywhere. Some areas to wander, if you’re looking for a more pointed direction to wander around: behind the Lourve and Palais Royal is Galerie Vivienne. If you walk further up North-west, you’ll also soon hit the Opera house and Galeries Lafayette, which (TIP🙂 also has a very cool rooftop balcony where you can gain a whole new vantage of the Parisian landscape (7th floor of Conpole). For more fashion, head down rue Saint-Honoré where all the fashionistas shop!
- Canal Saint Martin is where you can just wander the streets and eat your lunch or a snack along the canal. Chill like the hipsters of Paris do, and blend in with the locals.
- Institut de Monde Arabe, an incredibly underrated museum. And before you go “hey dude, I’ve had enough museums…” – I pray you reconsider as you really can’t have enough of them when you’re in such a culturally rich place like Paris! But seriously, let me tell you something uber cool about this museum. Not only is the museum’s content interesting but the architecture of this building is so cool! The facade of the building is made up of unique windows reminiscent of the intricate Arabic patterns of many buildings. So what’s the twist? The windows are composed of metal eyes that dilate according to outdoor light conditions! If that’s not modern enough for you, or if that’s a bit out of the way, and you are seriously craving for some MODERN ART… then head on over to Centre Pompidou. On a completely different but related note, check out Le Petit Palais, a beautiful museum of fine arts which also has a beautiful courtyard and a cafe.
- Place de la Concorde is a place where you’ll no doubt pass on all your wanderings from Lourve to the Eiffel and in and around that area. At the centre of this spot is a piece of Ancient Egyptian history, Luxor’s Obelisk – the twin of which I have seen in Luxor, Egypt!
- Marais – I would really recommend just wandering around this area of Marais. Walk down Rue des Archives to admire beautiful architecture – old and new, and great shops and wee little galleries and pop-up things to just walk into along the way.
- Get local and shop for your cheese, fruit, and bread at Marché Bastille at Place de la Bastille – my sister and I had a lovely time wandering around the various stalls, attempting French with the locals, and purchasing some delicious, fresh ingredients. I suppose you could also get local at La defence to see where all the business of Paris takes place – a much more modern side of Paris that you don’t often see in the touristic areas.
Paris is full of wondrous things to satisfy any traveller’s appetite; from those who want the glitz and glam of Paris to art connoisseurs and to the more low-key / flying-under-the-radar intrepid traveller. Other places to stop by also include a lovely bookshop (Shakespeare and Company), an old naturalist’s curiosity shop – Deyrolle, the Paris Meridian line at Church of Saint-Sulpice, and for a different kind of art you could head over to Le Catacombs.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this guide to Paris – I’ve tried to be as concise and condensed with content as much as possible! However, if you would like more information on any of the above, please let me know! Happy to answer questions or provide more info if you would like it! 🙂
Bon voyage mon amie!
….And HIT THAT SUBSCRIBE for more, yo! XD
To come: tips on planning your trip.
Note: all photos have been taken by yours truly – all rights reserved.