The best thing about Paris, is its Paris. Just being there – everything you’ve read about, been told about, seen or dreamt (both the good and the bad), it’s all true – Paris is Paris.
I love Paris and I love France. We’ve been to Paris a few times and we’ve been lucky enough to spend a few weeks driving regional France. Both hold a special place in my heart and I honestly can’t wait for the next time I get to go back (whenever that may be).
What also makes Paris so Paris, is you don’t need to try. There’s no searching for sub-cultures to find the ‘real’ Paris, just being there, it’s like you’ve been there forever.
You don’t need to look far to find or see something amazing – the historic monuments, impressive museums, the culture and the architecture, a wander along the River Seine and the unimaginable Champs-Élysées or watching traffic navigate the Arc de Triomphe – the romance, beauty, postcard moments, tragic history, attitudes, intimacy and raw, grunginess – it’s all true and all there out in the open, waiting for you.
Paris is beautiful, and for me, it is a city with a way of life that lives up to its insanely high hype.
The first time we went to Paris, we took the Eurostar from London. There is no better or quicker way to get from the centre of London to the centre of Paris – two-and-a-half hours from Kings Cross Station to Gar-du-Nord, amazing!
So what is my quintessential weekend in Paris?
In a nutshell: walking, baguettes, cheese, wine, more food, more wine, cycling, the Eiffel Tower, the River Seine, Montmartre, Notre Dame, the Sacred Heart Basilica, the Louvre (if you’ve not been), sitting in cafés with a glass of wine people watching, Raclette, and again, the most important part (apart from food and wine), blissfully wandering the streets and enjoying just being there.
Spelt out, how does this translate to my Top 10 things to do on a weekend in Paris?
1. Get outside and wander
Day and night, anywhere to and along the River Seine, through every cobble stone street, park, square, and Arrondissement – just wandering in this city gives you time and an intimate experience where everything has its own story.
2. The Eiffel Tower
It’s famous, historic, and a late 1800’s architectural and engineering masterpiece – the Eiffel Tower is what it is (and here’s a tip, you can climb the first two levels for free!). Don’t miss it because ‘everyone else’ has done it or seen it, it’s a part of this magnificent city’s identity.
3. Spend time in Montmartre
Home of sex, wine, edgy cafes, great food and Moulin Rouge, this neighborhood is where locals live, artists seek inspiration and the tourist crowds amass to be in amongst it all.
Tip: from Moulin Rouge, enjoy a walk up to Sacré-Cœur for stunning views of the city via some beautiful buildings, lovely squares and local artist and designer stores (amongst all the touristy shops).
Three must haves:
- A baguette a day from a local bakery
- Dinner: Find an amazing French bistro – our favourite is Les Philosophes. Order the onion soup, confit duck and a bottle of white (sorry to ruin it for those who know about it – this place is loved by locals and tourists alike and IS a must)
- Raclette: A large block of cheese on your table under a heater melting as much or as little as you want. The only downside is trying to find a restaurant that does Raclette, and then having to wait until after 3pm before they serve it.
5. People watching with wine from any café
Probably the number one thing to do in Paris – find a café, order a carafe of wine and sit, chat, read and watch as the world, and people, go by.
6. Take a bicycle tour
In a country where cyclists hold more importance on the roads than any other form of transport, it only makes sense to get on a bicycle in Paris and do as the locals do. We took a bicycle tour on our second trip to Paris and it was really, really worth it. You cover more ground, learn interesting facts and see some lesser known yet historically important parts of the city.
After a bit of research we choose Bike About Tours because they limited their tour sizes to about 12 people and did everything in English. Our guide was also engaging and informative – it’s an easy recommendation
7. If you love tragedy and the arts
Take the Paris Metro to the Philippe Auguste, Père Lachaise or Gambetta metro stations to visit still operating Pére-Lachaise cemetery. Here you can pay your respect at the graves of Oscar Wild and Jim Morrison, amongst a number of other influential artists from the last 200 years.
8. Notre Dame
This tourist hot spot has long lines for a reason, Notre Dame Cathedral is over 850 years old and not only is it still standing, it’s still being used today. It’s an impressive piece of architecture in a central location with a long history.
9. The Louvre
The Louvre Museum is famous for many reasons. It’s huge, home to Mona Lisa, has the iconic Louvre Pyramids on its street level roof and is filled with some of the world’s finest art collections mixed with alternative and contemporary installations. A must for lovers of art and history.
10. Take the metro, anywhere.
The spiral staircases and Art Nouveau entrances, the rattly carriages, and the simplicity and efficiency of this century old underground transportation system – then get out, anywhere, if its sunny, grab a baguette, cheese and wine and sit in a park, if not, find a café to sit, eat, drink and watch.
From its somewhat confusingly numbered Arrondissements to the perceived French arrogance (which we didn’t experience at all, we actually had a lot of fun conversations with locals), the 10pm Eiffel Tower light shows to the grunge of Montmartre, random conceptual gardens, historic monuments and impressive museums, the Seine, or stumbling across the nudity-is-ok river edge behind Notre Dame (near the love locks bridge), Paris is Paris.
Whether you end up having an ‘OMG’ or a ‘Meh’ experience, a weekend in Paris or if your lucky enough to spend a month, this historic, edgy, raw, predictable yet unexpected, new and old, progressive and uncaring-of-what-others-think international city is full of passion and history and is like no other city in the world!
To me, Paris is Paris, a city that you have to go to and experience yourself.
Have you spent time in the city of love? What do love most about the French Capital and what would be your recommendation for the quintessential weekend in Paris? Leave a comment below…