Iconic and intimate: a Parisian holiday
On your first (or tenth or hundredth) visit to Paris, of course you'll want to see the sights and take in the views that are quintessentially Parisian, but you'll undoubtedly find as many favorite things and hidden gems as the author did on her first Paris vacation.
Ah, romantic Paris
I've always felt drawn to the romantic allure of Paris. The city’s reputation of unsurpassed culture, beauty, and food was the reason I decided to make my dream of visiting Paris a reality, and in May, my boyfriend and I spent ten amazing days in the City of Lights...with my parents.
View from our vacation rental: #276070vb
We rented a vacation rental in Montmartre in the 18th arrondissement, known for its bohemian atmosphere, artists, street vendors, the Basilica of the Sacre Coeur, and the Moulin Rouge. Our flat was clean and comfortable and had a stunning view of the city and Sacre Coeur through our living room French doors (do you still call them French doors in France?)
After a long day of sight-seeing, we relaxed with a glass of wine and a plate of cheese (or butter – my god, the French butter is worth the trip!) and still felt a part of the activities outside.
How to get around: Metro pass!
Montmarte is located a bit of a way from the city center, so a metro pass is essential. Luckily, a metro stop was just down the hill from our flat. Passes can be purchased individually or in packs of ten, called a carnet. If you plan to take the metro often, go with the carnet. The metro is easy to use, and we felt like pros in no time. Taxis are available, but why spend the euros when you can stroll the streets of Paris!
What to see, obviously
A ten-day vacation was just about right to get our French fix but keep us wanting more. We loved the time of year: In May the sun doesn’t set until 9:30 or 10:00 pm. We were able to sightsee, take an aperitif break, and still venture out again in daylight.
In case you don't recognize it: the Eiffel Tower. Now we are truly in Paris.
- The Eiffel Tower – The moment I saw the Eiffel Tower, I felt I was truly in Paris. It is visible from most parts of the city, and seeing the twinkling lights at night is a must. On a pleasant spring day like we had, waiting in the long line to climb to the top was a waste of time. We enjoyed walking around the area; just looking at it was enough.
- Notre Dame Cathedral – The Cathedral is a masterpiece of Romanesque architecture. We visited early Sunday morning during a mass, complete with choir and organ music, which was a bonus.
- The Louvre – The Louvre is almost always crowded, and the day we visited was no exception. I regret not scheduling a tour guide, but we enjoyed seeing some of the most important and beautiful art in the world. The Louvre Tuileries Gardens, with its classical landscape, monuments, and statuary was my favorite part. And talk about eco-friendly – a small herd of goats do the lawn work, so no noisy lawnmowers.
- Musee d’Orsay – This train station-converted-museum was my favorite museum of the trip. Home to Monet’s water lilies, the open and airy rooms are full of world-renowned pieces of art by Van Gogh, Manet, Degas and more. We purchased a three-day museum pass (highly recommended) that allowed us to skip the two-hour line! Despite the long lines, it did not seem overwhelmingly crowded inside.
- Sacre Coeur – This basilica has a special place in my heart as we woke up to a view of it every day. The church itself is beautiful, but the steps in front are where the action takes place. On our first night, we witnessed a YouTube soccer sensation who balanced on a light-pole with the city of Paris as his backdrop. Caution: You may be surprised to see a lot of police chasing off men selling bottles of Heineken.
From left to right: Notre Dame, and the YouTube soccer star performing at the highest point in Paris.
My personal favorites
- De Roylles – It is part store, part museum, and part craziness. If you are in the market for a stuffed Rhino head you have come to the right place. The walls and floors are full of exotic taxidermied animals, and the Parisian green walls and wooden fixtures also make an impression. De Roylles made a cameo in Midnight in Paris.
- Luxemborg Gardens – We picked up some croque-monsieurs, fancy grilled cheeses, and enjoyed an afternoon picnic near one of the fountains. Locals were jogging through the park, sailing toy boats in the fountain, and just enjoying the warm weather – great people watching! On the edge of the grounds is a beautiful fountain designed by Marie Antoinette.
- Bike About Tour, Versailles – We spent the day biking through the sprawling green grounds of Versailles with pit stops at the Versailles farmer’s market, Marie Antoinette's hamlet, and the king’s summer home. We lunched along the Grand Canal with views of the palace...pretty surreal. The last hour we toured the actual Palace of Versailles, which is extravagant in every sense of the word. Our tour guide (ask for Stu!) enlightened every stop with memorable historical anecdotes. My boyfriend and I found ourselves quoting facts the rest of the trip, “Did you know King Louis XVI was called the sun king? And that he loved his toned legs so much that he always posed to the side for paintings?”
- Shakespeare and Co – As a self-admitted bibliophile, I found this place absolute heaven. Shelves upon shelves are lined with books, and any free wall space is covered in literary quotes added by patrons. The bottom part of the shop has books for purchase, while the top is a library full of books free for you to peruse.
- The Seine – Daily strolls along the river Seine are a must. It's lined with book stalls, local artists, and flower shops. If you are with your loved one, make a point to add a “love lock” to one of the Paris bridges.
Top row: De Roylles, Versailles garden, Marie Antoinette’s fountain in the Luxemburg Garden.
Bottom row: Marie Antoinette’s Hamlet at Versailles, bookshelves at Shakespeare’s, Love locks along the Seine.
What to Eat
- Crepes – Sample as many as you can while you are there! They are easy to eat while walking – a perfect lunch for the busy tourist. Favorite flavors? Nutella and banana or ham, cheese, and egg.
- Macarons – These delicious and oh-so French pasteries are readily available and come in an array of delicious flavors. We stopped at the famous Laduree for a macaron and ice-cream indulgence.
- Baguettes – It really is true: In Paris everyone walking along the street has a baguette tucked under their arm. Pair with cheese or BUTTER for a tasty treat.
- The Butter – As I have mentioned a few times, I was impressed by the butter. Simple and creamy, I found myself eating it with everything.
- Cheese – Fromageries, shops dedicated to cheese (genius!), can be found in all arrondissements. We stopped by ours often tasting whatever they offered that day. My favorite was the cheese from the Versailles farmers market.
Above all, be adventurous. Because we speak very little French, there were times when what we ordered was not what we got. This is part of the fun. Most Parisians speak at least a little English, so communication is fairly easy. I highly recommend getting out of your comfort zone. Visit sights away from the center, try foods you haven’t had, and don’t be afraid to engage with the Parisians. They are, after all, what makes Paris, well, so Parisian!
From left: fresh baguettes, cheese tasting, and a variety of macaroons at Laduree.
Story and Photos by Katie Habig