Granted, going to the world’s most romantic city with your Mum might not sound like most people’s idea of fun. But then, you don’t know my Mum. We laughed till we cried at the absurdity of Le Moulin Rouge, window shopped till we dropped at Chanel and gauped at the opulence of the Palace of Versailles. And we managed to fit all this in to just 3 days. Paris is a nostalgic city for both us but for different reasons. My Mum hadn’t been to Paris for 40 years (as she insisted on telling every waiter who would listen) and my memories were equally vague – I went on a school trip aged 15 when my pathetic attempts to speak French (‘ou est le pub?’) were met with haughty glares of disapproval. Over 3 days in Paris, we rediscovered this vibrant city and are already longing to go back. A city break to Paris can seem overwhelming since there´s SO much to see and do but here’s my carefully curated Paris City Break Guide…
DAY 1 – get a Eurostar and hit up a gallery
A city break in Paris is pretty cheap if you´re travelling from the UK. I hopped on the eurostar from London St Pancras and vowed never to fly again – it’s impossible to beat the service and convenience of getting the train. If your budget allows, opt for a standard premier ticket which includes unlimited free magazines and delicious breakfast.
On arrival, Paris’ metro system is easy to navigate. Buy yourself a carnet of 10 singles – it works out loads cheaper and even my public transport-loathing Mother was impressed by the ease of using the underground. Paris is also a very walkable city so it’s best to choose an itinerary that allows you to make the most of meandering down La Seine or ambling down fancy shopping boulevards to your next museum.
Thanks to a special late deal, we snagged a bargain at the historic Hotel Le Bristol – an old fashioned hotel with a beautiful pool and the city’s friendliest concierge desk. If it’s out your price range, just pop in for a chocolat chaud and basket of pastries. The attention to detail has to be seen to be believed, from gold-leaf raspberries on your muesli to white chocolate emblazoned branding on your fruit salad:
After unpacking, head straight to Musée d’Orsay. The building itself, an old train station, is breath-taking but the real treat lies tucked away on the first floor. Seek out the former restaurant of the Hôtel d’Orsay where old meets new with modern Perspex chairs and gilded ceilings. Sample chef Yann Landureau’s traditional French cuisine or just order a glass of champagne whist you plot which works to see first:
Prepare to get lost for several hours here, it’s not as overwhelming as Musee du Louvre but the collection is still expansive. You’ll recognise some of the most iconic works of Van Gough, Cezanne and Monet – a real treat for art lovers. I’d recommend going as late in the day as possible to avoid the crowds. Afterwards, meander via Jardin des Tuileries to the iconic and recently refurbished Hôtel Ritz where Coco Chanel lived for 35 years. Find a cosy corner in the Hemingway Bar – open to non-residents as well as residents.
DAY 2: Take a train to The Palace of Versailles
Topping my Paris City Break Guide is a visit to the Palace of Versailles. The internet is full of tour packages to Versailles but in truth, all you need is a comfy pair of shoes and a map. Do it yourself by going to your nearest métro station and purchasing a ticket to Versailles–Château – Rive Gauch on the RER. Pre-book your entrance ticket online and beat the queues by doing the whole estate in reverse.
Most people flock to the Palace of Versailles as soon as it opens and there’s often a huge queue at the start of the day (in case you’re wondering how I know so much – our hotel concierge was from Versailles so gave strict instructions on the best itinerary for beating the crowds). We had a leisurely breakfast in Paris and arrived at around 11.30am, this way you’ll miss the crowds who arrive in time for it opening and will be shuffling shoulder-to-shoulder around the Palace.
To save your feet, hire bicycles (or a golf buggy), and make your way to Marie Antoinette’s residence, Petit Trianon, which opens at noon. You’ll be the first in the door and have the run of the place until the other tourists make their way down. It’s set within the beautiful Hameau de la Reine, a rustic retreat in the park of the Château de Versailles. I highly recommend a stroll around the farm and outhouses before leaving.
Next, head to Grand Trianon, just next door, before stopping for lunch at one of the many eateries in the grounds. Leave time to explore the beautiful water features, lakes and manicured gardens. By the time you’ve done all this, it’s easy to forget about the main attraction or feel you’ve seen enough, but that would be a huge mistake. The Palace itself is the pièce de résistance – housing ostentatious hall of mirrors with its glittering chandeliers and awe-inspiring views over the gardens. It’s easy to see why Kim and Kanye chose this venue for their wedding reception. Buy pistachio and salted caramel flavoured macarons from the famous Maison Ladurée shop on site before getting the train back into the city in time for dinner at Monsieur Bleu within the modern Palais de Tokyo.
DAY 3: Explore the neighborhood
Explore Ile de la Cité, home to the Cathedral of Notre-Dame and then amble through Ile-St-Louis, where you’ll find independent shops for unique souvenirs (we ended up taking some beautifully carved wooden puppets home) and artisan ice-cream shops. Notre-Dame frequently hosts classical music nights and events, often for as cheap as 15 euros, so if you can – combine sight-seeing with an atmospheric concert.
Explore the Pantheon, another great historic monument, housing the tombs of some of France’s most renowned intellects and politicians through history. Continue your walking tour north to the Le Centre Pompidou for some modern before hopping on the metro and head north to Montmartre, the highest point in the city. Admire the view whilst local harpists and musicians churn out Edith Piath before exploring the spell-binding Sacré-Coeur. Don’t forget to climb to the very top for the best views in the city. Dine on the pavement at a typical French bistro before seeing the iconic (but hugely dated and cheesy) show at Le Moulin Rouge. For a luxe take on my Paris City Break Guide, book the VIP package. You’ll queue jump and be ushered to your seat where a glass of champagne awaits.
Wandering around the majestic museums, sprawling galleries and iconic buildings when researching my Paris City Break Guide, I remembered the broadcast made by news reporter Andrew Neil in the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks:
France, the country of Decard, Boullée, Monet, Sartre, Rousseau, Camus, Renoire, Berleoii, Cezanne, Gauguin, Hugo, Voltaire, Matisse, Debussy, Ravel, Bizet, Saint-Saëns, Satie, Pasteur, molleur, Zola, Balzac, franc, cutting edge science, world class medicine, fearsome security, nuclear power, Coco Chanel, Château Lafite, coq au vin, Daft punk, Emile Zedan, Juliette Binoche, liberty, egality, fraternity and crème bruelee!
Not many cities have produced such icons. And not many cities permit (no, encourage) you to eat a whole basket of croissants at breakfast, drink heavily at lunch and devour your body-weight in cheese for dinner. Anything I’ve missed from my Paris City Break Guide? I’d love to hear your tips…
For another great Europe City Break Guide, why not check out my blog post on Munich.