A dream that I had for many years came true ten days ago when we went to Paris as a celebration for my birthday earlier in November. Oh, it was so, so good! I completely fell in love with the architecture, the food, the energy, the language. It was simply magical and I just have to write a blogpost about it and share some pictures of this gorgeous place with you guys. Even just looking at the pictures is hard and makes me long to go back. (This is a loooong post – don’t say I didn’t warn you!)
Eiffel Tower – This is the most obvious one and it exceeded all my expectations! This iconic structure is an impressive sight and has all the romantic feels we see in the movies and magazines.Tip: After sunset the Eiffel Tower is lit and does an ‘electrical dance’ on the hour for five minutes where it sparkles like a Christmas tree. I would strongly advise that you hang around for this – it will take your breath away!
Champ de Mars – Champ de Mars is the large, green public space in front of the Eiffel Tower and where most of the Eiffel Tower selfies are taken from. This space has a very rich history, especially during the French revolution and if you are interested you can read more about it here.
Notre Dame – This is another iconic landmark which you will immediately recognize by it’s magnificent rose window. The Notre Dame is a medieval Gothic church dating back to 1163. It has 10 bells of which the main bell, the Emmanuel, weighs 13 tons! Napoleon Bonaparte was also crowned here as the first emperor of France (I am super clued up on French history from all my research prior to this trip, haha!). The church is definitely more spectacular from the outside than the inside. It is a very popular tourist attraction so make sure to arrive early if you would like to go in.
Latin Quater – This neighborhood is a short walk from the Notre Dame and really great for cheap eats. There are so many little restaurants and ‘hole-in-the-wall’ places to buy the most amazing street food. It has such a nice vibe and definitely worth strolling through. We went there everyday (and even 22:10 one night) to get some food.
Saint Chapelle – This beautiful Gothic royal chapel is most famous for its magnificent glass-stained windows.
Le Marais – I loved this neighborhood! It is an absolute shopping hub with lots of restaurants, churches, museums and beautiful buildings around every corner. There are so many French pharmacies here, if you are even remotely interested in skincare and makeup, then you will be sold. There are also a Sephora, Starbucks, Costa Coffee and H&M around every corner – lots of shopping opportunities.
Arc de Triomphe – You will find this beautiful arc at the western end of the Champs Élysées. The structure honors the military achievements during the French revolution and Napoleon wars. It has the names of the French victories and generals inscribed on the inner and outer walls. You will also find the ‘tomb of the unknown soldier’ with the eternal flame here – this dates back to World War I for all the unidentified soldiers that succumbed during the wars. The arc was built as per Napoleon’s request after his victory at Austerlitz. You can climb the stairs to the top of the building for a sublime view of Paris.
Champs Élysées – Oh man! If you like shopping and luxury goods even a little bit, then you will love the Champs Élysées! This tree-lined 1.9km long street is like Times Square in New York or Picadilly Circus in London. The magnificent street houses all the famous ultra luxury brands like the Louis Vuitton mega flagship store, the biggest Sephora you will ever see, Cartier, Tiffany & Co. and every high-end fashion house you can think of. There are also numerous theaters and restaurants along the way (be prepared to dig deep in your pocket for you croissant!). What I liked most about the Champs Élysées is the massive (and I truly mean massive!) Christmas market complete with an ice-rink at the east end of the street. The street is superbly illuminated with thousands and thousands of Christmas lights and it has such a magical, special vibe. Tip: At the eastern end of the Champs Élysées you will find the Rue de Paris wheel – it is quite affordable (€12 per person) and gives you the most spectacular 360-degree view of Paris. It is super high though – approach with caution if heights are not your thing.
Grand – and Petit Palais – Both these palaces have magnificent architecture and are used as art museums. The Grand Palais is famous for its glass barrel vaulted roof – revolutionary architecture at the time. The palaces are opposite each other and only a small step away from the most beautiful bridge in Paris, the Pont Alexandre III bridge with a view of the Seine river and the Eiffel Tower.
Place de la Concorde – This is the largest public square in France. Quite a few kings and queens were guillotined here (the French wasn’t an easy bunch!) including Marie Antoinette (the cake lady).
Tuileries Garden – I think the Tuileries gardens must be even more magnificent in summer with all the trees and manicured lawns, although it has its own magic during winter as well. The gardens are very popular among joggers, lovers taking a romantic stroll or for a family picnic. The garden has a very long,rather interesting history and if you are keen you can read about it here.
Louvre – I am pretty sure the Louvre doesn’t need an introduction. The Louvre is the largest art museum in the world and probably most famous as the home of the Mona Lisa. Be sure to allow ample time if you want to view the artwork as there are more than 35 000 art pieces alone in the museum, excluding the photographs and other objects. The Louvre has an incredible interesting history with art works (including the Mona Lisa) being stolen back and forth – definitely worth reading up on it. You can click the link here if you want to read more. It’s an impressive building and you will immediately recognize the glass pyramid if you see it. The Louvre has a modest €350 million budget per year and houses 2000 employees – just as a fun fact.
Invalides – This building houses all the military history of France and is also the burial site of Napoleon. If you are into the French Revolution and World War history then this is definitely a must-see.
Panthéon – This building was originally built as a church but is now a neoclassical mausoleum. It was modeled on the Panthéon in Rome and is the burial site for famous people like Voltaire, Louis Braille and Marie Curie. The French physicist Jean Fouralt proved the earth’s rotation by hanging a pendulum from the dome of the Panthéon. Really worth a visit and there is a place that makes the most divine croissants just around the corner!
Jardin du Luxembourg – This is also a beautiful, beautiful garden in the heart of Paris. What I liked most was the impressive Medici fountain – it is so peaceful and tranquil. The garden is simply stunning with manicured lawns and several statues and are very popular among the active folk. The luxembourg gardens was prominently featured in the screen production of Les Misérables.
Moulin Rouge – The Moulin Rouge needs absolutely no introduction! Set in the vibey Mont Martre neighborhood it is definitely worth popping around after dark to see the Moulin Rouge in all its red glory. We were a little short on time and didn’t attend a show, but it is definitely something I will put on my list for next time. The Mont Martre neighborhood is also really nice for walking around, shopping and there are so many restaurants and pubs. We watched the SA vs Whales game in an pub right next to the Moulin Rouge and it was really a lot of fun.
Galleries Lafayette – Oh boy, I was so overwhelmed by this place! Galleries Lafayette is to Paris what Harrods is to London and Saks on 5th to New York. This is the biggest department store I have ever seen in my life. It spans across three buildings and the ladies section alone is 7 floors and feels approximately double Canal Walk’s size in terms of surface area. It will take your breath away. There are floors dedicated to shoes, perfumes, cosmetics, clothing, sports wear, underwear etc. It is mainly luxury brands like Chanel, Gucci, Louis Vuitton etc. to a few mid-high-end brands. It is of course insanely expensive and definitely has an additional premium mark-up. Even if you are not planning on purchasing anything – just go and have a look, it is incredible.
Museums – The amount of museums in Paris will make your head spin! There are so many! To name a few: Musée Rodin which houses the sculptures of the artist Rodin famous for The Thinker. Musée D’Orsay is an old railway station that was transformed into an art museum with famous impressionist art from artists like Monet, Manet, Cézanne and van Gogh. Musée de l’Orangerie is also worth a visit even if it is just for Claude Monet’s famous waterlilies paintings. Musée Picasso also boasts the largest Picasso collection in the world.
Markets – There are plenty of markets in Paris focusing where you can find anything from fresh produce to antiques and fleamarkets. We had an amazing fresh produce market close to where we stayed in Bastille – it was so enjoyable to walk around and hear and see the interaction of the local residents.
Paris has no shortage of restaurants – from more affordable to very expensive Michelin star restaurants. There are plenty of street cafés and bars to have a quick coffee and lunch. We really enjoyed the street food – carts around the city that makes the most amazing Crêpes, croissants and panini’s at a fraction of the cost compared to restaurant prices. An even cheaper option would be to go to the local supermarket and pick up cheeses, a baguette and a bottle of wine and enjoy it in the park or public gardens. Naturally food is significantly more expensive in the vicinity of any landmarks i.e Eiffel Tower, Champs Élysées etc.
The French are famous for plenty of eatings including croissants, crêpes (the ham and cheese is simply scrumptious!), macarons, choc au pain, their cheeses, éclairs and the very elusive croque-monsieur (they are extremely hard to find! We managed in the end but I am sad to say that my own homemade croque monsieurs are better….). If fine dining is your thing you are in fine-dinging mecca! So there is really something for everyone.
The first thing we do when arriving in a new city is to figure out the public transport system. It will save you a lot of time and money. Paris has the second largest underground metro in the world and it works incredibly efficient. We left our car on the outskirts of the ring road in a longterm parking facility (Paris’s traffic is insane!) and got around by foot and the metro. Unfortunately Paris is one of those cities where you have to explore the place by foot. You can of course zip around with the metro, but you will miss out on a lot of beautiful buildings, views and cafés.
I have to very strongly advise for your most comfortable pair of shoes. We walked 61km in two and a half days….. I used my Nike Free’s which are uber comfortable, but I was in serious pain by day 3. So be warned. There are a lot of cobble stone and due to the distances you need to cover to see all the sights, heeled boots or cute ballet flats are not going to cut it. After we showered at night we lathered our feet with BuchuLife First Aid Gel which has been an absolute lifesaver!
Let’s Talk Money
The bad news is: Paris is incredibly expensive. Like insanely expensive. The good news is: In my opinion it is worth every cent! Accommodation is pricey although significantly cheaper in off-peak season. We paid around €300 for the three nights in a hotel an equivalent to a 4-star hotel in SA. We booked this hotel through a promotion they were running on booking.com. When we arrived we were delighted to find out that we have been upgraded to one of the junior suites which was so luxurious. So shop around and keep you eyes open for a good deal.
The metro tickets are very reasonably priced – €1.45 for a one way trip of any distance. We used 30 tickets between the two of us across the four days.
As mentioned your food budget will depend on what you want to experience. If it is fine-dinging you are after your pockets will need to be deeper than when you are happy with small cafés, street food or a self-packed picnic basket. I remember when I arrived in the Netherlands and was still converting everything to Rand I got pains in my chest when I had to pay €3 or €4 for a cup of coffee. This is unfortunately standard practice throughout Europe and although I am used to it by now and don’t think about it anymore, if you travel in any other currency than the three major ones all these little things will eat up a lot of your budget. But hey, I like my coffee and it contributes to my experience, so I will happily pay for my Costa cappuccino! A ham and cheese crépe costs around €4 – but be sure to look for these away from the major attractions – and a croque monsieur costs anything from €7 – €12 (that is approximately R112 – R192). Macarons are also pricey, irrespective of where you buy them – €12 (R192) for 9 macarons. As I said, everything is expensive, but oh so worth it!
Is it safe?
There are heavily armed police and military presence everywhere due to the numerous terrorist attacks the last two years. Unfortunately it is a sign of the times we live in and it is not uncommon to be surrounded by military personnel armed with automatic riffles at the Eiffel Tower for example. It is sad to see and it is a bit of reality check in your face, but I guess we need to accept that it is what it is. I never really felt unsafe – not any more than what you would in South Africa. The same rule applies: have fun, but be conscious of your surroundings and pay attention.
All in all we had the most amazing time! I will go back in a heartbeat and Jean and I are now more inspired than ever to explore the rest of France. If you have any questions about our trip to Paris, you are very welcome to comment below.