I packed up my favourite vintage outfits and took my fiancée for his first ever visit to the gorgeous city of Paris for his birthday! We enjoyed a romantic weekend exploring diverse neighbourhoods and indulging in lots of treats!
I’ve visited Paris several times, but not since before the pandemic and the fire at Notre-Dame de Paris, so it was really interesting to see what had changed, plus venture into some neighbourhoods that were new to me. We stayed near the Louvre in the 1st Arrondissement, which was really convenient and so we managed to experience quite a lot in a short time. We didn’t necessarily aim to do “weird” or “(un)popular” activities, but knowing us two, we just made that happen by ourselves! Check out this summary of our romantic long weekend itinerary:
Our first morning in Paris was beautifully sunny so we headed for a well-reviewed crêperie and found the perfect spot for an al fresco breakfast: a pair of iconic iron chairs by a picturesque pond in the Jardin des Tuileries. A very promising, and Parisien, start!
We began our adventures in earnest with a walk along the River Seine, heading east from the Louvre, past the Musée d’Orsay, and admired some of the many bridges. We paused for a prolonged stop on the Pont des Arts, a particularly pretty ironwork bridge, famed for its lovers’ locks attached to the railings and gorgeous views in all directions.
We crossed over Pont Neuf, the oldest stone bridge in Paris, complete with crenellated turrets just like a medieval castle, and began to wander through the narrow lanes of Île de la Cité. This is the island in the Seine which marked the centre of the city in ancient times and is the location of so many historic buildings.
I was moved to see Notre-Dame de Paris for the first time after the fire of 2019, remembering the former beauty of the wooden spire and interior. The Cathedral is now fenced in to allow for the extensive repair works. It was interesting to read the information displays detailing plans for the renovation and spotting new wooden supports in place. The scale of the damage is enormous and still involves hundreds of rope workers manually removing debris, piece-by-piece. I look forward to returning and seeing the progress over the coming years.
We continued our walk south through the monumental grandeur of the Latin Quarter, the University area of the Sorbonne, and through to the Panthéon, a building housing memorials to the most distinguished French citizens. We opted to keep moving as it was gorgeous weather, but if you do go inside, be sure to pay your respects to jazz dance hero, Josephine Baker, who is one of three women honoured at the monument.
For lunch, we decided on a change of scenery and headed north of the river to the lively, Marais. Formerly a district of aristocratic mansions, the area became the Jewish quarter after the French Revolution, and is now commonly known as the LGBTQ+ hub of Paris. I had a delicious goat cheese salad, chocolate moose, and some obligatory red wine at a colourful roadside cafe – we were on holiday after all!
The late afternoon was spent rummaging through some of the many bustling vintage and thrift shops in the area – lots of fun! I picked up a 90s pink leopard print denim bralet and an 80s light jacket with mint green palm print at a kilo store for about €16! I also discovered Come of Eileen, a treasure trove of designer vintage clothing, leather jackets, and footwear, great if you’re interested in more high-end finds.
After wine and shopping, a quick rest back at the hotel was required before heading out to a recommended restaurant near the opera house, Palais Garnier, the famous setting of Phantom of the Opera. Our dinner was less ill-fated and we enjoyed a lovely steak followed by coffee outside while watching the Argentine Tango milonga on the steps of the opera house.
We ventured just outside of Paris to visit the spectacular, Palace of Versailles! This has been on my bucket list for a long time and I was so excited to be walking up to the dazzling (real!) gold gates and peeking through to glimpse the pristine pink and white facade. Let’s just say, the whole experience really makes you understand the French Revolution with how overwhelmingly decadent the estate is…
We picked up an audio guide to help us navigate our way through the gilded splendour, and I’m really pleased we did. I particularly enjoyed learning about several portraits painted by female artists, including Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun, who became the official artist to Marie Antoinette in 1778 and painted over 30 portraits of her in six years; including the infamous image of her in an unstructured muslin dress that was so very daring at the time!
The King’s and Queen’s apartments, consisting of five rooms each, were sumptuously decorated and revealed the structure of courtly behaviour and etiquette required at the time. Each room had different “access rights” based on status and the ceremonial bed chambers were used simply for dressing and undressing rituals (not actual sleeping!), during which only those of certain ranks were allowed to perform particular tasks. This lifestyle, so beloved by Louis XIV, must have been privileged but also rather stifling! (I enjoyed this webpage detailing a “day in the life” of this monarch- it really did run like clockwork!)
For lunch, we ate a picnic of bread, cheese, and pears (plus a cheeky bottle of wine) outside in the grand courtyard, feeling very much like the happy peasants that we are for avoiding the inevitably pricey and busy on-site cafe!
This sustenance prepared us for visiting some of the most impressive public rooms of the palace, namely, The Hall of Mirrors. This 73m reception room contains 357 mirrors (very expensive and difficult to produce way back in the 1680s), vaulted ceilings painted with the successes of Louis XIV’s reign, marble statues, a gorgeous wooden floor (that I wished I could dance on!), and yes, more gold! It was also cool to be in the room with more contemporary historical significance: where the Treaty of Versailles was signed at the end of the First World War.
All blinged out, we headed to explore the large gardens. When I say “large”, I mean it’s the kind of place that has an actual canal with row boats for hire, and these are barely visible in the distance- THAT large (over 800 hectares to be precise)!
There are several different garden areas, from the knotwork lines of the Orangerie, grand walks beside formal ponds, and actual forests, but the stars of the show are definitely the various fountain groves. Each grove has a different theme from antiquity and includes an impressive array of fountains, some of which have been set to music. They operate on different days of the week and at different times, so we had fun listening out for music and dashing to see if we could find the location! (The timings are also on the website if you want to be clever/boring and avoid this chase 😉 )
As the sun began to set, we headed back to Paris on the train, contemplating what inspiration we want to take for our own house renovation (barely anything to be honest- we’re not Boris!), and deciding on dinner plans.
Our evening took us to the artistic streets of Montmartre. We dined outside (such a treat for an English person!) and tasted a few local aperitifs like the concentrated aniseed, “Pastis”, and a refreshing version of “Kir” made with white wine and peach.
After dinner, we picked up enormous pistachio-coated ice creams from the Insta-famous organic Lebanese, Glace Bachir, and licked away while taking in the view of the gleaming white facade of the Basilica of Sacré Coeur. I really like the unusual Romano-Byzantine architecture of this church and enjoy how it differs from much of Paris’ other Gothic or neo-Baroque monuments #rebelstyle.
We decided to take a closer look and, due to the aforementioned ice cream binge, opted to take the cute little funicular up the considerable hill to the top! After taking in the sunset amongst the crowds, we wandered the narrow, winding streets and admired the portraits in progress at Place du Tertre. We stopped for cocktails at an awesome bar, Le Petit Moulin des Mauvais Garcons, having been enticed in by the bikers sat outside and the metal music blaring! The staff were so welcoming and friendly- we declared it our spiritual home in Paris and we’ll definitely be back!
Before heading home, we popped into the neighbouring red-light district of Pigalle to catch a glimpse of the famous rotating red sails of the Moulin Rouge– fabulous!
We began our Sunday with a visit to the incredible, Sainte-Chapelle, a chapel for royalty, first built by Louis IX between 1242-1248. When entering the chapel via a narrow spiral stairway, it is a truly breathtaking moment to step out into the space, illuminated in jewel tones by the walls of stained glass windows. It’s difficult to find words to describe the overwhelming atmosphere and Gothic beauty, with every surface exquisitely painted and detailed. It’s certainly a must-visit place, so be sure to book your timed visit online in advance.
Next, we headed for brunch in the Canal Saint-Martin area. Reviews describe this district as less touristy and a place for “locals”, with a thriving brunch culture. This sounded very much like our usual weekend routine in Shoreditch, so we couldn’t resist visiting this home-away-from-home! It immediately felt more “real” than the grand boulevards of the central tourist areas, with families playing in parks and friends chatting in roadside cafes.
We walked a little way beside the pretty canal and headed for a well-reviewed brunch spot: HOMADE. We opted to try their signature black sesame latte and sweet potato and miso eggs benedict, and we were both extremely impressed! The owner/chef even popped out to our table to speak with us and we were able to pass on our compliments- a lovely touch.
Our next and final stop in the afternoon was an obligatory visit to the Eiffel Tower! We decided not to ascend this time (it requires booking in advance and we wanted to keep our day flexible), but instead walked from the Champ de Mars, taking some time to sip a cool drink on the grass and observe the street performers along the way. We then and headed up to Trocadéro Square to appreciate the ultimate Parisian vista from a higher vantage point.
I’m always impressed by the Eiffel Tower: I love the level of detail in the ironwork with the design going beyond pure function, and I’m amazed that this was built so long ago back in 1889. I can also confirm that my partner thought it was “taller than expected”, which can often be the opposite when confronted with famous landmarks! Next time we’ll book and go up to admire the view (I personally love doing this at night when you can see the pattern of the street lights and gain a different perspective on the city).
We had a final long kiss with the Eiffel Tower inspiring us before jumping on the metro, picking up our bags, and heading to the Eurostar, picnic in hand.
I’ll conclude my little account of our trip by sharing my top Paris travel tips:
Book key attractions online in advance: many popular sites are operating with advanced online booking to “skip the queue”. This is a “nice to have” at many sites, but at some, it’s essential or they can sell out for that day. For example, we weren’t able to visit the catacombs as entry is limited to 200 per day and it was booked out for over three weeks ahead! If there are key things to know you want to see, try to schedule and sort your tickets.
Opt for Eurostar to lower the environmental impact: This also helped us avoid the summer 2022 “airport chaos” and allowed for a much more relaxed journey experience. I will say though, that our journey home was delayed by an hour with long queues for passport control and security, so it wasn’t without hiccoughs! The environmental benefits are a definite win though.
Take to the streets!: Paris is a beautiful city, and walking the streets is my favourite way to experience it. Travelling between neighbourhoods this way allows you to appreciate the changing architectures and characters really well. Pack those comfy shoes or hire an electric scooter to zip around!
Gather a picnic for the Eurostar home: pick up some bread, cheese and a tipple to enjoy on your way home (and avoid spending a fortune on sub-par station food!).
We loved our quick visit to Paris: the architecture is monumental in scale, there’s a wide variety of things to see and do, and of course, great food and drink! We’ll be back and perhaps do a “Goth” visit next time: I’d like to show my fiancee the catacombs and Père Lachaise Cemetery, visit a club or live event, and squeeze in some museums/galleries (perhaps on a winter visit). I hope this has provided a little inspiration if you’re planning a trip and check back soon for more travel updates- how awesome is it to be able to travel or plan to travel again!?!
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