Paris, France. I lived in Paris (and nearby) for about 25 years, and I must say that it is now that I don’t live there that I truly appreciate it when I go back. Being a tourist in Paris is wonderful, there is so much to see, do and eat!… working there and having to deal with the strikes, demonstrations and the like is another story… but today we will focus on the fun part!
Let’s start with some sightseeing. First, I think the best time to go to Paris is from May through September, because the weather will be nicer than in the fall or winter. If this is your first trip to Paris, you have a couple of things you must do, which I will list briefly. Your concierge will know all of these places and can explain you how to go: The Eiffel Tower (which has been there since the World Expo of 1900!), the Louvre Museum (you will need a couple of days if you want to see it all), the Orsay Museum (formerly a train station but now a beautiful contemporary art museum), Notre-Dame Cathedral, the Arc-de-Triomphe and the Champs-Elysées. Depending on how much time you have, you also do not want to miss the “Basilique du Sacré-Coeur” and walking in Montmartre. It is a beautiful area overlooking the city, so it is great for pictures. If you would like to have different views of the city, you can also get into the balloon on the west side of Paris near the Seine (again your concierge will know). There is also a nice view of the city from the Tour Montparnasse and the café at the Institut du Monde Arabe (near Austerlitz). Another area I recommend if you like walking is the Halles area and the modern art Museum George Pompidou. The Picasso museum in the Marais is also worth the trip if you like Picasso.
If you like gardens, you want to go to the Luxembourg Gardens, the Bagatelle Gardens or the Parc Monceau, but there are many more. If you like tennis and you are lucky to be in Paris during the French Open, or Roland Garros, then don’t miss it, the tennis courts are near the Bois de Boulogne, the Central Park of Paris.
It is hard to say what you should not do, because almost all is worth a visit. One rule of thumb, you should not rush any visit in Paris and you should take time to walk, get lost and walk again in the streets. Around Notre-Dame, you should venture to the quartier latin, Ile de la Cite and Ile St-Louis (some of the most expensive Paris real estate properties are there) and ask for directions for Glaces Berthillon if you are an ice-cream lover. During the summer, the “berges” or streets along the Seine river are closed (this yearly event is called Paris-Plages) and you can walk along the Seine, stop for a drink, stay for a while gazing at the sky and people passing by from your “chaise longue”. At night, and if the weather is nice, you should go to the Marais , walk to Place des Vosges and try one of the tiny restaurants in the area… there are everywhere, I don’t have any special recommendations, just look at the menu and get in the one you like.
If you want to do some shopping, and are short in time, I recommend the Printemps on Boulevard Haussmann or Les Galeries Lafayette (although I prefer the Printemps because it is less touristy and it has nice underground and upstairs cafés).
If you want a drink during the day in a nice hotel and be almost sure to see a famous French person, go to Hotel Costes (try the outdoor Patio…lovely). For tea and the famous chocolate, pistachio, rose, etc. double-decker macarons (BTW they have them at the National Gallery in DC), you can always go to LaDuree on the Champs-Elysees or near La Madeleine… ohh and the hot chocolate is to die for!
For drinks in the evening, you can try the now too famous Buddha Bar, Le Cabaret or Le Fumoir, all nearby the Louvre Museum, but there are many more… again your concierge should be able to help you depending on what ambiance you prefer.
My friend Fabienne helped us discover a really delightful duck restaurant, near Le Printemps, Le Petit Sud Ouest, it has all the duck specialties you can think of. I highly recommend it if you like duck. Another one I like is the Restaurant du Palais Royal, inside the gardens of the Palais Royal, especially if you can get a table outside…good food and really quiet ambiance. Also, if you want to try some Corsican food, try one of the Villa Corse restaurants.
If you want to venture outside of Paris, you HAVE to go to Versailles and see the Palace of Versailles and the gardens. From Paris it is about 30 minutes by train with the RER C. If you have kids (or not!) you should also go to Disneyland Paris and/or the Asterix Park. There is also a great outdoor zoo called “Thoiry” but you will need a car, because you will basically be driving among the animals in your car (with, on a lucky day, chimpanzees climbing on your car). If you do have a car, then the possibilities become endless, the Loire Valley and the wine country, St-Malo and the Mont-St-Michel, Chantilly Palace, etc… but that will be for another blog… There is much to do, you will just have to come back for more.