“I sometimes think, how is anyone ever gonna come up with a book, or a painting, or a symphony, or a sculpture that can compete with a great city. You can’t. Because you look around and every street, every boulevard, is its own special art form and when you think that in the cold, violent, meaningless universe that Paris exists, these lights, I mean come on, there’s nothing happening on Jupiter or Neptune, but from way out in space you can see these lights, the cafés, people drinking and singing. For all we know, Paris is the hottest spot in the universe.”
Midnight in Paris
The above quoted film, Midnight in Paris, is perhaps one of my all time favorite films. Aside from being a visual love story of the city of Paris, it is witty, clever and well written. If you haven’t seen it, go watch it now. It was recently added to Netflix. And then go buy your ticket to Paris.
Aside from perusing the darling neighborhoods in Paris’s sprawling arrondissements and taking day trips to palaces and country sides, what do you do in the City of Lights?
I think the question it more What don’t you do?
There are so many sights to see, places to experience, so much food to eat, and romance to be absorbed, that it would take years -centuries, in Owen Wilson’s case in Midnight in Paris– to do it all.
My best recommendation?
Choose one big thing to do every day. One major sight, and get it out of the way in the morning. Then spend the afternoon and evening enjoying the shops, cafes and streets in one of Paris’s lovely neighborhoods.
Here is a bit about what we did:
The Eiffel Tower:
Our apartment that we were renting (look into Paris Perfect, VRBO, and Air B&B) was right off of the Champ de Mars (the big park next to the tower) so we had the pleasure of viewing that delicate construction of iron work each and every morning and every night just by sticking our heads out the balcony.
Go sit in front of it at night, barter for a bottle of cheap champagne from the men walking around, and watch it sparkle on every hour. It is so lovely!
Most people that I speak to hate the Louvre. And I completely understand why. It is crowded with idiots who want their picture with La Gioconda (Mona Lisa, silly) and it is overwhelming as every wall is stacked high with paintings, Salon style.
Here is my suggestion: if you do not love art, do not go to the Louvre because you are “supposed to.” I have been three times and I love it every time. I do not mind the Salon Style curating because most of these paintings were first displayed that way (its the old, stuffy French way) and that is how they are supposed to be seen, and I know what I am looking for. If you are going to go, do your research so you know what is there to see; and go straight there. Did you know two of Michelangelo’s most famous sculptures are there? Did you know some of France’s greatest Revolution era paintings are there? There is also an entire peaceful wing of more modern (I use that term loosely) French sculpture that is very lovely. Or just ignore the art work and enjoy this super awesome old palace!
Enter through a side door to save yourself and hour or more in line and a whole lot of anxiety. We took Porte des Lions and got our start on the opposite end of the museum, aka, against the general flow of traffic. Wave hi to Mona on your way through the Italian wing, take a while to appreciate Winged Victory of Samothrace (truly incredible) and then peruse the French Art (it is, after all a French museum) before enjoying some of the Greek and Roman sculptures.
Jimmy does not share my love of museums. I could spend every second on a trip in museums. I love them. But he doesn’t. He did, however, seem to enjoy the Louvre. At the end, however, he seemed pretty ready for a long lunch with wine. Which is exactly what you should do after the Louvre.
We went to explore Ile de la Cite and Il St. Louis for the afternoon.
This is one of my absolute favorite places in Paris and one of the best museum experiences. Why? You get to walk through a beautiful garden while admiring the moving sculptures of Auguste Rodin. The gardens and estate belonged to him and are where he used to sketch and sculpt.
Most of his works throughout the garden are life-sized studies for one massive piece, The Gates of Hell, an opposing piece to Ghiberti’s Gates of Paradise in Florence, and an embodiment of Dante’s Inferno. His most famous piece, The Thinker is actually Dante (or all men) contemplating the horrors of hell beneath him. I think Rodin’s sculptures are incredible, either on their own or viewed all together. I love the emotions he manages to capture in their faces and movement, that translates even through cast bronze.
While you are in the neighborhood, go say hi to our good friend, Napoleon, in his tomb. It is also a part of the massive military museum, which is not very entertaining, though the building -an old hospital-is quite impressive.
Saint Germain des Pres:
St. Germain is Paris’s neighborhood for window
shopping drooling. Most high-end companies have a beautiful storefront in this area, which means that there is no shortage of extremely chic Parisians strolling the streets and occupying the darling cafes. Make sure you happen upon Deyrolle, a highly entertaining an famous taxidermy shop with beautiful displays. No photos allowed, but you may recognize it from (again) Midnight in Paris.
After viewing the church of St. Germain -the oldest in Paris- and window shopping, we breaked for lunch at Cafe de Flore. This cafe is worth the splurge, with friendly and attentive waiters in bow ties and the most ridiculously amazing hot chocolate you will ever taste. It has hosted many artists and celebrities throughout the years, so keep an eye out.
Keep walking through the chic stores and eventually you will end up at Saint Sulpice, and its lovely accompanying fountain, and eventually to the Luxembourg gardens, which is a great place to grab a chair and rest in the sun. It is a wonderful respite from the city.
Arc de Triomphe & Champs Elysee:
The Arc de Triomphe is a must visit for any Paris first timer. This national monument not only commemorates the Napoleonic wars, but it also shades France’s eternal flame and Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. There has been a ceremony over this tomb every day since 1920, even during Nazi occupation of WWII. I think the view from its platform is much better than from the Eiffel Tower, as you really get a feel for the famous boulevards of Paris. Plus, you get to see the Eiffel Tower on the skyline.
The hike up is pretty impressive, so good knees and lungs are ideal.
Laduree is a iconic French establishment. Pop in to adore the beautiful store and splurge on some sweets (and their darling packaging).
The rest of the Champs Elysee is full of swanky storefronts, hotels and restaurants. I think it is worth a stroll, but I would chose a separate neighborhood to spend time (and money) in.
Paris Dinner Cuise:
Ok, call it hoaky and tourist-y if you want but we had an absolute blast! They have a variety of dinner packages that can suit any budget and, with a glass roof, there is no bad seat on board.
Great food and service with a view that cannot be beat. You get to glide along the Seine, under the series of bridges that lace its banks, and see the City of Lights come to life. I say: must do! So get dressed up and hop on board!
Il de la Cite & Il St. Louis:
These two island on the Seine are a lovely place to spend a quiet afternoon. We came here to decompress after the zoo that is the Louvre. Come for a long lunch, stay for the ice cream shops, small shops, and stunning views of Notre Dame.
My parents are so cute!
The best way to get to these islands is a long stroll down the Seine. The view cannot be beat!
Le Marais & Place Royale:
We wandered through the boutique-lined streets of the Marais on our last day in Paris before heading to the airport and stopped for lunch in one of the cafes in the arcade-d Place Royale.
FYI- one of the best shops for macaroons is in this square. Their salted caramel is legendary-for a good reason.
If modern architecture and art is your thing, the Centre Pompidou is one of the greatest examples of excellent modern building design in the world, having completely turned Paris on its head after its completion in 1977. This building revolutionized architectural design with its use of massive pre-fabricated members, exo-skeleton yielding an entirely open museum space and conceptual design.
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Also, a huge thank you to my parents for treating us to such a lovely trip (on their anniversary trip, no less!). We had such a wonderful time exploring the city together! I cannot believe it has already come and gone, as we had been planning this since last Christmas! Thanks, mommy and daddy! We loved every day!
Who is ready to book their flight to the city of lights?