Paris, France - What should I do in three days?
Hi again! Back in April, Mike gave me a planned holiday to Paris as my birthday present. At the beginning of August, we finally went on this long-awaited vacation. The trip lasted about three and a half days. It was busy, but by the end I felt like I had seen everything I wanted to see and eaten everything I wanted to eat. Since this seems like a popular trip from the states, I figured I would briefly write down everything as I would recommend it all for first-timers. I will try to keep this just to important information since there is a lot to go through. Quick note: Most people in Paris speak English, so one less thing to worry about. Haha!
Day 1 - Friday, August 3, 2018
Train from London to Paris
Since we live near London, the easiest and cheapest way to travel to Paris is a fast train from London St. Pancras International to Paris Gare du Nord, France. If you are coming from the states, I would still highly recommend this method if you intend to stop elsewhere in Europe or even London for that matter. It will probably be about $100-125 for a roundtrip. Also, the process is pretty well organized. Arrive about 90 minutes before your train to London St. Pancras. No point in getting there any earlier as they only let passengers on the next departure enter going through one line to scan your digital ticket, go through security and pass immigration. You can pretty much bring whatever you want - no restrictions on size of toiletries or anything like that. They say two bag/luggage limit, but honestly as long as you can carry it you should be fine. Whatever you can carry really. Once you get on the train, find your coach, put your large luggage away at the front (you can fit carry-on sizes above your seat like on a plane), and find your seat. There is a cafe with food and restrooms as well. Just sit back, relax and enjoy your 2-3 hour ride under the English Channel. The train is Eurostar, you can book them here.
Important Note: Remember to change out your money as well! England is pounds, and Paris is euros. HSBC is my bank and is all over Europe, so I just pulled directly from an atm in Paris. This is the best way to avoid tremendous fees. Most places will take card, but it is a really good idea to have 100 euros or so on you at all times.
Breakfast at Holybelly
The train station, Paris Gare du Nord, is a little north of city center where our hotel was. And we had taken the earliest train, so we had nothing in our stomachs. Mike travels to Paris a lot for work, so he took us to local favorite easily walkable from the train station. Holybelly is a cute little breakfast spot with red leather seats, white brick interior, and exposed copper piping and plants on the ceiling.
They serve really good pancakes, lightly sweet and more dense than American pancakes, and eggs any way you can imagine. A very good start to the vacation, especially since there is nothing better to me than a good breakfast. You can check them out here.
Important Note: I would like to note here that summer hours are a very real thing in Paris. Research ahead of time to ensure everywhere you are going is open during the summer. A lot of places take off for the summer months and will not be open until September.
Check-in at Hôtel Duret
As I mentioned before, Mike has visited Paris many times so he was familiar with the area and where would be best to stay. He specifically chose Hôtel Duret because of the perfect balance of location, accommodation and price. Hôtel Duret is more northwest of center, but within walking distance of most major sights (Arc de Triomphe, Eiffel Tower and more) and the subway. The hotel's neighborhood is great for leisure; lots of boulangeries, shopping (Champs-Elysees, etc.) and beautiful Parisian streets. The hotel was very accommodating and friendly with everything I would need, like plenty of towels, sockets, a good size wardrobe, a hair dryer, good free breakfast with fresh croissants and coffee to-go, and 24-hour room service. The elevator is adorably small and room a little tight, but honestly most European accommodations are like that. I sometimes forget in European hotels that you must use a room key to activate electricity in the room by placing it in the holder right by the door. If you accidentally leave a key in the room, housekeeping will probably remove it to save energy. I can see how this is annoying to remember, but its greener and more protective so I like it. Overall, perfect for our stay and my first time in Paris. You can check Hôtel Duret out here.
I apologize but I completely forgot to take pictures of our hotel, but you can see tons on Google and their website above.
Metro to Montmartre
For the rest of the day we went to Montmartre, a cute artistic district on top of a high hill in the northern part of the city. The best way to get there from the hotel is the metro. The entrance to the metro is right by the Arc de Triomphe, about 700 meters down the street. The metro in Paris is actually very efficient and accessible, definitely the fastest and cheapest way to go around the city. The screens to buy the tickets on can be a little confusing with all the options, but just buy a t+ ticket each time for a single, one-way trip using any of the lines. It's only 1.90 euros and you might as well just pay as you go. You can use Uber, which we did a couple times for ease, but we tried to use the metro whenever we could to save money. You can get more info on the metro here.
Again, I complete forgot to take pictures of this, but basically the entrances look like this. You just have to look for any stairs heading underground with "Metro" or "Metropolitain" written above.
Montmartre and Sacré-Coeur
As mentioned before, Montmartre is a district most known for its artistic history with the famous Sacré-Coeur Basilica (Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris) at its summit. The basilica is beautiful as to be expected with an equally beautiful view of Paris. The basilica is both a political and cultural monument, making the architecture even more interesting. For example, the Roman Catholic church's entrance is guarded by two equestrian statues of King Saint Louis (Louis IX) and Saint Joan of Arc.
The main attraction is the basilica, but the surrounding area adds to the charm. You can find cute antique shops and artists everywhere selling paintings and handmade keepsakes. We grabbed a drink in the middle and people-watched for a bit just to take it all in. I also had some gelato because...it's vacation...and I wanted it.
The view from the Sacré-Coeur was beautiful, but the view of the front garden looking back up the basilica was even better. To get here, you go down the hill from Montmartre via a long staircase or a cable car (Funiculaire). At the bottom, you can enter the Square Louise Michel park that opens up to a huge grass area leading up to the basilica. Here you'll find lots of people trying to get that perfect shot up the middle of the white staircase with perfectly green grass on both sides. You'll also find many sitting on the grass, having a picnic or just relaxing and taking in the view. Dinner was in an hour, so we decided to relax here for a moment. It was also very very hot and it was nice to rest in some shade.
Dinner at Aux Trois Petits Cochons
Right around the corner from here was our planned dinner spot highly recommended by a close friend: Aux Trois Petits Cochons. The restaurant was super cute and intimate with large open glass doors all around to give a patio feel. Aux Trois Petits Cochons is French cuisine at its best and only open for dinner with a prix fixe style menu that changes often. Basically you choose a starter, main course and dessert from a list of 4-6 items in each category.
Everything is freshly gathered and home-made daily into delicious twists on French classics. The food felt fancy and inventive while the ambience and service felt comfortable, like a next-door neighbor. I had the goat cheese mousse with cod to start and grilled sea bream with roast tomatoes, zucchini and white butter sauce. Mike had the melon, wine jelly and smoked duck breast to start and the grilled chicken, pine seeds, tome cheese and tabouleh. Perfect dinner, definitely recommend. They take reservations on their site to make it easy.
Day 2 - Saturday, August 4, 2018
Breakfast at A La Petite Marquise
The Eiffel Tower is about 1.5 miles away from our hotel with beautiful Parisian streets and parks on the way, so we decided to walk there. On the way is a cute courtyard Place Victor Hugo with a beautiful fountain in the center and ten elegant Parisian apartment buildings intersecting at the roundabout.
Most apartment buildings have businesses at the bottom, and one here has a cute patisserie called A La Petite Marquise. We stopped here for a quick breakfast. Most patisseries are on-the-go with no seating, but this one has benches outside where you can view the beautiful courtyard and fountain. We grabbed croissants, pain au chocolats and water bottles for about 10 euros total. The pastry was so buttery and flaky - seriously best croissants I've ever had. They even looked gorgeous with their perfectly baked golden crust on the outside. I've never seen croissants so golden, they were like glowing. The picture doesn't do it justice. Perfect breakfast on our way to the Eiffel Tower. This is probably the best site to check them out.
The Eiffel Tower
The main attraction! The main symbol of Paris that the whole world knows and wants to go see for themselves.
First, let me just tell you that you need at least 4 hours or so to take it all in. We did everything as fast as we could, left out some parts of it and still it took about 4 hours. There is the tower itself, as well as the two very large picturesque gardens to the northwest and southeast.
The southeast garden, Champ de Mars, is arguably the most popular spot to take pictures from because you are ground level with the tower and have a long beautiful green park between you. However, I will admit we skipped going to this spot because it was a really dry summer and most of the grass was gone.
The northwest garden, Jardins du Trocadéro, is raised and lets you take a picture eye-level with the tower (more attractive to me since less chance of people being in the picture). Also this garden has a large fountain in which you can go in yourself. I love playing in public fountains for some reason, always been an obsession of mine since I was a child. The distance between these two parks is about one mile alone, so you will want time to explore and walk between them.
Second, definitely buy a ticket in advance. The line to go up the stairs or to buy a ticket were both ridiculously long and honestly I probably wouldn't go if I had to wait in them. Thank goodness Mike thought ahead and bought us tickets. The line for the people who bought tickets to go up the lift is the north pillar (Piller Nord); make sure you wait in the correct line if you already bought tickets. You will want to buy the one that lets you go to the top floor. There are three floors: (1) 57m from the ground known for the transparent floor, (2) first open view of the Paris skyline with restaurants and shops as well, and (3) the very top 276m above ground and a champagne bar to help you further enjoy the view. Each floor was worth stopping in for a moment to appreciate the varied views. The second floor was my favorite because that particular view was high enough to feel above Paris and see the whole skyline, but not too high where you can't make anything out. We did not have time to eat or drink anywhere, we just went up and down. Then we went to the Trocadéro Gardens for pictures of the tower. The Eiffel Tower is truly breathtaking and a beautiful monument to have represent your city. Looks beautiful no matter the weather conditions, and we were there in the worst conditions I feel like just because everything that normally would be lush was dead.
Tickets are 25 euros and you have to specify a date and 30-minute time slot in which to take the lift. You can buy them here.
Les Catacombes de Paris
Les Catacombes de Paris, or Catacombs of Paris, is the largest underground necropolis in the world sitting 20m under the heart of Paris. The Catacombs host around 6 million skeletons transferred from all the cemeteries of Paris primarily during the 18th century.
It may be a bit morbid and unsettling for some, but this is a major piece of Paris' history that you will not want to miss. It is amazing to see how well rested the bones are despite their age and numbers. It is also heavy on the heart to see so many bodies resting, knowing they came from dark pieces of history like the Plague (a.k.a. Great Plague, Black Death, etc.).
We did not buy tickets for this one in advance because Mike actually didn't even have it on our list of things to visit. I added it seeing we had some time in our schedule because it had been highly recommended to me. However, I would strongly recommend buying tickets in advance. We waited in a large line circling the entrance that took about 2 hours to get through. Walking through it takes about 45 minutes, so we had time to wait luckily. But most do not buy in advance so you will save yourself literally hours for doing so. You enter a small door that looks hidden and exit a completely different way, so don't get disoriented when you exit. It is a little out of the way and we didn't want to waste any time, so we took an Uber from the Eiffel Tower to get there. However, you can easily take the Metro to the exit across the street, Denfert-Rochereau. Truly a unique, heavy experience that is worth seeing. Buy tickets in advance for 13 euros here.
Dinner and Dessert by Canal Saint-Martin
Finally we spent the rest of the night by Canal Saint-Martin. This is by far my favorite area in Paris, where I would love to live if I ever had the chance. Locals gather here along the canal every night to relax, drink, eat and socialize. The canal has a concrete border on both sides where you can sit, and the bars around take advantage of this and offer drinks "to-go."
On top of this attractive vibe, the restaurants lining the canal are also very good and highly rated. Again, you have to beware of summer hours as some will just be closed. Our original choice was closed, so we went to Le Cambodge, a Cambodian restaurant. I actually had never had Cambodian before so I had nothing to compare it to, but it was really good. The restaurant vibe was cute and cozy with open glass doors all around, like most places in Paris. The ordering system is very unique: you are sat with menus and a piece of paper, write down what you want on the paper, and hand it to your server. I like this, seems efficient, but could be bad with illegible writing of course. I had the bobun spécial, a savory bowl of cold rice noodles and hot sautéed beef topped with salad, bean sprouts, peanuts and egg rolls. This was a perfectly refreshing yet hearty dinner to have on a hot day with the fresh uncooked vegetables, delicious savory beef, and crispy egg rolls. I couldn't find a website for it (we found it on Google), so here is the tripadvisor review.
We ended the night with wine and cheese at a highly recommended stop along the canal called La Vache dans les Vignes (known as The Cow in the Vines on Google). Nothing is more attractive to me than a place that really not only knows its wine and cheese, but knows its pairings. La Vache dans les Vignes is extremely knowledgeable and can create a perfect plate and wine pairing upon request. You can of course choose yourself, but I love knowing their favorites especially as my first visit. They do charcuterie as well, but we were still pretty full and just wanted cheese and wine. I wish I had the brains to write down what we had, but the heart-shaped cheese in particular was amazing. I love softer goat cheeses usually, so this was right along my tastes. Paired with a nice lightly fruity yet dry white wine. Heaven. I will come back here every time I am in Paris. Here is their Facebook page.
Day 3 - Sunday, August 5, 2018
Musée du Louvre
Following the Eiffel Tower, I would argue that the Louvre is the second most visited spot in Paris. The former historic palace now holds one of the world's largest art collections, including the original Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci.
I love visiting museums to remind myself how much history has been recovered, how people and cultures are being interpreted today, and how young we are as Americans. It is both a humbling and educational experience that caters to my visual learning preference. There is only so much I can feel and visualize from reading, as opposed to actually seeing the history before me and putting pictures and objects to the words.
The Louvre is now my favorite museum I have ever visited. They didn't just simply place a bunch of objects and paintings in a well lit and clean building with nothing to guide you but small paragraphs under each one. They told a story through the way they organized and decorated each room. For instance, the room showing the royal jewels and crowns was as regal as ever covered in gold moldings, rich colorful carpets, bold paintings of the royal family on the walls, and windows all around so that the sun shines in and lights up the jewels.
Quick warning about the Mona Lisa room: it will be filled with a huge crowd waiting in "line" to see the Mona Lisa up close. This "line" is actually just an unorganized bunch of people with their cell phones and cameras in the air trying to get a glimpse of it. If you walk to the side, you can actually see it pretty well up close. Otherwise, if that isn't good enough, after all you did come all this way to see it, then you will have to wait a bit and kind of push your way to the front. It will probably take at least 30 minutes or so.
Random fun fact: Nintendo did some sort of sponsorship and partnership with the Louvre where all the audio guides can be done on the Nintendo 3DS XL. You can use your own if you bring it, there is even a "game" that can be bought in the souvenir shop that acts as a guide of the Louvre. Or you can rent a 3DS from the ticket agents. We saw lots of tourist using it! Check it out here.
What's even better is the outside is just as beautiful as the inside. Since the Louvre was once a royal palace, the original ornate architecture still stands surrounding a large open courtyard in the center. In the center of the courtyard is the famous glass pyramid that symbolizes the Louvre. Since this was truly a memorable experience and my new favorite museum, I just had to take a picture.
We did not buy tickets in advance and you will probably be fine without doing so. There are several ways to enter the Louvre. Since we took the metro, we entered through the mall where you see Mona Lisa lights lining the ceiling towards the entrance. It was a long line but went fast as you just have to pass security first. Once you pass security, you are under the glass pyramid that includes the entrance to the museum, a cafe, a souvenir shop and the ticket booths. You can easily purchase tickets on the electronic screens. Go to the ticket sellers if you need an audio guide, otherwise it is quicker and easier to just use any touchscreen. Tickets purchased at the museum are 15 euros each, whereas online they are 17 euros each. You can view more info here.
Important Note: Make sure you use the free restroom past the security in the Louvre lobby. Do not exit the Louvre and expect to use the mall's restroom. It will cost you some euros.
Lunch at Café du Musée
We can easily walk from the Louvre to our next destination, Notre Dame. Therefore, we decided to look up on Google something easy and quick we can get for lunch to hold us over. Mike found Café du Musée that is right on our journey and well rated for cozy French cuisine. I got a croque madame, which I totally forgot until that moment that I had wanted to try while in France. So good. This cozy little cafe with very friendly service was a perfect stop for our needs. I am not sure they have a website, but here is the tripadvisor review.
Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris
Notre Dame, Our Lady of Paris, is yet another iconic piece of Paris that is a must-see. This13-century Catholic cathedral with flying buttresses and gargoyles stands on a little island in the La Seine river. That makes this visible from pretty much anywhere over 5 stories in the city, but I must say Notre Dame is even more breathtaking in person.
I didn't think that actually standing right in front of it would make me feel so small. I caught myself just staring up at the two columns in awe. There was a line leading out into the courtyard so I had the time anyway. Don't worry! The line goes really fast and it's worth it to see the light shine through those famous stained glass windows.
Also inside you can see how it started back in 1163 as a plain, modest group of small churches. And how it grew to the symbolic, artistic Gothic cathedral it is today. Truly a beautiful, unique piece of medieval culture. The website is not great, but it's there if you need it. It is free to enter, so just show up during open hours.
We had some time to kill so we walked up to see the Panthéon, originally built as a church modeled after the Pantheon in Rome but now serves as a mausoleum for distinguished French citizens. The remains resting in the Panthéon date all the way back to 1791 and some are as recent as this year. The Panthéon sits a little higher and thereby overlooks all of Paris. I have been to the one in Rome, so I felt it complimentary to see this one as well. It costs 9 euros to go inside, you can buy tickets here.
Football at Ha Penny Bridge Pub
We are fans of Stoke City FC and they had a game today. Mike researched and called ahead to see who might be showing it and this cozy Irish pub popped up. Worked out perfectly as there were plenty of seats and screens, and this was somewhat close to where we were. We took a short Uber ride to get here. I felt I should mention this quick stop in case anyone is looking for a sports pub to watch some games at. They were friendly, convenient and reasonably priced. Check them out here.
Sunset at Arc de Triomphe
The Arc de Triomphe is another very famous monument of Paris standing at the center of Place Charles de Gaulle. A friend of mine told me that I might be there during a rare occasion of seeing the sun set directly inside in the Arc de Triomphe. I looked it up and yes it just so happens that you can see sunset in the arc twice a year: once in May and once in August. So we set out to see it and caught it just in time! It really did set perfectly in the center of the arc!
People were lining the streets trying to take a picture of it. So beautiful and lucky for us!
The Arc de Triomphe is an amazing piece of architecture meant to honor those who fought for France. A memorial flame is always burning under the arc as tribute to the "Unknown Soldier," an embodiment of all those that fell in the course of the First World War. At this point in the trip, I realized it is beautiful that there are so many landmarks honoring the dead in Paris.
Anyways, you can go to the top of the arc if you'd like for 12 euros. Click here for more.
Cocktails at Lulu White Drinking Club
After a quick refresh at our hotel room, we grabbed an Uber to Lulu White Drinking Club. This bar had been recommended to us for really good cocktails in a lively, young, friendly bar with live music. The bar was packed with people but the bartenders were very attentive and nice. They gave us water immediately even though we stood behind the bar and showed us their recommendations. I'll admit I do not remember what we drank, but they were very good and everyone was raving about their own drinks as well. This worked out for us since we had planned on going to Moulin Rouge tonight and Lulu White was down the street. So we grabbed one quick cocktail and walked up to the show. Here is their website for more info.
This was the event I was looking most forward to. The movie Moulin Rouge starring Ewan McGregor had hit theaters at a time when my girlfriends and I were started to become obsessed with the idea of love and a happily ever after. Sad to admit it, but Moulin Rouge became an obsession for us and ever since then I have wanted to see the real thing for myself. Even as I got older and this fantasy faded, I still wanted to experience Paris and the Moulin Rouge show myself. After all, Paris itself still had a romantic aura in my eyes and seeing the show would be the icing on the cake.
The Moulin Rouge building was jammed in between other buildings, but still standing out with huge red windmill tower and everything was lit up. I was already happy at this point sadly. We did the 11pm show with drinks and I would recommend doing it this way. We did not buy the VIP since it is pretty much double the price, however I do feel we lucked out big time with our seats. The seating is a bunch of tables lined up and they seat couples facing each other, which means you will be sitting next to one or two other couples as well. We got the front two seats of the table and got perfect views, but the other two couples sharing our table had to look through us. It must have been a little uncomfortable. Also they really pack people in, so you will have no space around you. If you can go with a group of 6, that would be perfect so you can have your own table. Otherwise, hopefully you just get lucky like us and have no one blocking your view. But make sure to buy the tickets that at least come with drinks since they prioritize those. VIP get seated on the "orchestra" floor if you will. The room's decor was still the very romantic ambience I was hoping for with dimly lit lamps and red glittery curtains everywhere.
The show itself is a cabaret activating as many senses as possible with their modern can-can style dancing, seductive costumes (yes you will see lots of breasts), extravagant sets, and eclectic storytelling. Honestly it was like a Las Vegas burlesque and Cirque du Soleil show with more breasts than ever. I feel the movie definitely oversold it, but I also came out still pretty entertained and happy I went. It was actually my first exotic show, and I'm super happy that it was my first. Those girls were in the best shape ever and there was plenty of talent to make the money worth it. Moulin Rouge will still always hold a special place in my heart, and I am very grateful for seeing it finally in person.
Tickets range from 102 euros to 400 euros depending on the time and type of ticket (VIP, drinks included, etc.). Ours were about 120 euros each as we did 11pm showing, non-VIP, but with drinks included. I would recommend that as your choice. You can get them here.
Day 4 - Monday, August 6, 2018
Breakfast and Shopping at Champs-Élysées
I know I said three days, but today we leave and had a few hours to kill before our train. Therefore we were able to fit in a couple last minute things. One was going to Champs-Élysées and checking out some shops. The Champs-Élysées is an avenue that runs between the Arc de Triomphe and the Louvre. Since our hotel is near the arc, we packed up in the morning to check out, left our luggage there, and walked to the shops closest to the arc.
First we grabbed some breakfast and macarons at Ladurée. I know there are better places to get them, less touristy. However, it is a famous brand and I decided I might as well check it out. This experience was not great. Their website was down so I could not get reservations ahead of time, which is highly recommended by the way. We got there and were not very sympathetic of that, so they said we could grab a seat at their bar in the back that serves full breakfast. This bar had one waitress that was running around and definitely too busy to help. She got our coffee order wrong, and it took at least 30 minutes to get to us. I ordered an omelet that was terrible - flavorless, felt like rubber and filled with way too many overcooked vegetables. We both had a vanilla millefeuille which was actually delicious. And I took home some macarons that were pretty good too. Basically, I would not recommend going here at all for the restaurant. It is beautiful and everything is very well branded with Parisian elegance, however the service is terrible and food not worth the money. I would grab some pastries though and that's it.
After that we headed to the official PSG store to check out some football (soccer) gear. Worth it if you are a fan, however everything is very expensive. The store is amazing though and their kits felt aammmaazzziiinnggg. I would want to wear them if I were playing still.
Crepes at Le Prévoyant
Sadly, it was time for us to go to our train back to London. But there was still one thing I did not have yet: crepes! Mike found this place near the station with decent ratings and cute outdoor seating. We had some delicious drinks and even more delicious crepes. I got the crêpe jus de citron ou d'orange, which is basically a simple sweet crepe with orange liquor drizzled over it. It was exactly what I was looking for in a French crepe. Not overfilled with other flavors, just crepe made well. I loved it. Le Prévoyant did not disappoint.
Another place called Crêperie La Belle Bio was recommended to us but it was closed due to summer hours. If it is open for you, check it out! Recommended by a local so I'm sure it is legit.
Train from Paris to London
This is basically the same process as before, so I will just point out some things that are different. First of all, know that you need to go up the escalators to the second floor. It took us a little bit to notice that Eurostar back to London was on the second floor above us. Secondly, I would arrive about 2 hours before. They won't let you go past security any earlier than that but the process to get past security took much longer than it did coming here. We got here about an hour before and literally just barely made it onto the train. They ended up pushing others onto the next train a couple hours later because they couldn't get them through security fast enough. Other than that, the train is the same and the length of travel is the same.
Paris was an amazing trip with Mike that was a perfect birthday present. I got to experience everything I wanted to experience, plus much more. I really feel you can do everything in a few days, but also I would absolutely love to go back again. By the way, this was my first time going to Paris so everything is from a newbie perspective. I hope it helps you plan your trip out and even makes you want to go all the more! And as always, please feel free to ask any questions! This blog is already long enough so I didn't put in too much detail. ;)