Top 5 for Paris
- Explore the quaint side streets of Montmartre, away from the gaggle of tourists around the Sacre Couer.
- Visit the Musee D’Orsay.
- Sit beneath the Eiffel Tower – of course!
- Take a day trip to Versailles, and incredibly beautiful and worthwhile experience.
- Head to the top of Galleries Lafayette for an amazing view of the city.
Paris is a place I have mixed feelings about. While I could spend months exploring certain areas, many parts are irritatingly touristy. And that’s saying something, considering I’m a tourist myself. Above all, it is a place where if you are not a French speaker, you will be ripped off and treated as an inferior. Fine fine, but hey, we have to accept it- when you are on Parisien turf there is no sense in arguing! And there is something different in the air here – it’s a feeling you will have nowhere else, and it’s a truely Paris thing that everyone should experience at least once. I LOVE Paris for certain sites which are totally unique – here are my favourites:
Montmartre: Of the three times I’ve stayed in Paris, this was my favourite area. It feels authentic, interesting, a bit alternative, and lively. The Sacre Couer is gorgeous and worth a visit, but I much preferred just wandering the streets in this district, poking into various shops and patisseries, people watching, and taking it all in.
The Musee D’Orsay: Much smaller and more manageable then the gigantic Louvre, the building itself is gorgoues. Once the Orsay railway station, it is now converted into the museum and the windowed ceiling lets amazing amounts of light in and makes the space feel open and cheerful. The art itself is from 1848- 1914, and shows an beautiful variety of impressionist works (my favourite), amongst other things.
The Eiffel Tower: It is preeeeeeetttttyyy hard to beat a sunny day beneath the Eiffel tower. Twice now, friends and I have found a small patch of free grass, popped open a bottle of Champagne, and simply sat and marvelled at the here and now of the experience. I mean, you’re drinking Champagne under the Eiffel Tower – how wonderfully cliche is that??
Versailles: Despite it’s inevitable crowds and hoards of tourist buses, the Hall of Mirrors is all it’s cracked up to be. But no cracks in the mirrors here 🙂 It’s ornate, over-the-top, intricate, dizzying, and amazing. The rest of the palace and gardens are similarly over-groomed and luxurious, but for a taste of something different, Marie Antoinette’s English Garden was one of my favourite parts of the trip. The grasses and plants are unkept and wild, the buildings are rough around the edges and rustic, and overall it gives you the feeling that you really could be in the English countryside. A lovely reprieve from the over-engineered character of the rest of the place.
I highly recommend spending some time in the residential area of Versailles as well. There is a great local market, about a 10 minute walk from the Versailles gates, where you can pick up fresh crusty baguettes, French cheese, pate, and perhaps some patisserie.
Galleries Lafayette: The ceiling of this department store is a marvel. It is worth a trip itself, however the real treat comes when you head to the top floor open balcony, for 360 panoramic views of Paris.
Where to Stay:
Hotel Andre Gill (4 rue Andre Gill, Montmartre) – a relatively cheap and basic hotel, right in the action of Montmartre. A twin private room with ensuite bathroom will set you back 80-90 Euros. The staff are not particularly friendly, but the price and location are good.
Hotel Picardie (Rue de Picardie) – this quaint family-run hotel was a steal- when we stayed in 2009 it only set us back 26 euro for a double room! However that may have changed since then. This rate was bare bones – with no internet or breakfast included.
Hotel Ares (Eiffel Tower) – for several steps up in quality, service, and price, this hotel gets top points for ambiance, location, decor, and friendly helpful staff. Rooms are small but beautiful. Scour the internet for deals (in the range of 180 euro per night) and skip the overpriced breakfast.
Where to Eat
Nowhere near any tourist site, that’s for sure. I’ve had some very disappointing meals (which cost a pretty penny) in Paris, generally due to proximity to a tourist site.
For a cheap fool-proof lunch, grab a crepe or pizza from one of the many boulangeries littered around the city. They are always delicious. The same goes for breakfast- while sitting down in a cafe will results in a 1000% mark-up for a croissant and coffee, simply grabbing the same thing to go from a bakery will only set you back a few euros.
I had one of my best meals with friends in Montmartre – I found a gem beforehand online, and based on the reviews we made a reservation at Le Sagittaire (77 Rue Lamarck, Montmartre). The 32 euro prix-fixe menu includes an Aperitif, Starter, Main course, Salad, Cheese Course, Dessert, Coffee, AND 1/2 a bottle of wine per person. An absolutely unbelievable deal in any city, nevermind Paris, and the food was outstanding. The evening we went, starter choices included escargot, scallops with quinoa & apple salad, or confit de canard. Main courses ranged from Steak Frites to traditional French Choucroute (delicious, pictured below) and dessert could be a chocolate mousse cake, flambeed banana crepes, or “Floating Islands”. Between three courses, along with cheese, salad, and drinks, we were all stuffed and wondering how on earth they can provide such wonderful food for such a small price. AMAZING!