Dress (new) & Bag: H&M, Vest: Esprit, Shoes: Vans, Sunnies: Vögele Shoes
“A walk about Paris will provide lessons in history, beauty, and in the point of Life.”
– Thomas Jefferson
After a romantic city break to Venice with my husband a few weeks back, I spent the Whitsun weekend in Paris with one of my female friends from Holland. Paris being a city we both love and located somewhere between our homes, we thought it the perfect place for a girls’ weekend away. Apart from talking and laughing a lot, we did quite some sightseeing too.
I have decided not to list the standard sights for you, but to tell you what not to do in Paris, offering great alternatives as well of course.
- Do NOT hesitate to bring a pain au chocolat, pain aux raisins, chauson aux pommes and more yummy food fresh from the bakery with you when you install yourself on a terrace to enjoy a coffee or morning tea. Just make sure not to bring anything the café itself sells (you can often order a croissant and a baguette au beurre at a café). When you want to feel very French and spoil yourself at the same time, make yourself comfortable on a terrace with your fresh French viennoiserie while sipping your coffee or tea and observe, observe, observe! (observing pedestrians passing by is a very Parisian thing to do) Mind you, this will work better further away from the very touristic areas and is certainly a no-go on the terrace of Café de Flore (a café you can compare with Florian in Venice).
- Do NOT visit the Louvre museum on your high heels (the museum is huge) or without buying a ticket in advance (saves you a lot of time) or without making a plan what to visit (like I said, the museum is huge).Do also NOT enter the museum at the glass pyramid, but choose one of the other entrances (saves you a lot of time). Once in the museum I would certainly grab a map and buy an audioguide. You can also book a guided tour in English, which takes one and a half hours and covers the highlights of the museum. Mind you, these tours are very popular, so you have to book early!
- Do NOT only have lunch in a bistro (here is a list and a map of the 100 most French bistros in Paris) or restaurant, but buy a fresh baguette, some creamy French cheese, a bottle of water and/or French wine and have a picnic lunch on a typical Parisian bench in one of the many parks. It’s another good opportunity to be very French; sitting and observing the people passing by (see also point 1).
- Do NOT cross the Place de l’Étoile, also called Place Charles-de-Gaulle, to get to the Arc de Triomphe. There are underground passages to get there safe and sound. The roundabout is fascinating to watch though. No lanes, lots of cars and creative (read: crazy) drivers. When you visit Paris by car and you want a challenge, you now know where to go! The Arc de Triomphe is certainly worth a visit. So much history there. Napoleon ordered to have it built, so he could keep his promise towards his soldiers: “You will return home through archs of triumph.” Hitler let his troupes march under it to humiliate the French and many, many heads of State and Royals have stood at the grave of the unknown soldier. You can get on top of the Arc and that will give you a wonderful view over the crazy cars on the Place de l’Étoile, the city, the Champs-Élysées and the other two arcs: the Arc de Triumph du Carrousel, close to the Louvre, and the highly modern Grande Arche (de la Fraternité) in La Défence. I love the symbolism of 3 arches, since the French flag has got 3 colours and the French motto has got its famous 3 words: Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité.
- Do NOT just visit the famous parks, like Les Tuileries or Jardin du Luxembourg. They are beautiful, but so are Parc de Belleville and Parc des Buttes-Chaumont. These parks aren’t overrun by tourist, but full of locals and both parks offer an amazing view over the city. From Buttes-Chaumont you can spot the Sacré-Coeur and from Belleville you have got the whole of Paris at your feet!
- Do NOT forget your beret when visiting Paris. It will not only make you look très parisienne, it will come in handy for a touristic attraction too. Throw some gloves and a scarf in your suitcase as well, not matter the season.You will need them if you want to visit the Ice Kube Bar, a bar that consists only of…ice! Chairs, bar, even the glasses are made of ice. The temperature is minus 20° and though they offer you warm jackets, you will appreciate your scarf and personal gloves and beret. They serve alcoholic and non-alcoholic cocktails; no food. As my friend does not drink alcohol and I am petite, we decided not to visit the bar. Imagine my friend having 4 cold drinks when it’s minus 20° and me having 4 cocktails mixed with vodka (their favourite basis for cocktails) without food…The concept sounds pretty cool though, so when you’re in for something original, this might be your spot to visit.
- Do NOT only use the metro. The underground is a perfect way to get from one highlight to the other, but you miss all the beauty in between (and trust me, Paris is very beautiful). Why not take a bus once in a while or (for the daring among you), rent a bike or do a guided cycling tour*? Paris isn’t Holland, I know, but the city has invested highly in making Paris bicycle-friendlier and with success. There are currently more than 200 km of bike routes and an additional 70 km of bus lanes are also accessible to cyclists ( here you can find some cycling routes). Oh, and every first Sunday of the month, the first 4 arrondissements in Paris are car-free. This might be worth taking into account when planning a city trip to Paris, especially since the Louvre offers a free entrance every first Saturday of the month.
- Do NOT miss the street art in Paris. When it is sunny, you can combine admiring art, getting a tan and experiencing the local vibes while doing a street art walk in the Belleville area for example. There is a lot of street art in the 13th arrondissement too (especially in Butte aux Cailles, which is also a great area for lunch, drinks or dinners too. Check out: Chez Gladines, very French, very popular and very good)
- Do NOT skip the Notre Dame just because of the recent fire. The building is still impressive and on the island next to it, Île Saint-Louis, you find Berthillon Glacier, where they simply sell the best ice-cream of Paris. I had caramel-sea salt and praline with pine kernels. I can high recommend these!
- Do NOT just go to Père Lachaise to visit Jim Morrison’s grave. I know many people do. The first sentence I heard when entering the cemetery, was an American asking his wife: “Where is Jimmy?” It is special, I grant you that, especially since the spot is surrounded by safety barriers. They are very out of place, but apparently a necessity.For the “French” fans: Molière, La Fountaine, Balzac and Edith Piaf are also buried there. We loved seeing 3 ladies standing around Edith Piaf’s grave, listening quietly to her songs, coming at low volume from one of their cell phones. What struck us most was what was outside the cemetery though. Along the wall there is an extremely long commemorative plaque, with all the names of the Parisian young men that died during WWI. Impressive!
Oh, and last but not least, do NOT wear a yellow vest when visiting Paris 😉 Fortunately, my yellow vest is more a winter one, so there was no temptation to bring it with me.
I hope I have inspired you with lots of things to do and NOT to do in Paris. And you know what?
“Paris is always a good idea.”
– Audrey Hepburn
*Voor de Nederlandse lezers/lezeressen:
Wij hebben een off road tour Parijs gedaan met een Nederlands-talige gids. Hartstikke leuk en informatief en echt Nederlands door de (manier van) fietsen. Een aanrader!