Just a two and a half hour train ride away, Paris is in much closer reach than it may seem. The Eurostar from King’s Cross St. Pancras is a quick, easy – and cheap if you book at the right time! – way to travel underneath the channel and into the City of Love. Taking a train has major perks; no luggage weight limits and no liquid restrictions, so feel free to bring a bottle of bubbly for the journey or buy as much Chanel No. 5 on the Champs-Élysées as your heart desires.
As a Londoner, Paris feels like a pretty small city by comparison; two and a half days in and I haven’t stepped foot on public transport, bar a quick Uber from the Gare du Nord. I have, however, racked up some impressive steps on my Fitbit! Most of the city is walkable if you’re wearing comfy shoes and are happy to stretch your legs a little, though I will be taking the Metro when I visit Montmarte and the Sacré-Coeur tomorrow.
I booked a cute, compact studio apartment just a stones throw from the famous Champs-Élysées via Airbnb for it’s top location, self-catered option and significantly lower cost than any hotels in the same area; I highly recommend Airbnb for it’s wide range of choices and styles, often far more unusual than you would find in any run-of-the-mill hotel! Check it out here for £25 travel credit!
It’s only right that my Parisian experience began with a meander along the capital’s most famous street. The Champs-Élysées is a gloriously wide tree-lined boulevard, adorned with some of the biggest fashion names in the world and plenty of classic eateries. At the top, the Arc de Triomphe stands proud and it’s a form of entertainment in itself to stand and watch as cars attempt to negotiate the eight lane roundabout. Beneath, under a perpetual flame, lies the grave of an unknown soldier from the First World War; a randomly chosen individual who was chosen to represent all those who fought and died for France.
Much of Paris can be soaked in and enjoyed simply from wandering around the different districts, but if you’re looking for some more specific recommendations then here are a few of my highlights over the past few days;
1. L’Entrecôte de Paris, 29 Rue de Marignan, 75008 (off of the Champs-Élysées)
France is well renowned for it’s fantastic steak and L’Entrecôte restaurant encompasses this perfectly. At a fixed price per head of €26.50 in the evening or €19.50 on a weekday lunch time, the quality of meat to value ratio is outstanding. Top grade tenderloin steak is served on a large hot plate in the centre of the table in proportion to the number of diners, alongside unlimited french fries and their famous house sauce. Bread and a walnut salad are also provided as a distinctly average starter; really I wanted that out the way so the steak would arrive! Portions are hearty and the meat is beautifully cooked; I could easily have eaten here each night! Wine is available by the glass, bottle, half-bottle and carafe and the list is both extensive and of excellent value; a carafe of house red (approx. four glasses) cost around €7. Service is breezy and waiters are extremely au-fait with tourists, so whilst it is always worth practicing your best French, you do not need to worry about being understood.
2. Le Louvre
A trip to Paris would not be complete without a visit to the world’s largest museum and art gallery. Originally a palace built in the late 12th Century under Philip II, the building (it seems a gross understatement to call it that) is truly magnificent. The traditional architecture is juxtaposed against I. M. Pei’s grand Glass Pyramid, which stands in the centre of the main court, Cour Napoléon. Originally met with disdain, the Louvre now simply could not be imagined without this iconic structure and the effect is stunning.
To see every object and work of art would take over nine months to complete, and so it’s important to have at least a vague idea of what you’re interested in first. The most famous work housed in the Louvre, and one that tourists literally scrabble across one another to see, is da Vinci’s Mona Lisa; housed in climate-controlled bullet-proof glass, you’ll find her in Room 6 of the 1st Floor, in the Denon Wing. Other notable works include the Venus de Milo – a large Greek marble sculpture dated 100-130BC depicting Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of Love who was found, armless, in the early eighteenth century – and the Winged Victory of Samothrace, a 190BC marble sculpture of the goddess of Victory, Nike, who was similarly found armless and headless.
Tickets cost €15 and are valid all day – we passed ours on to some French ladies in the queue, who were very grateful for the saving!
Tip: The longest queues are through the Grande Pyramide, instead use the Carrousel du Louvre entrance (99 Rue de Rivoli); head down the escalators and through the upmarket shopping arcade before reaching the entrance. You must queue twice, first for security, and second for tickets.
3. The Eiffel Tower
One of the world’s most famous landmarks, and easily the epitome of Paris, the Eiffel Tower is a must see. However, I do not necessarily recommend a trip to the top! Queues can be horrendously long and the true Paris sky line is best scene with this icon standing tall within it.
From the north bank of the Seine the view of the tower is beautiful and you can appreciate it’s presence by walking around it; the famous view with the grassy banks beneath it is from the Parc du Champ de Mars. A fantastic view of the entire city, including the Tour de Eiffel is from the hilly Montmarte region, where the Sacré-Coeur stands on a hill top.
The St-Germain district is on the Left Bank (south) of the Seine and encompasses chic fashion and interior design boutiques, antique and vintage dealers and plenty of striped-awning pavement brasseries. Brasserie Lipp on Boulevard St-Germain is world renowned after Hemingway immortalised it in his A Moveable Feast, and Café de Flore, opposite, is a perfect Parisian art-deco landmark serving what Time Out Paris heralds as one of the best chocolat chaud’s in the city.
Perhaps most notable for this area is the Musée d’Orsay, an impressionist and post-impressionist gallery housing works from Monet, Manet, Renoir, Rodin, Degas and Van Gogh, to name a few. Entry is €12 and if I’m honest this felt a little steep having visited the Louvre for only €3 more the previous day. The works are impressive, but I did not find the layout particularly smooth. Nonetheless, if you’re an art lover it’s definitely worth a trip!
5. The best Chocolat Chaud in Paris at Angelina, 226 Rue de Rivoli
Don’t be put off by the queues outside, Angelina is well worth the wait. Founded in 1903, the tea room serves what is heralded as one of the best hot chocolates world wide, and most certainly in Paris. The recipe for it’s classic ‘African’ Chocolate Chaud (€8.20) is a close guarded secret; delivered to the table in a jug, the hot liquid is rich, decadent and velvety. It’s served alongside a pot of fresh whipped cream to stir in at your leisure; order some mini macarons (€9 for four; try the Earl Grey Tea and Pistachio!) and soak in the Belle Époque architecture.