It had been a dream to visit Paris, ever since I was a little girl and my parents had enrolled me in French language classes. I continued learning the language in high school, as well as doing French theatre sports and enjoying croissants from the local bakery! It was not until I was 25, that I finally organised my dream trip.
I arrived in Paris, via the Eurostar tunnel, from London. When I got off the train, the station was buzzing and I was thoroughly disoriented. I hauled my backpack to the exit and tried to cross the busy road, only to find out that drivers did not stop at zebra crossings! I waited for a small gap in the traffic, before running across the road like a headless chicken. Fumbling around with my Lonely Planet in one hand and a map in the other, I tried my best to navigate through the streets. Half an hour later, I finally found the hostel. It was a relief to set down my backpack and freshen up, ready for a whole week of Parisian delights!
Paris is home to some of the world’s best galleries, including the Louvre (where you can take a look at the Mona Lisa, amongst other exquisite artworks), Musée d’Orsay (full of works by Renoir, Manet and Monet, to name a few) and the L’Orangerie, (famous for Monet’s Waterlilies). If you are on a budget, try to plan your visit on the first Sunday of the month, where entrance to all of these galleries is free.
The Eiffel Tower
The Eiffel Tower, built in 1889, is a cultural icon and can be seen from so many perspectives around Paris. It stands in the mystical haze during the day light and sparkles with lights in the evening. But if you love a good view, why not climb to the top. The building is 324 metres high and you can walk to the second platform before taking a lift to the very top, where you can marvel at 360 degree views of Paris. Definitely worth the price and the hike!
Historic monuments and buildings
The metro train system here is relatively cheap and easy to use. But if you really want to explore the city, there is no better way than by foot. If you stay somewhere central, walking around the city is very achievable. I loved wandering through the grand Arc de Triomphe, Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame Cathedral to name a few. It was also pleasant walking through the Tuileries Garden, along the River Seine and up the grand boulevards lined with trees. Paris is built in a grand style, with wide streets fit for royal carriages!
There are so many suburbs of Paris worth taking a look at, but one of my favourites would have to be Monmartre, in the 18th Arrondissement. The Sacre Coeur stands proudly on the hill and from the top, you can see spectacular views of Paris. There are many alley ways to explore and artists around every corner, offering to paint your portrait! Perhaps why I like Montmartre so much is due to its history – I love to imagine the time where artists, such as Salvador Dali, Claude Monet and Pablo Picasso, used to paint here in their studios. It is certainly an inspiring suburb for creative types.
French cooking classes
France is known world-wide for its incredible food and what better way to experience French cuisine than by taking a cooking class. I booked with a company called Cook’n With Class, where all lessons were taken in English. I would highly recommend them, especially the Baking and French Desserts class! I learnt how to make croissants, pain au chocolat, brioche, crème brûlée and much more. There was so much food to take away that I had to share it with friends at the hostel. Plus, you get to take home the recipes. It was a wonderful experience.
If you aren’t quite up for a cooking class, don’t worry! There are so many options for dining out and trying French cuisine. I just love the way that French people sit outdoors at cafes, with their chairs facing the street, so that they can unashamedly people-watch while they sip their espresso! And, be prepared to stay up late! Dinner in Paris starts at around 8 pm (at the earliest) and finishes well into the night. They certainly like to take time over their food. Remember, too, that your meal will always be accompanied by a complimentary basket of fresh bread, so factor that into your meal! Be sure to try the French snails, frog legs and foie gras.
Picnics in the Parks
Paris is full of public parks and gardens, ideal for picnics on a sunny day. Plus, preparing for a picnic is almost as much fun as eating it! You can smell the cheese shops from miles away! Buy a fresh baguette from the local boulangerie, a selection of your favourite cheeses, some foie gras, cherry tomatoes, strawberries and a good bottle of wine and you have a perfect French picnic. Don’t forget to pop into the patisserie for a selection of macarons and pastries.
Paris is known for its shopping and the French certainly have style. There are some large, upmarket department stores, which are certainly worth a visit, even if you aren’t big on the retail therapy! I really enjoyed strolling around Galeries Lafayette, largely because of its stunning interior. It was established in the early 1900s and certainly reflects the architecture of the time.
As a theatre-lover and big fan of the movie, I was keen to see a show at this famous building. It was everything I imagined from the outside, with its red windmill and sparkling lights. Inside, you are treated like royalty – a handsome usher in a suit will guide you to the table and compliment you on your outfit! With all tickets, you will be seated at a table, so you may as well enjoy a dinner or champagne while you are watching the cabaret unfold! The performance was highly professional and included a huge variety of acts, from dancers and strong men, to comedians and magicians. Tickets are expensive, but it is well-worth making the room in your budget.
Palace of Versailles
A short train journey away and you will find yourself outside of Paris, standing in front of the Palace of Versailles, which literally glitters with gold. Be prepared to get there early, prior to opening time, so that you can avoid long queues and crowded rooms. It becomes clear, when admiring the grand rooms, exquisite decor and vast, lavish gardens, how the French Revolution happened! The extraordinary inequalities in wealth and power are sickening, to say the least! Nonetheless, it is a magical building with glorious gardens. Plan to spend the whole day – you will need it.
Monet’s House and Garden
If you want to check out where Monet found his inspiration, you can take a day trip to his house and garden, located just outside Giverny. You can take the train, but it will involve a long walk at the other end – you might be better off hiring a car or taking a tour. Once there, you can stroll through the gardens, over the famous bridge and through the pink house. I visited in early April, to witness thousands of colourful tulips!
What were some of your favourite experiences in Paris? Is there anything you would add to the list?