What would you do if you’d never been to Paris before and you had one day, just one, precious day, to see as much of this magical city as you could? Where would you go? What would you see?
This is Naomi Bulger visiting from my blog Messages in Bottles, and I had the pleasure of acting as a guide to Paris for Mr B, my mother-in-law and two 13-year-old girls in this way last year. I tried to pick out a range of classic tourist sites for them, alongside some ‘quieter Paris’ experiences. Here’s what we managed to pack into one day.
1. Le repas
Prepare some snacks before you start. If you pass a market or grocery store on the way, buy a bottle of water alongside a little packet of olives, fresh bread, some cheeses and meats, and perhaps a punnet of raspberries or a bunch of grapes for dessert.
Then take the metro to Chatelet Les Halles. Follow the signs to the Hotel de Ville and when you come out, Paris will appear around you in all its glory. When we emerged in Paris this way, the girls’ jaws just dropped. It made me so happy to see how much they loved it. “NOTHING could be more beautiful,” my stepdaughter Em said.
2. Embrace your inner ‘touriste’
Since we only have one day, let’s get an overview of all the key sights. Buy a ticket for the hop-on-hop-off bus, most leave every 10 minutes or so. You’ll pass by Notre Dame, head over the river, pass the Musee du Louvre, roll along the Champs Elysee, circle the Eiffel Tower and more. It’s a fabulous introduction to Paris. You can of course get off and explore at any time, but I recommend just sitting on the rooftop of the bus (and snacking on your supplies) to get a wonderful overview of the city. It’ll take about two hours.
3. Notre Dame de Paris
When the bus gets you back to where you started, stroll over to Notre Dame. There may be a line to get inside but don’t worry, even the longest lines seem to move very quickly and even if you’re not a ‘church person’ (I’m not), this is worth it. Yes, there are tourists. But there is something about the age, the stillness, the history of this cathedral that lend it a certain power. Prayers come alive in Notre Dame. Light a candle for someone you love, but be careful. We lit a candle, together, and prayed for a baby. That was in September last year and our little girl is due in two weeks (do the math).
4. Dejeuner on Ile Saint-Louis
Time for lunch and a little rest? Wander around the back of Notre Dame, admiring the pretty flower garden, and over the bridge to the tiny, historic island of Ile Saint-Louis. Here you’ll find lovely, medieval laneways with cafes, cheese shops, patisseries, boutique fashion, home design and candy stores. Stop for a leisurely lunch at Café St Regis on the corner just after the bridge and, afterward, you must head down to the famous Berthillon for some of the best ice cream in France. (Seriously!)
5. Les bouquanistes
When you’re feeling refreshed, cross back toward Notre Dame then over the Pont des Arts, to the Left Bank. Along the way, it’s such a treat to stop among the bouquanistes that line both banks of the Seine. Here you’ll find antique books, prints and other wonderful discoveries. If you’re in the company of someone you love, you may also want to buy a ‘love padlock’ to leave as a memento when you re-cross the Pont des Arts later.
6. Shakespeare & Company
Once you get to the Left Bank, it’s only a short stroll to Rue de la Bucherie for a visit to Shakespeare & Company, a book lover’s utopia. This little English-speaking bookstore sells new and used books and has a wonderful upstairs reading room and library for taking time out, with comfy lounges and a piano, and medieval windows that overlook Notre Dame. It has been a haven from the hustle and bustle of Paris for countless writers, artists and friends throughout the years, including Anaïs Nin, Henry Miller, Lawrence Durrell, Gregory Corso, William S Burroughs and Alen Ginsberg.Warning: you may well want to move in.
7. Le Musee du Louvre
When you are ready to re-enter the busy city, cross back over to the Right Bank and head on into the Louvre. If I’m honest, you could spend a week exploring the collection here, and I’ve only given you an hour or two. So pick and choose what interests you. Many people make beelines to the Mona Lisa, and I confess that’s what the girls wanted to do (afterwards, they went back outside and cooled their feet in the fountains by the Pyramide). But there are so many artistic riches housed in this glorious palace. Take your time. Wander. Explore. You will love it.
8. La Tour Eiffel
It’s almost dusk. Hop back on the metro or, if you have time take the ferry for a glorious journey, and make your way to the Eiffel Tower. Climbing it is not too difficult (or there is a lift if you prefer), and oh my WHAT a view. When you’ve had enough of soaking up Paris from the air, head back down to one of the stalls by the river and buy yourself a freshly-made savoury crepe (I’m a big fan of the classic jambon et fromage), then cross the bridge to the Palais de Challot (the grassy area in the photo above). Find a soft spot in the grass and munch on your crepe while you wait for the Tower to light up. It is a magical sight.
Take your time heading back to the hotel. Pick a little restaurant that feels like home and settle in with a good bottle of wine and some seasonal produce (if you can fit any more food in). Relax. Enjoy. You’ve earned it.
An extra day
1. Explore the shops and historic twists and turns of Le Marais 2. Treat yourself to a classic bowl of moules-frites with beer 3. Visit the famous Moulin Rouge 4. Peruse the wonderful artworks in the Musee d’Orsay (and while you’re at it, consider some of the smaller galleries, too) 5. Take the train (about an hour away) to see the stunning Palace of Versaille 6. Hunt for treasure at one of Paris’ many marches aux peuces (flea markets) 7. Have your portrait painted in the Place du Tertre, Montmartre, and soak up an artistic world that once belonged to Picasso, Toulouse Lautrec and Van Gogh 8. Stop in for a bite at the famous and fashionable Cafe de Flore; or opt for its rival, Les Deux Magots, a former haunt of Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus and Simone de Beauvoir 9. Simply follow the crowds and get lost inside this vibrant, beautiful city