Paris, itâ€™s such an iconic European destination. Itâ€™s the most visited city in the world and epitomises so much about amazing culture, art, architecture, legend and history. Itâ€™s been a focal point of European politics and conflict for centuries and will leave you with a fantastic impression of France.
I packed a lot into the weekend I was there; it is possible to get a really good cross-section of the city in such a short period of time. Keep reading to get my low-down on how to have a great weekend in the City of Lights.
Things to See and Do
You could spend days and days in Paris visiting the various arrondissements (neighbourhoods), museums and galleries and still have missed some unique part that isnâ€™t that well known but has its own charm and character.
If youâ€™re keen on packing in the top tier of attractions, the below will provide you with a good experience of quintessential Paris.
Arc du Triomphe
Built to celebrate Napoleonâ€™s victories, it lies on the hill at the top of the Champs Elysees and forms the middle arc of the Three Arcs of Paris (the first being down near the Louvre and the last being in La Defense, the central business district of Paris).
DO NOT even think about attempting to negotiate the roundabout here as youâ€™d probably die. I did, but then found the entrances that go underneath. They are on the Champs Elysees side and the opposite side, allowing you to walk easily down to the entrance and also to the Metro station.
The famed shopping strip of Paris, this is the absolute mecca of French style andÂ haute couture. In fact, even all the French car companies have showrooms on the Champs Elysees. Have a saunter up it and take in the atmosphere. There are also some cool street performers around that really know how to get the crowd fired up that put on a cool show.
It really needs no introduction, itâ€™s the Eiffel Tower. You canâ€™t really get an understanding of how epic it is until you stand underneath it and look upwards at the mammoth steel structure above you. Expect to wait at least 30 minutes in line to walk up the stairs, and at least twice as long if you want to take the elevator.
Notre Dame Cathedral
When I saw this cathedral in person I thought â€œhey, hunchback of Notre Dame!â€ Itâ€™s amazing both inside and outside and is a brimming example of French architecture. Entry is free to this iconic Parisian landmark is free and you can also opt to go up one of the towers where you can get a good view of Paris.
The whole afternoon I was in the Pigalle/Blanche area of Paris I couldnâ€™t get â€œLady Marmaladeâ€ out of my head from the movie. Itâ€™s cool to check out this famous burlesque house and get a feel for the area, which is quite seedy but has some nice bars where youâ€™ll find plenty of locals.
Hereâ€™s where one can really stretch the boundaries of their culinary experience. Paris is dotted with restaurants, patisseries (for pastries) and boulangeries (for bread e,g. baguettes) that will have you foaming at the mouth. The quality ofÂ croissants, pain-au-chocolat and other pastries is bloody amazing.
The only other place Iâ€™ve had better pastries was Aix-en-Provence in the CÃ´te d’Azur region of France.
You can get yourself some fantastic baguettes packed with chicken, tuna and salad that will easily sort you out for lunch from most places in train stations (e.g. Gare du Montparnasse and Gare du Nord). If youâ€™re on a serious budget, you can always opt for the ubiquitous, found all over Europe, kebab. They do them with chips in them here, which means it has 23904093 calories, but damn they taste good. Theyâ€™re all over the city so youâ€™ll never be short of a delish meat sandwich. Another cheap alternative is to buy a baguette and some meat and cheese from a supermarket like Carrefour and have your own picnic in one of Parisâ€™ lush gardens.
If you want to really lash out and experience quintessential French cuisine, you can hit up some of the pricey restaurants and try out dishes like Cuisses de Grenouille (frogs legs, tastes like chicken!) and Escargot (snails).
How to get there
From London, the best way to get to Paris is by Eurostar from St Pancras to Paris Gare du Nord. Gare du Nord is, lo and behold, in the north side of Paris and is well connected to the Metro and RER public metro rail transport networks. I would recommend Eurostar as it gets you from Central London to Central Paris rather than having to trek into and out of airports. Plus you avoid all the security and liquids fuss of flying.
Alternatively you can fly into Paris to either Charles-de-Gaulle (CDG â€“ sometimes referred to as Roissy) airport or Orly with BA, Air France, etc. Sometimes Air France have some deals on from London Heathrow to Paris CDG, so keep an eye out for cheap fares.
Where to Stay
During my first visit to Paris, I stayed at the Lucky Youth Backpackers Apartments Hostel (90.6% rating on hostelbookers.com). Different name I know, but it was a different experience to many other hostels Iâ€™d stayed at. Rather than being babied “(â€œoh hereâ€™s your bed, hereâ€™s your towel, you can do this, donâ€™t do thatâ€) I was met by a bloke at Gare du Montparnasse on the south side of Paris and taken up a lift to a residential block above the station. From here I was taken through a maze of corridors and more lifts before finally being taken into the apartment where I met two American girls, two Mexicans and a German couple. We basically had free reign of the apartment while we were there and were expected to keep it clean and be respectful of the place.
The triple bunk beds were a challenge; especially because I was up on the top one and kept smashing my head on the ceiling!
It was more like being dropped suddenly into sharing a flat with people youâ€™ve just met than a hostel, definitely a cool experience. Itâ€™s reasonably priced and in a good area of Paris. Do it if you want something different.
Get around in Paris
Although not nearly as large as London; Paris is still a sizeable city (being the capital of France and all). You can get around the central area of the Louvre and Notre Dame Cathedral but anything further than that and youâ€™ll want to jump on the Metro.
By far the easiest way to get around, the Metro covers all of Paris. Tickets are â‚¬1,60 one way and can be bought in stations in one at a time or in a 10 pack for â‚¬11,40.
The RER (regional express trains) also run through Paris and are good for times when you need to get from one side of the city to the other quicker than what the Metro can take you there.
VÃ©lib’ (Bike Hire)
If youâ€™re feeling energetic and adventurous, you can hire a bike from one of the many bike stands around Paris from Velib. You get the first half hour free, and then fares starts at â‚¬1 an hour and they go up from there e.g. â‚¬2 for the second hour, â‚¬3 for the third hour, etc.
Be advised that you can only get a short-term subscription if you have a credit card with a chip and pin, and the system will pre-authorise your card for â‚¬150 as bond.
It is the best way to see Paris though in my opinion, cruising down Rue de Rivoli then over the Seine is unreal.
Paris is an expensive city to hang out in, letâ€™s face it. To pay for your Metro tickets, the awesome food on offer and entry to attractions, Iâ€™d suggest budgeting â‚¬50-â‚¬75 a day. You could do it cheaper if youâ€™re hard pressed but hey, itâ€™s Paris. Get right into it all!
Paris is doable in 48 hours, but to really see more of what the city has to offer it is worth visiting again (Iâ€™m going back in mid July, this time to check out the Palace of Versailles and the Musee dâ€™Orsay).
The food is great and Parisians are definitely not arrogant and unfriendly like people say. The whole time I was there I think I was said hello to more times than in the last 10 years of living in Melbourne/ London.
The vibe of the city is really really cool, and even if you didnâ€™t pack in everything Iâ€™ve listed above, youâ€™d still have a great time just taking in the atmosphere of the city.