Editor’s Note: This post was written by Sarah Chambers, a passionate traveler who works at HomeAway UK in London.
After a year living in Paris way-back-when (over the turn of the year 2000 to be exact), I figure I know the city pretty well, but like anywhere, there is always something new to discover. Here I’d like to share some of the ‘old’ places I love, as well as new things I discovered on my recent trip, plus my top tips for getting the most out of your stay in the City of Light.
1. Take a tour
My first tip would be to take a tour to get your bearings and (dare I say?!) ‘tick off’ the key sights. Yes yes, I hear you gasp, this is heinously touristy and non ‘adventurous’. But the fact is when you have limited time in a place, a tour can be indispensible in giving you an overview of the city, not to mention helping you get orientated and identify places you’d like to head back to and explore more on foot.
Of course there are the standard city bus tours, but as I was going with a friend who had never ‘done’ Paris properly, I really wanted to do something a bit special, so I was delighted when I came across this wonderful Citroen 2CV tour on Viator. What better than a private chauffeur drive across the city in a quintessentially Parisian, open-top car than to open my friend’s eyes to the beauty of this city I love?
Matthieu, our guide, did not disappoint and proved a font of knowledge on the places we passed, not to mention interesting little tid-bits I doubt you would get on a bus tour. He also came equipped with blankets, which was great as like a silly ‘rosbif’ I had of course at the first hint of sun, abandoned my coat. As we criss-crossed the Seine he regaled us with stories of the city’s streets and monuments until all too soon it was time to head home.
2. Discover your (or a) neighbourhood
In any city it’s a good idea to take some time to discover a local neighbourhood. Most travel guides will provide an overview of the nicest areas to visit, and by abandoning the map when you get there and letting your feet take you where they will, there’s no better way to get a true taste of a place and stumble across great local areas you might otherwise miss.
I am probably biased but my favourite neighbourhood of Paris is the one where I lived, in the 17th arrondissement near metro Villiers. I deliberately chose this self-catered apartment which was within easy reach of the area while still being right next door to the Arc de Triomphe. This way we could stock up on local goodies at the market stalls of Rue de Lévis and enjoy some authentic local fare, while saving some cash so we didn’t feel so guilty about our ‘splash out’ night (more on this in a bit…).
As well as a wealth of shops, restaurants and market stalls, here you will also find the parc Monceau, off the tourist trail but one of the most beautiful parks in Paris. Containing a quirky mix of sculptures and features such as a windmill, pyramid, Chinese pagoda and a pond encircled by Corinthium columns, it’s the perfect place to relax and enjoy some afternoon sun after lunch.
3. Go one way, come back another
One way we saw a lot of Paris while I lived there was, of course, to walk… a lot. However, as you have limited time on a short trip, an alternative is to take the ‘one way there, back another’ approach. By this I mean that when you want to head on or back from somewhere, walk to the next nearest metro stop along instead of simply getting back on where you got off.
This way, you fit in more exploring on foot, which is when you can stumble across the most interesting things. Take this trip for example. I have been to the Eiffel Towerplenty of times; up it, around it, lazing in the park at the foot of it. But I hadn’t really explored the surrounding streets. So after a leisurely lunch at the Relais de la Tour, my friend and I set off to find the next metro along.
And so it was that we happened upon I’immeuble Lavirotte on Avenue Rapp, one of the most characteristic examples of Art Nouveau in Paris and winner of the ‘prix des façades de Paris’ in 1903. I had never seen anything quite like it in the city before; in a fantasy style typical of Art Nouveau it features whimsical decorations and vegetable patterns to create something that is quite unique.
4. Pick one ‘thing’ to do
The sheer volume of things to do can be overwhelming in a big city like Paris, there’s simply no way you can do them all. So once you’ve ‘ticked off’ those main sites, stop fretting about not seeing everything and focus on one place you’d really like to explore more. As I was keen to expand my horizons of modern art, this time I was set on the Centre Georges Pompidou.
As well as being a modern work of art in itself, the Centre Pompidou houses a vast collection, including impressionist, expressionist, surrealist, abstract and more. Although I am a great impressionist fan – I don’t claim to be an expert but I have some Van Gogh prints and a Modigliani at home – I must admit I can’t get my head around the more abstract stuff, although I did quite like some of the pieces by Georges Braque.
However the conclusion of the trip was that I remain an impressionist and my friend is a surrealist. Where our relationship goes from here, who knows…?!
5. … and finally, have one ‘splash out’ night
As I was a student when I was in Paris before, a swanky night at the Moulin Rouge was never on the cards, but this time I was there. I picked the Moulin Rouge show plus bottle of champagne option from Viator at just over £85, but you can have dinner too for £35 more and it did look good.
Once inside you are transported back in time, with rows of tables topped with glowing red lampshades, velvet drapes and chandeliers. I kept expecting Nicole Kidman to drop from the ceiling and Toulouse Lautrec to pop out his head! It is undeniably a ‘titillating’ show too (excuse the pun, I couldn’t resist), with the risqué themed routines of the stunning dancers interspersed with exceptional acrobats, jugglers and comedians.
This is definitely an experience not to be missed and with ‘elegant attire required’ it was a nice excuse to get our glad rags on and the perfect finish to our long weekend.
- Sarah Chambers