Last year, when I visited Paris on vacation with my family, it rained every single day we were here…except for the day we were heading home.
Despite this, my family and I had the best time. We visited the Louvre, climbed to the top of the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, and the Champs Élysées. We toured Sacre Coeur and Montmartre. We visited cafes and brasseries, stayed in a fabulous HomeAway apartment and sailed the Seine. It was magical and fun, rain and all.
I didn’t expect was that I would have the opportunity to return so soon.
Before making my way to Rhone Valley, I spent a little over 24 hours in Paris with the weather sunny and warm this time around.
Truthfully, 24 hours is not enough time to explore Paris, especially if you haven’t been here before and even if you have. But if it’s all you’ve got, here are some ways to make the absolute best of it with an added note reminding you that I did all the big touristy stuff last year, and so this time I was able to explore other areas.
Where to stay
Because time is limited you want to find a place that is central, comfortable, with great service, and a friendly staff.
My cozy room in the Hotel California was everything I needed to travel around Paris easily and rested.
When I first visited Paris with my family, we spent a lot of time going up and down this main avenue. It’s touristy and in many ways, serves as they main access point, especially when it comes to public transportation, to many touristy sites.
But on this trip, I spent a lot of my time avoiding it. As a New Yorker it feels very much like Times Square, or even the very busy and crowded 5th Avenue on New York City. Instead I chose tours and experiences that would give me another view of Paris and its people.
Day of arrival
I arrived in the late morning, a bit jet lagged but refusing to sleep as it tends to make recovery so much harder.
If you want to do fancy French right away, head over to lunch at the Four Seasons Hotel George V, Paris. Just steps from the Champs Élysées and the metro station by the same name, it’s easy to get to and once inside, feels like a world away from the hustle and bustle of the big city.
Have a luxurious lunch in the patio or maybe come in for afternoon tea, regardless of where you dine in the hotel, you will be left in awe of its beauty and design, as well as the food and service.
For an extra treat, ask about their wine cellar. If you are lucky, you might just get a chance to tour it. Head’s up: prepare to be amazed.
By afternoon, this was pretty much all I could do without falling over in my sleep. So, I went to my hotel to relax for a bit before my next move. Some people with limited time would push through and take on Paris in one night. I, however, was not one of them. Rest during travel is my best friend.
When I woke up, I was ready to get to know Paris on a more personal level.
Connecting with locals
Parisians are a hurried bunch, always on their way to and from some where. Connecting with them can be challenging in this fast-paced city. However, through VizEat, I was able to join our group in having dinner with a local Parisian couple, in their home, for a homemade dinner and cocktails.
VizEat is for local food experiences what AirBnb is for local apartment rentals. Hosts share a menu on the site that are willing and able to make for a certain number of guests at a certain price each, and once booked, guests visit the homes of these friendly people and have a real, local, down-to-earth experience.
I had the chance to visit the home of Christiane and Renaud Lestage. While Christiane put the final touches on her lovely French meal, her husband Renaud served up some of his favorite wines and worked the room, entertaining us with stories and conversation. I loved the insights they shared about their life as Parisians, what they do for fun outside of the city, and simply made the entire evening feel like a regular night at a friend’s house.
Our VizEat hosts,Christiane and Renaud Lestage.
These types of experiences definitely help to warm you up to the city, the people, and give you a different perspective on both.
As far as first night in Paris, this was a great one and a perfect, relaxing way to kick-off the 24 hours ahead.
By the way, the VizEat experience is not exclusive to Paris. They have hosts all over the world (and are still expanding), so if you are looking for a more local experience during your travel (or want to host one), make sure to check them out.
A full day in Paris
I am a huge fan of hotels that offer breakfast, and I’m going to have to be really American in this when I say full breakfast. I’m talking bread and eggs and bacon and fruit and, well, the works. I love the Continental breakfast which is more traditional to French standards, but my first few days in Europe are never kind to small bites in the morning so this was a nice option to have at the hotel.
I decided to spend most of my day on walking tours.
For those of you following me long enough, you know I am a huge fan of tours. I am all about getting in there like tourists do and having a local walk me around giving all the insights of the culture and areas, much of which I would have never know on my own. So, no, I am not above tours at all, though the more personalized and smaller the group, the better.
I started with a tour along the Latin Quarters with Mon Beau Paris. It was intimate and slow paced and I enjoyed being able to experience the city at my own pace – though move over for those Parisians in a hurry!
The beautiful Perfumerie Buly in Paris.
I also did a tour personally organized for what I wanted to see and do by RobertPINK. My focus was exclusively on cafes and gardens in the neighborhood of St.-Germaine-des-Pres in the 6th arrondissement of Paris. One would think that a cafe, or garden, isn’t all that interesting of a tour, except that they are so historical and have so much significance.
Cafes have always been a place of gathering for many people looking to discuss ideas and find creativity and inspiration. It wouldn’t be difficult to find local artists coming together for drink and talk. Each cafe has a historic, special history, one which you can learn about in detail through tours like these.
Le Procope is the oldest cafe in Paris, established in 1686 and a favorite among celebrities dignitaries from all over the world.
It’s important to note that there is a difference between a bistro, a cafe, and a brasserie, all of which there are many in Paris (in 2009 it was estimated that there were a total of 38,000 in Paris alone). Though you can certainly get a coffee in a cafe, these are more than just coffee shops. Here you can find a full menu and wine list, and some even sell tobacco. A bistro is smaller and more informal, their selection maybe not as extensive, and a brasserie is a drinking spot, with some of them sometimes even brewing their own beer (so do your research and ask about their local beer).
This is also where you’ll find Luxembourg Gardens, once the home of the widow of King Henry IV of France, Marie de’ Medici. The Luxembourg Palace, as it was once known, was built in 1612 and now serves as the offices for the French Senate. The park covers close to 59 acres and is a place where many Parisians and visitors like to relax and spend their time. It’s one of the most beautiful gardens in Paris, of which there are a total of 400 (when combined with the number of parks). This massive amount of green terrain makes Paris the most wooded capital city in all of Europe.
In addition to cafes and gardens, we stopped in a few fun places to enjoy a treat…and French treats are my favorite! And also toured the Dilettantes House of Champagne, which I adored for its efforts to highlight and bring to us the bubbly produced by the smaller champagne houses that we might not all be as familiar with. It’s a beautiful stop to learn about them and also do a tasting before purchasing your bottle of choice. But the real awe-inspiring draw to this place (in addition to its fabulous champagne) is that this was Pablo Picasso’s former studio.
If you want to combine your shopping experience with a foodie one, head over to Lafayette Gourmet, where you can treat yourself to everything from high-end grocery food shopping to small bites and sweets.
Evening in Paris
When it comes to a night in Paris the list of things to do can seem endless. Like any great city, its nightlife is one that aims to please every mood and personality.
And because this is Paris, and I am a visitor in this wonderful city, a perfect way to end the night was to do as tourists do, with a dinner and the Paris Merveilles show at Lido de Paris.
Here I got to enjoy a beautiful display of light, dance, acrobatics and more, as well as witness my very first, and very Parisian, Can-Can dance.
This show is not ideal for children and the jaded might find it too touristy for their tastes. Turns out, very few locals I spoke to had ever been to the Lido. However, just like I recommend that New Yorkers take a day and night to explore their city as tourists do, I recommend you join the line for a show at the Lido.
Order up some champagne and sit back and enjoy the show. Though I wasn’t sure how I would feel entering in, I soon got caught up in the lights and glimmer of it all, and as the dancers twirled their skirts and the music played, I embraced it.
This, I thought, is Paris and I loved every minute of it.
Photography property of Girl Gone Travel® and may not be used without direct permission from the publisher.
Special thanks to Atout France and Paris Tourism and their partners.