The recent tragic events in Paris make many of us all the more determined to visit this magnificent city whenever possible. Let’s spend a day there together now. Come along to some of my favourite haunts. Allons-y!
Let’s get up early! We don’t want to waste a minute of our day together … and wear comfortable walking shoes. We’re going to be busy. I hope you don’t mind! Brasserie Le Notre Dame is the first stop for an espresso or café au lait and a croissant, pain au chocolat or … my favourite pain aux raisins.
Adjacent to Notre-Dame, if you want to tour the Cathedral go early before the crowds arrive. We’re going to give that tour a miss today because we have other stops to make. Next, we’ll stroll across the street and browse the books, art, and other treasures found in the stalls of the bouquinistes.
When we’re through, we’ll go back across the street to Rue de la Bûcherie, to the iconic Shakespeare and Company which will now be open. No book lover should visit Paris without stopping in and soaking up the literary history found in this quirky English language book shop in the heart of Paris. Since opening in 1951, it’s been a meeting place for anglophone writers and readers, becoming a Left Bank literary institution. “I created this bookstore like a man would write a novel, building each room like a chapter, and I like people to open the door the way they open a book, a book that leads into a magic world in their imaginations.” —George Whitman, founder.
Feeling a little peckish? Ready for un petit goût? A tasty little treat? Perfect! Just wander around the corner from the bookstore to discover Odette for “les meilleurs choux à la crème de Paris” ~ the best cream puffs anywhere, I say! In one of the oldest buildings in Paris. Bonus!
Two minutes down the street from Odette, is a park I discovered when I was doing research for my novel, The Promise of Provence. I visit this little square every time I am in Paris now. There’s such meaning in this small space … and one of the best views of Notre-Dame! Photo op! I could fill an entire post about Square René-Viviani. Please take a minute to read the link. I would add that this park is also dedicated to the many children of this area taken to concentration camps during the Occupation. This fact is interestingly omitted from many descriptions, but movingly memorialized in this square.
Also found here is the reputedly oldest tree in Paris, a locust tree said to have been planted in 1601. Documents support this and although it lost some upper branches to a bombshell in WWI, it continues to bloom every year. In the background is St.-Julien-le-Pauvre, the ruins of which also date back that far. Check for evening concerts in this church.
Our next stop is a gem! The royal medieval Gothic chapel, La Sainte-Chapelle, begun in the 13th C. Surprisingly, many tourists miss visiting this spectacular and unique chapel located in the courtyard of the Royal Palace. Check out the concert schedule. Attending one here is unforgettable as you sit surrounded by the most extensive collection of 13th C stained glass in the world.
The Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay are easy walks from here, but we’ll save those for another day too.
We’ll take a quick look around Place Pigalle, home to the world-famous cabaret Moulin Rouge, immortalized by Toulouse Lautrec and Renoir, amongst others. Picasso and Van Gogh also spent time living in this once poor, artsy area. This is where many tourists come to have the “Paris By Night” experience and, along with a certain amount of sleaze there are great music clubs and excellent dining options. Check out this link for the details.
After meandering up the narrow, winding streets to Place du Tertre in the heart of Montmartre, make your way past the peddlers and enjoy watching artists at work. Don’t worry if there’s a rain shower. Paris is the best city to stroll in the rain. If you’re a fan of Salvador Dali, pop in to see some of his work at L’Espace Salvador Dali, just off the square.
Are you ready for lunch? Choices abound! This is a favourite spot of ours for a quick and tasty bite. The crêpes are delicious. After all, we’re saving ourselves for dinner! Sit outside at a picnic table in the park-like surroundings.
Of course, Montmartre also means the Basilique du Sacré-Coeur, crowning the top of the hill and visible from all across Paris. Stop for a photo op today and then, for another time, book a guided tour for the best and quickest way to see this magnificent basilica. Now we’ll work off some of those lunchtime calories and walk down the 200+ stairs to the square below. Hop on the carousel for a spin! It’s the one used in the movie Amelie! You haven’t seen that film? If you love Paris, go to Netflix and download immediately!
Now we’re going to hop on the metro again and go over to the Marais neighbourhood in parts of the 3rd and 4th arrondissements. First, we’ll spend time admiring one of the oldest squares in Paris, the beautiful Place des Vosges. Built between 1605 and 1612 on the order of Henry IV, this area has been home to many public figures throughout history including Victor Hugo. His home is now a museum. The perfectly planned dimensions of the buildings set the standard for future fine residences throughout Europe. I’m always astounded to think these buildings have been standing all that time.
Find a quiet spot in the park, take out your book or ereader and relax … or choose a table in the arcade and get re-caffeinated while you enjoy people watching. When you’re ready, we’ll wander. The Marais district is one of the only areas that preserves the narrow streets and architectural styles of Medieval and Renaissance-era Paris. Most of Paris was overhauled in the mid-19th century under the direction of Napoleon III and architect Baron Georges Eugène Haussmann. Being a flâneur is a must in this labyrinth of charming and intriguing cobblestone alleys.
And this too is Paris …
Perhaps it’s time to take a break, rest our feet, enjoy an apéro and decide on plans for dinner. Now there’s a dilemma! You may be ready for a simple, but always delicious, baguette sandwich after our busy day. But if you aren’t through exploring, I’ll leave you with these two recommendations … with the understanding your choices are endless. From tiny bistros and cafés to michelin-starred restaurants and everything in between, there’s something for everyone. You’re on your own from here on, but thanks for joining me today!
We stumbled upon Le Procope by accident as we wandered down Rue de l’Ancienne Comedie, just off Boulevard St-Germain. As we perused the menu, we were astounded reading the history of the oldest restaurant in Paris. We’ve returned many times and have never been disappointed.
“The world’s first literary café was born in 1686 and, for over two centuries, everyone with a name, or who hoped to have one, in the world of letters, arts and politics was a regular to the Café Le Procope. From La Fontaine to Voltaire, Rousseau, Beaumarchais, Balzac, Hugo, Verlaine to mention but a few, the list of Procope’s « regulars » varies little from that of the great names of French literature.
In the 18th century, it was a seedbed for liberal ideas and the history of the Encyclopædia is intimately linked to that of Procope where Diderot, d’Alembert and Benjamin Franklin could be seen. During the Revolution, Robespierre, Danton and Marat met here and Lieutenant Bonaparte left his hat here as a pledge.”
For another fine dining experience, go to the Gare de Lyon. Yes, the train station. Walk to the far end of the platforms and go up the elegant staircase to Le Train Bleu. This photo tells you everything. The experience is well worth it … breakfast, lunch, dinner or simply a drink. Reservations required. Bask in the history and the opulence. Just reading the website for Le Train Bleu is a pleasure.
And before you call it a night … or if you still aren’t ready for the day to end, take a moonlit ride on a bateau mouche … from wherever you are, see if you can find a vantage point for one last look at the iconic symbol of romance and Paris, recognized around the world. Paris, we stand with you.
Needless to say we packed in a very full day here! Seriously, only do this itinerary in your dreams and, if you are visiting Paris, take these sights in over a number of days. Savor them.
Before I say au revoir I would like to leave this one very special link with you. The Good Life France is a website that is beyond superlatives, in my humble opinion, for anyone who enjoys outstanding photography and articles about France. Along with the regular information-packed newsletter, every two months a new online magazine is published. Click here to read the November-December issue. Coincidentally, there is a wonderful focus on Paris in it. Trust me, you are going to be delighted to discover this site … as I like to say, just like our LoveAHappyEnding magazine, it’s free and fabulous!
Thanks for spending time with me here today. It’s been a pleasure to wander with you!
Here’s a website with recommendations for the best Paris guidebooks. I’m partial to Rick Steves.
If you are spending an extended time in Paris, here are links to excellent day trips.
All photography on this page is the exclusive copyright of Patricia Sands.