Published in Marque Magazine August 2015
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Paris is one of the most visited cities in the world, and home to some of its most iconic monuments. Crammed with historical sites, museums, fashion boutiques and fantastic restaurants, it provides endless entertainment for those that choose to visit. It can also appear overwhelming and visitors often make the mistake of trying to cram in too much. After four years in the City of Lights, I still haven’t seen everything, so take my advice, relax, breathe, and hold onto these basic tips when planning your Paris escape.
Paris is quite small, about 10km x 10km and almost all of the major attractions are concentrated around the center, along the river. It is divided into 20 arrondissements which spiral out from the center like a snail shell and each have a distinctive character and vibe. When looking for a pad, choose an arrondissement with a low number (1 to 7) to ensure you are within walking distance of everything. Avoid the Champs-Élysées area like the plague, and be wary of staying too close to the Eiffel Tower: it is actually not that central. For proximity and a fantastic slice of the real Paris, the hip, vibrant and medieval Marais area (3rd and 4th arrondissements) is unbeatable for families, couples or groups. Even for a short visit, renting an apartment is a great idea as most hosts will provide you with a list of their personal neighbourhood recommendations. Just be sure to ask which floor you will be staying on, and if there is an elevator.
Paris is perfect for walking, aided by the fact that all the major monuments are linked together with grand sweeping boulevards that invite exploration. When your legs are about to fall off, don’t be too hasty to jump into the underground train system, the métropolitan, because you won’t see the city above you. Consider hiring a bike from a bike tourism company, or buy a cheap 1-or-7-day subscription to the vélib bike share system.
To hack the notorious queues that form every day at the major attractions, consider splurging on a couple of ‘skip the line’ tickets and guided tours to the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre, which can be very difficult to manage alone. And be honest with yourself: do you really want to spend all day in a museum? No? Me neither. Let’s find a terrace to sit and watch the fashionable locals go by instead. Try not to look at the city only through the lens of your camera, or as a backdrop for your selfies. The beauty is in the details, so slow down, put away the camera and make sure you get lost.
Eat and Drink
Breakfast is not a big deal in Paris, and most café kitchens don’t open before lunch service. French cuisine is based on the principle of using seasonal produce, and ideally, changing the short menu daily according to what is available. Many restaurants do excellent value formule set menus, and it is entirely appropriate to drink a glass of wine at lunch. In the evening, watch the sun. No Parisian eats dinner before the sun has set, and that can be as late as 10.30pm in summertime. Keep starvation at bay by enjoying an apéro, a drink and nibbles at a bar or even better yet, take a fresh baguette, a bottle of wine, cheese and some sliced meats down to the river or canal for a sunset pique-nique. For a post-dinner treat, remember the name Berthillion. Considered the best icecream in France, it is made daily using fresh seasonal ingredients on Ile St Louis. The classics are all present, but I have a soft spot for the more unusual flavours such as fig, pistachio and pineapple with mint. Even those who don’t have a sweet tooth should file this name away, because it can help when choosing a good place to eat, as Berthillion only distribute to the best quality restaurants. For classic French fare, you can’t beat a rich confit de canard, or for the truly brave, a steak tartare. High grade raw mince served alone or with onion, capers, egg, salt and pepper, it is a fortifying favourite.
Finally, if you do nothing else while in Paris, take a boat cruise on the Seine. Ideally, take a late cruise as the sun is setting, and see why Paris is called the City of Lights. If you are really lucky, you will pass the Eiffel Tower when it’s 20,000+ light bulbs are sparkling. Every single night of the year from sunset to 1am, the lights go crazy for 5 minutes on the hour in a magical, silent spectacle. True night-owls will be treated at 1am to the final ‘Dark Glitter’, when the flood lights are turned off and only the glittering bulbs remain.