Travel Guide: Seeing Paris through Rose-Colored Glasses
“Across the street, someone is playing ''La Vie En Rose.'' They do it for the tourists, but I'm always surprised at how it moves me. It means seeing life through rose-colored glasses. Only in Paris, where the light is pink could that song make sense. But I'll have it in my pocket when I get home, and I'll take it with me wherever I go from now on.” --Sabrina, directed by Sydney Pollack
A lot of people go to Paris and come home hating it. “The French are so mean," they say. "The city is so dirty. It wasn’t as magical as I thought it was going to be.” I think this is because they most likely spent their time running from one “Paris Must-See” sight to the next, surrounded by other tourists doing the same thing!
If you want to have a sparkling Parisian experience, I’d recommend a different approach. There will always be another chance to spend eight hours in the Louvre, or to ride to the top of the Eiffel Tower. But the first time you go to Paris, or at least the first day you are there, cultivate a little more of the French joie de vivre and your time in the city beloved for so many centuries just may leave you seeing the world through rose-colored glasses.
TWENTY FOUR HOURS IN THE CITY OF LIGHT
Morning in Montmartre:
Start the day in Montmartre. The neighborhood, set on a hill, offers some of the most photographed cobblestone streets and stairways in Paris, and is a great place to take in the sun coming up over the city.
Your first stop in Montmartre should be Pain Pain for breakfast (88 Rue des Martyrs, open at 7am). They have delicious fresh-squeezed orange juice, and pastries so beautiful you might be brought to tears. I highly recommend their pain au chocolat (chocolate croissant). It makes you realize you’ve never had a true croissant before. A word of caution, the line moves quickly, as the locals know what they want and can order in French. Don’t be intimidated by this--it’s okay to order in English and speak slowly, as long as you’re smiling while doing so ;) But do have your decisions made by the time it is your turn to order.
Take your breakfast to the small park at Le Mur des Je T’aime to enjoy the city waking up (and to give that pain au chocolat all the attention it deserves.)
Be sure to spend some time taking in the panoramic view of Paris from the top of Montmartre. The morning light over Paris is breathtaking—pink even, just as Edith Piaf sings.
Wander up one of the several staircases leading to the top of the hill of Montmartre* (or ride the funiculaire). *Sidenote: I am tempted to say here, “Take X Street to the top, then cut across to Y street, then come back down on Z street.” But the magic of Paris is in the wandering, in getting lost in window shopping and people watching and tiny unexpected parks that pop up in the middle of neighborhoods. There’s no best way to the top of the hill, or back down. The best way is the one you discover.
If you’re lucky, on your way up you might catch notes of La Vie En Rose drifting up the stairs from an accordion player or two in the park beneath. Once at the top, take a look inside the Basilica of Sacre Coeur. (Open from 6am-10:30pm daily, with the Dome opening usually around 9am. Entrance to the Basilica is free. Entrance to the Dome charges an admission fee.)
Once you have taken in the morning views of the city, duck behind Sacre Coeur to Place du Tertre. This part of the neighborhood is a hot spot for artists, musicians, and street entertainers. I typically spend thirty minutes or so wandering through the stands of art, listening to a musician or two, maybe picking up a second pain au chocolat.
Make your way back down, to the winding shoplined streets below the hill. The Montmartre neighborhood is a great place for shopping, both if you’re after gimmicky trinkets with Paris emblazoned on them (try Rue de Steinkerque), as well as for more chic spending (Rue des Abbesses x Rue des Martyrs area). Shops open anywhere from 10:30am to noon, and most are closed on Mondays.
In the late morning and late afternoon, I’d recommend checking out the 6th Arrondissement (often called the Latin Quarter). This part of town is packed with art, landmarks, bridges, and beautiful buildings.
Start with touring Sainte-Chappelle. This chapel has arguably the most breathtaking stained glass in the world. The late morning light through the windows is lovely. You first wait in line, then buy your ticket at a small window before entering the chapel. The line moves fairly quickly, but it’s a good idea to do this one earlier in the day, before it gets too long.
After Sainte-Chappelle, head over to Paris’s other most beloved church, Notre Dame. At the time of writing this, we’re only about three months out from the cathedral’s tragic fire, so I am not sure how open the building is to viewing. Even from the outside, though, there is much to admire.
Walk around the back of the building, then across Quai de l'Archevêché, and up the Seine (northwest). All along the river, sellers of books, arts, and antiquities open booths during the day. A great place to shop for treasures.
Make your way to Shakespeare and Company (37 Rue de la Bûcherie). This is one of the best bookshops I’ve ever been to—not because of size or ornateness or anything of that sort, but because you walk in and you can sense that those who started the bookstore and those who care for it today truly love books, love reading, love knowledge. You could spend hours reading in their cozy nooks throughout the bookstore, or just twenty minutes wandering the serpentine shelves. Either way you will leave with a sigh of renewed wonder and love of literature.
Then on to lunch! (If you’re hungry. If not, all of these sights are within walking distance from each other so you can rearrange to match what you’re feeling at the moment.)
Grab lunch at Le Relais Odeon (132 Boulevard Saint-Germain), or any of the other brasseries in the neighborhood. If you do make it to the Le Relais Odeon, ask to be seated in the back and the waiter will take you to a patio on a super charming cobblestone street behind the restaurant with a few tables and twinkly lights. Magical. I recommend the Entrecote Bearnaise ($25).
If you would rather get a quick bite, stop at Paul (these little cafes are all over the city and offer grab-and-go style sandwiches, quiche, baguettes, and pâtisseries) and take your lunch to Luxembourg Gardens. On your stroll to the Gardens, you'll pass many cafes, their sidewalk seating filled with lunch-goers. This sort of dining is one of the charms of Parisian meals--people never seem to be in a hurry to finish the meal. It's as if the eating is just an excuse to be at a table with friends, laughing, conversing, enjoying.
The Luxembourg Gardens! These Gardens are charming. The green chairs are beloved symbols of Paris, as are the fountains, hedges, and gravel paths of this park. An ideal spot to read, picnic, ponder, and people-watch. In my memory, the light here is always pink (though that may be just because I tend to find myself here at sunset, as they’re trying to close the park for the evening!).
Evening Bicycle Tour:
As the Paris day turns to night, I cannot more highly recommend the Fat Tires Bike Tour. This is not a sponsored promotion, it is just because I really love this bike tour! It is my favorite way to see the top sights of Paris, and a wonderful way to spend the early evening. The company offers a couple of different tours, but the Night Tour is my favorite. Cruising over bridges, past parks, you get to see all of Paris’s most iconic spots and hear her most interesting stories, all from the breezy seat of a bicycle. The tour guides keep things entertaining, and you feel like you’re riding with the real pulse of Paris, rather than being trapped in a stuffy, boring, lecture-style tour.
Fat Tires Tours sprinkle all sorts of little surprises throughout the ride that I’ll leave you to discover. The most magical part for me, though, was that at the end of the tour, you ride your bikes down to the quay where you get on a barge, they serve drinks, and you drift up the river Seine past the Eiffel Tower as she’s turning on her lights. (Depending on the season, these tours start between 5pm and 6:30pm, and last about four hours. Tours do fill up, so you’ll want to book online in advance.)
Night Near the Seine:
For those who have never been to Europe, the night life is rich and wonderful and not to be missed. These are the hours to wander the city, stopping for drinks or crepes or a late dinner, and letting the night hours pull out the best of the city.
And that is exactly how I recommend spending your final hours in the city. Head back to the Latin Quarter where there’s always something going on in the evenings, and get a Crepe Nutella à Chantilly (Nutella crepe with the best whipped cream you will ever have) from Boulangerie Saint-Michel (31 Rue de la Huchette). I have yet to try their savory crepes, or their gaufres (waffles)—something to look forward to the next time I am in Paris!
With warm crepe in hand, walk across the bridge back to Notre Dame. In the plaza in front of the cathedral you might find troubadours, dancing, families sitting beneath the Lady’s glow. Soak in the lights, the river’s steady current, the street artists, the wanderers, the music of the city. This is Paris through rose-colored glasses.
Things you might add if you do have more time in Paris:
- The Louvre (Classical and Renaissance art. While here, spend some time wandering the Tuileries Gardens. Watch the kids pushing tiny sailboats around the ponds.)
- The Musée d’Orsay (Impressionist art)
- The Centre Pompidou (Post-modern art. There are often things going on in the plaza in front of the museum)
- A trip up the Eiffel Tower
- Pari Roller on Friday nights (Every Friday night, thousands (not an exaggeration) of people take to the streets on their rollerblades and ride the city from 10pm to 1am.)
- Daytrip to Versailles
- A perfume class
- A stroll through Île Saint-Louis (Legend has it that if you kiss someone on this little island in the Seine, you will be happy all your life.)
- The Musée de l'Orangerie (where Monet's eight large waterlily paintings are hung, in oval rooms)
Words to Know:
- Pâtisserie: bakery or pastry shop
- Brasserie: restaurant with relaxed seating and single plate entrees (as opposed to more formal restaurants serving multiple courses.)
- Entrées: appetizers or starters (opposite of how we use the word entrée!
- Plats: main dishes
- Musée: museum
- Rue: road
My favorite pâtisseries (pastries):
- Choux (little puffs of sweet dough with sugar crystals on top, sometimes stuffed with creme)
- Pain au chocolat (chocolate croissant)
- Millefeuille (a thousand layers of light-as-air pastry with creme)
- Moelleux (dense chocolate)
- Religieuse (two light pastry balls, filled with crème, iced with chocolate ganache, and sacked on top of each other, like a little chocolate éclair snowman)
We all have a special place in our hearts for Paris here at Heirloom Art Co. Over the last four years, we've slowly been curating a collection of books and wares that bring a bit of the sparkle of Paris into our homes. You can shop the collection here: The French Collection.