Artists painting landscapes on the streets, boulangeries lined with freshly baked baguettes, croissants on every corner and couples drinking wine by the Eiffel tower. Paris is full of clichés. Yet, there is something about the city that makes it okay to fall for all of them. (I mean who would say no to kissing under the flickering iron-rusted tower, with a hint of Sauvignon on the tongue?)
If you’ve never been to Paris, you obviously don’t want to miss the most iconic places. And even if you have, the Parisian streets always have a surprise ready for you. Paris welcomes millions of visitors every year and in summer, the city becomes overcrowded with tourists wanting to climb up the Eiffel Tower or queuing up to take a peek at the overrated Mona Lisa at Louvre. Restaurants along Champs Elysees are luring shoppers to eat over-priced food at one of the busiest streets in Paris and the temptation to drop a three digit number on a Chanel bag is incredibly strong. But the European metropolis doesn’t have to be all about spending and waiting in lines. After all, it is the urbanity mixing with beautiful architecture and history that makes Paris so special. And to really enjoy the city like a local, you have to think like one. Wine, cheese, croissants, and places that make your heart skip a beat.
Here is my ultimate Paris guide to well spent three days in the city of love (and pastries) and how to live it up like a local (bringing a gay best friend is optional but recommended).
Hop on the train
A lengthy and uncomfortable journey can spoil your holiday right from the beginning. Dreading waking up early and long security ques? Jump on the Eurostar train which will get you from central London to central Paris in only 2 hours and 20 minutes. With comfy seats and wifi on board, you’ll get off at Garde Du Nord station fresh and thirsty for adventures. That’s what I call traveling in style.
Top tip: Stay only 5-minute walk away from Gare du Nord station, as well as walking distance to the city centre. Hip Hop hotel and hostel offers affordable double rooms, all equipped with TV and a charming little balcony with a view over a traditional Parisian street. The friendly neighbourhood is full of cafés and French bistros, as well as vintage shops perfect for snapping some one-of-a-kind accessories.
Start with a croissant
As the morning hours approach, cafés begin to fill up with people. Don’t expect busy crowds or nervous businessmen in a hurry to their morning meeting. The French like to have their pastry in peace, with a double espresso and a cigarette, people-watching from a local corner joint. And we just adore how slow and “Carpe diem” their life is. When looking for the right place to bite down on some puff pastry, anything that says boulangerie will be a good bet. Indulge yourself in a freshly baked buttery croissant, fruit tartine or try my favourite oranais- croissant made with canned apricot halves and cream.
Walk to Sacre Coeur and explore Montmartre
One of the coolest neighborhoods lays on your fingertips. The large hill in Paris’s 18th arrondissement is well known for its artistic history, where artists like Picasso, Modigliani, Monet, Renoir and Van Gogh once had their studios. Stroll around the idyllic streets well known from the movie Amelie and imagine all the prominent painters walking the same streets, searching for inspiration back in the day. Once you’re up there, enjoy a panoramic view of the city from the gardens below Sacre Coeur, a beautiful, all-white Roman Catholic church built in the 19th century.
Have lunch locally
Long walk calls for a long lunch break and while busy streets like Pigalle are lined with restaurants waiting for hungry tourists, the real gems are hidden in small narrow streets, courtyards, and squares. Locals hit the streets in search of steamed mussels and steak frite and you should too. Browse menus on the side of the sidewalk and don’t be scared to leave if nothing takes your fancy. When in doubt, visit Le Baratin, a charming little restaurant with a neighborhoud feel and exceptional wine list.
Explore the Parisian Soho district
Every metropolitan city has their Soho district and Paris is no other. Le Marais has streets paved with cobbles and lined with classy boutiques and restaurants. Spread across the 3rd and 4th arrondissement, visitors are spoiled for choice with so many places to see that it’s easy to fill a whole day. It is also an up and coming gay area, where young people love to meet in quirky coffee shops and bars. For some real food pleasures, grab a crepe from Café Breizh or queue up in one of the neighborhood’s many Kocher falafel shops. In the evening, head down to the southern part of Marais, “the premier gay district” where you can catch a steaming hot shower show and have cocktails under neon-pink led lights. And the best spot for alcohol driven chats and flirts? Open café of course.
You might not be through with croissants and pain au chocolates yet, but making time for a wholesome French brunch is a must. To prove us Londoners (because who does brunches better than London?) that Paris can cook up equally amazing mid-morning foods, Holly Belly happened. This Melbourne inspired café serves amazing Aussie coffee and breakfast from 9am, including poached eggs on avo toast, healthy and unhealthy (think bacon and maple syrup) pancakes and heart-warming porridge with your choice of topping.
Have a stroll around Saint Michael canal until you eventually find yourself standing under the most majestic building in Paris. Cathedrale Notre Dame, meaning “Our Lady of Paris”. Whether you’ve seen the Disney cartoon with the famous hounchback of the Notre Dame or not, visiting this beautiful medieval cathedral is a must. For a fee, you can climb up all the way to the top and gaze at the pastel coloured streets and buildings of Paris from above, while walking under the two bell towers.
All the locals know where to cool off on a hot summer day, and you should too. Each July the streets along the River Seine are transformed into strips of sandy beach lined with palm trees, lounge chairs, cocktail bars and street-food stalls. Paris Plages (Paris Beaches) have now become an essential part of the city’s summer lifestyle. Although swimming in the river is prohibited (and likely to make you ill), last year Paris introduced artificial pools at the Canal de l’Ourcq for a cleaner way of cooling down. The area is bedecked with lounge chairs and sand and the entry is free for everyone.
Wine and dine picnic-style under the Eiffel
The gardens behind the Eiffel Tower fills up with people setting up picnics or enjoying a sip of wine and waiting for the glorious tower to be light up with shimmering lights. Bring your own alcoholic drinks and pair the wine with some delicious cheeses, hams and baguettes which you can buy in any nearby shop. You will see couples cutting up salami and popping cork bottles, so if you’re in a need of kitchen equipment, you’re most likely to find what you need. When the tower finally shows itself in the full glory, you’ll understand why Paris is the city of lovers.
Mornings in Paris are meant to start with something sweet. Not too far from Montmartre, HardWare Societé Paris will appeal to every sweet tooth who likes their food to be both yummy and Instagram worthy. Their brioches come with a variety of toppings, but my fav is the fried brioche with a coconut pannacotta vanilla roasted pineapple, raspberry gel and fresh raspberries. Magic and also feeds your Insta profile.
Swap the vigorous Seine for the less extravagant Canal Saint-Martin- the top spot where all Parisians hang out on summer days. You may recognise the footpaths and bridges from the movie Amelié which brings another sense of romantic nostalgia to this place. While there are many restaurants and bars nearby, the best tip is to bring your own wine and cheeses and have a picnic by the river, with your feet dangling above the water.
Sacre Coeur at night
Head back to Sacre Coeur to enjoy the amazing panoramic view of the city from the highest point in Paris. The top set of stairs remains open until late night and people sit on the heated up pavement on summer nights drinking wine straight out the bottle. It is arguably the best spot for romantic dates. Watch the sun slip behind the horizon and wait for the many balconies to light up with festoon lights. If you’re lucky, you might catch a live fire performance or musicians playing traditional French tunes. What’s more iconic than that?
Depending on your time, stroll around your neighborhood and visit another boulangerie, packing up a few croissants for your journey back. The best ones around Gare du Nord station are Panifica and an artisan boulanger Maison Carton. After a filling breakfast, it’s time to hop on the train again, gazing at the French meadows and terrains on your way back and wish that you’ve never had to leave this mesmerizing city.