Visiting Paris again, January 2012:
You may have climbed the Eiffel Tower, queued for Notre Dame and cruised along the Seine on your first trip to Paris. But there’s a lot more to see and do if you go a second or third time around. And with Eurostar train fares from €69 and budget flights from €21 it needn’t take a big bite out of your budget.
TAKE A WALK
A guided walk, that is. Turn up at a Metro station and spend two hours in a group led by a qualified English-speaking guide. Groups of 20-ish are the norm and it’s easy to get chatting to fellow tourists, who are mostly British, American or Aussie.
I went on three tours. First to the Marais, the old Jewish quarter which was the setting for Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. His former home is at the end of the walk. Then there was a Chocolate Tour, visiting four high-quality chocolatiers with samples included.
And finally I toured the hilltop artists’ district of Montmartre. The tour ends on the steps of the Sacré Coeur basilica where there’s a magnificent view of Paris. Our witty guide (an English expat called Chris) recalled a joke from the 1970s when the ugly Montparnasse tower went up. “Zut alors,” said the unimpressed Parisians. “They’ve found the box the EiffelTower came in…”
Details of more than 20 English-language tours at www.paris-walks.com. Most cost €12pp.
RIDE A BIKE…
Paris has Vélib cycles much like London’s Boris Bikes. Take one from a rack on the street, ride where you like, then leave it in another rack. Cycling gives you a real feel for the streets and makes it easier to find shops, bars and restaurants. I glanced through one gate and glimpsed President Sarkozy and glamorous Carla Bruni outside the Elysée Palace.
Setting off into the traffic takes some nerve and at first I got off and pushed at junctions. But you soon feel brave enough to speed across the city like a veteran.
Prod the tyres before choosing a cycle and make sure the brakes work. When you return a bike, push it firmly into the dock and wait for two beeps to show it’s locked. Otherwise someone can steal it and you’ll be charged. A one-day Vélib subscription costs €1.70 (see en.velib.paris.fr)
…OR AN ELECTRIC BIKE
Combine cycling with learning on a four-hour guided cycling tour. These bikes have a motor to help you up the hills and find fascinating sites such as the Roman amphitheatre of Arènes de Lutèce, hidden behind a shopping street. Groups are small and our multi-lingual guide, Pepe from Mexico, followed up with an email full of restaurant and shopping tips. Highly recommended (see www.parischarmssecrets.com).
SOAK UP SOME HISTORY
The mighty gilded dome of Les Invalides is best known for the tomb of Napoleon, whose remains lie in a huge marble sarcophagus. The huge complex also has military museums to keep you occupied for a day or more.
It’s a 10-minute walk (or three-minute bike ride) from the Seine (see www.invalides.org) and if you cross the river at the Pont de l’Alma you’ll see the gold Flame of Liberty which serves as an unofficial Princess Diana memorial.
On the Ile de la Cité, the stained-glass windows at medieval Sainte-Chapelle are one of the wonders of the world. Most of what you see dates from 1248 (sainte-chapelle.monuments-nationaux.fr/en). There are concerts of classical music by candlelight too (see www.ampconcerts.com)
Paris Museum passes start from €35 and get you in free at more than 60 sites (see en.parisinfo.com).
HIT THE SHOPS
If 200 stores in one place is your idea of a good time, dive into the five-level underground complex at Forum des Halles (see forumdeshalles.com). For shop-averse men there’s a multi-floor branch of the music and electronics chain FNAC.
For a more Parisian experience go to the Marché des Enfants Rouges in the Marais district. It’s the oldest food market in Paris, dating back to 1615.
To gawp at clothes that cost more than some people’s cars, most of the big Paris fashion houses are on the Avenue Montaigne off the Champs Elysée, including Dior, Celine, Nina Ricci, Chanel, Chloe, Valentino, Versace, Prada, Armani, Ralph Lauren and D&G.
HEAR LIVE MUSIC
Paris is the best city in Europe for live jazz and African music. It’s pretty good for blues too, and you can hear them all at Sunset-Sunside off the Rue St Denis (www.sunset-sunside.com). Head north to Cafe Lou Pascalou near Pere-Lachaise cemetery for an even more diverse mix (www.cafe-loupascalou.com)
GRAB A BITE
Chez Clement on the the Champs Elysées near the Arc de Triomphe has a €14.90 set menu for two courses and a drink (see www.chezclement.com).
Still on the Champs, if all you want is a coffee or a snack while watching Paris go by, the outside tables at the Quick burger chain near George V Metro are as good as anyone else’s but prices are rock bottom.
Also affordable are the market stalls at the Marché des Enfants Rouges. Buy cooked food of many ethnic persuasions and eat at the trestle tables (tinyurl.com/84hazqy).
With more to spend, try Le Speakeasy to the west of the Champs with a €25 lunch menu, film noir on a big screen, and cool jazz on the soundtrack (lespeakeasy.com).
For a dinner to remember, Roger La Grenouille (Roger the Frog) in the chic St Germain district is authentically Parisian in every respect except that the waiters are full of fun. It’s at 26-28, rue Des Grands Augustins and the internet is full of favourable reviews. Budget for €50pp including drinks. And yes, frogs’ legs are on the menu…. but they’re not compulsory.
WHAT’S THE DEAL
Stay out of the centre for a better deal: €162pp for three nights room-only at the lovely Hotel Residence Quintinie in a chic garden square (www.paris-hotel-quintinie.com). Or three nights at the Sejours-Affaires apart-hotel for €130pp (www.sejours-affaires.com). Or search www.homelidays.co.uk for short apartment stays from less than €40pp per night.
A three-day Paris Metro and bus pass costs €20.70. Get one from the machines at any Metro station with instructions in English. For tourist info go to en.parisinfo.com
An edited version of this article was published in the Sunday Mirror’s Homes & Holidays section on January 29, 2012.