Our exploration of Paris starts in the evening – our hotel is in Montmartre and so we decide to enjoy our evening in the cobble stone streets of this artist neighbourhood swirling the hill leading up to the Sacré-Cœur. The area bursts with tourists and tourists shops and a lot of street artists. They’re not all cartoonist but no Van Gogh’s either. Even though the paintings stalled out next to the painters all look alike, I still would’ve bought one of the colourful canvasses showing Paris street scenes if it weren’t for our travel picture crowded walls at home. Musicians add just the perfect background sound to the cosy atmosphere of the neighbourhood. A friendly woman playing accordion next to the Sacré-Cœur reminds me of a painting by my great-uncle showing a Parisian man playing the accordion. The grey/brownish colours of the cathedral walls are just perfect for an image that captures the imagination of picturesque Paris.
Accordionist in Montmartre
Painting of accordionist in Montmartre by Ben van Kleef
The famous stairs in front of the Sacré-Cœur are crowded in the evening glory. As the sun is about to set, many locals and tourists have gathered on the stairs that provide a wonderful view of the city. As people watch the night fall over Paris and one by one lights are turned on, we join the bunch on this incredibly relaxed hangout. Street sellers walking up and down the stairs sell Heineken by the bottle and street musicians provide the perfect evening soundtrack. The lookout platform is their stage and the stairs are the grandstand for their concert. The tones of the singer’s voice and guitar play combined with the rhythm set by his friend on the box is complements the laid back atmosphere perfectly. Looking over my shoulder I see the now yellow lit Sacré-Cœur standing out gracefully in the deep blue skies. If this view would be sold on canvas, I would definitely find a spot on the wall to fit it in.
The perfect sunset hangout – the stairs in front of the Sacré-Cœur
Beautifully lit Sacré-Cœur against deep blue skies
The next morning we wake up to moody grey skies and a cold shower. I’m not referring to rain – it’s the shower in our hotel room that apparently cannot generate enough pressure for more than one warm drop of water in the bathroom of our six-story hotel. (So no, I will not recommend this accommodation).
But “we’ll always have Paris” so we make our way to what my friend described as “the best breakfast ever”. From underneath our umbrella we see a line of locals standing outside on the pavement. As we come closer our noses catch the trail of a perfect morning smell. It’s a smell that you would want to tickle your nostrils every morning. We are lucky to savour it today – we find a table for the two of us upstairs.
The bakery oozes comfort with yellow walls and cosy decoration. The tables are crammed together, to fit as many morning birds as possible. The waitress is incredibly cheerful and kind, and the menu she hands over looks promising. Sight speaks louder than words though, so I make my way downstairs again to peer at the showcase from between the queuing locals waiting for their fresh weekend petit déjeuner. Obviously, I have to go for a true French croissant and my mouth just start watering at the sight of the cinnamon brioche and sacristain. My partner is all in with a breakfast basket including a slice of grandmother’s brioche, croissant with confiture, baguette, a glass of jus d’orange and a bowl of cappuccino.
This is breakfast heaven. While we indulge ourselves in the sweet, slightly crispy buns, more and more people walk up to see if there’s still a seat available for them. It’s clear that this is a much-loved spot and not being able to sit down can break a heart on a weekend morning. Those who have just had their last bite of heavenly pastry kindly get up to make space for the next couple in line.
After a satisfying but heavy breakfast – our eyes were bigger than our stomach – we take the subway to the Louvre. Although it’s my third time visiting Paris, I have never been in the world’s biggest indoor museum before. I’ve explored Musée d’Orsay and Centre Pompidou, but just never felt like spending so much time on a sunny day waiting in line and staying indoors to get a glimpse of the entire collection. But so you see: rain can come as a gift. As we walk up the museum through the Jardin des Tuileries while watching our steps to evade puddles, we see busloads of tourists forming a tent with their hundreds of umbrellas as they’re queuing on the square. Luckily we had bought ourselves tickets the night before that would allow us to enter within a certain time slot, and now all we have to do is show our mobile phone to the employee standing in front of the marked path for pre-booked tickets and just walk right into the famous glass pyramid that marks the entrance of the museum.
Like I said, the Louvre is the biggest indoor art museum in the world, so besides a strategy for skipping the waiting line to get in you might want one for your visit itself as well. At the entrance hall you can grab a map of the museum (available in many languages), but I have to admit it’s not the most detailed one and can still get you lost. You might want to try the free ‘My visit to the Louvre’ app. Otherwise, a good starting point is to make yourself a list of the highlights you definitely want to see and then enjoy everything that meets your eyes on your way there – including the building itself. Undoubtedly the most famous piece of art in the Louvre is La Gioconda (La Jaconde for the French, and known to the rest of the world as the Mona Lisa), the Leonardi daVinci painting of a woman who seems to follow you with her eyes as you walk past. Please realise though that you will not be able to try this out for yourself – it’s crazy crowded here and you’re lucky to find a spot to take a good look at this painting that many people by the way find smaller than expected. To give you an idea:
Then there’s other famous highlights such as the Venus of Milo, a gigantic granite Sphinx, Hammurabi’s Code and more. For me, the most impressive of all was the amount of masterpieces this old palace holds. No matter which room you’re in, the impressive collection will dazzle you until you no longer want to do anything else but sit down and have something to drink and eat.
As you will expect by now, finding a place to sit down in the Louvre is not an easy task. I would recommend you to walk up to Le Palais Royal to find yourself in a peaceful heaven away from the crowd after just a couple of minutes walking. Stroll through the garden lined with red horse chestnuts and lime trees and find yourself a perfect spot for people watching at one of the bistro terraces right next to the colonnade.
In the afternoon we explore another part of the city. We enjoy dinner at Invictus, a wonderful small restaurant in Saint-Germain-des-Prés that serves us delicious French classics pâté, confit de canard and crème brûlée. Afterwards we go for an evening stroll along the Seine, watching young locals hang out at the banks with music and some drinks, while in the background the laser light on the Eiffel Tower continues flashing in circles. We sit down for a drink at a pop-up terrace built up from wooden tables and chairs we recognise from our own balcony. (Let’s say they’re a Swedish design). While sipping a glass of Burgundy wine we enjoy watching locals pass by – romantic couples arm in arm, skaters, cyclists. At midnight the background view suddenly changes. The silhouette of the Eiffel Tower that we could still make out from the dark blue evening skies has turned into a bright column of light. We enjoy the flickering light show as we take the last gulps of our wine.
Skipping the shower completely on the rainy Sunday we wake up to, to prevent a grumpy me due to a cold shower – we’re quick on our feet for a walk up to Sacré-Cœur . In the morning drizzle, the basilisk looks more mystique than majestic, especially now all the stairs are deserted. We pay a visit to the church before we head for breakfast, and witness one of the nuns making her morning round, emptying the coin souvenir machines – tinkling coins roll into the basket she has placed on a trolley.
As we enjoy a hearty breakfast The Hardware Société Paris fills up quickly. This Australian breakfast bar is obviously popular for a Sunday brunch, as we see three taxi’s pull up in front of the entrance dropping off French couples for a culinary start of the day.
We close off our weekend in Paris with something I try to do in every city that has a river or canal flowing though its heart: a boat ride to take in the city architecture from another perspective. We choose the Batobus – a hop on hop off boat stopping at eight touristic highlights located near the Seine. We hop on near the Notre Dame after a stroll on the Ile de la cite, visiting the small market where we feel pity for the beautiful birds locked up in cages, and for the little one we had seen just twenty minutes before on the pavement in Montmartre and we now think escaped from here.
Notre Dame surrounded by clouds
Cute little bird lost in Paris
As I already had the opportunity to visit the famous highlights in previous Paris visits, we now just enjoy the two-hour round trip with the boat and get off for a couple of easy strolls. We disembark to walk up and down the Champs-Élysées, admire la Tour Eiffel from up close and enjoy a coffee near the Musée d’Orsay.
I simply love it – even though I’ve seen it before, I always have the urge to at least catch a glimpse of those famous city sights to get some kind of confirmation that I’ve really been there again.
Eiffel tower iron structure
Street lantern Paris
View of the Eiffel Tower from the Seine
Feel like eating your way around Paris? These are the addresses of our foodie highlights:
Breakfast heaven @ Coquelicot: 24 rue des Abbesses
Chique dining in a cosy bistro serving French classics @ Invictus: 5 Rue Sainte-Beuve