(Not quite) 48 Hours in... Paris
Laura Smith found herself with a free weekend this July, and popped across to Paris for the night. Here is her quick guide for impromptu nights stay in the french capital.
The Eurostar is a quick, stress-free way to reach the French capital, and will have you sipping espresso in a café off the Champs Elysees within three hours of leaving St Pancras. I was completely won over by the whole experience- the trains were clean and very comfortable, fast and, most importantly, on time. On our return to London, we had two apologies from our driver about the three-minute delay to our departure. The three minutes was made up en route. Another bonus is of course the lack of lengthy airport immigration queues and liquid restrictions.
For those that prefer to fly, British Airways has regular flights to Paris from Manchester and London Heathrow, Gatwick and City airports. Connecting regional flights are available.
We stayed at the Sofitel le Faubourg. Situated just off the Place de la Concorde, close to Champs Elysees and ten minutes’ walk from the Arc de Triomphe, the hotel is ideally located for a short sightseeing visit. And it’s location that you pay for in Paris. If you just have a weekend to spend in the city, you don’t want to spend all your time travelling to and from your out-of-town hotel. Sofitel le Faubourg has good sized rooms, a small gym, a lovely restaurant and good quality in-room amenities, including Hermès bath products.
Other options recommended by Cox & Kings include the Warwick Champs Elysees, Hotel Westminster and the Sofitel Paris Champs Elysees.
Head up to Montmartre in the early evening and watch the sun go down from the viewing point by Sacré Coeur. To reach Montmartre, take the Metro to Blanche, close to the Moulin Rouge. Then head up the winding, cobbled streets and steep steps to the bustling Place du Tertre, which is lined with restaurants and ice cream parlours and brought to life by musicians and the odd caricature artist. Continue to the Sacré Coeur at the very top of the hill for one of the best viewing points over Paris. You can climb to the top of the church for 360 degree views or simply stand at the viewpoint outside. There are dozens of excellent restaurants to choose from, serving fresh Moules Frites and Steak Haché.
The French have breakfasting down to a tee (or should that be coffee). Unfortunately, though, they’re late risers at weekends, and it can be difficult to find a decent café open at 9am. Fortunately, the breakfast at Sofitel le Faubourg included a comprehensive selection of pastries and breads, with eggs available to order.
For snacking, eat delicious hot crepes from one of the countless stalls along the Seine or at Montmartre, and stop at a gelaterie to choose from a rainbow of ice cream flavours.
Paris is not a place to watch the waistline. I don’t know how Parisian women manage it!
Stroll along the Seine and admire the enormous river barges; visit Notre Dame and the Arc de Triomphe; visit the Pompidou Centre and take the lift to the café at the top, even if you don’t pay to enter the museum – the views are fabulous.
Don’t miss a visit to the Louvre, one of Europe’s finest museums. The Mona Lisa is somewhat anticlimactic, but worth a visit, and there are some great art collections – the impressionists rooms are particularly good.
The Arab du Monde Institute was an unexpected highlight. Designed by celebrated French architect Jean Nouvel, who also created the Fondation Cartier, the building’s architecture is based on the mechanism of a camera lens, which opens and closes according the position and brightness of the sun to let in the right amount of light. The wall of the institute is comprised of hundred of these shutters, so that it’s never to bright, or too dark, inside.
If you have time, you could take the Metro out to see the new Bibliotheque Nationale, designed by Dominique Perrault. The library’s four buildings are set up like four giant, open books, with a central square of greenery in between. Anyone can visit and walk around.
For second (and third, fourth and fifth etc etc) time visitors, it’s easier to forgo the ‘schedule’ and the ‘to-do list’ and simply take your time and stroll around. You’ll notice things you didn’t on other visits, and have more time to simply soak up the atmosphere.
Cox & Kings offers three-night breaks in Paris, staying at the centrally located Sofitel le Faubourg, from £520 per person including return Eurostar tickets (standard class) and three nights’ B&B at Sofitel le Faubourg.
- Buy drinks and snacks for your Eurostar journey before you board. Queues for the on-board café trolley can be long and prices high.
- Get a decent map. The centre of Paris is fairly compact and much of it is easily navigable on foot, but you’ll need a good map to keep you on the right track.
- Get recommendations for good cafes and restaurants, whether from a guidebook or a friend. The city is jam-packed with places to eat and drink and making a decision on where to stop is almost impossible!
- Visit some of the less-famous sites. The new Biblioteque Nationale and the Arab de Monde Institute are just two examples of striking modern architecture in the capital. You can go inside both buildings and stroll around – you’ll find that you’re one of just a few international visitors.
- Buy a travel card – Paris is easily navigable by underground, and the Metro is far more spacious and airy than the London Underground. It’s cheaper to buy multiple ‘journeys’ at the start of your stay than individually.
- Take comfortable shoes. I was torn between comfort and glamour but fortunately head won out over heart in the end.