The Eiffel Tower, Champs Elysees, Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame - these are just some of the must-see attractions that I'd ticked off on previous visits to Paris. With five days to spend in Paris this year it was time to visit some new haunts and add to my Parisian experiences, so what did I choose to do?
Chocolate and Pastry Tour
As a self-confessed chocoholic, deciding to do a chocolate and pastry tour of the St. Germain area wasn't a difficult decision. I chose a small group tour (maximum eight people) which I booked online before I left home.
The two and a half hour tour was led by an enthusiastic Parisian who took us to numerous gourmet chocolate shops and and patisseries in the 6th arrondissement where we sampled a couple of products from each shop. Chocolates with delicious ganache centres, macarons and custard-filled pastries were some of my favourites.
The tour was a fun way to spend an afternoon. It's not cheap at around $140 (AUD), but certainly gives you an insight into some of the top quality, handmade products available.
To be honest when I first heard we were to do a bike tour in Paris on the final day of my husband's conference, I was a bit sceptical. After all, with all that traffic, how could you expect to see Paris from a bike whilst dodging cars, trucks, buses and worst of all, tourists on foot?!
Thankfully, our Paris Bike Tour took us along lots of designated bike paths and for the most part, we didn't need to ride amongst the traffic. Starting near Centre Pompidou, we rode to Notre Dame and then along the Seine to the Eiffel Tower before heading back to the Louvre where we finished.
With numerous stops along the way for photos and some fun facts from our very friendly and enthusiastic guide, it was a very easy ride and the three hours passed quite quickly. We were blessed with a perfect day weather-wise, too, so being able to move around Paris relatively quickly whilst enjoying the great outdoors, was quite a novelty.
Meeting a local and discovering café gourmand
Of course there's no one better to show you Paris than a local and I was lucky to meet up with Australian blogger Rosemary Kneipp of Aussieinfrance who has lived in Paris for many, many years. Rosemary was kind enough to show me around her neighbourhood, the 1st arrondissement, and we enjoyed a lovely lunch at a local brasserie where I discovered the fabulous dessert concept known as 'café gourmand'.
We'd ordered 'Le Formule' for lunch, a two course meal of main and dessert for a set price. We could chose from two options for the main course and the dessert was 'café gourmand'.
This particular restaurant's version of cafe gourmand included a small creme brulee, a small chocolate cake and a scoop of ice cream, all served with an espresso. Our lunch cost only €14 each and also included a starter of tapenade and bread.
(I ordered the café gourmand at a couple of other restaurants in France after this and whilst they all had their own version, the concept of a small dessert and an espresso for a reasonable price, remained constant).
If you're not fortunate enough to know a local to show you around in Paris, you could book a walk with the Paris Greeters, a volunteer organisation who offer walks around Paris.
Technically this was not my first visit to the Moulin Rouge as I had been to a performance 26 years ago on my very first visit to Paris. At the time I was on a Contiki tour and the only thing I can really remember about visiting the show was that the guys were all excited about seeing the topless dancers and the girls were loving the glass of French champagne that was included in the ticket price!
I'd never felt the need to go back to the Moulin Rouge, but again, as it was one of the hosted functions of my husband's conference, off we went - and I'm so glad we did.
Our evening started off with a three course dinner and drinks, (we'd had to pre-order our meals, a choice of two for each course) with musical entertainment whilst we ate. The show, known as "Feerie", started at 9pm and was absolutely fabulous.
Whilst the dancers were the main feature of the show, the acts were broken up with other entertainers including a ventriloquist, a strong man, a lady wrestling a python in a huge tank and an acrobatic trio. No expense had been spared on the costumes of the dancers or the stage settings and each new scene was more impressive than the last.
After almost two hours of non-stop entertainment, the show came to an end. It was a fantastic evening and something I would now highly recommend to anyone visiting Paris. I probably wouldn't go again - once (every 25 years!) is enough - but I am really glad I had the opportunity to witness the show.
Dinner and show tickets for the Moulin Rouge's "Feerie", which can be pre-booked in Australia before you travel, start from $248 per adult.
Le Café Marly
I've heard many people mention Le Café Marly at the Louvre over the years and it's even been featured in movies I've seen, so when I happened to be walking past, alone, at around lunchtime one day, I decided to treat myself to lunch at this famous restaurant.
Le Café Marly is located inside the Louvre building near the glass pyramid but alfresco dining is also possible on the verandah. I chose to sit outside and watch the comings and goings around the pyramid and really lap up the atmosphere.
The menu offered a good selection from lighter meals like omelettes and salads to pastas and meat dishes. I chose a pasta dish which was served with bread, and a freshly squeezed orange juice and I finished off with a cappuccino. The coffee alone cost €7.50 but hey, you only live once!
For tips about making the most of your visit to the Louvre, read this article.
Michelin starred restaurant
One thing I'd never considered doing before was dining at a Michelin starred restaurant in Paris but with the opportunity presented to me (again, this was a hosted evening in conjunction with my husband's conference), I seized it with both hands. We dined at L'Atelier Maitre Albert in the 5th arrondissement of Paris, just near Notre Dame. The restaurant is owned by the 3-starred Michelin chef, Guy Savoy.
Our six course degustation menu cost €70 each (excluding drinks) and consisted of prawns with citrus butter, cold zucchini soup with a mascarpone floating island, grilled seabream with mashed potatoes and herbs, veal shank on the spit with gratin of spinach and mushroom, grapefruit terrine and tea sauce, and dark chocolate crispy praline with cacao sorbet.
As expected, the meal was superb and the service impeccable. The portions were just the right size - not too big and not too small - and even after six courses, I felt very content but not over-full. I would definitely return to L'Atelier Maitre Albert.
Seine River cruise
The Batobus, a hop on hop off boat that plies the Seine is a good way to see Paris from another angle but for me, the downside is that it has no commentary. On this trip, on our last afternoon in Paris on a beautiful summer's day with our feet worn out from walking, we decided to take a one hour Seine River cruise.
The cruise departs on the Left Bank near Notre Dame, sails up and around Ile St Louis and Ile de la Cite and then travels in the opposite direction to the Eiffel Tower. Throughout the one hour cruise, commentary is provided in both French and English with the main attractions pointed out.
The views from the Seine offer great photo opportunities, particularly of the Eiffel Tower, and there's nothing more relaxing than sitting on the outside deck watching Paris float past. Tickets cost €15 per adult and cruises depart regularly throughout the day.
The following posts might be useful when planning your trip to Paris:
- How to choose where to stay in Paris
- A guide to renting an apartment in Paris
- 3 Days in Paris: What to See and Do
- 7 of the Best Day Trips from Paris