During our visit to London, I decided to surprise my daughter with a one day trip to Paris. My daughter (even at 11 years old) has wanted to visit Paris. So, my husband and I thought it would be a great surprise by to take her on a quick trip to the city of lights. While this sounds crazy to many people (especially my European friends), it was an incredibly easy day trip! The hard part came in trying to decide what we were going to do in Paris for one day since there is just so much to see! The art, the history, the food, and the shopping in Paris are truly the best. I planned a day that incorporated all of it. We saw so much of the city; I even surprised myself.
The Eurostar train makes it possible to travel from London to Paris easily. We took a 7:15 am train from St. Pancreas station. The station in London, customs, and passport control were a piece of cake. You are required to bring your passport! Within 30 minutes we were descending into the Chunnel, which is the tunnel under the English Channel connecting the two countries. It was crazy to emerge in Calais about an hour after leaving the heart of London. We arrived in Paris Gare du Nord Station by 10:25 am. Since I knew we wanted to maximize our day, I arranged for a car service with driver to spend the entire day with us. Our driver met us in the train station and whisked us into the car. Having the car was invaluable. It also proved to be very funny. Our driver spoke no English and we spoke no French! Thank God for google translate; the driver and I were able to communicate with each other by speaking into his phone and reading the translation. We were ready to explore.
There is no better spot to start exploring Paris than the most iconic spot, The Eiffel Tower. Our driver dropped us off at the base so we could walk around. While we would have liked to go up to the top, the lines were incredibly long. In order to ascend the tower, it’s better to purchase tickets way in advance. We were happy to explore underneath and the streets of the fashionable 7th arrisondemnt that the tower is located. Having just got off the train, we were hungry. We found an incredible little café where French pastries had just come out of the oven. They were heavenly!
Our driver picked us up and we crossed the Seine where we stopped at Trocadéro in the 16th arrondissement. This is the absolute best place to take a photo of the Eiffel Tower. Trocadéro began its history as a small village on a hill called Chaillot. It was eventually assimilated in Paris. For the World Fair of 1878, the Palais du Trocadéro was constructed. This was later demolished in 1937 for the Exposition Internationale and the Palias de Chaillot was built. It consisted of separate wings connected by a wide esplanade. These buildings create a frame around the perfect view of the Tower. The buildings served as the first headquarters of NATO. It was here that on December 10, 1948, the U.N. General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Today the building house several museums including the Musée National de la Marine and the Musée de l’Homme. We spent about 10 minutes walking around the esplanade, admiring the view and taking many photos. A must!
From Trocadero, we drove to the very fancy street, Rue Royale, in the 8th arrondissement. This tiny street connects the place de Concorde and place de la Madeline. This is a street of very well known addresses of which one was our destination. For a person like my daughter (a lover of baking and dessert), Ladurée is an important stop. Opened in 1862, this luxury patisserie is the best macaroon shop in Paris. We visited its sister store in Harrods but there is nothing like the original. Macaroons were introduced to Paris in the 16th century when Catherine de Medici (from Italy) married the Duc de Orleans. Louis Ernest Laudrée, who started the shop, was known at the time to be a writer and supporter of social reforms and an opponent of religion and the traditional French institutions. The first bakery actually burned down but was quickly rebuilt in 1871. Ladurée became even more famous in the 1930s for two reasons. At that time, Ladurée’s grandson created the double decker macaroon. He also built a tearoom attached to the bakery. At the time, Ladies were not allowed in cafes but they were allowed in the tearoom. The bakery and tearoom are beautiful. The baked goods are equally gorgeous and incredibly delicious. Today, Ladurée in Paris sells about 15,000 macaroons a day through take out (like we did) or in the tea room. Definitely worth the stop and the calories!
After filling our bellies with macaroons, it was time for some culture. As a first-time visitor to Paris, a trip to the Musée Louvre and Tuileries is a must. So, our driver brought us the courtyard in front of the I.M Pei glass triangle entrance to the Louvre. Before going into the Louvre, we took a short stroll through the gardens and over to the Seine. But my daughter really wanted to see the Mona Lisa. Having created my own one hour long tour of the Louvre (https://theartfultraveler.net/worldly-travels/2017/3/4/be-your-own-guide-at-the-louvre, I knew exactly where to take her. I also knew that one hour is her limit in a museum. She did love wandering and the Mona Lisa and the 8 masterpieces we saw. She was excited for our next stop so we found the car and headed to the other must do activity in Paris, SHOPPING!
Our next stop was one of my most favorite department stores, Galeries Lafayette located in the 9th arrondisment. This store is huge with 750,000 square feet of space. It offers many different high end designers and small cafés. Only in Paris will you find almost an entire floor devoted to the most beautiful lingerie, bras, and underwear. My daughter loved the floor of kid’s clothes! The store opened in 1893. The building itself is beautiful. Located in the center is a 43 meters high Neo Byzantine dome designed by architect Ferdinand Chanut. The rest of the store was renovated in the Art Deco style in 1932 by Pierre Patou. The store is so much fun to visit. We left with a couple of gorgeous purses and a few great pieces for my fashionista daughter’s closet.
From our shopping excursion, it was time to check out another area of the city. We headed for the Le Marais district to the Musée Picasso. Le Marais is sometimes referred to as “old Paris.” Its roots date back as far as 1240 when convents and churches filled the area. King Charles V moved his court to a mansion there in the 13th century. In the 17th century, the area became a favorite of French nobles who built urban mansions or Hotel Particulars. By the 18th century, the Marais became out of favor with nobles and in disrepair after the Revolution. It was then that the Marais became the center of Paris’ Jewish community which thrived in the 19th and 20th century. During WWII, the area was a major target for the NAZIs. Today, the Marais still hosts the Jewish community as well as the LGBT community. It is super hip, trendy, and fashionable with many of Paris’ art galleries located there as well as great restaurants and shops. Wandering through the windy, cobblestone streets, alleyways, buildings with the painted windowpanes and antique relics you can feel the vibrant energy of the Marais. Look out for the cool street art has begun to pop up all over the area.
The Musée Picasso is a charming, beautiful museum. It is housed in the Hotel Salé, the former home of Pierre Aubert, seigneur de Fortenay. Salé actually means “salted” in French. Aubert was a tax farmer who made his money collecting a salt tax. The house is exquisite and perhaps the finest historic home in the Marais. The high ceiling, large windows, and stunning two storied entrance made us feel like we had stepped back into the home of a 19th century noble. As stunning as the house is, the collection is even more magnificent! It consists of 5,000 works by Picasso as well as works from his personal collection by Cezanne, Degas, Seurat, and Matisse. Many of the works by Picasso had been painted by him after his 70th birthday. Iberian bronzes and pieces of African art are on display; these had served as Picasso’s inspiration when he began his Cubist period. I LOVED this museum and could have stayed for a while wandering the charming rooms. Even my daughter, who’d rather be shopping, found pieces she loved. Since we had lots more to see in Paris, we spent only about an hour strolling around the museum.
Right around the corner from the Musée de Picasso is one of the oldest and best candy shops I have ever been in, Maison Fondee Méert. Located on the Rue du Parc-Royal, Méert is incredible. The store was founded in 1761 as a patisserie and tea room in the town of Lille. The shop in Paris is incredibly charming with its glass jars filled with candy and jumbo marshmallows and wood shelves with adorable boxes. It feels like a 19th century candy store! The large marshmallows are amazing and the chocolate is sinful. After picking the type you want, the clerk breaks the chocolate into pieces for you. But the real treasure here is the waffles. My daughter loves macaroons but these waffles rival any good macaroon. They are made of two very thin waffles with a Madagascar vanilla filling spread in between the layers. Each waffle is placed in a golden paper. Pure heaven!!!! My daughter didn’t know what to eat so of course we tried everything.
No trip to Paris is complete without a stop at Notre-Dame de Paris on Ille de la Cite (4th arrondissement). This was our next stop. Its name means “Our Lady of Paris.” This medieval Catholic cathedral is one of the best examples of French Gothic architecture. The cathedral was completed in 1345. The inside is bit dark but the stained-glass windows and the naturalistic sculpture are incredible. The reliquary inside (a vessel used to hold sacred items) is believed to hold a fragment of Jesus’ cross, one of the Holy Nails, and a piece of Jesus’ crown of thorns. No matter your religion, the cathedral is impressive and evokes a peaceful feeling.
Notre-Dame is famous for many things but perhaps two of the most famous things are its flying buttresses and the gargoyles. It was the first to use the flying buttresses as support of the walls but they were actually not part of the original plan. I can’t imagine Notre-Dame without them! The gargoyles were created for water runoff and were originally painted. They are awesome, beautiful and scary at the same time. We definitely wanted a closer look so we headed to a side entrance to climb the towers.
While we couldn’t wait to see the actual church, we were more excited to climb to the top of the tower. With the help of the app, Out of The Line, we were able to secure ourselves a time for our tower tour. We waited maybe 15 minutes for it to begin but it was easy!. (Tip: Go on app early morning and sign up for anytime you want!) The climb is 387 narrow steps up a spiral staircase. It’s hard to imagine someone climbing up there to ring the bells. We definitely got our work out in with the climb. But the view up top was so worth it! Being up close to the gargoyles was amazing. One bell tower is open to walk in. There is a total of 10 bells. The largest bell called Emmanuel dates to 1681 and weighs 13 tons. It is always rung first five seconds before the others. It was this bell on August 24, 1944 that tolled to let Paris know they were liberated during World War II. The bells tolled while we were up top; it was an impressive sound. The very top of the tower provides a 360 view of Paris which is phenomenal.
After our Tower tour, we were pretty tired and ready to head to an earlier train. But our wonderful driver insisted that we could not leave Paris without one more stop, Sacré Coeur, his favorite place. So, we got back in the car and headed up the hill to Montmartre, the large hill on the right bank in the 18th arrondissement. It’s about 430 feet high. This neighborhood is known for the many artists who lived there in the 19th century. Monet, Van Gogh, Mondrian, Picasso, Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec, Modigliani (just to name a few) all lived or worked in studios in this area. It’s incredibly charming but a bit touristy today.
Sitting at the very top of the hill was our destination, Sacré Coeur or The Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris. It is dedicated to the Sacred heart of Jesus. My daughter wasn’t thrilled about another church but when we walked inside she was in awe. The Basilica was built between 1875-1914 and consecrated in 1919. It is built of beautiful travertine stone in a Romano- Byzantine Style. It commemorates the deaths of those during the uprising of the Paris Commune of 1870-71 and the Franco Prussian War. Even the sculptures outside reflect a Nationalist pride featuring French saints Joan of Arc and King Saint Louis IX. The Basilica is a deep contrast to that of Notre-Dame. It’s very bright, open and light compared to the medieval Notre Dame. My daughter and I walked around all of the niches. There was a feeling of peace but also of grandeur. Exiting Sacré Coeur provides perhaps the best view of the city- we felt like we could see forever. It’s a great photo spot and truly was a perfect way to end our day tour of Paris!
I honestly couldn’t believe how much we had done in one day. We raced back to Gare du Nord for our trip back to London. Important to note: travelers must arrive at the train sation 30 minutes or more prior to train departure. If you are late, they won’t let you on. French customs and border control were a bit harder than in London but we made our train and arrived back in London by 9:30. While it seems crazy to spend on day in Paris, it was an amazing day for my daughter and I. How can any day in Paris be bad!